Thursday, May 31, 2001

Athy Parish Festival Show 1964

Amongst a bundle of miscellaneous papers and notes which presently overlay my desk, I have found a folded A4 Sheet, the first page of which reads

Athy Parish Festival
Shopkeepers Show
March 11th and 13th 1964
Programme Price 3d

The back page is blank but the two page centre spread provides a pandora box of names, some of which I remember, others not so well. The show opened with a song from “Calamity Jane” and comprised a rendition of “The Deadwood Stage” by the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus. The ladies were Helen Walsh, Esther Bannon, Kathleen Kelly, Carmel Hickey and Patricia Mahon and surprisingly they were out numbered by the members of the men’s chorus. Ernest O’Rourke-Glynn, Joe McNally, Billy Brown, Brendan Ward, John Byrne, P.J. Hyland and S. Murphy whom I believe was Sean whom I will mention later in this article. I recognise quite a few crows amongst that motly crew so I can only assume that an ability to sing was not a pre-requisite for joining the gentleman’s chorus! After the Deadwood Stage had journeyed on its way Cecily Brady sang “My Secret Love”. Cecily of Dublin Road was a leading member of the local musical societies of the 1940’s. After her, the chorus provided a musical interpretation of the “The Black Hills of Dakota” following which the inimitable Wag O’Keeffe entertained the audience with “Why Doesn’t She Come”. An Irish Dance Troupe consisting of Hazel Darling, Deirdre Hughes and Noleen Murphy were next on stage of the venue which is not identified on the programme. Presumably, however, it was the Social Club in St. John’s Lane because as far as I can remember, the Town Hall was by then the temporary home of a clothing factory.

A one act Play “Love and Acid Drops” by Seamus Bourke then followed in which the various parts were played by John Hillard, Michael Dempsey, Dolly Hyland, Phyllis Coughlan, Ann Dooley and Brian O’Hara. Just before the interval, extracts from the Desert Song were song by Michael Noonan, Mary Conlan and Charlie Prendergast. Charlie, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday was like Cecily Brady, a great favourite over the years with audiences at shows put on by Musical Societies in the Town.

The second half of the programme opened with Margot Higginson giving a solo performance from the Merry Widow with my former neighbour from Offaly Street, Mary Tuohy providing a dance accompaniment. Wag O’Keeffe was next back up again with his rendition of Percy French’s great favourite “Phil The Fluter’s Ball”. Charlie Prendergast, with the wonderful tenor voice which for so many years graced the local Church choir then came on stage and sang “Mattinate” and “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”. I should have mentioned that early in the first half of the programme, some unnamed individuals calling themselves “Clancy Brothers” provided the entertainment and now following Charlie Prendergast, another unnamed group provided a selection of Skittle music. A little detective work on my part, for I did not see the show, indicates that the Clancy’s and the Skittlers were one and the same and comprised Sean Murphy, P.J. Hyland, Brendan Ward and John Byrne.

Maureen Ryan and Carmel Hickey followed with a number of songs before Ernest O’Rourke-Glynn returned to the stage with Reminiscences. This had all the possibilities of being a show stopper given Ernest’s wonderful speaking voice and his involvement in Theatre and entertainment generally for decades previously. The evening show ended with Ian Atwell singing a selection of songs from “Showboat”. Ian formerly of Doyle Brothers of William Street was by then with Duthie Larges in Leinster Street.

Some of the participants in that Show are well remembered by me. I can still picture in my mind’s eye Brian O’Hara togging out on a Sunday afternoon playing alongside the likes of Joe Aldridge and Denis Smyth in the local soccer pitch. More often than that, my view of the “foreign” game was courtesy of the embankment in the adjoining Geraldine Park when ever there was a lull in the football or hurling match which I was attending. Noleen Murphy and Mary Tuohy were neighbours of mine in Offaly Street while husband and wife team, Wag and Dolly O’Keeffe with Dolly’s brother P.J. Hyland need no introduction. Billy Browne, Sean Murphy, John Byrne, Brendan Ward and Joe McNally were school pals of mine over 40 years ago.

