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, December 29, 2020

General Election 1920 and South Kildare

Towards the end of November 1918 the local newspapers reported on the arrangements made in the Athy area with regard to the General Election scheduled for 14th December. At a meeting held in Athy, Denis Kilbride, the outgoing Member of Parliament for South Kildare, was selected as a candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party. He was proposed by Athy’s parish priest Canon Mackey and seconded by Mr. John Alexander Duncan, described in the press reports as a “Protestant Home Ruler” who attended at the local railway station in August 1914 as the first batch of soldiers went to war. The Sinn Féin party after its successful foray into parliamentary elections in the previous year’s Roscommon Bye-Election was poised to further its cause in the 1918 General Election on a policy of absenteeism. Denis Kilbride, who thirty years earlier had been evicted from his farm at Luggacurran, was diametrically opposed to the Sinn Féin policy: “I am not in favour of abandoning the House of Commons” he declared, “Home Rule as enjoyed by Australia could only be won by unity in Ireland”. A week later Charles Bergin of Kildare town presided at a meeting of Kilbride’s supporters where letters of support were read from Rev. P. Campion P.P., Kildare, Rev. J. Kelly P.P., Suncroft and Rev. W.A. Staples of White Abbey. Clearly the Catholic clergy were behind the Irish Parliamentary candidate where the only other candidate was a Sinn Féiner. On Sunday, 1st December separate meetings in support of Denis Kilbride and the Sinn Féin candidate, Art O’Connor, were held in Emily Square, Athy. Art O’Connor was still in prison having been arrested the previous May with almost the entire Sinn Féin leadership for allegedly conspiring with the German enemy in what is now referred to as “The German Plot”. The Sinn Féin meeting was addressed by Fr. Michael O’Flanagan, the Roscommon born Catholic clergyman and Republican who had successfully campaigned for the election of Count Plunkett as a Sinn Féin M.P. the previous year. O’Flanagan who was known as the “Sinn Féin priest” told his Athy audience “that by withdrawing her representatives from Parliament Ireland would demonstrate to the world what a united people could do. Thirty members of the Irish Parliamentary Party have already dropped out. The others we will be compelled to sweep aside.” The Irish Parliamentary Meeting supporting the candidature of Denis Kilbride was presided over by Canon Mackey. Addressing many who were his local parishioners, he said Kilbride claimed their support on the strength of Ireland as a nation but not a separate nation. He continued: “There were only two conceivable ways in which the freedom of Ireland could be achieved, physical force or moral or parliamentary persuasion. Any man who would propound the doctrine of physical force must be suffering from mid summer madness. A united Ireland resisted conscription successfully and if the same unity prevailed in other matters, the same happy results would be achieved. Absenteeism was a negative policy and if pursued and brought into practice will bring ruin and disaster on Ireland. Crushing taxation would be imposed in Ireland without parliamentary representation.” Denis Kilbride who was frequently interrupted as he addressed the meeting said the new idea of freedom was “shout down everyone who does not agree with you”. He continued “I never believed until lately that there was so many young men in the asylums and so many lunatics outside. One would think that for the first time in Ireland men went to jail in 1916. In the old days they took their punishment and their plank beds without squealing. Today no political prisoners had to be on a plank bed. All they wanted was cigarettes and chicken. That was the programme of the men determined to lose the last of their blood for Ireland.” M.E. Doyle, Chairman of the Athy Urban District Council, also spoke in favour of the Parliamentary Party candidate and a resolution was passed pledging support to Kilbride. The Irish Independent on the day of the election, Saturday, 14th December 1918, under the heading “The Kildare Campaign” reported that bands and contingents carrying torch lights from various districts including Carlow attended a large Sinn Féin meeting in Athy on the previous Thursday night at which Mr. P.P. Doyle who presided read a letter from Art O’Connor, the Sinn Féin candidate for South Kildare. The Mayor of Limerick, also spoke and referring to the Insurance Act as one of the fruits of the parliamentary party’s 40 year agitation added “I hope they kept their cards stamped as they will be of benefit on Saturday”. Mr. Tynan of the Laois Land and Labour Association made an appeal to labourers to support Sinn Féin “as victory for it meant a better day for the workers”. The election resulted in a landslide victory for Art O’Connor who polled 7,104 votes compared to 1,545 votes for the outgoing M.P., Denis Kilbride. This marked the end of Kilbride’s parliamentary career which had commenced his election as M.P. for South Kerry following the Luggacurran evictions of the 1880’s. The emergence of Sinn Féin changed the political face of urban Ireland. Power and influence hitherto sustained and nurtured by wealth and class passed to men whose allegiances were to Irish nationalism and to an Irish parliament.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Christmas 2020

