Tuesday, May 28, 2019
The past week has been marked by the deaths of five members of our local community. Frank McCarthy, Kieran O’Doherty, Lisa Tobin, Anne Redmond and Teresa Campbell left behind treasured memories for family, friends and acquaintances. In the strange world of retained memories when I heard of Frank McCarthy’s passing I immediately tracked back to 1956 when the Athy minor football team won the County Minor Championship of that year. It was the first time I was consciously aware of an Athy team’s success on the football field. That awareness was prompted by the fact that my older brother Tony was centre half forward on the local team on that county final day. Also playing for Athy was Frank McCarthy, whose death at 81 years of age prompted this backward glance at a time of glory for Athy Gaelic Football Club. Earlier in the week Kieran O’Doherty died at 63 years of age. I knew Kieran for some time past and always found him to be a gentleman, whose courtesy and good humour brought him friendships which endured. The huge attendance at his funeral bore testimony to the high regard in which he was held by the people of south Kildare. For me Kieran’s death, like that of Frank McCarthy, brought back memories of a sporting connection. This time it was of the Athy minor team’s success in the County Championship final of 1973. Kieran was a member of that team and he would go on to become a county player for Kildare. His sporting prowess was not confined to Gaelic football, for Kieran, unusually if not uniquely, also featured on the Athy rugby team which won the Provincial Towns Cup in 1984 and was a member of the Athy Golf Club team which won the Provincial Towns Cup in 2005. The sporting headlines always provide an identifiable touchstone when looking back at the life of an Irish male. Less so when those departed are female members of our community. Our sorrow at their loss is no less, but in remembering them we tend to overlook the good they brought into the world of their local communities. Even though I am not a frequenter of the local pub scene I can still recall Teresa Campbell working behind the bar of Reggie Lalor’s pub in Leinster Street. In that role she was following in the footsteps of the long departed Miss Norman who lived in the nearby Fitzgerald fortress known far and wide as Whites Castle. Teresa was a well liked member of Reggie’s staff for over 25 years and indeed she continued working for the new owner for a number of years after Reggie sold the pub. Anne Redmond, who sadly suffered from ill health for the last number of years, was very involved in community affairs in the Townparks area. She encouraged and organised the local community activists and she opened her house for community meetings over many years. Anne was passionate about the need for the local people of Townparks to come together to improve the quality of life in the area. In that respect she made a huge contribution to the improvements noted in that area in recent years. We can understand with compassion and acceptance the death of a person of advanced years, but somehow the death of a young person and a person with caring responsibilities for family members is less readily accepted or understood. Lisa Tobin was a relatively young woman who in the normal course of life might be expected to live for many many more years. Her sudden death is a tragedy for her family and friends. The Athy people until the population explosion in recent years which saw the town population increase from 4,000 to 10,000 always comprised a tight knit community. Local people all knew each other and community involvement in fundraising, whether for a new church or a swimming pool, was an accepted part of life in Athy. Nowadays the personal knowledge of past years cannot stretch to encompass the new arrivals. However, it is very noticeable in the various clubs and associations in and around the town that many of those newly arrived in Athy have become actively involved in community-based activities. Even more pleasing is the often-heard claim that Athy is a friendly town and how the ‘locals’ ie. those with generations of attachment to the town, have welcomed new neighbours with open arms. Truly Athy is a friendly town and a good town made so by many, including the five people who died during the week. Our sympathies are extended to the families of Kieran O’Doherty, Frank McCarthy, Lisa Tobin, Anne Redmond and Teresa Campbell. As I complete this Eye I learned of the death of Michael Owens to whose family my sympathies are also extended.
