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ATHY'S EYE ON THE PAST

Essays on Athy’s past
evoke memories of Lilywhite football glory
by
LIAM KENNY
 
 
For the past fifteen years Athy historian Frank Taaffe has been recording the stories and folklore of the Barrowside town in a weekly column in the Kildare Nationalist. In an impressive example of longevity he has now written over 800 articles almost all dealing with the characters and personalities of Athy and its environs. Selections of his weekly columns have already appeared in book form twice and now he has publishd a third collection entitled ‘Eye on Athy’s Past – Volume 3.’
 
A glance at the contents list shows the electic range of topics taken on by the author. Headings such as ‘The Ballylinan carnival of 1937’ , ‘ Jack McKenna and the Graney Ambush’ and ‘Barney Dunne and Kildare’s 1935 All-Ireland football team’ – all reveal the deeply social and personal approach taken by the Frank Taaffe to his recording of Athy’s past.
 
The sporting interests of the greater Athy area are well represented in his latest collection of columns. In an article on ‘Barney Dunne and Kildare’s All Ireland Football Team 1935’ he shows his gift for bringing a personal and local focus to an event of all-Ireland significance.
 
The All-Ireland of 1935 was to mark the end of Kildare’s run as one of the top flight team’s in the country. Having picked up All_Ireland’s in 1927 & 28 the Lilywhites remained competitive into the 1930s and reached the All-Ireland final in 1935 against Cavan, a county which they had beaten for All-Ireland glory in 1928. Enter Barney Dunne from Athy who had the unusual distinction, according to Frank Taaffe, of having a dual loyalty – he had in fact been born in Cavan but had for many years been involved in Kildare football and indeed had won two Kildare County Senior championships with Athy.
 
Although a valued part of the squad he was to find himself on the subs bench for the 1935 final along with Athy club-mates Jim Fox and ‘Cuddy’ Chanders – the latter had been dropped from the fielded fifteen in a controversial decision by team coach Paul Doyle. South Kildare was strongly represented on that 1935 All Ireland squad which was captained by Paul Matthews of the Athy 1934 winning side. Also from Athy was Tommy Mulhall who, according to newspaper reports quoted by Frank Taaffe, was ‘ the brainiest player on the team and one of he fastest wing men.’
 
Frank Taaffe’s interview with Barney Dunne reveals that the team’s build-up for the All-Ireland was quite organised for the time but was clearly leisurely in terms of training camp activities compared to the modern high-intensity squad regimes. Barney recalled the team being brought to Oakley Park near Celbridge for two weeks training under Paul Doyle, the manager. Morning training was followed by long walks including a walk to Maynooth and, closer to the GAA code, a challenge match against Meath was organised for Navan.
 
When the big dawned the players went to mass in Celbridge before travelling by bus to Croke Park where new attendance records were set as they had been every time the Lilywhites, regarded as the form team of the generation, appeared in the Croke Park cauldron. However this team the Kildare side were on the back foot from the first minute when Cavan kicked a point. Even from that early stage the Lilywhites were chasing the Breffni men. The half time came with Cavan ahead by double scores and they maintained their lead until the final whistle echoed around the old Croke Park.  
 
Although the Lilywhite supporters had turned out in great numbers the event seemed to have lacked the ‘hype’ which accompanies modern sport. While the fact that they were the beaten side no doubt dampened the kind of reception they might have expected back in the Short Grass, Barney Dunne recounted to Frank Taaffe that ‘ there was no great fuss made of footballers in those days’. He and his vanquished colleagues had a quiet meal in Barry’s hotel where they stayed overnight before returning to their respective workplaces the following day – Barney turned up that evening for his usual shift in O’Meara’s public house, Leinster St., Athy. Perhaps the low key reaction was an omen of the fact the that the 1935 All-Ireland was to mark the Lilywhite’s last All Ireland appearance until 1998 when, alas, the silverware was to prove equally elusive.
 
Frank Taaffe’s collection of essays ranges over other sports ranging from tennis to meggars as well as politics, ceili bands and pipes, high-street businesses and old placenames, and is masterly compilation of well-observed local history memoirs which will be of interest to anybody with connections to the Barrowside town.
 
Reference: ‘Eye on Athy’s Past – Volume 3 by Frank Taaffe
 
Series no 51

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