Christmas time holds special memories for all of us. Joyful memories for many, but for some it is a sad period for reflecting on the loss of loved ones and times past. Family and community are so important in our daily lives for the maintenance of tradition and regularity as we go forward. Each Christmas, since 1993, members of Athy community have become accustomed to attending the annual ‘While Shepherds Watched’ concert produced by the local musical society in the Dominican Church. It brought together tradition and history in an always enjoyable mixture of Christmas carols and songs which were appreciated by so many. Since the departure of the Dominicans from Athy ‘While Shepherds Watched’ has transferred to St. Michael’s Parish Church, but this year because of Covid 19 the 2020 performance will come to us on Tuesday 22nd December by livestream. Carmel Day, Imelda Dooley and David Walsh, with the support of the musical society organising committee, have put together a programme of traditional carols, seasonal readings and instrumental music featuring local artists. I am told the livestream will be available at parishofathy.ie, as well as on radio at 107.9FM. A Go Fund Me page has been set up at amdsstvincentspatientcomfortfund2020 to allow people to donate funds for St. Vincent’s Hospital Patient Comfort Fund, which in previous years had benefitted from admission fees for attendance at the annual ‘While Shepherd’s Watched’. It’s a good cause and worthy of all our support. The local Lions Club has just completed its annual food appeal with the co-operation of the local supermarkets, Perrys and Pettitts. Given the restrictions imposed as a result of Covid 19 Athy Lions Club members were extremely pleased with the amount of food collected, all of which was subsequently handed over to the local St. Vincent de Paul Society for distribution. Athy Lions Club have been doing tremendous work in the South Kildare area for many years and has remained active even during the Covid 19 pandemic. During the past year it has supported a huge number of community projects in Athy, including the Shop Local Campaign, the Shopfront Floral Scheme and the earlier mentioned food collection for families in need. Financial assistance was also provided by the Lions Club for a number of local groups involved in community related activities in the town. The Club’s largest ever project completed some years ago was the construction of the retirement homes at McAuley Court in the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital. This year the Lions Club installed heaters in the houses which have been under the management of the H.S.E. for many years. The Lions Club Book Shop, ably managed by Alice Rowan, is the club’s most visible expression of its commitment to the local community. The Corona virus pandemic has created hardship amongst local families where it never previously existed. This has resulted in an ever growing demand for assistance from the local St. Vincent de Paul Society with calls for help which cannot always be satisfied unless those within our community, who can do so, reach out to help. Donations of money as well as gifts, clothing, etc. can be left into the St. Vincent’s de Paul shop, ‘Vincents’ at Upper William Street at any time between now and Christmas. Another community generated annual event is the publication of Athy Photographic Society’s calendar. A calendar displaying the photographic skills of the society members has been produced annually since 2007 with the financial support of a number of local sponsors. This year’s calendar, the net sale proceeds of which will be donated to Athy Community Family Resource Centre in Woodstock Street, features the photographs of Phil Lawler, Aisling Hyland, Viviane Rosa, Eddie Bond, Dave Daly, James Mahon, Borris Shnaiderman, Peadar Doogue, Jimmy McCarthy, Paddy Joe Ryan, Frank Fanning, Alan Salter, John Nugent, Cynthia Coughlan, Chris Bradshaw, Anthony Hubbock and Elizabeth Fingleton. The usual photographic opportunities were not available this year due to Covid 19, so the Society members took the opportunity of highlighting this year’s calendar the local waterways and wild life. 2020 has been a difficult year for every local family, with many of Athy’s shopkeepers and business people suffering substantial losses which in some cases may threaten the continued viability of some businesses. Sadly, the community has lost many family members, friends and neighbours and our normal activities have been curtailed. It continues to be a difficult time for all as we face into an uncertain future. The relevance and importance of community action by groups such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Athy Lions Club, or indeed by any other local group involved with the community, cannot be overstated. The work they do is crucial to the wellbeing of community life but to succeed in what they are doing they will always need our continuing support. Keep safe and Happy Christmas to you all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Kilmichael Ambush

Much has been written in the past week about the Kilmichael ambush, so much so that I was contacted by a number of readers seeking clarification arising from statements made by politicians and questions posed by the media concerning the events of the 28th of November 1920. Kilmichael is described in Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in 1837 as ‘a parish partly in the barony of east Carbery but chiefly in the western division of the barony of western Muskerry, county of Cork six miles from Macroom on the road to Dunmanway.’ In the parish of 1837 was to be found a constabulary police station and a number of large estates, including that of Greenville House which was attacked in 1822 by the Whiteboys whom we are told ‘were repulsed and several of them killed’. Ninety eight years later the rural landscape of Kilmichael was to be the scene of a bitter and deadly battle between Irish Volunteers led by Tom Barry and members of the Auxiliary police force, commonly called the Auxiliaries. The Auxiliaries were formed to support the R.I.C. on the suggestion of Winston Churchill after an earlier similar proposal of the R.I.C. Inspector General had not been acted upon. The British authorities recognised that the Black and Tans, formed in March 1920, had not succeeded in putting down the rebellious Irish. The Auxiliaries inaugurated on 23rd July 1920 were paid one pound a day and operated separately from the Black and Tans and the R.I.C. They were an elite force, members of which had responded to recruitment advertisements seeking ‘ex officers with first class records.’ The Tans were temporary constables who were paid ten shillings a day to augment the R.I.C. The Auxiliaries were based in the counties where the Irish Volunteers were most active. Apart from time spent in training on the Curragh the Auxiliaries did not serve in county Kildare. However, Black and Tans were to be found in every county and several Black and Tans were based in Athy R.I.C. barracks which was located in the former cavalry barracks close to Woodstock Castle. The Auxiliaries, numbered approximately 2,200, were recruited from amongst former British Army, Navy and Air Force officers. Strange to relate that approximately 18% of the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans were Irish men. Because of their World War I experience the Auxiliaries were formidable fighters who operated on military lines divided into companies. Unlike the Black and Tans who were allocated to R.I.C. Barracks as additional policemen, the Auxiliaries were a mobile force travelling in Crossley Tenders in the ongoing fight against the Irish Volunteers. The Kilmichael ambush, which was the first occasion the Cork West Brigade engaged with the Auxiliaries, was comprehensively studied in a book published a few years ago by Sean Murphy, a retired Irish Army Commandant, as well as receiving extensive coverage in several other books published over the years. ‘Guerrilla Days in Ireland’ by Tom Barry who lead the Volunteers of Kilmichael was published in 1949. Ewan Butler’s ‘Barry’s Flying Column’ appeared in 1971 and in 1995 the Kilmichael Commemoration Committee issued a slim book, ‘The Wild Heather Glen’ which outlined personal details of the men who took part in the ambush. Since then the Ennis based historian Meda Ryan has written an excellent book with the title ‘Tom Barry I.R.A. Freedom Fighter’. The Canadian historian, the late Peter Harte, wrote two books on the Irish War of Independence. ‘The I.R.A. and its Enemies’ appeared in 1998 and five years later his controversial ‘The I.R.A. at War 1916-1923’ was published. The latter book questioned Tom Barry’s claim that a false surrender by the Auxiliaries at Kilmichael which Barry claimed resulted in the killing of three Volunteers prompted Barry’s order not to allow any of those ambushed to survive. Seventeen Auxiliaries were killed, including one young man who escaped but was later shot and buried in a nearby bog. The sole Auxiliary survivor suffered injuries which left him a lifelong quadriplegic. One of the Auxiliary cadets who was killed was Charles Wainwright who was a former captain in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and who was likely to have soldiered with men from Athy during World War I. The Auxiliaries were involved in some of the most shocking incidents of the War of Independence. None more so than the killing and mutilation of the Loughnane brothers in Shanaglish South near Kinvara, Co. Galway just two days before the Kilmichael ambush. Twenty-nine year old Pat Loughnane and his 22 year old brother Harry were arrested by members of the D Company Auxiliaries who were based in Lennaboye House, Galway. The Loughnanes were put through unimaginable torture by the Auxiliaries and their mutilated and burned bodies were thrown into a pond near Ardrahan. Both were officers of the local Sinn Fein club, while Pat was an I.R.A. Volunteer. It is very difficult to read of atrocities committed not only by the Auxiliaries, the Black and Tans, the R.I.C., but also it must be said by the I.R.A. during the War of Independence. Accounts of acts of savagery and brutality on all sides can be found, as well as examples of good soldiering behaviour which on the part of some Black and Tans prompted Tom Barry to claim ‘quite a number of them were rather decent men.’ However, decency was in short supply during the War of Independence. There were so many examples of atrocities committed by Crown Forces and regrettably many examples of violence with a sectarian or an agrarian aspect committed by Irish men many of whom I suspect were not members of the Irish Volunteers. Popular mythology has tended to hide many historical truths surrounding events of the War of Independence. One should read the recently published ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’ by Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó’Corráin to fully appreciate the horror of our past guerrilla war which ended with the truce of 11th July 1921.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Cumann na mBan, Athy

