Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Wayne O'Neill and a funeral mass in the Parish Church of Clogh

The death of a young man, especially someone leaving behind a wife and a young son, is a sad event and a family tragedy.  Last week Wayne O’Neill, a young man from Clogh, Co. Kilkenny tragically lost his life in a road traffic accident on the Athy/Castlecomer Road near Crettyard. 

The Irish tradition of community wide involvement in funerals, unlike the custom in other countries, is a wonderful throwback to a time when family difficulties brought together neighbours and friends in a concerted effort to help the family in need.  The community in action brings with it comfort and solace in time of grief and nowhere was this better exemplified than in the funeral of the young Clogh native, Wayne O’Neill.

I journeyed down to the North Kilkenny village and for the first time visited the Church built a few years after the passing of Catholic Emancipation.  It stands proud at the end of a lengthy avenue; a simple country Church surrounded on several sides by the last resting place of parishioners of past generations.  A typically Irish scene developed as the congregation gathered favouring the back of the Church while a few seats on the Gospel side of the nave remained largely unused.  The parish choir presented what was for me a unique composition in that the vast majority of its members were male.  Usually parish choirs owe much of their musicality and talent to the presence of female singers but here in Clogh the reverse was true.  What was equally surprising was the advanced age of the choir members who despite this or perhaps because of their years, offered pleasantly harmonious renditions of various hymns during the funeral Mass.   Their singing was excellent and added enormously to the dignity of the occasion. 

I gather that the Parish of Clogh, which includes Moneenroe, was created a Parish separate from the Parish of Castlecomer around the time the Church of St. Patrick’s was built in Clogh.  The Parish now has two Churches as the local miners helped build another Church at Moneenroe, which was consecreted in 1930 as the Church of the Sacred Heart.  I believe it was in that latter Church that Bishop Collier preached against the miners and the Miners Union started by the great Nixie Boran, an old IRA man and convicted communist after he returned from a visit to Russia in 1930.  The union was officially launched in December 1930 in Moneenroe in the Parish of Clogh, which is in the heart of the Kilkenny mining district.  Not too far away is the site of the Coolbawn ambush where two IRA men John Hartley and Nicholas Mullins were killed on the 14th of June 1921.

These were the historical connections that I made as I exited from the Parish Church in Clogh to follow the funeral cortege on its last journey to St. Michael’s Cemetery here in Athy.  I was thinking also of the many links between the Counties of Kilkenny and Kildare which were brought into sharp focus by the Clogh Parish Priest Fr. Tobin at the end of his Mass, as he described for us the funeral journey from the “Black and Amber County to the Lilywhite County.”  I could not but smile reflecting on my own life journey which commenced in nearby Castlecomer and came to rest in the County Kildare town of Athy where the young Kilkenny man, Wayne O’Neill, would soon lie in his young wife’s family grave.

The funeral prayers at the end of the burial ceremony concluded with the release of four balloons bearing the black and amber colours of Wayne’s beloved Kilkenny.  It was a telling gesture for and from a Kilkenny community which had witnessed the loss of one of it’s members and his relocation in death in the adjoining short grass county.

Our sympathy goes to the families of the late Wayne O’Neill and at this sad time we especially remember our work colleague Lisa Walsh and her young son Cian.

At 7.30 p.m. on Saturday the 4th of February an important meeting will be held in the local GAA Clubhouse to announce plans for the future development of the playing facilities enjoyed by members of Athy Gaelic Football Club.  The Club officials have extended an invitation to past and present members to attend the meeting which non-members with an interest in Gaelic games are also very welcome to attend.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A brief history of the Sinn Fein foundation of 1905

Last week’s article in which I suggested a century commemoration of the founding of Athy’s Sinn Fein club evoked a number of responses.  A few readers were concerned lest my reference to the Sinn Fein group of 1917 might be seen in someway a support for the current Sinn Fein party. The links between the party of 1917 and today’s party are not at all clear and historians generally accept that the use of the same name does not necessarily indicate a direct link between the two groups. 

Sinn Fein was a political movement founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith to pursue the policy enunciated by Griffith “to make England take one hand from Ireland’s throat and the other hand out of Ireland’s pocket”.  It was a radical organisation formed in the aftermath of the Boer war and as a non-militaristic organisation sought to achieve economic and cultural independence from England.  In fact, Sinn Fein initially sought to become an equal party in a dual monarchy under the English crown. 

