Thursday, December 29, 2011

Photos Batchelors Pea Factory Workers / Group of Workmen

Over the years of writing the Eye on the Past I have received many photographs of local events and local people.  Unfortunately many of the photographs do not readily lend themselves to identifying those photographed or the occasions which prompted the photographer to capture the people or the events on film.  Over the Christmas period I am taking the opportunity of showing some of these photographs, hoping that my readers  can help me put names and dates on the black and white records of yesteryear. 

The first photograph shows a group of happy women playfully enjoying themselves on the forecourt of a petrol station.  The protective head gear worn by the women would suggest that they were workers from a factory.  The forecourt appears to me to be what was the Hurley petrol station on the Monasterevin Road.  This was located next door to the Bachelors’ Pea Factory which leads me to believe that the happy women were workers from that factory.  Hopefully my readers can identify the women in question and perhaps put a date on when the photograph was taken.

The second photograph will pose greater difficulties in identifying the men or the occasion captured on film.  It shows 23 men and 4 youngsters in a photograph taken around the 1900s or thereabouts.  I cannot identify the building behind the men, although it has some resemblance to a church and I wonder whether those photographed were construction workers for that building.  The hatted and suited man on the right in the middle row was probably the builder or the architect.  Everyone photographed, including the youngsters, wore head gear, even the young lad who was without shoes.  This photograph is an important record of some construction workers, probably from this area and probably taken on completion of some major work.  The building behind the men I believe holds the key to solving the mystery of who the men were and may also help to date the photograph. 

Happy New Year to all the readers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cecelia Webster

Christmas times past are for all of us well remembered times.  The memories may not always be pleasant ones, but nevertheless the festive season is forever linked in our minds with thoughts of our younger days.  And those youthful memories are a mishmash of people and events which come together in an unconnected but apparently seamless vision of the past.

I am reminded of this with the recent passing of 92 year old Cecilia Webster, formerly of Butlers Row.  Mrs. Webster is forever associated in my mind with my mass serving days of five and a half decades ago.  I still remember the coldness of the early morning as my father called me to get up to serve first mass in the Parish Church.  Strangely I can’t recall if it was 7 o’clock or 7.30 a.m. mass, but whichever, the winter morning’s darkness had not lifted by the time I set out from Offaly Street to make the short journey to St. Michaels. 

Invariably as I passed Emily Square Paddy Ennis was to be seen near the Courthouse loading bread into his delivery van from a large truck which came from a Dublin bakery.  Was it Bolands or Kennedys bread?  I can’t recall but I do remember the playful ditty we youngsters recited with gusto.

            ‘Bolands bread would kill a man dead
            Especially the man with the baldy head.’

Passing by Mrs. Meehan’s chemist shop I always expected to see Mrs. Webster polishing the knobs on Bob Osborne’s office door.  She worked for Osbornes for many years and Mrs. Webster was almost always to be seen on my early morning journey.  As I neared Miss Dallon’s corner shop I recalled the shock I once felt when one dark morning Tom McHugh, who operated McHugh’s Foundry in Janeville Lane, stepped out unexpectedly from around the corner just as I approached.  Tom was not a regular early morning attendant at Dallons Corner, but many mornings he was to be seen standing there in the semi darkness.

I still see in my mind’s eye the Christian Brothers approaching from Crom a Boo Bridge, invariably led by their superior Brother Brett, all walking in single file and separate from each other by 20 paces or so.  They rounded Mrs. Carolan’s Corner, heading with purposeful strides to the first mass in the Parish Church.  Brother Flaherty, that big genial Kerry man, is forever associated with my mass serving days, for not only did he train the mass servers but he also came to my rescue on one of my early mass serving days.  I turned up one morning to discover that the more experienced mass servers were absent.  I never forgot the kindness of Brother Flaherty who, on seeing the obviously frightened youngster kneeling alone at the steps of the altar, came out of his seat and knelt beside me for the duration of the mass.  It was a kindness I never forgot.

Looking back on those days over 55 years ago I now realise that only four decades separated us from the horrors of the Great War.  Even less time had elapsed following the ending of the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War.  Many of the men and women whom I passed on the streets in the 1950s must have been witnesses to those terrible times when shots were fired in anger and young men’s lifeless bodies were often found lying on Irish roadsides.

