Jim Kearney’s interview with Kitty Lardner wasn’t just an hour of excellent entertainment, it was also an invaluable insight, from an historical and cultural point of view, into Athenry’s past. The expert interviewing skills of Kearney combined with Kitty’s character produced an intriguing hour of humorous, relaxed and informative conversation.

Kitty was introduced as actress, producer and director with Athenry Drama Group for over fifty years. Kitty took it from there outlining the importance of drama in her life and the lives of the local people. The McMasters Travelling Drama Group often packed Athenry Town Hall twice a year and preferred this venue even to Galway. This nurtured a love of theatre and Kitty says she had seen “Hamlet” five times as well as “The Merchant of Venice” and “Romeo and Juliet” before she was in sixth class. Famous actors like Harold Pinter, Michael MacLiamor and Hilton Edwards acted in Athenry and techniques were learnt by local actors from these professionals.

Jim Kearney read an article, probably from the Connaught Tribune praising the cast in the play “A Moment of Peril” further emphasising Athenry’s rich past in drama. Players mentioned included James Lardner, Daisy McKeown, James Payne, Martin Morrissey and T.J. Daly. Kitty expressed her fear that television had dulled peoples’ imagination and detracted from drama.

The conversation moved on to Larry Lardner, Kitty’s father, a member of the executive council of the Irish Volunteers and second in command to Liam Mellows who lived next door in Brodericks at the time. Kearney raised the question of the troubles and her father’s involvement. Kitty described the troubled and dangerous times for her father and family but could not resist relating the humorous anecdotes especially, where her father left one Sunday night for “a few minutes” and returned fourteen months later. Sadly, Larry Lardner died aged 52 of a ruptured appendix, but not before he made a significant contribution to the birth of the new nation.

Getting back to the drama, Kitty explained that the first plays were with the Gaelic League and in Irish. Michael O’Cathain from Carraroe directed 3 Act plays. The first won the All-Ireland held in the Mansion House in Dublin. In the 1930s “Con The Seachran” was produced. Some of the people who took part were Frank Curran, Jack Cunniffe, Jimmy Cleary, Bridie Hession, Mrs Taylor, Tommy Reilly (producer) and Charlie Redmond. Father Langan’s arrival was important accord ing to Kitty because the group attempted plays they otherwise would not try like the “Importance of Being Earnest”.

In the 1940s O’Casey’s plays were produced. Again, numerous familiar names appear; Stephen Jordan, famous as a T.D. and in G.A.A. circles, Christy Howley, Kevin Hynes, Jack Molloy, Ena Cleary, Detta and Kitty Fahy, Kathleen Corley, Dick and Joan Murphy were just some of those mentioned. Also, some people who had worked in the town like Mick Fahy (postman), Michael Kilkelly (postman) and Tom Armstrong who worked in Pat Duffy’s (now Murphy’s The Arch). Kitty also mentioned some of the families that had long associations with the drama group like the Hynes, Jordans, Fahys, Murphys, Paynes, McLoughlins, and four generations of Barretts, Mike Bassett, Christy Barrett, Juno and Jim Barrett and today Rose and Rachael. Kitty continued on with the drama productions and achievements through the following decades down to the present day and the many names associated with them.

I would like to continue writing on the excellent interview but unfortunately, I am running short of time and space. Kitty raised a number of very important points in the interview and these should give us food for thought. Among them the role of television and it’s impact and effect on society today i.e. decline in audiences for live drama. Another striking fact was the talent that came into Athenry – working in the Bank, Post Office, Mart, Railway, etc. It is important to ensure that Athenry is a Parish of in migration rather than out migration. Lastly but not least Kitty made it clear that the group would be delighted to have new members either as actors or back stage helpers.

This interview is very important because it illustrates the importance of Athenry Parish historically and politically and its great achievements and contributions to the Arts, Culture and Sport. When Kitty invited people to join the Drama Group, I think she is saying that there is plenty of talent in this parish in every field and there is no reason why we can’t build on this.

