Youthful memories came to mind when I learned of the death last week in Dublin of John Murphy. The Murphy family lived in St. Michael’s Terrace and Sean, as he was then called, attended school in the local Christian Brothers. He was a few years younger than myself but Sean, a naturally gregarious youngster, and a wonderful musician, forged friendships which crossed age differences and district divides. He came into his own when he finished school and got a job in the laboratory of Bowaters (Wallboard) Factory at Tomard. There under the supervision of Jim Flanagan, the laboratory chemist, he worked with George Robinson, Pat Daly, Tom Flood and many others.
A good musician, adept at playing the piano and guitar, Sean a few times joined his work colleague George Robinson as an occasional member of Paddens Murphy’s Sorrento Dance Band. I recall Frank English and myself on a day trip to Tramore meeting up with Sean and some of his Leinster Street friends in a local hostelry. There was Sean, his tall lanky frame bent over a piano which he played while standing up, his hands moving rhythmically across the keys, while his head and shoulders bobbed in unison to the music. His was a magical performance as the tunes tumbled out without a pause, each piece taking on a foot tapping life of its own, filling the room with a seamless sound of honky tonk music. That was Sean Murphy in his element as he went through the entire musical repertoire of Fats Domino, finishing with his own particular favourite ‘I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill’. That was an exciting musical performance I never forgot.
I subsequently met Sean around the time of his retirement from the Garda Siochana. A welcome greeting in the Jervis Street shopping centre in Dublin brought us together for the first time in almost 40 years and allowed us to renew acquaintances. Sean later shared with me many photographs of the variety shows put on by the local factories in St. John’s Hall in the 1960s, in some of which he had featured. Many of these photographs featured in past Eyes on the Past. Sean had been a member of the Garda Siochana in Raheny for a number of years and it was from there that he retired, continuing to live in the locality where he died last week. He was the second member of the Murphy family to join the Garda Siochana, his brother Des being a Sergeant, based I believe, in Co. Westmeath, where he died.
Youthful memories were also brought to the fore with the passing of Nora Walsh who died during the week at 88 years of age. Nora, like myself, was a native of the black and amber county and she came to Athy in 1953 to work in Jim Clancy’s Bar on Leinster Street. In 1957 she married Tommy Walsh who was a shop assistant in M.G. Nolan’s drapery shop, now Moore’s chemist shop, in Duke Street. With his father Dave Tommy was a member of St. John’s Social Club and both were noted members of the Social Club’s Dramatic Society and featured in many of the plays put on in the Town Hall and St. John’s Hall throughout the late 1940s and the 1950s.
I was a very young school boy when Tommy Walsh and Nora Kenna first crossed my horizon. They were a young glamorous couple who many of my age and older will remember were active members of the Social Club in St. John’s lane for many years. The Social Club and that much older local organisation, the C.Y.M.S., one catering for mixed membership, the other exclusively male, in the 1950’s and earlier played important roles in the social life of Athy.
Writing of people and places of 50 years ago I am conscious of the many changes which have taken place in Athy during that period. The Murphy family have now all gone and the only permanent reminder we have of their time in Athy is the skilled work of their father Joe who built the fine cut stone entrance to the former Dominican Church at the end of Convent Lane. M.G. Nolan’s drapery store, once a long-established business on Duke Street, is no more, while M.G. himself, who for decades was a County Councillor and an Urban Councillor, is but a memory for an older generation. The C.Y.M.S. and the Social Club have disappeared from the local community scene, while the Wallboard factory was yet another loss in the everchanging panorama of life in Athy.
The passing of Sean Murphy and Nora Walsh creates more vacant spaces in the line up of youthful memories. Our sympathies are extended to their families.