Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Athy Association Football Club

‘Irish soccer is in crisis’. So pronounced the TV newsreader earlier today as news of the resignation of the Irish international team management was made public. The previous day I read in the Kildare Nationalist of Athy Association Football Club’s celebration of its 70th anniversary in the Clanard Court Hotel. The loss of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane and the recent lack of success of the Irish international team was unlikely, I felt, to diminish the enthusiasm of Athy’s club chairman, Stephen Bolger, and his colleagues in managing one of the most successful sporting clubs in south Kildare. Athy AFC has a proud history which stretches even further back than the 70 years which were recently celebrated. The first note I came across of soccer played in Athy was in the mid-1920s at a time when the Barrow Drainage Scheme headquarters was based in the town. An employee of the Barrow Drainage Company, whose first name is regrettably lost in time, a Mr. Sanford, organised a soccer team in the town. Called the ‘Barrow Rovers’, the team included locals such as Chevit and John Doyle, Ned Ward, Jim Eaton and Cuddy Chanders. Cuddy will be recalled as the man who would feature in later years as goalkeeper for the Kildare County Senior GAA team. ‘Barrow Rovers’ apparently disbanded when the Barrow Drainage Scheme ended. It wasn’t until 1948 when Athy’s hockey club went out of existence that a former hockey club member, Matt Tynan, called a public meeting to set up a soccer club. Matt was manager of the local L&N shop at the corner of Emily Square and Leinster Street and he recognised that the former hockey pitch in the Showgrounds would be an ideal soccer playing pitch. Other local men involved with Matt Tynan in setting up Athy AFC in 1948 included Jimmy O’Donnell and Harry Prole. The emergence of the new club encouraged several locals who up to then played soccer with a Carlow team to transfer to the Athy club. They included Gerry Sullivan, ‘Oney’ Walsh and Tom Kealy. To encourage the development of the game amongst local youngsters Matt Tynan presented a cup in 1952 for a street league competition. Youth teams from Barrack Street, Pairc Bhride, Offaly/Leinster Street and St. Joseph’s Terrace were some of the streets/estates involved in the Tynan Cup competitions. Matt Tynan’s role in the early years of the soccer club was extremely important as events were to prove on his departure from Athy in about 1960 when the club went into decline. This prompted some of the older club members to call a public meeting in December 1964 which the local press reported was attended by ‘members of the Barrow Rovers team of the 1920s and the later club which flourished from 1948-1960.’ Amongst those who took a leading part in reviving Athy’s soccer club were Brendan O’Flaherty, Denis Smyth and Mick McEvoy. I remember some of the players of the 1950s whom I enjoyed watching in those ‘GAA foreign games ban days’ from the other side of the fence as I attended GAA matches in Geraldine Park. Brian O’Hara, Joe Aldridge, Frankie Aldridge, Denis Smyth, Brendan O’Flaherty, Alo Gallagher, Mick Godfrey, Tommy O’Rourke and George Lammon are just a few of the names which come to mind. Athy AFC under the chairmanship of Stephen Bolger has gone from strength to strength and now fields men’s and women’s adult teams as well as a large number of underage teams. A soccer academy and an underage league promotes the game amongst the very young, while the indoor astra park opened in March 2012 gives the club a wonderful facility to help grow the sport. The Athy AFC grounds named Aldridge Park after the late Frankie Aldridge, is located in the Showgrounds alongside the GAA pitch, the rugby pitches and the tennis club. The playing fields of the three major Irish field sports located together in Athy’s showgrounds represent a unique facility and one which owes much to the initiative and foresight of past Athy folk who were involved in acquiring the land for agricultural show purposes at the start of the last century. Athy AFC has a membership in excess of 350 and the club trustees, Joe Foley Snr., Morgan Gray, Frank Whelan, Finbarr Bride and Tom Kearney have all been involved as players and administrators in the club over many years. The continuing growth of the game in Athy is evident in the emergence of soccer teams and soccer pitches in Clonmullin and Woodstock. Whatever about the lack of success at international level soccer is a popular sport here in Athy, due in large measure to the commitment and enthusiasm of the officers and committee members of Athy’s AFC both past and present.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

