Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Playing football was the abiding passion of young fellows living in Athy in the pre television days of the 1950s. Street leagues fanned our enthusiasm for the sport which was further encouraged by the weekly break from school on Wednesday afternoons to participate in football practice in Geraldine Park. Gaelic football was the only game encouraged or indeed allowed during our Christian Brothers school days, but truth to tell it was the only game most of us aspired to play. Soccer and rugby were not part of our youthful horizons. The national newspapers carried reports of major G.A.A. games, while the local papers, the Nationalist and Leinster Times and the Leinster Leader occasionally listed the members of school teams. It was in those local newspapers that many of our names were first mentioned and how important we felt to see our young names in print. The 1950s was a difficult time jobwise for young men leaving the local schools. Many of those I went to school with in the national school had to emigrate to find employment. Emigration was something our country folk experienced for centuries but the establishment of the Irish Free Sate coming fast on the heels of the Civil War saw many young men leave Ireland. With their departure G.A.A. clubs and teams suffered and similar losses continued apace throughout the war years and into the 1950s and the 1960s. I was reminded of the past loss of young Irish men to their country and to their clubs when news arrived of the death of Peadar Dooley, formerly of St. Michael’s Terrace. Peadar was one of the many good footballers to grace Gaelic football during the 1950s. He was a member of the Castlemitchell intermediate team which won the Intermediate championship final of 1953. His team mates included Ned Conway and five members of the legendary Donnelly brothers. It was a team which brought the first championship silverware to the Castlemitchell club. Peadar Dooley and Ned Conway, no doubt on the strength of the Castlemitchell club’s success in the Intermediate championship and the club’s subsequent elevation to the senior ranks, became members of the County Kildare senior panel. Both Peadar and Ned played their first game for the county on 28th February 1954 in a match against Waterford played in Kildare Town. Peadar’s senior football county career continued until April 1955. He played his last game for County Kildare when togging out against Cork in a match played in the nation’s second capital. He emigrated to England soon afterwards following his teammate, Ned Conway, who had earlier taken the emigrant boat. Peadar would later return to Ireland to play in a football match as a member of a London team. It would be his last time to play football in his native country. Peadar Dooley was a member of a select group of Gaelic footballers from Athy who were privileged to play for their county. Peadar who played in the fullback line, sometimes as a corner back, occasionally as full back, was replaced in that latter position by another Athy man and former Castlemitchell player, Danny Flood. Danny would go on to have a long and illustrious career with Kildare winning a Leinster senior championship medal with the county in 1956. Peadar was one of the foursome with Jimmy Curtis, Ned Conway Mossy Reilly, all members of Castlemitchell Football Club who in a junior match against Dublin were, I believe, the first Castlemitchell players to play in Croke Park. Peadar, Ned, Danny and other Athy men including Mick Carolan, Jimmy Curtis and Brendan Kehoe, to name just a few, were part of the pantheon of local sporting heroes of the 1950s and later. They achieved sporting success on the field of play and secured the admiration of those of us who played football but who could never hope to emulate their achievements. Another death during the week was that of Mary Carbery whose husband Jerry shared a classroom with me for several years while we both attended the Christian Brothers school in St. John’s Lane. The large attendance at the funeral in St. Michael’s Parish Church spoke volumes for the esteem in which Mary was held and the respect we all hold for Jerry and the Carbery family members. Mary’s daughter, Mary Lys, spoke eloquently at the funeral mass and recalled her mother’s words one Christmas morning as together they prepared Christmas dinner. Those words ‘we are creating memories’ spoke of the wisdom and love of a kind, thoughtful mother. Throughout our lives we create memories, not just for ourselves but also for those with whom we come in contact. Sometimes those memories are short lived but the treasured memories we hold are long lasting. They last a lifetime, as for example, the youthful memories of sporting successes on the football fields of 65 years or more ago. Our sympathies are extended to the families of Peadar Dooley and Mary Carbery.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Although the statue of Shackleton in Emily Square was only unveiled as recently as 30th August 2016 it has quickly become an accepted part of the streetscape of Athy. This fine piece of art, commissioned by Kildare County Council, and executed by the eminent sculptor Mark Richards has drawn numerous international visitors to the town over the last 2½ years. On Friday 22nd March Athy will welcome a real live explorer to the town. County Kildare Chamber of Commerce are hosting a Health and Wellbeing symposium at the Clanard Court Hotel where the keynote speaker will be Sir Ranulph Fiennes who the Guinness Book Records describes as the world’s greatest living explorer. Fiennes has an extraordinary record of achievement behind him. He was the first person to reach both the North and South poles, cross the Antarctic and the Antarctic oceans and to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis. His 50 years of adventure and exploration will be a feature of his talk at the symposium in Athy. Demand for tickets for the event have been so high that the event has been booked out for a number of weeks. I understand that the event was originally planned to take place elsewhere in the county but Fiennes asked that it should take place in Athy, close to the birth place of Ernest Shackleton. He wanted to pay homage to Shackleton, the world’s greatest explorer by visiting the Shackleton Museum in Athy’s Town Hall and the nearby statue of the Kilkea-born explorer. Fiennes own life encapsulates much of what we know about Shackleton in terms of leadership, team work, determination and most of all self-belief. His book ‘Beyond the Limits – the lessons learned from a lifetime of adventure’ published in 2000 gives an overview of the extraordinary expeditions Fiennes has been involved in since the late 1960s. What is clear from this publication is his willingness to adapt and learn from every new experience and incorporate those into his subsequent expeditions. One of his most challenging experiences was his crossing of the Antarctic by foot with his fellow explorer, Dr. Mike Stroud in 1992-1993 when they together completed the first unsupportive crossing of the Antarctic continent. This is now viewed as the longest unsupported polar journey in history. In summing up the experience he wrote: ‘we had walked over the highest, coldest, most inhospitable continent in earth, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with only the supplies that we carried. Somebody might one day complete the journey faster than we but like Hilary and Tenzing on Everest, we will always retain the rights to priority.’ Many expeditions would follow this experience including a successful summiting of Everest in May 2009 and the completion of the marathon Des Sables regarded as the toughest foot race on earth. But there is something about the crossing of Antarctica which resonates with us here in Athy. It was Shackleton’s own failure to cross the Antarctic in 1914-1916 that led to the epic adventure story centred on the loss of his ship Endurance, and his charismatic leadership which facilitated the escape of Shackleton and his men from icy graves in the Antarctic. In tandem with Fiennes expeditions he has raised millions for charities all over the world and is a prolific and skilled writer. His most recent publication is titled Cold - ‘Extreme adventures at the lowest temperatures on earth’ where he celebrated his life dedicated to researching and exploring some of the most hostile and intensely cold places on earth. No doubt those fortunate enough to have secured tickets for the talk on Friday will enjoy listening to the stories of the adventures of a man very much cast in Shackleton’s mould. The death of Peadar Dooley in London a few days ago marks the loss of a man who graced the county football scene playing for his native county of Kildare and who for many years played with the local Castlemitchell club. The story of the once intense rivalry which marked the relationship between the Athy and the Castlemitchell clubs is a story which has yet to be written, but next week I will return to the story of Peadar Dooley, footballer.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
With preliminary work on the outer relief road now started we can look forward in a few years time to the disappearance of lorries and heavy goods vehicles from Athy’s main shopping streets. Those same streets first laid down in medieval times as passageways for man and beast have witnessed over the centuries the everchanging transport. The linear layout of town’s principal streets stretching from Leinster Street through Duke Street and beyond William Street are typical of what was an Anglo-Norman settlement. Unfortunately, the narrow streets which resulted from the town’s development as a market town are not suitable for modern traffic as large vehicles are driven through streets which should be accommodating shoppers. The outer relief road when built will create the opportunity to make huge improvements to the retailing life of the town. In many ways the new road has the potential to bring change to Athy in much the same way as two earlier major infrastructural developments did in the 1790s and the 1840s. The year 1791 saw the Grand Canal extended to Athy and the new waterway link between Athy and Dublin led to the development of two major industries in the town. The malting stores once dotted around Athy from Offaly Street to Stanhope Street and Shrewleen Lane made Athy one of the most important centres of the malt industry in Ireland. It was an industry which provided much needed employment for the men of Athy, while providing at the same time an enormous financial boost for the farmers of the area. The other local industry which benefitted hugely from the waterway link to Dublin was that of brick making. Before 1791 it was a localised cottage industry, but with the opening of the Dublin market the local brick making industry expanded. It would continue to operate as a substantial employer of local men and women up to the mid-1930s. From the earliest times Athy had a boating tradition with trade between Waterford and the south Kildare town. The opening of the Grand Canal saw the boatmen of the Barrow navigation, many of whom lived locally, engage in the canal freight business between Athy and Dublin. Several local families became canal boat owners and their involvement with the canal extended over several generations and only ended during the post-World War II years. The halcyon days of canal boating were in the pre-railway days when passenger boats and freight boats travelled daily to and from Dublin. That period lasted for less than 60 years but in that time the extension of the canal to Athy brought prosperity to the town never previously experienced. The second major development which brought opportunities for the town folk was the building of the railway line from Dublin to Carlow. It opened on 4th August 1846 during the height of the Great Famine. Its construction provided local men with badly needed employment during that Famine. The railway allowed goods to be brought to and from Dublin much faster than the 13 hours it took by canal boat and as a consequence canal traffic went into decline. The decades immediately after the opening of the railway marked what was possibly the most prosperous years of Athy’s business life. However, in truth the costly railway fares did not find many locals able to take advantage of the third-class open carriages which were first deployed on the Athy Dublin journey. It would take many years before the railway made an impact on the lives of the ordinary folk of Athy, whatever about the benefits it brought to the business people of the town. The advantages created by the opening of the Grand Canal in 1791 were further enhanced by the extension of the railway to Athy in 1846. Both developments brought increased prosperity to the town by virtue of the impetus they gave to the development of industry and the commercial life of Athy. Many believe that the construction of the outer relief road, like its predecessors the canal and railway, can create tremendous opportunities for Athy. If the canal and railway brought industrial and commercial benefits, the outer relief road offers the opportunity to improve the retailing/commercial centre of the town. I understand an Athy Town Team has been established to plan for the town’s future. They can look back at the history of changes for good brought about by the extension of the canal to Athy and the later arrival of the railway to see what can to be done to take maximum benefit from the new road. Retailing Athy is in urgent need of a makeover and the outer relief road offers a unique opportunity to plan for change and improvement.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
I walked on both sides of the Grand Canal between Lennon’s bridge and Augustus bridge last Sunday morning, a journey which I had not previously undertaken. It was a journey of discovery, as I noticed in the distance buildings well known to me but seen for the first time from a different angle. Starting my journey at Augustus bridge erected in 1791 and opened by the Duke of Leinster, the bridge was named after the Duke’s eldest son Augustus who would in time become the third Duke of Leinster. The original bridge was so hump backed that it caused great difficulty for carts travelling to the local market. As a consequence, the bridge was re-modelled in the 1890s and the original bridge keystone which was found a few years ago lying in a ditch in Foxhill is now in the local Heritage Centre. The fine building facing onto the canal harbour was the Canal hotel, built to cater for people travelling by canal boat to Dublin. The passenger service to Dublin in the pre-railway days started out from the Athy harbour at 5 o’clock in the morning and the canal boat reached Dublin after a journey lasting 13 hours. The canal harbour was the scene of an arms robbery early on the morning of 7th December 1797 which was to have serious repercussions for the local people. The night boat from Dublin docked in the harbour with a cargo of arms and ammunition intended for a corps of yeomanry in Leighlinbridge. At about 3 a.m. men armed with pistols and swords raided the canal boat and carried away the arms and ammunition. The boat men who were locals of Athy were suspected of complicity in the robbery and were arrested. Troops from the local military barracks carried out searches in the Athy area but without success. The weapons were never found and in all probability were used by the local United Irishmen during the 1798 rebellion some months later. Beyond the harbour one can see to the right the spire of the Methodist church built in 1872 on a site donated by Alexander Duncan of Fortbarrington House. The proprietor of Duncan’s drapery store in Duke Street (now Shaws), was not old enough to have welcomed John Wesley as he journeyed from Portlaoise to Carlow on one of his last trips to Ireland. The church now fulfils a dual role as the Methodist place of worship and as Athy’s Arts Centre. As I continued walking, I passed on my right St. Dominic’s Park housing estate, built in 1963 and named after the founder of the Dominican order. A former owner of the fields on which the next housing estate was built is remembered in the name Flinter’s Place. Beyond it and again in the distance on the right lies St. Vincent’s Hospital opened in January 1844 as a workhouse. It was there that over 1200 persons died during the Great Famine and those unfortunate people today lie buried in St. Mary’s cemetery. The cemetery is on the left as we near Lennon’s bridge. Once neglected and forgotten it now presents as a peaceful and tidy place to remember the Famine dead after Athy folk participated in the annual National Famine Commemoration Day. Just beyond St. Vincent’s Hospital is the former fever hospital, built in 1841 with the proceeds of a collection taken up in Athy for the benefit of William Keating, a businessman of Market Square. Keating suffered the loss of his business premises following a fire in 1836 and the local people collected the sum of £300 which Keating indicated should be used to build a badly needed fever hospital for the town. On the other side of Lennon’s bridge and the bridge leading to Coolroe I noticed the rope marks cut deep into the corner stones of the bridge arches on the towpath side. These deep cuts are evidence of the heavy strain which must have been felt by the canal horses pulling the boats as they manoeuvred them under the bridges. On the return journey to Augustus bridge I came across fishing plaques embedded at intervals in the ground and put there some years ago by the local angling club. Approximately half way between Lennon’s bridge and Augustus bridge I passed Lovers Lane. Still known as such by the older generation the lane has a dark sinister history. It was there in the first decade of 1900 that a young girl was murdered by, I believe, an English soldier. Now into view comes the malt works which in days gone by gave employment to many local men. Minch Nortons, as it then was, still flourishes but today is heavily mechanised. Still standing, though not used, are the kilns known as Port Arthur and Ladysmith, reminders of a time when the overseas exploits of local men serving in the British army were recognised. I gather the government has recently provided funding to improve the Lennon bridge to Augustus bridge canal towpath walkway. The importance of the canal and the nearby River Barrow as recreational and heritage resources cannot be underestimated. Both of them form very valuable parts of Athy’s public amenities.