Wednesday, February 19, 2014

'John' Hendy

Joshua Hendy, better known as “Joss”, has been a good friend of the “Eye on the Past” for many year, always ready to help with queries and ever generous with his knowledge of local people and places.  He lives in Kilcrow in the house in which he was born over 80 years ago and is quick to remind you that on the other side of the road which runs in front of the house lies the “kingdom of Castlemitchell”.  The Hendys came from Narraghmore in the 1920’s and before that they occupied lands in Harristown.  Joshua’s father, Henry, bought the Kilcrow farm from Robert Large and soon afterwards his wife, the mother of Bill, Jim and Daisy died.  Henry remarried and Joss and his sister Harriet were the children of the second marriage.

As a young pupil in Athy’s Model’s School at a time when Dan Rice was headmaster, Joss and his brothers made the daily journey from Kilcrow by ass and cart.  Both the animal and the cart were left in Doyle’s yard off Green Alley as the youngsters completed the mornings journey on foot, retracing their steps in the afternoon to start the same journey home.  But back in the 1930’s youngsters like Bill and Joss Hendy sometimes found it hard to resist the temptation to go “mitching” from school on a hot summers day.  It was a temptation which Joss readily admits both himself and his brother often times found it impossible to resist.

A much travelled man, Joss has visited many parts of the world and counts a trip across Russia as one of the most memorable journeys he made abroad.  His sisters Harriet’s connection with Aintree Hospital surely account for Joss’ record attendance at the Aintree Grand National for 28 years, because I am not aware of any great affinity on his part with horse racing.  However, another sport, Gaelic football, has played an important part in his life and as a player and supporter only one team has earned his lifelong allegiance - Castlemitchell.

Gaelic football was somewhat late in coming to Castlemitchell, an area in which cricket reigned supreme up to the beginning of the Second World War.  It was a County Wexford man, Bill Paire, who came to work in Kellyville who first sowed the seed which would thrive and grow to become Castlemitchell Gaelic Football Club.  The first team to tog out in the Castlemitchell colours in the Kildare Junior League included John’s brother, Jim.  Joss himself would later become a playing member of the club and at the end of his playing career served at different times as chairman, secretary and treasurer of Castlemitchell Gaelic Football Club.  For a rural club such as Castlemitchell the absence of a clubhouse was more than compensated for by the social gathering which each evening came together at the cross outside what was the former R.I.C. Barracks and in Joss’ young days, the home of Pa and Joe Bermingham.  Football was played in Young’s field at the back of Berminghams for nine years or so from 1939 and for another 15 years or more in a field alongside Hendy’s in Kilcrow.

Joss as a playing member of a Gaelic football club was some of a rarity in provincial Ireland of the 1940’s given that his co-religionist would not condone the playing of games on the Sabbath.  He recalls how a friend of his, also a member of the Church of Ireland, was called upon by a local clergyman to go down on his knees and promise on the Bible not to play football on a Sunday.  No such pressure confronted Joss and he was left to enjoy his Sunday afternoon outings with the Castlemitchell team.  He was a member of the team which lost the 1952 Intermediate Championship Final to Ballymore Eustace on the scoreline of 1-8 to 1-6.  The team was trained by the legendary Bill Delaney whose services Joss was largely responsible for obtaining for the border club.  The following year Castlemitchell won its first championship title when succeeding in the intermediate championship final, defeating Young Emmets by the large margin of three goals.  On that historic occasion the Castlemitchell players togged out in jerseys borrowed from the Levitstown Club which Joss collected from Sean Dooley on the morning of the final.  Perhaps of even more importance for the Castlemitchell folk than the winning of that first championship medal was that in the following year the Castlemitchell team beat their great rivals, Athy, in the first round of the football championship! 

Joss represented Castlemitchell on the Kildare County Board G.A.A. and remembers travelling by tractor to meetings in Newbridge.  Intimately involved in the club’s affairs over many years, he can speak with knowledge of the suspensions, the walk outs, the disputes, the disappointments and the victories which at some time or another come to all clubs.  Castlemitchell Gaelic Football Club which in the past drew on players from Athy and neighbouring townlands now plays on its own pitch which is to be found in neighbouring Rheban, which of course also boasts its own football club.  Joss recalls some of the great players who graced Castlemitchell teams over the years and counted Jack Connor, Peadar Dooley and Jimmy Curtis as the three best players to have played with the club.

Joss Hendy’s involvement in the local community was not confined to Gaelic football for when his playing career was over he featured over the years with the Castlemitchell players in a number of theatrical presentations put on in the local hall.  The early shows put on in the Churchtown Model School were lit by tilly lamps.  The Castlemitchell Hall, erected some years ago by the local community, now affords all the modern conveniences which one associates with theatrical productions today.

I was intrigued to hear the sequence of events which lead to Joss’ friend, Joe Bermingham, being afforded the opportunity to stand for and be elected to the Dáil.  Apparently Joe’s brother Pa was secretary of the Labour Party in the area and when he died Joe was asked to take his place.  Bill Norton was the long-standing Labour T.D. for Kildare and on his death his son, as is usual in Irish politics, got the nomination but failed in the subsequent by-election which was won by Terry Boylan of Fianna Fáil.  In the following years [1965]  General Election Paddy Dooley of Athy, a Fianna Fáil T.D. since 1957, lost his seat and Patrick Norton gained back his father’s seat for the Labour Party.  By the time the 1969 General Election came around Norton had switched to Fianna Fáil and Joe Bermingham got the Labour nomination.  He failed to get elected that year but was elected to the Dáil in the 1973 General Election.

Joss and his brother Bill married two sisters from Gorey in County Wexford.  Sadly Joss’ wife May whom he first met at his brother Bill’s wedding and whom he married in 1955 died earlier this year.  Their sons David, Mervyn and Brian were, like their father, sportsmen of some ability, but unlike their father their favourite sport was rugby in which David and Mervyn excelled as members of Athy Rugby Club.  Indeed David is the holder of a Towns cup medal won with Athy some years ago.

Joss who is a member of the Select Vestry of St. Brigid’s Parish Church in Ballintubbert took particular delight, knowing of my affiliation with Athy Gaelic Football Club, in telling me of the late Fr. Frank Mitchell’s approach to him in the late 1950’s to get the Castlemitchell players to join Athy Gaelic Football Club.  The approach was of course rejected out of hand, but knowing what I do of the strong feeling which existed between the Athy and Castlemitchell clubs of the 1950’s, I wonder how both sets of players could ever have been accommodated in the same club, if Fr. Mitchell’s peace plan had come about.

Joss who was 82 years old on 6th April has a wealth of information on the social life of times past in Kilcrow and Castlemitchell.  He has in his time made a considerable contribution to the community life of his area and always shares with all he meets the friendly approachable outlook which makes him such a favourite with friends and neighbours alike.

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