Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Offaly Street residents of old

A typographical error in the opening paragraph of the recent article on Athy’s diaspora unfortunately referred to the late Willie Doody as Willie Dooley. Both family names are well known in Athy and I have treasured memories stretching back decades of the Doody and Dooley families. Willie Doody died in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire on 25th January 2020 just a little more than a month after his sister Theresa passed away in Clapham, London. Theresa and her brother were just two of the many Athy natives who over the years made new lives for themselves in post-war Britain. Passing down Offaly Street during the week I was prompted to recall the families who lived on that street during the fifty years my parents called No. 6 and later No. 5 Offaly Street as home. No more than any other part of Athy town the Offaly Street community was badly affected by emigration over the years. Offaly Street, once alive with young families, saw many of those families emigrate. The list of the emigrees includes Mary Sunderland, Stan, Pat and Kevin Breen, Joe Eaton and his sister Lily, Matt McHugh, Christy Evans and Paddy Day. To the list must be added John Neill, the entire Murphy family, John and Andy Webster and the Collingwood family. The list of former neighbours who took the emigrant boat grows larger when those living in Janeville Lane are included. John, Andy and Mick Walsh, Jim and Maisie Fox, Nellie Hyland, Owen ‘Thrush’ Kelly, his mother and sister, Peter Bennett, Paddy Hubbock and the members of the Doody family. And who can forget the Aldridges of Janeville Place. Five brothers, George, Tommy, Joe, Jimmy and Ned, together with their sisters Bridget and Ellen left Athy for Britain where they were later joined by their brother Frank. The Irish vernacular style shop windows which are a feature of three houses, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 Offaly Street, remind us of a time when a private developer had visions of extending the retail life of Athy along Preston’s Gate and away from the town centre. Whether these premises ever operated as shops is not known and if they did, it is quite likely they had a short life span. I had never heard of anyone who remembered any of the three houses being used as shops which like all the other houses on that side of Offaly Street were at one time owned and rented out by Myles Whelan. Many will remember Kehoe’s pub which older generations will recall was previously known as Dowlings. For Offaly Street youngsters the most important shop in the street was Webster’s sweet shop. Pattie and Kitty Webster continued the business which their mother had run for many years. It was the place where slabs of toffee could be bought and where youngsters who had joined the teenage world could buy a single Woodbine cigarette. Further down the street in what was officially Emily Row one would make an occasional foray into Miss Sylvester’s sweet shop, but only occasionally for it was not opened as regularly as Kitty Websters. A local shop which had closed before I became aware of my Offaly Street surroundings was that operated by the Dempsey brothers. One of the brothers, Jim Dempsey, I remember as the man who had charge of the weighing scales at the back of the Town Hall. The one-time shop was closed for several years before the Brophy family brought it back into operation. Moore Brothers on the corner of Emily Square where Michael and Eddie Moore held sway backed one end of our street, while almost but not quite at the other end the Picture Palace cinema was Athy’s most cherished cultural outlet for decades. The picture house managed by Bob Webster in the 1950s and later created a large footfall on Offaly Street every evening as cinema goers flocked in those pre television days to what was known locally as ‘Bobs’. Times have changed. The Picture Palace is closed up, as is nearby Kehoe’s pub. Along the street Kitty Webster’s sweet shop and Sylvesters are ghostly reminders of times past. The loss of so many young men and women who once lived in Offaly Street, Butlers Row and Janeville Place and the closure of the once vibrant businesses in Offaly Street led to the slow decline of a once proud and vibrant local street community.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Birth and Early Years of Sinn Fein

It was in April 1907 that the political grouping known as Sinn Féin emerged from a combination of the Dungannon clubs founded two years earlier by Bulmer Hobson and Cumann na nGaedheal founded in 1900 by Arthur Griffith. ‘Ourselves alone’, the English translation of the name Sinn Féin, was a constitutional organisation which sought to achieve political freedom for the island of Ireland and the Irish people. Its first appearance on a ballot paper was in a February 1908 by-election when its candidate, Charles Dolan, was defeated. The postponement of Home Rule until the end of World War I and the Easter Rising erroneously called by the English authorities ‘The Sinn Féin Rising’ gave the organisation a prominence in Irish political life it had not previously experienced. Sinn Féin Clubs sprung up throughout Ireland and here in Athy the Sinn Féin Club was founded in 1917. In February 1917 Count Plunkett, father of Joseph Plunkett, one of the executed 1916 leaders, was returned as the first Sinn Féin Member of Parliament for the north Roscommon constituency. Three months later south Longford returned another Sinn Féin member, as did Kilkenny city in August 1917. In October 1917 Eamonn de Valera was elected president of Sinn Féin and he witnessed the huge growth of the organisation following the anti-conscription campaign of 1918 and the arrest of many Sinn Féin leaders during the German plot episode. The General Election of December 1918 saw the election of 73 Sinn Féin members and the decimation of the long established Irish Parliamentary Party lead by John Redmond which returned with only 7 members of parliament. The Sinn Féin members who refused to sit in the House of Commons met in Dublin as the first Dail and in the ensuing War of