Friday, February 16, 2024

'The Black and Tans 1920/'21' and 'The World War 1 Dead of Co. Kildare'

Two important books arrived on my desk in the last week, both of them with listings of men who served our neighbouring country at a time when Ireland was an unwilling part of the British empire. The first book was Jim Herlihy’s latest publication, ‘The Black and Tans 1920 – 1921’, which added to his impressive list of previously published works makes him the outstanding author of policing before and during Ireland’s War of Independence. Subtitled ‘A complete Alphabetical List, Short History and Genealogical Guide’, the book is a complete listing of the 7,684 men who enlisted in the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve, or as they were better known the Black and Tans. The Black and Tans were recruited to compensate for the shortfall in R.I.C. members, resulting from the IRA campaign against the police which forced so many policemen to resign. Between 6th January 1920 and 7th July the following year 7,684 men were recruited in Britain and brought to Ireland to join the R.I.C. Special Reserve. Amongst their numbers were 381 native Irishmen, including 9 from County Kildare, 6 from County Laois and 5 from County Carlow. The Black and Tans, so called because they dressed in black trousers and tan tunics, were initially trained in the R.I.C. Depot at Phoenix Park, but later in the Hare Park Camp on the Curragh before ending up in September of 1920 in Gormanstown Camp, Co. Meath. On completion of their one month training the R.I.C. Special Reserve were transferred to R.I.C. Barracks around the country. Athy, while not regarded as an active rebel town, had a small number of Black and Tans stationed in the old Cavalry Barracks at Woodstock Street. While recruiting for the Special Reserves stopped on 7th July 1921 the members of that force only began to leave Ireland in January of the following year. At least one member of the Black and Tans who was based in Athy remained in the town or later returned, which I do not know, for he married a local girl. The story of the Black and Tans is one which we Irish remember as one of killings and atrocities by men who were a law unto themselves. Jim Herlihy’s book is a comprehensive listing of the men who during the 18 months they were in Ireland suffered 143 casualties. During their time in Ireland they earned the outrage of Irish men and women who regarded them as terrorists. The second book published by the County Kildare Decade of Commemoration Committee is titled ‘Remembrance: The World War 1 Dead of Co. Kildare’. Compiled by Karel Kiely, James Durney and Mario Corrigan it lists the 753 men and 1 woman from the County of Kildare who served and died during World War I. The research for this book has uncovered 9 Athy men not previously identified who died during the war. Three of them were from Offaly Street, two brothers James and Thomas Connell and Joseph Breen. As a young lad growing up in Offaly Street I remember the brothers Mick and Johnny Connell lived in Crampton House opposite what is now the Credit Union in Offaly Street, while another brother Lar lived in Stanhope Street. They were the brothers of the two World War 1 soldiers, James who died on 17th April 1915 and Thomas who died on 9th September 1916. Further up Offaly Street during my youth lived Tom Breen and his family, whose daughter Nan died within the last year or two while she was still living in the family home. Tom’s brother Joseph, a soldier in the Royal Army Service Corps, died aged 32 years, less than two weeks before the end of the war. He was born in Janeville and his younger brother Tom at the time of his brother’s death was living with his grandmother Julia Bradley in Offaly Street. Two other soldiers of whom I was not previously aware are identified as William Dooley of Castlemitchell and his namesake whose brother James Dooley lived at Rathstewart Cottage, Athy. Other Athy soldiers who died in the war but whom I was unaware of until they were included in the new book were 22-year-old Christopher Doran of St. John’s Lane, 33-year-old Michael Davis of Kelly’s Lane and later Chapel Hill, Patrick O’Mara of Chapel Hill, and the Vigors brothers, Arthur and Charles, whose father Charles Vigors was a shopkeeper in Market Square in the 1890s and later. The book lists the deaths of 120 men born in Athy, by far the highest number of any town in the county, the next highest being the Curragh with 67 and Naas with 64. An additional 19 names must be added to Athy’s World War I casualty list, representing men not born in the town but who lived there either when they enlisted or sometime earlier. For many years it was believed that they were on the wrong side of history, that is until Kevin Myers, John MacKenna and later Clem Roche and others wrote of Athy’s men’s sacrifices with pride and gratitude. Here in Athy we arranged the first Armistice Day Sunday Service nearly 30 years ago as part of a weekend of remembrance which featured a seminar in the Town Hall, with lectures by Con Costello, Pat Casey, Kevin Myers, Josephine Cashman and Jane Leonard, followed by a performance of ‘The Fallen’, a voice play of the Great War by John MacKenna. This was the first awakening of an important part of our town’s story and one which now finds another retelling of part of that story in the new book ‘Remembrance: The World War I Dead of Co. Kildare’. Congratulations to Karel Kiely and her colleagues James Durney and Mario Corrigan for a magnificent new publication on Kildare’s World War I dead.

St. Vincent de Paul Society and Athy Lions Club Presidents Everest challenges

During twelve months of lockdown we have witnessed a catastrophic change in the commercial life of our town and district. Local businesses have suffered badly, and business owners and workers alike have felt the financial repercussions of a local economy which is closed down. Families which have always managed to face up to life’s trials now find themselves facing an ever more uncertain future. There is an increasing number of families and individuals experiencing financial difficulties who, for perhaps the first time, have to rely on the charity of others. In Athy we are very fortunate to have an active branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society which, for more than 100 years, has been helping local families and individuals in need. Historically that help was availed of by those whose poverty was the result of long-term unemployment. Today, the Vincent de Paul Society is called upon to help those no longer able to cope financially as a result of the Covid lockdown. Reliance on the Vincent de Paul Society is a new experience for many. Their needs are all the greater as the psychological impact of the national lockdown is felt by parents and children alike. The local branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society is made up of a small number of men and women who quietly and discreetly help local people in need. The demands on their time and on the resources of the local branch are in normal times quite high. However, with the ongoing Covid lockdown demands for help have increased enormously. More money than ever before is required to meet the urgent needs of those in want. Athy Lions Club, recognising the crisis facing many people in Athy and district, have decided to organise a fundraising event to help the St Vincent de Paul Society. Called the Everest Challenge, it will feature an attempt by the Lions Club president, 45-year old Brian Dooley, to ascend 39,340 steps representing the height of Mount Everest. The world’s highest mountain is located on the crest of the great Himalayas of Southern Asia, between Nepal and Tibet. It was believed to be 29,028 feet high when first climbed by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. However, a recent American survey found that it is 29,035 feet high. The extra seven feet will mean a little extra work for Athy Lions president, who will not only walk up 39,340 steps but also descend the same number of steps. He will get no credit for steps descended, but will find a little relief going down before facing into another upward advance. The challenge will start on Saturday, 1st May and continue the next day and into a third day, if necessary, until the target is reached. As I write this Eye, Brian Dooley is practising his stairclimbing techniques to ensure the fitness levels necessary to keep climbing for eight hours on the opening day, and on each day thereafter. It will all take place on the Athy Rugby Club fire escape, which is a sturdy metal stairs, ten feet four inches high, with fourteen steps. The Lions Club president is undertaking this challenge in return for donations which will be divided between Athy St Vincent de Paul Society and Pieta House, which provides counselling to people who are in suicidal distress. Donations can be made online at or at the Everest Challenge site on any of the days the intrepid Brian Dooley is “stepping it out”. I would hazard a guess that there is not another Lions Club president in Ireland who could match our Lions president’s vision and stamina. If and when Brian successfully makes the 39,340 upward steps, and reaches the summit of the virtual Everest, it will mark an extraordinary personal effort by him. We will all wish him well on the day, or days, of the climb beginning on the 1st of May. In the meantime, remember the two charities which will benefit: St Vincent de Paul Society, Athy and Pieta House. Your donations, no matter how small, will help both organisations continue to offer assistance to all those in need during these difficult times.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Whites Castle and the early years of medieval Athy

Last week’s Kildare Nationalist carried a news item concerning White’s Castle and an announcement of the forthcoming auction of what was described as a 2.5 acre development site in the centre of Athy. It was an unusual coincidence which highlighted on the same paper two important elements of Athy’s past history, even if the development site description might not immediately signal any historical significance. But in fact the site located off Emily Square has a history which predates that of White’s Castle by over 150 years or more. The site was correctly identified in the notice as being located within the old ‘Abbey lands’, a reminder that a few years ago it was the site of the Abbey, a fine 18th century house which was pulled down overnight. The name came down to us over the years because it was the site of the first Dominican Abbey or Friary founded in 1257. The French speaking Anglo Normans who sailed up the river Barrow and opened settlements at various locations in the Barrow valley founded one of their most important settlements at the Ford of Ae. They built a fortified castle at Woodstock around which the medieval village of Athy developed. Within a few years the Crouched Friars founded a monastery on the west bank of the River Barrow in the area still known to this day as St. Johns. A few years later the Dominicans founded their monastery on the opposite bank of the river in the area which the auction notice called the ‘Abbey lands’. The Dominicans occupied their monastery until the Reformation when Henry VIII suppressed the Irish and English monasteries and sequestered the Abbey property which was leased to Martin Pelles, constable of the castle of Athy. The Abbey consisted of a church with a bell tower, a chapter house, dormitory, kitchen, rooms and two halls in addition to an open cloister, a cemetery, an orchard and a garden. The buildings were in time destroyed and levelled to the ground leaving only, I believe, traces underground. The Abbey site has an important story awaiting to be told and it is a story which can only be fully explained after a comprehensive archaeological survey of the site has been carried out. Following the Battle of Ardscull on 26th January 1316 when the Scottish troops under Edward Bruce defeated the Anglo Normans, the Book of Howth records that ‘of the Scot side were slain Lord Fergus Anderson, Lord Walter More and many others whose bodies were buried in the Abbey of the Friars Preachers Athy.’ Also buried there were the Dominican Friars who in the first 300 years of the Abbey’s existence lived, worshipped, and prayed in Athy’s Abbey. This important historical site needs to have an archaeological assessment and investigation carried out as a matter of urgency. White’s Castle recently purchased for the third time in recent years by a private individual without any interest being expressed by Kildare County Council, has been awarded funding under the Community Monuments Fund. I understand the purpose of the funding is to help protect the historical building and facilitate access to it by the general public. White’s Castle is an iconic building at the heart of our town which stands not alone but is twinned with the adjoining Crom a Boo bridge to provide a symbolic representation of the town’s ancient history. Picture Athy in your mind’s eye and almost certainly images of the castle and the bridge will come into view. For so long at the heart of town life in Athy the Castle, as a garrison fortress, as a prison and as a police barracks has witnessed the passing of so many different generations stretching back over 600 years. I had hoped that White’s Castle would again become an integral part of community life in Athy with its development as a heritage centre/museum to complement the Shackleton Museum in the former market house. I don’t know what plans the new owner has for the castle but the successful application for Community Monument funding is an encouraging sign that private enterprise might yet take up the challenge which Kildare County Council and Athy Town Council so abysmally failed to do in the past.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Soccer Clubs in Athy

