A ‘Cultural Desert’ is how Athy was once described to me. There may have been an element of truth in that claim at a time when the town, having lost its cinema and its Town Hall ballroom, was also regretting the closure of Dreamland. It was that barn of a building on the Kilkenny Road which brought so much joy into the lives of the younger generation of Athy folk in the 60s and the 70s. A cultural oasis it was not, but somehow the Showband scene in which Athy’s Dreamland played such a prominent part was all we needed in those far off days to live out our dreams and brighten lives which were played out in the relatively unsophisticated Ireland of the 1960s.
Nowadays our lives have changed. Our expectations are much higher than they were 40 or so years ago. We demand a greater variety and a range of leisure activity than ever before and Athy which has always boasted some of the finest field sport facilities in the county of Kildare has of recent times come to life insofar as cultural pursuits are concerned. The ‘cultural desert’ began to retreat when Athy was designated a Heritage Town and obtained Bord Failte finance to develop the ground floor of the old Market House and Town Hall as a heritage centre. This development allowed what was previously an underused building of character and of no little architectural merit located in a prime location in the centres of the town to host lectures, exhibitions and festivals including the Shackleton Autumn School and the annual Medieval Festival.
In recent weeks we have witnessed the opening of the newly formed Athy Film Club based in the fine 60 seater auditorium in the newly built Athy College and the opening of the Community Arts Centre in Woodstock Street. The ‘cultural desert’ has finally disappeared and Athy can now boast a range of activities to meet the most exacting of local demands. As I write a piano recital by concert pianist Seiko Tsukomoto is scheduled for Friday night in the Arts Centre and over the next few weeks the Centre will host a series of concerts, performances and recitals, all of which are deserving of support.
On May Day the Community Arts Centre hosted an afternoon series of lectures on the development of Trade Unionism amongst the agricultural workers of South Kildare which was followed by an evening of songs and story by an American Professor of Literature who is based in England. Will Kaufman gave a wonderful rendition of some of Woody Guthrie’s songs interlaced with an invigorating and instructive commentary on American history of the 1930s and ‘40s. It proved to be one of the best performances I have enjoyed this or last year.
The Athy Heritage Centre is moving towards achieving museum status and when this happens the Centre will hopefully be able to display material, particularly artefacts found over the years in the South Kildare area, which are presently in storage in the National Museum in Dublin. If and when Museum status is granted it will represent a major advancement for the town of Athy.
The Heritage Centre, the Arts Centre and the Cinema Club could not and cannot survive without your support so this gentle reminder to all readers to make use of these great cultural local outlets whenever you can.
I learned of the recent death of Bill Watts, former Provost of Trinity College, whose early days were spent in Athy where he attended the Model School. I first met Bill some years ago, following which I wrote an Eye on the Past on the Athy man, whom I then believed, had been the only man from the South Kildare town to head up Ireland’s oldest and most famous university. In his autobiography published about a year and a half ago Bill devoted a chapter to his youthful life in Athy and it was at the launch of the book in the Long Library of Trinity College that I last met him. His passing is much regretted.
Incidentally I have recently come across another Athy man who also held the position of Provost of Trinity College. A copy of Volume III of Eye on Athy’s Past book to the first reader who can give me that man’s name.
The local Lions Club opened its Saturday bookshop at Leinster Street on Saturday. It will be open for the sale of second hand books each Saturday from 12 – 5pm for the foreseeable future. Used books can also be donated for re-sale, with all proceeds going to local charities.