Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Dominican Choir Athy

When the Dominicans departed from Athy on 22nd November 2015 they left us with a historical legacy stretching back to the early days of the foundation of the Anglo Norman village of Ath Ae. They also left their church, consecrated in 1965 and acclaimed as a strikingly original design, which is now in use as the local community library. Amongst many other reminders we have of the past Dominican presence amongst us is the Dominican choir. Strange as it may seem the choir which served the now closed Dominican Church is still in existence, retaining its original name, while participating at 10.30 Sunday morning mass in the Parish Church. The choirmaster is Anne Marie Heskins who also fulfils the same role for the Parish choir which sings at the midday mass on Sundays in St. Michaels. The photo which accompanies this Eye is of the Dominican choir in 1957 with their choir master, the late John Neavyn. 1957 was an important year for the Dominican choir as it participated in the celebrations for the seventh hundred anniversary of the arrival of the Dominicans in the village founded on the banks of the River Barrow. It was a year marked by many celebrations involving religious and civic leaders in the town. Athy Urban District Councillors involved that year were Tom Carbery, M.J. Tynan, James Fleming, Michael Cunningham, Joseph Deegan, Paddy Dooley, Tom Moore, M.G. Nolan and Eddie Purcell. The acting Provincial of the Dominican Order, Fr. R.M. Harrington who had served in Athy between 1935 and 1938, was the guest of honour for the centenary celebrations in August 1957. On arrival in Athy Fr. Harrington first visited the graves of Dominican priests buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Then his car, flanked by a guard of honour provided by the local Knights of Malta and preceded by St. Dominic’s Band and by St. Joseph’s Fife and Drum Band, drove down Leinster Street and Duke Street to arrive at St. Dominic’s Church. After Solemn High Mass which was broadcast over a public address system to the large crowd outside the church the Acting Provincial proceeded to the newly erected wrought iron memorial gate which he blessed. The gate and the adjoining cut stone walls were the gift of George Farrell of Spring Lodge. At a subsequent lunch in the Leinster Arms Hotel M.G. Nolan, Chairman of Athy U.D.C., addressed the guests and the Acting Town Clerk, Jimmy Higgins, read an address on behalf of the Council and the people of Athy. Unfortunately the Annals or Chronicles of the Athy Dominicans were not written up between 1949 and 1958 and so a historic day went unrecorded. The prior in 1957 was Fr. W. Colgan and so far as I can ascertain the other Dominicans then in Athy were Fathers Augustine Dowling, Alphonsus Curran, Louis O’Sullivan and Ceslaus Morrissey. The Dominican Choir of 63 years ago is a reminder of a different age when the local Christian Brothers could record in their Annals: ‘Six boys sat the Leaving Certificate examination while eighteen boys sat the Intermediate examinations. The primary school pupil numbers justified the employment of a seventh teacher but because of accommodation limits the Department approved the employment of six teachers.’ 1957 was the year the local Councillor Paddy Dooley was elected to the Dail and that same year his mother Julia, a former Cumann na mBan member, died. The County Medical Officer, Dr. Brendan O’Donnell, reported to the Council on the 85 unfit houses still accommodating families in Athy. 1957 and the 1950s were simpler and frugal times. The photograph of the young girls of the Dominican choir evokes memories of those simpler yet happy days.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Social Club Players Athy

