Civil Defence Commander receives ‘Local Hero’ award

Date Published : July 25th, 2017    Published By : admin

The difference in being a volunteer is your wife, your partner or your family, they are the people who allow you to do these things, and the whole secret of being a volunteer is to make up for that disappointment.

Kildare County Council’s Municipal District in Athy recognised four of its ‘Local Heroes’ at a special ceremony on Thursday night last at the Clanard Court Hotel in Athy, Co. Kildare. 

The Mayor of Kildare, Cllr Martin Miley (Junior) officiated at the awards and Cathaoirleach Aoife Breslin presented each awardee with a specially commissioned piece.

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Mayor of Kildare, Cllr Martin Miley Jnr. Photo: (Tony Keane for Kildare Civil Defence)

One of the recipients of this worthy award was Civil Defence Commander Jim Byrne. Other recipients of a ‘Local Hero’ award was Jessica Harrington, Sr. Rosarri and Labour TD Jack Wall.

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Local Heroe's: L-R: Cmdr Jim Byrne, Jessica Harrington, Sr. Rosarri and Labour TD Jack Wall
Photo: (Tony Keane for Kildare Civil Defence)

Jim (Jimmy) Byrne joined Kildare Civil Defence on 12th October 1996. As a volunteer with a national organisation which is the second line of support and defence to the frontline services, and who assist at major incidents and serious accidents, and are a vital support to the community in times of crises, Jimmy always got great value from his role in the Civil Defence and gave back to it, even more, while assisting at many duties of various levels and disciplines, right across county Kildare and within the region.

Jimmy was appointed Commander of the South Kildare unit of the Civil Defence on 23rd March 2009.  

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Main Photo: (Declan Keogh / Emergency Times) Inset: (Tony Keane for Kildare Civil Defence)

The Athy unit of Kildare Civil Defence was a Boat based unit primarily and grew strong through the years. The River Barrow and the Grand Canal are two waterways which run through this heritage south Kildare town.

Within Athy’s operational area, the river, stretching from Monasterevin through Athy and onto Carlow, and the canal which flows from Vicarstown in Laois to Maganey at the three counties of Kildare, Carlow and Laois,  provide Jim Byrne and his team in the civil defence with a long and wide route for training and exercises, but along these water also came many tragedies over the years which required the civil defence to search for long hours, over many days to recover the bodies of unfortunate souls.

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Civil Defence training at Ardreigh Loch, Athy. Photo: (Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)

A trained Coxswaine, Jim is also a member of the Welfare Unit and is a Drill Instructor.

In recognition of his work, Jimmy was invited to march in the 1916 commemorations in Dublin last year, along with 110 other volunteers from Civil Defence branches from around Ireland. Only recently, Jimmy received a medal from the Minister for Defence for his role in the 1916 Commemorations.

Speaking at the ‘Local Heroes’ ceremony, Aoife Breslin, Cathaoirleach of Athy Municipal District council described the work he does with the Civil Defence and other groups as wonderful and tremendous. ‘On a cold winters night, during severe weather and heavy flooding, Jimmy and his colleagues are out in the community making sure we can still get around safely and looking after the old and frail. They make sure homes have sandbags, people can get in and out of their homes or businesses and, much to their disappointment, students can get to their school in heavy snow. The Civil Defence are also active in so many other areas within their community.’

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Civil Defence volunteer Scott Browne and Cmdr Jim Byrne during the floods on Kildare road, Athy in November 2009
File Photo: (Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)

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Civil Defence volunteer Pamela Hyland and Cmdr Jim Byrne at flooded school, Athy in November 2009
File Photo: (Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)

In her address, the Cathaorileach added ‘Outside of his work in Kildare Civil Defence, Jimmy worked in the Batchelors factory in Athy for 42 years. During this time, he served as a SIPTU Shop Steward for 29 years. Jimmy is also involved in numerous organisations, including the Athy Town Promoters group, and is one of the key people behind the highly successful St. Patricks Day parade. He is on the Tidy Towns committee, Darkness into Light, Kildare County Show, the National Ploughing Championships and the North Barrow Branch for Inland Waterways.’

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Jim Byrne, Tidy Towns volunteer. Pic (Tidy Towns Athy)

Darkness into Light
Athy Community Garda Sean O' Mahoney, Civil Defence Officer Patricia McNeela and Commander Jim Byrne at Athy Community College during 'Darkness into Light' 2017
Photo: (Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)

‘Not alone can Jimmy find time for all these duties, he is also very active and involved in his own local community of Kilberry, outside Athy working with people to keep the area neat, tidy and safe. The question has to be asked, where does Jimmy get the time for all these activities. I often think that Jimmy can be in two places at the one time, and sometimes it seems like that. Jimmy Byrne is a person who is highly committed and dedicated to the people and communities if the Athy MD area.”

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Cathaoirleach Aoife Breslin presents Commander Jim Byrne with specially commissioned award
Photo: (Tony Keane for Kildare Civil Defence)

Speaking to the audience, Commander Byrne looked back over the years and all the great things which took place in ‘this vibrant town of Athy’.

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Photo: (Tony Keane for Kildare Civil Defence)

‘It’s a great honour for me to receive this award here tonight, especially when you are sharing the stage with three legends; Jack Wall, Sr. Rosarii and Jessica Harrington. I want to thank all my colleagues in the Civil Defence who are here tonight, those from Darkness into Light, the Rowing Club, the O.N.E who we work very closely with, Tri-Athy and the Athy Promoters Group’.

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Darkness into Light group Photo: (Tony Keane for Kildare Civil Defence)

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O.N.E. Group Photo: (Tony Keane for Kildare Civil Defence)

Jim’s family were present on the night and as a surprise to him, his brother John flew in from the UK to attend the ceremony.

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Jim Byrne and Family
Jim Byrne and his family. Photos: (Tony Keane for Kildare Civil Defence)

In his speech, Jim said the whole secret of being a volunteer was to make up for the disappointment to families. ‘I’d also like to thank my wife and my family. The difference in being a volunteer is your wife and your family, your partner and your family, they’re the people who allow you to do these things, and they are the people that you must disappoint from time to time, because , aside from the searches for missing people, or the emergency call-outs which no one can plan for, other duties almost always crop up around birthdays, communions, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or general family occasions, and the secret of the whole thing of being a volunteer is to make up for that disappointment.’

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Photo: (Tony Keane for Kildare Civil Defence)

Jim Byrne has always had a great passion for what he does in the county and with the groups he networks with. ‘What I do, I love doing and the Civil Defence are the love of my life too, along with all the rest of the people that I work with. They’re like a second family to me. I like what I do, I like helping people, and that’s what I’ve done all my life.

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Kildare Civil Defence Officer Patricia McNeela with Commander Jim Byrne and volunteers.
Photo: (Tony Keane)

'When I was in SIPTU, I met a great lady and she was the one who led me all the way to being a volunteer, and that was the great Hilda Breslin. I worked very closely with Hilda right down the years’.

Jim concluded his speech with a push for the people of Athy to make their town great again. ‘When I was growing up in Athy many many years ago, Athy was a great vibrant town, and if we all put our shoulder to the wheel, we’d make this town great again.’

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Invited guests at Clanard Court Hotel, Athy. (Photo: Tony Keane)

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