The game of soccer in Athy has a history dating back to the mid 1920s. The first club, known as ‘The Barrow Rovers’, was started by men working on the Barrow Drainage Scheme which had its headquarters in Athy. The club apparently went into immediate decline with the ending of work on the Barrow drainage. Three years after the ending of World War II Athy Soccer Club was revived. Matt Tynan of the Leinster Arms Hotel is credited with bringing together the men who would guide the club over the next 12 years. It was during the second coming of Athy’s Soccer Club that the club obtained use of the former hockey club pitch which is still in use by the Soccer Club. In the summer of 1952 the Soccer Club organised its first street league which attracted teams representing Barrack Street, Pairc Bhride, Leinster Street and St. Joseph’s Terrace. The street league created a lot of interest and attracted a large number of spectators to the final between Barrack Street and Pairc Bhride, which the former won. At the end of the 1959/’60 season Athy Soccer Club for the second time went into terminal decline. For the next 4 years the club was inactive. A public meeting was called for the Town Hall on 3rd December 1964, following which Athy Soccer Club was organised for the third time in forty years. Brendan O’Flaherty was elected chairman, with Denis Smyth as secretary and Mick McEvoy as treasurer. Committee members elected included Jim Dargan, Ernie Henderson, Mick Godfrey, Brian O’Hara, Mick Aldridge, Mick Eaton and Paddy Chanders. The club revived in December 1964 continues to enjoy much success and has in excess of 300 members. It caters for male and female players from senior level to youth teams. The two photographs accompanying this Eye are of soccer teams, one of which is definitely an Athy Soccer Club team. It features Jim Dargan as the non team member standing at the back on the right. The famous Golly Germaine is the goalie in the centre back row. Can readers give me the names of the other players and the year of the photo? The second photograph has Bob Kelly of Geraldine Road standing on the right at the back. His presence suggests it’s an Athy team photo. Can any reader help me identify the team and its members?

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Tos Quinn / Dr. O'Neill's medical practice

The relentless march of time each day brings changes to our lives. Some for the better which are welcomed but there are also many unwelcomed events which leave us saddened. I have just come away from St. Michael’s cemetery where for the second time in a week I have attended the funeral of a friend. My friend and colleague, Tos Quinn, died suddenly and unexpectedly on Sunday morning and with his passing Solicitor colleagues have lost a man who practiced law in the best traditions of the Irish legal profession. On the day of his death I spoke of his qualities as a person and as a Solicitor and how his passing had caused widespread regret amongst his Solicitor colleagues and members of the Bar. ‘Tos’s courteous manner made him one of the most popular Solicitors in the county, but his was not a popularity which prevented him from fearlessly pursuing his clients’ best interests. He pursued the justice of his clients’ cases with vigour, but at all times with honesty and without any hint of deception. His integrity was acknowledged by all of his colleagues.’ The legal profession and the medical profession have in recent times found themselves on opposing sides in the Courts of Justice. Not a week goes by without media coverage of a medical negligence case. The practice of medicine has become a minefield for litigation, but despite this local communities have come to expect, even demand, fairly comprehensive legal and medical services at local level. Looking back over press reports of the mid-19th century it appears that local doctors, but apparently not local Solicitors, then had the time and leisure to get involved in local politics and indeed membership of the local town commissioners. One such doctor was P.L. O’Neill of Geraldine House and it is remarkable to reflect that his great grandson, Dr. Giles O’Neill, is the fourth generation of the O’Neill medical family to provide a G.P. service in Athy. Dr. P.L. was followed by his son Dr. Jeremiah whom I believe practiced for a while out of Geraldine House before transferring to that part of the Abbey off Emily Square subsequently occupied by the late Barry Donnelly Solicitor. It was there that Joe O’Neill was born and when he qualified as a doctor he practiced and lived for some years in the house on the other side of the Abbey before moving to Athy Lodge on Church Road. In my young days I recall Dr. John Kilbride who had succeeded his father Dr. James Kilbride and who practiced from Athy Lodge. Athy Lodge had once been home to local Solicitor John Lord and his family before they emigrated to Canada in the latter part of the 19th century. Dr. Joe O’Neill who graduated in 1943 took over Dr. John Kilbride’s medical practice in 1959 and lived and worked in Athy Lodge until he retired in 1991. I remember Dr. Joe with great fondness and immense gratitude for he saved my son’s life with a speedy prognosis of a burst appendix and a swift despatch to a Dublin hospital where his young life was saved. Dr. Joe also diagnosed, luckily at an early stage in my case, the need for an appendix operation which I had in Naas Hospital under the care of surgeon Gibson. Dr. Giles O’Neill graduated in 1975 and after practising in Dublin and England returned to join his father’s practice in 1981. The following year a new surgery was built on the grounds of Athy Lodge where Dr. Joe and Dr. Giles practiced and where in recent years Dr. Giles has been joined bv Doctor Raymond Rowan. The medical practice at Church Road closed its doors for the last time on Friday last and transferred to premises on the Carlow Road which were first occupied some years ago by Dr. John Macdougald. There the medical team of Dr. Giles O’Neill and Dr. Raymond Rowan will be joined by Dr. Anthony Reeves who until now has practiced on his own account at Convent Lane next to the Town Library. When I look back over the past 39 years during which time Tos Quinn and myself shared the same Court bench in the local Courthouse sitting side by side immediately behind the prosecuting team I can’t but recall the men and women of the local legal and medical professions. All of them with varied attainments, but amongst them stand out as Solicitors the late Tos Quinn, Cyril Osborne and Barry Donnelly and medical practitioners Dr. Joe O’Neill, Dr. Brian Maguire and the recently retired Dr. John Macdougald, all men who displayed the finest qualities of those two ancient professions while working amongst the local community here in Athy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Teddy Kelly

Long forgotten memories flooded in on me as Teddy Kelly’s remains were lowered into the grave at the new St. Michael’s Cemetery. Memories which prompted me to recall that in that very same place where mourners were gathered Teddy and I had played as youngsters. For Teddy Kelly was my friend from the time we were old enough to be let out to play on our own. We were neighbours in Offaly Street, went to school together, firstly in St. Joseph’s and then to the Christian Brothers school in St. John’s Lane. As youngsters in Offaly Street, Teddy and I spent every free hour of the day in each other’s company. I would call to his house at No. 27 if he had not already called to my house and we would head off for the day. Not going very far however, as our horizons were fixed mainly on the nearby park which we claimed as part of the fiefdom of the Offaly Street boys. Our ambition to go further afield saw us starting to dig a hole inside the main entrance gate of the park, as we later told our parents so we could reach Australia. That hole, which bore witness to our youthful efforts, was to be seen for many years thereafter. Offaly Street in our young days was a vibrant community of young families and our friends included Willie Moore, Tom Webster and in the early years Andrew and Basil White before they went to live in Athgarvan. The leader of our group was Teddy’s brother Leopold, a year or so older than the rest of us. Leopold was an adventurous fellow, whose life sadly ended in February 1967 just two years after he was ordained for the priesthood. We younger fellows followed Leopold with unquestionable loyalty, and I recall the great excitement which greeted his announcement that we were to build a den in the park. We marched to Flemings sawmills in Chapel Lane where Leopold had negotiated the acquisition of timber off cuts which we brought back to the park. Several trips were made to Flemings sawmills before sufficient timber was on site to complete the job. When completed it was our pride and joy for only two days for on the third day when we arrived in the park it was discovered that the den had been removed. The Duke of Leinster’s agent had obviously decided that the ‘whipper snappers’ from Offaly Street were not to squat on his Lordship’s property. I have written of Teddy Kelly in previous Eyes on the Past, the first many years ago to mark his 40 years working in the asbestos/Tegral wages office. That Eye appeared as the last article in Volume IV of Eye on Athy’s Past. The back cover of that book featured a few photographs, two of which were of a youthful Teddy Kelly with the writer and some others. In keeping with his youthful adventurous nature Teddy was pictured sitting on one of Bill Cash’s horses, while a second photograph featured Teddy and his faithful dog Toby with his brother Leopold, Micky Moore, my brother Seamus and myself. We must have been 10 or 11 years old at the time the photograph was taken. In that article and in a later article written to mark his retirement I wrote of the adventurous exploits of Teddy and myself and the other lads from Offaly Street. We were past masters in finding adventure and heightened pleasure in what we describe as ‘releasing over ripened pears and apples from local orchards.’ Ours was an innocent age when youthful escapades courted danger, none more so than the day Teddy said to me ‘I dare you’. That was not an infrequent test of one’s ability to do something or other but on this day it was a dare I have never forgotten. It was to walk on the parapet of the railway bridge from one end to the other as it passed over the River Barrow and the Grand Canal. I did the walk, oblivious to the danger given that despite summer visits to Bummeries I had not as yet mastered the skill of swimming. It’s strange what one remembers after 65 years or so – the dangerous parapet walk, the earlier attempt to reach Australia and my first bottle of stout given to me by Teddy’s mother. The bottle of stout was believed to be an appropriate tonic for a sickly youngster, but in my case it helped to nurture a lifelong dislike of alcohol. Teddy and I shared classrooms for 14 years from 4 years of age onwards. We shared fond memories of Sister Brendan in St. Joseph’s School and admiration and gratitude for a wonderful teacher in the Christian Brothers School. Bill Ryan was that teacher who unlocked the world of possibilities for the pupils he taught. When we reached the Leaving Certificate class there were just 11 of us left from the 50 or more who started with us in St. Joseph’s School. Seared in my memory are the faces of those who shared school days with Teddy and myself but who for whatever reason did not get the opportunity to achieve what they were capable of. Friendships forged in my youth are an important part of my life and are treasured for the memories they gave me. When I passed the biblical three score and ten, I learned to appreciate more than ever before the value of those early friendships. Teddy Kelly was one of my first friends and his recent death leaves me with unforgettable memories of the happy years I spent in Offaly Street and the wonderful people who lived there. Sadly, the day before Teddy died another older neighbour, Tommy Tuohy, also passed away. Teddy and Tommy are part of the memory bank of my youth and their passing closes another chapter in the life of Offaly Street of old.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Athy Workhouse Minute Book 1892/'93

