Copy of Westmeath independent Article printed on January 30th 2009
Creating history with the Athlone Anglers
Paddy and Julia Conway are a unique married couple. They have been popular in their locality of St Kieran"s Terrace/Abbey Road for over 50 years, and live there happily beside the banks of their beloved River Shannon. Paddy is a superbly fit and healthy 91 years of age this year, and his lovely wife, Julia, is almost 87 years old. This couple live in a mobile home close to the banks of the Shannon, and behind their former home in St Kieran"s Terrace, which now belongs to their youngest daughter, Joan.
Paddy was born in Westport Quay in Co Mayo in 1918, while World War 1 was still in progress, and he began his love of fishing off the seashore there and around Clew Bay, as a young boy. He lived on a large farm there, where his father was the boss, and ran it like it was his own land. Paddy also worked on the farm, alongside his other siblings. However, things took a sad turn for Paddy when his father took ill, leaving a 15-year-old Paddy and his brother Dominic to take the cattle boat to the UK to look for work. It was there that he served his time as a plumber in Blackburn, which is a skill that would lead him to constant work throughout his later life.
Meanwhile Julia had also been born and reared in the west. In her case, she was a native of Oughterard, Co Galway, and she was brought up on the family farm. 'There was great weather that time, and we went to school two and a half miles in our bare feet, and it was a different time to today,' said Julia. 'I wouldn"t count the farm work I did hard, because it was the way I was brought up. We cut our own turf and we milked the cows and brought them all in after school, and we had hens and ducks, but I left it all when I was 14 years old.'At that age, Julia went to work minding young children in Taylors Hill in Galway city for a lady doctor and her husband, who was a solicitor. 'They were lovely people and I met Paddy in the city,' she said.
At this stage, Paddy had returned to Ireland because World War Two had broken out, and young men were being conscripted in the UK, so Paddy, like many others during the Emergency period joined the army here in Athlone. He worked his way up in the army, to become an NCO instructor in the Command Training Depot in Athlone. For a few months, Paddy was stationed in Renmore Barracks in Galway.Paddy and Julia met in Eyre Square, Galway, one afternoon, when Julia went into town with her friend, who was going out with a soldier. Paddy claims that Julia was going out with another soldier, but he also says that he took her off him! However, he also went to Oughterard to ask Julia"s father for her hand in marriage.
So the West of Ireland couple got married six months after they met, and at the end of the Emergency, Paddy left the army.The couple"s first home in Athlone was a bedroom in a house in Glenavon Terrace, where they proudly say that they had a tea chest for a table, and used to fry a pan over an open fire. They next got a small house in Gallows Hill, and then they moved to Lakeview Terrace, and then to Assumption Road, which brought them nearer to the River Shannon, which became a major part of the Conway"s family life.Paddy and Julia crossed the road to St Kieran"s Terrace to set up their permanent family home, where they raised ten children, and also sadly lost a son, Joe.
Their ten children are: Dominic, Marie, Michael, Frances, Manus, John, Teresa, Paddy, Joan and Tommy. All of the boys followed in Paddy"s footsteps, by joining the army in Custume Barracks.The family had great neighbours in St Kieran"s Terrace, including the late old IRA man, Will Dowling.'We have always had great neighbours here and there were a lot of railway people living in the terrace,' said Paddy. 'But you knew everyone in the terrace, and you could go into any of the houses, and I used to love to sow the garden.'Paddy was an early member of the Athlone Anglers" Association in the 1950s, where he made great friends, like Paddy Cunniffe, Eamon Wykes and Frank Hughes.Because he was trained in the UK as a young lad,
Paddy set up as a plumber in Athlone, and found it nearly impossible in the beginning to get work. But he worked on houses in the Batteries and Ascius Villas, and when he really got started at the work, it started to grow and grow, until he was so busy he could hardly rest. He carried out plumbing work at the religious brothers house in Ballykeeran, and also did all the plumbing in the convent in Summerhill.'I was working so hard at the plumbing, that one night I went with Julia to the pictures in the Adelphi Cinema and a flash came up on the screen that I was needed to work,' said Paddy laughing. He carried out plumbing jobs in the local hotels; the Shamrock Lodge, the Prince of Wales, the Royal Hoey, and the Hodson Bay, and after some years three of his sons, Manus, Dominic and Michael joined him in the work. He also did plumbing on many of the big boats on the River Shannon, including on the legendary "pub on a boat" - the Shannon Queen, which was a popular nightspot in Athlone.Julia didn"t see much of Athlone"s nightlife until her children were reared, but the family used to spend their holidays camping on the islands of Lough Ree, and the couple admitted that they never went anywhere else, except maybe to their homelands of Galway or Mayo.'I had a big shed for my row boats, but years ago you could leave fishing rods and everything in the boats,' said Paddy.
Paddy got Julia involved in fishing and she loved it so much she became the only female member of the Athlone Anglers Association for many years. She was also the first woman on the committee of the Anglers Association. One time she caught a 27.5 lb pike and also caught hundreds of other smaller pikes over the decades.The last time that Julia and Paddy took part in the competition, some years ago, their son Dominic caught a 32.5 lb pike. All of their sons and many of their grandchildren, and great-children have taken up fishing after developing a lover for it from listening to them.'Fishing is the best thing you can do, and anyone would enjoy it once they take it up,' said Julia.
Paddy and Julia were part of the Anglers Association committee that made the decision to protect the pike in the lake. The Anglers did away with the gaff (hook) and introduced the hand net. They made a decision to net the fish, which led to the more modern "catch and release" decision, that if a pike is caught, it is released back into the water. If it weren"t for that early decision made by the Conways and others on the committee, there would be a lot less pike in Lough Ree today.The controversial rod licence row, which took place from 1988 to 1990, had Paddy and Julia Conway at the centre of it. They took part in every march and protest throughout the country connected with the unpopular rod licence. 'The local anglers were stocking the lake, and still they were being asked to pay for a rod licence,' said Paddy. 'But Athlone got great support everywhere, and we supported other places.'Paddy and Julia are a great team and an inspiration to their family and to their friends. Their involvement in their adopted town runs deep.