Arthur Griffith edited the party’s newspaper for eight years from 1906 and in April 1907 Sinn Fein absorbed the National Council which had been formed four years previously to protest against the proposed visit of the English King to Ireland.  The National Council had originally been formed in 1900 by Arthur Griffith as Cumann na nGaedheal to co-ordinate smaller societies opposed to England’s occupation of Ireland.  Another nationalist group which also merged with Sinn Fein was the Dungannon Club founded by Bulmer Hobson and Denis McCullagh in March 1905. 

The enlarged Sinn Fein party was not very successful in the early years and played second fiddle to the Irish Parliamentary Party.  It contested the North Leitrim parliamentary bye-election in February 1905 and suffered an overwhelming defeat at the hands of the Parliamentary Party.  It was the Easter Rising and its aftermath which propelled Sinn Fein to the forefront of Irish political life.  John Redmond had warned in the House of Commons that the execution of the leaders of the Rising would alienat many who had not supported the rebels.  Sinn Fein as an organisation had not taken part in the Rising but the British government wrongly apportioned responsibility to Sinn Fein.  This association with the 1916 Rising gave the Sinn Fein organisation the mass support it had not previously enjoyed.  Here in Athy in early 1917 a Sinn Fein club was formed and last week I gave the names of those local men who formed that first republican club. 

At the 10th Sinn Fein convention held in Dublin in October 1917 Eamon de Valera was elected President after Griffith stood down in favour of the only surviving commandant of the 1916 Rising.  At that convention the original Sinn Fein members regarded as moderate nationalists were joined by radical nationalists who had participated in the 1916 Rising.  The convention voted to secure international recognition for an independent Irish Republic and the withdrawal of Irish members from the British parliament.

In March 1917 the British government considered imposing conscription on young Irish men as a quid pro quo for home rule.  It was opposed by the Catholic hierarchy and gave Sinn Fein a platform which saw the new emerging political group leading anti-conscription demonstrations throughout Ireland.

In May 1918 the British government ordered the arrest of Sinn Fein leaders on the grounds of an alleged German plot.  This added to the parties further popularity amongst Irish people.  In the general election of December 1918 Sinn Fein was able to seize political power from the Irish parliamentary party winning 73 seats while the other party could only retain 6 seats.

The elected Sinn Fein members formed the First Dail.  The subsequent War of Independence led to the Treaty and a split in Sinn Fein.  Those in favour of the Treaty then formed Cumann na nGaedheal while the anti treaty side retained the name Sinn Fein.  As an organisation Sinn Fein became dormant in 1922 but was subsequently revived only for a second split to occur in 1926 with the departure of de Valera and the setting up of Fianna Fail.  In the June 1927 general election Sinn Fein only secured five seats and lost them in another election in September.

As to the continuity of the link between Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Fein of 1917 and the party of the same name today there are arguments and counter-arguments on both sides.  In this centenary year of the founding of Athy’s Sinn Fein club the suggestion I made last week is that we commemorate those courageous local men who came together 100 years ago to help reshape the political life of Ireland and by doing so influenced the political thinking of their local community.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Athy Sinn Fein Club 1917

With the passing of the old year and the ending of the 1916 centenary commemorations thoughts now turn in this decade of centenaries, to 1917.  It was a year which witnessed the first Sinn Fein bye-election victory with the election of Count Plunkett at the expense of the Home Rule candidate in the Roscommon north constituency.  His election was a harbinger of what was to follow in the Longford bye-election where another Sinn Fein candidate, Joseph McGuinness, by then a prisoner in Lewes jail was elected with the slogan, ‘Put him in to get him out’.  This was the start of the upsurge in popularity for Sinn Fein which in the general election of December 1918 led to the collapse of the Home Rule party.

Here in Athy the first indication of the existence of a group of Sinn Fein sympathisers in the town was the holding of a concert in the Town Hall on 18th January 1917 to raise funds for the families of men arrested and imprisoned following the Easter Rising.  The following month ‘Athy Hibernian Players’ performed a play, ‘The O’Carolan’ in the same Town Hall at the end of which the actors and their supporters stood to attention to sing ‘A Nation Once Again’.