On behalf of the Athenry Journal I would like to thank Kitty Lardner for all the joy she has brought us in the past and wish her every success in the future.

In 1977 Michael and Mary Melia returned from Australia and bought the Jersey Bar. These were the boom years, with people, especially farmers, benefiting from membership of the EEC. However, this was not to last forever and the Melia’s found their income was beginning to drop.

They identified a number of reasons for this slow down – changes in farming, older people not being replaced, old traditions like going to the pub after a funeral and card games, especially around Christmas time, dying out. Dole day was also a big day in town and this trade had also declined.

With three children in the family, Melinda, Johnny and Joanne, they had to think of diversifying and earning additional income. They decided on a small gift and craft shop to service the visitor and tourist trade. Michael did a one year “Marketing and Tourism course” in the R.T.C. and received a national certificate.

The initial investment was a modest £5,000 approximately. The premises, rent free, were in Church Street. Enquiries from customers determined the: stock high quality Irish Craft products, including Athenry Crystal with The Fields of Athenry logo, and souvenirs and postcards. Within the year they obtained an official Tourist Information Point licence from Ireland West.

Visitors coming from the church after seeking their roots often called in looking for information and this was the reason he turned to tourism. Paddy Reilly’s song “Fields of Athenry”, regularly heard on television being sung by the Glasgow Celtic, supporters was also a major selling point for Athenry.

In 1979 they decided to make a major investment. They literally split the pub in half, a shop at the front and a bar at the back. It was the ideal location for a tourist information point – the junction of the four streets. This shop/office was to provide information for tourists, literature featuring the main attractions in the West of Ireland and information on accommodation.

At this time, the castle was not open. Michael felt they needed their own tourist attraction. He decided to build a traditional cottage. All the work was done by local craftsmen. Lackagh Museum was very helpful with advice, and local people were very generous with artefacts.

The cottage has a small bar and coffee shop and is used by tourists and locals alike. Irish nights, music and dance, school tours, local club’s nights out are just some of the events hosted. Wedding parties have also arrived for photographs after the church.

Michael believes training is very important – he has just completed a Galway City and County Enterprise Board “Marketing Skills Programme”. Tour bus companies are now being targeted and literature has been sent to over thirty of them. Fluency in European languages is not Michael’s strong point, but he believes that Mary, being a fluent Native Irish speaker, has been a great help.

The Melia family would like to acknowledge the help they received from family, friends, neighbours, local groups and people. The Lady Day festival has been a great boost to his business and he thinks the Festival Committee deserve great credit. The banks in Athenry were also very helpful and encouraging at all times. They now employ four people part time in the summer and hope that they have secured a future for their children.

Good Luck to “The Fields” and every success from “The Journal”.

Pat Fahy, from Moanbawn, is now one of Ireland’s top racehorse trainers.  This success did not come overnight, it is a story of determination, dedication and a love of ponies and horses from an early age.  At eight he held the gate open for Captain Fanshawe of the Galway Blazers who immediately recognised him as ‘young Fahy’ from his brother Gabe.

His early years in Carnaun National School helped nurture his love of horses and ponies. Schoolmaster Finbarr O’Regan had a pony at the school and Pat often followed the hunt beside his teacher.  On one occasion Pat, having got an hour off from school, rode as far as Derrydonnell after the hunt.  The pony was so tired he had to leave it in a field and return next day to collect it.

Another important element in this story which Pat will never forget is the help of friends and neighbours, especially Josie ‘Giant’ Duffy who had a piebald pony that Pat used to ride.  He has never forgotten this and now has a point-to-point horse called ‘Black Mountain Giant’.

After Carnaun School Pat went to Presentation College, Athenry. Here he proved to be a good hurler, not surprising, since his father Padraic was also very handy with the stick and represented Galway.  Pat represented both his school and club but his real interest was in horses.  While at school most of his spare time was given to riding ponies for Martin Cullinane, Mountbrowne.

