Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Danny Flood

For ten years from 1954 Danny Flood, formerly of Leinster Street, was full back on the County Kildare Senior Football team.  A towering figure over six feet tall with a physique to match Danny manned the full back line with a succession of footballers amongst whom for a time was the legendary Pa Connolly. 

My memories of Danny Flood, the footballer, are a mixture of pride and admiration for a sportsman whose achievements on the football field were not always marked with the success they deserved.  As a young fellow Danny played soccer for Athy AFC and apart from his participation in street league games organised by Athy GFC he did not play on any underage Gaelic football team.  When the time came to join a Gaelic football club he joined Castlemitchell Club with his friend and near neighbour Peadar Dooley.  Wondering why somebody living in Leinster Street would do that I was amused to be told ‘it was safer to play with Castlemitchell than against them.’ 

Danny played intermediate football for Castlemitchell and soon caught the attention of the county selectors resulting in trials for the senior county team.  His first match for the county was on 10th October 1954 when Kildare defeated Wexford in a national football league game played in Ferns.  Thereafter Danny was an almost constant choice for the County Senior team, occupying the pivotal role of full back where his height, strength and fielding skills brought him many plaudits. 

Talking to Danny I was surprised to learn of the special place the two matches played against All Ireland champions Meath in 1955 had in his footballing memories.  I expected the 1956 Leinster Final in which Kildare won the Leinster title for the first time in 21 years to be foremost in his memories.  However, it was the drawn Leinster championship game against Meath on 29th May 1955 and the replay which were perhaps his greatest sporting disappointment.  That first game in the second round of the 1955 Senior Football Championship ended in a draw with the All Ireland champions Meath scoring 3-4 to Kildare’s 2-7.  The newspaper reports the following day praised the Kildare full back Danny Flood ‘who had a great game in Kildare’s defence’.

The replay two weeks later, again played in Croke Park, also ended in a draw but in extra time the All Ireland champions overcame Kildare by 1 point.  M.V. Cogley in the Irish Independent reported ‘there were no weaknesses in the Kildare defence with Miko Doyle, McCarthy and Flood lasting the pace better than their colleagues.’

The following year brought the Kildare team’s greatest success of the 1950s when overcoming Wexford in the Leinster final.  As he recalled that day Danny is quick to acknowledge the huge part played by Seamie Harrison of Monasterevin.  ‘Seamie won the Leinster final for Kildare that day’ claims Danny. 

Two years later Kildare had the opportunity to win the National Football League title when they played Dublin before a record crowd in Croke Park on 18th May 1958.  Unfortunately Kildare lost that final but on the following day John D. Hickey of the Irish Independent reported ‘the good name of football, most grievously besmirched in some recent matches, was completely redeemed at Croke Park.’  Kildare, he claimed, had every reason to feel proud of their efforts and he singled out Kildare’s full back for particular praise.  ‘Danny Flood, I unhesitatingly name, Kildare’s most valiant performer.’ 

If Kildare’s long standing opponents Meath gave Danny one of his most treasured memories of his footballing days it is perhaps appropriate that his last appearance in the Kildare jersey was against Meath at Croke Park on 7th June 1964.  After 10 years playing senior football for his county Danny retired from the county team.

Despite his high profile as a county footballer Danny’s sporting career was not confined to Gaelic football.  I was intrigued to learn that he played rugby for two years for Athlone while stationed in the local Army Barracks.  He was on the Athlone rugby team which won the Connaught Junior Cup in 1959 and the following year was on the team which lost to a Galwegian team in the final of the Seniors Connaught Cup.  Another sporting victory which fell to Danny was as a member of the Western Command basketball team which won the All Ireland Army Basketball Championship. 

Danny started his club footballing career as an intermediate player with Castlemitchell and later played senior football with the Dublin team Clanna Gael.  He lined out with Athy seniors for one season in 1958/’59 and also played for a time on the Curragh Army team.  Danny Flood, a footballing giant, was one of several young Athy men who graced the Kildare county senior team in the 1950s and 1960s.  On the pitch in Croke Park on the day of Danny’s last game with the county seniors was a young Mick Carolan who would go on to represent his county until 1974.  The mantle was passed that day from one Athy man to another, and the Athy connection with the County Senior team which went back over the years through Tommy Mulhall, Cuddy Chanders, Paul Matthews and many others would continue to our own time.