Images of Charles Dickens’s characters came to mind as I studied the Minute Book of 1892/’93 in which the Master of Athy’s Workhouse recorded the decisions of the Board of Guardians and his reports of the day to day running of the Workhouse. The Athy Union Workhouse catered for Athy town, Castledermot, Ballyshannon, Monasterevin, Stradbally, Ballylinan and all areas in between. The Union area had a population in 1881 of 27,961 and on 15th October 1892 the Workhouse had as inmates 96 men, 100 women and 29 children. A separate heading in the Minute Book showed 88 persons under medical treatment in the Workhouse Hospital and 1 person in the Fever Hospital which was a separate building [now housing the Galilee House of Studies] which was also under the control of the Board of Guardians. Under the heading ‘Lunatics and Idiots’, 7 inmates were recorded as living in separate wards from other inmates. A total of 32 ‘night lodgers or casuals’ as they were described, were accommodated during the week, with 12 casuals comprising 7 men, 3 women and 2 children in the Workhouse on the date that the Master made his weekly return. Given the recent report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission I was particularly interested to see what the Minute Book recorded about women and children in the Workhouse. The first reference I found was the Master’s report on five children whose continuing presence in the Workhouse was questioned by the Board of Guardians. He reported that on 12th July 1892 twins were admitted to the Workhouse with their mother who died soon afterwards. As to two other illegitimate children, one of them was hired out of the Workhouse but was obliged to return due to sickness and in the meantime the mother left the Workhouse. Another child had since left ‘after her mother claimed her at harvest time’. Bridget Roberts, an inmate of the Workhouse, sought the Board’s approval for some clothes for her child who was also in the Workhouse. Strangely her application was refused. The action of the Board contrasted with two acts of generosity noted in the Minute Book. Local man F.J. Minchin gifted three pounds and ten shillings to provide ‘a treat for the inmates of the Workhouse and the infirmary’ while Lord Seaton of Bert, a member of the Board of Guardians, gave two pounds and a quantity of oranges ‘to provide comfort’ for the same inmates. I found reference to the ‘offences and punishment book’, maintained by the Workhouse Master and in which he noted in December 1892 that Bridget Roberts was guilty of cursing and swearing on three occasions following which she was incarcerated in the Workhouse cell on each occasion. This would appear to be the same woman for whose child the Board of Guardians refused clothing. The Board of Guardians directed that she be prosecuted at the local Petty Sessions with Mary Fleming, another inmate, who refused to obey the orders of the Workhouse officers. The local Petty Sessions presided over by men, some of whom were also Board of Guardian members, frequently heard complaints by the Workhouse Master against Workhouse inmates, but especially those referred to as casuals or night lodgers. On 25th January 1893 twelve casuals were each sentenced to 14 days hard labour, and a week later 3 casuals appeared before the local magistrates. Two were sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. Inmates who refused to work as directed by the Workhouse Master were also prosecuted. One such prosecution involved inmate Patrick Hackett who was described as ‘an able-bodied man’. Hackett apparently not only refused to work, but had also assaulted the Master of the Workhouse. He was sentenced to three month’s imprisonment. The Local Government Board was in the meantime pressing the Athy Union to take action in relation to children who were in the Workhouse without their parents. The Minute Book records payments made to several named women for ‘nurse children’, indicating that young children were fostered out by the Workhouse, at what age and for how long the records do not state. There was a form of contract entered into with the nursing mothers, as I find a reference to a Local Government Board letter which claimed that ‘the agreement used in Athy Workhouse for orphans and deserted children was not in accordance with the prescribed regulations’. An interesting entry in the Minute Books refers to the P.P. of Moone, Rev. Edward Dukay who wrote to the Board of Guardians recommending that ‘the child Doody be given out to nurse to Edward Timoney of Ballitore’. The Board agreed to do so. The Workhouse children attended the Workhouse school where the school mistress was Miss Conroy. During the latter part of 1893 Miss Conroy was absent for an extended period due to illness. The Reverend Mother of the local Sisters of Mercy offered to make a nun available to give ‘religious and industrial instruction’ for two or three hours every day. At the same time she regretted that ‘owing to want of accommodation in the Workhouse convent she could not place a sister in temporary charge of the Workhouse school.’ The Board of Guardians later agreed to provide the necessary accommodation. In May 1893 the District School Inspector visited the Workhouse School in Athy and reported: ‘I visited for the purposes of examining the pupils for results, ….. 23 pupils were present, 15 boys and 8 girls ….. On the occasion of my visit there was no timetable, none of the Commissioners rules or regulations, no pupil’s programme, in fact the school seemed utterly devoid of any furnishings that would indicate that it was a National School except the desks.’ The last entries in the Minute Book for the week ended 4th May 1893 shows that there were 39 children in Athy’s Workhouse, of whom 7 were under 2 years of age, with 10 children between 2 and 5 years.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Arts Council Grant and the development of the arts in Athy

The Art Council’s announcement of a grant of €450,000 over a period of three years to help the development of creative opportunities for people of all ages in Athy was welcome news for the South Kildare town community. Athy’s rich music culture and its development over the years is a recognisable part of community arts which owes it’s success to community and individual initiatives. Equally important as one looks back over the years was the part drama played in the social and cultural life of the local people. In it’s current development plan Kildare County Council commits to facilitating the delivery of social, community and cultural infrastructure to meet the needs of the people of Athy. The Council identified the local Heritage Centre, now the Shackleton Museum and the Arts Centre in Woodstock Street as two important components in developing the arts in Athy, both of which occupy important places in the cultural life of the town. Both centres were born of local initiatives and have continued to develop, largely due to continuing community wide involvement and support. The following is part of a submission made on behalf of the local Arts Centre in support of the grant application to the Arts Council. ‘Athy Arts Centre was developed as a necessary part of the emerging cultural infrastructure for the town. The townspeople’s involvement in the arts was in the 1940s and later channelled through participation in local dramatic groups, either as performers or as members of audiences attending plays and musical shows in the Town Hall and St. John’s Hall. St. John’s Hall is no more, while the Town Hall is given over exclusively to the Heritage Centre/Shackleton Museum. The opening of the Arts Centre in Woodstock Street twelve years ago was seen as an essential requirement to meet the needs of the local community for a cultural facility in the town. Since then the Arts Centre has hosted exhibitions, plays and musical performances with local and visiting artists. In addition, the Arts Centre has been recognised as a useful facility for emerging artists/bands in which to practice and rehearse. It has become an important element of the town’s cultural stream, joining the library and the museum in a triumvirate of cultural facilities readily accessible to the general public.’ Over 35 years ago UNESCO commissioned a study of cultural policy in Ireland and the subsequent report noted the narrow ‘arts’ definition of culture and the task facing cultural policy makers of recognising that culture is a dynamic force to be developed in and by all the people through education as well as cultural development at community level. In other words, art must identify with community involvement in music of all types, drama, dance, literature and not just the visual arts. The training and nurturing of creative and performing artists must be seen as an important part of the recently announced grant, but hopefully some amount of funding will be made available for arts related physical infrastructure, without which the development of arts and the cultural needs of the community may not be satisfied. Community arts requires local initiatives supported as needs be by state agencies and this grant provides a very real opportunity for Athy to further extend access to the arts, especially through educational programmes. The hope is that the Creative Place Grant Scheme will make a major contribution to the cultural life of Athy over the next three years and for many years into the future. The Irish Humanities Alliance, as part of the consultation on National Cultural Policy initiated by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, made a written submission in 2015 to the ‘Culture 2025’ discussion document. Pointing out that Ireland’s international reputation is predicated on its cultural achievements in literature, drama, poetry, music and the arts in general it suggested local authorities such as Kildare County Council have a ‘distinctive role in fostering the cultural life of communities’. The creative funding grant awarded by the Arts Council which is to be administered by Kildare County Council is acknowledgement of the local authority’s key role in assisting and nurturing local initiatives in relation to cultural activities. Development of the arts must come from community-based initiatives involving local people and should not be seen as something imposed from the top, whether from government agencies or local authorities. Far too much centralisation has weakened local communities, but this Creative Place funding gives a real opportunity to the local community in Athy to develop cultural education and training programmes designed to increase local involvement in the arts and cultural activities in general.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Recovery of another Athy Workhouse ledger

When I was asked by the Eastern Health Board almost 30 years ago to research and write a history of St. Vincent’s Hospital and it’s predecessor, the Union Workhouse, I found to my dismay that the Workhouse records had been destroyed some years previously. The loss of that primary material was regrettable and at the subsequent launch of the book in St. Vincent’s Hospital in June 1994 I pointed out the need for a local archive where business and organisational records could be preserved for study by future historians. It was a call which went unheeded, despite the appointment of a county archivist some years later by Kildare County Council in conjunction with Wicklow County Council. Unfortunately that appointment lasted for a few short years and the position of a county archivist for Kildare has remained vacant since then. Some years after the publication of ‘150 Years of Caring – A history of St. Vincent’s Hospital’ I was contacted by a local man who was in the same class as myself during our school days in the local Christian Brothers school. He worked in St. Vincent’s Hospital for many years and one of the duties assigned to him by the then Matron was to incinerate a pile of old ledgers which were haphazardly stored in a room of the original Workhouse building. Many hours were spent in consigning the old ledgers to the hospital furnace and in doing so invaluable records of the Workhouse period were lost forever. Not all however, for as he bundled the ledgers into the furnace, he retained a few as a memento of a dark period in Irish history. The Workhouse wards opened in January 1844 to accommodate 360 adults and 240 children but were unable during the worst months of the Great Famine to accommodate all those who sought refuge from hunger and disease. To alleviate overcrowding two auxiliary Workhouses were opened, one in Barrack Street and the other at Woodstock south. At one period during the Great Famine over 1,500 men, women and children were inmates in the local Workhouses. When my school friend contacted me, it was to tell me of having kept some of the Workhouse records and over time those same priceless records were one by one passed to me. They can now be found in the local history section of the County Library in Newbridge. The pity is that only a few Workhouse ledgers were saved from the hospital furnace, but there is a possibility that further Workhouse ledgers are in private hands in and around Athy today. My reason for expressing that hope is because within the last few weeks another Workhouse ledger, found in the home of a deceased lady unconnected to my former schoolmate (who is also deceased), was recently passed to me. I am currently in the process of examining that ledger and extracting whatever historical detail I can use before I pass the ledger on to the County Library. In the meantime if anyone has any documents of any kind relating to Athy’s Workhouse could I prevail on them to donate them to the County Library in Newbridge. Returning to my efforts to write a history of St. Vincent’s Hospital and the earlier Workhouse I had forgotten that at the launch of the book I made an appeal for the Eastern Health Board to make funds available for the erection of a suitable memorial in St. Mary’s Cemetery so that, as I was reported in the Nationalist on 10th June 1994, ‘those forgotten people who lie there can be shown the respect and dignity which was denied to them while they were alive.’ It’s a call I have repeated recently, this time calling on Kildare County Council to erect a memorial to those unfortunate men, women and children who died in the Workhouse, the later County Home and the nearby Fever Hospital. Included in those to be remembered will be the eight victims of the fire in Athy’s Workhouse on 11th February 1858. The following press report of that incident is a sad reminder of times past. ‘In the early morning of 11th February a fierce and destructive fire broke out at the Athy Union Workhouse, resulting in the loss of eight lives. The fire was discovered in the Matron’s storehouse at 4.00 a.m. and in less than an hour almost the entire right wing of the building was a sheet of flame, engulfing the schoolroom, warehouse, cooks and school master’s apartments and the boys dormitory. The ringing of the alarm bell brought a gathering of towns people to the scene who assisted in subduing the blaze. A fire engine played water on the rear of the building, while copious water was poured from a ladder placed at the front. After the pumps failed from being overworked, water had to be carried from a canal some distance off. Despite these exertions, a loud cry arose that several persons were still in the building. A rush was immediately made round to the place indicated and several men ascended a staircase down which rolled dense volumes of smoke. They brought down one after another eight bodies, all dead – five adults who were suffocated by smoke and three small children charred to cinders. The scene in the yard was heart rending. The shrieks of women tearing their hair in grief, the cries of children, and the general lamentation heard amidst the falling ruins and blazing timbers, constituted a spectacle that few would wish to witness.’