It’s one of my many regrets that I didn’t realise the elderly lady whom I met in the early 1980s was once the Officer Commander of Cumann na mBan in Athy during the War of Independence. She was Mrs. Christina Phelan, formerly Christina Malone of Barrowhouse, who was then living in Convent View. I have before me a copy letter she wrote from 85 Haddington Road, Dublin on 14th June 1946 in which she refers to Cumann na mBan ‘first organised in Athy in 1919’. Previous information available through the chronology prepared in 1949/’50 for the Bureau of Military History staff noted that the Cumann was established in Athy in July 1914, just two months after the Irish Volunteers were formed in the town. Miss Bridget O’Mullane, executive member of Cumann na mBan and its official organiser was the person sent from Dublin headquarters to organise the female section of the Irish Volunteers in Athy. The local members of Cumann na mBan were headed up by Christina Malone and amongst the other members was her sister Mary. Family connections with members of the Irish Volunteers saw brothers and sisters joining up to play their part in the struggle for Irish independence. Amongst the Cumann na mBan members was Mrs. Julia Dooley of Duke Street, whose husband Michael was chairman of the local Sinn Féin club and whose daughters Esther and Gypsy were active members. Esther Dooley would later marry Joe May who had been imprisoned for almost a year in Ballykinlar internment camp. Joe’s mother, Margaret May of Woodstock Street, was also a member of Cumann na mBan. Esther Dooley’s membership of Athy’s Cumann na mBan ceased when she joined the staff of ‘An t’Oglach’, whose editor was Piaras Béaslaí, director of publicity and editor of that Republican newspaper. The newspaper, which was first published in August 1918, was occasionally edited by Bulmer Hobson and by Ernest Blythe. Esther Dooley worked for Béaslaí as a typist and as a messenger bringing copy material for An t’Oglach between Béaslaí’s office which were constantly changing between Cabra Park, Gardiner’s Row and North George’s Street to the printing offices at 10a Aungier Street. Béaslaí wrote a letter from his home at 82 Lower Drumcondra Road, Dublin in 18th June 1946 in which he described the work undertaken by Esther Dooley as ‘very dangerous’. Esther also acted as typist for the Dublin Brigade, whose headquarters were in Gardiner’s Row as well as working for the I.R.A. Director of Intelligence, Colonel J.J. O’Connell. Mention was also made by Béaslaí of Esther Dooley’s contacts with Erskine Childers and Michael Collins. Perhaps of greatest importance to the Republican movement was Esther’s regular contact with Lily Merrin who worked in the British Army Command in Dublin Castle. It was Miss Merrin who furnished vital intelligence information via Esther Dooley to Michael Collins and his team, which was of considerable benefit to the Republican movement. Other female members of Athy Cumann na mBan included the sisters Rose and Kathleen McDonnell. Regrettably I have been unable to get any information in relation to these two brave women. Christina Malone was the daughter of James and Mary Malone of Barrowhouse and her brother was James Malone, who in my time in Offaly Street lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue. Christina’s father was I believe a brother of Michael Malone of Dunbrinn. Was he, I wonder, also a brother of the Barrowhouse poet, Fr. James Malone, who spent his priestly life in Australia? There was also a family connection between Christina and Eamon Malone, the I.R.A. commander of the 5th Battalion. Can anyone help to clarify the relationship? The family links between the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan were very apparent within the Dooley family of Duke Street. Julia Dooley, wife of the Sinn Féin chairman was the aunt of Paddy and John Hayden of Offaly Street, both of whom were members of the Irish Volunteers. Indeed, John Hayden who was at one time Brigade adjutant of the 5th Battalion was arrested, convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in Portlaoise jail during the War of Independence. As mentioned earlier Julia’s daughter Esther married the former Ballykinlar prisoner Joe May, while another daughter, Kathleen, married Eamon Malone of Dunbrin who for a time served as Officer Commanding of the 5th Battalion Carlow Kildare I.R.A. brigade. Eamon was another local Volunteer who was arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy jail. Another family with members in the male and female units of the Volunteers were the Lambe family of Upper William Street. Alice Lambe was a Cumann na mBan member, while her brothers Frank and Peter were active members of the Irish Volunteers. Three other members of the Cumann na mBan I have not yet been able to identify. They are Julia Whelan of Kilmoroney, Mrs. John Whelan of Ballylinan and a Miss Murphy of Maganey. This week saw the publication of a book by Eunan O’Halpin and Daithi O’Corrain which identifies the 2,850 mem, women and children who died during the years of rebellion between April 1916-December 1921. ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’ is a work of many years research which will help to give us a better understanding of the consequences of Irish political violence of the past. The death of John Byrne of Gracefield, Ballylinan was recorded. He suffered fatal burn injuries while engaged with other Volunteers in attempting to destroy the abandoned Luggacurran R.I.C. Barracks in April 1920. I have tried in the past to identify John Byrne but have been unable to do so. I was very interested in the editor’s views on the controversy surrounding the late Canadian historian Peter Hart’s analysis of the Kilmichael ambush of 29th November 1921. Tom Barry, for whom I have great admiration, claimed that a false surrender by members of the Crown forces resulted in the killing of some Auxiliaries after they had surrendered. The savagery of guerrilla warfare was captured in the evidence of the only Crown force survivor which supported the claim that some of the Auxiliaries were killed after surrendering or as they lay wounded and helpless. This claimed the Editors ‘would not have been a unique occurrence as there are various incidences before and after Kilmichael where the I.R.A., the police and the military killed, wounded or surrendered captives after combat.’ This is a book which should find a place on the shelf of anyone interested in the War of Independence. Athy’s past in the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War is a narrative which has yet to be satisfactorily outlined. The research continues to ensure that those local men and women who gave their commitment and some their freedom and their lives in pursuit of a political dream can be remembered and honoured.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

