Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Local GAA Clubs successes

I was proud to fly the Athy Gaelic Football Club flag in the days leading up to the recent County Final and equally proud, after the unwelcome defeat on Sunday, of the players and the Athy supporters.  Both represented the club honourably during the match and in the aftermath of defeat.  Seamus Malone, now long dead, but once the leading light in the resurgence of Gaelic games in Athy would be justifiably proud of the Club he revived following the devastation wrought by emigration in the 1920s.

To be a member of a club, whether sporting or otherwise, is to be an active member of the community.  The local GAA Club is the heartbeat of every local community in Ireland and here in Athy the community although disappointed as a result of the County final defeat is nevertheless immensely proud of the Athy clubs senior team.

To have been involved in one of the best County Finals played in recent years in County Kildare, it’s a matter of some pride for the Athy club and its members.  Despite Sunday’s defeat, the quality of Gaelic football in South Kildare is confirmed by the success of local clubs in a variety of Gaelic Football Championship finals in the last few weeks. 

Castlemitchell Junior team under the captaincy of Ray Fitzgerald recently won the Junior A Football title.  Interestingly, the team’s manager is Billy Delaney from Stradbally whose father and name sake played for Laois and was team manager of the Castlemitchell team which won the clubs first County title in 1953.  Our near neighbours Castledermot won the Intermediate Football championship within the past few weeks under team captain Oisin Doherty and team manager Tony Gray.

Although situated next to the Kildare border and within the adjoining County of Laois, Barrowhouse is for me more Kildare than County Laois.  Barrowhouse is part of the Parish of St. Michael’s and historically both Athy and Barrowhouse are intrinsically linked by events during the War of Independence.  For those reasons, the success of the Barrowhouse Junior Team in winning the Junior Championship this year is another boost for Gaelic Football in this region.  The team captain of the Barrowhouse Juniors is Mikey Langton while John Larkin is the teams manager. Barrowhouse last won the Intermediate title twenty three years ago when many of the current team members’ fathers were on that team.  Four grandsons of Billy Malone played in this year’s final while Liam Langton had the honour of his son Mikey, captaining the team while two of his grandsons were on the team panel. 

Both Athy and Rheban played in County Finals this year but neither came away with the hoped for victory.  Rheban unfortunately lost the Minor B Football Final to Suncroft.  The Rheban Captain Darren Lawler can however take some consolation from the Leinster Minor medal he won with the Kildare County team earlier this year.  The Rheban Team Managers were Martin Germaine and Alan Shaw. 

The heartbreak of Athy’s defeat in the Senior County Championship final was somewhat lessened in the knowledge that the final was one of the best displays of Gaelic Football witnessed in a Kildare County Final for many years.  Much praise must go to the management team of Brian Cardiff, Joe Kinihan and Timmy Dunne whose commitment and dedication to the cause of Gaelic football in Athy is immense. Team Captain was Mick Foley, one of the finest footballers ever to have played football with Athy Gaelic Football Club and the only former All Star player from the south of the County. 

Gaelic Football and hurling are part of our Irish sporting heritage and the performance of the five local clubs in this year’s football championships is one worthy of acknowledgement by the different local communities which they represent.

A few days after the Athy Club won the 1942 senior title the following report appeared in the Nationalist and Leinster Times. 

‘Over a fortnight ago, while walking along the Carlow Road, Athy, the writer saw a number of shapes moving about in the dark in ghostly fashion in a field some 200 yards from the road.  Overcoming a sudden impulse to return hastily to the brightly illumed town, the writer made for the field to find the Athy senior football team doing a strenuous bout of training.  The benefit of the course of training which had been carried out regularly for a month was evident on Sunday when Athy wrested the county senior championship from Carbury.  Youth played a big part in Sunday’s triumph.  Seven members of the Athy team are under 22 years and one under 18.  The team showed a number of changes compared with the side that went under to Carbery in last year’s final.  Such youngsters as D. Shaughnessy, T. Fox and L. Murray are notable newcomers to this year’s team.’

The defeat by Carbury in the 1941 final was followed a year later with Athy’s victory over the same team.  Hopefully history will be repeated next year.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Shackleton Autumn School 2015

Every October bank holiday weekend since 2001, Athy has welcomed overseas visitors attending the Ernest Shackleton Autumn School.  It has become an important event in the town’s cultural calendar bringing business to our local hotel, B&B’s, restaurants and shops.  At the same time it has given Athy an international profile it never previously enjoyed. The town now enjoys a confirmed association with the Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, unacknowledged before the advent of the Ernest Shackleton Autumn School in 2001.  Indeed prior to the setting up of the Heritage Centre media reporting on the Polar explorer invariably referred to Kilkee, Co. Clare as his place of birth.   