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

State Minister visits to Athy Museum Society

Last week’s visit by the Minister for State in the Department of Heritage and Local Government to the Shackleton Museum was a welcome acknowledgement of the importance of the museum redevelopment project. Work on redeveloping the museum will begin early next year and on completion will provide a very important addition to the cultural landscape of Athy. The Shackleton Museum, with the Community Library and the Arts Centre in Woodstock Street, comprise a cultural infrastructure for the town of Athy which will hugely contribute to the future growth and development of the South Kildare town. It is a major achievement for the Directors of the Heritage Company that 3.1 million euros has already been committed to the project. Both the Irish government and Kildare County Council have come together to make this finance available and the Heritage Company will shortly announce fundraising initiatives to raise the balance of the money. The Minister for State, Malcolm Noonan, arrived in Athy at 10am and after brief introductory remarks was shown through the Town Hall building by Grainne Keane, Architect and Ronan O’Flaherty of the Museum Design Team to walk through the proposed layout of the Shackleton Museum. Following the building tour, the Minister announced that the government intends to commence discussions on signing the Antarctic Treaty. This was very welcome news as at every Shackleton Autumn School for the last 20 years the question of Ireland’s involvement in the Antarctic Treaty has been raised. Presentations on the issue have in the past been made to government ministers, but unfortunately due to changes in government Ireland has not yet become a signatory to the Treaty. With the Minister’s announcement the long-awaited decision of the Irish government will hopefully see the Antarctic Treaty signed and might we expect the signing to coincide with the centenary commemoration of Ernest Shackleton’s death on 5th January next year? As the Minister for State met locals in the back square last week, crowded around Emily Square, both front and back, were the Tuesday market stalls. The colourful scene was the subject of complementary remarks by the Minister who appreciated the social value of the weekly influx of traders and dealers to our town’s square. Athy’s ancient market rights go back to 1515 when King Henry VIII gave the Town Provost the right to hold a market in a place chosen by the Duke of Leinster. The area subsequently known as Market Square and now Emily Square was chosen as the market site. In later years Athy Town Commissioners and subsequently Athy Urban District Council acquired the market rights as successor to the Town Provost and the Borough Council and by the same succession rights the market rights are now held by Kildare County Council. Despite the Minister’s engaging and welcoming words regarding Tuesday’s market, the market scene presented as an untidy and somewhat shambolic one. I know the former Urban District Council were asked some years ago to consider drafting market bylaws to regulate casual trading in the town. A possible legal obstacle presented itself at that time when a case was taken in the High Court against Kilkenny Borough Council’s attempt to regulate the market in their city. However, that case concluded with a decision favourable to the Borough Council. The High Court decision was subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court, but that Court affirmed the earlier decision which would seem to clear the way for local authorities throughout Ireland to implement the terms of the Casual Trading Act of 1995. With plans to redevelop Emily Square now is the time for the Council to consider passing market bylaws which would help improve the appearance of the town’s Tuesday market. Some local authorities in the UK provide stands and canopies which they set out on market days and rent to stall holders. This is something Kildare County Council might consider as a means of improving the town market. I talked to two stallholders last week and both of them expressed support for a similar scheme in Athy. One a trader from the South East explained how a 5am start was necessary to ensure that she gained her usual pitch before locals parked their cars in the square. If as happens in many other towns car parking was prohibited from midnight on market day life would be so much easier for the stall holders and market byelaws would be more acceptable to them. Markets should be colourful, interesting events and Kildare County council could do much to ensure that Athy’s weekly market is a vibrant addition to the commercial life of the town. The reordering of Emily Square which is at the planning stage cannot be regarded as completed unless and until Kildare County Council take steps to regulate and improve the market. The market can be an important part of the regeneration of the town’s centre which hopefully should benefit hugely from the opening of the outer relief road. Incidentally, the Tuesday market is not the only authorised town market. In the latter part of the 19th century Athy Town Commissioners approved the holding of a second weekly market every Saturday in the town square. Some years ago what was called a farmers market was held on Sundays in the square. Regrettably, it ceased after a few years but in outlying towns farmers markets/craft markets have become a familiar feature of Irish provincial town life. I wonder if the local Enterprise Centre or the town’s promoters team would look at the possibility of organising a similar type of market every Saturday in the town centre?

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Athy references in 'A timeline of the War of Independence in County Kildare'

Within the past week the Kildare Decade of Commemoration Committee published a 128-page booklet titled ‘A Timeline of the War of Independence in County Kildare 1919-1922’. It details local incidents as well as some national events to help readers understand the history of those turbulent years. 1919 References to Athy and South Kildare commenced with an entry for 5th January which noted that a large Sinn Féin meeting took place in the Market Square. This occurred 16 days before the Soloheadbeg ambush which is generally regarded as the start of the War of Independence. Art O’Connor, who was elected as M.P. for South Kildare in the December 1918 elections, was welcomed to Athy on 6th April following his release from jail. The large crowd in attendance was addressed by Kevin O’Higgins who had been elected in 1918 as M.P. for Queens County. Public support for those who died during the 1916 Rising was the subject of a poster campaign in Athy, Castledermot, Ballitore and Moone. The poster campaign sought to have Easter Monday observed as a national holiday in memory of those who died in 1916. On 12th May Lady Weldon of Kilmoroney House presided at the formation meeting of a branch of ‘Comrades of the Great War’ held in Athy. Local teacher J.J. O’Byrne, Secretary of Athy Sinn Féin Club, was released from jail on 7th June. He had been arrested on 16th August the previous year for reading the Sinn Féin manifesto in the town square. On July 19th Sinn Féin member John Hayden of Offaly Street arrived back home following his release from jail. Met by Sinn Féin supporters who paraded through the town, those supporters clashed with demobbed World War I soldiers, resulting in rioting in the streets of Athy. Days later the ex-soldiers attacked Bapty Maher’s bicycle shop in Duke Street and destroyed a banner hanging across the street from Bridget Darby’s house in Leinster Street. Eamon Malone of Dunbrin was arrested on November 18th. Malone would later be Commander of the Carlow Kildare Brigade and would marry Kathleen Dooley, whose father Michael Dooley of Duke Street was chairman of Athy’s Sinn Féin Club. Malone was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour and would later lead a hunger strike in Mountjoy Jail. 1920 Ballitore R.I.C. Barracks, which had been evacuated in early March, was destroyed by fire on the night of the 3rd of April. Eamon Malone was welcomed back to Athy on 29th April following his release from jail after 12 days on hunger strike. A crowd estimated at 3,000 was in Market Square to greet Malone and were addressed by Art O’Connor, T.D. for South Kildare. The Customs and Excise Office in Athy was raided by the I.R.A. on the night of 19th May and numerous tax documents removed. On 21st June Castledermot R.I.C. Barracks and Courthouse was burned by the I.R.A. during which operation one I.R.A. man was injured. On 25th August the first Sinn Féin court was held in Athy. Around the same time Fintan Brennan, then living in Monasterevin, was arrested, charged and subsequently imprisoned for three years for possession of rifles. Fintan would later come to live in Athy where he was the District Court officer and a local G.A.A. official who became president of the Leinster Council G.A.A. in the 1940s. 1921 In January 25 prisoners were transferred from the Curragh to Ballylinlar internment camp in County Down. Included amongst them was Bapty Maher of Athy. R.I.C. Sergeant Joseph Hughes, a native of Wolfhill, was shot while onn patrol in Maynooth on 21st February. He died the following day and business premises in Athy were closed by the R.I.C. as his funeral passed through the town. Fairs and markets were proclaimed in Castledermot following damage to roads and bridges in the area. Patrick Moran, who had once worked as a barman in Athy was hanged in Mountjoy on 14th March, as was Frank Flood, whose brother Tom would later live in Athy and represent Athy’s Fine Gael party on Athy’s U.D.C. A curfew was ordered from 9pm to 5am in Athy and the Tuesday market was prohibited due to I.R.A. trenching of local roads and damaging of bridges. The R.I.C. raided the offices of Athy U.D.C. and removed Council minute books and other documents. The Barrowhouse ambush of 16th May resulted in the deaths of William Connor and James Lacey. Three days later R.I.C. Constable Edward Doran, a native of Cardenton, Athy, died of his wounds following an ambush in Kinnity, County Offaly on 17th May. The local I.R.A. attacked the R.I.C. Barracks in Athy which was located in the former cavalry barracks at Barrack Lane. On 22nd and 23rd December houses belonging to Mr. Verschoyle in Kilberry were destroyed by fire and a fire on Christmas Eve destroyed the band room of what was described as ‘Athy War Piper’s Band’. On 10th March 1922 the R.I.C. Barracks at Athy was evacuated. Lieutenant General J.J. O’Connell’s Secretary, Hester Dooley, who would later marry Joe May, was the only woman present as the Curragh camp was taken over by the Irish army following the evacuation of British forces. You can collect a free copy of ‘A Timeline of the War of Independence in County Kildare 1919-1922’ in the local library.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Kildare Senior Hurling Final 29 Nov., 1964, Athy and Eir Og

