Thursday, September 27, 2012

Athy Gaelic Football Club

On 6th October members of Athy Gaelic Football Club will gather in their Clubhouse at Geraldine Park to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of Athy’s premier sports club.  Mass will be celebrated for past members and players, many of whom in their time brought glory to the south Kildare town.  Many more however found themselves, like this writer, playing in what we euphemistically call ‘the lean years’ and so saw out their playing careers unadorned by medals or success of any kind. 

Thousands of men and boys have worn the club’s jerseys over the years.  Unfortunately the absence of club records leaves us unable to identify the majority of those players.  Some of those whose names are noted in press reports of the past include ‘Mickey’ Mahon, the only club player to win an All Ireland senior medal.  ‘Mickey’ who was born in Meeting Lane in 1905 played right corner forward for Athy when the club contested its first senior county final in 1923.  He was a sub on the 1927 Kildare All Ireland winning team before emigrating to America where he captained the New York team.  A member of that team also was Newbridge native Joe Stynes who was married to ‘Mickey’s’ sister Brigid.  ‘Mickey’ later returned to Ireland and featured on the Athy Senior Championship winning team of 1934, two years after he captained the American team which played in the Tailteann Games of 1932.  Interestingly opposing him on the Irish team was George Comerford who would later play with Athy G.F.C.

Great players who played for Athy include the above named George Comerford, a county Clare Garda who was stationed in Athy for a number of years in the mid 1930s.  He captained the 1937 senior championship winning team and also played interprovincial football for Munster and county football with Kildare and Dublin.  Another Athy player who played interprovincial football many times for Leinster was local man Tommy Mulhall, brother of the late Pat.

On Easter Sunday 1990 Athy G.F.C. at its annual dinner honoured the surviving members of the nine senior championship final teams which played between 1923 and 1946.  Amongst the former players who received honorary club membership that night was Tom Forrestal of Castledermot, then the only surviving member of the 1923 final team.  Another player of the past honoured in 1990 was Barney Dunne, the only Athy club man to win four senior championship medals.  He was joined by Tadgh Brennan, Paddy Looney, Matt Murray, Pat Mulhall, Tom Wall, Johnny McEvoy, Ned Wynne, Finbar Purcell and Dinny Fox.  As I wrote in the menu card for that night ‘Athy G.F.C.’s proud history was created by these men and their colleagues who as players brought honour and glory and four County Senior Championships to Athy between 1933 and 1942.’

That success and the success achieved by the club over the past 22 years could not have been earned without the many men and, in more recent years, the women who have given voluntary and sterling service as Club administrators, team trainers, members of the Geraldine Park grounds committee or club house committee members.  Athy Club men such as J. Dignam, who in 1889 was Chairman of the Kildare County Board and Fintan Brennan, who throughout a long life associated with Gaelic football in Athy served as Chairman of the Leinster Council for a number of years in the mid 1940s.

One man who almost single handed revived the Club in the 1920s was Seamus Malone, Tyrrellspass born school teacher and republican who with his brother played a major role in the War of Independence.  Following the Civil War the newly founded  Free State was economically depressed and whatever little State employment was available tended to favour those who supported the pro treaty side.  Emigration, particularly to America, was one of the outlets available to young employed men and women.  Following the 1923 County Final which Athy lost heavily to Naas several members of the Athy team emigrated to America.

‘Mickey’ Mahon, Eddie ‘Sapper’ O’Neill and Myra Grant were star players for Athy and when they and others left for America, Athy G.F.C. went into decline.  It was only through the efforts of Seamus Malone that the club was revived in the late 1920s.  The club’s success in the 1933 and 1934 Kildare Senior Final gave Athy players a prominent presence in the Kildare County team which contested the All Ireland final of 1935 against Cavan.  Paul Matthews, Captain of Athy Seniors also captained the County Kildare team that year and was joined on the playing panel by Tommy Mulhall.  On the subs bench on All Ireland Final day were Athy players Jim Fox, Barney Dunne and the county’s regular goalie Cuddy Chanders who had been inexplicably dropped for the final. 

