Thursday, October 28, 2010

Athy Minor Football Team

How justifiably proud must be the young men representing Athy Gaelic Football Club who last week brought the Minor Championship Cup back to Athy for the third year in succession.  Theirs is a magnificent achievement never before equalled by any previous Athy Club team over the 123 years of the Club’s history.

Emily Square was thronged with supporters on Sunday night as the team members led by their captain Liam McGovern enjoyed the public’s adulation.  I understand that Liam, whose father chairs the Club’s underage committee, is with Tony Gibbons Jnr. the proud possessor of three Minor Championship medals.  Three other players, Barry Purcell, Luke Thomas and James Roycroft, were on the panel for the 2008 final and as such were part of the triple championship winning teams.  Tony Gibbons Snr. is one of the management team ably led by Shane Purcell and assisted by Joe Kelly, Pat Considine and Joe Robinson.

The Player of the Match Award went to 16 year old Niall Kelly whose 45 conversion in the last minute of the game was a fitting finale for a young player whose footballing skills were seen at their best that afternoon.  Incidentally his father Joe is one of the earlier mentioned minor management team. 

This third successive final success follows on wins by teams managed in 2008 by Anthony Bracken Jnr., Paul Hicks and Mark Brophy and in 2009 by Joe Kinahan, Dinny Sullivan and Ger Clancy.  All of those men who voluntarily gave of their time during the football season deserve great credit for their dedication.

Of the current club minor team there are four players on the county minor team.  Liam McGovern, Niall Kelly, Tony Gibbons and Kevin Feely were part of the unlucky Kildare team which after three successive games against Dublin were required to play Longford in the Leinster Minor Semi-final just a few days after finally overcoming Dublin. They lost to two fortuitous late goals and Longford later went on to win the Leinster Final.  On the county minor panel were two other Athy players, James Roycroft and Luke Thomas. 

Athy G.F.C. has only one club player, Michael Foley, on the county senior team panel, while the Under 21 County Panel is graced by Athy club men Cian Reynolds, Darroch Mulhall and James Eaton.  Paddy Dunne is the club’s only representative on the County Junior Panel.

This latest success of the Athy Minor team must give an enormous fillup to the local club, as did the success of the U-13 team in the recent league final.  The defeat of the senior team in the championship semi-final to the eventual champions Moorefield was a disappointment, as was the loss of the U-16 team in their championship final.

The club which has an astonishing 24 teams from U-8 up to senior level has proved yet again its strength at underage competition level.  The club officers and committee can be proud of the club’s achievements, proving as it does that the footballing tradition nurtured since the early days of the Young Emmets Club has never been extinguished. 

The club’s officers Chairman Mark Dalton, Secretary Joe Barry and Treasurer Eamon Wynne, with committee members Colm Reynolds, Shane Purcell, Eugene O’Toole, Henry Howard, Pat Considine, Con Ronan, T.J. Clare, Diarmuid Wynne and P.J. Lawler have done a great job in facilitating and supporting the teams which have togged out in the red and white of Athy G.F.C.

James Mahon, Chairman of the Town Council, spoke eloquently and passionately from the platform on Sunday night when greeting the victorious minor players on their return to Athy.  He concluded that the footballing future of the club was bright; indeed he said ‘the future was red and white’.  Hopefully this year’s victory with the victories of 2008 and 2009 will provide the foundation for a return of the glorious footballing days enjoyed by Barney Dunne, Paul Matthews, Tommy Mulhall and their teammates of the late 1930s and early 1940s when senior championship titles were not as scarce as they are in this generation.

One young man who won his championship medal on the field of play as a member of Athy Minor team is Michael Keogh.  He did this despite having been hospitalised just a few days prior to the final.  Michael is a dedicated and courageous football player and his bravery in coping with the medical difficulties he faces day in day out is an example of what it takes to be a member of a county champion team. 