The game of hurling has over the years had a limited degree of success in Athy. The first Senior County Final in which the Athy club played was against Clane in 1909. Athy’s footballing club members had to wait until 1924 to contest their first senior football County Final. The immediate post-Civil War period was a barren period for many clubs as players emigrated in the face of mass unemployment and sometimes blatant discrimination against those who had taken the anti-treaty side. Matters improved insofar as Athy’s hurlers were concerned in the latter years of the 1920s. The 1928 Senior Hurling Final was contested by Johnstown Bridge and Athy and a year later Athy lost by 1 point in the 1929 final against McDonagh. The 1930s was the Athy Gaelic Football Club’s most successful decade with the club winning county football finals in 1933, 1934 and 1937. The Club’s hurlers won the Hurling Senior Final in 1936 defeating Broadford on the score of 6-1 to 3-1. Broadford was to exact revenge when winning against Athy in the 1961 final. Two years previously Athy lost the County Hurling Final to McDonaghs by a losing margin of 2 goals and 5 points, yet were declared the county champions after lodging an objection. Three years after losing the 1961 County Final to Broadford the Athy hurlers played yet again, this time losing to Éire Óg on a score of 5-9 to 2-6. The members of that 1964 team showed how dependent the game of hurling in Athy was on players whose skills were nurtured and developed in the traditional hurling counties. The team’s composition also showed the importance of local industry and commerce in bringing together players whose hurling skills were so important in keeping alive the ancient Irish game in a county not readily regarded as a hurling county. The team which togged out in the County Senior Hurling Final in Newbridge on 29th November 1964 included four native Athy players. In goal was the legendary Dan Foley, while on the half back line was John Dooley, whose father was the principal mover in the revival of hurling in Athy in the 1950s. Ted Wynne, better known as a footballer, lined out on the half forward line and in front of him was Hugh McDonnell. The team substitutes included Jim Malone, Tommy Kirwan and Teddy Kelly who made up the remainder of the Athy/South Kildare natives. The other team members came from as far afield as Cork, Galway, Limerick, Tipperary and nearby Kilkenny and Laois. In the full back line were Tom Heskins from Cork, an employee of Minch Nortons, Willie Coogan from Kilkenny, a barman in Purcells and Liam O’Connor from Limerick. The half back line included, in addition to the earlier mentioned John Dooley, Gus O’Shea from Cork who was a local bank official and Claud Goff from Kilkenny, manager of Bachelor’s pea factory. The mid-field pairing were two Gardai Mick Cullinane from Kilkenny and Padraig Harte from Galway. Ted Wynne in the half forwards was partnered with John Breen, a bank official from Cork and Tipperary man Stephen Nash, a fitter in Bord na Mona. The full forwards were Mick Dempsey of Laois, a barman in Paddy Lambes with Billy Wilkinson of Kilkenny who worked in the sugar company and Athy’s Hugh McDonnell. Apart from the earlier mentioned substitutes there was also Tom Harte from Galway and Thomas O’Connor from Limerick. The team was trained by the team captain Claud Goff, whose brother Oliver won All Ireland medals with both Kilkenny and Wexford. The Athy team were defeated and it was often claimed that this defeat was due to the absence of their best player, Tom O’Donnell, a bank official who normally played centrefield. He failed to turn up for the final without telling his team mates or the team mentors beforehand. It turned out that Tom was that same day playing in the Tipperary County Senior Football final. This was the Athy club’s last appearance in a County Senior Hurling Final, although it won intermediate, minor and junior championship finals in the 1980s and 1990s. Nowadays it appears that the hurling club is separate from the football club which to a neutral observer seems a most extraordinary state of affairs. Now that Athy Gaelic Football Club is about to embark on a major development scheme which would give the club an extra playing pitch and a juvenile pitch, perhaps it is time for the hurlers and the footballers to come together as one Gaelic Athletic Association club for the town of Athy. During the recent football match against Clare I saw several players falling over while trying to pick up a ground ball. I was reminded of that classy footballer Kieran O’Malley who played for Kildare from 1957 to 1962. He was the first player whom I witnessed chipping a ground ball into his hands without stooping over it. It’s a skill that could usefully be learned by today’s players.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Commemorating William Connor and James Lacey, victims of the Barrowhouse Ambush 16 May 1921

The Barrowhouse chapel bell rang out at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of 16th May last. It was around that time 100 years ago that two young men from Shanganaghmore lay dead on the ditch side of the road at Barrowhouse. William Connor and James Lacey were just 26 years of age when they joined James’s brother Joe, Paddy Dooley, Joe Maher, Mick Maher, Jack O’Brien and Joe Ryan in an attack on RIC men travelling on bicycles on the road from Ballylinan. That same chapel bell which had summoned William and James and their family members to Sunday Mass was now reminding a new generation of Barrowhouse folk of the two young local men buried in the same grave next to the local school they had attended as young boys. At 4 o’clock also, Connor family members lay a wreath at the ambush site, while a descendent of the Lacey family performed a similar task at the grave of the two Barrowhouse freedom fighters. These were the arrangements made by the local Barrowhouse committee in the light of Covid restrictions. Plans are in place to construct a redesigned memorial at the ambush site and to publish a detailed account of the Barrowhouse ambush of 16th May 1921. The Nationalist newspaper of 28th May 1921 under the heading ‘The Last Post’ gave an account of what it described as ‘the last act of the sad scene of the grim tragedy that was enacted on Monday week at Barrowhouse’. The writer described Connor and Lacey as young men ‘fired with the spirit of patriotism ….. reared together, school mates together, play mates together ….. the friendship and intimacy of youth blossomed into the knowing comradeship of manhood and then – even in death united and buried in the one grave.’ Requiem Mass for the dead was celebrated at 11 o’clock that Thursday morning, 19th May 1921 by Rev. J. Nolan, curate St. Michael’s Athy, assisted by Rev. M. Ryan CC Kilmead and Rev. M O’Rourke CC Athy, with other priests from Athy, Castledermot, Moone and the Dominican Fr. John O’Sullivan in the choir. When the Mass was finished the two coffins were carried by I.R.A. Volunteers to the nearby grave and lowered into the double grave. The last post was sounded by a trumpeter, followed by three volleys fired over the grave by members of the Carlow Kildare brigade. The Barrowhouse group in charge of the ambush centenary commemoration is to be congratulated for its efforts to remember with dignity and pride the sacrifices of William Conner and James Lacey. Sunday 21st May also saw another commemoration when the National Commemoration Day to mark the Great Famine was held. Again because of Covid restrictions this year’s commemoration, following on the first formal State commemoration held in Skibereen, Co. Cork in 2009, was marked on Sunday by the President of Ireland in a ceremony in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin. Here in Athy we have joined for the last number of years the National Famine Day Commemoration by holding a service of remembrance in St. Mary’s Cemetery opposite St. Vincent’s Hospital. This cemetery served the needs of Athy’s Workhouse which was opened in January 1844, just a year or more before the Great Famine started. It was in St. Mary’s Cemetery that the victims of the famine who died either in the Workhouse or in the nearby Fever Hospital were buried in unmarked graves. The Workhouse records maintained at national level allowed me some years ago to calculate that 1,205 Workhouse/Fever Hospital inmates died during the years of the famine. This year because of Covid restrictions the local memorial service for the famine dead could not be held. The deaths of over one million Irish men, women and children during the Great Famine had a lasting depressive impact on the Irish people. As we emerge from decades of memory loss relating to the famine, we should embrace with thoughtfulness and with understanding the hardship suffered by so many Irish families just a few generations ago. In the famine cemetery of St. Mary’s there also lies those forgotten men and women who were the subject of the recent Mother and Babies Home Report. I wrote in a previous Eye on the Past of the work which has commenced to identify all those who died in the Workhouse and the later renamed County Home. I wrote a letter to the Mayor of County Kildare in March of this year asking for Kildare County Council to provide funding for the design and construction of a suitable memorial to honour those who died in Athy’s Workhouse/Fever Hospital and who were buried in unmarked graves. It is quite extraordinary to find that there appears to be no extant record of the names of those who died and are buried in St. Mary’s. As a community we have a duty to honour and respect our dead, whether it is a life which ended in armed conflict or a life expired in the drab surroundings of a Victorian workhouse or in an institution adopted by the Irish state and utilised by Irish society to further the culture of concealment and secrecy which was the hallmark of the first seven decades of the new Irish State.

War of Independence deaths in Kildare or of Kildare men elsewhere in Ireland [3]

