07 Aug 2022

Alice Lennon was a community activist and a lover of local heritage

Kilkenny Kilkenny

Rest in Peace

A woman who helped to preserve Callan’s cultural heritage and vindicate the rights of senior citizens has passed to her eternal reward.

Alice Lennon (née Lakes) was born and raised in Graignamanagh, where she worked in her teenage years before moving to Callan. She and her husband Jim acquired a farm at Mackstown.

Though committed to farming, Alice soon found herself drawn to social activism and developed a keen interest in all aspects of local heritage and antiquities.

She was a longtime member of Callan Heritage Society and was for years the driving behind Callan Enterprise Group, which sought to enhance local sites deemed to be of cultural, historic, or religious importance. In particular it was determined to clean up and restore ancient or neglected cemeteries in the district.

The advent of Community Employment Schemes in Ireland in the 1980s proved a godsend to Callan Enterprise Group, because, in addition to providing urgently needed personnel to undertake restoration work, the schemes boosted employment in the area and raised local morale.

Alice directed work at the cemeteries in Tullamaine and Coolagh. Within weeks of the FAS team commencing operations a huge improvement was evident in the ancient places of burial. Visitors converged on Tullamaine and Coolagh to examine headstones that for years had been obscured by moss and erosion.

Alice also ensured that details of inscriptions were recorded for the benefit of enquiring relatives of the deceased.

Alice then turned her attention to St Mary’s in Green Street, Callan, a medieval church and documented National Monument. Here again, the CE workers under her direction did Callan proud, transforming the grounds of the time-honoured place of worship. An achievement for which Alice will never be forgotten was the restoration of Cherryfield Famine Graveyard at Bauntha Commons, just outside the town.

Cherryfield, so-called because cherry tress once grew there, was a mass-burial site during the Great Famine of the 1840s. People who died in the dreaded Callan Workhouse were conveyed there in ramshackle carts to be heaved into hastily dug pits, often without even a prayer being offered.

The site remained part of Callan’s dark past until Alice, in consultation with officers of Callan Heritage Society, decided that this part of the town’s legacy should no longer remain hidden. Her dedicated team of FAS workers set about their task with even greater zeal than that displayed on the other projects.

A stone cross was erected on the site and at the gated entrance a beautiful plaque was attached in remembrance of the countless thousands of innocent men, women and children buried at Cherryfield.

Today, Cherryfield attracts people from all over the world who wish to see this place of homage to famine victims everywhere. It is thanks in large part to Alice Lennon that Cherryfield is accorded the respect and reverence it deserves as a monument to a pivotal episode in our history.

When not engaged in restoration projects or attending to the farm with Jim, Alice could be found visiting people in the locality who lived alone and who looked forward to the prospect of a chat about current events and life in general with Alice. She set up a group of volunteers whose task would be, she promised, “to ease the pain of loneliness.”

Alice was one of the first directors of the Callan Community Voluntary Housing initiative, established in 1988. She made a point of personally ensuring that occupants of these houses, located at Canon Kennedy Court, were looked after, calling to them for her “daily chat.”

In 2009, Alice was among those honoured by The Irish Council for Social Housing when she received an award for her community work. She was one of eight shortlisted nominees for the award selected from thousands received nationwide.

Alice was a devoted Christian, never missing Mass, and one of her anecdotal gems was that “confession is the best form of counseling”. She believed that even people not terribly religious benefited from hearing the priest’s forgiving voice in the confessional, since nobody was perfect and everyone had something to confess!

Alice never lost touch with her native Graignamanagh, calling back frequently to see relatives and to drop into Duiske Abbey, the 13th Century Cistercian monastery that she found to be a “haven of peace in a restless and fearful world.”

Alice’s life was shattered when her husband Jim died, but she beared the loss with great dignity, as she did the illness that was eventually to take her from this world.

She died on February 22 in the loving care of the nurses and staff of Tinnypark Nursing Home. The Requiem Mass was at her beloved Duiske Abbey, where many of those who remembered her exemplary life of sacrifice and care turned up.
Deeply regretted by her loving family, Marie, Thomas, Sean, Peggy, Theresa, Kathleen and her sister-in-law Brenda Lennon.
Predeceased by her husbands Jim Lennon, Ballyduff and Jim Lennon, Freynestown and her brothers Billy, Vincent and sister Sheila.

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