Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Kevin Brady and Sister Anne Guinan

During the past week two members of our community passed away.  Sister Anne Guinan and Kevin Brady were members of two Irish institutions which in recent times have come in for criticism.  Kevin was a retired member of An Garda Siochana and Sister Anne was a Sister of Mercy.  Both the Garda Siochana and the Sisters of Mercy have recently suffered loss of esteem and respect which was their due following years of dedicated service in local communities throughout Ireland. 


For the Garda Siochana, established on the setting up of the Free State in 1922 the recent controversies overshadow the excellent work which members of the force have carried out in their communities over many decades.  Men like Kevin Brady, who as a young man arrived as a uniformed Garda in Athy in 1971.  He retired in 1997, having occupied the role of Station Detective for the previous twenty years.  He was part of a generation of police officers who lived amongst the community they served and whose service was evident in the effective policing methods they adopted.  Chief amongst those was street patrolling which has now disappeared.  Kevin was a first-class police officer who fulfilled his role with integrity and a deep sense of commitment.  Like so many other members of the Garda Siochana he gave of his best throughout his career, honouring the commitment to enforce the law without fear or favour. 


Sister Anne, one of the most pleasant persons one could hope to meet, was a member of the local Sisters of Mercy.  She entered the convent in 1961 and gave a lifetime of service, not only to the religious community, but also to the wider community of Athy.  In that regard she was following in the long established traditions of the Sisters of Mercy founded by Catherine McAuley in 1831.  Since the first Sisters of Mercy arrived in Athy in 1852 successive generations of religious nuns devoted their lives and energies to educating the young people of Athy.  They arrived here at a time when there were little educational opportunities for the vast majority of the young people of the town.    It was due to the devoted work of the Sisters of Mercy and that of the Christian Brothers that generations of girls and boys from the ‘garrison town’ were given the opportunity to better their lives.


Now that the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers are no longer involved in the local schools we tend to forget the priceless contribution that the religious orders made to Irish education.  It is not only in the educational field that the Sisters of Mercy were prominent.  Here in Athy there are untold accounts of the charity of the local Sisters of Mercy.  They were ever generous in helping the less well-off members of our local community, a role which today has fallen largely to be filled by the Athy branch of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.


The death of St. Anne reduces the number of the Athy Sisters of Mercy still living amongst us following the closure of the Convent of Mercy some years ago.  The Sisters of Mercy burial plot at St. Michael’s new cemetery was the scene of a poignant parting ceremony as Sisters of Mercy from the south and central Province joined their Athy sisters in religion in singing the Regina Coeli.  It was a scene we have witnessed all too often in recent years as the aging Sisters of Mercy after a lifetime of service to our local community depart this life.  They do so at a time when criticism is levelled at them for faults and failures, real and imagined, incurred generations ago, but measured by the standards of today.  We can all find fault, not just with the Sisters of Mercy or the Garda Siochana, but we should not at the same time ignore the great good that both were responsible for over many years. 


The likes of Kevin Brady and Sister Anne represented all that is good in an institution of the State and a religious body and with their passing we mourn the loss of two good people who enriched our lives and that of their local community.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

R.I.C. members killed during the War of Independence and I.R.A. men who joined the Garda Siochana and served in Athy

Between January 1919 and July 1921 425 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were killed and another 725 members wounded in attacks by members of the Irish Republican Army.  Fifteen R.I.C. men were killed in 1919, the first casualties being Constables James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell who were shot dead at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary on 21st January as they escorted three cases of gelignite carried in a horse and cart from Tipperary Military Barracks to Soloheadbeg quarry.  McDonnell was a 57 year old married man from Belmullet, Co. Mayo, while O’Connell was a 39 year old single man from Coachford, Co. Cork. 


178 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were killed by the I.R.A. during 1920 and the following year the I.R.A. killed 241 R.I.C. men of whom 235 had lost their lives by the time the truce came into effect on 11th July 1921.  The disbandment of the R.I.C. commenced on 7th January 1922 and ended on 31st August of that year.  Another 59 R.I.C. men would die before the violence came to an end.