Only last week as I was about to step on an escalator in the Jervis Street Shopping Centre in Dublin, I met a school friend last seen over 35 years ago. When I heard my name called in those unfamiliar surroundings, I turned around to recognise the unmistakable features of Sean Murphy who as a young man 37 years ago trod the boards in the Shopkeeper’s Show of 1964. I remember Sean for an exuberant and skillful piano playing session in a hostelry in Tramore which ran on well into the morning. His tall lanky frame was bent over the piano which he played while standing up, his hands moving rhythmically across the keys while his head and shoulders bobbed in unison to the music. He was magic, as the tunes tumbled out without a pause, each piece taken on a foot tapping life of its own filling the room and his audience with a streamless echo of honky tonk music. That was Sean Murphy in his element and I gather he has never lost his love for pounding the piano keys.

We talked for a while and discovered that for a few years before I returned to Athy, both of us lived within a few hundred yards of each other. Sean lived in the North side of Dublin, having joined the Garda Siochana and was stationed in Raheny station for most of his working life. When we met last week, it was a few days after he had retired on reaching the compulsory retirement age of 57 years and was in the centre of Dublin to buy something to wear for his retirement party later that night. The Murphy family lived in St. Michael’s Terrace and I can still remember Sean’s father, Joe Murphy, a skilled man building the cut stone entrance to St. Dominic’s Church at the end of Convent Lane. Its a lasting monument to the skill of a man who is now dead and whose family are all living away from their home town of Athy.

There are many Eye on the Past readers who will remember Sean Murphy as well as his friends who trod the boards during the Shopkeepers Show in Athy in March 1964. Our best wishes go out to all those amateur troubadours who are still with us and especially Sean Murphy on his recent retirement from the Garda Siochana.

Thursday, May 24, 2001

Athy Courthouse

Our Courthouse having received a one million pounds revamp was officially opened by the Minister for Justice John O’Donoghue on Thursday morning last. The one time corn exchange built in 1857 to Frederick Darley’s design looked at its best after almost 1½ years of careful tending at the hands of D. & J. Cabery, Building Contractors.

The opening ceremony was performed in the presence of Judges of the District Court, the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court, all of whom were women. I’m not sure if this was a coincidence or a reflection of the shifting of the gender imbalance which for so long deprived our State and its institutions of the enriching influence of the female mind. The Supreme Court Judge was Justice Mrs. Susan Denham whose father Douglas Gageby was for so long editor of the Irish Times and in whose newspaper there appeared almost four years ago a letter from a Dublin man criticising those responsible for the sad state of Athy’s fine Jacobean-style Courthouse. Judge Jackie Linnane of the Circuit Court and Judge Mary Martin of the District Court made up the judicial triumvirate at the opening.

The refurbishment work undertaken by D. & J. Carbery, Builders under the guidance of Michael Lysaght, Architect is first class and the mid-19th century building which within two years of being built was described as deficient in ventilation and lighting is now a lasting monument to the skill and workmanship of today’s craftsman as much as it is to the skills of 150 years ago.

Brothers Dan and Brian Carbery now manage the building firm which has been operating in one form or another since the 1880’s and possibly earlier. Dan Carbery and John Carbery of the original company formed sometime at the turn of the last century were Luggacurran brothers who did building work for Lord Landsdowne on his Luggacurran estates, as well as on his estates in Co. Kerry. The Plan of Campaign adopted in Luggacurran in 1886 with the active encouragement of local Curate Rev. John Maher saw the Carbery families as well as 60 or more other families evicted from holdings which they had held as tenants or under tenants of Lord Landsdowne. Some of those evicted, including the Carberys, came to Athy town where the building contracting business of D. & J. Carbery flourished, becoming in time the largest contracting firm in the region. D. & J. Carbery were involved in almost every major housing scheme undertaken by Athy Urban District Council from 1913 onwards. The very first Council housing scheme in Athy saw D. & J. Carbery build 10 houses in what was then known as Matthew’s Lane for the sum of £2,544.7.11. Those houses are now known as St. Michael’s Terrace. The Athy-based firm also built St. Patrick’s Avenue in 1931 and completed the houses in Dooley’s Terrace in January 1934. Convent View was built by them two years later and in November 1936 they completed work on Plewman’s Terrace and Minch’s Terrace. The Geraldine Road housing scheme was also the work of the Cabery firm which they finished in 1939 and their next big local authority housing scheme in Athy was Pairc Bhride in 1951.

