Stamping his mark on Athlone
He has a lifetime of work as a designer of buildings which has changed the face and image of the town of his birth. Noel F. Heavey has been self employed all of his life, and has more than made his mark in his hometown. He comes from an Athlone family made up of fourteen Heavey siblings, and they were brought up in their home, Rothbury House, which was on Brideswell Street, close to St Patrick's Terrace. Noel was born into the family home in 1934, as the tenth youngest of the fourteen. "I was the seventh son born, and people used to knock on the door looking for a cure for ringworm, which I never had but I'm still working on it," said Noel laughing. Noel's father, Andy Heavey, was an industrious man, who had a shop where the Ulster Bank is now, and he also had a pub at the top of the Friary Lane, and later he was part of a partnership that started the Garden Vale Cinema, with Stephen McCrann of McCrann's drapery shop, Marydyke Street. "When I was growing up, I used to play football with all the boys in St Patrick's Terrace, like Bomber Greene, Johnny Joyce, and Jackie Quinn, and a great friend, Jackie McLoughlin, but I wasn't up to their standards," said Noel. Noel played handball when he was in the Marist College, and went on to play basketball and table-tennis at UCD. Noel has one strong left arm only, and it has never been an issue in his sporting, working or personal life, and he credits that to his parents, family and the Marist Brothers in Athlone. "If you treat somebody like an invalid, that's what they will be, but I remember Br. Hubert in the Marist putting me in a play one time as an officer loading guns, and I was a one-armed bandit, but he put me in there for that reason," said Noel laughing. "I had and still have great affection for the Marist, and we were all really encouraged to do all kinds of sports." Later on in life, Noel was Chairman of Sports for Persons with a Disability, and represented Ireland on a European committee on sport. Noel plays one-armed golf, and is a champion of the sport, despite modestly claiming otherwise. However he has won three Irish one-armed championships as a golfer, and was their World President over two terms, and he brought the One-Armed golfing championship to Athlone three times. Noel is one of the country's best known architects, and was busy in his career for more than 40 years before his retirement. When he settled on the idea of studying architecture in the 1950s, there were just a few architects in the midlands. "I went to UCD because I liked drawing, and from Day One I enjoyed it, and qualified in 1959," he said. Noel graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture, and was a member, and then an elected fellow of the Institute of Architects of Ireland. As the 1960s took off, Noel started to make a name for himself, by designing buildings which were emblematic of their time, like a ballroom in Kiltimagh in 1962, near the beginning of the showband era. Noel was never short of work, and his first office was in Church Street, over a chemist which belonged to Michael Heavey, (of the fruit merchant family), who was a relation of Noel's. The first main designing job for Noel was the Catholic Church in Horseleap. "It was the early 60s, and there wasn't much money, but the work on the church led to more work for me," he said. "You always had to design down towards a budget, and everything had to be simple and straightforward, and I did things like a reconstruction of the parish church in Clara, and worked on the parish house in Kilbeggan. I was good at budgeting, which was the most important part of the work." However Noel still managed to design some impressive structures during his early years, like Coosan Church in the early 70s, and the close proximity buildings, the Marist College, Our Lady's Bower, and Athlone Vocational school. He also designed St. Aloysius College, and did work on the Royal Hoey Hotel, and on the factories, Ericsson and Cable and Wire. "Coosan Church was a tight budget building, and the walls are nine foot high, which is the same as a house, and we put up steel trusses, and plasterboard through the trusses, creating the pyramid shapes now visible in the church," he said. In the late 60s, Noel designed Tormey Villas for Athlone UDC, and worked on other popular estates like Ashley Crescent and Retreat Park. Noel had moved office to Garden Vale at this stage, and for the purposes of attracting much needed staff, he also opened an office in Grovenor Road, Dublin. He spent two days a week in Dublin, and the rest of the week at his Athlone office. In Noel's time, there were no computers for design, and he always worked with the drawing board and T-square and other hands-on instruments. Athlone Regional Sports Centre was designed by Noel and he had previously designed the regional sports centre in Sligo, which was also very successful, and a good preparation for Noel, in designing his hometown centre. "I worked with my son David on the sports centre in Athlone, and he did a lot of the detailed design, like with the foyer," said Noel. Noel, and his wife, Margaret, who comes from Killeshin, Carlow, are now married 48 years, and have one daughter, Darina, and three sons, Andrew, David and Conor. "I also have a niece, Carol-Ann Heavey who swam for Ireland in the Olympics, and in the world championships, and I talked to her a lot and she told me what was popular in swimming, which I brought to the different facilities," said Noel. He is proud of the work that he did on Our Lady's Bower approximately forty years ago, but is doubly proud of the fact that his architect son David worked on the newly refurbished building. "I had designed the original building, which was new at the time with its open planning, and David superbly integrated the original with the new," said Noel. Noel was trustee and president of Athlone Town FC from the late 70s and into the 80s, and he recommended the buying of the old Bower school for the soccer club. "Social employment scheme workers at that time worked hard on the building inside, and we had a bar and it was a good facility," he said. "One time, the club owed about £150,000 and I suggested a raffle idea, which was new at the time, of having tickets for £250 for twelve cars. The draw was very successful and paid off our debt. The raffle also included plans to raise £100,000 to buy land to build around ten pitches in Coosan, with a main stadium for the town, but despite much planning, it didn't come to pass, which I always had great regrets about." Noel had great involvement with the Athlone RTC and was originally appointed to design the college and a community school, on a site which had been bought in Roslevin. However the site was just five acres, and when Noel started his initial sketch plans, he saw that there was no way the small ground would work for the education facility. "You always have to allow for expansion, and I knew five acres wouldn't work, and that a lot more was needed," he said. The VEC advertised for alternative sites, and Noel was instructed to evaluate their suitability, and reported that none of them met the requirements, and he recommended an alternative site, owned by the Dept. of Defence. Following negotiations, agreement was reached to buy the 24-acre Dublin Road site. As President of Athlone Chamber of Commerce, Noel was on the board of the management of the RTC for the first two five-year terms. In the 1980s, Noel won the National Rehab Board All-Ireland design competition for housing to accommodate persons with disabilities, and the NRB entered his design for a similar European completion, which he also won. Noel went back to UCD in recent years to attend the Sarah Purser lectures on the history of European painting. He regularly visits major art galleries throughout the continent, and is a friend of Covent Garden, the Paris Opera, and the National Concert Hall. No article of this size could encompass all of the works of an Athlone native such as Noel Heavey, but it is simply true to say, he has more than made his mark on his hometown.