The Athy Heritage Museum is the focus for the events for the weekend which will begin with the opening of the Autumn school at 7.30pm on Friday, 23rd of October.  The school will be officially launched by Alexandra Shackleton, the granddaughter of Ernest Shackleton.  The exhibition to be launched that night is “Life on the Line”.  The exhibition is the result of many years of work by the English photographer, Christina Barnet who journeyed to the Arctic Circle to record the rich diversity of peoples for whom the sun never sets in high summer nor rises in deepest winter.  The exhibition will run in the Heritage Centre until early in the New Year and should not be missed.  The opening night will also feature the launch of the Scottish author Anne Straithie's  book 'From Ice Floes to battlefields'.  This book examines the fates of the various Polar explorers who served with both Scott and Shackleton during the Great War.  This is of particular relevance for Athy given the many thousands of men who served in the British army in the Great War, a war which touched every family in this town.  A number of Irish men feature in the book such as Tom Crean, Ernest Shackleton and Tim McCarthy.  It is particularly pleasing to have an opportunity to launch this book which has been published by the History Press. 

An important feature of the event has always been the diverse experience of the invited lecturers and the lecture topics they have chosen.  This year sees lecturers drawn from the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Norway, Canada and the U.S.A.  Dr. Kevin McKenna, a Consultant in Belfast City Hospital will give a talk on the effects of scurvy and its impact on Polar exploration.  Scurvy was a very invidious disease which affected many of the early Polar explorers.  It was caused by the lack of vitamin C and Kevin’s lecture will be an intriguing mix of medicine and exploration.  Another lecture which caught my attention is that by Erik Seedhouse.  Erik is an Norwegian/Canadian suborbital astronaut who has published a book on the striking parallels between the pioneering Polar explorers of the 20th century and those future space explorers of the 22nd century who may or may not get to Mars.  His lecture is one of the more unusual topics and it is clearly going to be an intriguing mix of fact and speculation. 

The world of business over the last two decades in the United States has found many proponents of Shackleton’s leadership qualities and Dr. Jesus Alcoba the Dean of  La Salle International Graduate School of Business in Madrid will be extrapolating from the world of Polar exploration some lessons for us about success in business.  Other lecturers include Robert Burton, Dr. Phillip Sidney, Naomi Boneham, Samuel Blanc and Anne Strathie.

Sunday afternoon will see the showing of the film “Antarctica - A Year On Ice”, a documentary by the New Zealand film maker Anthony Powell which was ten years in the making.  It is a wonderful record of the life and work of those hardy souls who over winter in the Antarctic. 

The climax of the weekend will be the premier performance in Athy’s Dominican Church of 'Shackleton’s Endurance' on Sunday, 25th of October.  Commissioned by Athy Heritage Centre- Museum with financial support from Kildare County Council, this was first performed in Carlow’s George Bernard Shaw Theatre last year.  Brian Hughes’s musical composition, John MacKenna’s narrative and Craig Blackwell's visuals combine to tell the story of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 transantarctic expedition.  They will be ably assisted on stage by Kildare County Orchestra, Monasterevin Gospel Choir and a number of local musicians.  This event, with the participation of so many local musicians, it is very much deserving of your support.  Tickets for the Autumn Schools lectures and for the musical performance on the 25th of October can be obtained from the Heritage Centre.  Copies of the full weekend programme are also available in the centre.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Michael O'Keeffe and Des Noonan Remembered

This week saw the passing of Michael O’Keeffe and Des Noonan, two local men whose funerals were attended by friends and neighbours on their final journey to St. Michael’s cemetery.  Funerals, like weddings, bring old friends and family relations together from far and near.  Those two occasions act as great gathering events, especially funerals when one’s attendance is decided by friendship, respect or family connection rather than by formal invitation.  I was reminded of this early this week when attending the funeral of Des Noonan who for many years was proprietor of a public house in Leinster Street.

Des, who retired several years ago, was a former pupil of the Christian Brothers School in Athy and amongst the many individuals who attended the funeral were some of his former school mates.  All of those former Christian Brothers boys are now in their 80s but the friendly solidarity engendered by years of shared school experiences was clear to be seen. 

I got talking to those scholars of the past who included my own brothers Jack and Tony, both of whom had travelled some distance to pay respect to Des.  Another who had made a journey of some distance was Mick McAuley who told me his family sold their pub in Leinster Street to Bobby Flood in 1947 before the McAuley family moved to Kilkenny city.  Mick was a classmate of Des Noonan, but left Athy before what remained of his class went into Leaving Cert.  There was only one student left by the time Des Noonan entered the Leaving Cert class in 1948.  He was the only Leaving Cert pupil that year.  His teachers were Brother Nelson, known as ‘Breezy’, Brother Brennan who went by the name of ‘Luther’, but never addressed as such within his hearing range and the two lay teachers Liam Ryan and Pat Spillane. 

Joe May, Denis Smyth, Jimmy Kelly and Rickie Kelly were students in the Christian Brothers School around the same time and they also attended the funeral of their former school mate.  Both Joe and Jimmy, together with Mick McAuley, featured on the 1946 Christian Brothers school team which played Mullingar in the final of the Leinster Schools competition of that year.  Even with the passing of 69 years memories were still fresh of the final played in Geraldine Park and refereed by local man, ‘Chevit’ Doyle.  The Athy Christian Brothers team lost that day and seven decades later the referee is still being blamed for not allowing a score by the local team which might have swung the match in favour of the youngsters from Athy. 