The last major contract in which D. & J. Carbery, Building Contractors, Athy were involved in was the building of the Secondary School complex at Rathstewart which now houses Scoil Eoin and St. Mary’s girls school. Soon after completing that contract D. & J. Carbery Limited of Athy went out of business but the Carlow branch of the firm continued and indeed were involved in building houses for Athy Urban District Council at Butler’s Lane a few years ago.

The awarding of the Contract for the restoration of the Courthouse to the firm now managed by Dan and Brian Carbery was significant in terms of the State’s committment to preserving one of the most important architectural features of Athy. The architect of the original building Frederick Darley was one of the most important Irish architects of the 19th century and he was responsible for the Kings Inn library in Henrietta Street, Dublin as well as several other important buildings in the Nations Capital. Here in Athy we have several examples of his work including the Model School on the Dublin Road, St. Michael’s Church of Ireland on the Carlow Road which was built in 1840 during the Rectorship of Rev. F.S. Trench and while Darley was architect to the Ecclesiastical Commission. The Presbyterian Church and former Manse on the Dublin Road were also designed by Darley.

The choice of D. & J. Carbery Limited to refurbish the Courthouse was one which helped to continue this firm’s connection with the built heritage of Athy. The Town Hall and the Courthouse now both handsomely refurbished after years of neglect and fears of their possible demolition for car parking spaces provide a wonderful backdrop to the important urban spaces formerly known as Market Square before being renamed in honour of Emily, Duchess of Leinster. The generous proportions of both buildings are enhanced by the equally generous proportions of the spaces which surround them and which never fail to impress visitors to our town.

Last week Mullingar-based Paddy Looney passed away. Paddy was a former playing member of Athy Gaelic Football Club and won Senior Championship medals with Athy in 1933 and 1934. Athy’s first ever Senior Championship win in 1933 followed a hat trick of defeats in the County Finals of 1923, 1926 and 1927 and was achieved with such great footballers as Cuddy Chanders, Tommy Mulhall, Paul Matthews, Jim Fox and Barney Dunne. These five players were also part of the much fancied County Kildare team which failed to win the 1935 All-Ireland final against the men from the Breifne County. With the death of Paddy Looney, Barney Dunne who played alongside him in the full forward line in the 1934 County Final is the last surviving member of that great Athy team.

Thursday, May 17, 2001

Tom Carbery

As a young fellow growing up in Athy I well remember the tall lean figure of Tom Carbery. He was a carpenter who like his father Joe worked for a long time with D. & J. Carbery, Building Contractors of St. John’s, Athy. Tom was also a member of Athy Urban District Council and of Kildare County Council. To us young fellows he was one of the Patricians of the town, someone who was known to all and sundry.

Tom’s parents were Joseph and Bridget Carbery who had five children, the last of whom, Danny died in New York two years ago aged 93 years. Danny was one of the many young Athy men who emigrated to America in the years immediately following the setting up of the Irish Free State. He was followed to America by another brother, Bill, who later returned to Ireland during the American Depression, only to lose his life while working on the Poulaphoca hydro-electric Scheme. Kathleen and Delia were Tom’s only sisters, Delia dying unmarried before she had reached her 30th birthday. Kathleen who married Bill Joy lived in No. 1 The Bleach and passed away in 1956 leaving a young family of four.

Tom Carbery served his apprenticeship as a carpenter with D. & J. Carbery, the premier building contractors in this area who built almost all of the Local Authority Housing Schemes in Athy between 1913 and the early 1960’s. On qualifying as a carpenter Tom continued to work for many years for the Carbery firm. A young Limerick girl, Nora Donnelly, came to in Athy in the early 1920’s to work in the Leinster Arms Hotel which was then owned by a consortium of local business men and operated by the Darcy sisters, Eileen, Josie and Florence. Tom and Nora married in 1927 and their only son Joseph was their first born, followed by their only daughter Delia. Tom and his young bride lived for some time with his parents in No. 1 The Bleach before moving to No. 2 St. Martin’s Terrace.