Among those killed were Joseph Hughes and Edward Doran.  Joseph Hughes of Wolfhill, an R.I.C. Sergeant based in Maynooth, was part of a patrol attacked as it approached the local church in Maynooth on 21st February 1921.  He died the following day in Dr. Steeven’s Hospital, Dublin.  Aged 34 years he had served in the R.I.C. for twelve years, having been previously employed as a postman.  The Leinster Leader of 5th March 1921 carried this report, ‘The funeral of Sergeant Hughes to Wolfhill passed through Athy where all shops were closed ….. police with reversed arms marched behind the coffin.  A mourning coach covered with wreaths covered the hearse.  Fr. Byrne officiated.  There was an immense crowd present at the funeral.’ 


Edward Doran of Athy was 24 years of age when he was killed with his colleague John Dunne as they served jurors summonses in Kinnity, Co. Offaly on 17th May 1921.  He had worked as a gardener for Minches prior to joining the Royal Irish Constabulary. 


While the disbandment of the R.I.C. which commenced on 7th January 1922 was still ongoing, the Civic Guards were formed on the 21st of February 1922 and were formally reconstituted as the Garda Siochana on 8th August 1923.  Former members of the I.R.A. joined the new police force in large numbers and amongst those were several men who subsequently served in Athy as members of the Garda Siochana. 


Garda James Kelly of 27 Offaly Street served as a member of the 5th Battalion West Mayo Brigade I.R.A.


Garda John McMahon of St. Patrick’s Avenue served as a member of the West Mayo Brigade.


Garda Michael Tuohy of Offaly Street served as a member of E. Company 4th Battalion Clare Brigade.


Garda John O’Connell of 18 St. Patrick’s Avenue served as a member of H. Company 8th Battalion 3rd Tipperary Brigade.


Garda Robert Hayes of 6 St. Michael’s Terrace served as a member of F. Company 1st Battalion 3rd Cork Brigade.


As a young lad growing up in Athy I knew Garda Kelly, Tuohy, McMahon and O’Connell.  They were long serving members of the Garda Siochana, having been based in Athy for decades.  I was not aware, nor I imagine were many others, of the part they played as young men in the War of Independence.  While they all received service medals, otherwise known as Black and Tan medals, it is rather a pity that the community in which they lived did not recognise or appreciate the role they played in a turbulent period of Irish history. 


For their part the members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, for the most part Irishmen who had joined the force in more peaceful times, bore the brunt of the Republican drive for independence.  After the Sinn Fein election victory of 1918, Sinn Fein, and later the I.R.A., set out to isolate the R.I.C. members who up to then were highly respected within the communities they peaceably served.  The upshot of the War of Independence was the virtual breakdown of law and order in Ireland.  It marked a dark period in Irish history but happily in recent times members and ex members of the Garda Siochana arranged to honour the memory of deceased R.I.C. men.  They too, like the I.R.A. men killed in action, are an honourable part of the story of Irish independence and its martyrs. 


The killing and injuring of Irishmen serving as members of the R.I.C. by fellow Irishmen is one of the tragic elements of the Irish War of Independence.  When we come to commemorate the War of Independence we should not only honour those who fought on the side of the republican movement, but also commemorate with respect those policemen who lost their lives in the same struggle.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Orphan Emigrant Scheme participant Rosanna Fleming of Ballyadams and Athy Workhouse

Jeff Kildea, an Australian historian, lecturer and author, will be in Ireland later this month for the launch of the first volume of his two-volume biography of ‘Hugh Mahon, Patriot, Pressman, Politician’.  Mahon was a native of County Offaly and who on emigrating to Australia became one of the most controversial politicians of his time.  A former Land League activist while in Ireland Hugh Mahon was imprisoned with Charles Stewart Parnell in 1881.  In Australia he served as Minister for External Affairs during World War 1 but was later expelled from parliament as a result of his aggressive campaigning for Irish independence.


