Thursday, October 30, 2008

Minor victory welcomed

The centenary history of Kildare G.A.A., compiled and written by Eoghan Corry and published in 1984, has up to now proved to be a comprehensive and invaluable source of information relating to our native games. I’m less sure now of its accuracy when following Athy Gaelic Football Club’s success in the minor final last Saturday I went looking for details of past victories only to find several errors in the book.

Sunday’s victory was hailed as the first in 35 years, yet the centenary book claims Raheens won the minor final of 1973. I also have a copy photograph before me showing the Athy minor winning team of 1966. However, Sarsfields are recorded by Eoghan as the minor title winners that year. Confusion reigns upon confusion so I am unsure as to the local club’s past record in the Kildare Minor Championship.

The only certainty is that Athy Minors triumphed in 1966 and again in 1973. The team of 42 years ago captained by Peter Dunne included Jimmy Byrne, Fran Bolger, Eddie Kelly, Pat Kinahan, Stephen Bolger, Dominic Timpson, Dick Reid, David Craig, Joe O’Sullivan, John Goulding, Martin Quinn, Albert Dunne, Tom Whelan and Paddy Byrne. Pat Kinahan played left corner back on the 1966 team and last Sunday his son Brian captained the Athy minor team.

The victorious Athy team of 1973 was captained by Shay Ryan, who sadly passed away only weeks ago. His team mates were Adrian Dunne, Tony Gibbons, Tom Cooney, Brian Redmond, Ger Clancy, Barry Ryan, Mick Fennelly, Kieran O’Doherty, Donie Lambe, Pat Rowan, Paul O’Flaherty, Andy McConville, John Robinson and Eamon Delahunt. One of the stars of that team was Brendan Whelan who due to injury could not line out at the start of the final and his place was taken by Donie Lambe. However, with 10 minutes to go Brendan went onto the field to replace Mick Fennelly and another sub used that day was John Murphy. John Robinson played an outstanding role in Athy’s victory in 1973, scoring no less than 3 goals and 3 points, while Andy McConville kicked over 5 points.

Last Sunday’s team was not expected to win against the more fancied Sarsfields side, but the red and white led by their Captain Brian Kinahan proved the best team on the day. The headlines in the local newspapers told the story; ‘Brilliant Athy blow away Sash’ and ‘Historic Day for Athy as Minors cause untold delight’.

Memories of the golden days of the Athy Club’s supremacy on the football field were revived when the final whistle was blown. Will the youngsters of 2008 turn out to be as good as the players of the past. Players such as Tommy Mulhall, George Comerford and ‘Sapper’ O’Neill, and in more recent years Mick Carolan, Denis Wynne and Danny Flood who brought glory to the Athy Club.

Sunday’s victory has given a tremendous boost to the local club which has not enjoyed a lot of success in recent years. 1987 witnessed the Club’s last previous major success when the team, captained by Mick Fennelly, captured the senior championship title.

Interestingly the minor winning team of 1973 was to provide several players for the senior winning team panel 14 years later. These dual players included Adrian Dunne, Ger Clancy, Mick Fennelly, Brendan Whelan, Shay Ryan, Kieran O’Doherty and Tony Gibbons.

This year’s winning minor team was managed by Mark Brophy, son of the late Tommy who for many years championed the cause of hurling in Athy. The players on the team were Paul Clynch, Alan Bowden, Joseph Kinahan, Tony Gibbons, Shane O’Brien, Conor Ronan, T.J. Clare, Danny O’Keeffe, David McGovern, Brian Kinahan, Cian Reynolds, Corey Moore, Liam McGovern, James Eaton and Daroch Mulhall. Shane Brophy came on as a sub during the game. The man of the match award went to Athy’s young full forward James Eaton whose 3 point tally coupled with what the papers described as his superb ‘showing for the ball’ won him the game’s highest award on the day.

The present minor team has links with the 1966 and the 1973 team. As mentioned earlier the Kinahan family was represented on both teams, while cousin Joseph Kinahan adds further Kinahan family interest to the present team. Tony Gibbons who played in the full back line in the 1973 minor final had the privilege of seeing his son and namesake Tony play in the full back line for this year’s minor champions. The current committee club members, Colm Reynolds and Con Ronan, were represented on the minor team by their sons Cian and Conor, while T.J. Clare who played in the half back line is himself a member of the Club’s management committee. Brothers Liam and David McGovern, sons of former Senior County player Sean McGovern, were also members of the winning minor team. Clearly traditional family involvement with the local club and with G.A.A. games in particular have been continued into the present generation.

