Copy of westmeath Independent article published on 2nd March 2011

 

An Athlone man's River Journey

 

One of Athlone's familiar faces has a good CV of charity work, and continues that work in different ways, all while continuing his lifetime hobby of fishing and boating on the River Shannon. His first memory is of living beside the River Shannon, which is close to the home he shares today with his family in St Kieran's Terrace, Athlone.

Tommy came fifth of a family of 10 living Conway children, although he lost his baby brother, Joe, in infancy. Tommy was born in 1948, and is the son of Paddy and Julia Conway, and both are still hale and hearty at the ages of almost 93 and 89 respectively. His nine living siblings are Dominic, Marie, Michael, Frances, Manus, John, Teresa, Paddy and Joan. During Tommy's childhood, behind the forty St Kieran's houses, every one of the large gardens was sowed with vegetables. "It was all hedges between the gardens, and no fences, and of course the gardens went down close to the Shannon," said Tommy. "Ned Naughton used to deliver bread in a horse and cart in the terrace, and we used to get a bucket to clean up after the horses, and we'd have great fertiliser for the ridges in the garden."

Tommy left the Marist at fourteen years of age, to go working as a messenger boy, first in Sheffield's jewellers in Church Street, and then in Broderick's Bakery. His father, Paddy, was a plumber, and in the 1960s was working in 'hotel flotels', which were boats on the River Shannon, which provided holidays for tourists. Paddy got Tommy a job on the boats, and he worked there for seven years going up and down the Shannon. He worked his way up until he became a skipper on the St James weekly cruise boat. "We got people from America, England and France on the boats, and we travelled to Rooskey, to Carrick-on-Shannon, and all the way up to Lough Key," said Tommy. "We were based at The Strand, and they were big 80 foot boats. Some of the boats would go to Lanesboro, and Clonmacnoise."

Living beside the River Shannon, and with Paddy and Julia as his parents, meant that Tommy was destined to grow up to be a fisherman. Paddy was an early member of the Athlone Anglers Association in the 1950s, and Julia fished alongside him, and became the only female member of the association and on the committee for many years. Tommy started fishing in the mid-1960s, for perch only, at the back of St.Kieran's Terrace, but he later got into fishing pike up in the lake. His parents had a boat, with an 8 h.p. engine. It was in the late 1980s that the Conway family got involved in the Rod Licence Row on Lough Ree, and the local anglers association felt that they didn't need a licence to do something which they were already doing, ie, stocking the lake with fish! The family took part in every march and protest throughout the country connected with the unpopular Rod Licence. "We were stocking the rivers anyway and we were then asked to pay as well, but we won in the end, but it was a very tough time for everyone," said Tommy.

All of the Conway lads joined the army in Custume Barracks, just like their father Paddy, and Tommy was no exception, and joined up in 1971. He was made a corporal a few years later, and he found the army a great career. "You wanted for nothing in the army, and when I joined the pay wasn't good, but when PDFORRA got active, the army men were treated like they really should be treated," he said. He left the army in 1997, and went working as a plumber for a short time with his brother Michael, and then went working in Tesco, at the old Athlone shopping centre. Tommy met his wife, Noreen, in the late 1960s at the time of the showbands in the Crescent Ballroom. Interestingly they also danced at a disco on Friday nights in the Athlone Apparel. Tommy was a proud card-carrying member of the Apparel social club. Noreen is a member of the Nally family from Altown, and the couple live happily in St Kieran's Terrace, close to the home of Tommy's childhood. The girls, Louise, Sabrina, Michelle and Joanne, and their extended families make up the happy clan.

Tommy is well known for all of the above, but over the past decade or so; he is more fondly known by his friends and peers for his charity work. It began in Carey's Bar doing a 'Take Your Pick' on the floor of the pub, for 'Conquer Cancer'. He was also involved in fundraising of £100 for the cutting of an early record of local Eurovision stars, Joseph and Donna McCaul. "Then I got involved in doing a 'Fun Factor', in Careys that everybody that entered got a sponsorship card, and we raised a lot of money for Belarus," he said. The most bizarre and hilarious charity stunt which Tommy pulled off was a plan for himself and a couple of recognisable names to walk Naked from the old Athlone Shopping Centre to the Town Bridge. "I asked many people if they would do it, to get their reactions, and I managed to get sponsorship, and most said there was no way they would do what I suggested," he said laughing. However he secretly revealed his plan to a few and got some volunteers. Tommy legally re-named a King Charles spaniel dog 'Naked', with a new dog licence. He got tags for 'Naked's' neck, and proudly walked 'Naked' across the town, from the old Athlone shopping centre to the Town Bridge, all for the Special Olympics. Tommy also ran twice in the Ladies Mini marathon in Dublin. Although he wasn't given a medal for his performance in the marathons, he was interviewed by the late Gerry Ryan for 2FM on the matter. He also did some fund-raising for the successful centenary celebrations of St. Kieran's Terrace street party in 2005. "A lot of people from the terrace were involved in that, and we did bag packing throughout town, and it was a great day with a lot of activity and a lot of people from the past came back to the area for the party," said Tommy. Since last July,

Tommy has also gotten involved in the Ravens Marching band, and they have 50 young members. "Colm Bolger is the man behind the band, and €10,000 was spent on equipment, with no child having to provide anything for themselves, because we fundraise for everything, and it's a worthwhile charity to provide a music hobby for local children," said Tommy. Tommy praises Bridget Carey of Carey's Bar, and many other local people for their charity work in Careys, including his wife, Noreen. "Without Noreen's support I wouldn't be able do any of it, because she did a lot of preparation behind the scenes, that was not seen," said Tommy.

"A lot of people would love to do things for charity, and don't know how to go about it, but I would advise them to make a small donation to start off." Tommy was also involved with St. Kieran's Community centre committee, and worked with the children of the area with indoor soccer, pool, darts and badminton pursuits. In seven years of working in charities at Careys Bar, Tommy and his friends has helped collect €100,000, and was part of the Tesco Ireland nationwide team who collected €1 million for Childline. -