Turtle Bunbury

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Vanishing Ireland 4

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Naas, County Kildare

Works Manager and Compositor & Printer

Born 1931 & 1927

(Photo: James Fennell)

 

MICHAEL KANE & SEAN WHELAN

‘There’s not many who’d do fifty years with the one company nowadays,’ reckons Michael Kane. ‘But I was fifty-one years in the Leader. That’s a long stint, eh?’

Michael was fourteen years old when he joined the staff of the Leinster Leader in 1945. The weekly Kildare newspaper had been founded some sixty-five years earlier by Patrick Cahill, a Home Rule activist.

‘I spent the first seven years serving my time as a compositor for a weekly wage of twelve shillings and sixpence. That was good money that time but it was a long week too. Forty-four hours, nine to six, Monday to Friday. Four hours of a Saturday morning. And two hours extra on Wednesday because the paper went to print the next day. This was in the hot metal days, before computerisation and all that. Newsprint was very scarce after the war. It all had to be imported from northern Europe. Apart from the weekly newspaper, there was a jobbing side of the business too, making all sorts of books. We did a lot of work for Maynooth College too, so we were always busy.’

George Kane, Michael’s father, grew up in Swords, County Dublin. He often talked of how, as a boy, he said goodbye to his eldest brother John Patrick Kane when, for reasons unclear to the present-day Kanes, the boy was dispatched to County Leitrim to be raised by a grandmother. John Patrick subsequently emigrated to America where he ceased contact with Ireland and began to fade out of the Kane family annals.

Many years later, Michael and his daughter recruited an American genealogist who discovered that John Patrick had found work driving electric trains on the New York to New Haven railway line. Although he had died at the age of eighty-seven, they managed to track down his daughters.

‘It was a proper Irish-American story of connections breaking and getting mended again,’ says Michael. ‘His daughters told us that, when they were young, all their Irish friends had uncles and aunts all over the place. But they never had any relatives until we found them!’

George Kane became a Civic Guard and was initially stationed in Bagenalstown, County Carlow. He later married a sister of Jack Higgins, the iconic Kildare footballer, with whom he settled at Highland View outside Naas.

Michael, the eldest of the four children, was works manager at the Leinster Leader by the time of his retirement in 1996. ‘And since then it’s been ‘One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus’, like Gloria sang,’ he chuckles.

Amongst the forty or so employees at the Leinster Leader during this time was the printer Sean Whelan who grew up one street away from the Kane family home. Sean’s younger brother Jim was one of Michael’s greatest friends. Jack Whelan, father of Sean and Jim, was a mechanic who played a key role in the breakout of some seventy Republican prisoners from the Rath internment camp at the Curragh during the War of Independence. He subsequently became a driver with the Free State army during and after the Civil War although, like so many of that generation, he never passed on the details of his experience to his children. ‘Brother had been fighting agin brother so there wasn’t much talk about it,’ says Sean.

Many of Sean’s aunts and uncles settled permanently in London. In 1947, Jack also moved to London where he remained for several years.

Sean also headed for the English capital in 1947 to gain some useful work experience. A passionate sportsman and lifelong pioneer, he was just sixteen years old when he started work at the Leinster Leader in 1943.

‘I was sent to London by the Leader when I was twenty years old,’ say Sean. ‘I was on Feather Lane just off Fleet Street for three months, in a school where they taught me about mono-typesetters. I’ll never forget the boat journey over to Liverpool. I was so sick that I lost my suitcase, which was full of eggs and chocolate. I found it eventually and I got to London okay. But the thing that got to me most about being away was that I missed the races at Punchestown. That was the first time I missed them. And the last.’

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All four 'Vanishing Ireland' books are available via Turtle's Amazon page at http://astore.amazon.com/wwwturtlebunb-20

 

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Click here to see a full list of persons interviewed for the Vanishing Ireland project.