The truce which came into effect on 11th July 1921 came approximately four months after the execution by the I.R.A. of Mrs. Mary Lindsey and her driver. The intervening four months saw 14 violent deaths in or about Co. Kildare. Nine days after St. Patrick’s Day Edward Leslie, an R.I.C. man died in the Military Hospital on the Curragh of gunshot wounds sustained in an IRA ambush at Scramogue, Roscommon three days earlier. On 29th March members of the Monaghan IRA Brigade were responsible for shooting dead, during the course of a raid for arms, 60-year-old William Fleming and his 24 year old son, both of whom farmed a small holding of 20 acres. It was one of the many indefensible actions by the I.R.A. during the War of Independence. There is no record of violent deaths in Co. Kildare during April 1921, but in the rest of the country 140 persons were killed on both sides of the armed conflict. Included in that number was Arthur Vicars, the first honorary secretary of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society who was shot by the I.R.A. at his home at Kilmorna House, Listowel on 14th April. Vicars, who had served as the Ulster King of Arms from 1893 to 1907, had resigned that position following the theft from Dublin Castle of the Irish Crown jewels. It is now believed that the thief was Frank Shackleton, brother of the polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton. It was claimed by the Kerry No. 1 I.R.A. Brigade that Vicars was a spy, thereby seeking to justify his killing and the burning of his house. Included amongst the five women who suffered violent deaths in April 1921 was Catherine Carroll, a 36-year-old single woman who lived in a rural part of north Co. Monaghan with her disabled brother and her elderly mother. Eoin O’Duffy who would later serve as Commissioner of the Garda Siochana until sacked by Éamon de Valera, ordered her execution for alleged spying. On 3rd May Jack O’Sullivan who lived in Kill died while a prisoner in Ballykilner internment camp. He was a member of Kill Company Kildare I.R.A. Brigade and had been arrested following the ambush at Kill the previous August. He was buried in St. Corbans, Naas. Two days after O’Sullivan’s death John Hickey, a 44-year-old farmer of Newtown, Kildare, was found dead on the far side of a trench dug on the road near Newtown. He had suffered a fractured skull, how it was not known. On 16th May 1921 the War of Independence found its first two victims in the Athy area. James Lacey and William Connor, both 26 years of age and from Shanganaghmore, Barrowhouse, were shot and killed during an ambush at Barrowhouse. Both were members of the B. Company 5th Battalion Carlow Kildare Brigade which was based in Athy. With six other Volunteers they prepared to ambush R.I.C. men cycling from Ballylinan R.I.C. Barracks to the nearby R.I.C. Barracks in Grangemellon. I have written previously of the Barrowhouse ambush and most recently in Eye on the Past No. 1371 published on 9th April 2019. The five R.I.C. constables lead by Sergeant John McKale apparently saw a man with a gun in his hand running across a field towards a ditch near the road on which they were cycling. The R.I.C. men took cover and when shots rang out, they returned fire. When the ambush party retreated the R.I.C. found the bodies of the two I.R.A. Volunteers. As was a common feature following attacks on the R.I.C. or the Crown Forces there were reprisals in the Barrowhouse area that night resulting in the burning of Patrick Lynch’s home and workshop and the house of Mary Malone. The neighbouring farm of Martin Lyons was also attacked, resulting in the destruction of a threshing machine and a large quantity of straw and hay. The following day Albert Carter from Carbery who joined the R.I.C. just four months earlier was killed when ambushed in Letterkenny. That same day several R.I.C. constables on cycle patrol were attacked in Kinnity, Co. Offaly. One constable was killed outright and a second wounded. The wounded R.I.C. man was Edward Doran of Cardenton, Athy who died on 19th May. Four further violent deaths were recorded in Co. Kildare between 5th and 17th June. Just four days before the truce Bridget Doran, aged 34 years and her stepson, aged 11 years were burned to death after two men, believed to be I.R.A. Volunteers, during a robbery sprinkled paraffin around the store over which the Doran family lived. No one ever admitted involvement in the shameful and horrendous deaths which occurred at Moorefield, Newbridge. The final Co. Kildare related killing occurred on 8th July when Jack Rossiter, a 57-year-old groom who worked at Maddenstown Lodge, was shot and killed during an I.R.A. attack on the Dublin Cork train in which he was travelling. I understand that Connor and Lacy, both of whom were killed at the Barrowhouse ambush, will be commemorated when covid restrictions are lifted. The information for this and the two previous articles on this subject mainly comes from the superb publication ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’ by Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin. A copy of this remarkable book should be in every Irish home.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Irish Traditional Music and Athy

Irish traditional music, whether songs in Irish or English, instrumental music or dance music, has been passed on from generation to generation. Here in Athy, the Anglo-Norman town on the river Barrow we are proud to claim as our own William Beauford who made several contributions to the first book on Irish music published in Ireland. Joseph Walker’s ‘Historical Memoirs of Irish Bards’, published in 1786, included four articles by the Athy resident Beauford. Walker, a 24-year-old clerk in the Irish Treasury, was described by Nicholas Carolan in his 1990 O’Riada Memorial lecture as ‘a literary dilettante of English descent’. Beauford, like Walker, was apparently of English descent and a member of the Royal Irish Academy and over the years had contributed several papers on different aspects of Irish culture and archaeology. He was, I believe, a teacher in a classical school in Athy and may have been attached to the school operated by Rev. Nicholas Ashe who was elected Sovereign of Athy in 1797. The 19th century Irish scholar Eugene O’Curry was highly critical of the Athy man’s contributions to Walker’s book, claiming that Beauford ‘was an unscrupulous person ….. who pawned his pretended knowledge of facts on the well intentioned but credulous Walker.’ Apparently Beauford’s views on the evolution of the Irish harp were based on an insufficient knowledge of the Irish language which led to analysis based on an incorrect interpretation of some ancient Irish scripts. One of the many mistakes subsequently revealed in Walker’s pioneering work was the claim the Irish harp was improved by the Jesuit Robert Nugent, who for a time lived in Kilkea Castle when that castle was leased to the Jesuit order. This somewhat tenuous link between an Irish traditional musical instrument and South Kildare regrettably was not correct so we must come closer to our own time for links between South Kildare and Irish traditional music. Uilleann pipers with family roots in counties Wicklow and Wexford were frequent visitors to Athy and amongst their numbers were members of the Cash family. John Cash who died in 1909 was an influential uilleann piper whose fame is captured in the song ‘Cash the Piper’. His son James and other Cash cousins were also noted pipers and many of us will recall a family relation, Bill Cash, who lived with us in Offaly Street in the 1950s. Perhaps Athy’s most noteworthy connection with the Irish piping tradition comes from the visits of the Doran brothers from nearby County Wicklow to the town. Johnny and Felix Doran often played the uilleann pipes on the approach road to Geraldine Park on big match days. Their visits to Athy were never complete without calling on local uilleann piper Neddy Whelan at his forge in Kilmoroney. John Doran’s uilleann pipe playing was regarded as masterful and thanks to the late Kevin Danaher we can today listen to Johnny Doran on the CD, ‘The Bunch of Keys’. Johnny is forever linked with Athy for it was in our own St. Vincent’s Hospital that he passed away on 19th January 1950. While he was a patient in the hospital he was visited by his fellow piper Willie Clancy and it was in St. Vincent’s Hospital that Johnny Doran played the uilleann pipes for the last time. His brother Felix died in England in 1972. The greatest uilleann piper of our generation, the County Kildare born Liam Óg O’Flynn, lived in south Kildare for many years and played a number of concerts in Athy locally during the annual Shackleton Autumn School. Athy native and resident Brian Hughes is today regarded as one of Ireland’s finest uilleann pipers as befits a musician who received his early training in the Pipers Club, Henrietta Street, Dublin. The uilleann pipes belong to the bagpipe family and here in south Kildare there is a long history of pipe bands. St. Brigid’s Pipe Band organised by local publican John Bailey of Stanhope Street was one early pipe band founded before World War I. It was followed years later by the Churchtown Pipe Band and later again by the Kilberry Pipe band. Perhaps the most famous pipe band in this part of the county was the Narraghmore Pipe Band. Today the bagpiping tradition continues with the St. Brigid’s Pipe Band, formed in recent years by Richard Bracken. The tradition of uilleann piping is today very much alive in the Athy area, with excellent pipers such as Toss Quinn and Joe Byrne and not forgetting Seamus Byrne and Ciaran O’Carroll. The weekly session in Clancys now going for 50 years or so, is Athy’s unique contribution to the Irish traditional music scene. That weekly session brings together a great number of musicians whose musical predecessors in the 1940s and later gave us Cully’s Ceili Band from Levitstown and the Ardellis Ceile Band, originally based in Fontstown. The recent re-establishment of a Comhaltas Ceoltoírí branch in Athy is a welcome development in a town historically referred to as a garrison town and one whose allegiances were not always seen as fully aligned with Irish traditional cultural values.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Wr of Independence deaths in Kildare or of Kildare men elsewhere in Ireland [2]

During the period of civil unrest extending from the Easter Rising of 1916 to the end of 1921, 2850 Irish men, women and children were killed as a result of what the historians Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin describe as political violence. In the previous Eye on the Past I dealt with the County Kildare casualties of conflict, ending the with death of Wolfhill native Joseph Hughes, a sergeant in the R.I.C. who was killed while patrolling near St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Maynooth on 22nd February 1921. That same day there were nine other men killed. The I.R.A. were responsible for killing five R.I.C. officers in counties Kildare, Cork, Donegal, Wexford and Kerry as well as three English soldiers stationed in Strand Barracks, Limerick and an alleged spy in Co. Cork. The sole I.R.A. casualty on 23rd February was Michael Looney from the rebel county who died of septicaemia a week after being shot in the leg by Crown Forces. Between 23rd February and 10th March 1921 a total of 94 men were killed, for the most part I.R.A. Volunteers and members of the R.I.C. or the Crown Forces. A number of innocent bystanders were tragically killed during that brief period, including James Hayden, a 35-year-old farmer from Rathanna, Carlow who was shot by a North Staffordshire regiment soldier while standing with a group of men outside his local church. That same day Henry Guy, a 25-year-old ex-service man who lived in Baldoyle was shot and killed when two lorries of auxiliaries pulled up at Sutton Cross and opened fire on men who were playing pitch and toss. In both incidences it was claimed that the men who were unarmed disobeyed an order to halt. No soldiers were disciplined as a result of the shootings. It is of interest to note that two retired soldiers are currently being prosecuted in the north of Ireland for shooting dead I.R.A. commander Joe McCann in 1972 because the State Prosecutor claims ‘the killing was not justified as Mr. McCann was running away when he was shot.’ On 7th March Michael O’Callaghan who had served as mayor of Limerick in 1920 was shot and killed in his own house. That same night George Clancy, the then Mayor of Limerick was also killed. In their book, ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’ the authors O’Halpin and Ó Corráin comment that the killing of O’Callaghan and Clancy was believed to be the work of an auxiliary named George Nathan. This auxiliary would later join the republican side during the Spanish Civil war and would command a Marseillaise battalion. Kit Conway and a group of fifty Irish Volunteers joined Nathan’s battalion when he was recognised as a former black and tan. Nathan was confronted as regards his involvement in the killing of the Limerick mayors but he denied any involvement. Apparently his denial was accepted by the Irish Spanish Civil War Volunteers, even if not by I.R.A. Volunteers active in 1921. Nathan was killed rallying his battalion members in the Brunet salient north of Madrid in July 1937. On 11th March 1921 ten persons were killed. I.R.A. members accounted for six of that number, with two R.I.C. casualties. The remaining deaths were that of Mrs. Mary Lindsay and her chauffeur James Clarke. The killing of Mrs. Lindsey was one of the most controversial events of the War of Independence. Several writers have claimed she was from county Kildare but the late Tim Sheehan who published his book ‘Lady Hostage’ in 1990 confirmed that she was born Mary Georgina Rawson in county Mayo. The Rawson name was a prominent name in south Kildare in the early years of the 19th century and earlier. There may well have been a family connection between Mrs. Lindsay and Thomas Rawson, the controversial Glasealy and later Cardenton resident whose involvement in the 1798 Rebellion has been the subject of previous Eyes on the Past. Mrs. Lindsey was executed along with her chauffeur by the I.R.A. after both had been kidnapped and held hostage for several days. Mrs. Lindsay had learned on 28th January 1921 of an ambush planned by the I.R.A. and had informed the authorities in Ballincollig barracks Cork, as well as the local Catholic curate, with a request that the I.R.A. call off the ambush. The priest told the I.R.A. commander and the ambush party but he was not believed and the Crown Forces succeeded in surrounding the I.R.A. men. Eight I.R.A. men were captured and one of whom died of his wounds. Five of the I.R.A. men captured at the Dripsey ambush site were charged before a military court in Cork on 8th February and were sentenced to death. Two other I.R.A. men were to be tried later. Twenty days after the Dripsey ambush Mrs. Lindsay’s home was burned to the ground and herself and her driver were taken prisoner by the I.R.A. The Cork I.R.A. command offered to trade their lives for the lives of the five I.R.A. men awaiting execution. There was no response to that I.R.A. offer. The five men, John Lions (aged 26), Timothy McCarthy (aged 21), Thomas O’Brien (aged 21), Daniel O’Callaghan (aged 23) and Patrick O’Mahony (aged 24) were executed in the military barracks Cork on 28th February. Also executed with them was Sean Allen (aged 24), convicted of possessing a revolver and a booklet entitled ‘Night Fighting’. Of the two I.R.A. men whose trial had been delayed one was sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to 25 years in jail, while the other I.R.A. man’s injuries were such that his trial never took place. Mrs. Lindsay and her driver were executed by the I.R.A. and buried in an unmarked grave which has not been traced to this day. She was one of 98 women killed during the War of Independence. Their deaths and especially that of the elderly widow Mrs. Lindsay provoked a backlash and aroused a lot of criticism within the ranks of the I.R.A. ………………………..TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Lions Club Everest Challenge / Pauper burials in St. Mary's Cemetery