The players who brought the minor championship back to Athy are James Roycroft, Cillian Mulhall, Luke Thomas, Wesley Clare, David Hyland, Barry Purcell, David O’Toole, Liam McGovern, Kevin Feely, Hughie Mahon, Tony Gibbons, Niall Kelly, Michael Keogh, Conor O’Keeffe, Sean Ronan, with playing sub Pascal Connell.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shackleton Autumn School 2010

An Edison wax cylinder recording recently discovered in America of a forgotten Harry Lauder song ‘The South Pole’ or ‘The Bounding Bounder’ sung by the great Scottish entertainer has arrived in Athy just in time for the 10th Ernest Shackleton Autumn School opening on 23rd October. 

In the 1909 recording Lauder sang the opening verse before breaking into a monologue in which he recalls meeting Shackleton after the Irishman had returned to England following the Nimrod Expedition in 1907-09.  The polar exploits of ‘Shack’ as he was called by Scotland’s most famous music hall artist gave Lauder the opportunity to imagine both men on an adventurous search for the South Pole which ended when Lauder says ‘Lets go home and claim we found the Pole’.  Lauder who was the first entertainer from outside of America to sell more than one million records died at his home in Strathaven in February 1950.  Shackleton had predeceased him by almost 27 years. 

The long forgotten recording may feature in a unique entertainment devised by composer Michael Holohan, poet Peter Sirr and others, which will be presented in the Community Arts Centre as part of the Shackleton weekend on Sunday 24th October at 9.00 p.m.  ‘Where a Single Footprint Last a Thousand Years’ is a stage performance incorporating music, poetry and drama celebrating the exploits of Ernest Shackleton and other polar explorers. 

The Dublin born composer Michael Holohan who composed the music for the show has won numerous prizes for his compositions and several of his works have been premiered by the RTE Concert Orchestra.  Most recently he composed the music for ‘Running Beast’ which toured Ireland and Europe as part of the Irish Government’s commemoration of the Flight of the Earls.

Writer and actor Donal O’Kelly will be performing and he will be remembered for his leading role in Roddy Doyle’s ‘The Van’.  Joining him on stage, courtesy of Poetry Ireland, will be Peter Sirr, the Waterford born poet whose extensive body of works is published by Gallery Press.  A former editor of Poetry Ireland Review he, like Donal O’Kelly, is a member of Aosdana.  Simon O’Dwyer, Neale Webb and John MacKenna make up the performing cast of what promises to be an unusual, if not unique, evening’s entertainment.

The entire Shackleton School weekend offers a wonderful opportunity to hear experts in their chosen fields.  The opening lecture is by the Deputy Editor of the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole, who has many and varied publications to his credit.  His talk on Friday evening, 22nd October at 8.30 p.m. can be expected to be both entertaining and controversial.  It will be preceded by the launch of a book recently published in America dealing with the Japanese Antarctic Expedition of 1910-12.  The book launch will be by the Japanese Ambassador to Ireland, making probably his first visit to the town of Athy. 

The programme for the Shackleton weekend includes a wonderfully diverse mix of lectures, starting at 10.30 a.m. on Saturday and running through to Sunday afternoon when proceedings in the Town Hall conclude with the film ‘The Red Tent’, followed by an open forum chaired by Dr. Bob Headland of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge. 

The programme, copies of which can be picked up in the local Heritage Centre, confirms how international the event has become.  Lecturers for this year’s Shackleton Autumn School are coming from America, Wales, England, Iceland and Australia.  Shackleton, the Kilkea-born Irishman commemorated in the county of his birth with exhibits in the local Heritage Centre, will this year be further honoured with the unveiling of a plaque at the local Town Hall.  The plaque commissioned by the National Committee for Science and Engineering Commemorative Plaques will be unveiled on Saturday, 23rd October at 1.00 p.m. by Shackleton’s granddaughter Alexandra Shackleton.

The first event of the weekend will be the opening of a photographic exhibition in the Heritage Centre at 7.15 p.m. on Friday 22nd October.  The photographs by Ragnar Axelsson bring together a unique record of the life and culture of some of the most remote communities of Northern Greenland and Canada.  Axelsson’s images, the fruit of his travels in the Arctic for almost 30 years, have won him recognition as one of the most accomplished documentary photographers of our time.  The photographs in the Athy exhibition come from the book ‘The Last Days of the Arctic’ published earlier this month.  The exhibition runs until 26th November.

