The passing of Hilda Breslin, granddaughter of Labour leader Jim Larkin, prompted me to recall the noteworthy men and women of Irish history who have connections with our town. In some cases the connection arose when the individual, for whatever reason, came to live in Athy. One such person was Simon Vierpyl, the famous sculptor who died in 1810 and found a last resting place in the little ancient cemetery of St. Johns in the centre of the town.
Vierpyl, who was born in London in 1725, was a sculptor of exceptional ability who executed much of the decorated work for the famous Marino casino in Dublin. His earlier work included the copying of 22 statues and 78 busts in terracotta of Roman Emperors and other figures from the Capitoline Museum, Rome which were presented to Lord Charlemont. These works are now housed in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. Vierpyl married for a second time in 1779 to Mary Burrowes, a member of the well known County Kildare family. He died aged 85 years and was buried in St. John’s cemetery, Athy.
Another, perhaps less well known person, who is buried in a local cemetery is Charles Campbell who came from Pertshire, Scotland to Kilkea in 1861. Campbell subsequently enrolled as a member of the newly formed Queens Park Football Club in 1870 and played on the club’s senior team for many years, winning six Scottish cup medals between 1873 and 1886. He was also capped for Scotland on thirteen occasions. In 1889 he was elected President of the Scottish Football Association and eight years later he returned to Kilkea to take over the farm of his late brother David. Charles Campbell died unmarried in 1927 and was buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery.
In a quiet corner of the same cemetery is the last resting place of William Grattan, a kinsman of the statesman, Henry Grattan. William was a soldier who is now remembered as the author of his war memoirs published with the title ‘Adventures with the Connaught Rangers’. He took part in many of the principal battles of the Peninsular wars where the English, under Wellington, fought the French led by Napoleon. His memoirs were published in 1847 with two supplementary volumes six years later.
St. Michael’s Cemetery also holds the grave of the Latvian Nationalist hero Conrad Peterson. Having taken part in the Latvian Revolution of 1907 he subsequently left his native land for Ireland. He was a friend of the Gifford sisters, two of whom were to marry the 1916 revolutionaries, Thomas McDonagh and Joseph Plunkett. Peterson returned to Latvia after its country got its independence in 1918 where he was remembered and honoured as a hero of the 1907 Revolution. He returned to Ireland on the invitation of Todd Andrews to head up Bord na Mona and he died in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Athy in 1981.
Jim Larkin’s granddaughter came to live in Athy in 1967. Athy was the home of Christy Supple who led the striking agricultural workers of South Kildare in July 1919. That farm strike waged in parts of Counties Meath and Kildare ended on 23rd August after a meeting in Athy’s Town Hall between representatives of the Farmers Union and the Transport Union. Another farm workers strike broke out in November 1922 during which Christy Supple was arrested and imprisoned in Carlow Military Barracks. That strike continued until November 1923 and caused enormous bitterness amongst the poorly paid farm workers of this area. The Union involved was the I.T.G.W.U., which union amalgamated with Jim Larkin’s Workers Union of Ireland in 1990 to give us S.I.P.T.U. Hilda Breslin and her late husband Sean were officers of S.I.P.T.U. Christy Supple, Sean Breslin and Hilda Breslin, all campaigners for workers rights, are today at rest in St. Michael’s Cemetery.
This week was also marked with the passing of brother and sister Nancy Casey and Stephen Fitzgerald who died within days of each other. Madge O’Neill at 99 years of age, the widow of Patsy O’Neill, formerly of Leinster Street and a member of an old Athy family also died. All will be remembered with fondness by family members, friends and neighbours.
Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a nanamacha.