Independence acknowledged the Irish Republican Army as the army of the Dail. It was not until 1920 that the name I.R.A. was commonly given to the armed force which had emerged from the Irish Volunteers founded in November 1913. The Anglo-Irish Treaty led to the breakup of the Sinn Féin party and the I.R.A. In the Free State elections of June 1922 the anti-treaty candidates won 36 seats as against 58 seats won by pro-treaty candidates. The anti treatyites, retaining the name Sinn Féin, refused to enter the Dail. They soon lost support in subsequent local elections and de Valera as President of the organisation sought to change the policy of abstention provided the oath of allegiance was removed. He failed to get majority support for this proposal and in March 1926 de Valera resigned as President of Sinn Féin. Two months later the Fianna Fáil party was founded following a meeting in the La Scala Theatre Dublin. In November 1925 the I.R.A. withdrew its allegiance from the de Valera led Sinn Féin organisation by establishing its own Army Council. It was no longer formally linked to any political party, however many of the new Fianna Fáil party members were still members of the I.R.A. The June 1927 elections saw many I.R.A. officers resigning from the I.R.A. when they stood as Fianna Fáil candidates in that election. The government party, Cumann na nGaedheal, the name adopted in early 1923, unwittingly brought the Fianna Fáil party, largely comprised of former anti-treaty gunmen and supporters into constitutional politics. Following the assassination of minister Kevin O’Higgins, the government passed a law excluding from the Dail any T.D. who refused to take the oath of allegiance. The former I.R.A. members, now members of Fianna Fáil led by de Valera, decided to enter the Dail and sign the Dail register ‘as a formality without taking any oath to the King of England’. We are told that some of them were armed as they took their places in the Dail chamber. The Fianna Fáil party won the 1932 and the 1933 general elections and immediately set about implementing the country’s biggest ever housing programme as part of the Slum Clearance Programmes of the 1930s. It also took action against former comrades who were still members of the I.R.A. and who had early in 1931 executed two of its own members and killed a Garda Superintendent in Tipperary. The I.R.A. had been declared illegal by the Cumann na nGaedheal government in 1931, but the Fianna Fáil government on first entering office in 1932 lifted the ban. However, in 1936 when the I.R.A. refused to disarm and following a number of violent incidents the Fianna Fáil government, much to the dismay of de Valera’s old I.R.A. comrades, banned the I.R.A. The electoral success of the current Sinn Féin party has echoes of the 1918 General Election and its aftermath. However, the hope is that the future political path of Sinn Féin may not be as rocky as that experienced by de Valera and his party when they first embraced constitutional politics.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Willie Doody and Mick Murphy

Last Sunday’s Parish newsletter included amongst the list of the dead two Athy men who died in England. Seventy year old Willie Doody died a short time after his older sister Teresa passed away in London. The previous week the remains of Mick Murphy formerly of Convent View who also died in England were brought back for burial in Athy’s St. Michael’s cemetery. Weeks earlier the ashes of his namesake, Ena Murphy formerly of Offaly Street who died some months ago in England were brought back to Athy for burial in the same cemetery. An old school mate of mine Johnny Mulhall formerly of Geraldine who spent many decades in England died there recently and his remains were also brought back for burial in his native town. Like every other Irish provincial town Athy has seldom been able to meet the employment needs of its young people. The dismal state of the Irish economy in the post World War II period and the protracted economic crisis of the 1950’s did not allow the creation of sufficient jobs for Irish workers. The inevitable movement away from friends and family saw many take the emigrant boat to Britain. Mick Murphy, Ena Murphy and many members of the Doody family were part of that diaspora. Now as the years advance the one time youngsters to whom the streets and buildings of Athy were so familiar are rapidly decreasing in numbers. Very soon Athy’s diaspora of the post war period will be lost to memory. They left many years ago the town where they were born, reared and schooled but they never forgot those they left behind. To read of the death of somebody in England “formerly of Athy” is to remind those of us who remained of the economic backwater which was Ireland of the 1950’s and the 1960’s. Many young men and women and indeed several entire families left Athy to make a new life, usually in Britain but occasionally in America. Young people left Ireland in droves in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Britain offered employment and hope of a better life but those who emigrated were understandably anxious to retain close links with family and friends in Ireland. In many cases however the loss of contact led to a fracturing of the social relations between emigrants and those they left behind. The Doody family, children of Paddy and Kathleen lived in Janeville Lane, at the back of Offaly Street in the 1950’s. There were thirteen children in the Doody family and the eldest son, Paddy shared a first communion photograph with myself, Willie Moore, Teddy Kelly and Basil White. Paddy left school at an early age, as did many of my classmates in the immediate post war years, and emigrated to Britain. Many of Paddy Doody’s siblings also emigrated and at one time there were ten Doody brothers and sisters in Britain, most of them living in and around Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. Ena Murphy who died in England and whose ashes were returned for burial in her hometown was the daughter of Paddy and Polly Murphy of Offaly Street. There were nine children in the family, all of whom at various times