World War 1 Commemorations November 2018

The First World War figured prominently in events held over the last week or so here in Athy and in the county town of Naas. The centenary of the last day of the war which accounted for the loss of almost 10 million lives was marked with a variety of events all of which well attended, attesting to the now widely held belief that the men who enlisted in the British Army during 1914-’18 are a valued part of our Irish history. The commemorations here in Athy started with the Athy Dramatic Society’s presentation of David Walsh’s ‘The Bravest Little Town in the World’. The exaggerated claim in the title did not detract from the very moving tribute in words and song to the men from south Kildare who died in the war. Remembering that those young men, while answering the call to arms of Athy’s parish priest and the chairman of the Urban Council, did so despite the opposition of the local Sinn Fein club, I was pleasantly surprised to see two members of the Dooley family on stage. Michael Dooley was chairman of Athy’s Sinn Fein Club in 1917 and like all non-Redmondite republicans opposed enlistment during the 1914-’18 war. The participation of his great grandson, Brian Dooley, and Brian’s daughter Sara in the show to remember the war sacrifices of south Kildare, was confirmation, if such was needed, that our history extends far beyond our national boundaries. On Saturday 10th November Kildare Archaeological Society organised a seminar to mark the end of the Great War. Held in Kilashee Hotel, it attracted a large audience to hear talks on a variety of war related topics given by eminent academics and historians. The keynote address of the seminar was given by Professor Diarmuid Ferriter of U.C.D. on ‘The Triumphant Sinn Fein in 1918’. The next day Kildare County Council commemorated the County Kildare soldiers of World War I with a ceremony in the grounds of the Council offices which at one time formed part of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers depot. It was from there that those Athy men who joined the Dublin Fusiliers were billeted before they moved overseas. The ceremony brought together many from around the county and on leaving all of us received a copy of the specially printed booklet listing the County Kildare men who died during the 1914-’18 war. ‘Remembrance – the Eleventh Hour 1914-1918’ is an advance publication in anticipation of a more detailed and complete book on County Kildare’s World War 1 dead which the County Council will publish next year. At Athy that Sunday afternoon I was part of the attendance at the largest World War I commemoration event in County Kildare that day. I was quite surprised to see such a big turnout, the largest ever seen at this Remembrance Sunday event which started almost 20 years ago. I remember that very first Remembrance Sunday event in St. Michael’s cemetery. The small group which came together that first occasion largely comprised family members of the organisers, John MacKenna, David Walsh and my own family. The numbers attending increased each year the event was held and it has been an annual event which in this centenary year drew the largest audience ever. In fact, I believe the numbers in St. Michael’s Cemetery on Sunday afternoon exceeded the numbers attending the morning event in Naas and that large attendance demonstrated that Athy ‘the bravest little town in the world’ is justifiably proud of its past. The final tribute to the Athy soldiers of World War I will be held on Sunday (18th November) when Kevin Morrin and his band play at the Clanard Court Hotel. Band member Vincent Crowley penned his song ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes’ which grew out of stories which he heard of times past in Athy and of the men who fought in and returned from the war. ‘Down along through Leinster Street | In the Autumn Rain Come tomorrows heroes | marching to the train October nineteen fourteen | and the “Great” War has begun. “They’ll be home by Christmas | and all the battles won” With pride the army’s gathering our sons New uniforms new boots and shiny Guns’. The singer, Kevin Morrin, will launch the song during the Clanard Court concert on Sunday. The Irish people’s changed attitude to commemorating the dead of World War I is due more than anything else to the writings over many years of Kevin Myers. It is a great shame that the Kildare based writer was not a speaker at the Archaeological Society event or a participant in the County Council commemoration in Naas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Athy - a Settlers town found3ed by the Anglo Normans