Sunday, May 19, 2019
President Michael D. Higgins recent address in Athy regarding the value of a caring community was brought home to me during the week when I visited the Woodstock estate allotment project. What was once a dumping site has now been changed by the local community into a pleasant gardening area. Even now in its early stages the allotment is a wonderful example of what can be achieved by people coming together to help themselves and their own area. The Woodstock estate gardening project was started by Dom Foley with the encouragement of Lisa Walsh. Their early efforts met with success and they were soon joined by a growing team of local residents including Mick Dempsey, Peter Ging, Kathleen O’Connor, Mary Walsh, Larry Kinsella, Matt Hyland and Natalie Leonard. Even the youngsters of Woodstock were involved and amongst the volunteer workers were 9 year old Saoirse Leonard who looks after the bird boxes and Cian O’Neill who is a very effective waterer of the plants. The residents have received help from many quarters and the co-operation of Kildare County Council must be first acknowledged, for it was the Council which allowed the former dumping ground to be used for the allotment project. The County Council engaged a contractor to clear the half acre site of the debris and rubbish which had accumulated over many years. It also provided and installed fencing to separate the allotment area from the fields and the recreational areas which are now a feature of the Woodstock, Townspark, Carbury Park, Castle Park and Greenhills riverside areas. The entire area in the vicinity of Woodstock Castle now looks better than it has for many years past. Both the County Council and the respective residents associations in the area must be congratulated for what has been achieved. The Woodstock estate allotment is a project which is evolving and Dom Foley and others have put in a lot of man and women hours into digging the ground, building raised beds and planting a variety of vegetables and fruit. A community group always needs support from outside their own immediate members and the Woodstock residents are very appreciative of the very generous donations received from Brendan Kelly, Griffin & Hawe and the Farmers Co-op. The shared spirit of community co-operation has had a huge beneficial effect on the Woodstock area and is a model for other associations in and around Athy to copy. Another group which has done much praiseworthy work to benefit the community is Athy District and Anglers Club. Its members have recently installed fishing stands on both banks of the River Barrow in and around Athy. These stands include a number of wheelchair friendly stands which will be of enormous benefit to disabled fishing folk. The work in installing the fishing stands has been carried out on a voluntary basis by the angling club members under the clubs chairperson, John Shaughnessy. The anglers club will shortly celebrate the 60th Anniversary of its foundation. The first mention in the local newspapers of the new club appeared on the 2nd June 1959. Local reporter, Jimmy O’Higgins reported the formation of the Club following a meeting called by Tom Donohue and his friend Chris Burley, both of St. Joseph’s Terrace. The first chairman of the club was Athy Postmaster Wilf Meredith with Harry Hegarty as Secretary and Pat Mulhall as the Club Treasurer. The clubs committee 60 years ago included Walter Hurley, Ted O’Rourke, Albert Duthie, Willie Webb, Joe Alcock, P. Kavanagh and Christy Dunne. There are at present about 120 members in the club which monitors and facilitates fishing on a twelve mile stretch of the river Barrow between Dunrally and the Three Counties. The club organises eleven fishing competitions each year. Pike fishing competitions are held between September and December and three of those competitions are for cups commemorating past members, Mick Leonard, PJ Byrne and Liam Kane. The McStay Cup and the Hughes Cup named in honour of Tom McStay and Ted Hughes are presented for trout fishing competitions which this year were held in Grangecon. On Saturday, 9th June the club will officially dedicate a fishing stand in memory of Dick Warner, the environmentalist and broadcaster. The ceremony takes place at 2.30 p.m. on the jetty which his located in what was once Athy’s harbour at the rear of the Courthouse. The Woodstock residents and the members of the Athy Angler’s Club have shown great community spirit and set a headline for the town, where week in week out, local men and women give of their time and experience for the benefit of our community.
Sunday, May 12, 2019
With candidates for the forthcoming County Council elections and their supporters calling to homes throughout the county it is a good time to cast an eye over election material of the past. The earliest election material I have issued to the electors of Athy on 13th January, 1899. The candidate offered himself as a person promised to ‘do all in my power for the general welfare of the community, by advocating such measures of reform as may be necessary, while at the same time endeavouring to safeguard the interest of the rate payers.’ He continued, ‘I am in favour of providing proper sanitary dwellings for the labourers of the town who in this respect are so much worse off than the agricultural labourers.’ In the 1960 local elections the issues identified by one particular party were ‘playing parks for children in the west urban, a swimming pool, a suitable public library premises for Athy and a suitable headquarters for Athy’s Fire Brigade.’ The candidates promised to ensure that ‘by diligent attention to duty the ratepayers will get the best possible return for their money.’ A subsequent election prompted an independent candidate to claim ‘local politics should be about local people and local services, not party politicians. It is important that your voice is heard through a strong independent councillor with the experience, policies and ability to get things done.’ In 1979 another independent candidate was calling for ‘the banning of all gambling machines in local cafes and pubs.’ That same year a major political party identified local issues as Athy’s need for a community centre, night patrols by Gardai, better facilities for Athy’s youth and a bypass of the town. An independent candidate was to shake up the local political scene with the issue of an election news sheet in 1979 in which he lambasted many of the outgoing councillors. One such councillor who was not seeking re-election after many years on the Council was referenced as ‘taking up valuable space in the Council Chamber.’ At the same time the candidate suggested that the local people should not endorse the poor performance of Athy Urban District Council ‘by casually voting for some of those who received our votes in the last election and have shown themselves unworthy of our support.’ He then proceeded to record his assessment of each of the other candidates. The candidate himself and two others receiving very good ratings, while three other candidates were rated fair. The remaining eight did not meet the lowest assessment rating. 1985 saw the return of the election news sheet but this time its more prosaic offerings were more in line with the traditional political leaflet than its predecessor. It was another candidate standing in opposition to water charges who claimed, ‘the charges have been introduced by an almost bankrupt local Council because of the massive cuts in grants from central funds.’ This he claimed was ‘due to the craven and cowardly failure of the conservative political parties to tax their friends and backers. The wealthy ranchers, landlords, bankers, lawyers, etc. are getting away with murder in this regard.’ One independent candidate in 1985 paraphrased a well-recognised saying when he called upon the electorate to ‘think not what Athy can do for you, but what you can do for Athy’. That year one political party claimed credit for community development projects in the Woodstock and Clonmullin areas, for establishing the Tidy Town Committee and promoting the selection of Athy as a Heritage Town. They promised ‘to make the services provided by Athy UDC more consumer friendly and more responsive to the needs of the people.’ Five years later one candidate was claiming to have used his experience and knowledge in local government ‘to secure necessary services and infrastructure to improve the wellbeing of the people of the Athy electoral area.’ The Inner Relief Road was a major issue in that election year and one party striving for a majority on the Urban Council promised ‘to uphold the people’s right to a plebiscite’ on the merits of an Inner Relief Road or an Outer Relief Road. The last election for members of Athy Town Council was held in 2004 and again the independent candidates offered the most interesting suggestions to be dealt with by the incoming Council. The return of the Town Council to the Town Hall was one such proposal, while another candidate sought support from those who had enough of ‘corruption, tribunals, lies and empty promises.’ Promises still emerged however and several candidates included on their priority lists ‘a full Arrow service between Athy and Dublin’ and the ‘further development of St. Vincent’s Hospital.’ Standing alone was the candidate who expressed the need for a Council ‘which is not afraid of new ideas and which listens to people.’ The candidate seeking re-election who criticised the outgoing Council for privatising bin collection and for closing the Sunday market at Barrowford also claimed that ‘a strong local Council with radical views is very important’. No matter what is said or what is promised anyone putting themselves forward for election deserves our gratitude, even if they do not always get our votes.
