Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The 150th Anniversary Celebration of Irish Christian Brothers in Athy

On 24th February 1994 seven local men and women met in Athy to discuss ways of marking the 150th anniversary of the death of Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Irish Christian Brothers. At a subsequent public meeting held in the Town Hall a committee was formed to make arrangements to celebrate the event and to record and commemorate the Christian Brothers’ presence in Athy as the intended departure of the Brothers from the town had in the meantime been announced. The committee, chaired by Frank McNulty, principal of St. Patrick’s School, Monica Langton as treasurer and this writer as secretary, arranged a series of events which took place on Friday 23rd September 1994 and the following day. A memorial plaque commemorating the Christian Brothers was unveiled on the Friday evening in the car park which the Urban District Council re-named Edmund Rice Square. This was followed by a reception and a musical recital in the nearby St. Patrick’s School. The following day the Christian Brothers attending for the weekend were given a civic reception by the Urban District Council. This was followed by another reception and a musical recital in Scoil Eoin. The ceremonies concluded that Saturday with Mass in the Parish Church celebrated by Bishop Eamon Walsh followed by dinner in the GAA clubhouse. A small booklet outlining the history of the Christian Brothers in Athy following their arrival in the town on 8th August 1861 was published. In a copy of that booklet members of the organising committee signed their names during a dinner which was held in the Castle Inn on 21st January 1995. It was the final get together of the committee members and was organised to coincide with the departure of Brother John Murphy from Athy and the planned departure of Brother Joe Quinn two weeks later. They were the last two Christian Brothers of the many members of Edmund Rice’s foundation who had come and gone from the Christian Brothers monastery in Athy over the previous 134 years. That final dinner was remembered by me on a note which I inserted in the earlier mentioned booklet, which booklet each of the committee members at the dinner signed. Amongst the signatures were those of Maureen Dowling and her husband Patrick. I wrote: ‘the dinner party held in the Castle Inn Athy on 21st January 1995 broke up at midnight. Maureen Dowling, on reaching home, suffered a stroke from which she died on Monday 23rd January at 12.40pm. Brother J. Murphy left Athy on Monday at 12.50pm for Dublin, travelling with Brother J. Quinn in the community car. Maureen Dowling was buried on Wednesday 25th January in St. Michael’s cemetery.’ Later that month I wrote the following in the Athy newsletter which the late Noreen Kelleher edited and printed on a monthly basis: ‘Death comes to all of us. In old age it is often greeted as a welcoming release while for the young it is an intruder stalking prey never destined to grow to maturity. Its ravages are to be seen everywhere but its immediacy is not always appreciated even in a community where we share in the grief and sorrow of others. Last Saturday evening a small group of men and women who had worked throughout the summer to commemorate the Christian Brothers in Athy met to give a final send-off to Brother J.D. Murphy and Brother J.F. Quinn. Brother Murphy was to leave Athy for St. Patrick’s, Baldoyle two days later, while Brother Quinn will leave for Naas Christian Brothers within weeks. There were twelve of us and two Christian Brothers gathered at the private meal. Formalities were shunned as we sat around the table swopping stories and sharing our appreciation of the good work of the Christian Brothers in our town over many years. With us was Maureen Dowling and her husband Pat, both of whom had thrown themselves enthusiastically and with dedication into the Committee’s work over the long summer months of last year. Maureen spoke thoughtfully and eloquently of the Christian Brothers in Athy and was in good form throughout the night. Within an hour of leaving that gathering she suffered a fatal illness and died on Monday last, as Brother Murphy was on his way to his last posting in Dublin. The shock of Maureen’s passing stunned all who knew her, especially those people with whom she had shared her last social evening on this earth. Reflecting on her death I could not but feel the tragedy of a loss the immediacy of which was heightened by our mutual association just a short time before. Nothing brings home more effectively the transitory nature of life’s pleasures than the passing of a friend and colleague whose time has been cut short.’ I was reminded of the events of 25 years ago on reading an account of the commemoration held in Athy in 1944 for Edmund Rice’s centenary. The opportunity will be taken in a future Eye to write of that celebration.

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