Club administrators whose names are recalled with pride include William Mahon, long term Chairman in the 1920s and 1930s and John W. Kehoe, Offaly Street Publican, whose fundraising skill and energy financed the club’s dressing room facilities and the erection of the Dublin Road boundary wall.  Denis Wynne, whose father, brothers and nephews contributed hugely over the years to Athy G.F.C. is remembered fondly both as a great footballer and administrator for his club.

Athy men’s participation in the 1914-18 war involved many who had once proudly worn the club’s football jersey.  Jack ‘Skurt’ Doyle who was captured at the Battle of Mons and imprisoned in Germany, played in goal for Athy as well as the Kildare Senior Football team.  Another World War I soldier was B. McWilliams who like many of his townsmen lies buried in Flanders.  McWilliams was on the Athy junior team which won the club’s first championship medal in 1909.  The 1909 game was in fact the 1907 championship final and the medals were not presented to the team members until 1927.  The medal presentation took place in the Urban Council Offices in the Town Hall and one of those who received his medal was ‘Major’ Toomey who came forward on crutches, having lost a leg in the war.  Two team members Jim May and Christy Farrell had died in the intervening years, while ‘Mick’ Gibbons was by then living in America.

The history of Athy G.F.C. has yet to be written but when it is written it will record a proud history created by men whose names for the most part are lost in time.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Commemorative Plaques erected in Athy since 1980

The worth of any community can be measured in the way it respects its past and honours those who are part of its history.  In the last few years Athy has begun to show its appreciation and understanding of the part played by persons in the past.  That appreciation has been shown in a few instances by plaques placed on buildings which with suitable working reflect the townspeople’s desire to commemorate and honour. 

The first such plaque was put up on a vacant malt house building in Nelson Street in the early 1980s to honour the memory of the blind musician Johnny Lynch.  It was the idea of the late Paddy Wright who arranged for Carlow Stone Centre to sponsor the plaque.  Paddy approached me to provide suitable wording for the plaque and my efforts in that regard found permanence in the plaque which was subsequently removed to the side wall of the corner house of Nelson Street.

‘Erected to the memory of Johnny Lynch, blind musician, whose observance in music and song of the dawning of each new year brought joy onto the streets and into the homes of Athy.
Born 1897 – Died 1972’

The bicentenary of the birth of Edmund Rice, founder of the Irish Christian Brothers, coincided with the departure of the Christian Brothers from Athy in September 1994.  A committee was formed to commemorate that event and a monument was erected in the re-named Edmund Rice Square.  As secretary for that committee I was pleased to present, for the approval of the committee, the dedication which now appears on that monument, recalling the opening of the Christian Brothers School on 19th August 1861 and the dedicated service of the Christian Brothers to the people of Athy over 133 years.

The 750th anniversary of the arrival of the Dominican’s to Athy was celebrated in 2007 when, with the financial help of the Town Council, arrangements were put in place to mark the event.  One of the stone gate piers so beautifully erected by the late John Murphy in the mid 1950s was chosen to carry a marble plaque with the inscription which I was privileged to prepare:-

‘This plaque is dedicated by grateful townspeople to the memory of the Friars of the Order of Friars Preachers who since the year 1257 have faithfully served the people of this town and district.
Erected by Athy Town Council – 6th October 2007’.

What I once thought might turn out to be the final commemorative piece was the plaque unveiled by Richard Daly, then Chairman of Athy Town Council at the Town Hall to commemorate the men from Athy and district who enlisted during World War I.  This time my wording required the approval of the Town Council and the plaque subsequently unveiled on the front wall of the Town Hall reads:-

Erected by Athy Town Council in memory of the men from this area who enlisted to serve during the First World War.  All are now remembered with pride and gratitude by a new generation of Irish men and Irish women who recognise that the enlisted men and their participation in the war are a respected part of Ireland’s history.’

It was the extraordinary delay in erecting the 1798 monument which prompted me to think that it would never see the light of day.  However, full marks to Eugene Doyle and his committee which succeeded in having the fine ’98 monument unveiled on the 7th of November 2010.  I was conscious when preparing the inscription that it should not glorify death or assume suffering, but rather acknowledge all those involved in the struggle for civil and religious liberty.  Michael Dunne arranged for the Irish and French translation of the following words which I composed for the monument:-

‘In honour of the men and women from Athy and the surrounding countryside who in 1798 sought civil and religious liberty and the independence of their country.’

