Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thomas O'Loughlin Papal Count / Photograph of Athy Church Altar Rails

‘This altar rail was erected and the sanctuary adorned by Count Thomas J. O’Loughlin, Melbourne to the memory of his beloved wife Kathleen’.  So read the opening lines of the inscription on the plaque which graced the sanctuary of St. Michael’s Church which was demolished following the last mass celebrated there on 24th September 1960.  Who was Thomas O’Loughlin and what connection, if any, did he or his wife Kathleen have with Athy? 

Thomas O’Loughlin was born Thomas Laughlin in Castlewarren a few miles on the Carlow side of Kilkenny city in 1869.  His uncle Martin who emigrated to Australia following the Great Famine and made his fortune in the goal mines of Ballarat died in 1894.  His nephews Thomas and Martin Laughlin were appointed executors of his Will and both went down under four years later to administer their uncle’s vast estate.  Under the terms of the Will funds were to be made available to build a church in memory of the O’Loughlin family in either Australia or Ireland. 

The Parish Priest of the rural parish of Castlewarren did not accept the offer of a new church and eventually fortune favoured the Kilkenny city parish of St. Johns where the O’Loughlin family had acquired a substantial property.  The O’Loughlin Memorial Church of St. John the Evangelist, built in the Gothic style, was completed in 1908 after 9 years work at a cost of approximately £40,000.00.  The church was consecrated on 28th June 1908 and in the following month word came from Rome that Pope Pius X had conferred the title of Knight of St. Gregory the Great on Thomas O’Loughlin.

On returning to Australia Thomas Laughlin, now known as O’Loughlin, made the acquaintance of a Kilkenny born nun in a Melbourne convent.  On a subsequent visit to Ireland he visited the family of Nicholas Murphy of Ballybur, brother of that nun and met Murphy’s daughter Kathleen whom he was to marry in 1911.  The wedding ceremony took place on 27th September 1911, presided over by Bishop Brownrigg of Kilkenny, assisted by a number of clerics including Canon Mackey P.P. who was described as ‘an uncle of the bride’.  This then was the Athy connection with Count Thomas O’Loughlin as Canon Mackey had been appointed Parish Priest of Athy just two years previously. 

Five daughters were born to Thomas O’Loughlin and his wife Kathleen who had returned to live in the vast O’Loughlin estate in Australia.  Tragically on 1st August 1925 following the birth of their first son Kathleen O’Loughlin died, as did the baby boy.  She was just 44 years of age.  Count O’Loughlin died four years later, aged 63.

Subsequent court proceedings delayed administration of Count O’Loughlin’s Will.  It was not until 1936 that a Melbourne court ruled on the disputed Will and a subsequent appeal to the Australian High Court found in favour of the Count’s last Will and Testament.

I have not seen the Count’s Will but clearly he had decided to donate funds to his late wife’s uncle, Canon Mackey, ‘to erect altar rails and decorate the sanctuary of St. Michael’s Athy.’  What form the sanctuary decorations took I cannot say.  Canon Mackey had in the meantime died on 31st March 1928 but the installation of the altar rails went ahead in 1937. 

The photograph shows the installation of the altar rails.  They complemented the marble pulpit which had been presented in 1904 by the local people of Athy to mark the jubilee of the ordination of their then Parish Priest Canon Germaine.  The pulpit still adorns our present Parish Church and a somewhat truncated version of the original marble railings are to be found beside the side altars.  I don’t know where the rest of the railings can be found. 

In recent weeks both Tom Byrne of St. Joseph’s Terrace and Esther Owens of The Bleach passed away.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom in the company of his friend Paddy Walsh several years ago but unfortunately I have temporarily mislaid my notes of that interview.  Tom had a long and interesting life and his passing and that of Esther removes yet another valuable source of interesting knowledge and rich experience with which I always associate the older generation amongst our local community.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Athy Lawn Tennis Club Group / Col. Hosie

This week I am looking for help with a number of queries.  Dermot McCarthy formerly of St. Patrick’s Avenue and now living for more than 40 years in Dublin gave me a photograph some time ago of a group from Athy Lawn Tennis Club.  I cannot say whether those photographed were from the Tennis Club on the Carlow Road which was part of the Social Club based in St. John’s Lane or the older more established Club at Geraldine Park.  Can you identify any of the men or women featured in the photograph or say when or where the photograph was taken?