John Dymmor in his treatise on Ireland referred to Athy in May 1599 as ‘a great market town, but brought by these late wars into the state of a poor village’. The wars referred to were those waged by the O’Mores and O’Connors of the Midland septs and the O’Byrnes of west Wicklow against the English settlers. Athy, as a settler’s town inhabited from its foundation by French speaking Anglo Normans, had by the end of the 16th century a population comprised of English settlers and unfree Irish who were descendants of the former Betaghs of the feudal manor of Woodstock. The O’Brynes attacked Ardreigh Castle in 1593 and killed its occupants including Sir Piers Fitzjames, his wife and five others. Ardreigh served as an easy target for the Irish rebels as nearby Athy, then used as a staging post for supplies destined for the English settlers in nearby Laois and Offaly, was heavily garrisoned. However, emboldened by the rise of O’Neill in Ulster and his alliance with O’Donnell the waring Irish in the midlands again attacked the settlers town of Athy. Athy, perhaps better described as a village, had endured numerous attacks by the Irish over the centuries. It was attacked and torched no less than six times between 1308 and 1375. Further misfortune was to befall the settlers when the Black Death claimed many local victims during the three years from 1348. Athy as a frontier town was not a peaceful place in which to live in later medieval times, but despite whatever difficulties it faced the town survived when other Anglo Norman settlements such as Ardreigh, Rheban, Mullaghmast, Ardscull and Moone went into decline and eventually vanished. The defeat of the Irish and the Spanish at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 brought peace for a time to the midlands. Athy, which had been granted a charter by Henry VIII in 1515, was the beneficiary of a more extensive charter by James I in 1313 which would form the basis of the town’s local government for the next two centuries or more. Little is known of the town’s history during the following 30 years but in 1641 Athy was heavily involved in the Confederate wars. For a period of eight years Athy was the focus of attention involving armies from the Confederates, the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. At different times during that war the town was home of the Confederate leader, Owen Roe O’Neill and Gen. Thomas Preston of the Parliamentary army. It was the arrival of Oliver Cromwell in Ireland in 1649 which marked the end of the Confederate War and the killing in Drogheda of the sub Prior of the Athy Dominicans, Fr. Richard Overton. A few years later his superior, Fr. Raymond Moore, prior of Athy, died in jail. At the end of the war a number of local landowners had their lands forfeited, including Nicholas Wolfe of Oldcourt, Christopher Archbold of Timolin, Gerald Fitzgerald of Castleroe and John Pilsworth of Bert. The Cromwellian plantation, although not as successful as planned, nevertheless brought great changes among the landlord classes in south Kildare. One local property owner who is recorded as surviving the upheaval which followed the Confederate war was Daniel Hutchinson, a prominent follower of Cromwell, who established a cloth manufacturing enterprise in Athy. In 1669 the restored King of England was petitioned by the people of Athy for leave to have two additional fairs in the town. The petition claimed that Athy was ‘an ancient and loyal corporation and seated in the heart of a plentiful country both for corn and cattle.’ It also stressed that many of the town’s inhabitants were English tradesmen and that they had suffered much, ‘both by the recent wars and by two fires which lately destroyed most of their houses.’ Athy in the 1670s was apparently a distressful place in which to live as the Corporation of Drogheda was moved to appoint two alderman ‘to receive the benevolence of the inhabitants of the town for the relief of those of Athy who have suffered greatly in the late wars.’ History tells us that Athy during its 800 year existence experienced several extremely difficult and troubling times. It has always recovered, some past recoveries being identified with the coming of the canal in 1792 and again in 1846 with the opening of the railway line between Dublin and Carlow. Athy is today at a low ebb commercially and industrially, but on the horizon is the promise of an outer relief road which holds out the prospect of facilitating the revitalisation of the historic inner core of our ancient town.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Francis Ledwidge