The photograph which accompanies this Eye is that of the team of 1946 and shows the late Des Noonan as a young fellow of 16 years of age with his school mates.  Those photographed have been identified as follows:

Back Row:
Br. V.S. Nelson (‘Breezy’), Charlie Kelly, Tommy Egan, Jimmy Kelly, Noel Bergin, Eddie Conway, Finbar Hayden.

Middle Row:
Tommy Keyes, Joe May, Paddy Whelan, Mick McAuley, Paddy Harrington, Peadar Dooley, Jackie Doyle.

Front Row:
George (Mossy) Reilly, Des Noonan, Fintan Gibbons, Pascal Myles, Liam O’Keeffe.

With the passing of Michael O’Keeffe and Des Noonan another chapter closes in the life of Athy but the memories live on.  Sympathy is extended to the families of Michael and Des on the deaths of two fine men.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Shackleton's Cabin

On the way to work this morning I noticed a colourful sign advertising a concert to be given by the Garda Siochana band and school choirs in the Dominican Church on Tuesday 6th October commencing at 8.00 p.m.  My thoughts immediately turned to a generation of uniformed Gardai patrolling the streets of Athy at all hours of the day and night.  My father was the local sergeant in the 1950s and he, like his Garda colleagues, was on duty 24 hours 7 days a week. 

My father was also a ‘Dominican Catholic’ in the same sense that today I am a ‘Parish Catholic’, our Mass attendances confirming that particular status.  In his later years he served weekday Mass in the Dominican Church, while in my young days I served Mass in the Parish Church.  The distinction between the Dominican and Parish Catholic was one of geography for as the River Barrow divided the town, so too did it tend to determine local church allegiances.  Those on the west bank of the river usually supported the Dominicans, while for those on the opposite bank church attendance generally was reserved for the Parish Church.

The concert on 6th October brings together two important elements of our shared history.  The Garda Siochana established soon after the foundation of the State has served us well.  It’s life span to date is less than a century old and much less than that of the Dominican presence in Athy.  When the Garda band performs in the Dominican Church it will be one of the last occasions that the church, opened in 1965, will be used in this way.  The departure of the Dominican friars from Athy will I understand take place on 22nd November.

The concert, organised by the local Lions Club to raise funds for local charities, affords us an opportunity to begin the process of saying goodbye to the Dominicans.  There will be other events and ceremonies in the Dominican Church to mark the departure of the Friars Preachers in Athy but nevertheless the Garda concert can be viewed as perhaps the start of the goodbye process. 

Let us all, whether ‘Dominican Catholics’, ‘Parish Catholics’, Church of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian or whatever church or chapel adherents, come to the Dominican Church on Tuesday night to enjoy the concert and join in what can be seen as the beginning of the celebration of the Dominican presence in Athy which stretches back over 750 years. 

There has been much publicity both in the national newspapers and on radio concerning the acquisition by the Heritage Centre of the ship’s cabin in which Ernest Shackleton died in 1922.  Shackleton was leading his last expedition to the Antarctic and his ship, ‘The Quest’ was moored in Grytviken, South Georgia on the 5th January 1922 when he died of a heart attack.  ‘The Quest’ was subsequently sold and taken to Norway when the cabin was removed.  It’s existence was first brought to my attention two years ago by Eugene Furlong, a Cork man who was attending the Shackleton Autumn School here in Athy.  Subsequent contact was made with the Norwegian owner and we brought him as our guest to the Shackleton Autumn School in October 2014.  He was impressed by the Shackleton exhibition in the Centre and earlier this year Joe O’Farrell and Seamus Taaffe, both members of the Shackleton Autumn School Committee, travelled to Norway at their own expense to view the Shackleton cabin.  The Heritage Centre subsequently entered into negotiations to acquire the cabin and Kildare County Council was exceptionally supportive of our efforts in that regard.  The Fram Museum in Oslo was also trying to acquire the cabin, but thankfully Athy Heritage Centre succeeded in closing the deal with it’s owner.

The cabin was transported from Norway to Dublin last week by DFDS Logistics, accompanied on the journey by the earlier mentioned Joe O’Farrell and Joe, as I am writing this piece, is accompanying the cabin on its onward journey to the Letterfrack Conservation Centre in Co. Galway.  There it will undergo some conservation work and it is hoped to have the cabin brought to Athy and positioned in the revamped Heritage Centre in time for the Shackleton Autumn School in October 2016.

You may wonder why it will take so long to bring the cabin to Athy.  There are a lot of ongoing negotiations regarding a possible new library for Athy which if successfully concluded will allow the Heritage Centre to occupy the entire historic Town Hall.  This will allow us to redevelop the Shackleton exhibition to become one of national, if not, of international, importance.  In the meantime we await developments.

Don’t forget the concert in the Dominican Church on Tuesday, 6th October.  Doors open at 7.30 p.m. and admission is €5.00, with all proceeds going to local charities.