A Labour Party activist for most of his life, Tom was first elected to Athy Urban District Council in 1928. Bill Norton, the small almost barrel-shaped former leader of the Federated Workers Union was appointed leader of the Labour Party in 1932, a position he was to hold for the following 28 years. The Labour Leaders man in Athy for many years was Tom Carbery who threw himself with enthusiasm and energy into the task of organising the Labour Party in South Kildare.

Controversy was never far away when Tom spoke at meetings of the local Council, although it must be said he always made his contributions with the dignity and thoughtfulness expected of a public representative. Nevertheless he was fearless in furthering the causes which he expoused and as one would expect of somebody whose predecessors had been evicted during the Luggacurran Plan of Campaign he was a champion of the underprivileged. One famous campaign highlighted by Tom centred on the rather parsimonious diet made available to the needy poor of the County Home. As a frequent visitor to that institution he became only too aware of the penny pinching ways of the County Council which was responsible for medical services in the County of Kildare. Each inmate was provided with a daily supply of butter which Tom felt was less than adequate and promptly brought the matter to the attention of Kildare County Council creating something of a stink amongst that august body. Tom vigorously attacked the Local Authority for its meanness and drove home his message by holding up the small portion of butter allocated every day to each County Home inmate. Betwixt the transfer of the perishable item from the bedside of Tom’s informant in the County Home and the Chamber of the County Council, the butter had succumbed to the ravages of time and assailed the assembled nostrils with a pungency which added strength to Tom’s argument. The point was quickly taken and Tom was able to report success in another clash with the Council bureaucrats.

Another of Tom’s campaigns still recalled by the older generation of Athy folk was his demand to have clergy attend the removal of the remains of the inmates from the County Home to the nearby St. Mary’s cemetery. Traditionally they were buried with the benefit of previously blessed clay scattered on their coffined remains by a fellow inmate. Tom railed against this practice which was an extension of the common enough practice in Irish towns of that time whereby those too poor to pay for the attendance of clergy were brought straight from the death bed to the graveyard, accompanied only by the local sacristan. But for the County Home inmates not even the attendance of the local Church sacristan was deemed necessary, as their lifeless bodies were lowered into the same ground which many years before had received the famine dead of Athy’s workhouse. Tom Carbery raised the issue at a meeting of Athy Urban District Council and had the satisfaction of eventually overseeing a welcome change in the practice which had its roots in a time when dignity and respect took a back seat to snobbery and slavish attitudes.

Tom and his wife Delia were to suffer, as did so many Athy families during the terrible TB epidemic of the 1940’s. Their only son Joseph who had attended the local Christian Brothers School, worked as a timekeeper for D. & J. Carbery’s firm during the building of the Pairc Bhride housing scheme. He was just 20 years of age when he contacted TB and spent some time in Peamount Hospital before returning home to die in or about 1950. Joseph’s death was a terrible blow to his parents and the only surviving member of the Carbery family, his sister Delia, says that neither her mother or father ever got over the loss of their only son. Tom who died in 1974, predeceased his wife Delia by just two years. As befits a man who was a strong and persistent voice for the underprivileged, Tom is today remembered in the local housing estate Carbery Park which was named in his honour.

His daughter Delia who emigrated to America in 1959 returned recently to Athy for a short visit with her Roscrea born husband John Kenny. In meeting with and talking to Delia I regretted not having done so when Tom’s brother’s Danny was still alive and living in New York. Danny who was almost 74 years out of Athy never forgot his home town and took a great interest in its daily happenings as reported in the Kildare Nationalist. He was a frequent visitor to Athy and whenever he could helped his own townspeople when they were in or passing through New York. I know for instance that my schoolboy friend Leopold Kelly after his ordination and not long before his young life ended stayed with Danny in New York and with his encouragement played football in Gaelic Park. Maybe another day I can tell the story of Danny Carbery and the other ex-pats whose early days were spent in Athy but whose adult lives were lived out amongst the teeming streets of New York.