By the time Pat had reached fourteen he had moved on to horses.  He competed in places like Millstreet against the likes of Eddie Macken, Paul Daragh and James Kiernan.  Pat learned a great deal here watching them ‘school the horses before they’d go in’.
At fifteen he rode his first point-to-point winner.  He was later to have problems with his weight but he was accumulating the knowledge he would need to become a top trainer.

Pat started work in Thermo King when he was eighteen. However, the outdoor life was too strong an attraction.  He started work with the local and legendary Tommy O’Brien where he rode about fifteen horses.  His first winner was Stormy Haven, owned by Athenry man Pat Byrne.

Pat added to his store of knowledge with other trainers: Paddy Mullins, T.V. O’Brien, Willie Mullins and Paddy Hughes.  It was with Paddy Hughes that his career began to take off.  ‘I drove the lorry, I was the head lad, I dealt with owners, I rode my first winner, I schooled with Frank Berry, did a lot of racing and riding.  There was a lot of Cheltenham horses trained there, it was a top class yard’.  Antartic Bay, Silent Member and Potato Merchant were some of the winners he rode for Pat Hughes.

At this stage, Pat had fallen in love with Natalie Smyth, from Leighlinbridge.  They got married and Pat went to work for Anglo-Irish Meats.  He also took a course in life assurance salesmanship and believes that this was invaluable later on as it helped to deal with people.

However, Pat returned to racing with Tom Kidd, a veteran Carlow trainer, and farmer, and then on to Jim Bolger and Paddy Mullins.  Pat has his father-in-law, the late Wesley Smyth, in particular to thank for his move into training.  This part of the story is best told in Pat’s own words.  ‘I was happy enough preparing half-breds and young jumpers for the sales in Goresbridge, until, I came across my first racehorse Cobblers Rock.  Wesley kept at me to take out a licence and I resisted for quite a while because I didn’t want the hassle.  Eventually, he encouraged me to build eight boxes and lay out gallops.  Both Wesley and Martin Cullinane in Athenry – whose place I haunted as a youngster – made sure I had the minimum six horses required for the turf club to grant my licence.’

With the expertise of Wesley Smyth they went on to install a wide range of top facilities such as lunging rings, paddocks, gallops, big barns and an isolation yard.  The gallops were dug out by a neighbour, who had the machinery.
Success came fast, Pat recalls: ‘It was a real pleasure to train my first winners for Martin Cullinane; Forest Feather won at the East Galway point-to-point in May ’92, while Sheer Mist got Pat his first win on the racetrack in a hurdle race in Tipperary.

One of Pat’s most famous horses is NUAFFE, owned by John Doyle, a native of Coolarne, near Athenry who was at school with Pat and played on the same hurling team.  This horse came to him as a seven year old in October ’92, without a win since taking a point-to-point as a youngster.  Pat recalls ‘He obliged for us, first time out, in a point-to-point at Ballon and then began to pay his way on the racetrack too’.

Nuaffe had further successes at Navan, where he landed the Santa Claus Handicap Chase and the prestigious Thystes Chase at Gowran Park.  Then the runners-up spot in the Jameson Irish Grand National put Nuaffe and Pat firmly on the national stage.

The Horse continued to improve with Pat concentrating on his jumping.  Further successes were recorded in The Tripleprint in Cheltenham, The Hennessy at Leopardstown and the Greenalls at Haydock.  These victories put Nuaffe firmly in for a run in the Aintree Grand National.

Pat and Natalie had 28 winners in three seasons.  He is now the proprietor of a twenty eight box complex – Ellen Lodge Stables outside Loughlin bridge, Co. Carlow where he has over twenty horses in training.

Pat is confident in his ability.  ‘Confidence came into the owners I knew if I got a horse I could get the best out of it.  There was only one way to do it and I had seen how it was done’.