Sixty six years ago the Irish Independent in an article on Athy mentioned that the people of the town ‘are friendly hospitable heart warming folk’. It expressed the view that Athy was a place in step with the times and that the key to its success was the local Social Club which provided a recreational centre for men and women. It not only provided recreational facilities but also served as a cultural outlet for Athy and the surrounding district. The Club began as the South Kildare Lawn Tennis Club with a pavilion and tennis courts in an area of what is now Chanterlands on the Carlow Road. The land was previously owned by Bob Osborne, solicitor and I believe he made the site available free of charge for the new tennis club. In 1939 with the help and cooperation of Major Tynan of Monasterevin and two locals, Sidney Minch and H.G. Donnelly, solicitor the tennis club was able to buy the Legion Hall in St. John’s Lane for £200. The Hall had been built in or around 1926 as a meeting place for the World War I soldiers. The tennis club on the Carlow Road continued for several years and indeed I can remember it sometime in the early 1950s when Mattie Brennan of Offaly Street was the caretaker. In the meantime the former Legion Hall became the centre of the Social Club’s activities. The Club members carried out improvements to the hall to provide a snooker room and a card room, as well as a badminton court. However, the most important part of the Social Club’s activities resulted from the founding of a dramatic group known as the Social Club Players in 1943. I believe the dramatic group’s first stage presentation was in April 1943 when ‘Cupboard Love’, a comedy in three acts by Bernard Duffy was put on for two nights in the Town Hall. Directed by Fr. Morgan Crowe, a curate in St. Michael’s Parish Church it featured many of the club stalwarts whose names would appear in many productions over the years. Liam Ryan, Bella Blanchfield, Florrie Lawler, Tadgh Brennan, Mollie Moore, Paddy Flynn, Rosaleen Timmons, Ger Moriarty and D.S. Walsh. Others who appeared with the Social Club Players in subsequent plays included Pat Mulhall, Ken Reynolds, Jo Lawler, May Fenelon, Tommy Walsh, Jimmy Doyle, Betty May. There are many more names listed in the 19 play programmes I have covering the period April 1943 to February 1959. Space does not permit me to list all the actors and indeed I’m not satisfied that I have details of all the plays put on by the Social Club Players. The Social Club Players were adjudged the best dramatic group in rural Ireland at the Father Mathew Feis in 1949 following their performance of Frank Carney’s play ‘The Righteous are Bold’. The cast were Liam Ryan Freddie Moore, Ken Reynolds, Mary Fenelon, Jo Lawler, Joseph Martin, Tadgh Brennan, Tommy Walsh, Claire Moore and Eileen Darcy. Newspaper reviews of the play noted that ‘the high success of the play was a grand tribute to the producer, Jack McGowran of the Abbey theatre and the stage management of Pat Mulhall.’ The Social Club Player’s success was repeated in 1958 when they won the Fr. Mathew Cup with their stage production of ‘Mungo’s Mansion’. The actors on that occasion were Patsy O’Neill, Jo Lawler, Tom Fox, Kitty McLoughlin, Tommy Walsh, Joe Martin, Gerry McDonagh, Dermot Mullen, Mary Harrington and Tom Fox. The photograph shows these actors with some other members of the Social Club and the Fr. Mathew Cup. The first play I ever saw was the ‘Barretts of Wimpole Street’ put on by the Social Club Players in the Town Hall in February 1953. I was just a nipper, brought to the play by my eldest brother Jack. I can’t remember much of that play but it’s a youthful cherished memory of my first sight of the Social Club Players who were a hugely important group which the Irish Independent of 1954 noted ‘enabled Athy to write a headline for many another town and village in the country, one that is well worth copying.’ Within the past week Jody Fennelly and Nan O’Rourke died. Nan, the last of the old time residents of Offaly Street, lived in the house where the Breen family lived for many years. She was a well remembered and well liked part of my growing up in Offaly Street. Jody was a pleasant good natured man whose passion for Gaelic football, the County team and the Athy G.F.C. were unparalleled. Both will be sadly missed and sympathy is extended to Jody’s family and to Nan’s son Gerry and his family.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Fintan Brennan's record of local events during the War of Independence

