Yesterday and today: a bit of music at Athéa

WHEN the Hawthorn is in flower, it’s time for the annual Limerick Fleadh Cheoil, which takes place over the June bank holiday weekend. Athea is the venue this year, and an action-packed program of events has been put on for traditional music lovers by the host Comhaltas branch. Many events will take place and if the sun is shining it promises to be a wonderful weekend. County Fleadh has been held there nine times since 1975, and in 2001 it was chosen to host the event in a very special year celebrating 50 years of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann. 2019 was the last time the pretty village on the banks of the sinking Galey hosted the annual event. The river that flows beneath the magnificent footbridge has been immortalized in song and story by many writers, including the late Dan Keane. I quote the second verse of his composition entitled The Galey.
How many times on summer evenings does the burning beast mend
To drink the green-rimmed cup between Clash and Knockanare
Through the golden glades of gorse a gurgle with splashes of silver
Wild waters twittering west rush over Athea.

Athea is a pretty little village nestled at the bottom of a valley on the north side of the high Dromada ridge that stretches west from the direction of Ardagh. Only about two miles from the Kerry border. Athea stands at an important crossroads, where the road from Glin to Abbeyfeale intersects with the road from Rathkeale to Listowel. The name Athea generally derives from the Irish Ath an tSléibhe, which means “the ford of the high moor”.
In addition to being a village, Athéa is also a parish. Until relatively recent times, however, the parish was not known as Athea but as Rathronan. Rathronan was a huge parish comprising, according to Lewis (Topographical Dictionary of Ireland), 18,153 statutory acres. At the time of which Lewis speaks (1837), 1,000 acres of the parish were under cultivation. 5,000 acres were rich meadows and pastures, and the rest consisted of mountain pastures, plantations and turbary.
The land in the eastern part towards Ardagh-was, states Lewis “of good quality being based on a limestone substrate and producing excellent crops under a good system of cultivation”.
We do not know when the village of Athéa was born, but it appears on a land map of 1710. At that time it would be a very isolated village, located in a wild and largely inaccessible country. The road from Glin to Abbeyfeale, which now crosses it, was not yet built, and would not be for about 120 years. In fact, it was the construction of this road which was to prove to be the main factor in the development of Athea.
Athea was known for its athletes and two of them achieved worldwide fame. Dan Ahearne set a world record in the Hop Step and Jump event and won numerous titles in America. His younger brother Tim, a classy sprinter, hurdler and jumper, won an Olympic gold medal in the Hop Step and Jump event in London in 1908.
A focal point of the village is their community hall which is named after Con Colbert, one of the executed leaders of the 1916 uprising.
He was born in Monalena, Castlemahon but spent his youth in Athea. Irish President Erskine Childers officially opened it on January 20, 1974.
Famous people associated with Athea include author Kevin Danaher who worked for the Irish Folklore Commission collecting folklore and recording it in ten books. Maighréad Mc Grath a renowned historian who was at the forefront of promoting the whole story of Athea. Domhnall De Barra, former president of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Eireann, and member of the current committee that organizes this year’s Fleadh. Timmy Woulfe author, set dancing teacher and former Limerick Gaelic footballer, referee and board member. Hotel owner Tom Moran Dublin (Red Cow) hails from Athea, which has a lovely footbridge named after Pope Paul II.
The plaque on the gangway reads:
Athea Gateway
Dedicated to the memory of Pope Paul II 1920-2005
Inaugurated on June 10, 2005 by Bishop Donald Murray DD

The village of Athea currently has enough to recommend it to visitors, who will flock in their thousands to enjoy its musical heritage this weekend. They can visit the Sentier des Fées and admire the mural frescoes. The Tidy town committee recently erected 20 place name signs around the village, and beyond which connect for a lovely walk.
There’s something about Athea as a place for a Fleadh, because it has an atmosphere of its own. This is largely due to the hospitality of the local people who know what a Fleadh is and make the visitor feel at home. They are proud to host the almost week-long festival which attracts people from all over the county and beyond. Enjoy the experience.

Irish Dresden
I NOW conclude the story of the Irish factory from Dresden to Dromcollogher from the last column. Irish political leaders have often presented Irish coins from Dresden to visiting dignitaries over the years. They have always been very well received, being quality gifts, showing Irish craftsmanship to good effect. Johanna was named International Businesswoman of the Year in 1987 and received the Veuve Clicquot award at a special luncheon at Trinity College Dublin. As part of her award, she was able to visit the Cliquot vineyards in Reims for a naming ceremony for a wine that bears her name. She appeared on the Late Late Show, which was massive recognition for her family factory and the people of Dromcollogher.
Due to the economic downturn which affected sales of many luxury goods, the factory closed in 2009 after a number of poor business years and the remaining dozen employees were laid off. After the liquidation, his daughter Sabina Best continued to work on the porcelain figurines in her garage, hoping to reopen again. It kept its business contacts and ties open and reopened in 2015 with a small team and new business partner Martin Crotty. The void she and her mother Johanna faced in 2009 had turned out of sheer stubbornness into hope for the future.
Johanna Saar died on Tuesday April 20, 2021. She was a pioneer in a male-dominated world who paved the way for other businesswomen in Ireland. She was much loved and highly respected for almost 60 years by the people of Dromcollogher. She was buried in St. Nicholas Cemetery in Adare, far from her birthplace in East Germany. The success story continues with Sabina at the helm and Long Time Irish Dresden continues to produce beautiful porcelain figurines.

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