The Pat Fahy story is one of success, due to determination, hard work, great ability and the help of family and friends.  Pat does not forget this.  He keeps in close contact with parents Padraic and Teresa and also Gabe, who still breaks horses for him, Also Martin Cullinane who was such a help in the early days.  He takes an annual trip home for the Galway Races every summer, where he likes to have a few runners.

To Pat, Natalie, Conor and Niamh we wish you success in the future.  Athenry is proud of you!

We are hearing a lot about diversification and alternative enterprises in agriculture today. To a lot of people this appears to be something that is happening miles away from us and is for other people. We may be sceptical about the ability of these alternatives to provide a living or make a substantial contribution to a farmer’s income.

In this article we will look at three successful enterprises in this parish.

Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly in Castlelambert was first on my list and proved to be a very interesting story. Peter studied horticulture in Warrinstown College in Co. Meath from 1987 – 1990. When he finished the course he spent another three years working fulltime in the college.

In October 1993 Peter decided to come home. He started working with Martin Joe Keane and was producing some small quantities of vegetables himself. All was going well until he got a stroke in the spring of ‘94. This proved to be a turning point.

Peter had lost power in one side but while recovering he was anxious to get on with some work. Encouraged by his father Tommy, he decided to go into the vegetable business. He also received great encouragement from his neighbours and Martin Joe Keane.

Unable to do the physical work he concentrated on organisation, employing workers for the different tasks and going out in search of markets. He found there was a market for fresh and quality produce.
When he started up he did not have to make a major investment. His father Tommy, a well known farmer, had a lot of basic machinery like tractors, plough, rotavator, harrow, etc. Peter, through his knowledge of the business, was able to pick up some more second-hand and even had a machine for washing turnips made locally.

He expanded gradually. In his second year he had six acres and intends to extend to ten or twelve acres. He believes you must produce large quantities for sale as the profit margin is not great due largely to competition. His main markets are in Galway, Keane’s Garden Centre, Glynns in Lydican and the Claddagh Fruit and Mineral Company. He also supplies smaller quantities locally to Vincent Kelly and Barney Carroll.

Peter says this is a business where you can make a living but he urges caution. It is labour intensive and you are often required to work irregular hours, having to be in Galway at 6 a.m. or on Sundays.
Service he feels is also very important. He has a telephone with him so even while in the fields he can take an order and deliver. If you fail to supply a customer somebody else will.

Turnips, cabbages and cauliflowers are the products he specialises in because these have to be got to market while fresh. Within a couple of hours Peter can cut and deliver 1,000 heads of cabbage. Peter believes production of potatoes and carrots is not worthwhile, he has seen these produced on a massive scale in the East and Midlands on better soil. It is capital intensive and these products can be transported over distance in bulk without fear of perishing. This is not the case with cabbages and cauliflowers so closeness to the market is a big advantage.

In summary Peter believes you must have large volumes, good quality and graded produce at the right price. You must also be a salesman and be willing to deliver whenever required. Anyone thinking of going into this business must have a well thought out plan and be willing to work irregular hours.

Cáit Curran

For my second enterprise I decided to stay on the subject of horticulture. I called at Cáit Curran, also in Castlelambert.
Cáit came to Athenry four years ago. A native of Tipperary with an agricultural background, herself and Bruno bought Dunleavy’s house. Her interest in agriculture led her to take a nine month course in organic horticulture in Galway.

On completion of the course she started with a small one acre garden. She produced a limited range of vegetables using organic methods. As she progressed she increased the range of vegetables, now producing approximately 30 different types including cabbages, potatoes, carrots, beans, pumpkins, strawberries, spring onions, squashes, courgettes and aubergines. The pumpkins this year proved to be a bumper crop and they sold very well. She has also expanded the area cultivated to three and a half acres.