Times have changed since the 1950s, and for the better.  Nevertheless I have retained in my bones the early morning winter coldness which assailed me as I got ready to serve first mass in the Parish Church.  A two up two down terraced house in Offaly Street offered little or no comfort by way of heat in those days.  The 1950s were difficult, sometimes harsh times, but they were happy times, even if our living standards then compared poorly with today’s lifestyles. 

Mrs. Webster is forever part of the memories of my young mass serving days and of dark winter mornings of 55 years ago when the ever changing pattern of life in Athy was played out.  Her husband Jack died in October 1959 leaving her with 7 children, the youngest only a year and a half.  She worked long hours outside the home to help rear her family.  Cecilia Webster was a hard working mother who gave everything for her children and sadly her death last week came some months after her eldest son Tom, one of my school friends, had himself passed away.

My sympathy is extended to my former neighbours, the Webster family, on the death of their mother.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Athy's G.F.C.

‘They have done us proud’.  The words of an 85 year old, soon after news reached him of the defeat of Athy’s senior team in last week’s Leinster Championship semi final.  The young men who comprise the Gaelic football panel for Athy Gaelic Football Club have indeed brought honour and pride to the South Kildare town.  Their success in the Kildare Senior Championship, the first for Athy in 24 years, brought to mind the glory days of the 1930s and the early 1940s when the Athy club strode like a colossus through the rough and tumble of the short grass county footballing scene. 

The first senior county final contested by the Athy club, was the 1923 final which was played in Newbridge on 4th May 1924.  The opposing team was from the county town of Naas and the injury hit Athy team failed to score, leaving Naas to run out easy winners.

I had the privilege of interviewing in 1990 the last surviving member of the 1923 Athy team, Castledermot native Tom Forrestal when Tom was 93 years of age.  His team mates on that day included the legendary Eddie ‘Sapper’ O’Neill who later emigrated to New York where he captained the New York team which defeated the 1926 All Ireland champions Kerry in the first ever international Gaelic football match.  The emigration boat also took to America some other members of the Athy team, including Mick ‘Myra’ Grant, Mick Mahon and George Dowling.  Mick Mahon is the only Athy club player ever to win an All Ireland medal which he got as a sub on the 1927 team when Kildare defeated arch rivals Kerry. 

Athy G.F.C. lost two senior football finals in 1927.  The first defeat was inflicted by Caragh, to whom Athy lost by one point in a high scoring game.  This was the 1926 senior final which was played on 27th March 1927.  Just six months later Athy lost the 1927 final to Kildare town.  Six years would pass before the club which was founded in 1887 would have the opportunity to win its very first senior title. 

That win came in 1933 and was followed a year later by a second senior title.  The Athy team featured such great players as Paul Matthews, Tommy Mulhall and Barney Dunne.  Three years later Athy won the 1937 senior title, with Paul Matthews and Tommy Mulhall again to the fore.  Several newcomers were included on the team, including Tommy Buggy, Jim Birney, the Murray brothers Matt and Lar and the man regarded as the finest footballer ever to have played with Athy, George Comerford.

The success of the 1930s was not quite matched in the following decade when Athy’s only senior final success came in 1942.  The peerless Paul Matthews who had captained the Kildare county team in the 1935 All Ireland was still a playing member of the Athy team which was defeated in the 1941 senior final.  The victors on that occasion were Carbury against whom Athy exacted revenge when winning the following year’s final.  That was the last Athy winning team until 1987, and signalled the final appearance in a county final of long serving players such as Paul Mathews and Barney Dunne. 

The success of this year’s team has given an enormous boost to the South Kildare club and the young stars of the team give hope of further continuing success over the next few years.  The townspeople responded wonderfully to the team’s successful run in the Kildare championship and the subsequent Leinster club championships.  The celebrations in the flag bedecked streets of Athy contrasted with the public’s apparent indifference to the club’s success in the 1930s.  I remember Barney Dunne once telling me of the championship winning teams returning home to Athy, and the absence of any public acknowledgement of their success as county champions.  It was I felt a matter of regret, not just for Barney, but also his team mates who would have wished to share their success with the townspeople whom they represented on the playing fields.

