Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Some Catholic clerics of St. Michael's Parish

Fr. Anthony Gaughan, author of several well researched and well written books on Irish historical figures and places has written a four volume account of the Archbishops and priests who served in the Archdioceses of Dublin from the 17th century to 2011.  Interested as I was in the priests who served in the Parish of St. Michaels I culled the following information regarding those priests from Fr. Gaughan’s books. 

The 17th century list of priests is principally got from official records of ‘Popish Priests’ compiled for the purposes of the act which sought to banish priests from Ireland.  The first name recorded is that of Fr. John Fitzsimons who was Parish Priest in Athy in 1697 and recorded as living there in 1704.  Interestingly, Fr. Fitzsimons was ordained by Archbishop Oliver Plunkett who is now one of the saints of the Irish Catholic Church.

Daniel Fitzpatrick was recorded as the Parish Priest of St. Michael’s in 1744, even though he was then living across the border in Queens County.  James Nell, or Nele, was Parish Priest from 1771 until he died on 28th October 1789.

Maurice Keegan served as a curate in St. Michael’s Parish for seven years from 1780 until he later returned as Parish Priest, which position he occupied from 1789 to 1825.  The parish church was burned down in 1800 and Fr. Keegan claimed compensation, which with funds collected locally was used to finance the building of the Parish Church which stood until 1960.

The list of curates who served in St. Michael’s Parish commences with the name of Christopher Burke, 1838-1840, followed by Andrew Colgan who apparently served as curate for part only of 1840.  The listing of curates seems incomplete as the next curate recorded was Daniel Forrest who in 1853 stayed one year in Athy and later took up the presidency of St. John’s College in Sydney, Australia.  His replacement was James Gaffney whom Gaughan describes as a member of the Royal Irish Academy and a writer.  Unfortunately I have not yet succeeded in finding out any details of his literary work.  He was joined two years later by James Doyle and in 1857 Thomas Doyle became the third curate in St. Michael’s Parish.  The family name of Doyle was one to which the Athy parishioners obviously became well accustomed as another James Doyle came to the town as a curate in 1862.  Seven years later he was appointed Parish Priest of the Parish over which he presided until his death on 17th November 1892.  James Doyle’s curacy overlapped with that of Michael Curran who served in Athy for four years from 1868.  Three years after he departed from the parish Fr. Curran died at the young age of 32 years.  Yet another James Doyle joined the parish in 1874 and served for 13 years.  Sharing part of that time were fellow curates James Brennan and Thomas Brennan.  Laurence Farrelly replaced James Brennan and the existing curates were replaced in 1881 by Edward Dunne and James Carroll, neither of whom were there in 1892 when William Duggan arrived to serve as the Parish curate.  He remained in that position for 16 years before transferring to another parish and returning in 1917 as Parish Priest of nearby Castledermot.  William Duggan’s name is noted in the ‘History of Athy Golf Club’ as one of the group of people who came together to establish the local golf club.

Perhaps the saddest indictments of the unhealthy living conditions in Athy at the turn of the 20th century were the entries for Laurence Doyle, born 1870 in Annamoe, Co. Wicklow who was ordained in February 1896 and Mark Doyle, born in Graigue, Co. Kilkenny in 1869 and ordained in October 1892.  Both died in Athy while serving as young curates in the parish of St. Michael’s.  Mark Doyle died on 16th January 1900 aged 31 years and his namesake Laurence Doyle who transferred from Moone parish to replace him died age 32 years on 1st August 1902. 


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Melvin Jones Awards for four Lions Club stalwarts

In May 1971 twenty four young men gathered for a meeting in the Leinster Arms Hotel at the corner of Leinster Street and Emily Square.  They were there at the request of local pharmacist Des McHugh who in conjunction with his Kilkenny based brother-in-law Paddy Reynolds wanted to explore the possibility of establishing a Lions Club in Athy.  Lions Club International was founded in 1917 and is recognised today as the global leader in community and humanitarian service.  Its mission statement is ‘to empower volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding through Lions Clubs.’ 

During the meeting which was sponsored by the Kilkenny City Lions Club it was decided to form a Lions Club in Athy.  The names of the founding members of the club, now known as charter members, were Tully Curry, Des Perry, Michael Prendergast, John King, Jim Loughrin, Des McHugh, Ken Turner, Michael Dwyer, Dick Barrett, Kieran O’Grady, Michael Walsh, Ger Moriarty, John Perry, Gerry Carbery, Richard Norris, Liam Porter, Michael Cunningham, Gerry Cleary, Johnny Watchorn, Michael Wall, Barry Donnelly, Trevor Shaw, William Cade and Liam Owens.