Cáit  also erected three tunnels. This has enabled her to produce peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and also ordinary vegetables out of season. A glasshouse with a sandbed, heated by electricity, allows her to sow seeds and have the plants ready to go out early in the season.

Cáit believes there is a very good market for organic produce. She finds local interest in organic food growing and quite a number of local people call to her to buy vegetables. Fahy’s Centra, John Joe Brady’s and Vincent Kelly are just some of her customers in Athenry. Cáit also supplies Roches Stores, Silke’s Deli and many other restaurants in Galway. About 70% of the produce is sold in the Galway Market, near St. Nicholas’ church, on Saturday mornings.

In the garden itself most vegetables are grown in seed beds – she uses a four year crop rotation cycle and this ensures fewer disease problems. Farmyard manure is used as a fertiliser after being allowed to decompose and silage plastic is put on ridge tops to control weeds. Untreated seeds are bought from companies in England,(up to £50O a year may be spent on seeds alone). Natural predators like spiders and wasps are used for pest control. A wasp called Encarsia is used to control greenfly while her own home produced nettle juice is used as a spray. Netting over seedbeds is also a defence against green and white fly. In short, organic farming is based on having a balanced eco system.

This is a labour intensive industry. Cáit does most of the work herself and this year has bought a tractor and rotavator.

She believes she has reached the stage where further expansion would require extra help. A few sheep are kept for themselves and next year she hopes to have some chickens.

Cáit estimated that around £5,000 would see you started; tunnels would be extra at about £2,500 each. Cáit believes this market is a growing market which is already under supplied. Courses are available for interested people. It appears that this enterprise is within the scope of farmers in this parish with a little land to spare or a family member willing to work. Start-up costs are not high, particularly for those who already have basic farm machinery.

Jarlath Cloonan

My final visit was to the Newcastle side of the parish to a man who is well known nationally for his involvement with Galway hurling both in the past as manager and presently as selector, Jarlath Cloonan. Jarlath became aware of the opportunity in forestry through Sean McGovern and Michael Fogarty. He explored this further and got in contact with Mike Davoren in the Coillte office in Galway.

He found forestry would suit his situation. Because he was busy with his business he did not have a lot of time on hand.

You had an option with forestry: you could manage the operation yourself, do the fencing, draining, planting etc. and receive the grants or you could hand the operation over to Coillte. Jarlath found the latter suited him best. This method had a number of advantages. Firstly; it would save him time and labour, secondly, it made more sense financially when compared to farming or marginal land. You were ensured a set income, index linked for a specific number of years.

He gave a lot of his marginal land over to conifers but due to his interest in hurling he also gave some better land over to ash – this was the subject of a recent programme “Ear to the Ground”. Jarlath believes there is a lot of land in the parish suitable for forestry. Coillte are willing to take almost any size plot, so this could suit farmers with a piece of poorer land.

After 30 years the trees are mature and felled, the deal is then complete. The big advantage of the scheme is that you always own the land. Profits are tax free and payments average around £l00 per acre per year depending on the land.
Jarlath is satisfied with this arrangement and believes it is a viable proposition that should be considered.

Strange things have happened in Newcastle / Tiaquin – dolphins caught in rivers, and helicopters fertilising trees.

These are not the only alternative enterprises in the parish. There are many more established and starting, for example: Tom Divilly – Mushrooms, Jackie Feeney -deer, and Billy Heneghan’s glasshouses.

In other areas people have looked for other sources of extra income. A farmer in County Tipperary has a guest house with one big attraction, a nature walk for guests as he does his herding and foddering. On a recent walk organised in Newcastle during August over 30 people turned up. Why not use these opportunities in this parish for something similar?

I would like to finish off this article by thanking Peter Kelly, Cáit Curran and Jarlath Cloonan for their time and hospitality. We hope that it will highlight the successes in this parish and encourage farmers and family members to explore the possibility of alternative incomes for themselves and secure their futures.