There passed away last week three relatively young members of our communities who at different times in my life were well known to me. I was very young when I first made the acquaintance of Loy Hayden, indeed so young that I can’t recall the time or the place. However, since we both lived in Offaly Street, just a few doors from each other and since Loy was a few years older than myself and I’m told brought me to school on some occasions, my forgetfulness can be understood. Loy was from Kilmeade and came to live with her aunt Kitty Murphy and her husband Joe, a Dublin man, who worked on the railway. Joe was an old I.R.A. man who took part in the 50th anniversary ceremonies for the 1916 Rising which were held forty years ago in Emily Square. He would have been pleased and no doubt impressed by the 1916 commemoration ceremony held in the same square on 30th April last when the platform party included members of the families of local men Joe May, “Bapty” Maher and J.J. O’Byrne who were interned in the aftermath of the Easter Rising.
The Murphys lived in No. 3 Offaly Street at a time when the Taaffes lived in No. 6, all of us being tenants of Myles Whelan of Fortbarrington. We moved next door to No. 5 Offaly Street when the White family left for Athgarvan and the Murphys with Loy and her brother Seamus moved into the house we had vacated. It was there Loy continued to live after she married Hugh Bolger of Ballylinan. We were next door neighbours throughout my teenage years but my links with Loy go back to those days when I started school at St. Joseph’s in Rathstewart. Loy brought me, and I suspect Teddy Kelly as well, to school whenever our young mothers, as they then were, found themselves unable to accompany us on the journey from Offaly Street across Leinster Street down the short distance to Stanhope Street. Even in those unhurried days when cars were scarcely seen on the streets of Athy, the walk to school held some hazards for youngsters before they reached the safety of the little three room building which stood at the far side of the main gate to the Parish Church and the gates beyond which led to the Convent of Mercy.
As the hearse bearing Loy’s coffin stopped below the steps to St. Michael’s Parish Church I looked across at where St. Joseph’s School once stood and marvelled at the changes now taking place which will in a few weeks give us a recreational centre to complement the recently opened hotel fashioned out of what was a convent built over 150 years ago.
Loy was always known to me as Loy Hayden, even after she married and as a youngster and as an adult I never questioned for what name Loy was an abbreviation. It was only as I walked behind her remains on the journey to St. Michael’s did I learn that Loy was a shortened version of Elizabeth. Loy was one of the most self effacing persons it was my pleasure to know. She was a kind considerate neighbour over many years and especially helpful to my mother who following my father’s death continued to live next door to Loy. She lived out her life in Offaly Street, a place dear to me in youthful memories and a place which I can and frequently do revisit in my minds eye.
“He’s always writing about Offaly Street”, so claimed Gretta Moore as with Eileen Tuohy we talked coming out of the Parish Church last Saturday evening. She was pulling my leg of course, but in truth I have probably made more reference to the street in which I was reared than any other part of Athy. Understandably on occasions such as the passing of an old neighbour and friend another opportunity arises to mention Offaly Street and the families who lived there. It was nice to see so many of those children of Offaly Street now showing the obvious signs of maturing years returning last week to pay their respects to a well loved neighbour of old. And of course when neighbours of old get together they reminisce and talk of times past which all of us tend to view through rose tinted memories. Those memories may not always be reliable and as I talked to Denis Smyth and Brendan Murphy I learned that the Dempsey brothers, Mick and James, lived in No. 6 Offaly Street before the Taaffes arrived from Castlecomer. I remember James Dempsey who was the weightmaster at the council weighing scales at the back of the Town Hall and who lived in what was later Brophys shop and subsequently the original Credit Union office. We could not reconcile my memories of James Dempsey with the belief that No. 6 Offaly Street became vacant and available for the Taaffes when the Dempsey brothers died. I will have to wait for a phone call from another former Offaly Street neighbour to resolve this conundrum.
Fr. Philip Dennehy who will be retiring very shortly as our Parish Priest gave a moving and as we have come to expect from this senior cleric, a beautiful homily after he received Loy’s remains in St. Michael’s Church. Funerals are a sad occasion but Fr. Dennehy’s words last Saturday no doubt brought comfort and some measure of consolation to Loy’s husband, Hugh and her children Sinead and Aine.
Another funeral last week was that of Jim Townsend, a man a few years older than myself whom I had known 45 years or so ago. We both went to the local Christian Brothers School, Jim being a class or two ahead of myself and his brother Martin. Jim married Sheila Kehoe, formerly of Offaly Street, who was a good friend of mine in our younger days. His passing after a lengthy illness was a sad blow for Sheila and her children, but the closeness of the family bond was affirmed by the affectionate words spoken by Jim and Sheila’s only son, Colm, from the altar at the end of Mass in the Parish Church. Such contributions can often be fraught with embarrassing disclosures and ill-conceived tributes but in this case Colm Townend’s words, spoken with such sincerity and eloquence, evoked nothing but worthy and well deserved praise. It was a lovely tribute to his father and one which any parent would be proud to have applied to them.
Funerals, like weddings, afford many of us a rare opportunity to meet again acquaintances and neighbours from the past and Jim’s funeral was attended by the members of the Kehoe family who once lived in Offaly Street. There, I mention that place again, but really it’s like peering through the looking glass of time to meet again Pattie, Eileen, Arian, Clement and Brendan Kehoe, all of whom turned up to support their sister Sheila in her grief.
Basil Chambers died last week also. His sudden unexpected death was a terrible blow to his wife, Joyce and their children. I first met Basil soon after I returned to Athy in the early 1980’s. He was one of the leading lights of the local Rugby Club and it was to the Rugby Club that I turned to in order to play badminton. Basil was chairman of the badminton section of the club and also chairman of the cricket section and as I was involved for a time in both sports I got to know Basil quite well. A conscientious and extremely hard worker, he brought to his dealings with the badminton club a directness and tenacity which marked him out as an uncomplicated individual who knew his own mind. He enjoyed playing badminton and cricket towards the end of his sporting life which had earlier seen him captain the Athy seconds to win the Provincial Towns Seconds Cup in the 1972/1973 season when Athy defeated Drogheda. He was president of the Rugby Club in 1991/1992 and for many years served on the club’s committee.
Basil completes a triumvirate of those who died last week, all of whom were known to me at different stages of my life. Two of these, Loy and Jim, were brought to St. Michael’s Parish Church and buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery following a Catholic religious ceremony. Basil’s remains were brought to Ballintubbert Church and buried after a Church of Ireland religious ceremony. There is nothing to show up the failings of religion in modern society than the sight of funeral processions and services for members of the same community taking different routes, metaphorically speaking, to their maker. Is there, I ask myself, anything more divisive in today’s society than religion? We live together in community, we work together, we socialise together but come Sunday we go to separate churches, we pray separately and when we come to die the religious differences keeps us apart. That separateness was exemplified for me when I read the printed list of the recently deceased in the Mass missalette in St. Michael’s Church. No mention of Basil Chambers and no doubt in the other St. Michael’s at the top of Offaly Street there was no mention of Loy Bolger or Jim Townsend. Its an extraordinary inconsistency in our lives that institutionalised religion separates and keeps apart members of the same community at the time of our death.
The deaths of Loy, Jim and Basil represent a tragic loss for their respective families and a further weakening of the bonds which those of my age shared with others down the years. May the good Lord be kind to them.