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
I had intended to write an Eye looking back at past local elections but before I put pen to paper two young fellows, members of Athy’s boxing club, contacted me regarding upcoming boxing tournaments in Romania and Georgia. The two young boys, John and Michael Donoghue, brothers of Ardrew Meadows, are champion boxers at 15 and 16 years of age. They spoke of their achievements in the boxing ring with such understated modesty that I immediately felt their story should be brought to a wider audience. Dom O’Rourke, who is the person largely responsible for the success of Athy’s St. Michael’s Boxing Club, regards the two young Donoghue brothers as high achievers. John, now 15 years old, has won 5 Leinster boxing titles, at all age levels between 11 years and 15 years. He won an Irish national boxing title in 2017 at 29 kilo level and has contested no less than 5 Irish national boxing finals every year since 2015. In that first year he lost the final of the 27 kilo contest on a 3-2 split decision. This was a similar fate which befell his involvement in the finals of 2016, 2018 and 2019 during which period he fought for national titles at 37 kilo and 46 kilo levels. John Donoghue had the honour of boxing for Ireland against Germany in the National Stadium, Dublin. Within the last few weeks he again represented his country when he entered the ring in Cardiff against a Welsh opponent. His older brother Michael, at 16 years of age, has an even more extraordinarily successful boxing career to date. Like his brother, Michael boxes out of Athy’s St. Michael’s Boxing Club and he has also won 5 Leinster titles, as well as 8 Irish national titles at all ages between 11 years and 16 years. The pinnacle of his boxing career to date was his winning of a bronze medal while representing Ireland in the European championship in Russia last year. Recently Michael boxed in Newcastle-on-Tyne, the Northumbrian city which I was visiting at the same time with the Federation of Local History Societies. Our paths did not cross for while I was aware of a local Irish festival in Newcastle where the performer on the final night was Athy man, Kevin Morrin, the presence of an Athy boxer was not known to me. Michael was in Newcastle with the Irish National boxing team in a contest with the English national team. Not only was he boxing for his country, but Michael had the distinguished honour of captaining the Irish team which defeated their English counterparts 9-7. Michael is to travel to Romania as a member of the Irish boxing team for the European championship which I gather starts on May 22nd. Shortly afterwards Michael and his brother John will travel to Georgia representing Ireland in a tournament involving Georgian boxers and boxers from the county of Kildare. In addition to the two Donoghue brothers the Athy club will be represented by Kayle Brennan and Michael Maughen, while the rest of the team will be made up of boxers from the short grass county. John, who boxes at 46 kilo and Michael who boxes at 48 kilo, together with their clubmates, will incur quite a lot of expense in travelling to Georgia in June. As representatives of Athy they deserve our support and Dom O’Rourke and the members of St. Michael’s boxing club would appreciate any financial assistance that can be given to the young boxers. I have written previously of the good work of St. Michael’s boxing club. The club premises at Flinters Field is a wonderful facility for young boys, and surprisingly also for young girls who have taken up the sport. Dom and the committee of the club are pleased to welcome visitors to the club house where training takes place every night of the week. As for the young Donoghue brothers and their boxing club colleagues, who are to travel abroad in June, any level of sponsorship afforded to them would be hugely appreciated. The local Heritage Centre will start the commemorations of the Irish War of Independence with an exhibition opening in June. If you have material relating to those troubled times or know of the existence of any such material Margaret Walsh of the Heritage Centre would be delighted to hear from you. Ph: 00353 59 8633075 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The commemorative events which will be held in tandem with the exhibition give all of us an opportunity to honour the memory of those men and women who played a part in securing the 26-county republic.