The I.V.I. Foundry, opened in 1926, was for many years the most important employer of men in this town. The Foundry worked in all types of metal, bronze, aluminium, copper, lead and white metal but suffered badly during the Second World War due to the shortage of raw material.  Frank White was Manager of the enterprise in those early years while Jim Tierney of Emily Row was in charge of sales.  Jack Lowe of Church Road later became Sales Manager and oversaw an upswing in the Foundry’s fortunes after the War when much work was done for many of Ireland’s most important semi-state bodies.

The Managing Director and founder of the firm was a man who was always referred to by his military title, which came from his time in the British Army.  Colonel Hosie was by all accounts a good employer and was involved in many projects aimed at improving the lot of his employees as well as the wider local community.  For the 1932 Eucharistic Congress he set up in the Peoples Park at his own expense a radio transmission system with amplification so that the people of Athy could follow the Congress events in Dublin as they were relayed on 2RN.

Another venture of his, which I only became aware of recently, was a radio and bicycle shop which he opened for the benefit of his workers.  Any worker wishing to buy a bicycle or a radio could do so and have it paid for by deducting half a crown a week from his wages.  The Colonel took a keen and benevolent interest in his workers at a time when employment opportunities in Athy and Ireland generally were very poor.  I would like to hear from anyone who remembers Colonel Hosie.

John Moran, born in Monasterevin in 1892, joined the Royal Irish Constabulary and was one of those Irish Policemen who enlisted during the First World War.  He joined the Leinster Regiment, based in Birr, and before the end of the War was mentioned in dispatches, received a Military Award for Bravery and was finally promoted to the rank of Captain.  On being demobbed he rejoined the R.I.C. and served as District Inspector in Cork during the latter part of the War of Independence.  He served up to the disbandment of that police force in 1922.  Moran subsequently entered a Seminary in Rome and was ordained in priest in 1926.  He wrote the well-known hymn “A Hymn to Our Lady of Peace” and for many years celebrated the annual Mass held in Westminster Cathedral London for members of the R.I.C. who died in service in Ireland.

Can anyone tell me anything about John Moran and his unique career as an R.I.C. man, as a soldier in World War I and finally as a Catholic priest?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dr. Jerry O'Neill - Second World War Prisoner

One of the many extraordinary and heroic stories to come out of World War II was that of Dr. Jerry O’Neill, third son of Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill of Mount Offaly House, Athy.  Born in 1904 Jerry attended the local Christian Brothers School and subsequently Clongowes Woods College.  A noted rugby player, he captained the Athy team and later played for Bective Rangers where he was on a winning Leinster senior cup team.  He also captained the Leinster Junior team and played for the province on several occasions.  He qualified as a doctor in 1928 and after a number of years joined the British Army Indian Medical Service. 

During the Second World War, Jerry O’Neill served as a Major in Malaya and when in January 1942 the Japanese invaded the peninsula Major O’Neill and five other British soldiers were cut off from their unit.  To escape capture the six soldiers, including another Irish man Paddy Mearns of Donegal, set off on foot through the jungle for Singapore which was 550 miles away.  They eventually got within 40 miles of the city only to discover that it had fallen to the Japanese.  Turning back, the by now exhausted men set out for Burma, a journey which would take them 3½ months through over 2,000 miles of dense undergrowth and dangerous swamps.  On reaching the Malayan coast they needed a boat to cross to Burma and a group of friendly Chinese, who prior to the Japanese invasion had been policemen in the area, agreed to build a boat.  The subsequent killing of these Chinese by the Japanese soldiers prompted the six British soldiers who were now in extreme states of exhaustion to retreat back into the jungle.  Their luck ran out when the Japanese captured Major O’Neill and his colleague Lt. Marriott after they had sought shelter in a deserted jungle hut during a heavy thunderstorm.  Their four companions escaped immediate capture but were taken prisoners a day later.

