A true citizen of Athlone and a man at ease in his surroundings
Nobody could be more at home in Athlone town than Paddy Mannion. He lives about 50 yards from where he was born in 1934, and its close by where he went to school, and also walking distance from where he spent most of his working life. Paddy's maternal and paternal families were immersed in Irish nationalism and then in the pro-Treaty side of the argument during the early years of the twentieth century. His mother, Kathleen, came from Wolfe Tone Terrace and she had a brother, John Blaney, who was a Company Captain in the 3rd Battalion of the Athlone Brigade of the IRA. During Easter week 1916, he was with a party of men who headed for Shannonbridge ready to defend it until Roger Casement's rifles arrived. After spending time in Wakefield prison in the UK, he served with the local IRA unit in Athlone until the Truce, when he joined the Free State Army. He was killed in July 1922, during an ambush near Ferbane. John Blaney's name is etched on the IRA monument at Custume Place, Athlone. Paddy's father, Jimmy, was a very popular Athlone man, who originally worked in Athlone Woollen Mills, and was a member of the Irish Volunteer Forces. Following the signing of the Treaty, he too joined the Free State Army. Jimmy was one of the first soldiers who marched into Athlone Barracks with Sean McEoin and George Adamson. Jimmy had also worked on the building of SS Peter's and Paul's Church after leaving the army. When Paddy came along in 1934, Jimmy and his wife Kathleen (nee Blaney) were living in Lucas Court, and two years later, when the Gentex factory opened Jimmy got a job there. The Mannions were involved in Gentex from the day it opened in 1936, until it finally closed its doors in 1984, when Paddy then found himself out of a job. However, many years previous to that, Paddy was an only child going to the Marist School, (in a classroom, which was situated on the site of the current Athlone Little Theatre) when the Athlone Woollen Mills fire hit, in November 1940. "I remember that night like it was yesterday, and it was a night I'll never forget," said Paddy. "We were minding my baby cousin, and the factory horn went off. The Battle of Britain was going on at the time, so everyone was absolutely terrified and thought it was an air raid here." It was the middle of the night, and the Mannions left their house in Lucas Court, and saw the street as bright as day outside. The Athlone Woollen Mills was on the site of where the Radisson Hotel is today. "Everyone was advised to evacuate their houses, and we went down to my aunt and uncle, who were the O'Mahoneys in Wolfe Tone Terrace," said Paddy. "We gathered our belongings and threw everything into the pram. My baby cousin was put in the pram, and I was standing on the back of it, and then we all ran, and looking back I could see the sparks and hear the explosions." The family house in Lucas Court got a battering from the Woollen Mills fire, and in later years, Paddy's parents applied for permission to have it re-roofed and refurbished, and this was turned down by Athlone Urban District Council. They were then offered another house of their choice, and it was in the adjoining St Francis Terrace that the family chose to live in 1957. Paddy went to school in the Marist National and laughs today about "it being like something out of Charles Dickens, because there was neither light nor heat in there, and in winter evenings it was hard to make out what was on the blackboard". Paddy's first teacher was Miss Kearney, and he also was taught by Miss Beesty, and then by Mr Timmy O'Brien, who lived in Garden Vale. Brother Patrick was the principal of the Marist National at the time, and it was he who instilled in Paddy, his lifelong love of music. "He used to tell us about Mozart and classical music, and I used to hang on his every word, and I sang the Latin Mass in the boys choir," said Paddy. "Today I can listen to anything from Beethoven to the Bothy Band, and now that I'm retired I go to afternoon summertime concerts in the National Concert Hall in Dublin." Paddy went to the Athlone Vocational School when he left the Marist and stayed there until he completed his Group Certificate, which followed a course of shorthand, typing and business studies which qualified him to do clerical work. By the time Paddy was an adult in the early 1950s, jobs were very scarce in Ireland, and so he followed his father, Jimmy into Gentex, where he started on 47 shillings per week. "I never wanted to go into Gentex, but your parents called the shots in those days, so I admire youngsters today, who decide their own destiny, but still there was a scarcity of jobs around then," said Paddy. Paddy started worked in the BDF (bleaching, dying, finishing) section in Gentex, and stayed there for a month, when he was then transferred to the Work Study Dept. Here Paddy had to work on methods of how the jobs were done throughout the factory. He stayed there until the late 1960s, when he moved into the job of Production Planner. "I was responsible for everything that went into the production line, and had to work out the number of machines and amount of material that was needed and had to forecast delivery dates," he said. "Also when Gentex closed their spinning department, we had to shift stuff from half way around the world, and were at the mercy of weather and shipping strikes and you could have machines lying idle and customers didn't want to know about that, but wanted things done on time." Gentex closed permanently in 1984, at a time when Paddy had a wife and young family. Paddy met Angela Reynolds from Fardrum, in a record shop, 'The Music Box' in Gleeson Street, Athlone. The couple got married in 1962, and went to live in Paddy's St Francis Terrace home, where they still reside today. Paddy and Angela have four grown up children, Caroline, Shane, Gail and Eoin. "I go to mass six mornings a week because I was so grateful I got a good job when I left Gentex," said Paddy. Paddy took on a campaign of seeking work during the recession of the mid-1980's, and did two management courses with Anco/FAS, and did seasonal work in the Department of Education. He followed this up with doing security work in both Dunnes Stores shops in Athlone, and also at the head Post Office. He learned job seeking skills such as CV planning and interviews at FÁS and had his name down for all types of employment in the town. "When I was 56 in 1990, word came that there was a job in the Tax Office, and after the interview I got a letter to say that I got the job of Paper Keeper, which had me responsible for incoming mail and all outgoing mail," said Paddy. "I sometimes had to fill in on the switchboard, and it was all a doodle compared to my last job in Gentex." Paddy retired from the Tax Office in 1999, and has some regrets about that, by saying, "it's wrong when a person in their health has to retire". Paddy has seen and being through a lot of Athlone history in the twentieth century and beyond, and advises anyone who finds themselves unemployed or retired, to focus on something new in their lives. "They should also take anything that comes along, like FAS courses," he said. "I go walking for about four miles a day, and that's why I feel so fit, and it's a wonderful thing to do with your time."