St. Vincent de Paul Society Athy

The local conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society has been doing extraordinary work within our community for many decades past. This year the Society faces many new challenges as Covid 19 restrictions impact on the commercial life of the town and as a consequence on the ability of the St. Vincent de Paul members to meet the pressing urgent needs of local families in distress. The Society’s annual Church collection, normally scheduled for the first week of December, will be restricted because of Covid 19. This was always one of the Society’s main sources of funds and the expected reduction in donations will be felt in and throughout many local families in need. That is unless the church collection can be supplemented by some other means of collecting badly needed funds. Athy Lions Club, headed up by its president Brian Dooley, has agreed to help the St. Vincent de Paul Society by supplementing its Christmas food appeal with a separate cash donation appeal. This year the food appeal takes place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 3rd, 4th and 5th December. Unfortunately due to Covid 19 concerns Lions members will not be manning the doors of the local supermarkets as they have done for many years past. Instead, collection bins will be placed at the exit doors of the supermarkets ready to receive donations of non-perishable food items. When the Lions Christmas Food Appeal was first organised the call went out for people to donate food items. This was changed a few years ago to cash donations, but this year the Lions Appeal will revert to seeking donations of non-perishable food items. The collection bins will not be manned but arrangements will be made to collect the donated food items periodically each day. In addition to the Christmas Food Appeal the Lions Club members will also operate a cash donation point in Emily Square during the three days of the Food Appeal. This will allow people not shopping in the local supermarkets to make a cash donation to assist the local St. Vincent de Paul Society. This Emily Square collection will complement the annual church collection and hopefully between the Christmas Food Appeal collection, the restricted church collection, and the town centre cash collection the loss of revenue for the St. Vincent de Paul Society will be kept to a minimum. The Emily Square cash donation point will be manned each day between 10.30am and 4pm by Lions Club members suitably masked and distanced. The local St. Vincent de Paul conference is the oldest association in Athy with a history stretching back even long before the oldest clubs in the town, the Gaelic Football Club or the Rugby Club, were founded. Over the years the Society’s members have helped thousands of families in need during times of war and times of economic depression. Now during the current pandemic the Society members will be extending help to local families in much the same way St. Vincent de Paul members did over 100 years ago when the Spanish Flu came to Ireland and Athy. The work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society extends to every town and parish in Ireland. I have never forgotten an elderly woman I visited as a member of the local St. Vincent de Paul branch in Kells, Co. Meath in 1967. She lived alone in a small terraced house located in a laneway which ran parallel to the main road leading to the local G.A.A. pitch. We talked for some time and the conversation I had with that frail elderly woman has stayed with me ever since. Indeed, I believe it has subconsciously influenced my attitude to life and to society in so many ways. She was a widow with no children, having married her young boyfriend before he went to war in 1914. He died on a battlefield in France or Flanders – she did not know where and was not aware if his body was ever found or given a Christian burial. A widow for 50 years or more when I spoke to her, I could only imagine the pain of loss she endured throughout her life. There she was, a lonely impoverished figure in a house long condemned, like all the houses in that terrace, since demolished, possibly as part of a slum clearance programme. That was the first time I became aware of how wars and especially World War 1 impacted on the lives of families in Ireland. It was also the first time I had to face up to the inequalities in a society which saw an elderly woman struggling to live in a world which by all accounts had abandoned her and so many others like her. The charitable work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is not confined to fighting poverty. The Society works for social justice and the creation of a more caring society. Even before the Coronavirus pandemic hit Irish society it was estimated that upwards of 700,000 Irish people were living in poverty. For many of those people and others living just above the poverty line Covid 19 swept them deeper into poverty. Many people have lost their jobs and now find themselves struggling to buy food and pay mortgages to keep a roof over their head. The demands on the St. Vincent de Paul Society have increased so much over the past few months that there is a great danger that unless funds are secured the Society will find it extremely difficult to help families in need. The Christmas Food Appeal and the cash donation appeal organised by Athy Lions Club members is the opportunity for all of us as members of the local community to help our neighbours and fellow community members in need. For the duration of the Lions Club cash donation appeal I will offer a free copy of my latest book, Eye on Athy’s Past Vol. 4, to any person making a donation of €40 or more. Give your donation to the Lions members in Emily Square on the 3rd, 4th or 5th of December and pick up your free copy of the book. All donations, no matter how small, will assist the St. Vincent de Paul Society to help families in need in our community Apart from the Lions Club organised collections on the 3rd, 4th and 5th December donations for the local St. Vincent de Paul Society can be left throughout the year into the Parish Church office or handed into the Society’s charity shop ‘Vincents’ in William Street.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

