27 Jun 2022

Neil Hannon's Kildare roots explored and commemorated

Divine Comedy singer learns extensive family history during Athy visit

Neil Hannon, the singer with the Divine Comedy was honoured by the Made of Athy project on Saturday.

The family's ancestral home was at Ardree Lock, just outside Athy on the Carlow road. The family had three mills, the remains of one of which can still be seen at Levitstown, and employed quite a few people in the area.

Hannon's paternal grandfather, Gordon, left the area in 1917 for Belfast's Shankill road to work as a missionary and from there to a parish in Lurgan. His father, Brian, followed his own father into the religious life and was a minister in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and later, Bishop of Clogher.

Neil Hannon himself was born in Derry and grew up in Enniskillen. 

Speaking at the unveiling of his plaque at Ardree lock, he said he’d gotten a crash course in Athy since he arrived there earlier in the day.

“I’ve been here since lunch time and Colm (Walsh, the organiser of the Made of Athy Project) was just filling me in. I now know twice as much as I did before I came.

"I'm kind of astonished, taken aback at what a large part of Hannon history is centered around the town. Us and the Shackleton's, we were the big guys, and then we let it all go - typical - and scarpered north!" he joked.

Earlier in the day he had taken a tour of the museum in the town, and he reflected: "It is strange. I knew about the great uncles who were killed in the first war, but actually seeing them in the roll of honour in the museum and where they were killed - I didn’t know the details. It’s quite harrowing really."

It turns out that four members of his family perished in the Great War. 

He said he remembered his grandfather who he met when he was very young.

Read also: Search for Kildare explorer Shackleton's lost ship begins

"I only had peripheral knowledge of our history before today. I knew that the Hannons had owned mills. I thought it was just one for a start, but apparently there was more than that. And Carlow had come up a lot. I didn’t realise it was Kildare or Athy.

"So that’s a new thing to me. There are so many of the names I’ve come across today, of my ancestors. I’d heard of them in passing conversation but I’d never really put names to faces and really got to grips with it.

"I think we drove up to the house when I was little on the way to a family holiday somewhere else, but I've never knowingly been to Athy before. The Hannons are a bit of a disparate lot and after the mill was lost basically, they all were scattered to the winds, mostly north.

During the unveiling of his plaque, he remarked to Colm Walsh: "Thank you for giving to me what you gave to Johnny Marr. Have you got his number?"

"Em, I may have lost that," Walsh replied.

The Divine Comedy, of which he is founder and mainstay, was founded in 1990 and has produced 12 albums to date. He has also been involved in numerous collaborations including with Pugwash, two operas and, in recent times, Fr Ted, the musical.

As it turns out, he his link to Kildare goes even further. He and his partner, the musician Cathy Davey, live in the county where they run the My Lovely Horse Rescue centre.

"It’s sort of coincidental. It’s like I’ve been drawn here by mysterious powers!" he joked.

He said that he and his partner simply thought 'Oh that’s a nice house, let’s just live there!' "But it’s kind of the opposite end of the county. It’s up Carbury direction."

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