This year’s team can have no such regrets.  Their success has brought glory and honour to Athy and to their club.  In years to come someone else’s pen will no doubt write of the footballing exploits of the men in red who in 2011 blazed a trail of success across Kildare county before venturing further afield into the hitherto unknown realm of Leinster football.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Athy's Lions Club / The Pipe Shop and Mrs. Mahon

Athy Lions Club, a member of the world’s largest charitable organisation, celebrated its 40th anniversary last week.  I have previously written of the Lions Club and the very discreet way in which it goes about its charitable work within the local community.  Several of the founding members of the club attended the 40th anniversary dinner held in the Clanard Court Hotel.  It was marvellous to see men who had freely given of their time over the years presented with Certificates to mark the occasion.  The one person missing that night who more than anyone else personified Lionism within the local community was Johnny Watchorn.  Johnny, who has not been well for some time, served for many years on the National Executive of Lions Ireland and did trojan work for the Lions Club at national and local level.

Some of the major projects in which Johnny and his colleagues were involved over the years included the acquisition and development of the former Dreamland Ballroom as a community-based activity centre.  Now known as A.R.C.H., the former ballroom is also home to the Aontas Ogra group which has been active for over 50 years. 

Another major project was the development of the Sheltered Housing Scheme at St. Vincent’s Hospital.  This was an initiative of the Lions Club in conjunction with the Eastern Health Board and Kildare County Council and was quite a unique project in its day.  Its success has been replicated in several other counties since then. 

Earlier I referred to the men of Athy Lions Club for in its early years and indeed for quite a long time it was the exclusive reserve of males.  No longer so, for Athy Lions Club has broadened out to welcome female members whose contribution to the work of the organisation is extremely important.  The past and present members of Athy Lions Club are to be congratulated on the huge contribution they have made to the local community over the last 40 years.

No matter how many times I passed the Pipe Shop I had not found out the story behind its unusual name.  Now that Kathleen Webberly recently announced her retirement I felt obliged to find out more about the William Street shop.

I understand the original ‘Pipe Shop’ was opened beside Doyle Brothers in or around 1940 by Mary Lalor of 5 St. Martin’s Terrace.  Mary was a Court stenographer and also a local newspaper reporter.  She was also a writer of some merit and her novel ‘The Hidden Menace’ was published by English publishers Arthur Stockwell in 1927.  The Pipe Shop was presumably so called to reflect its principal business as purveyors of piped tobacco and pipes, although it was during Mary Lalor’s time also the local centre for a lending library.

Mary’s sister, Ann Patricia, married Garda Michael Mahon who was attached to the local Garda Station but following his death at an early age in 1943 she joined her sister Mary in running the Pipe Shop.  The shop business for a short while moved across to what is now Tully’s Travel and soon afterwards transferred to its present location when those premises were purchased from local man Georgie Farrell.

Mary Lalor, who had been ill for some time, died in February 1949 and Mrs. Mahon continued the business in her own right, greatly assisted by her youngest daughter Patricia.  The Pipe Shop was later sold to the Bolger family and it eventually came into the ownership of the Peter and Kathleen Webberly.

In my youth the Pipe Shop had long forgone its original trade of pipe and tobacco but continued to meet the daily needs of workers in nearby Minch Nortons and the Asbestos Factory as well as the local people from Gouleyduff to Pairc Bhride.  Toys, groceries, sweets, tobacco, icecream and a myriad of other goods were sold in the Pipe Shop and after some time Mrs. Mahon was also allowed to sell newspapers.

The sale of newspapers was until recent years subject to restrictive practices which made it extremely difficult for shopkeepers to become newsagents.  Mrs. Mahon overcame the objections of several local newsagents with the kind assistance of Ernest O’Rourke Glynn who was himself a newsagent operating from his nearby corner shop.  Newspaper sales were an important source of sales revenue and the arrival of the mail van at the local Post Office early each morning with the Dublin newspapers signalled the start of a busy day for local newsagents.  Miss Carolan’s supply of papers was collected by Mary Carty, while Denis Chanders brought Mrs. Mahon’s papers to the Pipe Shop.  In the meantime Ernest O’Rourke Glynn collected his newspapers to fulfil his orders which were believed to be the largest in Athy.  The papers for the Pipe Shop were counted and the young Denis Chanders quickly commenced his delivery round which brought him down Duke Street and into Leinster Street as far as the Co-operative Stores.  In the meantime Mary Carty made the same journey in the opposite direction, delivering the papers for Miss Carolan’s shop.