Two months later in June 1917 a local newspaper, named for the first time the Athy men who had come together to form a Sinn Fein club.  Their names are worthy of recording 100 years later and perhaps later in the year we will have an opportunity to commemorate their patriotism and courage in promoting the drive for Irish independence.  Their names are John Coleman, Joseph Murphy, J.B. Maher, Michael May, Joseph May, Joseph Walsh, W.G. Doyle, T. Corcoran, Robert Webster, J. Webster and C. Walsh.  Some of those named cannot be identified with any degree of certainty and I would welcome hearing from anyone who can help me to positively identify the men in question. 

Another interesting development in 1917, but one without any political overtones, was the arrival of tractors in the South Kildare area.  The Irish Times reported a tractor demonstration arranged by the local firm of Duthie Larges on the lands of C.W. Taylor at Forest.  ‘It was for all the world like watching the tanks go into action with the townies behind to observe the two Overtime farm tractors at work’ reported the newspaper.  Taylors apparently had owned a tractor for the previous three years and the experience had taught them that a tractor could plough 3½ acres in a day while a good man with a pair of horses could only plough half an acre in the same time.  The arrival of the tractor was timely as local farmers had difficulty in replacing farm labourers who continued to enlist in large numbers during the 1914/18 war. 

Another difficulty facing the general public in 1917 was the government restrictions imposed in March of that year on the output of beers and spirits.  Concerned at the effect drinking habits had on production in munition factories and shipyards the British Government sought to control drink consumption in a variety of ways.  Athy in 1917 with a population of 3535 had 40 public houses and between 40 and 50 men employed in the local malting industry.  As a result of the restrictions on the brewing of beer and the malting of barley, malting works in Stanhope Street, Offaly Street and Nelson Street had to close temporarily.  By May 1917 restrictions on the sale of liquor caused many of the local public houses to run out of supplies.

On Thursday 19th July 1917 the local Sinn Fein Club organised a concert in the Town Hall, again for the families of the 1916 prisoners.  Arthur Griffith, President of Sinn Fein, who was making his first visit to Athy, addressed the Town Hall audience.  Before the end of 1917 Eamon de Valera made what was his first visit to the town.  He was accompanied by Arthur Griffith and both spoke from a platform in front of the Town Hall before a large audience which included members of Sinn Fein clubs from Athy, Bert, Milltown, Barrowhouse, Ballitore and Castledermot.  De Valera’s visit was marked with the presentation to him of addresses of welcome by Athy Urban District Council and the local Board of Guardians.  It was the same Board of Guardians which in May 1916 had condemned ‘the revolution in Dublin’.

Another important event which is worth commemorating in 2017 is the construction  of the White Castle on the bridge of Athy 600 years ago.  It was the Lord Luitent for Ireland Sir John Talbot who on behalf of King Henry V of England commissioned the erection of the fortified townhouse as part of the towns defences against the marauding O’Mores of Laois who attacked and burnt the town of Athy on several occasions.  Until recent times it was generally accepted that the White Castle was built in 1417 but recent research by archaeologist  Ben Murtagh raises unresolved questions as to the date of its erection.  What is clear however is that its proper name is not Whites Castle but the White Castle from the white appearance of the exterior lime rendered walls which were lime washed.  The White Castle located for strategic reasons on the bridge of Athy still holds sway as the most important building in the modern towns street scape.

Let us celebrate during 2017 the centenary of Athy’s Sinn Fein club and the six centuries of the White Castle of Athy.   

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Michael Wall and Tom Flood

The Swiss philosopher Amiel wrote “ To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living”.  One man who excelled in the art of living was Michael Wall of Chanterlands who died on Christmas Eve, having reached 96 years of age.  He was born on the 9th September 1920 in the second year of the Irish War of Independence.  A native of Ballywalter, near to the Mayo town of Ballinrobe, he once recounted to me how his baby cot concealed a revolver from a search party of Black and Tans who raided his parents home.  Michael was very proud of Mayo’s involvement in the War of Independence and of his father’s role in that struggle. 

It is probably a misleading word to apply to that conflict, implying as it does one army fighting against another.  The Independence struggle of the Irish Republicans which is deemed to have commenced with the killing of two Irish born R.I.C. men at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary on the 21st January 1919 is probably more accurately termed “Guerilla Warfare”. 