It was then an all male organisation, unlike today when women play a prominent role in the running of the club.  Forty three years after its foundation Athy Lions Club through its members is still heavily committed to fundraising for local charities, as well as being involved in many community enhancing projects.  Within the present Lions Club membership there are four members who were involved in the initial meeting held in the Leinster Arms hotel 43 years ago.  They attend the monthly Lions Club meetings, as well as involving themselves in the club’s fundraising activities which in recent months included a cycle rally, a charity auction and the annual Christmas Food Appeal.  Their commitment and dedication over the 43 years of the club’s existence was marked last week with the presentation of Melvin Jones Awards to Gerry Cleary, Michael Dwyer, Ken Turner and Trevor Shaw. 

The Melvin Jones Award is the highest award that can be granted by a Lions Club and in the case of Athy Lions Club this is only the second occasion that such awards were made.  Previously the late Johnny Watchorn was the recipient of the Award for his work over many years on the governing body of the National Lions Club organisation.  The award to the four local Lions Club members was a unique event marked by the presence of the Lions District Governor who travelled from Cork to present each of the recipients with a Melvin Jones plaque.

 The members of Athy Lions Club have made a huge contribution to the local community during the 43 years of the Club’s existence.  Perhaps the most visible reminder of the Club’s work is the sheltered housing scheme in the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital.  That was a project headed up by Athy Lions Club, funded in part by government grants and funds raised locally by the Lions Club members.  Another major project was the purchase in conjunction with St. Michael’s Parish of Dreamland Ballroom on the Kilkenny Road which is now used for sporting and other community based activities. 

If you are interested in the work of the Lions Club and would like to be involved as a Lions Club member in raising funds for local charities I would welcome hearing from you.

Ken Sale from Graysland and originally from London passed away a few days ago at 80 years of age.  Ken came to Athy with his wife, the former Maisie Day from Dooley’s Terrace, Athy and his two daughters in 1981.  I returned to Athy the following year.  I first met Ken when he volunteered to help the newly established Museum Society to get ready its first premises in the vacant classrooms in Mount St. Marys.  That was in 1983/’84 and I recall with gratitude the outstanding help Ken gave during the weeks involved in setting up that first local Museum.  At the funeral Mass on Sunday his daughter Katie gave an eloquent touching eulogy which surpassed anything I had previously heard on such occasions in our Parish Church.  It was a wonderful tribute to a man whose path first crossed mine 30 years ago.

Coming to the end of 2014 I want to thank the people who have contacted me during this year offering information and help with the stories which have appeared in this column.  I am always delighted to hear from you. 

Happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year to all the readers of Eye on the Past.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ernest Shackleton's Christmases

Christmas is a time for home and hearth when we welcome back to our shores those of our extended families whom live abroad.  But we should give a moment’s pause to those of our country men and women who are unable, for various reasons, to return home.  The Kilkea born Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton was one of those whose life was mostly lived outside the country of his birth and because of his pursuit of discovery in the Antarctic regions many of his Christmas’s were spent in the icy wastes of the Polar regions.  Just one hundred years ago Shackleton's ship  Endurance left the island of South Georgia on the 5th of December heading towards the pack ice of the Weddell Sea.  He was embarking upon his ambitious plan to cross the Antarctic from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea.  Ultimately the expedition ended in heroic failure and Shackleton and his men would spend two Christmas’s in the Antarctic before returning to civilisation.

Christmas for Shackleton invariably meant time away from hearth and home and with companions in the windy wasteland of the Antarctic.  His Christmas of 1902 was spent on the Antarctic barrier with his companions Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Dr. Edward Wilson, both of whom would die later on a trek back from the South Pole in 1912.  Christmas was important to Shackleton and unbeknownst to his colleagues to supplement their standard lunch of Bovril, chocolate, biscuits and Plasmon he had stowed away in his spare socks a small plum pudding weighing 6 ounces which he produced as a surprise on Christmas day with a piece of holly.  Although he spent much of his life away he understood the importance of observing the rituals of home life.  Christmas in 1908 would again find Shackleton in the Antarctic this time on the Antarctic Plateau at a height of 9,500 ft. almost 250 miles from the Pole. 

In his book The Heart of Antarctic he wrote about Christmas day in 1908 ‘we had a splendid dinner.  First came hoosh, consisting of a pony ration boiled up with pemmican with some of our emergency oxo and biscuit.  Then in the cocoa water I boiled our little plum pudding.  This with a drop of medicinal brandy was a luxury, then came cocoa and lastly cigars and a spoonful of crème de menthe’. 

As for many of us at Christmas time food was an important part of the celebration but never more so for those explorers starving themselves in their endeavours to reach the holy grail of the South Pole.  To return to Shackleton’s expedition of 1914, December 25th of that year found the Endurance battling its way through the ice but Shackleton was able to have a full sit down meal with his fellow crew members in the Mess cabin of the ship.  One of the ship’s officers decorated the mess with flags and Christmas presents were exchanged.  This was later followed by a luxurious dinner consisting of turtle soup, whitebait, jugged hare, Christmas pudding, mince pies, dates, figs and crystallised fruits with rum and stout as drinks.  The evening concluded with a sing song amongst the men but one can only imagine the variable quality of the voices after a day of indulgence!