Just outside Mons in Belgium a stone monument records the date when a squadron from the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards fired the opening British shots of the first World War. The date was 22nd August 1914, the time 7.00 in the morning. By the time the ceasefire occurred on 11th November 1918 almost 10 million men, women and children had died in the war. Amongst the 10 million were approximately 35,000 Irish men and women and amongst those Irish men were two whose names will be forever remembered whenever and wherever the poets of World War I are recalled. Francis Ledwidge, a native of Slane, Co. Meath, left school at 14 years of age to work as a farm labourer and six years later took up employment as a roadworker with Meath County Council. In October 1914 he enlisted in the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers where his mentor, Lord Dunsany, served as a captain. Ledwidge was a Lance Corporal when his battalion landed at Suvla Bay in August 1915. Within two months the British army lost more than 10,000 men and amongst those killed were Athy men Daniel Delaney, John Farrell, Christopher Hanlon, William Moran and Christopher Whelan. Edward Higgins and Henry Price, both of Ballitore and Michael Kinsella of Castledermot joined their Athy comrades in death on the beaches of the Dardanelles. After some time in Salonika where the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers were encamped on the Greco-Serbian border, Ledwidge with his regiment were forced to retreat. Ledwidge was subsequently hospitalised in Cairo and from there sent back to a hospital in Manchester, just as the 1916 Rising was taking place in Dublin. The subsequent execution of the leaders of the Rising may have contributed to Ledwidge’s subsequent Court marshalling for overstaying his leave following which he was reduced in rank. He subsequently re-joined his regiment and on the opening day of the third battle of Ypres he was killed when a German shell exploded near him on 31st July 1917. Ledwidge, who was 29 years of age, is buried in Artillery Wood cemetery, Boesinghe, Belgium. His own poem ‘At a Poet’s Grave’ is a poignant reminder of Irish literature’s loss when Ledwidge died. ‘And here where the sweet poet sleeps I hear the songs he left unsung, When winds are fluttering the flowers And summer bells are rung.’ Tom Kettle’s father was a founder member of the Land League and a friend of Charles Stewart Parnell. Tom qualified as a barrister in 1906 and that same year he was elected as an M.P. to Westminster where he proved to be an orator of exceptional ability. Three years later he married Mary Sheehy, whose sister Hannah was married to Francis Skeffington and soon afterwards he was appointed Professor of Economics at Dublin University. He resigned his parliamentary seat in 1910 but continued to be politically active, becoming one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913. When war was declared in August 1914 Kettle was abroad buying arms for the Volunteers. On his return to Ireland he enlisted but was not sent overseas until July 1916. Towards the end of August 1916 the Irish Brigade was sent to the Somme and it was there on 9th September Thomas Kettle was killed near the village of Ginchy. Aged 36 years his body was never recovered and he is today remembered on the ‘Thiepval Memorial to the Missing’ near Albert in France. The day Kettle died also saw the death of Maurice Cullen of Foxhill. Six days earlier John Vincent Holland of Model Farm Athy, as part of the Somme offensive, led his men in capturing the village of Guillemont located just a few miles south of Ginchy, an action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Thomas Kettle will always be remembered for the memorable poem which included the lines:- ‘So here, while the mad guns curse overhead, And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor, Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead, Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor, But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed, And for the secret scripture of the poor.’ Many of the young men who left Athy with the cheers and good wishes of local townspeople ringing in their ears were never to return. Many thousands of other Irish men including Francis Ledwidge and Tom Kettle believed they were fighting for Ireland, a claim which Ledwidge made in his poem. ‘For am I not of those who reared The banner of old Ireland high From Dublin town to Turkey’s shore’. On Thursday the Arts Centre hosts a show devised and directed by David Walsh remembering the men from Athy and district who died during the First World War. The following Sunday, November 11th, on the centenary of the ending of the war which witnessed the death of more than 120 young Athy men, those men and their colleagues who survived will be remembered at a commemoration ceremony at St. Michael’s cemetery commencing at 3pm.