In the history of Gaelic football in County Kildare the name of Danny Flood will always be writ large.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Athy of Yesteryear

I recently came across a press cutting in which reference was made to Athy, described as ‘a thriving market and business centre set amid rich fields’.  The Dublin based journalist, writing in what I believe was a national newspaper, went on as follows:-  This is no town in the doldrums.  In a word the town is a reflection of its citizens.  They are friendly, hospitable, heart warming folk who do not let the grass grow under their feet.  They are up and doing.  They have not only the graces of living; they live.’

What a wonderful tribute, written I believe sometime in the early 1950s at a time when day to day life was difficult for most people in provincial Ireland.  But then the main streets of Athy were replete with shops, all of which did business.  There were few closed business premises in the 1950s, unlike the urban landscape dotted with empty shops which faced us here in Athy as 2014 came to an end. 

Happily there is a belief and a feeling abroad that the business tide has begun to turn and that we are facing into a better future which will culminate in the building of the outer relief road and the start of new industries and retail business in Athy.  Our town like many other provincial towns in Ireland has gone through difficult times in the past.  The 1930s were a particularly difficult time, economically and socially for the people of Athy what with the economic war, large scale unemployment and emigration. 

The resurgence in the town’s fortunes started with the opening of the asbestos factory in 1936 and the founding of what in later years was called the Social Club in the second half of the 1930s.  The club began as the South Kildare Lawn Tennis Club, with tennis courts and a pavilion in grounds just beyond the former Technical School on the Carlow Road.  That tennis club was still functioning in the mid 1950s when I remember the late Mattie Brennan of Offaly Street was the club’s caretaker.

It was when the tennis club committee arranged to buy the Legion Hall in St. John’s Lane that the Social Club came into being.  Apparently local solicitor Henry Donnelly, together with Sidney Minch and Major Tynan of Monasterevin, played important roles in facilitating the sale of the Legion Hall for the sum of £200.  That was in 1939.  Minch and Tynan were associated with the British Legion and it was in that capacity that Minch particularly, who also served as a T.D. for Kildare, facilitated the sale of the Legion Hall to the Social Club trustees.  One of the founders of the Club was the local curate, Fr. Morgan Crowe, who would later describe the contribution the Social Club made to the cultural life of the town of Athy as ‘outstanding’.

The Legion Hall built in 1926 as a social centre for demobbed World War I soldiers required improvements and additions, all of which were carried out by the Social Club.  In time the club had a billiard room, a card room, a badminton court, as well as table tennis tables.  Perhaps its most enduring legacy was the drama section of the club established in 1943 which for many years performed plays in the Social Club hall and in the local Town Hall. 

Some of those associated with the Social Club included John Stafford, Pat Mulhall, Liam Ryan, Ger Moriarty, Tadgh Brennan, John Dolan, Frank Kelly, Ken Reynolds, John W. Kehoe, Frances and May Fenelon, Joe Martin, Patsy O’Neill, Tom Fox, Jo and Florrie Lawler, Dany and Tommy Walsh, Nora McKenna, Kitty McLoughlin, Mary Harrington, Nellie Fox, Brendan Mulcahy, Tommy Doyle, Clare Moore, Fergus Hayden, Chrissie Burke, Paddy Flynn, Maureen Purcell and Agnes Doyle.  The list of members of the Athy Social Club is not exhaustive but I feel it important to record those named, all of whom at different times were part of the club which made a huge contribution to the social and cultural life of Athy in the 1940s and the 1950s.   