There is one more group of men and women I would like to see commemorated here in Athy.  They are those who participated in the War of Independence and whose involvement was for so long overlooked and lost to local memory.  The opportunity to do so in advance of the centenary commemoration for 1916 is one we should take.  I hope that Athy Town Council as the civic leaders would take on board the suggestion and arrange to have a suitable commemorative piece erected somewhere in the town.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Garda Siochana's Role in Policing the Town

When did you last see a member of the Garda Siochana patrolling the streets of Athy?  This was the question I was asked some days ago.  My answer may not have satisfied my questioner but it prompted me to ask the same question of several people during the week.  It was clear that those questioned were unhappy with the present level of Garda presence on the streets of our town. 

The initial question posed to me was apparently prompted by concern at the apparent move away from traditional policing methods in recent years.  Another reason proffered was the failure of senior Garda management to deal promptly or adequately with the paramilitary display witnessed in our capital city earlier in the week.

The primary role of the Garda Siochana is crime prevention and crime detection.  Yet, senior Garda management seem to have prioritised traffic monitoring with the setting up of traffic corps throughout the country.  Here in Athy we have a traffic corps consisting of 10 Gardai and 2 sergeants.  The other station personnel engaged in non traffic duties comprise 16 Gardai, 2 detectives and 3 sergeants.

While accepting that traffic corps personnel can and are sometimes assigned to help their colleagues in non traffic duties, nevertheless the inordinate emphasis on vehicular traffic offences seems strange.  I know that the stock answer given to any questioning of the role of the traffic corps is that they save lives.  Commendable indeed, but the same personnel employed on the ground on regular policing duties would also undoubtedly save lives. 

There is a feeling amongst the general public which I share that senior Garda management, for whatever reason, have decided to take the easy option in terms of result based policing.  Much easier to have Gardai manning check points to uncover motorists using vehicles without tax discs, insurance, NCT Certificates or driving licences than to deal with the many and varied crimes which afflict Irish society.

Some years ago an acquaintance of mine living in Dublin was the victim of a serious crime.  Her apartment was broken into during the day and the thief, although disturbed, still managed to escape with a considerable amount of property.  The crime was immediately reported to the local Garda Station and while a note of the incident was taken there was no apparent follow up.  No member of the Gardai came to the apartment to investigate the crime and no communication was ever received from the Gardai in relation to same.  At the same time Gardai were to be seen every Sunday morning on the dual carriageway near the Red Cow with speed cameras ‘shooting fish in a barrell’ as it was described by one letter writer to the national newspapers. 

Garda priority at the time was obviously concerned with the offence of travelling in excess of 40 mph on the dual carriageway.  Why I wonder – was it as claimed by many that the Gardai were seeking to increase the revenue take from the imposition of penalties?

What the events in Dublin last week indicate is that senior Garda management display a lack of appreciation of their role as guardians of the peace.  It’s a role which cannot and should not be subverted by any group in our society and the failure to deal with the issue at the time reflects badly on the Gardai.

Equally unacceptable is the continuing failure of the Gardai to patrol our streets in keeping with their responsibility to the local community.  Maintaining traffic corps at the expense of community related policing is an error of senior Garda management and needs to be addressed immediately.

One of the measures taken by the local Gardai and the Town Council in recent times was the setting up of a Joint Policing Committee comprising representatives of the Gardai and the Council.  Meetings which are open to the public are held four times a year and the next meeting is scheduled for the Council offices in Rathstewart on Tuesday, 18th September at 9.00 a.m.  The timing of the meeting is somewhat unusual, given that it is a public meeting and one would expect that to accommodate the public an evening meeting would be more convenient.  However, this in itself might highlight another issue relating to local policing which is the non residency of any local Gardai (except one member) in the town in which they serve.  It’s an issue which can only be noted as there is nothing Garda management can realistically do about it. 

