The recent Eucharistic congress saw one exclusive grouping given a privileged position and their own special vantage point to watch the proceedings.
These distinguished few were veterans of the last Eucharistic congress to visit Ireland some 80 years before.
One such veteran was Mrs. Patricia (Patty) Bolger from St. Brigid’s Terrace, Sallins, who as a child of 10 visited that first congress and sang in the choir of childen all those years ago. Patty shared with the Leader some memories of the day and memories of times past.
Last December Patty was invited to a special commemorative mass in St. Brigid’s Church, Straffan, a guest of honour as the oldest surviving child of the parish.
Indeed, she is not just a child of the parish, but as she says herself, “a child of the State”. Patty was born on Christmas Day 1921, in that transformative time when Ireland’s Independence treaty had been signed in London but would not be ratified in Dublin until January.
Indeed, the night Patty arrived her father enjoyed an unexpected escort when suspicious Black and Tans followed him on the road to Kilcock to fetch back the midwife that 1921 Christmas night.
Born and reared in Straffan parish, Patty attended school in Celbridge and worked for a time in North Dublin at Howth Castle and at Ballygoran Park, Maynooth before she married Christopher, a boy from the next door parish, and came to live in Sallins in 1943.
Patty remembers well Sallins in those wartime years where “three men might sit on the bridge watching out for the thrashing machine”, which they would then follow to a local farm in search of work.
Men on bikes would come through the village headed for the Odlums oats factory or the Leinster Mills which were both in production at the time. Rationing was in force with the wartime restrictions, and sometimes canal barges would arrive with provisions to be scrambled over. If the local grocers ran short or had been too generous in dispensing, the boats would often be blamed and the word sent out for another barge to soon bring its precious cargo of tea or coal or even soap to wash themselves.
Fuel for the hearth was another precious good and local turf cutters would come from Carbury, Allenwood or Timahoe, bringing supplies to keep the fires of Sallins lighting. The men would transport their cargo with horses, and often throw straw on the ground for grip if the conditions were poor and a spell of rain or ice had made the going hazardous.
At the time a young housewife, Patty remembers the mess they would sometimes make traipsing hay and turf about the place and the women of the village let a collective sigh of relief when coal became once more available from Naas at the end of the war.
Patty lived at Millicent and in Johnstown for a while before in 1952 she moved into the house in St. Brigid’s Terrace. It was a stormy week and the news each night was of a ship, the Enterprise, which was stranded in the North Sea at that time. Neighbours joked they would name their houses after the crew of that ship as they battled the winds moving in.
There was always a butcher in Sallins, Patty remembers, and a common mealtime might be a piece of round steak with mushrooms. Fish was hard to get, so for Friday observance a pair of eggs with mash and onions was a common substitute. Doing laundry for a family was tough and the outside hedge would often double as a clothes line.
Patty’s husband was also a reservist with the L.D.F. and all lived in perpetual fear of the dreaded German invasion.
One fateful moonlit night, a call came out from Curragh HQ for all units to take up positions and Christy and his companion were sent to defend Millicent bridge across the Liffey. Approaching midnight, a barge parked up at Lotown and the boatman attempted to complete the journey into Naas by bicycle until he came to a halt at the Liffey crossing.
The interloper turned out to be a brother-in-law of Christy, but determined to defend their position, the guardians would not grant him passage. After much consternation a twinkle appeared in his eye – and he produced a pair of American cigarettes for each guard, much beloved and like hen’s teeth at the time. With that the bridge fell and the country was invaded as the defence crumbled over four Chesterfields!
Fear of invasion was a constant at that time, however, and Patty remembers cycling the long road to her first job in Maynooth, when, if it neared darkness, she would sing aloud “to stop the paratroopers” from coming down between the trees on top of her.
Growing up in Straffan and attending school in Celbridge, Patty travelled on a bus up to the Eucharistic congress that weekend in 1932. She joined a sea of angels in white on the Croke park pitch that day as they all sang Credo and other hymns and waved their banners for school and parish. They had practiced for three months to get it just right.
The following day, ten year old Patty became the Mother Superior herself as it was her parents turn to attend the conference and Patty as the oldest child was left in charge of the clan.
Patty’s parents, along with others from the parish, cycled up that Sunday through Celbridge and up as far as Lucan from where the old Dublin Tramways company brought them into town.
They then received benediction on O’Connell bridge and celebrated the congress along with most of the country it seems. Patty was the oldest of eight children and was invaluable aid on the farm to her parents “snagging turnips” from a young age.
Patty recalls how every house hung out a flag to honour the congress and the roads around Straffan village were lined with Eucharistic colours in all directions. In the hurry to complete preparations Patty’s house had first hung it upside down so that the wrong colour was prominent, and it was nearer the colours of Antrim than the Eucharist. An eagle eye at school spotted the error and the next night the flag was righted “by fairies”.
Patty was always one for the big occasion and brought the first “wireless” into her new house in St. Brigid’s Terrace three weeks before the big royal wedding of the day, none other than the now Queen’s betrothal in 1947.
True to form Patty was glued to the TV for the latest royal installment of William and Kate last year and laughs how her affection for the royal family saw her nicknamed “the last southern loyalist” among neighbours back in the day.
Patty prays regularly for the repose of the soul of her husband Christy who passed away in 1977.
A motor mechanic by day he had worked for thirty years in McGuirks garage Naas. He also had a dance band and as Patty says “he burned the candle at both ends”. Christy played the saxophone in the band and would sometimes travel to perform in the big concerts in places like Westmeath or Wicklow town.
He would often play locally in Dowlings of Prosperous or Lawlor’s in Naas and always three nights in a row after Punchestown. When the children were hardy Patty would sometimes join him and enjoy the dance and the music and the chance to relax away the evening after the long days.
Patty was the eldest of eight children. The wings were spread far from the farm in Straffan and Patty has two sisters today on two continents, Carmel in Paris and Olive in Brisbane. Frank, Bertie, Eileen and Anne have sadly passed on and Ita died as an infant.
Patty and Christy had four children, Patrick, Robin (Bobby), Mary and PJ who is no longer with us. Patty now has eleven grandchildren and six great-grand-children.
Patty still lives in the same house she moved into that stormy night half a century ago. She has her large extended family and many friends and neighbours all round the village.
Patty greatly enjoyed the return to the congress eighty years after her first attendance.
A VIP on the return visit, Patty says they were looked after to the best of standards. In the company of Bishops, entertained by Celine Byrne and welcomed by Joe Duffy the second occasion was almost as joyful as the first.
I asked her what she prayed for and without a moment’s hesitation she replied “Ireland”. The inspiring and indomitable spirit of a life well lived - with women like Patty praying for us the country will surely come right yet.