The last few Christmas’s of Shackleton’s life were spent abroad.  In Christmas 1919 he was coming to the end of his service with the British army in Northern Russia where it was fighting in support of the White Russians against the Bolsheviks.  Shackleton's expertise had been required in assisting the British troops in training for cold weather conditions.  Embarking upon a royal navy ship HMS Mars he met A.S. Griffiths an old school pal of his from Dulwich College days with whom he had played truant more than 30 years before.  Christmas day was spent in reminiscence with his Griffiths while that night Shackleton joined the sailors of HMS Dublin for a Christmas party aboard their ship. 

Christmas 1922, found Shackleton in the Southern Oceans on his expedition ship the Quest.  Sadly for Shackleton the man who placed such importance on the rituals of everyday life Christmas celebrations were not possible as no cooking could be done in the difficult atrocious conditions that the ship encountered.  It would be Shackleton’s last Christmas as he died just over a week later at South Georgia in the early hours of the morning of the 5th of January.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Carmel Day and Day family concert

‘Soldiering is in the Athy blood’ was an oft repeated comment of 19th century observers of the South Kildare town whose men folk were to be found in large numbers amongst the ranks of the English army and navy.  Today soldiering has been replaced by music prompting my thoughts last night after an entertaining concert in the local Arts Centre that ‘music is in the Athy blood’.  The latest musical event in our Arts Centre was a benefit concert to raise funds for St. Vincent’s Hospital.  Organised by members of the extended Day family, with Carmel Day topping the bill, it featured Athy artists throughout.

Supporting Carmel who gave a superb singing performance, was another talented singer Geraldine O’Connell and a young dancer, Jade McCartney.  Completing the Athy line-up were the three members of the Shamrockers, a ballad group founded some years ago and now led by Rob Chanders Senior.  Rob, playing guitar and lead singer, was joined on stage by his son Rob Junior on 5 string banjo and mandolin and Brendan Connolly on bazooka.  Brendan also shared the vocals and the ballad makers gave us rousing renditions of ‘The Ferryman’, ‘Donegal Danny’ and several more classic Irish ballads which got a huge response from the audience. 

Carmel Day’s singing was the highlight of the night’s entertainment and her name can now be added to the lengthening list of local singers and musicians who have provided many of the wonderful nights of entertainment enjoyed in the local Arts Centre since it opened.  Incidentally the Shamrockers plan to release their first album next February, an event to be looked forward to.

On the same day as the evening concert I went to the local Library to hear and read what is being proposed by Waterways Ireland in relation to the development of the pathway for use by walkers and cyclists along the towpath of the Barrow Line.  Stretching from its junction with the Grand Canal at Lowtown to St. Mullins, south of Graiguenamanagh, the towpath covers a distance of 112kms.  I had followed the controversy which unfolded in the letter pages of the Irish Times some weeks ago as both objectors to the pathway proposal and those supporting the project outlined their views.  I had an open mind on the issue, despite my often repeated observation that here in Athy we have not made maximum use of the waterways which pass through the town.  I have been particularly pleased in recent times to see the berthing of boats at the town centre harbour next to Crom a Boo bridge.  The boats present a wonderful sight and congratulations must go to Cliff Reid and his associates for encouraging boat owners to use the facilities here in Athy.  Perhaps the benefit of removing the silt dumped at the harbour during the Barrow Drainage Scheme will now be seen.  If it was removed it would allow the harbour to revert to its original size so that more boats could be accommodated.

To return to the waterways consultation day in the local Library I learned that what is called the Barrow Blueway is intended to support diverse recreational activities and help grow and develop business along its route.  Its purpose is to facilitate cyclists and walkers to use the towpath and this will require surfacing sections of the existing towpath.  I gather replacing some existing grass surfaces with bonded material to provide a cycling surface ranging in width from 2.0m to 2.5m is the principal reason for many objectors opposition to the proposal.

The work proposed by Irish Waterways includes not only the cycle/walk way, but also the provision of picnic tables and seating at viewing points along the way.  Undoubtedly there is merit in what is proposed by Irish Waterways, facilitating as it will greater use and enjoyment of a much neglected facility.  Hopefully the concerns of the objectors will be taken on board by Irish Waterways and wherever possible the pathway development will be carried out with minimal damage to the environmental aspects of what is a wonderful facility combining nature with manmade features. 

During the week I learned of the passing of Biddy Telford, the last of the Telford family who once lived at Barrowford.  Her brother Anthony died many years ago.  It will be recalled that he married a Swedish lady, Gunda, who first arrived in Athy in the 1940s as a governess to the children of the first manager of the newly opened Wallboard factory.  The Telfords were at one time proprietors of the Athy Tile and Brick Company and they also had an association with Ardree House on the Carlow Road which now sadly lies derelict, having been unoccupied for many years.