Longford Lives: Kevin 'Bunty' Dempsey 'turning chance into good fortune'

Aisling Kiernan

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Aisling Kiernan

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aisling.kiernan@longfordleader.ie

Longford Lives: Kevin 'Bunty' Dempsey 'turning chance into good fortune'

Kevin Dempsey has seen a lot of changes around Longford town since his youth. One of the biggest - for him - is the demise of the corner shop. Photo: Michelle Ghee.

Kevin ‘Bunty’ Dempsey is a resident of St Bridget’s Terrace in Longford town and through his work with Longford Co Council is possibly one of the best known people in the county.

He lives with his wife Cathy in a house that was handed down to him from his father.

Kevin’s grandfather was the original owner of the property when he was afforded it by the local authority back in 1913.

This year Kevin celebrated his 64th birthday and in conversation with the Leader he recalled some wonderful memories of Longford town and county past and present.

His people were cobblers by trade and his wife’s family were tailors - both were much sought after skills when Kevin was a youngster.

“My father was the last man in Longford that could make a pair of shoes, but he emigrated to England around 1962,” he said, before pointing out that there wasn’t a huge emphasis on education when he was going to school, but he did however finish out his national schooling.

“Most people finished school when they were 14 years of age; there was the lucky few who might have went to the Tech for a year or two after that and then they started working.

“I started working just before I turned 16, but one of the first jobs I ever had was a messenger boy for the shops around the town - I was around 11 then.

“I went around the town on a bicycle in the evenings delivering meat and doing various tasks in the shops.”

Just before the Longford town native turned 16, he got his first full-time job at McNally and Whelan’s Furniture Factory, which sadly is long since gone.

It was a big employer in Co Longford at the time and, as Kevin adds, “It would have been a big deal to get into the furniture factory at the time because there was three or four different trades that you could learn there”.

He realised though, after a short period of time, that it wasn’t for him.

“But I had to stay otherwise I was going to be sent back to school,” he laughs.

“Having said that it was a good opportunity and my mother was proud that I got into the factory.

“I stayed anyway - under duress you might say - for six years and then I left.

“I got on the Council then in 1978.”

He says that taking up a position with the local authority was one of the best decisions he has ever made.

“It was the best thing I ever done to tell you the truth, despite the fact that there was massive industry and huge employment opportunities in Longford town in the late 70s and early 1980s,” he continued.

“At the time you had Hanlon's, Longford Tool & Plastic, Founderman's, the textile factory, Burlington's, Lyons Meat Factory, Love Grubs - a factory on the Dublin Road, Fenlon's.”

He says too that in those days in Longford you could walk out of one job and start a new one the next day.

Those opportunities are long gone now,” he laments.

“They are all gone.”

At this stage Kevin has 40 years service given to Longford Co Council and he plans to stay on until his 66th birthday.

Initially, he spent two years labouring on the roads and then a position came up on the bin lorry.

He was beginning to look at other opportunities within the local government office and took the bin lorry position when it came up.

He was to spend another 20 years at that particularl job and it was during that time that Kevin Dempsey became one of the most popular and well-known men in County Longford.

“It was the weather really that made that job difficult - harsh weather conditions made it a lot tougher but we did every town and village in this county and we were as well known in Granard as we were in Lanesboro, Ballymahon and Edgeworthstown,” he adds.

“I enjoyed every day that I spent on that bin lorry - the people I met were unbelievable and to this day I meet people who I first got to know while doing the bins.

“I loved every minute of that job - everyday was different; we met great characters; you obliged people at that time and I suppose we made ourselves very popular as a result.

“What I remember most about that time was the appreciation that people had for the job we were doing.

“There were people out there and I’m not joking you they couldn’t afford it, but they still gave us tips at Christmas. The goodwill we encountered was unbelievable.”

Thereafter, Kevin went back on the roads for a short time and then he took the job as Lollipop man in Longford town.

In 2002 he became assistant caretaker at Longford Co Council HQ on Great Water Street and following Jimmy McCormack’s retirement in 2013, took over at the helm.

He has been in that role since and also plays the part of Santa during the local authority’s festive celebrations at HQ.

Kevin Dempsey has seen a lot of changes around Longford town since his youth.

One of the biggest - for him - is the demise of the corner shop.

“I remember a time where there was two corner shops on St Michael’s Road; there was a shop here where the Council building is now; there was three shops in the Teffia Park area where there is only one now.

“Longford town was littered with shops and Saturday was a big trading day.

“As a young fella I would spend the whole day up the town and the town would be bustling.

“It’s gone very depressing on a Saturday now.”

He recalls too how there was four butchers trading on main street alone while there was at least 10 in Longford town.

“The local abattoir was on Great Water Street and the local butchers killed all the cattle there,” he recalled, before moving onto his involvement in the soccer and GAA.

“We had nothing only football when we were kids and then we had a season for chestnuts, a season for marbles and then in the summertime we swam in the canal.

“Everything was geared around football and especially soccer; but I did play football for Slashers.

“I played in the last soccer game that was ever held on the Fairgreen - our area was playing Teffia Park - and I can remember the bulldozers being there ready for work; it was an U14 game.

“I also remember my mother telling me and my brother that if we won the game she would bring us to Dublin on the train.

“Then after that the football finals were played at the dog track and to get to play there was like getting the chance to play in Wembley.”

He also played in football finals in 1967 and 1968 when he and the team won the Schoolboys Final and the League.

Kevin developed an interest then in greyhounds and has been involved in the sport ever since. As he says himself, there isn’t a dog track in Ireland that he hasn’t been in!

The Longford man also likes a flutter.

“I love to gamble, but I only gamble what I can afford to lose,” he laughs, before pointing out that he is well aware that it can be a big problem for some.

He feels that modern technology has a lot to answer for when it comes to gambling addiction.

“When you gamble you are trying to predict the future, but in reality nobody can do that,” he adds.

“You can have all the aces and still something can go wrong.”

Meanwhile, Kevin lives quietly with his wife in the established St Bridget’s estate in Longford town. The couple’s only child, their son Darren now lives in New Zealand and while they miss him, Kevin says they are happy to see him working hard and living his life.

“Young people are great,” he adds.

“Everyday is a school day.”