In February 2007 some minute books and other books relating to the Catholic Young Mens Society in Athy were given to me by Jimmy Robinson. Jimmy was the last Honorary Secretary of the C.Y.M.S., a local institution with a history extending back over 150 years but which had ceased to exist in 2004.
The first branch of the society was founded in Limerick in 1849 after a young priest who had attended Knockbeg College Carlow brought together a number of labourers. Fr. Richard Baptist O’Brien, who had been ordained in Maynooth ten years previously, spent the first five years of his priesthood in Canada. On returning to Limerick during the dreadful famine year of 1847 Fr. O’Brien felt the need for young men who survived the famine to come together in friendship and cooperation to better their lives. Approximately 13 years after the foundation of the society a C.Y.M.S. branch was started in Athy. Unfortunately the minute books dealing with the early years of the branch have not been found. The earliest minute books to survive starts with entries for 1958, while an earlier cash book opened in June 1926 lists initially on a daily basis and later weekly and then twice monthly monies received and monies paid up to 1949. To my great regret the minute book or books for the period 1964 to 1971 are missing as my late brother Seamus took over as secretary from Jim McEvoy a short time before his untimely death in a road traffic accident.
That these records have survived is a tribute to Jimmy Robinson’s attention to detail and the care which marked his voluntary work as honorary secretary of the C.Y.M.S. over many years. The last entry in the C.Y.M.S. minute book is of a committee meeting held on 21st October 1994. The meeting was presided over by another great stalwart of Athy, P.J. Hyland. Jimmy who died last week joins P.J. in our memories.
Memories not only of the C.Y.M.S. but also of the wonderful characters who were members of the local branch when it occupied premises at the corner of Stanhope Street and Stanhope Place. Where the C.Y.M.S. branch was originally located following its foundation in 1862 I cannot say. The members took over the building at the corner of Stanhope Place from the Sisters of Mercy in 1892. Forty eight years later they acquired use of the adjoining building immediately adjacent to the side entrance gate to the Parish Church. It lay directly opposite the Parish Priest’s house and had been home to the technical school since the setting up of technical education at the start of the century. The building became vacant when a new technical school was opened on the Carlow Road in 1940. The then Parish Priest Canon McDonnell (after whom McDonnell Drive is named) gave the C.Y.M.S. permission to use the old technical school room which in my young days was called the card room. It was the ‘holy of holies’ for the senior members such as Tom Moore, Ned Cranny, Christy Dunne, ‘Sooty’ Hayden, Willie Bracken and many others for whom card playing was a favourite pastime.
The late Jimmy Robinson and P.J. Hyland with other committee members witnessed the gradual falloff of membership in the C.Y.M.S. during the 1990s. The original objective of the society ‘to foster mutual union and cooperation and by priestly guidance, the spiritual intellectual, social and physical welfare of its members’ may not have seemed relevant in the world of the Celtic Tiger. During the 1950s there was more than 100 C.Y.M.S. branches in Ireland. In 1994 there were just 17 branches left throughout the country and it is likely that the Athy branch was not the only one to close its doors in recent years.
Jimmy Robinson came from an old Athy family, as did Jimmy Bolger and John Joe Owens, both of whom passed away recently. I was privileged to write of Jimmy Bolger in a previous Eye on the Past. John Joe Owens was a man who like myself was not afraid of expressing his views in a forthright manner. I have huge admiration for men such as the two Jimmys and John Joe who in their own individual way contributed to what I have often described as the rich tapestry of life in our south Kildare town of Athy.
Other deaths noted during the recent past were that of Claus Schmidt and Mary Leech, both of whom were well known in the town. As I am writing this piece I have learned of the death of an old school colleague of mine from our days in the local Christian Brothers secondary school. John Joe Brennan died while I was abroad and regrettably I was unaware of his passing until now. I have fond memories of John Joe who with a few others joined the Christian Brothers secondary school from outlying rural primary schools in the 1950s.
Their passing brings sadness not only to family and friends but also to a community which remembers times past and experiences shared.