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.

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