Michael’s attachment to his native County of Mayo never palled despite the fact that his family migrated to County Laois in 1929 following his parents purchase of a farm in the midland county.  Michael was the eldest of four sons and two daughters born to Patrick and Mary Wall. His father was at one time Clerk to the Sinn Fein Court which sat in Claremorris presided over by local solicitor Conor Maguire.  Conor Maguire would later become the Irish Chief Justice and by happy coincidence his son Bryan on becoming a dispensary doctor in County Kildare, came to live in the same neighbourhood of Athy as the Mayo born Michael Wall.

I was privileged to know Michael Wall since 1982 when I returned to live in Athy after an absence of 21 years.  Michael himself came to Athy in 1963 when he took up the position of Horticultural Instructor in nearby County Laois. He had attended Albert College in Dublin from where he had qualified as a Horticulturalist. He was one of the earliest members of Athy Lions Club and served for almost 40 years as an officer and a member of that charitable organisation.  A founder member of Athy Gymnastics Club, Michael was also involved with Jerry Carbery and Des Perry in setting up one of Athy’s earliest canoe clubs.

Apart from our common interest in Irish history, Michael and myself shared an interest in Irish politics. Our own politics were at opposite ends of the political scale. His being Fine Gael as against my support for Fianna Fail.  Michael often chided me failing to understand how “an intelligent man could be a member of Fianna Fail”.  It was a moot point, particularly when discussions settled on the deValera governments’ disgraceful treatment of Leitrim’s Jimmy Gralton and the deValera sleight of hand in transferring Irish Americans financial donations for the Irish Republican  cause to the since failed newspaper empire which continues to be controlled by a deValera. 

Michael, as I always told him, remained my favourite “blueshirt” given that on the two occasions I stood for election as a Fianna Fail candidate, he voted for the only times in his life, for a candidate whose political views he did not share.  In case anyone reading this takes offence to my use of the term “blueshirt”, note that Michael never did, as we both had a well grounded understanding of the history of Irish political parties.

Michael was blessed with 31 happy years of retirement which he devoted to his family and his beloved garden.  I benefitted on many occasions from his horticultural advice and his love of plants and I recall his friendship with admiration and deepest satisfaction. To his wife Moya and to his children I extend my deepest sympathy realising that his legacy remains in the wonderful children Moya and Michael raised to adulthood and of which both were justifiably proud.

The Christmas period just ended and also saw the passing of Tom Flood of Church Road whose father and uncles played a very prominent part in the struggle for Irish Independence.  Tom was earlier in the year predeceased by his older brother Danny who will be remembered as one of the Kildare footballing heroes of the 1950’s.  Their father, Tom Flood and his brothers, all natives of Dublin City were prominent members of the Dublin Brigade old I.R.A.   An uncle, Frank Flood, who was executed on the 14th day of March 1921 was one of the “forgotten ten” whose bodies were removed from Mountjoy Jail on 14th October 2001for burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.  Liam Callan of Ardreigh, like Michael Wall, died after a long life as did Ettie O’Brien of Fontstown and her sister Peggy Molloy of Booleigh. Also lost to us in recent days were Mary Gray of Ardreigh and Veronica Bradley of Foxhill.

Our sympathies go to all those who were bereaved over the Christmas period.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Photos of Athy Dominican Church

Another year is about to pass and with it mixed memories of times, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes sad, sometimes memorable, but for the most part quite ordinary.  One event out of the ordinary and one which brought an end to an ancient association stretching back centuries was the departure of the Dominican Order from Athy just before the year started.  Dominican priests had been celebrating mass in the town of Athy since 1257.  On Sunday, 22nd November 2015 the Dominican church at the end of Convent Lane was the scene of the last mass to be celebrated by a member of the Dominican Order in the town of Athy.

The Dominican Church which opened on St. Patrick’s Day 1965 represented a significant development in Irish Church Architecture.  Now deconsecrated, it will in the coming year house the town library and as such will continue to contribute to the cultural heritage of the area. 

The first photograph shows the Dominican Church which was replaced in 1965 and the Dominican Priory which as Riversdale House , the private residence of the Mansergh Family, was purchased by the Dominicans in 1846 and adapted for us by the Dominican Order between 1846 and 1850. The second photograph is of  the interior of the Church which was replaced in 1965.