With its closure the Pipe Shop joins a long list of Athy businesses which over the years have disappeared.  Do you remember the Commercial House, the Railway Hotel, the Hibernian Hotel and what was once the oldest commercial business in Athy, the Leinster Arms Hotel?  To all of those businesses which are now gone must be added the Pipe Shop.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

St. Vincents Hospital

St. Vincent’s Hospital is in the news again.  It’s the Damocles sword of closure hanging over it which brings it to our attention.  The threat to the future of the building which was erected as a Workhouse a few years before the onset of the Great Famine has been ever present since the H.S.E. came into existence.

I can remember a time when the Health Services were operated on a county basis, with day to day control of the services in this area exercised by Kildare County Council.  The Hospital, renamed St. Vincent’s after its Workhouse days came to an end, was then in the careful and sympathetic control of the Sisters of Mercy.   

The Sisters, who first arrived in Athy in 1851 in response to an appeal by the Ballitore-born Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Cullen, took charge of the Workhouse Hospital on 24th October 1873.  The first Sister Superior of the Union Hospital as it was then called was Sister Mary Vincent Bermingham who was appointed Superioress of Athy’s Mercy Convent 15 years later. 

The Hospital flourished under the guidance of the Sisters of Mercy and when the first Free State Government came into power the Sisters of Mercy were formally assigned to run the institution which we now know as St. Vincent’s.

Many members of the Sisters of Mercy order have worked in the Workhouse and St. Vincent’s Hospital since 1873.  We can all remember some of them and particularly recall matrons such as Sr. Peig Rice and St. Dominic McHugh. 

The masters of the Workhouse, as they were once called, included Robert Walker, uncle of the famous clergyman Monsignor Patrick Boylan of Barrowhouse.  Walker later became Private Secretary to the Irish Parliamentary party member and renowned journalist/author T.P. O’Connor.

In 1949 an interdepartmental committee was set up to examine the future of county homes throughout the country.  It was recommended that a number of those institutions, including Athy, would be refurbished and extended to provide accommodation for the aged and chronic sick.  Niall Meagher, who was then the County Architect, designed and planned the extensions to the old Workhouse building, which extensions were constructed by Bantile Limited of Banagher.  The work which started in July 1966 took almost 3 years to complete, at a cost of £250,000.00.   The new buildings contained two blocks for 100 female patients, three blocks for 168 male patients and a 14 bed maternity unit.  The maternity unit was closed in October 1986 and the 268 beds have been reduced over the years so that following the most recent reductions there will be only 120 beds. 

In 1985 the National Council for the Elderly published a report ‘Institutional Care for the Elderly’ which was followed three years later by a Government Policy Report on services for the elderly entitled ‘The Years Ahead’.  Both of these reports commented favourably on the services available at St. Vincent’s Hospital but it would seem that because of the ongoing financial difficulties being experienced by the H.S.E. that the accommodation in St. Vincent’s is being scaled down and may eventually be listed for closure. 

Such an eventuality would have a devastating effect on Athy given the very substantial employment the Hospital gives, particularly for female workers.  In addition the non availability of local accommodation for the aged and chronic sick would be an extremely severe drawback for the local community.

When the Eastern Health Board published in 1994 my short history of St. Vincent’s Hospital I began the narrative of the Workhouse story by quoting an unidentified correspondent of the Athy Literary Magazine.  He wrote disparagingly in March 1838 of the ‘spiritless and inert beings that form the more elevated circle here in Athy.’  ‘There is not a town in Ireland’ he continued ‘so completely neglected.’  He invited his readers ‘to visit us through our weekdays and ramble through our deserted streets to see the able bodied labourers at our corners, hoards of beggars at our doors, disease and famine in the hovels of the poor.’

That was one dispirited description of Athy in 1838, the year in which the Poor Relief Act was passed which led to the siting of the Workhouse in Athy.  We are experiencing hard times but nothing on the scale of those unfortunate people who in 1838 had yet to face five years of famine in the following decade.

Our local community must stand up and ensure that our geriatric hospital remains in place.