The Irish novelist Evelyn Conlon contacted me through a mutual friend regarding Jeff Kildea’s Irish visit and his wish to visit Athy, and especially Ballyadams, where his great great grandmother was born in and around 1830.  The contact was fortuitous because I had written of Kildea’s relative who was one of the young girls sent out from the Athy Workhouse as part of the Orphan Emigration Scheme in 1849.  Indeed Jeff Kildea had picked up my article on the internet and included some references to it in an extensive article he wrote on his great great grandmother, Rosanna Flemming. 


Rosanna was 19 years old when she joined 17 other girls from Athy Workhouse on the ship ‘Lady Peel’ which arrived in Sydney on 3rd July 1849.  A second group comprising 16 young female former inmates of the local workhouse would arrive in Sydney on the ship ‘Maria’ on 1st August 1850.  The Athy Workhouse records indicated that Rosanna Flemming’s mother Mary was living in Ballyadams and that she came from a Catholic family.  Of the 35 young girls sent to Australia from the local Athy Workhouse under the Orphan Emigration Scheme all but one were Roman Catholics.


Jeff Kildea in his article which he titled ‘The Grim Life of Roseanna Clarke (nee Flemming)’ explained how Roseanna and her companions were each provided with a trunk by the workhouse authorities in which were clothing, needle and thread, a Douay Bible, a Certificate of good character and a Certificate of good health.  By happy coincidence, just weeks before I was contacted regarding Jeff’s visit, I had discovered that the Committee for the Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims and the Irish Prison Service came together to produce travel boxes or trunks replicating those provided for the young girls sent to Australia after the Great Famine.  One such trunk was recently presented to President O’Higgins, while another two trunks were sent to Perth, Australia for presentation to museums in Dardanup and Bunbury, two towns just outside Perth.  The Committee and the Prison Service have kindly agreed to make a similar trunk for presentation to Athy’s Heritage Centre.


Shortly after arriving in Sydney Rosanna Flemming was employed as a kitchen maid by Dr. John Dickson.  Her placement was for a period of 12 months but the arrangement was terminated on 26th October 1849.  Three weeks later Rosanna married James Clarke, a native of County Westmeath, who had arrived in Australia shortly before Rosanna.  They were to have 9 children between 1852 and 1869, the last of whom, also named Rosanna, died in 1948  aged 90 years. 


Unfortunately Rosanna, the former workhouse inmate, had several brushes with Australian police and magistrates, usually resulting from being drunk in public places.  Rosanna, who could not read or write, served short periods of imprisonment for antisocial behaviour.  Her sad and tragic life ended on 29th June 1901 when she died of natural causes.  Little is known of Rosanna’s children other than that of her eldest daughter Mary who at 17 years of age married Maurice Collins, a native of Clonakilty.  Mary and Maurice had 12 children, the second youngest of whom, born in 1895, was Jeff Kildea’s grandmother. 


The story of Rosanna Flemming, the young girl from Ballyadams, an inmate of Athy Workhouse who sailed to Australia as part of the Orphan Emigration Scheme of 1849, is a poignant reminder of the poverty and hardship experienced by many Irish families during a difficult time in our Irish history.  Rosanna passed out of our shared history as she embarked on the ‘Lady Peel’ just as former workhouse inmates did when disease and hunger brought their sad lives to an end.


The Workhouse cemetery at St. Mary’s Athy, for so long overlooked and forgotten, holds the remains of many young girls who unlike Rosanna Flemming had no opportunity to live a life outside the Workhouse walls.  Rosanna, despite her tragic and difficult life, had the opportunity, if not necessarily the means or the capability, of reordering her life after leaving Athy’s Workhouse.  She survived, living a somewhat precarious life at the other side of the world, while lying in unmarked plots in the shadow of the former Workhouse are the remains of those forgotten men, women, boys and girls whose last moments in this world were spend behind the grim walls of Athy’s workhouse.


