Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Athy Musical Society and Photo of 'Carousee' 1988

Athy Musical and Dramatic Society has announced its next show to be performed in the Clanard Court Hotel on the 12th and 13th of June.  ‘Next Dance Please’, directed by Tom Cooper, will showcase songs from the showband era.  Now in its 29th year the society owes its foundation to Joe Crowley, Mary Spellman and Fr. Owen Sweeney who in September 1984 sought to revive the town’s long standing musical and dramatic tradition.  Former members of the Social Club Players Patsy O’Neill and Ger Moriarty were also involved, and by the first week of the following December the newly formed Society staged its first production.  ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ was put on in the Lions Centre and if I correctly recall Fr. Pat Mangan, Frank English and myself, with some others, shamelessly disported ourselves on stage in nappies.

Better things however lay ahead for Athy Musical and Dramatic Society which the following year put on the show ‘Curtain Call’ and two years later staged its first full musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’.  The Society under the presidency of Connie Stafford has gone from strength to strength and over the years has contributed much needed funds to a variety of local charities including K.A.R.E., St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Patients Comfort Fund of St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Many of the stalwarts of the Society are included in the following photograph of the cast of ‘Carrousel’ which was performed in 1988.  Their names, starting at the back from left to right, are:  Damien Cardiff, Malachy Cardiff, John Keogh, Ed Kirwan, Michael Kelly, Chris Fingleton, Tony Cardiff, Kieran Dooley, Gertie Gray, Brid Horan, Breda Fitzgerald, Ann Greaney, Mary Quinlan, Siobhan McGilly, Romy Cox, Tina Donoghue, Carmel Shaughnessy, Karen Fleming, Dympna O’Flaherty, Marguerite Keegan, Margo Heskins, Anne Brennan, (?), Ann Jennings, Helen Keegan, Dolores Craig, Veronica O’Connell, Deirdre O’Halloran, Connie Stafford, Betty Cusack, Marie Caffrey, Catherine Campion, Nora Burke, Liz Watchorn, Celine Stafford, Imelda Dooley and Trish McQuinlan. 

Connie Stafford, who has been involved in Athy’s Musical and Dramatic Society since its foundation, celebrated her 90th birthday last Friday.  She is the longest living resident of the Pairc Bhride estate which was built by Athy Urban District Council in the early 1950s.  Congratulations and best wishes to Connie on her 90th birthday and long may Athy Musical and Dramatic Society continue in the great show making tradition which is an important part of Athy’s cultural heritage. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

John Dooley, Hurling and the 1936 Hurling Medal

Last week the postman brought me a small parcel of papers which had originated many years ago in Athy, but now came to me courtesy of Mary Shevlin, formerly Mary Dooley of St. Patrick’s Avenue and now of Dublin.  Newspaper cuttings with copies of two local publications, Fintan Brennan’s ‘History of Geraldine Park’ and ‘The Green Hill Magazine’ of Christmas 1964 provided more than sufficient interest.  However, two sheets with handwritten notes on hurling facts relating to Athy, together with a carbon copy of typed poems by Vincent F. O’Brien of Hatfield, Hertfordshire caught my eye.  The notes, I believe, were written by John J. Dooley, who more than anybody else was responsible for keeping the Gaelic game of hurling alive in the ‘garrison town’ of Athy. 

A hurling club was formed in Athy or around 1887, the year that Dan Whelan of Fontstown was recorded as making hurleys for the club.  The first County Kildare hurling championship was held the following year and involved just two teams with no Athy participation.  An Athy hurling team played a Rathdowney selection in 1898 and suffered a defeat on the score of 3-13 to no score.  Quite obviously the level of hurling skill amongst the local Athy players was of a very rudimentary type.

Eoghan Corry’s centenary ‘History of Athy G.A.A.’ notes that the 1924 Kildare County hurling team included a number of Athy players, but regrettably they were not identified.  This was at a time when Seamus Malone, a teacher in the local Christian Brothers School, was reorganising Athy’s Gaelic Football and Hurling Club which had suffered badly due to emigration. 

Athy hurlers secured their first major success when winning the Kildare Senior Hurling Championship in 1928, beating Johnstown Bridge in the final.  The following year Athy were the losing finalists.  1936 was a very successful year for the Athy hurlers when the seniors defeated Broadford to take the championship, while the junior team secured the junior title following an objection when defeated by Kill in the junior final.  Athy junior hurling teams  would win the junior championship title on the playing field in 1943, 1950 and 1958 and a Junior B title in 1982. 

The 1936 Athy senior hurling championship winning team featured Michael Sullivan, Michael Nolan, Dave Taylor, Paddy Fitzpatrick, George Comerford, Sean Feeney, John Campbell, Vincent O’Brien, J. Keogh, John Dunne, Vincent Thornton, Anthony Nolan, Seamus O’Byrne, Michael Noonan and George Moynan.  The final was played in Newbridge on 22nd November 1936 when Athy defeated Broadford on the score of 6-1 to 3-1. 