On 8th October 1969 Fintan Brennan, retired District Court Clerk, interviewed Paddy Cosgrove at his home in Castledermot regarding the activities of the C Company 5th Battalion Carlow Kildare Brigade during the War of Independence. C Company was based in Castledermot, while the B Company was centred in Kilrush and the A Company in Athy. Fintan, a member of the G Company Monasterevin, was arrested and imprisoned during the War of Independence following a raid by British Army soldiers and R.I.C. men which resulted in the seizure of arms and equipment in Monasterevin. Fintan was sentenced to 5 years penal servitude and his colleague, Hugh McNally, received a 10 year sentence. Fintan’s notes of his interview with Paddy Cosgrove acknowledged that the Castledermot I.R.A. Company was the most active company in south Kildare. Under the leadership of Paddy Cosgrove, who was later Vice Officer Commanding Carlow Kildare Brigade, the Castledermot Company engaged in harassing British troops and the R.I.C. by trenching roads, felling trees across roads and cutting telephone and telegraph lines. Some bridges were destroyed, while the I.R.A. men were frequently involved in raiding farm houses for arms as well as raiding trains and post offices for mail. Early in 1920 many rural R.I.C. barracks were vacated as the local constabulary retreated to the larger towns. On Easter Sunday, 3rd April, the I.R.A. throughout Ireland attacked many of those vacant barracks. The barracks at Luggacurran, a small single storey building, was one of several vacant R.I.C. barracks attacked that night. I.R.A. volunteer John Byrne of Gracefield was killed during the attack, while Peter Hunt of the Kilcruise I.R.A. Company suffered injuries. It took a later I.R.A. attack in May 1920 to destroy the R.I.C. barracks in Luggacurran. On 16th April Grangemellon R.I.C. Barracks was attacked and burned by the I.R.A. Unfortunately I have not been able to find out if this was an action of the Castledermot I.R.A. Company or their colleagues of the Athy A Company. Fintan Brennan noted that the Castledermot Company set a standard for chivalry which was seldom reciprocated by British troops. Paddy Cosgrove received instructions to destroy the local R.I.C. barracks when it was vacated by the constabulary. However when the I.R.A. men arrived at the barracks on 20th July they discovered that the sergeant’s wife and children were still in residence. Arrangements were immediately made to have the family re-housed locally and the I.R.A. men removed the family’s furniture before setting the barracks alight. During that operation one of the local Volunteers was badly burned following a premature explosion but for the prompt action of Paddy Cosgrove would possibly have lost his life. The injured man, together with Paddy Cosgrove who was also injured when saving his colleague, were brought to the Workhouse in Athy [now St. Vincent’s Hospital]. Paddy remembered with gratitude that the official who received the injured man and detained him in hospital for some time assisted the I.R.A. cause by recording the patient’s admission two days earlier so as to defeat R.I.C. enquiries. It’s possible that Fintan Brennan’s sister, Mrs. K. Heffernan, was the workhouse official who helped the I.R.A. on the night of 20th July. She was elected Matron of the Workhouse in 1907 and later married Peter Heffernan who was the Workhouse master. He subsequently lost his job and moved to Glasgow where he was joined by his wife after about a year. He died soon afterwards following an accident and his widow returned to Ireland to be reappointed Matron of Athy Workhouse in June 1917. The Courthouse in Castledermot was also burned down by the local I.R.A. Company on 20th July. A similar fate befell the Courthouse in Athy four days earlier. However it was an individual member of Athy’s A Company who started the fire which destroyed the building. Strangely he was later court-martialled and punished for his actions by the officers of the local I.R.A. Company. The following officers of C Company Castledermot were recorded by Fintan Brennan following his interview:- Paddy Cosgrove, Vice O.C. Carlow Kildare Brigade; Ned Malone, Company Captain; Matt Pender, 1st Lt.; Michael Kavanagh, 2nd Lt.; Johnny Wall, Adj. and Paddy Kavanagh who was also Comdt. of the 5th Batallion Carlow Kildare Brigade. Unfortunately Fintan Brennan did not record the names of the men who under the leadership of Paddy Cosgrove played their part in the fight for independence. Can any of my readers identify the men who were members of the C Company in Castledermot?