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Recalling Athlone's mineral water tradition

Wednesday, 27th January, 2010 5:03pm

Recalling Athlone's mineral water tradition

Paddy Martin has, with pleasure on his part, dedicated so much of his time and energy to the Athlone town football club, that the club recently saw fit to honour him for that fifty five years of dedication.

But that is only a small part of an Athlone life which also encompassed driving thousands of miles each year in his work for the Athlone Mineral Waters company.

Paddy started life according to himself "in a little two-bedroomed house at the back of Sweeney's corner, beside a blacksmith's forge, belonging to the late Andy Lynam".

His father, also called Paddy, drove a hearse with black horses for Geoghegans Undertakers, which was on the corner of Garden Vale and Mardyke Street. Paddy Martin Snr came from Brittas, Tubberclair and his wife, Bridget was a Groarke from Tully. There were four siblings in the family, Mary, Bridie, Jimmy and Paddy Jnr, and all are hale and hearty.

Paddy Snr got a job as caretaker in the Bower Convent, and the family went to live in a house on the grounds there, where the Martin siblings grew up.

Paddy Jnr, who was born in 1932, remembers that there was no electricity in the house until the late 1950s, despite it being on the cusp of the town.

"We had a Tilly lamp in the kitchen and we thought it was heaven, because once you lit the wick, it was like a bulb, and it was powered with paraffin," said Paddy. "But we used a candle in the other rooms."

The nearby Bower lands included an orchard and a field of crops and Paddy's father worked there to produce food to feed the students, nuns, and borders of the convent, during the years of World War 2.

Paddy went to school in the Marist National, which was then situated beside St Mary's Church, in the building which is now the Knights of St. Columbanus Hall. He remembers teachers of the time like Miss Kearney, Miss Beesty, and Mr Tim O'Brien.

"After national school I went to the Marist Secondary and money wasn't plentiful then, and there was no free education, but my father used to throw in a pony load of black turf for the Marist brothers, which paid for me to be in school," he said.

"I left secondary school after doing three years, and my father heard of a job going in Athlone Mineral Waters. So on April 1st, 1949, I was interviewed by manager, John Maher and I started work the following Monday."

Paddy remained with Athlone Mineral Waters (which later became Dwans Minerals) for 46 years.

Paddy had met his wife, Ella Connolly from Athlone, when she worked for a short time with him in the mineral plant. Paddy and Ella have been married fifty-four years, and had four children, Eamon, Fiona, Helen and Padraig.

Tragically, Paddy and Ella lost Fiona to an untimely death, following a very short illness in 1990, when she was just 30 years old.

"I have been very proud of all my children, and the lives and successes that they have had, and hopefully will have in the future, and we have seven lovely grand-children, and we also have a lovely great-grandchild, Moya," said Paddy.

"We greatly miss our daughter Fiona, who was always there for everyone. Mine and Ella's closest friends, would be Roddy and Breda Hogan from Retreat Park, who never leaves us out of parties and such."

Paddy worked hard in the mineral factory, which was situated behind St Kieran's Terrace, Athlone. He started work at 8am, washing and labelling bottles, but in winter time, he had to work with a blow lamp freeing up frozen pipes. On such mornings he mightn't get to free up the pipes until 9.30 or 10am, because of the length of piping involved.

Around 1953, Paddy got a job driving a small truck selling to pubs and shops within a ten-mile radius, but in winter time, it was possible that the bottles would burst in the truck.

While he was working at the mineral factory, Paddy and a few Athlone people organised a memorial plaque for the Dublin grave of Athlone tenor, John 'Count' McCormack.

The group took a day off work and went to Dublin to erect the plaque on the grave as a mark of respect, and while it was a quiet occasion, the group felt very proud. "We were ordinary people from town, who got a fundraising thing going, and had all the dance bands of the town playing at a concert, and we managed to raise the funds for the plaque," said Paddy.

"In 1956, I got a job as a sales rep to a much further area and I was given a van to drive into the towns of counties Roscommon and Leitrim and even as far north as Cavan," he said. "I got back every evening bar Friday evening, when I didn't get home till Saturday."

To get a very popular and large order in Co. Leitrim, Paddy fondly remembers walking across a field and hill in the dark, and into a valley to find the owner of a dancehall. In the 50s and 60s, dancehalls only served minerals and not alcohol.

"In the 1970s, Liam Dwan became my boss, and he was outstanding, and would ask nobody to do what he wouldn't do himself, and appreciated the effort his workers did for him. So much so that his ethics and honesty influenced me, when I was advising my family when they were growing up," he said.

Paddy travelled in all weathers, and doesn't find the current harsh winter very difficult.

"I drove through hard snow, and while there was very little traffic, you could still hit a wall, and the yolk you were driving in could let you down," he recalled. "I have millions of miles put in, but never had a serious crash. I travelled mostly in the west and north, and the big businesses for the minerals were in the towns and at the carnivals."

The main menu of drinks from the company at the time Paddy was selling was orange, lemonade, lemon soda, and they even had a cola drink called Cafa Cola, but when Coca Cola came into Ireland that ended the local drink.

"There was a great product seller called 'Lep' which was a green mineral, and it was so popular, it should have been kept on the market," said Paddy. "It was great for the thirst, and one cafe used to sell it a lot, with ice cream on the top."

In the past few months, Paddy was honoured by his fellow Athlone Town FC members, as the Clubman of the Year 2009. He was awarded a piece of Athlone Crystal as part of the honour.

"That was my greatest thrill, to get that honour from the club," said Paddy

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