On Sunday 25th January at 3.00 p.m. the Dominican Church will be the venue for a specially arranged ‘Songs of Praise’ organised by Athy’s Lions Club.  Five choirs are scheduled to perform that afternoon and their performances will be interspersed with congregational hymn singing which will give everyone attending an opportunity to participate in what promises to be a unique afternoon of music and song.  There is no admission charge but those attending can contribute to a retiring collection at the conclusion of the ‘Songs of Praise’.  All monies donated will go to local Lions charities.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Michael J. Doyle of Athy and the Philo Celtic Society of New York

During the week I finished reading Eileen Gough’s biography of a forgotten Irish patriot, Diarmuid Lynch.  He was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood [IRB] and reputedly the last person to leave the burning GPO in Dublin as the Easter Rebellion came to a close.  Diarmuid Lynch was a very interesting man who having spent the early years of the new century in New York returned to Dublin, as did his friend Tom Clark in 1907.  Both were members of the IRB and both were involved in the 1916 Rebellion.  Lynch, like Clark, was sentenced to death but because he had been granted American citizenship some years previously, he, like De Valera, had his death sentence commuted to a term of imprisonment.  On his eventual release he returned to New York where he renewed friendship with the elderly Fenian John Devoy.  Both were to disagree profoundly with De Valera during his extended sojourn in America while the War of Independence was ongoing in Ireland.

I was interested to read of Lynch’s links with the Philo Celtic Society of New York during his early years in America.  The society, founded by Galway born Micheal Ó Lóchain in 1872 with its first branch in Brooklyn, sought to encourage the speaking of Irish as an everyday language.  Ó Lóchain was a school teacher in Brooklyn and as first president of the Philo Celtic Society saw the society spread throughout America.  He died in 1899 and Diarmuid Lynch was later appointed president of the society.  When Lynch returned to Ireland in 1907 he was replaced as president of the society by Athy man Michael J. Doyle.  Michael J. was, I believe, the son of Michael and Ann Doyle of Woodstock Street and later of Hillsgrove House.  Michael Senior died in 1921 aged 95 years having served as a member of Athy Town Commissioners and Athy Urban District Council for many years.  Both he and his sons, Martin E. Doyle who was clerk of Athy Union, and Peter Paul Doyle served on the local Urban District Council.  Martin was chairman of Athy UDC from 1915-1918 and was followed in that position by his brother Peter Paul Doyle for two terms from 1919.  The Doyle family connection with Athy Urban District Council is probably unique insofar as Michael Doyle Senior, like his two sons, had served as chairman of the Urban Council in 1904 and as chairman of the Town Commissioners in 1884.

The election of Michael J. Doyle as president of the Philo Celtic Society was an enormous honour for the Athy man.  Unfortunately I have little knowledge of his contribution to the development of the society.  He occupied the position for one year only, being replaced by Richard Dalton who like Diarmuid Lynch was a member of the IRB and a close confidant of the Fenian John Devoy.

Peter Paul Doyle, known locally as P.P. Doyle, served on Athy Urban District Council from 1908 to 1928, while his brother Martin E. Doyle was a Councillor from 1900 when he was co-opted in place of Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill.  He died on 10th October 1927 but did not sit on the Urban Council after 1920.  Interestingly Martin married twice, his first wife Isobel having died aged 33 years in 1911.  His second wife Sarah was elected to Athy Urban District Council following the local election on 26th June 1934.  She was re-elected in 1942 for her final term of 3 years.

There are many gaps in my knowledge of the extended Doyle family whose members  made a major contribution not only to local politics here in Athy but also through Michael J. Doyle to the Irish scene in New York at the start of the 20th century.  The book on Diarmuid Lynch which I mentioned at the start of this Eye is a paperback published by Mercier Press which provides a fine outline of Lynch’s life and his contribution to the Irish Republican cause on both sides of the Atlantic.

I was saddened to hear of the sudden death of Portlaoise based bookseller John McNamee.  John I met whenever I visited his book shop, which was every time I was in Portlaoise on business as the shop was quite near to the local courthouse.  He was deeply involved in the book trade with an interest in books generally and as president of the Booksellers Federation was watching with some anxiety the development of eBooks and their likely impact on book sales and the future of local bookshops.  Local history was another abiding interest of Johns and he was involved in the production of several excellent books on different aspects of his adopted county’s history.