The second part of the story of Kildare connected persons killed during the War of Independence is put aside until next week. Instead, I want to write of the unremembered deaths of men, women and children in Athy’s workhouse and the frightful position facing so many families as we prepare to exit the Coronavirus lockdown regime. Countless families, young and old, have suffered emotionally and financially during the long drawn-out months of the Coronavirus pandemic. The financial measures put in place by the government has helped to alleviate some family difficulties but as the country reopens the full impact of the pandemic will be felt. We have already seen in the UK and in this country the closure of long-established retail outlets and it is to be expected that many Irish businesses shuttered for months past will find themselves unable to reopen their doors. Employees will lose their jobs and their families will find themselves facing financial chaos, exacerbated by the unrelenting need to meet mortgage and other recurring payments. The State will of course provide financial help, minimal as it may be, but not of sufficient level to dispel the despair and anxiety which will mark the lives of so many families in the post Covid world. I had previously signalled the sterling work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and that organisation’s unparalleled attempt to alleviate the deprivation of families in need. Theirs is an almost insurmountable task and one which can only be successfully completed by and with the generosity of members of the local community. This Saturday, 1st May at 10.00 a.m. Athy Lions Club’s President Brian Dooley will start his Everest challenge to help raise funds for the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Pieta House. The challenge facing Brian is a huge one and will make enormous demands on his physical and mental wellbeing over the many hours and days it will take him to complete the task. He has made this commitment as his personal contribution to alerting all of us to the pressing needs of so many within our community. Many families need our help now and so many more families can be expected to join the growing pool of families in need in the not-too-distant future. If you can help with a donation, however large or small, please do so by clicking on the website at or perhaps visit the Everest challenge site at Athy Rugby Club starting on 1st May and make a cash contribution there. I have written previously of Athy’s Workhouse, in light of the recent Mother and Baby Homes Commissions report, conscious of how those who died in the Workhouse and the later County Home are unremembered. Forgotten not just in folk memory but also apparently unrecorded in any extant paper record of burials in the pauper’s graveyard, St. Marys. The price paid by those who entered the Workhouse, women separated from their men folk, children separated from their parents, saw them lose their dignity and their individuality. The loss of these two personal attributes in so many is a shameful indictment of the institutional life as lived in workhouses and county homes for almost 120 years. My research, first published in ‘Lest we Forget – Kildare and the Great Famine’ in 1995 showed that 1,205 died in Athy’s Workhouse and the adjoining Fever Hospital during the Great Famine. How many more died in the subsequent years of the Workhouse and in the County Home after 1922 we do not know? What we do know is that many of them, presumably the majority, were buried in St. Mary’s cemetery across the road from the present St. Vincent’s Hospital. I say the majority because ongoing research shows that a few workhouse inmates were buried in St. Michael’s cemetery. This has shown up in research which Clem Roche and Michael Donovan have agreed to undertake to identify all those who died in the local Workhouse and the County Home and who now lie in unmarked graves in St. Mary’s cemetery. Kildare’s County Mayor who recently issued an apology on behalf of Kildare County Council in the wake of the Mother and Baby Homes Commissions report has received a request for Kildare County Council to fund the design, construction, and erection of a suitable memorial in St. Mary’s cemetery to remember those who died in Athy’s Workhouse and the County Home after 1844. I am hopeful that the Council will respond positively and that likewise the local community will be generous in supporting the Lions Club’s Everest challenge and so help the local St. Vincent de Paul Society and Pieta House to meet the challenges facing many families today.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

War of Independence deaths in Kildare or of Kildare men elsewhere in Ireland [1]

The first deaths of participants in the Irish War of Independence occurred three days before the start of the Easter Rising. On 21st April a car on the way to Tralee drove off the pier at Ballykissane, Killorglin. The driver, Tom McInerny, was the only survivor of the four Irish Volunteers who had been on their way to set up a radio transmitter to keep Tralee Volunteers in contact with the German arms ship, Aud. Twenty year old Cornelius Keating, 37 year old Charles Monaghan and 30 year old Daniel Sheehan were drowned. Theirs were the first of the almost 2,350 deaths recorded during the period April 1916 to December 1921 –commonly known as the War of Independence period. In the week which commenced with the deaths at Ballykissane a further 238 deaths were recorded. This of course was the week of the Easter Rising. Amongst the early deaths was that of James Duffy, a County Kildare man, a private in the Royal Irish Regiment. He was shot and killed while marching from Richmond barracks to Dublin Castle via Kilmainham. The troops were fired on by Volunteers led by Eamon Ceannt who had taken over the South Dublin Union. Amongst Ceannt’s men was W.T. Cosgrove, the future Taoiseach, whose father Thomas was a native of Castledermot. Another casualty of the South Dublin Union battle was nurse Margaret Kehoe from Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow who was shot and killed on the same day as Duffy. A day later Denis Kelly from County Kildare, a 43 year old ticket checker with the Great Southern and Western Railway Company was shot and killed while working at the North Wall. Another Kildare man, 42 year old Edward Murphy, the Court crier for Judge Lenihan, also died on 25th April having been shot the previous day in the vicinity of St. Stephen’s Green. On 26th April, George Geoghegan, a Kildare native and a member of the Irish Citizen Army was shot and killed as an I.C.A. contingent led by Captain Sean Connolly took over the City Hall. He is commemorated with three other victims, Sean Connolly, Sean O’Reilly and Louis Byrne in a plaque erected at City Hall by the National Graves Association. As the first week of the revolution came to an end it was marked by the death of yet another County Kildare native. Francis Salmon, a native of Straffan, was just 17 years of age when he was shot dead while standing at the door of his employer’s house at 50 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin. The young sales assistant was the youngest Kildare county native to die during the 1916 Rising. On the same day as the first of the Easter Rising leaders, Padraig Pearse, Thomas Clarke and Thomas McDonagh were executed in Kilmainham jail, a 50 year old labourer’s widow died in mysterious circumstances. County Kildare born Margaret McGuinness, a widow, lived at 27 Pembroke Cottages, Dublin and her death is generally accepted to have been as a result of political violence. There is no question surrounding the killing of Prosperous born Michael Kavanagh, a 35 year old carter who was married with 7 children. He was bringing luggage to the Shelbourne Hotel on the first day of the Rising when his cart was seized by members of the Irish Citizens Army to make a barricade. Kavanagh was trying to retrieve the cart when he was shot in the head. He died on 17th May. Almost three years were to pass before the next County Kildare casualty of the Irish War of Independence. On the 13th of February 1919 Patrick Gavin, a 45 year old labourer from Maddenstown, was driving cattle to the Newbridge fair when he was challenged by an English soldier on sentry duty at Brownstown pumping station. It was claimed he was challenged by the sentry and reacted by threatening the sentry who shot him. The soldier was subsequently court martialled but escaped any punishment. One of the rare incidences of armed conflict within the county of Kildare during the War of Independence resulted in the killing of R.I.C. constable Patrick Haverty, a 40 year old Galway man. He was killed during the ambush at Greenhills, Kill on 21st August 1920. The ambush led by Tom Harris, the future Fianna Fáil T.D. was the first such action in County Kildare and resulted also in the death of R.I.C. sergeant Patrick O’Reilly who succumbed to his injuries ten days later. Further R.I.C. casualties in the county occurred on 19th February 1921 when Thomas Bradshaw, a 24 year old policeman from Tipperary, shot himself in Monasterevin R.I.C. Barracks. Just over two weeks later Harold Stiff, a Londoner who had joined the R.I.C. a few months earlier, committed suicide in the Maynooth R.I.C. barracks. On 21st February 1921 R.I.C. sergeant Joseph Hughes, a 35 year old former postman from Wolfhill, was shot while patrolling in Maynooth. He died the following day and the local press reported that his funeral was attended by an immense crowd while passing through Athy where all shops were closed with ‘police with reversed arms marched behind the coffin.’ Information for this article has been extracted mainly from ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’ by Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin. ……. TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Shopkeepers Shows 1963 and 1964