'Virtually Shackleton' 2020

The week started with the ‘Virtually Shackleton’ event on Saturday streamed from the Town Hall, Athy with a 10.30am start and continued until late that same evening. The early 18th century building has hosted many important events over the centuries, including court trials presided over by the hanging Judge, John Toler who was later ennobled with the title Earl of Norbury. As a young barrister Theobald Wolfe Tone, the founder of modern Irish Republicanism, appeared in court in Athy on many occasions following his call to the Irish bar in the summer of 1789. The former Market House which now houses the Shackleton Museum is believed to have been designed by Richard Cassels who also designed Leinster House, Carton House and the Rotunda Hospital. It provided the backdrop to public meetings addressed by many important Irish historical figures over the years including Arthur Griffith and Eamon De Valera. It is a building which has seen a multiplicity of changing uses as well as building alterations and enlargements since it was built in the first half of the 18th century. In the 1730s it was Athy’s principal public building located in the very centre of the town serving as a Courthouse on the first floor and a market house on the ground floor. In the following century it continued to be used as a market house, but the courtrooms had given way to rooms used by the local Freemasons and Athy’s Mechanic’s Institute. In more recent years the Freemasons room continued in use, while the Mechanic’s Institute’s room became the headquarters of Macra na Feirme. Parts of the building also saw life as a ballroom, a theatre and a library and for decades part of the ground floor provided living accommodation for the caretaker’s family and also housed the local fire station. The Town Hall, a prominent building in the centre of Athy, has never received such extensive international publicity as it did while the ‘Virtually Shackleton’ event was streamed last Saturday. During the previous 19 years of the annual Shackleton Autumn School Athy had welcomed visitors from many countries throughout the world. This year’s event saw individuals from over 30 foreign countries participating and since then more than 20,000 persons have accessed the event on Facebook. This was a Polar event which confirmed the international reach of the Shackleton story. Little did I realise when starting the Museum in 1983 that, what was intended as a local museum to awaken interest in Athy’s history, would blossom and develop to host one of the world’s best annual Polar events. I am reminded of the note the late Pat Mulhall posted to me on Penny Post Day in January 1984 which is here illustrated. Pat was one of the early supporters of the Museum when it first opened its doors to admit Sunday afternoon visitors to a room in the former Convent school at Stanhope Place. It has been a long journey since then, helped by many people, locals and senior County Council officials alike who recognised its value in terms of the reawakening of Athy’s cultural and historical heritage. This year’s ‘Virtually Shackleton’ was organised by two men, Kevin Kenny of Naas and Seamus Taaffe of Athy, whose initiative and energy were vital elements in providing such a successful international event. They were ably assisted on the day by Bethany Webb McConville and Margaret Walsh of the Shackleton Museum, with Amanda Webb of Spiderworking.com as the live streaming provider and Síne Kenny of Sinekconsulting.com. In the month of November the people of Athy commemorate men from the town and district who died in World War I, taking the opportunity at the same time to commemorate all those who died in wars. This year because of Covid 19 restrictions the public gathering at St. Michael’s Cemetery will not take place. However, Clem Roche, Eddie Lawler and I, suitably distanced, will hold a short private ceremony of commemoration on Sunday, 15th November to remember Athy’s war dead. If the week started well I had expected, as had many others, that it would end with good news of the American Presidential election outcome. I must confess that I had become somewhat obsessed by the lead into the election, hoping against hope that the incumbent would not succeed in ruling from the White House for another four years. As I write the election outcome is still in the balance, even if there is a strong belief that Joe Biden will be declared the eventual winner. It’s alarming to witness the ongoing degeneration of American politics and American politicians to a level not reached even in the heyday of Tamanny Hall. What is surprising to me is the high level of support Donald Trump seems to have received from Irish emigrants in America as evidenced by the emails I have received from relations and friends on the far side of the ocean. What prompts their support is difficult to understand. The level of support the irreligious Trump has received from the Catholic church in America, which support was led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York strengthens the belief that right-wing Catholicism is part of the American dream. However, by the time you read this the election result will be announced, even if the result is disputed and likely to end up in the Supreme Court!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