Congratulations to everyone involved in the minor team’s success and hopefully it may lead to further honours in the not-too-distant future. To round off this article I append some of the lines composed by Tim Clarke, the onetime long serving secretary of Kildare County Board who wrote a ballad to honour the Athy Club’s senior winning team of 1942. His words for the opening stanza could well apply to the minors of 2008.

‘The Athy men, always stylish
Since the days of Tom Mulhall.
Were a joy to all spectators
For the way they played the ball.’

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Special events to remind us of Athy’s history

The celebrations which marked the 50th anniversary of Scoil Mhichil Naofa went off with wonderful aplomb last weekend. Great credit is due to all concerned, teachers, pupils and parents alike. The emphasis on the 50th anniversary of what was essentially the opening of the school building probably obscured for many parents the longer history of national schooling in Athy. Scoil Mhichil Naofa, opened in 1958, merely reflected a name change. Where before its predecessor went under the name St. Michael’s School, the new building, blessed and opened by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin on 23rd October of that year was to be home to Scoil Mhichil Naofa. The use of the Irish version of the school name did not mean that its previous history stretching back to 1852 was to be disregarded, or thereafter to be ignored. There is a danger that in celebrating the 50th anniversary the previous 106 years would be submerged and overlooked. How nice therefore to see that the Sisters of Mercy, now retired, participated in the celebrations. Their involvement was a reminder, if same was ever needed, that the legacy of the followers of Catherine McCauley is one which adorns the history of education in Athy. The Sisters of Mercy share with the now absent Christian Brothers our town’s gratitude for their magnificent contribution to the education of several generations of young Athy folk. If nothing else the Scoil Mhichil Naofa celebrations remind us yet again of our debt to both the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers.

The last weekend in October has for the last eight years occupied a special place in the cultural life of our town. For some, the SHACKLETON AUTUMN SCHOOL holds little or no interest, but for others, thankfully, the October bank holiday weekend offers a unique opportunity to see some of the world’s best polar experts take to the podium in the local Town Hall. That same room which in the past echoed to the sound of dance bands or provided theatrical space for touring fit up companies will this year host speakers from America, England and Ireland.

This year the 8th Autumn School is hosting a major exhibition of photographic portraits being part of an exhibition coming to Athy from the Museum of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England. After Athy, the exhibition will travel to the Exployers Club in New York and later to the Royal Geographical Society in London. The South Kildare town will be the only Irish venue to feature this important exhibition. In addition to the portraits the exhibition will also include unique polar photographic equipment. This exhibition is a not to be missed and the fact that Athy has been able to secure it is an indication of the high standing of Athy Heritage Centre in the world of polar exploration.

The Autumn School opens on Friday, 24th October with the launch of the second volume of ‘Nimrod’, the Journal of the ERNEST SHACKLETON AUTUMN SCHOOL. This will be followed by the opening of the Polar Portraits Exhibition, during which Dr. Huw Lewis-Jones, Curator of Art at the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge and editor of ‘Face to Face’, an account of pioneering photography, will give a talk on the exhibition. Events on Friday commence at 7.30 p.m. and an invitation is extended to all to come along to the Heritage Centre. There is no cover charge on Friday night.

Saturday sees the first of four lectures starting at 10.30 a.m. The lecturers that day include Dr. Jim McAdam of Queens University in Belfast whose chosen topic is ‘Shackleton and Chile’. From England comes Kari Herbert, daughter of the distinguished polar explorer, Sir Wally Herbert who at 12 noon will speak on ‘The Hero’s Heart – the women behind Polar Exploration’. Saturday afternoon is given over to E.C. Coleman who has published two volumes on polar exploration and whose lecture at 2.30 p.m. will deal with ‘The Royal Navy and Polar Exploration’. He will be followed at 4.00 p.m. by Dr. Stephanie Barczewski, currently a professor of history in America and the author of several books including ‘Titanic – Night Remembered’. Her topic, ‘Antarctic Destinies – Scott, Shackleton and the Changing Face of Heroism’ will no doubt attract a lot of interest.

