Thursday, November 18, 2010

Garda Tony Geoghegan / Sr. Alphonsus

History is made by the man or woman in the street or in the home.  We are all part of the ever unfolding social panorama which viewed from a distance gives us a sense of the community or in a wider dimension the nation in which we live.

For very many of us the community of which we are a part delimits the extent of our interest and our involvement.  Very few others play roles of varying significance on the national stage but it is at the level of community involvement that one’s actions are subjected to the most detailed and exacting scrutiny.  The sweeping statement of the national figure is generally not parsed or examined with the same exactitude as the local figure whose every action or inaction is noted, scrutinised and critically detailed by members of the local community. 

How pleasing therefore it is to come to the end of your working life or to reach an impressive age and find that your community values your contribution to the local community.  Such are the experiences of two persons whose paths followed different routes as they served people of Athy over the years.  Garda Tony Geoghegan retires this week after 30 years service in the Garda Siochana, while Sr. Alphonsus of the local Sisters of Mercy community celebrated her 90th birthday at the end of October. 

Tony who is from Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow came to Athy 25 years ago.  He is one of the very few and every decreasing members of the Gardai who live in the town where they serve as members of the local police force.  It’s an unfortunate fact of these times in which we live that more and more members of the Garda Siochana have chosen not to live amongst the communities which they serve.  The local policeman is no longer an appropriate description for the man on the beat, then again the man on the beat is seldom, if ever, to be seen these days.

Tony Geoghegan epitomised everything that was to be admired in a police officer.  Having known him since his arrival in Athy I have only admiration for the exceptional qualities brought to his role as a local policeman.  He knew the people amongst whom he lived and he was able to bring to his everyday job as a policeman a depth of local knowledge and more importantly a respect for and understanding of what motivated or caused people to come to the attention of the Gardai.

Some years ago he was subjected to a most frightening and dangerous experience when he responded to an armed robbery in one of our local banks.  His bravery on that day was repeated on another occasion when he dived into the Canal in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue an unfortunate young man.  He retires with the good wishes of the people of Athy.

Sister Alphonsus came to Athy to join the local Sisters of Mercy on 6th January 1939 from County Tipperary.  Her sister Winifred, now Sister Oliver, had already joined the local Convent having entered in September 1936.  The young Sheila Meagher received the Holy Habit on 14th November 1939 just as war swept over the European mainland.  She took the name Sr. Alphonsus and pronounced her triennial vows in February 1942 before making her final vows on 16th February 1945.  With her that day and also taking their final vows were Sr. Paul Cosgrave and Sr. Ignatius Fingleton, both of happy memory.

Her earlier involvement in community affairs outside the confines of the Convent included periods in which she helped organise the local Boys Club and during the early years of the local Wheelchair Association.  She had spent a lifetime teaching in the girls Primary School and is remembered fondly as Principal of Scoil Mhichil Naofa for three years before retiring in 1986 to be replaced by Sr. Joseph.  Subsequently she was appointed Superior of the Convent of Mercy in Arklow and happily returned to Athy some years ago. 

The Sisters of Mercy made enormous contribution to education of young people in Athy following their arrival in October 1852.  In later years as restrictions on convent life lessened, their involvement with the local community extended into other areas to the benefit generally of the young and disadvantaged.  Sr. Alphonsus was one of the courageous band of professional women whose pioneering social work gave help and encouragement to those in need.  The unspoken gratitude of generations of Athy people for the work of the Sisters of Mercy over the years can be readily presumed.  Perhaps as the years advance and the Sisters of Mercy become part of an advanced age profile should we as a community consider marking the contribution of generations of Sisters of Mercy to Athy in some meaningful way.

It’s a thought I put to my readers as I wish Sr. Alphonsus a belated 90th birthday and wish Tony Geoghegan a long and happy retirement.

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