Thursday, May 10, 2001

Tubberara Well / Opening of Athy Credit Union Offices

Sunday, 17th June will witness the re-enactment of a timeless journey whose origin is lost in time, when we set out for the Holy Well of Tubberara. Last year the Pattern Day or more properly the Patron’s Day was revived after the lapse of almost 175 years. The Patron was St. John, under whose patronage the Well at Tubberara was revered by the Catholics of this area for generations past. St. John’s Day falls on June 24th but I am reliably told that matters of religious commemoration, no matter how historic, play second fiddle to the demands of Gaelic football. I gather the Lillywhites will (hopefully) be contesting the Leinster Semi-final on Sunday, 24th June and so it was that the Tubberara Pattern Day must step back a week to the previous Sunday. As I am writing this piece in advance of the forthcoming game against Carlow, you will understand my indecisiveness in relation to whether or not Kildare will be involved on St. John’s Day.

Last years outing to Tubberara was marked with wonderful weather and it was great to see so many local people, young and old, coming together in a celebration, as people of Athy and District had done centuries ago. In this, the first year of the 21st century, the Tubberara Pattern Day will start with everybody congregating at the roadside entrance near Bert Bridge at 3.00pm. This is a change from last year when the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital played welcome host to the hundreds who had foregathered ready for the journey to the Holy Well. It is planned to hold a number of stations between the entrance gate and the Well itself where the principal ceremonies of the Pattern Day will take place, hopefully again with the benefit of glorious sunshine and in the glow of a resounding victory over our neighbours Carlow on the previous Sunday!

Unfortunately I will miss the official opening of the Credit Union new offices on June 8th. The new offices, opened for the past year or so, occupy what in my days in Offaly Street were two private houses. Indeed the entire length of Emily Row had only one shop which was on the far side of that narrow street, and owned by Mona Sylvester. Now Sylvester’s shop has reverted to residential use, while the Credit Union office has been joined by Kings shop, which like it, now occupies what was once a private house.

The Credit Union was established in Athy following a meeting in No. 82 Leinster Street on St. Patrick’s night, 1968. That night the locals who attended the meeting having listened to an address by Michael O’Doherty of the Irish League of Credit Unions agreed unanimously to establish a Credit Union in the town. The first Board of Directors were Donal Murphy, Jim O’Flaherty, Pat Fay, Richard Mulhall, Patsy O’Neill, Chris McMahon, Paddy Keane, Dermot Griffin, Jim McEvoy and John Quirke. Jim O’Flaherty who worked in the local Post Office was elected first President of the new Credit Union, with Donal Murphy of Sunnyside as Vice-President. Paddy Keane, who with Donal Murphy was an employee of Minch Nortons, was elected Secretary, with Jim McEvoy of Leinster Street as Treasurer and Patsy O’Neill, also of Leinster Street, as Assistant Treasurer.

Quite a lot of time was spent by the Officers and Committee, all of whom were volunteers, in learning the practices and procedures relating to the Credit Union business. When the necessary skills and knowledge had been acquired Athy Credit Union opened for business at precisely 8.00pm on Friday, 31st May, 1969. A room in the Courthouse in Emily Square was from the start and for some years thereafter, the offices of the local Credit Union largely due to the generosity of Tadgh Brennan, then County Registrar based in Naas and formerly a Solicitor practising in the town. The expansion of the Credit Union business later prompted the purchase of premises at the corner of Emily Row next to what was anciently called “Prestons Gate”.

It’s a coincidence that the new Credit Union offices are to be officially opened less than two weeks before the refurbished Courthouse is itself scheduled to have its own official opening. The one time Corn Exchange has gone through several reconstructions and refurbishments since it was first opened for business nearly 150 years ago. Here’s hoping that the Credit Union office in Emily Row and the Credit Union movement generally will prosper in Athy in the years ahead.

I was delighted to meet last week the daughter of a man whose name will forever be recalled in the name of one of our local housing estates. Tom Carbery was his name, hers is now Mrs. Delia Kenny and the estate is Carbery Park which was so called to honour one of Athy’s most famous public representatives. Tom Carbery was a member of Athy Urban District Council and Kildare County Council who died in 1972, just two years before his wife Nora and some 23 years after the death of his only son Joseph. Delia was on a short visit to Athy from her New York home and gave me the opportunity to get first hand information on a man whom I have always regarded as one of the bravest public representatives this ancient town of ours has ever had. More about Tom Carbery and the Carbery family next week.