'Do You Remember Jim' - the writings of Joe O'Neill

Local history is all around us. It is in the buildings, the streets and the people who make up the local community. Interest in local history has grown considerably in recent years and has become one of the major leisure interests in Ireland today. That interest has given us many publications, some good, some not so good, while photographs and videos of the past are featured in Facebook and other media, all adding to our interest and appreciation of what has gone before. The benefit of local history publications, and the shared photographs and videos is increasing our knowledge of past generations. Every reminiscence, whether written or verbalised, can lead to a better appreciation of our shared history as a study of our past in relation to our own locality. I was reminded of this having read the recently published writings of Joe O’Neill which issued last month under the title ‘Don’t You Remember, Jim?’. Edited and compiled by his son Kevin, the book contains his father’s memories of Athy in the 1920s and the 1930s. When I returned to Athy in 1982 after an absence of about 22 years I was happy to meet Joe O’Neill on several occasions when he called to my offices to discuss his efforts to recover the Celtic Cross removed from the front of St. Michael’s Parish Church during the demolition of the old church in 1960. This fine monument was erected to honour the memory of Fr. Thomas Greene who served as a curate in Athy between 1844 and 1862. It was Fr. Greene who organised the local weekly collections throughout the town to raise funds for the building of a convent and schools for the Sisters of Mercy. Fr. Greene, who was Parish Priest of Skerries when he died in December 1871, was remembered by the people of Athy who had the magnificent Celtic Cross erected in his memory. It was Joe O’Neill’s wish to have the monument returned to Athy, but regretfully Joe died in 1989 while the townspeople’s monument to Fr. Greene is still stored in a County Wicklow quarry. Joe’s writings, which now form part of the new book, give an interesting insight into life in Athy almost 100 years ago. Here is the account of the areas now known as Edmund Rice Square. ‘Hannon’s Mill was in full production up to 1924 ….. the miller was Jim Nicholson, known as Jim the miller, who built the house [later McStay’s butcher shop] ….. Tom Brogan, blacksmith and his mother later moved into the house and they were succeeded by Watty Cross who married Jim the miller’s daughter ….. Watty Cross was the first to have machine made and refrigerated icecream in Athy.’ Next to Hannon’s Mill was ‘Glespens coachbuilders, Brogans Forge, Greg Ronan tinsmith, Vernals forge and ….. Ann Haslam’s Inn. Brogans forge worked until 1950 approximately when Tom retired. Next to go was tinsmith Greg Ronan who turned out billy cans, mugs and pot oil lamps for all the local hardware shops. When Glespens moved to Duke Street, the Board of Works took over their premises and Hannons Mill to use as offices and storage during the Barrow Drainage Scheme.’ Joe’s mention of Haslam’s Inn was a reference to the house at the corner of St. John’s Lane occupied by Mrs. Haslam, grandmother of the late Frank English. According to Joe’s account the small house had been an Inn up to the middle of the 19th century. It was, he claimed, the location of the popular tale concerning the finding of skeleton remains in the wall of the former Inn during refurbishment work. Joe’s account of Sleaty Row is a priceless addition to our knowledge of that part of Athy in the 1930s. Many of the houses in Sleaty Row were demolished during the Slum Clearance Programme in the 1930s. Just a few of the houses fronting on to the Monasterevin Road remained until 1960. Joe prepared a plan showing the layout of the 20 houses which made up Sleaty Row and identified the tenants in each of the houses. Sleaty Row is no more but thanks to Joe O’Neill the names of the families who lived there are recorded and preserved for all time. This is one example of a townsperson contributing his own written account of life in the past. By doing so Joe O’Neill obviously gained some personal satisfaction while at the same time helping to give past lives a relevance in terms of making present generations more informed and aware of their family’s past. The book ‘Don’t You Remember, Jim?’ can be bought in Winkles and in the Shackleton Museum when it reopens after the lockdown.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Architecture of Athy

Visitors to Athy, at least those I have met, are unanimous in their views that the south Kildare town is endowed with buildings of architectural merit. Some of those buildings are included on the National Inventory of Architecture, while many more are included on the Register of Protected Structures compiled by Kildare County Council. We are all familiar with the early buildings such as Whites Castle, Woodstock Castle and the medieval church in St. Michael’s cemetery, known to all and sundry as the ‘Crickeen’. Less obvious in terms of their historical and architectural value are many other buildings familiar to all of us as part of the local urban streetscape. The town centre consists of buildings which for the most part started life in the 17th and 18th centuries but which over the years have been improved, added to and altered resulting in the concealment of earlier buildings. Much development followed the opening of the canal to Athy in 1792 and again 54 years later with the opening of the railway line to Carlow. That development was led by private individuals, unlike the public realm development for which the town landlords, the Earls of Kildare and later the Dukes of Leinster were the facilitators. It was the Earl of Kildare who it is claimed built the market hall/town hall in or about 1720. The Earl was the beneficiary of the market tolls and customs collected within the town boundaries ever since the Town Charter was granted in 1515. If he did pay for the construction of the market house it was one of the few occasions that the tolls and customs originally intended to finance the building of the town walls were used for the townspeople’s benefit. It has been claimed that the Kildare county Grand Jury financed the building of the market house in Athy which, if correct, meant that one had to wait another 130 years or so before the Duke of Leinster released funding for the building of the town’s corn exchange. Whatever part the Fitzgerald family members played in the development of the town centre, Emily Square unquestionably shows evidence of 18th century buildings. One building facing the Bank of Ireland has fine Wyatt windows on the first and second floors. Similar windows were to be found on the first and second floor of the corner building which now houses the phone shop. Unfortunately those windows were replaced some years ago. One of the many buildings directly linked to the coming of the Grand Canal to Athy is the former Bridge House at Upper William Street. Now the ‘Auld Shebeen’ it is believed to have been built in 1796, just a few years after the canal opened. On the opposite side of the canal bridge is the former Grand Canal Hotel fronting onto the canal harbour. All the nearby buildings on William Street from the top of Duke Street to the Canal Bridge, formally called Augustus Bridge, are rebuilds of late 18th century buildings. Not too far from the canal led building development of the late 18th century is the Crown House at Duke Street which today houses the business premises of Griffin Hawe. Tradition relates that the name Crown House indicates the use of that fine building by judges on circuit for the assizes. Of perhaps more importance is the building which once adjoined Crown House. The restored cockpit now forms part of the Griffin Hawe premises. The cockpit restoration was facilitated by the owners of Griffin Hawe many years ago and marked a major contribution by Kildare Co. Co. and the then county architect Niall Meagher in the preservation of a unique building of historical and architectural merit. The vernacular buildings of 18th century Athy are not the only buildings of interest in the town. Apart from the earlier mentioned medieval buildings there are a range of 19th century buildings for which the Dukes of Leinster were largely responsible. The Model School, opened in 1852, was designed by Frederick Darley who was also the architect responsible for the corn exchange, which is now the Courthouse. Darley, who was one of the founders of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, was commissioned by the Duke of Leinster and it was Darley who designed the local Presbyterian Church and St. Michael’s Church of Ireland church. In both cases the church sites were donated by the Duke of Leinster. Other local architectural gems include the Church of Ireland Rectory in Church Road which was the work of Deane and Woodword, while the former Workhouse, now St. Vincent’s Hospital, was one of approximately 40 workhouses built in Ireland to the design of George Wilkinson. The most exciting modern building in Athy is of course the former Dominican Church, now the local community library. It was designed by John Thompson and Partners, with interior artwork by George Campbell and Bríd Ní Rinn, The earlier reference to Kildare Co. Co. and the county architect Niall Meagher is a reminder of the importance of the local authority’s role in protecting and preserving the architectural streetscape of Athy, thereby enhancing our appreciation of the architectural heritage of the past.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Athy Senior Football Champions

