Nine decades living in the rural and urban midlands, encompassing many years in the Army, award-winning music playing, and a career in politics, is now documented in a new Athlone book, Stepping Back in Time.
The book is the culmination of Austin Berry’s life to date, and while he has been continuously resident in Athlone since 1965, the Offaly native first came to town in 1948 to join the Construction Corps in Custume Barracks. Stepping Back in Time will be launched by Mary O’Rourke, the former Athlone TD in the Shamrock Lodge Hotel on Sunday May 6 at 6pm.
O’Rourke was in national politics at the time when Austin was in local politics, and her own autobiography, which as yet, is untitled, will be launched later this year.
Austin was born in a two-roomed cottage in Clonshanny, near Ballycumber, in 1930, and grew up in an idyllic ‘To School Through The Fields’ world, where children went to school barefoot, and families worked and lived off the land. His family lived a life of no television, and no back door in their thatched cottage. They had candlelight at night, and only heard the sound of silence outside.
Austin spent many proud years in the Army, and following his retirement, he joined the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and women (ONET ), and is currently one of their national vice-presidents.
Politics came later in life for him, and he won a tough local election to join Athlone Town Council as an Independent in 1999, when he was 69-years-old. Five years later, he beat off competition from political party members to retain his seat for another term.
Through it all there was the music. He is one of the country’s highest rated mouth organ players, and won four All-Ireland championships for playing the instrument. Austin, who also taught children mouth organ music, has been chairman of Athlone Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann for almost 20 years.
He also experienced life abroad by working in the UK in the 1950s, and in the 1990s he toured Belgium and Switzerland as part of the Athlone music group, Sin E. Austin has also clocked up many television and radio appearances of music over the years, including a well-received Late Late Show appearance.
However despite all the joys, sadness has visited Austin many times over the past number of years. He was married to Maureen for 44 years before her untimely death in 2002. They had seven children, but his second son, Paddy, died in 1999 following a traffic accident. He lost three brothers, a sister, a niece, and a great-granddaughter in the past.
Following his retirement from the council in 2009, Austin toyed with the idea of writing a book, and recounting the many anecdotes of his interesting life at home and abroad. His granddaughter, Lisa Nicell-Treanor co-wrote the book throughout the snow filled winter of 2010 up to early this year, and they are both very proud of Stepping Back in Time - Austin’s Autobiography.
Austin’s story has it all - laughter, joy, sadness, and nostalgia and the limited edition book will be launched in the Shamrock Lodge Hotel, on Sunday May 6 at 6pm.