The Autumn School dinner will take place on Saturday night in the Clanard Court Hotel at 8.00 p.m. It promises to be an enjoyable evening as one of Ireland’s foremost traditional musicians Brian Hughes will be making an appearance and playing at the end of the meal.

Sunday morning will be graced with the final two lectures, the first starting at 10.30 a.m. when Huw Lewis-Jones will give an illustrated talk entitled ‘Freeze Frame – Historic Polar Photography’, followed at 12 noon by Mike Tarver. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Vice President of the Captain Scott Society, Tarver’s subject is ‘The SS Terra Nova (1884-1943) and Other Polar Exploration Ships of the Heroic age!’. The afternoon is given over to two films, ‘Foothold on Antarctica’ and ‘Antarctic Crossing’ which will be introduced by Peter Fuchs, son of Sir Vivian Fuchs who with Sir Edmund Hillary led the successful transantarctic expedition of 1958.

On Sunday evening at 9.00 p.m. Cliff Wedgebury, the Cork born musician and balladeer will present his one man show in music and in words on the life of Ernest Shackleton. This promises to be a musical evening which should appeal not only to polar enthusiasts but to a wider audience also.

All events take place in the Town Hall and further information as regards tickets, times and admission prices can be obtained at the Heritage Centre, Tel: (059) 8633075, Email:

The twelve page programme produced by the organizers of the weekend, which programme is freely available, is in itself a first class production with several superb photographs. It will probably be a collectors item at some time in the future. Make sure to pick up your free copy in the Heritage Centre while supplies are still available.

I forgot to mention the bus trip on Monday morning at 10.00 a.m., guided by John MacKenna whose biographical study of Shackleton published a few years ago in conjunction with Jonathan Shackleton, is regarded as one of the best books in recent years on the South Kildare born explorer. As in previous years this trip promises to be an enjoyable experience.

Finally a book appeared on the shelves of Dublin book shops during the week. Titled, ‘Ireland through the Looking Glass – Flann O’Brien, Myles na gCopaleen and Irish Cultural Debate’, the hardback published by Cork University Press was written by my daughter Carol. It was the result of several years of in depth research conducted into the writing of Flann O’Brien, alias Myles na gCopaleen, who during the 1950s wrote for the Nationalist and Leinster Times under the pseudonym George Nowall. It’s a wonderful achievement to see one’s work in print and Carol’s book prompted a family member to claim that it was ‘the first real book written by a Taaffe since the volumes produced by Fr. Denis Taaffe over 150 years ago’. So much for the ‘Eye on Athy’s Past’ volumes! However, congratulations to Carol Taaffe on a wonderful achievement which I can only aspire to emulate at some time in the future.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Passing of a gracious lady

Noreen Ryan passed away on Friday last in her 92nd year. She had outlived her generation by several years, that same generation which had lit up the drabness and monotony of life in Athy in the 1940s and ‘50s.

A native of Athy, Noreen’s parents William Doyle from Sillagh, near Punchestown and Mary Butterfield of Ballitore, had married in New York in 1902 where their first two children were born. William Doyle who came from a farming background worked in a variety of jobs in America before opening up Doyle’s public house in Brooklyn, New York. The Doyle family returned to Ireland in 1905 and settled in Athy where William took over a pub and grocery shop in Woodstock Street owned by Minchs which up to then had been leased to the widow McHugh.

Doyles pub is still operating, the current proprietor also named William being the third generation of the Doyle family to have charge of one of Athy’s oldest public houses. Noreen, who was one of six boys and six girls, attended the local convent school before transferring as a secondary school boarder to St. Leo’s in Carlow. She matriculated in 1933, one year after her mother’s death, her father having passed away in 1923. In December 1935 Noreen went to Spain to take up a position as an English teacher in a convent school. On her arrival however and before the school Christmas holidays had finished she impulsively (as she herself described her decision) took a job as a governess. The family she worked for were rich Spanish Cubans living in Madrid and she was in that city when the Popular Front coalition of central and left wing parties won the Spanish General Election and formed a Republican government. Within five months there was a right wing military uprising against the Republican government which resulted in the Spanish Civil War.