Thirty years later John J. Dooley, who soon after his arrival in Athy from Paulstown, Co. Kilkenny and who was the driving force behind the town’s hurling club, read a poem published in the Kilkenny People.  It was written by Vincent F. O’Brien who lived in England and John recalled a championship medal won with Athy in 1936 by a man of the same name which had not been presented to the player.  He wrote to Vincent O’Brien and the championship medal which had remained unclaimed for 30 years was finally reunited with the man who had won it in 1936. 

Vincent O’Brien later wrote a letter which was published in the Kilkenny People explaining how he had played hurling for Athy while working in County Kildare.  ‘I have an idea that there was only one Kildare man on the team.  The others were shop assistants, teachers, Gardai, soldiers, etc. who were from various counties resident around Athy.  The driving force behind the team was Mr. John J. Dooley, 3 St. Patrick’s Avenue, Athy who was from County Kilkenny and who was and still is chairman of the club ..... Mr. Dooley saw my poem “Falling Leaves” which had a Kildare theme in your issue of August 26th.  This lead to his contacting me and so he was able to pass on to me the Senior Hurling Championship medal which I won with Athy in 1936.’

The success of 1936 was not repeated the following year when Athy, having inflicted a heavy defeat in the semi-final on the Army team McDonaghs, lost the championship final to Maynooth.  In 1938 Athy went out at the semi-final stage, losing by 2 points to the Curragh team.

Athy’s Hurling Club lost a number of its senior players in the early 1940s and found itself restricted to junior hurling for a number of years.  It was again John J. Dooley who revived the club in 1957.  John, who had come to Athy in the early 1930s to work in the grocery  department of Jackson Brothers, spearheaded the drive which lead to the Athy Hurling Club’s success in the Junior Cup of 1958, followed a year later by success in the Senior Hurling Championship.  Again, as happened in 1936 when the Athy junior team won on an objection, the senior team of 1958 won the championship after McDonagh’s were stripped of the title following an objection.  Athy senior hurlers would reach the County Final in 1961 and 1964, but on each occasion fell short of victory, losing to Broadford and Eire Og.

I wonder if anyone can remember the players of 1936 or if any of the senior or junior hurling championship medals won by Athy Hurling Club since 1938 have found a home in the South Kildare town.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

John Wesley and Methodism in Athy

Last week I had occasion to reflect on the writers I have enjoyed over the years and the persons who for one reason or another I have admired.  It’s an exercise which had not previously enjoyed my attention and so I had to trawl through a reading life of several decades to come to any conclusions.  I’m not going to bore you with the results of my writer/book search other than to say it was an exercise which called for the brutal disposal of several writers whom I have always highly regarded.  Not that they were any less worthy after the remove of several years, indeed several decades in some cases, but rather I had to choose only those I could deal with in the limited time available to me.

It was when it came to decide on the people whom I admired from the past that I got some surprising results.  As someone who writes of Irish history as it unfolds at a local level, I thought that the great heroes of Irish history would figure large in my panel of heroes.  Not so I’m afraid for the list was comprised, except for one or two Irish exceptions, of persons who are closely associated with Britain. 

One of those was John Wesley, who although ordained, as was his brother Charles, within the folds of the Church of England, nevertheless spent his long life on evangelising work throughout England, Wales and Ireland and extended into America.  His open air preaching amongst the miners and the agricultural workers of England and Wales helped form the strong alliance which after Wesley’s death existed between Methodism and the emerging Trade Union movement of 19th century Britain.

John Wesley did not preach in Athy during any of his 20 visits to Ireland, but is believed to have passed through the town on 25th April 1789 while travelling to Rosanna near Ashford in County Wicklow.  There he was the guest of Mrs. Sarah Tighe, whose daughter Elizabeth would later marry the founder of the Kellyites, Rev. Thomas Kelly of Kellyville.

The first Methodist Minister was appointed in Athy a year before John Wesley died, but bear in mind that the early so called Methodists were still part of the Church of England.  It was only after John Wesley’s death in 1791 that the Methodists withdrew from the parent church and formed themselves into the ‘Society of the People called Methodists’.  Athy was visited by several important Methodist figures over the years including Adam Averall and Gidgeon Ouseley, Methodist pioneers of historical importance in that Church’s history.  The following is an account of a noteworthy conversion to Methodism in 1817 by Charles Graham which is taken from Crookshank’s ‘History of Methodism’. 

            ‘Another triumph of Divine grace was a young tutor, named Feely, an excellent Irish scholar.  He was a zealous Romanist, much given to controversy, having studied carefully the standard works of his Church, and succeeded in prevailing on some weak-minded Protestants to abandon the faith of their fathers.  When in search of a situation, he was directed to apply to a Mr. Large, a Methodist who resided at Ballintubbert, near Athy, by whom he was engaged.  Mrs. Large had several religious discussions with the tutor, during one of which she expressed a desire that he would meet the preacher of the circuit, Mr. Graham, who was so well fitted to speak on such subjects.  Feely, satisfied in himself that he would have no difficulty in silencing the itinerant, said he would like very much to have an opportunity of conversing with him, and in his heart longed for the fray.’               