emigrated to England. The last to do so was the oldest Paddens who left Athy after the Wallboard factory, where he worked, closed down. Paddens will be remembered as the leader of Sorrento Dance Band. Five members of the Murphy family have since died in England and the remains of three have been returned to Athy for burial in St. Michael’s cemetery. The return of the exile is sadly in many cases only achieved after death as happened recently for the late Mick Murphy and the late Johnny Mulhall. Emigration which has been a feature of life in rural and provincial Ireland for centuries lessened the bond between families, neighbours and friends. It also deprived our country of the talent and energy of generations of Irish men and women who could not find employment in their own town or country. One local factory which 84 years ago opened its doors to create employment in Athy is Tegral. During the week Paddy Kelly, Managing Director of Tegral Building Products made a presentation in Clanard Court Hotel to announce the change of the company’s name to Etex Ireland Limited as part of the Belgium company Etex. The original factory opened in 1936 changed its name to Tegral Building Products in 1973 and now its 151 employees will be a part of the worldwide Etex Company which employs approximately 12,500. The Canal side factory has been an important part of the industrial life of Athy for generations, during which time it has given many young persons the opportunity to work in their own town.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Paul Dempsey former C.B.S. Athy pupil and new Bishop of Achonry and other notable clerics

It was announced last week that Fr. Paul Dempsey, Parish Priest of Newbridge and former pupil of the Christian Brothers School Athy is to be appointed Bishop of Achonry. Having mentioned in recent Eyes on the Past the number of past pupils of my old school who have illustrious careers I wonder if there has been any previous Episcopal appointment amongst the one-time youngsters of Athy’s local schools or families connected with Athy. There have been a number of clerics who held high office including Monsignor William Murphy, Rector of the Irish College in Rome who died in 1905. He was a brother of ‘Pip’ Murphy who had a butcher shop in Emily Square and his sisters included ‘Gypsy’ Murphy who also lived in the Square. Monsignor Murphy is today commemorated with a marble tablet on the wall of the Church of Sant Agata Dei Goti in Rome. Another local man who headed up a clerical college was Monsignor Patrick Boylan of Barrowhouse. He was a noted scholar and theologian and the author of several books and was Vice President of Maynooth College from 1922-1934. He was Parish Priest of Dun Laoghaire for 40 years and retired from that position shortly before he died in November 1974. His father was principal teacher in Barrowhouse National School and his mother also taught in the same school. During my time as a local councillor and while I was chairman of Athy Urban District Council the Council honoured Walter Empey, then Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare and later Archbishop of Dublin. Although born in Dublin his grandfather was a well remembered resident of Athy who carried on business as a painting contractor from his premises in Leinster Street. A prince of the Catholic Church with a connection with Athy, this time through his brother Fr. Maurice Browne who served as a curate in Athy, was Cardinal Michael Browne. Cardinal Browne visited Athy soon after he was appointed a Cardinal in 1962 when he called on his fellow priests in the local Dominican monastery. This was almost three decades after Fr. Michael Browne, then a Dominican priest, had given the annual retreat in the local Sister of Mercy Convent in Athy. Another local link with Bishops of the Catholic Church was provided by Dr. Andrew Quinn, Parish Priest of Athy from 1853 to 1879. His brother James was the first Bishop of Brisbane in Australia whom he helped to encourage a number of nuns and novices from Athy’s Convent of Mercy to travel to Australia to open a Sisters of Mercy Novitiate in Brisbane. Another brother of Athy’s Parish Priest was Bishop Matthew Quinn who was appointed the first Bishop of Bathurst Australia in 1865. A noteworthy member of the Catholic priesthood was Fr. John Miley, a native of Narraghmore who was a friend and travelling companion of Daniel O’Connell on O’Connell’s last trip to Rome. Fr. Miley was with O’Connell when he died and in accordance with O’Connell’s wishes he took the casket containing his heart to Rome before accompanying the liberator’s remains back to Ireland. Fr. Miley delivered the funeral oration for Daniel O’Connell in the Pro Cathedral Dublin. The Narraghmore-born priest who attended the Quaker School in Ballitore was appointed rector of the Irish College in Paris in 1849 and later became Parish Priest of Bray where he died. I understand Fr. Dempsey’s parents came to live in Athy from Carlow when the future Bishop was 7 years of age. He attended the local boy’s primary school and later Scoil Eoin before entering St. Patrick’s seminary in Carlow. Paul was the youngest of four children of Tony and Berry Dempsey who lived in Milltown just outside Athy. Both parents died in 1994. Fr. Dempsey’s father Tony was employed in Shaw’s Hardware shop in Duke Street and later operated a small shop in St. Vincent’s Hospital. Paul sat his Leaving Certificate in 1988 and I believe that amongst his classmates was my own son Francis. I cannot find a record of any past pupil of Athy’s local schools who served as a Bishop of the Catholic or Anglican churches prior to the announcement of Fr. Dempsey’s appointment. However, it is quite possible that former pupils of Athy’s Model School did serve in such a position and if so I would welcome hearing of them. Athy and south Kildare have over the years witnessed many young local men and women entering the religious life. The Christian churches, Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist have all welcomed and benefitted from those new entrants amongst whom was the future Bishop of Achonry Paul Dempsey.