The official opening of the exhibition and the Shackleton weekend takes place at 7.15 p.m. on Friday 22nd October and will be preceded by a wine reception.  You are all invited to come along and take part in what promises to be an enjoyable evening and weekend.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Arts Centre / Eileen McHugh

On Thursday night last Athy Community Arts Centre enjoyed its first full house as the local singer Jack L. who enjoys huge national success gave his first performance on Athy’s newest stage.  It was a great night, enjoyed by a capacity audience, with many more fans who could not gain admission having had to be turned away.  It was a very proud occasion for all those associated with Athy Community Arts Centre which was founded just a few months ago.

Even now, after a number of excellent shows, the Centre is still not as widely known as it should be. Thankfully the local and the wider communities are slowly beginning to recognise the valuable cultural asset in their midst.  The local Methodist Church which has stood on the Woodstock Street site for more than 130 years now doubles as the Arts Centre, while still fulfilling its primary role as a house of prayer for the followers of John Wesley every Sunday.  The generosity of the Methodist Church body and the local Methodists in allowing the Church to be used in this way is commendable.  Equally important to the development of the Arts Centre was the financial help of both Athy Town Council and Kildare County Council.  Aoife Breslin was Chairperson of Athy Town Council when the project reached a critical stage and with her fellow Councillors on the local Council did much to smooth the path which lead to the opening of the Centre earlier this year.  Another key player in the long struggle to get the Arts Centre opened was the Town Manager Joe Boland whose enthusiasm and expertise helped to bring finality to an idea which had been nurtured by a few optimists for many years past.

That same optimism was rewarded over a decade ago with the opening of another of Athy’s cultural facilities, the local Heritage Centre.  Occupying what was the old butter market in the centre of the Town Hall as well as adjoining rooms which once houses the headquarters of Macra na Feirme and the Town Hall Caretakers residence, the Heritage Centre has gone from strength to strength since it was first opened.  The Shackleton Autumn School, now an international event attracting visitors from abroad, is perhaps its best known annual event.  It has also hosted a number of other events and exhibitions, all of which have added enormously to our knowledge of the towns past as well as raising the local community’s appreciation and understanding of the wider cultural context in which we live. 

Next Monday, 18th October, at 7.30 p.m. a meeting will be held in the Heritage Centre on the suggestion of a number of local people to gauge support for the setting up of a ‘Friends of Athy Heritage Centre’.  It is suggested that the Friends Society would be a suitable vehicle to allow local people and anyone else who wanted to help to assist the Centre, maintain and indeed increase the level of activity which we have come to associate with the best museums and heritage centres in the country.  The meeting will be a forum to give anyone interested in the development of the Heritage Centre an opportunity to put their ideas and views before other interested persons.  It will also hopefully help to secure the future success of the Centre which has played such an enormous part in highlighting our shared history. 

During the week Eileen McHugh, formerly of Duke Street, died in Dublin and her remains were brought back to Athy for burial alongside her husband Des who died a few years ago.  McHugh’s Chemist was for over 100 years a well known landmark in Duke Street where the late Des McHugh carried on the business founded by his father in 1893.  Des was a founder member of Athy Lions Club and indeed he was the principal mover in establishing that fine charitable organisation in Athy in 1971.  His wife Eileen had particular fond associations in my memory.  I have always remembered her generosity to me when as a 13 or 14 year old I found myself outside Duffys Circus tent in the fairgreen without the money to gain admission.  I remember I was with my old friend Teddy Kelly who had the necessary shilling or so but for whatever reason I was penniless.  Raging against the unfairness of my situation I complained loudly and bitterly and to my lifelong embarrassment uttered a few ‘f’ words, all of which attracted Mrs. McHugh’s attention.  I would not have known her other than as the Chemist’s wife from the far side of town and my embarrassment was not in any way occasioned by my well established use of the ‘f’ word, but simply because I was overheard by a lady.  My embarrassment was quickly assuaged when Mrs. McHugh, realising the cause of my annoyance, opened her purse and gave me the admission fee for the circus. 

I never forgot her kindness and remember in equal measure to this day her generosity and my embarrassment at the use of profanities in her presence. 

