Thursday, December 27, 2012

Photographs - IVI Workers Show 1962, Wallboard Factory Staff Christmas Dinner

The two photographs shown this week were taken in the 1960s.  The first is of a group of I.V.I. workers who took part in a show in the Social Club in St. John’s Lane in 1962.  Both the I.V.I. and the Social Club are now long gone.

The second photograph is of workers from the Wallboard Factory taken at their annual Christmas dinner.  The date is unknown but believed to be in the 1960s. 

Can anyone put names on those photographed?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Zoltan Zinn Collis

‘I can forgive but I can never forget’.  The words spoken with emphasis and simplicity by the survivor of the Belsen concentration camp came back to me when I heard of the death of Zoltan Zinn-Collis.  I was privileged to meet and interview Zoltan some years ago in preparation for an Eye on the man who survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp in the 1940s.  Zoltan with his sister Edith were the only survivors of the Zinn family members arrested and imprisoned during the Second World War.  Zoltan’s story was one of loss – not only the loss of family but also the loss of identity.   He lost both his parents, a baby sister and an older brother, as well as his own childhood.  His mother, whose name he could not recall, died in the arms of Zoltan’s sister Edith on the very day that Belsen camp was liberated by the British Army.

He was one of several children taken from the Germany concentration camp to Ireland by Dr. Robert Collis and lived out his life in a country far removed and far different than the country of his birth.  He never forgot his past – a past inhabited by a mother he remembered but did not grow to know.  Zoltan could never shut out the memories of childhood years spent in Belsen camp.  He could not and would not forget.  He campaigned for many years to bring the atrocities of the Holocaust to a wider audience.  ‘Always remembering’ were the words he inscribed in my copy of Mary Rose Doorley’s book on the survivors of the Holocaust who came to live in Ireland. 

His courage demonstrated itself again and again when he addressed school children in this parish and further afield on the evils of war and the history of the Holocaust.  He spoke movingly of his family and of the thousands who died in Belsen.  His was a personal story, not just of death and suffering, but also of a determination to remind the world of the truth of what happened in Germany during the war.  His message was a simple one – we should never forget, we should never allow the truth to be suppressed. 

Zoltan never gave up on his self chosen responsibility to remind the world of what happened in Belsen and other Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s.  He was a survivor and as a child of the Holocaust he championed the cause of the six million Jews exterminated by Nazi Germany.  To Zoltan the lessons of history could only be learned if the survivors spoke out in testimony to the horrors they experienced. 

Zoltan carried with him throughout his life the visible signs of childhood illnesses which the inhumane conditions in Belsen had developed and nurtured.  Nevertheless he lived a full life in his adopted country where he had arrived as a 4½ year old. 

Zoltan was a brave man whose life was shaped and changed by the awful events of his childhood years.  That he survived and lived the life he did was a mark of his courage and of his inner strength.  He is survived by his wife Joan and daughters Caroline, Nicola, Siobhan and Emma to whom we extend our sympathy.

Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Maxwells Garage

Porters Directory and Guide published in or around 1909 carried an alphabetical list of names of Athy businesses associated with the manufacture and sale of Irish products.  The listing included Athy Brick Works owned by Telfords, manufacturers of machine made bricks, as well as Stephen Hayden’s handmade brick works in  Churchtown.  The only other survivor of the local brick industry which at one time had upwards of twelve competing firms was the Coursetown firm of Mr. Hosie who like his near neighbour Stephen Hayden was also engaged in the manufacture of handmade bricks. 

One of the three local advertisements which appeared in the directory was for S.J. Maxwell, Cycle Agent, ‘successor to A. Duncan, Son & Co. Ltd.’  Duncans were also listed as woollen and general drapers, boot merchants, house furnishers and stationers. 

Sam Maxwell was a native of Dundrum in Co. Tipperary and came to Athy to work for Duncans.  When he took over the bicycle business is uncertain but the advertisement in Porter’s Guide indicates a date prior to 1909.  Interestingly the advertisement apart from listing the cycle manufacturers for whom S.J. Maxwell was  agent also described the firm as ‘Maker of the Maxwell Cycles’.  I wonder if there is any example of the Maxwell bicycle still in the area.  Motor repairs, spare parts and a garage were also part of the Maxwell business, but apparently in those early years as a minor adjunct to the cycle business.

Sam Maxwell later emigrated to Canada and the business of S.J. Maxwell was taken over by his brother James, better known as J.S. who developed the motor business with which Maxwell’s Garage has been synonymous for decades past.  A younger brother Charles also worked in the business and his daughter Doris recalls her father recounting how he drove a party to Fairyhouse Races over Easter 1916.  On the return journey, unaware of the seizure of the G.P.O. by Pearse and Connolly, he encountered a dead horse on the city tramlines and was stopped and questioned by military and police. 
When J.S. Maxwell died suddenly the business was taken over and for a while was run by his sister Isobel, a widow who had previously operated a small shop in Thurles.  Charles Maxwell would in time take over the running of the Maxwell business and expanded it with the acquisition of a Volkswagen dealership in 1952.  Joining Charles Maxwell first as a salesman and later as a director of the business was Johnny Watchorn who had previously worked as a law clerk to Henry Grattan Donnelly, the founder of the firm which still bears his name.  Henry Donnelly was a former Barrister who lost his sight and opened a Solicitors practice in offices rented from Maxwells at Duke Street. 

The Maxwell garage business prospered and one of the scenes remembered by me of Athy in the 1950s was the petrol pumps located on the footpath outside No. 50 Duke Street, directly opposite the Garda Barracks.  It’s an indication of how little vehicular traffic passed down the main street of the town in those days and how much life has changed in the last 60 years.

Charles Maxwell died in 1972 and was replaced as a director of the firm by his daughter Doris.  In 1985 Maxwells acquired the premises formerly occupied by Smiths Garage next to the I.V.I. Foundry.  The underground petrol tanks at Duke Street were filled with sand, the petrol pumps removed as was the Maxwell sign which had graced the premises at 50 Duke Street for almost 75 years of business.

When Doris Maxwell retired in 2005 her interest in the firm first established by her Uncle Sam was acquired by local man Louis Wynne.  Maxwells Garage still under the directorship of Johnny Watchorn and Louis Wynne continues to be an important part of the commercial life of Athy. 

Over the years many people have worked for Maxwells Garage including the fondly remembered Tosh Doyle who drove hackney cars for J.S. Maxwell for many years. Still with the firm after 50 years as a motor mechanic is Jim Archbold and the business which was started as a cycle shop by Alexander Duncan in the last decade of the 19th century continues today as the oldest garage business in the town of Athy.