Members of the Garda Siochana have an extremely difficult job to do.  That there is dissatisfaction amongst local people at the absence of regular foot patrols in Athy is I believe largely due to senior Garda management’s failure to realise that traffic control is less a priority for Irish citizens than crime prevention and crime detection. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Local Newspaper Reports of 1932

Past editions of local newspapers contain a wealth of interesting material, sometimes useful to a local historian, but more often than not of general interest to the casual reader.

1932 was of course the year of the Eucharistic Congress and the national and local newspapers carried many reports on the preparations for the Congress as the month of June approached.  Amongst the non Congress reports which caught my eye in June 1932 was the following.  ‘The news that there is a possibility of the Ardreigh Flour Mills being opened at an early date has given great satisfaction generally to the people of Athy and district.  So far there is nothing definite, but negotiations are going on between the Chairman and members of the Urban Council and the representatives of the Mills with the Minister for Industry and Commerce.  Those Mills, when in full working swing a few years ago, gave employment to over 50 hands, but trade adverses forced the firm to close to the great loss of the general community.  Mr. Hannon parted with the Athy branch then to the Board of Works who took it over as Headquarters for the Barrow Drainage.’ 

The former Hannon Flour Mills were never to reopen.  Indeed, soon after the completion of the Barrow Drainage Scheme the five storey stone building at Ardreigh was pulled down.  The Athy Mill at Duke Street was in time vacated by the Board of Works and was still lying vacant and unused when I finished my secondary education in the St. John’s Lane Christian Brothers School in 1960. 

Politics raised its head at meetings of Athy UDC on at least two occasions during 1932.  Early in the year some members of the Council at a specially convened meeting passed a resolution congratulating Eamon De Valera or President De Valera, as he was called, on winning the general election.  Dev’s subsequent letter of thanks was read at the following Council meeting, leading to a protest by Mr. Minch at ‘a letter of a political nature being read’ at that meeting.  He was supported by Mr. Tierney who further complained that he had not been notified of the special meeting at which the resolution was passed.

Churchtown School Principal and Leinster Street resident Brigid Darby who was an ardent Fianna Fail Councillor, contested Mr. Minch’s claim that De Valera’s letter should not be read at the Council’s meeting.  Mr. Minch, although supported by Mr. Tierney, was in a minority, with even Mr. Jackson maintaining that ‘these letters come through in the ordinary course’.  Mr. Minch had the last word however, indicating that while he was in the minority, nevertheless he was not going to let the matter pass without protest.  It’s noteworthy that on 27th February the same newspaper reported the election of Mr. Minch’s brother Sydney as a T.D. for Kildare. 

Brigid Darby who was a personal friend of Eamon De Valera was not a lady to be crossed if reports in the January edition of the Nationalist and Leinster Times were to be believed.  During a discussion at a meeting of the Kildare Board of Health on the Relief Scheme operated by the Board to give employment to those out of work, reference was made to Ms. Darby’s claim that the authorities were in favour of giving the unemployed four days rather than two days work each week.  One of the members referred to Mr. Darby and William Doyle another member following which George Henderson jokingly said ‘he might have let his courting to some other day.’  The remark caused laughter in the Chamber but prompted a response from Athy U.D.C. and Miss Darby which was probably unexpected. 

The Urban Council held a special meeting to pass a resolution ‘protesting in the strongest possible manner against the vile insult offered to Miss Darby as reported in the Nationalist and Leinster Times.’  The lengthy resolution ended with the claim, ‘we might add that when some of those members have returned to the oblivion of which they so lately emerged Miss Darby will still adorn public bodies in Kildare.’  The good lady herself wrote to the Nationalist referring to the ‘inane vulgarities which caused laughter amongst men whose intelligence should at least reach an ordinary standard.’  Explaining her background in public life she ended her letter as follows:-  ‘It is quite evident that certain members of Kildare public bodies are prepared to descend to any depths to discredit their political opponents in their absence.  Their tactics are as dishonourable as they are cowardly and only ill-bred persons would allow their names to be associated with such meanness.  The people who elected such men have little reason to be proud of their choice.’

Miss Darby was a formidable lady whose involvement with various public bodies in the county, including the County Council and the Urban Council, was marked with tremendous strides in the provision of housing and other services in South Kildare during the 1930s.