The people of Athy will remember the McHugh family with fondness and for my part I will never forget Mrs. McHugh’s kindness to me all those years ago.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Athy's New Parish Team

On the Sunday set aside by some as a day of protest when Sunday Mass throughout the island of Ireland was to be boycotted, Bishop Eamonn Walsh came to our local Church of St. Michaels to formally present the new parish team to the local parishioners.  Our Parish Church, as it has been on Sundays in recent times, was about a quarter full, the small attendance owing nothing to the call for the Mass boycott.  This year for the first time the entire parish team, including the Parish Priest and curate, have been replaced at the same time.  Bishop Walsh in his homily referred to the recent events which prompted the change in parish personnel without throwing any light on what happened.

I have enormous sympathy for Fr. Michael Murtagh, our Parish Priest of a few months, whom I understand found himself the subject of complaints by some people.  He was effectively removed from his new parish because of those complaints and I am sorry for the manner of his departure.  The upheaval also saw the departure of Breda Carroll, the pastoral worker and Fr. Joe McDonald whose Sunday sermons were invariably thought provoking and never dull.   Fr. Gerry Tanham is our new Parish Priest, having transferred from Malahide in north County Dublin where he was Parish Priest for some years past.  Fr. Paul O’Driscoll joins the parish from Arklow, while Aine Egan is the new pastoral worker.

During Sunday’s ceremony Fr. Tanham spoke briefly of the role of the clergy in providing spiritual nourishment and facilitating social bonding within the parish community.  I was particularly taken with his latter comment, opening as it did an avenue of exploration for a community which has been lacking in business leadership for so long.  What you may ask can a Parish Priest do to rectify that omission?  Perhaps nothing directly, but indirectly the parish community made up of long term residents, coupled with new arrivals who have come to Athy over the last few years, might be best able to accelerate the bonding process which is needed to energise the wider local community.

Bishop Walsh spoke of the parish team being engaged in ‘stimulating the spiritual nerve’ of the local community and the individuals within it.  He did not go so far as Fr. Tanham’s call for social bonding but between the two stated objectives there can be resurgence and a re-awakening in all aspects of community life in Athy. 

We will have an interesting visitor to the town on Friday, 22nd October who may have something to say on the reawakening of the Irish nation, when the Shackleton Autumn School hosts a lecture by historian, biographer, critic and controversial political commentator Fintan O’Toole, whose latest book ‘Ship of Fools’ I read this weekend.  In it he analyses the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and the sweetheart deals, backhanders and bribery which were part and parcel of the property boom and the prosperity we then enjoyed.  As part of his review of Ireland’s so called economic miracle he has made some interesting comments on the slow death of Catholic Ireland which had dominated the personal values of the majority of the population from the middle of the 19th century.  O’Toole refers to the Catholic Church as ‘a corrupt institution’ which lost its authority following the various Church scandals, leaving no deeply rooted civic morality in its place.  The Irish people, he claims, for too long identified morality with religion and were left moorless when the Catholic Church was cast adrift.  We can expect an interesting talk from Fintan O’Toole when he appears in the Town Hall on 22nd October. 

That same Sunday afternoon as Bishop Walsh spoke in St. Michaels the town was alive with activities arranged for Discovery Day in Athy.  It was a wonderful occasion organised by The SHINE Committee, with a range of events and activities which demonstrated how well provided Athy is with a host of sporting clubs and associations.  I had the privilege of meeting Athy’s Roses of Tralee over the weekend, when both Charmaine Kenny and Clare Kambamettu played a part in ‘Discover Athy’.  Both are wonderful ambassadors for the town which has gained enormous publicity from their successes and from the success of the recent National Ploughing Championships which for the third year in succession will return to Athy as part of the 80th anniversary celebration of the National Ploughing Association.  The central role of Athy man J.J. Bergin in founding the N.P.A. is well documented and it was he who arranged the first ploughing match on the Coursetown farmlands in 1931 which subsequently lead to the setting up of the N.P.A. 

Athy has much to offer and as shown by men such as the late J.J. Bergin has much to benefit from a more participative community involvement in the social, cultural and commercial life of the town.  Fr. Tanham’s remarks last Sunday made me realise that ‘spiritual nourishing’ and ‘social bonding’ may not be necessarily mutually exclusive.