What followed was the discussion between Minister Graham and the young children and we take up the narrative again.

‘As soon as possible he procured a Bible, which he searched with the earnest but vain hope of finding his religion there; and as he continued to study its sacred pages the darkness in which he had been enveloped gradually disappeared.  He began to attend the Methodist services, and after a painful and protracted struggle, cast his weary sin-burdened spirit on the merits of Christ alone, and thus obtained the rest and satisfaction he had so earnestly desired.  He was not, however, permitted to follow the dictates of his conscience without molestation.  One day, returning from Athy, he was assaulted by a Popish mob in a most savage manner, and although he escaped with life, the beating received so affected his head as to lay the foundation of a complaint which eventually terminated his useful labours.  The rejoicing convert soon began to employ his talents in Christian work, more especially as a local preacher, labouring throughout the counties of Carlow and Wexford, where his ministrations were owned of the Lord and gratefully appreciated by the people.’

The Methodist Church at Woodstock Street opened in 1872 after the members of the Church vacated the former Quaker Meeting House in Meeting Lane which they had used since the early 1800s. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Great Famine Commemmoration Day

Sunday, 12th May is the Great Famine National Commemoration Day and Athy, which once housed the Workhouse serving the Poor Law Union area stretching to Castledermot, Monasterevin and into County Laois, will remember its famine dead with an ecumenical service in St. Mary’s Cemetery at 3.00 p.m.

Part of the Athy Workhouse is still visible today from the Stradbally Road, fronted by boundary walls which long before our time were reduced from the forbidden heights which were there during the Famine years.  Todays entrance to St. Vincent’s Hospital is unrecognisable from the gated entrance which separated the inmates from the outside world of 168 years ago. 

The Workhouse, which opened on 9th January 1844, was an impenetrable prison like premises where married couples, young and old, were separated and children were taken from their parents.  All lived apart within the same institution, men from their womenfolk, children from their parents.  The misery and helplessness experienced by an already dispirited and hungry people can only be imagined.

The loss of the potato crop in 1845 brought hunger and despair seldom before experienced by a people weakened by deprivation and want.  The miserable cottages of the poor held no homely comforts but yet the journey to the Workhouse was one taken with considerable pain and regret. 

For many that journey, always made on foot, was not without hope that the Workhouse would give relief from the pangs of hunger and that the return journey could be made with life intact.  Not always so however, for even as their hunger was relieved by the Workhouse rations, disease attacked the weakened bodies of the young and old, bringing many to an early grave.

Workhouse records disclose that 1205 Workhouse inmates died during the years of the Great Famine in Athy’s Workhouse.  It is not known how this figure was distributed as between the main Workhouse and the two supplementary Workhouses open in Barrack Street and in the Grand Canal Stores.  All those who died were, I believe, buried in the small cemetery on the far side of the Grand Canal which we now know as St. Mary’s.

The Workhouse, built to accommodate 360 adults and 240 children, had to cater for 1,399 inmates each day during the worst of the Famine years.  Even the operation of a soup kitchen in the town of Athy did little to relieve pressure on the local Workhouse.  Poverty and hunger stalked the streets of the market town of Athy as it did every other town and village in Ireland of the 1840s. 

The Great Famine is today remembered by a generation long removed from the miseries of those times.  Those fortunate individuals who survived the famine learned not to talk of what had happened and so a great part of our history was lost to folk memory.  It took  several generations to regain that history, starting with the writing of a former curate of St. Michael’s Parish in Athy, Fr. John O’Rourke.  It was Fr. O’Rourke, by then P.P. of Maynooth, who wrote one of the earliest accounts of the Great Famine with the publication in 1874 of his book, ‘History of the Great Irish Famine of 1847’.  Since then many publications have dealt with this dark period of our history and in recent years successive Irish governments have commemorated the dead of the Great Famine with a national commemoration day.

This year it takes place on Sunday, 12th May and Kilrush, County Clare will be the location for the national commemoration event.  Here in Athy we will commemorate our famine dead with an ecumenical service in St. Mary’s Cemetery on Sunday, 12th May at 3.00 p.m.  At the same time we will remember the local people who survived the Great Famine, and especially the young girls from this area who were sent out from Athy Workhouse between 1849 and 1850 under an Orphan Emigration Scheme to start a new life in Australia.

They were the legacy of the Great Famine for the most part orphaned or abandoned by parents who could no longer care for them.  Their names are recorded here so that we can remember them:-

Ann Carroll
Ann Clare
Lucy Connor
Brigid Crook
Margaret Dobson
Bridget Egan
Catherine Fleming
Elizabeth Fitzpatrick
Rose Fleming
Mary Green
Elizabeth Hayes
Mary Hayes
Bridget Ivory
Bridget Moore
Ellen Murray
Margaret Neill
Ann Sinclair
Ellen Sullivan
Julia Byrne
Margaret Byrne
Judith Curran
Catherine Curran
Catherine Kenny
Mary Kenny
Catherine Lowry
Mary Maher
Mary Moore
Jane Rooney
Margaret Toole.