My sympathies are extended to his wife and children on his sad passing.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Shopkeepers/Factory Shop Photographs

Two photographs taken during the Shopkeepers/Factories Shows put on in the Social Club premises in St. John’s Lane in the early 1960s.  These photos were taken in 1963 or 1964.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Athy entries in the Irish Bulletin July 1919 to May 1920

Two years ago Aubane Historical Society reprinted in book form as Volume 1 Reports from the Irish Bulletin for the period 12th July 1919 to the 1st May 1920.  Earlier this year Volume 2 was published by the Belfast Historical and Educational Society bringing the Reports up to the 31st August 1920.  Further Volumes are expected to complete the work.  The Irish Bulletin was the official organ of Dail Eireann during the 1919-1921 period. It was started by Laurence Ginnell, a former M.P. who in 1919 was Director of Publicity of the Dail.  At the start, it was issued as a “Summary of Acts of Aggression” by the Crown Forces and later evolved into a fortnightly new sheet before being eventually issued as a weekly.

The Bulletin was intended for foreign journalists and Members of Parliament in Westminster to highlight aggressive acts of Crown Forces in Ireland.  Frank Gallagher, later editor of the Irish Press, was the principal compiler of the bulletin under the editorship of Desmond Fitzgerald (Father of Garret Fitzgerald) and following Fitzgerald’s arrest under the editorship of Erskine Childers.  Volume 1 of the Irish Bulletin as published by the Aubane Historical Society includes a number of references to Athy including the following:

“In Athy County Kildare on Monday evening (21st July 1919) 40 demobilised British Soldiers rushed up Duke Street and forcibly entered the shop owned by a Sinn Feiner.  After destroying everything they could lay their hands on, they completely wrecked the cycle stores in front of the shop, smashing the cycles and windows.  They then tore down and burnt the banner with an Irish Motto in Leinster Street.  Volunteers had to guard the houses and premises of other Sinn Feiners in the town”.

I first heard of this occurrence when interviewing the late Hester May many years ago.  The cycle shop was rented by Bapty Maher from  Tom Downs and was located where Mrs. Flaherty’s betting shop operated until recent years.  Bapty Maher was a member of the local IRA and was imprisoned in Ballykinlar Prison of War camp with Athy men Joe May and Dick Murphy. 

The banner in Leinster Street torn down and burnt by the Ex-British soldiers was part of street decorations for an Aeriocht which was to be held in Geraldine Park.  It was outside the premises of Mrs. Darby whose daughter Bridget was Secretary of the Gaelic League and in later years a member of the local Urban District Council.

As a result of the mob violence, the local Urban District Council as reported in the Irish Bulletin “found it necessary to take action to protect the lives and property of the people of the town. The following resolution was passed at their last meeting -  in view of recent wanton and malicious disturbance of property and the organised attempt to terrorise the people of the town by a section of demobilised soldiers and the inadequate protection afforded by the civil authorities, we call upon the well disposed citizens of Athy to enrol themselves with the Town Clerk to preserve the peace, property and civil liberties.  The Chairman of the Council, Mr. P.P. Doyle stated that he had written a letter to the District Inspector of Police pointing out that a number of police stood idly looking on when the mob was destroying private property”.

Further reports in the Irish Bulletin later in the year noted a raid by a large party of police on the residence of a farmer in Ballycullane. The raid took place on Saturday, 22nd November 1919 but the name of the farmer was not given.    That same day, Edward Malone of Dunbrin, whom I believe to be Eamon Malone, was arrested.  He would later serve time in Mountjoy Jail where he participated in a hunger strike. Eamon Malone served for a time as Officer Commanding the Carlow Kildare Brigade IRA.  The small Council Housing Estate at Woodstock Street is named Malone Place in memory of the IRA leader.

The Irish Bulletin reported a raid on Monday, 12th April 1920 by Military Police on the home of Thomas O’Rourke who had been elected as a Sinn Fein Member of Athy Urban District Council some time previously. Following that raid, four of his sons were arrested.  Thomas Junior, James, Francis and Michael O’Rourke were apparently not charged and presumably were released soon afterwards.

The O’Rourke family lived at Canal Side where Thomas was a Lock Keeper. Following his death, his widow moved to live at the 5th Lock in Inchicore, Dublin where it would appear that her son Michael also lived.  Michael was listed as Captain of A Company, Carlow Kildare Brigade in 1921 and 1922 with an address at the 5th  Lock Inchicore.

I have in the past sought information on the O’Rourke Brothers and while some details have been furnished to me, I am still hopeful of getting more background information on the O’Rourke Brothers who played important roles during the War of Independence.