Over the years Athy has been home to many festivals, two of which came to my attention as I sorted papers collected, laid aside and forgotten until today. Two xeroxed programmes for the Shopkeepers Show put on as part of Athy’s parish festival in 1963 and 1964 allowed me to recall the names and faces of those who took part in those shows, many of whom are no longer with us. I did not see those shows as I had left Athy in January 1961 but the programmes are a reminder of the active community spirit which prevailed at that time. The festival was the idea of Fr. Joseph Corbett, then a young curate in St. Michael’s parish. He asked the industrial and commercial groups in the town to put on variety shows in the Social Club, St. John’s Lane to raise funds for the new parish church then under construction. The Shopkeepers Show followed or was followed on by shows put on by workers in the Wallboard factory, the I.V.I. Foundry, the Asbestos factory and the local garages. The Shopkeepers Show for 24th March 1963 started with an opening chorus immediately followed by a vocal quartet featuring Maureen Ryan, Helen Walsh, Dettie Kehoe and her sister Sheila. Next up was the wonderful theatrical artiste, Ernest O’Rourke Glynn with a recitation of ‘the Exiles Return’, followed by Maureen Ryan with a vocal rendition of ‘Mother Ireland’. Irish dancing saw Hazel Darling, Deirdre Hughes and Noeleen Murphy take the stage. A comic turn by Wag O’Keeffe and Michael Dempsey was followed by a medley of songs involving male and female members of the show. These included Dinah Donnelly, Mary Conlon and some of the earlier mentioned ladies, together with Ian Antwell, Charlie Prendergast, Michael Noonan, Sean O’Connor, Des McHugh, Paddy Dillon, Kevin Timmons and Alex Kelly. A highlight of the show must have been the duet between Charlie Prendergast and Maureen Ryan, followed by another duet, this time involving Maureen Ryan, partnered with Cecily Brady. All three were singers with exceptional voices. For emerging rock and roll fans there was what must have been a mighty ear full from Brendan Ward, P.J. Hyland, John Murphy, Jerry Byrne and Peter Bowden. The 1963 show came to an end with another piece of comedy dialogue between Wag O’Keeffe and Michael Dempsey, followed by the male voice choir with a number of songs. The Shopkeepers Show must have been well received for the following year their show was put on over two nights, 11th and 13th March 1964. Many of the same performers took part but participants not previously mentioned included John Hillard, Dolly Hyland, Phyllis Coughlan, Ann Dooley, Brian O’Hara, all of whom performed in the one act play ‘Love and Acid Drops’ by Seamus Burke. Margot Higginson and Mary Tuohy featured in an extract from ‘The Merry Widow’, while Carmel Hickey, Esther Bannon, Kathleen Kelly, Carmel Hickey and Patricia Mahon formed the ladies chorus. The compere for both shows was Kevin Timmons with musical accompanist for the first show by Molly O’Brien who was joined the following year by John Corcoran. The Parish Festival ran for 1963 and 1964 and perhaps other years as well. I would like to hear from anyone with information on the shows and I would also welcome the opportunity of viewing and perhaps photocopying any programmes printed for any and all of the shows put on by the local companies as part of the Athy Parish Festival. FRANK TAAFFE The photograph shows the cast of what I believe was the Shopkeepers Show of 1963.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Woodstock Castle as reported in the Dublin Penny Journal / Ben Taaffe

The Dublin Penny Journal was founded in 1831 by Caesar Otway who was later joined by George Petrie and John O’Donovan. In its early life the Journal published original articles of Irish interest which were regarded as being of a high scholarly standard. In 1833 the Journal was taken over by a new owner. Barbara Hayley, in her essay ‘On periodicals as the voice of 19th century Ireland’ in her jointly edited book 300 Years of Irish Periodicals, accused the new owner of having turned the Journal into “a cheap and snippety ragbag of extracts.” She may have a point, but to a reader hunting for local history The Dublin Penny Journal can yield fine historical nuggets. In its issue of 14th March 1835 it gave an account of Woodstock Castle, Athy from which the following is taken: “From its vicinity Woodstock Castle has partaken of nearly all the changes that befell Athy. Standing on the Western bank of the River Barrow it was designed to command the principle ford on this part of the river in conjunction with White’s Castle situated on the opposite bank – the ford lying between… Tradition assigns the building of the Castle to the year 1290 and that a descendant of the Earl of Pembroke was its first master. Antiquaries with more reason are inclined to attribute the castle’s construction to Thomas Fitzgerald, Lord of Offaly and afterwards seventh Earl of Kildare who, on marrying Dorothea, the daughter of Anthony O’Moore of Leix, received in dower the manors of Woodstock and Rheban. The plan of the building was originally a regular square, in after times an addition was made to it of a square tower joining the south side and built in uniformity with the front facing the river. The walls are of great thickness…. The mullioned windows are much admired and were elegantly executed… A fine arched gateway and part of the outer court-wall yet remain… The ford which the castle commanded and from which Athy derives its name was called Athelehac or anciently Athlegar, the ford towards the west; also Ath-trodan or the Cattle Ford. It was here the great battle was fought in the third century between the people of Munster and those of Leix under Laviseagh Cean Mordha. In 1642 the Marquis of Ormond took Woodstock from the rebels and subsequently in 1647 Owen Roe O’Neill surprised it and put the garrison to the sword. His victory however was of short duration for Lord Inchiquin compelled him in a little time after to surrender it and Athy. The lordship of Woodstock and Castlemitchell was set by the Earl of Kildare to Daniel Hutchinson, alderman, for 99 years from May the 1st 1657 at 100 guineas the first 41 years yearly, and 200 guineas a year during the remainder of the lease, with six fat wethers or £3.” In the cavalier manner of The Dublin Penny Journal, I’ll now move from six fat castrated rams – those curious wethers – to another unrelated snippet. Confined to our 5k limit for the past few months, many of us have discovered laneways and byways in our town that we never much noticed before. But one young member of my family has been discovering Athy for the first time. Early in 2020 we welcomed a new grandson, and like most grandparents last year, we visited the new family member more often on screen than in person. When the first lockdown arrived last March he was an eight-week old Dubliner; by the time he could visit Athy again it was already high summer. This year began differently. The small fellow was here on a short Christmas break when the latest lockdown closed his creche, and so he stayed on a little longer. And longer, and longer. The toddler is now an expert on the People’s Park and the loveliest stretches of the River Barrow. This week we’ll finally have to say goodbye to the smallest Taaffe as he and his parents move home to Munster and to his re-opened creche. The Eye on the Past might be written a little quicker without the childminding duties, but like so many families, we’ll be looking forward to a summer reunion. There is a real danger the smallest Taaffe may turn out a Corkman one day, but it’s a lucky Corkman who took his first steps in Athy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Virtual Tour of Athy [2]

This week we continue our virtual tour of Athy, beginning at the town hall in Emily Square. Built 300 years ago as a market house, courthouse and borough offices, the building’s courtroom hosted many trials presided over by John Toler, later ennobled as Lord Norbury, but better known in his time as the hanging judge. Wolfe Tone, as a barrister on the Leinster circuit, appeared on a few occasions at trials in Athy. Between the Town Hall and the River Barrow one can see the colonnaded building which was opened in 1852 as a corn exchange and now serves as the town’s courthouse. Nearby is the sundial donated by Macra na Feirme in 1994 to commemorate Athy’s part in its founding 50 years previously. At the side of the Shackleton Museum is the much-admired statue of the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton by the celebrated sculptor Mark Richards. In the middle of Emily Square is a 1798 monument erected some years ago to commemorate the brave men and women from this area who fought and those who died during the rebellion. Several local men were imprisoned in the White’s Castle jail, which is just ahead of us. Patrick O’Kelly, a local man who wrote his account of the 98 Rebellion, recounted how 7 young men from South Kildare were marched over Cromaboo bridge to be hanged on the banks of the Grand Canal. Beheaded, their heads were displayed on Cromaboo bridge, which was built two years previously. Robert Emmet’s rebellion five years later saw another Athy resident, Nicholas Grey of Rockfield House, arrested and detained in the White’s Castle jail. He had been commissioned by Emmet to lead the Kildare men into Dublin. Gray was eventually released, having been transferred to a Dublin prison and allowed to leave Ireland to live out the rest of his life in America. White’s Castle, built in 1417 to house a garrison to protect the bridge of Athy, was adapted for use as a prison following the removal of the soldiers to a newly built barracks in the 1720s. It continued to be used as a jail until about 1830 and for the next 60 years or more served as a police barracks. We now cross Cromaboo bridge, named for the war cry of the Fitzgeralds. It has been standing since 1796, a much shorter time than the castle ruins we see to our right in the distance. Woodstock Castle, the first stone building in the medieval village of Athy, has remained unoccupied since the middle of the 17th century. Edmund Rice Square is on our right, so named in 1996 to commemorate the Christian Brothers whose schools were located off St John’s Lane. St John’s was the original name, first used in Anglo-Norman times, and is the only street name of that period which is still in use. On our left, through the archway, was the site of the Kellyite meeting house of the early 19th century. Rev. Thomas Kelly, still remembered as one of Ireland’s finest hymnologists, was the founder of a breakaway group from the Church of Ireland called the Kellyites. He had 40 or so followers in Athy as well as meeting houses in Portarlington, Waterford, Wexford and Dublin. The Kellyites as a dissenting group faded away after Kelly died in 1855. Duke Street, with Leinster Street, is the main shopping street of Athy. In Duke Street we can see several fine examples of jostle stones, a reminder of the horse and carriage days. The jostle stones are at the side of the archway entrances to former stables and were designed to jostle the carriage wheels into position as the carriages entered the archway so as not to cause damage to the walls. As we pass up Duke Street on our left is Convent Lane, with the former Dominican Church at the end. Now the town’s library, the building when opened in 1965 represented a remarkable addition to modern Irish architecture and includes artwork by Brid Ni Rinn and George Campbell. Further on Duke Street on our left is Crown House, which once enjoyed the patronage of judges attending the quarter sessions in Athy. Adjoining the Crown House was the town’s cockpit, which was a popular venue until cockfighting was made illegal in 1849. The cockpit was restored many years ago. Crown House was from where Stephen Cullinan, founder of Macra na Feirme, first published the Farmers’ Journal. Just ahead of us on the road to Stradbally, which we reach by travelling on Woodstock Street, formerly called Barrack Street, is the site of the former cavalry barracks, built in the 1720s. The barracks is long gone but as we turn into Woodstock Street we can see on our left an archway which once formed an entrance to one of the barrack buildings. If we continued towards Stradbally we would pass on our right St Vincent’s Hospital, first opened in January 1844 as Athy’s workhouse. During the Great Famine the workhouse, built to accommodate 600 persons, catered for over 1500 men, women and children, necessitating the opening of two auxiliary workhouses in the town. Sadly, 1250 deaths were recorded in the workhouse during the four years of the Famine, and those unfortunate people are buried in the nearby St Mary’s Cemetery, known locally as the pauper’s graveyard. Now we continue our journey by William Street to Augustus bridge, named after one of the Duke of Leinster’s sons. We are crossing the Grand Canal, which was extended to Athy in 1791. The Grand Canal, like the railway of 1846, brought prosperity to Athy and allowed it to develop as one of Leinster’s great market towns. Facing the canal harbour is the former Canal Hotel where travellers stayed overnight so as to catch the Dublin-bound boat which left Athy at 5 o’clock in the morning to reach Dublin 13 hours later. We have now reached the end of our tour of Athy, which was once Co. Kildare’s principal town. The South Kildare town is traversed by rail, river and canal, and is endowed with many buildings of merit. The laneways and byways of Athy, its secret places and hidden corners, all have their own stories to tell, but those stories are for another day.