In years to come it may be described as the Covid 19 Final, in much the same way as the weather disrupted All Ireland Hurling Final of 1939 is known as the ‘thunder and lightning final’. Last weeks Senior Football Championship Final between Moorefield and Athy was played while the country was reeling from the greatest pandemic to have hit the world since the 1918 Spanish Flu. Normal social interaction is limited. Our working lives are disrupted and against that background, a team from Athy created another memorable page to add to the history of Athy Gaelic Football Club. A club’s history is measured in terms of success on the field of play and it is success on the big occasions which are remembered. When we look back on the club’s past, it’s a past featuring County Senior Finals won, not those lost. Those victories provided the identifiable yardstick by which the players of the past are remembered. The conquering footballing heroes of the 1930s, a decade in which Athy won the Senior County Championship three times are recalled by a generation who never knew or saw the players involved. They are the heroes of the Club’s past glories whose names have come down to us as proud wearers of the town’s jersey. County players like Paul Matthews, ‘Cuddy’ Chanders and Barney Dunne who togged out with the legendary George Comerford whom the sports writer, P.D. Mehigan, described in 1941 as ‘one of the best all round footballers in Ireland’. George was from Clare and he played for his native county, for Munster and for Athy while stationed in town as a Garda. The victories of 1933-1934-1937 brought other names to the forefront. Names of players who are recalled but whom we never had the privilege of supporting on the field of play. They are remembered because they were winners, men like Tommy Mulhall who played for Club, County and Province and whose footballing prowess is recorded in the annals of Gaelic Football. Nearer to our time are the winning teams of 1987 and 2011. Teams which provided the club with long overdue success. The 1987 victory was the first time in forty five years that Athy Gaelic Football Club won the Senior Championship. That win and the club’s success fourteen years later helped preserve for future generations the names of the players involved. Gaelic Football is a team sport – fifteen players with back up subs and nowadays a player pool too big to include on a match programme. It throws up the heroes of the hour. Some players may be consistently guiding the team’s fortunes throughout the championship but there will be players who on a specific day blossom to give performances undreamed of before. That is the beauty of Gaelic football. The coming together of the great players, the County team players with the club players to form a unified well-prepared team ready and able to take on the best. This year’s team, captained by David Hyland, has created history and an identifiable niche in the club’s historical chronology which will always be recalled as the 2020 County Final. The team names will be recorded but with the passing of time references to the 2020 final success will be reduced to the players who like their predecessors of 90 years ago were regarded as the stars of the team. This year’s final was undoubtedly one of Mick Foley’s greatest hours. A former county player and the only Athy club player to win a footballing All Star, he joins the pantheon of local footballing greats of the past. He will always be remembered, as will the county players Kevin Feeley, David Hyland, Niall Kelly, Mark Hyland and Pascal Connell. That is the nature of memory which initially recalls all the relevant elements of a story but as time marches on, more and more of the detail vanishes. Hence the importance of recording and acknowledging all those who played in the county final and by doing so pay tribute to the footballing heroes of 2020. The people of Athy, whether living at home in their native town, country or abroad are proud to salute the Kildare County Champions of 2020. James Roycroft Tony Gibbons Mark Hyland Barry Kelly Sean Rowan John Moran Darren Lawler James Eaton Brian Maher Niall Kelly Mick Foley Kieran Farrell David Hyland Danny O’Keeffe Kevin Feely Paul Whelan Pascal Connell Cian Reynolds Liam McGovern David McGovern Many other footballers on the team panel contributed to the Club’s success, as did the team manager Vinny Walsh, fitness coach John Doran and team selectors Sean McGovern, Barry Dunne, Jimmy Robinson and Stephen Doyle.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Athy G.A.A. Club