Noreen’s memories of the early days following the General Election victory by the Republicans was of religious restrictions where religion was not allowed to be taught in schools and nuns were not allowed to wear their habits in public. Right wing politicians she recalled were taken from their homes and executed. It was, she remembered, a time of great fear and her employers moved to neighbouring Portugal for their own safety. During her time in Lisbon and later Estoril Noreen met a middle aged Irish woman who turned out to be the famous Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen. The young Athy girl subsequently returned to Spain with her Spanish employers, who soon however left for Switzerland, following which Noreen became governess to another Spanish family. She was based in Seville for three months, living not far from the magnificent Cathedral and recalls climbing the sloping pathway to the top of the world famous Giralda. She left Seville after three months to take up an appointment as the governess to the family of the President of the Bank of Spain. Summers were spent in San Sebastian and winters in Seville, both of which were under the control of Franco’s monarchists for the duration of the Spanish Civil War.

Noreen Ryan left Spain to return to Athy in December 1938 having lived through one of the most horrific Civil Wars ever fought on European soil. The Nationalists led by Franco declared victory four months later, bringing to an end three years of fighting in which almost half a million people died, mostly in mass executions on both sides. Unlike George Orwell, the chronicler of the International Brigade, Noreen Ryan had for the most part good memories of Spain during the Civil War. This was understandable as she was shielded from the worst excesses of the conflict, living as she did with families in cities controlled by Franco’s monarchists.

Liam Ryan from Garranmore, Newtown in County Tipperary arrived in Athy in 1936 to take up his first teaching job in the local Christian Brothers Secondary School. He would remain a much loved member of the teaching staff of the same school until he retired in 1975. The young Tipperary man and Noreen Doyle were married in August 1940. Both were members of the local Social Club which during the late 1930s and onwards was the premier social outlet for young people in the town.

I was a pupil in the Christian Brothers School at a time when Liam Ryan was already a staff member of 20 years standing. He was the most influential teacher during my long educational life which extended over many years and many institutions. An avid supporter of De Valera’s Fianna Fáil he instilled in his pupils a respect for work well done, no matter how lowly it might appear in the scheme of things. I always remember his assertion that education was a valuable tool in life. ‘It helps even the road sweeper to do his job better’. Noreen, as was the wont of housewives in those days, was in the background, supporting her husband Bill, as he was affectionately known to all his pupils, and the Ryan children, Seamus, Brendan, Kevin and Frank.

I came to know Noreen well when Athy Museum Society was founded in 1983. Her brother William who ran the family pub in Woodstock Street was treasurer of the Society and Noreen was its secretary. It was a similar position she occupied with the Old Folks Committee which was founded in 1965. Many years ago she told me that it had been arranged that my father John P. Taaffe, then still serving as the local Garda Station Sergeant, was to be secretary to the Committee. However, the tragic death of my younger brother Seamus in a road traffic accident the night before the scheduled meeting necessitated a change of plan and Noreen was elected secretary. It was her first time to take on such a position and admirably she continued in that role for 13 years, stepping down shortly after her husband Liam died in 1977.

Liam Ryan retired in 1975 and sadly did not enjoy the prolonged and healthy retirement which his exceptional service to education in his adopted town of Athy so fully deserved. His death was a tragic loss to the town which had benefitted so much from his involvement with the Social Club players and whose interest in the development of Athy would undoubtedly have inspired a more positive attitude in the 1980s and beyond.

In addition to her involvement with the Old Folks Committee and later the Museum Society Noreen was also a director of Athy Heritage Company and for seven years acted as a bénévole in Lourdes. She first went to Lourdes as a helper in 1983 and each year spent three weeks working voluntarily in the Cite San Pierre which provided hostel facilities for less well off pilgrims.

She is survived by her sons Seamus, a doctor based in Australia, Brendan, a former Senator who is a lecturer in Cork, Kevin who is Vice-President of Limerick University and Frank who recently retired as a secondary school teacher in Celbridge. She is also survived by the only remaining sibling of the Doyle family, her brother Fr. Conleth Doyle who is a Carmelite priest in the Aylesford Friary in Kent. Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam.