Athy was the place to be on Monday of last week. The Taoiseach was in town to open Martin Heydon’s constituency office in Leinster Street and later met some local people in the Clanard Court Hotel. On the same day President Michael D. Higgins was on a private visit to Athy, while the assistant Garda Commissioner Fintan Fanning was carrying out his annual inspection at the local Garda Station.
The Taoiseach’s visit was undoubtedly a boost for the local Fine Gael party members and it must be acknowledged was also a very welcome visit to Athy by the country’s most important political figure. In addressing those assembled in the local hotel the Taoiseach acknowledged the urgent need for progressing the outer relief road for which planning permission issued recently. In recounting his own personal experiences of driving through Athy in the past the Taoiseach reassured his listeners, if such reassurance was needed, that the forty year old saga of Athy’s relief road will soon be at an end. The cost of building the road will not, according to the Taoiseach, be an issue and everything now depends on how quickly Kildare County Council and the National Road Authority push ahead with the project.
During the course of his address the Taoiseach paid a special tribute to Moira Finnegan, a staunch Fine Gael member for many years, whom I am told held at one time or another every officer position in the local branch of the party. Due to her sterling work and those of her colleagues, the party flag was kept afloat in this part of the Kildare constituency during many years of Fianna Fail dominance in government.
Moira, who is a native of Mullinalaghta, Co. Longford came to Athy in 1972 to teach in the local Vocational school. Tom O’Donnell was the headmaster in those days and he must have been particularly impressed by the young girl who, as a former CIE official working in Galway, transferred to Dublin so that she could graduate with a university degree. Moira, like myself, attended university at night-time, both of us graduating from UCD, Moira with a B.A., yours truly with a Commerce Degree. Daytime university attendance for our generation was very much limited to the well off and the professional classes so Moira’s attendance at evening classes after a days work was a clear indication of the drive and initiative which was regularly featured in her later role as a branch officer of the Fine Gael party. Moira, who retired from her teacher’s position in Athy Community College ten years ago after 35 years as an Irish, English and Economics teacher, has now retired to live in her native County Longford.
I was intrigued to find that her native place, Mullinalaghta is in the Lough Gowna Valley just up the road from my late father’s homeplace of Legga. Both Mullinalaghta and Legga are not too far from Ballinalee and Granard, two places forever identified with the Irish War of Independence. Not only with that War but also the subsequent Civil War and it is no coincidence that two of the men who figured largely on the Treaty side of that conflict are forever associated with County Longford. Michael Collins’ fiancée Kitty Kirwan was a native of Granard, while the blacksmith of Ballinalee Seán Mac Eoin was, as the name indicates, a native of the Longford village of Ballinalee. Both men, as advocates of the Treaty of 1922, were part of the movement which in time gave us Cumann na nGaedheal and the Fine Gael party. The current Taoiseach’s kind remarks concerning Moira’s long involvement with the Fine Gael party were received with applause and her many friends in Athy wish her well on her retirement back in her native County Longford.
On the day before Athy played host to so many august visitors the members of St. Michael’s branch of O.N.E. played a significant part in the Remembrance Sunday ceremony held in St. Michael’s cemetery. There, a colour party consisting of O.N.E. members, paraded prior to a wreath laying ceremony at the memorial to Athy men who died in war. The prayer service which took place before, during and at the end of the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony, was conducted by Rev. Olive Donohoe, the local Church of Ireland rector. Thanks must go to the O.N.E. members, Rev. Olive and all those in attendance for keeping alive the town of Athy’s remembrance of the young men from this area who died during the 1914/’18 war. It is particularly important that Athy folk do not forget that ‘lost generation’ because it was the town’s leaders and church leaders of the day who actively encouraged the largely unemployed young men of Athy and district to enlist during the course of that war.