The two officers were taken to Singapore where they were court martialled and sentenced to four years imprisonment.  They were detained in the notorious Outram Road Prison amongst almost 2,000 prisoners.  During the first week a prison officer was attacked by a Chinese prisoner and as a result all prisoners were sentenced to one year solitary confinement.  Major Jerry O’Neill was to serve that year’s confinement alone in a windowless cell 7 ft. long by 4 ft. wide where he was forbidden to sit during the day.  His only food consisted of small portions of rice which were heavily salted to stimulate thirst and a small tin of strong black tea.  Many of the prisoners did not survive, dying from disease or malnutrition, while others were executed by the Japanese. 

Jerry O’Neill later attributed his survival to prayer and a regular daily routine.  In his mind he played a round of golf every day, going over the Geraldine course in Athy where he had played as a young man claiming that he could never get his tee shot over the stream on to the short sixth green.  He walked in his small cell, calculating that each day he covered five miles in an attempt to survive the dreadful conditions facing him in solitary confinement.  A newspaper report at the end of the war claimed that 39 prisoners out of 100 in the same jail block as Jerry O’Neill died or became insane within the first six months.  On completing his term of solitary confinement Jerry O’Neill was to spend another 2 ½ years working within the prison where disease was rampant and where the lack of adequate food reduced the prisoners to emaciated skeletal figures. 

On 14th August 1945 the British prisoners were transferred to Changi P.O.W. camp following the commencement of peace negotiations.  Early in September of that year the British 5th Division arrived in Changi and all the prisoners were released, amongst them Jerry O’Neill who had been incarcerated for 3½ years.

Different accounts have been written of how Jerry O’Neill was identified amongst the emaciated prisoners following his release.  A report in the Leinster Leader recounted how a former colleague, Dr. Vincent Lee of Carlow, recognised him as the ship transporting the British prisoners docked at Bombay.  Dr. Lee on seeing his former Athy colleague exclaimed, ‘but Jerry you are supposed to be dead.’  The O’Neill family tradition is that Dr. Jerry was hospitalised in Calcutta where he was being treated by his brother Dr. John O’Neill who was also serving in the Indian Medical Service.    Neither men recognising each other.  They began talking about golf and discovered that they had both played Athy golf course when the truth suddenly dawned on Dr. John who asked his patient, ‘is your name Jerry?’  This according to family tradition is how the two doctor brothers from Athy were re-united after the war. 

Jerry O’Neill returned to Ireland by mail boat, landing at Dun Laoghaire where his 13 year old son Jerry, a pupil at Clongowes Wood College met his father for the first time in six years.  The grey haired man (although only 41 years old) was not recognisable.  The experience of the Japanese prison had aged Dr. O’Neill but by all accounts had not changed the gentle and kind man remembered by his children. 

When he had recovered from his terrible ordeal Dr. O’Neill returned to India where he was promoted to the rank of Colonel.  On retiring from the Army he lived in Greystones and later in Kilmuckridge, Co. Wexford before taking up medical positions in Wales and later in South East London.  He operated a G.P.’s practice in Bermondsey, London from 1960 to 1969 and retired to Rathfarnham in Dublin where he died on 30th January 1974.  His story is one of enormous courage, barely hinted at in the headlines in the local newspapers on his return to Athy following his release ‘Back from the grave – Athy man’s terrible ordeal’.

Dr. Jerry O’Neill was a brother of the late Dr. Joe O’Neill and an uncle of Dr. Giles O’Neill who is the fourth generation of the O’Neill family to practice in Athy.