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Leinster Leader, January 7th 2010
Anniversaries a-plenty in the Old Year
Before 2009 disappears from our rear view mirrors it’s worthwhile to pause and recall some of the historical highlights of the Old Year. While it brought plenty of bad news in terms of current affairs it at least offered some modicum of interest for history enthusiasts. There was a whole array of anniversaries – many of them with a strong Co. Kildare connection.
The year was just nine days old when the first significant anniversary was marked, albeit in a low key manner. January 9th marked the centenary of the astounding achievement of perhaps Kildare’s most under-rated son, Ernest Shackleton, who on that date in 1909 reached a point further south on planet earth than any other human being had reached. After a punishing trek of 730 miles into the lacerating winds of the Antarctic continent Shackleton chose survival before glory by making the agonizing decision to turn his famished team of four explorers back in the direction of safety. It was a hard call to make -- being first to reach the South Pole had become the holy grail of the exploration world and they had come within a hundred miles. On an appropriately chilly night on 9th January 2009 a small party of Shackleton enthusiasts from the Athy Shackleton committee gathered in the haggard at Kilkea House, birthplace of the great explorer, and, illuminated only by Tilley lamps, recalled in spirit his achievement of reaching the furthest point south.
Another low-key anniversary was marked in April in Aras Cill Dara in Naas when the 110th anniversary of Kildare’s first democratic local elections was marked. In April of 1899 the general public of the county was given the right to vote for their local representatives. Although local elections have been held at irregular intervals since then it was a happy coincidence that local elections took place in June of 2009 – the 23rd occasion on which the voters of Kildare had elected their councillors since that first tumultuous local poll in 1899.
A contrast with such worthwhile but low-profile anniversaries was the big-ticket anniversary of 125 years of the GAA. The occasion was celebrated at national level by the GAA with special commemorative events on and off the playing field while Kildare GAA historian Eoghan Corry authored a book and contributed to a series of television documentaries on the anniversary. Here the Leinster Leader must disclose a certain interest as the second ever editor of the paper, John Wyse-Power, was among the now iconic seven founders who met at Hayes’ Hotel on the 1st November 1884 little knowing that they were mobilising passions which would evolve into what has been described as the greatest amateur sporting organisation in the world.
Another anniversary of global proportions yet with a strong Kildare connection was the 250th anniversary of the enterprise known as Arthur Guinness & Sons of James’ Street Dublin. The original Arthur Guinness first tasted roast hops in Celbridge and Leixlip before moving to take the lease at James’ Street in 1759. The modern Guinness company (or Diageo to give it the correct corporate name) chose a date in September as ‘Arthur’s Day’ and the hilltop cemetery at Oughterard, just east of Ardclough, saw a steady stream of history-conscious (but sober) locals paying homage at the founding uncle Arthur’s burial place.
Some of the porter from the brewery was transported on the Naas branch of the Grand Canal. The 220th anniversary of this engineering feat was marked in October 2009 with a rally of restored old barges to the harbour in the county town.
Other County Kildare anniversaries noted in 2009 included the 50th anniversary of St. Brigid’s Garrison Church on the Curragh and the 125th anniversary of the completion of St. Patrick’s and St. Brigid’s church in Clane – the latter marked by a lovely televised Mass on RTE at the beginning of Advent.
Thus 2009 brought more than its share of anniversaries and commemorations to Kildare. And while the current affairs record of 2009 will be remembered for its grim procession of bad news involving everything from falling banks to rising floods but, for better or for worse, it too will become part of our history.
And so we look to twenty-ten (or is it two thousand and ten?) to add another chapter, hopefully a brighter one, to the record of our lived experience.
Series No.160.

In his regular Leinster Leader feature 'Nothing New Under The Sun', Liam Kenny recalls the many anniversaries that were commemorated in Kildare in 2009.

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