Is it perhaps too much to expect that anyone would know where in Ballyadams the Flemming family, headed up by Patrick and Mary Flemming, lived in the 1830s and the 1840s?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Athy's local bands, musicians and singers

I got a phone call during the week from a local man who no doubt prompted by last weeks Eye on the Welsh Male Voice Choir Concert on Saturday spoke of Athy’s musical heritage and how it could be represented in our local Heritage Centre.  His call prompted me to reflect on the subject of local bands, musicians and singers


I have in previous Eyes made reference to many pipe bands which were once to be found in and around the South Kildare area.  One of those bands was St. Brigid’s Pipe Band which was formed some time before World War I.  It had a band room in the premises of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Duke Street.  When the Garda barracks was later opened in that premises, the band moved to Killart, the area in which the majority of the band members lived.  Other local pipe bands were the Churchtown Pipe Band and the Kilberry Pipe Band which I understand were formed following the break up of the local L.S.F. Band following World War II.  Long before pipe bands were formed, Athy and district was home to several Fife and Drum bands.  One such band was attached to the C.Y.M.S branch in Athy in the 1880’s while Kilberry had its own Fife and Drum Band based in the Coke around the same time.


It wasn’t just bands which gave Athy its strong musical tradition.  Musical Societies have been a prominent part of the social life of the town as far back as the beginning of the last century.  The 1940’s saw the emergence of Athy Musical Society and happily there exists a considerable photographic record of the shows put on by the Society members in the Town Hall.   Emigration probably caused the Society to go out of existence but in the early 1960’s another Musical Society came into being and flourished for a few years.  It too was to go the way of its predecessors but yet again a Musical and Dramatic Society was formed in 1984 and happily that society still carries on the tradition of community involvement in the arts. 


Recently I came across an L.P. of the late Abbey actor, Harry Brogan, reciting the works of some Irish poets which had issued in America in the 1950’s.  I was intrigued to find that Dominion Records which produced the L.P. had also produced an L.P. of Irish ballads by Athy singer Maisie Dooley.  I am sure copies of that L.P. must be in several Irish homes and I would welcome the opportunity of acquiring a copy for Athy’s Heritage Centre.  A similar request is made in relation to a record made in Dublin by the late Ernest O’Rourke Glynn in the late 1930’s.  Another local man, local in so far as he was born in Athy in 1922, was John Breen who also recorded ballads for Dominion Records.  John’s singing career took off when he participated in the BBC radio programme “In Town Tonight” and he subsequently featured on Radio Eireann’s programme, “Take the Floor”.  He sang in New York’s Carnegie Hall and after living in America for a number of years returned to Kildare Town where he died in May of last year. 


Nearer to our own time there is a wealth of recorded music and song featuring musicians and singers from the South Kildare area.  Amongst Ireland’s leading artists is Jack Lukeman, a singer of unparalleled quality and musician par excellence Brian Hughes.  Brian will be on stage during the Welsh Male Voice Choir on Saturday for what promises to be a unique Celtic occasion.      


The great tradition of music and music making in South Kildare was captured in the music of the Ardellis Ceile Band formed in 1957 by Fontstown born, Brian Lawler.  Perhaps the greatest exponent of Irish traditional music today is Uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn who for a number of years past has been living in the South Kildare area.  We can be proud of having two first class musicians in the persons of Liam O’Flynn and Brian Hughes living in the area where the legendary piper Johnny Doran drew his last breath in 1950. 


The musical heritage of this area is not just measured in terms of Irish traditional music but extends to Bluegrass Music whose exponents include excellent musicians such as Martin Cooney, Tony O’Brien, Clem O’Brien,Nicola O’Brien, Liam Wright, Paddy and Robert Chanders.  In any review of our musical past, it would be remiss to overlook the contributions made by local bands and musicians such as Joe O’Neill and the Stardust Band and Paddens Murphy and the Sorrento Band.  They operated during the 1940’s and 50’s and were followed by a number of Showbands, the longest lasting of which were “The Spotlights” led by Christy Dunne.

In recent years Athy's Shane Sullivan has established himself as a singer/songwriter while the upcoming Athy band 'Picture This' have virtually sold out an Irish and UK tour this year.


Athy’s musical tradition was developed not just by those named but also by countless others who could not be named in this short article.  It’s a subject I will return to again but in the meantime don’t forget Saturday’s concert in St. Michael’s Church of Ireland when the visiting Welsh Male Voice Choir will be joined by Brian Hughes for a unique night of music reflecting the Welsh and Irish sides of the Celtic music tradition.