Death marks our lives, whether as family members or members of a community, by its inevitability and its regularity. As we grow older we cannot but realise the sense of loss as relations, friends and acquaintances pass to the other side, sometimes not having reached the biblical three score and ten. During the past week I attended the funerals of several persons who as members of our local community have in their own way contributed to the life of Athy and its people. Maureen Kelly, formerly Maureen Moloney, died at 88 years of age and shared with me and three of her siblings, the birth date of May 12th. Maureen came from an old Athy family with connections by marriage to other old Athy families, the Perses, the Kellys and the Phillips’. The eldest of 4 sons and 6 daughters of Richard Moloney and Mary Perse, her mother’s brother Edward (Ned) Perse was the father of 21 children. Her brother Brendan was a school mate of mine in the local Christian Brothers School and her eldest son Richard is the past Captain of Athy Golf Club where he has been one of the club’s most skilful golfers in recent years.
Maureen was a well-known and well-liked member of the local community who was widowed 17 years ago following the death of her husband Dick Kelly. Dick was the brother of Dolly Phillips who died recently at 92 years of age. The Moloney, Phillips, Kelly and Perse families are part of the community fabric of the South Kildare area for decades past and the passing of another member of that extended family group is a sad loss for us all.
Our community is ever changing, death not being the only factor in that regard. As a settlement extending back over 800 years the town of Athy has witnessed over the years the arrival and the departure of families who settled here. I am reminded as I write these lines that I am myself one such settler, the Taaffe family having arrived here in 1945. St. Michael’s Cemetery is the final resting place of my father, mother and brother Seamus and it is the resting place, as is St. John’s, Ardreigh and Geraldine cemeteries, of many of those native and non-natives of Athy, who were part of our community in the past.
Albert Rotherham, a native son of Belfast, who arrived in Athy almost forty years ago with his wife Mary, died last week. He was buried in St. Michael’s cemetery alongside Paddy Begley, a former workmate of his in Borden, who also passed away that same week. Both men were part of that great life exchange which sees some young persons born and educated in Athy migrate to other parts of the country or emigrate overseas while the town welcomes strangers who in time become an integral part of our local community. Such were Albert and Paddy and my neighbour in Ardreigh, the County Clare born Maureen Cunnane, who passed away recently. The life blood of any community is constantly being revived and renewed as the movement of persons inspired by the the search for employment brings new faces to our town while other once familiar faces disappear. Albert Rotherham and Paddy Begley worked together in Borden and were members of the Borden basketball team in the 1980s. Albert played a prominent role with Brother Joseph Quinn and Leon Kenny in the formation of Athy’s Basketball Club. He was at different times Secretary, Chairman and Treasurer of the club and was particularly proud of having trained Athy’s under 16 basketball team which won a national title at the Community Games held in Mosney.
Athy as an urban settlement owes its origins to French speaking Anglo Normans of the 12th century. Over the succeeding centuries it has been home to an ever-changing community of men, women and children, many of whom were settlers from overseas. All of them in their own way, good or bad, contributed to the sense of community and wellbeing of a people who live together in what was a small provincial town.
The ever-changing pattern of life in Athy continues to be reflected in the changing population which saw Albert Rotherham, Pat Begley and Maureen Cunnane become members of a community where the Kelly, Perse, Moloney and Phillips families have been ensconced for generations past. Our lives are entwined and no matter from where we came, the place where we chose to pitch our last tent is home and it is from there that we make our final journey.