Michael Cusack, a Clare man, and proprietor of an academy at Gardiner’s Place Dublin, wrote to several prominent Irish men in 1884 inviting them to a meeting in Hayes’s Hotel Thurles to consider setting up an organisation for the development of Irish athletics and what he described as native sports. The purpose of the meeting was to take control of Irish athletics from the hands of people who did not support the cultural importance of Irish sport. In this he sought and received the support of Maurice Davin, a retired athlete who had achieved international recognition as a hammer thrower having won many Irish and English championships. Cusack’s original plans related to athletics and hurling, and it was Davin who brought football into the frame. At the meeting in Hayes’s Hotel on 1st November 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association was founded and Maurice Davin who compiled the first Gaelic football rules was elected as its first president. In the intervening 136 years the Gaelic Athletic Association has made enormous contributions to the sporting, social and cultural life of Ireland. This was achieved not just by the accomplishments of club and county footballers and hurlers, but also by the many volunteers who have worked tirelessly for GAA clubs throughout the country. Athy’s GAA club, renamed ‘Geraldine Hurling and Gaelic Football Club’ at the Club’s AGM on 16th December 1945, has benefitted hugely from the spirit of volunteerism which has been the backbone of the club since its foundation in 1887. In the early years the men and youth of Athy gave of their time and experience to furthering the aims of Cusack and Davin in relation to the native games of Gaelic football and hurling. In more recent years the women folk have joined the men in running a successful club which provides the club’s young and not so young footballers with the facilities so necessary in the modern game. Regrettably, the hurlers have not enjoyed the same level of assistance and now operate as a separate club, even though the 1945 club name has not been changed in the meantime. Among the many hundreds of volunteers of the past were two men whose contribution I want to highlight in this article. Neither were from Athy or even Kildare county. One man was from Bailieborough, Co. Cavan, the other from Tullamore near Listowel in Co. Kerry. Both men served the Athy club as players, committee members and club secretaries. The Kerry man, on his own admission, played an ordinary game of football but his forte was in the administrative side of the club’s affairs. The late Tim O’Sullivan who came to Athy from Kerry in 1937 to work as a chemist’s assistant with J.J. Collins of Duke Street, togged out with Athy’s junior team for several years and was a sub on the senior team when it played the first round of the 1942 championship. Tim later served as a committee member from 1945 and in 1953 was appointed club secretary, a position he held for the following four years. He was appointed to the Geraldine Grounds Committee in or about 1951 and served as chairman of that committee from 1961-1963. He was later elected as president of Athy Gaelic Football Club, having attended every club A.G.M. since 1938. His was a unique record of service to the club which continued until his death in October 2004. The Bailieborough man was the late Barney Dunne who came to Athy in 1931 to work in Mrs. O’Mara’s pub in Leinster Street. He togged out with the legendary Paul Matthews, the Ardee man who himself came to Athy in 1925. Barney was a member of the first Athy club team to win a senior championship title in 1933. This victory was repeated the following year to give Barney his second senior medal, while a third medal was won by Barney and his Athy teammates in 1937. A fourth championship medal was won in 1942 by Barney who played for the Kildare county senior team, winning a Leinster championship medal in 1935. He was a sub on the Kildare team which lost the All Ireland final of that year. Barney retired from playing football in 1945 and was later elected to the club committee and served for a short period as the club’s joint secretary. He holds with Paul Matthews the unique record of winning four senior county championship medals as a member of an Athy team. Barney passed away some years ago. The players and volunteers of Athy’s Gaelic Football Club are an important part of the town’s social fabric as are the other men and women associated with the rugby club, the soccer clubs and the many non-sporting organisations in the town.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Schools in Athy

On a recent visit to Ardscoil na Tríonóide I was reminded of my old school in St. John’s Lane and how secondary schooling in Ireland has changed in the intervening years. In my secondary school days the entire complement of pupils occupied three classrooms and the teachers comprised two Christian Brothers and two lay teachers. Nowadays the co-ed school caters for 865 pupils, with approximately 60 teachers. Donagh O’Malley’s announcement in September 1966 that the country would have free post primary education from 1967/’68 onwards was perhaps the most significant advancement in relation to Irish education since the founding of the National Educational System in 1831. Other than references to private schools in Athy in the 17th and 18th centuries and to the Charter School in Castledermot little is known of education in south Kildare prior to 1831. Under the provisions of an Act of Parliament of 1537 Church of Ireland clergymen were required to take an oath to teach or cause to be taught English schools within their parishes. There is no record of any Athy rector providing a school in Athy prior to the formation of the Kildare Place Society 1811. In 1817 a school with 22 pupils managed by Rev. Charles Bristow, resident curate of Athy, was opened in part of the Courthouse (now the Town Hall). Pupil numbers attending increased to 66 in 1820 and to 127 three years later. Colonel Fitzgerald of Geraldine House is recorded as having provided at a date unknown in the early years of the 19th century a lime and stone schoolhouse for the children of Athy in the area of the present Catholic Church. This was apparently the first building dedicated to the schooling of Catholic boys and girls where the first teachers were Patrick O’Rourke and Anne Doogan. That Catholic school, known as the Poor School, was supported by local subscriptions and superintended by the local Parish Priest, while the Rev. Bristow’s school, known as the Parish School, was supported by the Kildare Place Society. The primary education system established in 1831 was intended to provide education for children of different religions in the same schools with religious instruction limited to reading of the Bible without comment. This was prompted by Catholic clergy’s dissatisfaction with the Kildare Place Society, which Society when established, was intended to provide elementary education for the poor ‘divested of sectarian distinction’. However, the Catholic clergy claimed the Society was not fit for purpose due to proselytisation claims. Those claims were accepted by the Irish Education Enquiries of 1824/’27 which were conducted by five Commissioners, four of which were Protestants. As a result the Commissioners proposed merging existing schools into an inter denominational state school system to give a national education system under the management of a National Education Board. The national education system of 1831 enjoyed the support of a majority of the Catholic bishops and indeed the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin was one of the seven members of the National Education Board. However, that support was not long lasting and before too long the national education system fell out of favour with the Catholic clergy. In their desire to control the education of young Catholics the Catholic clergy shared the Church of Ireland’s opposition to the non-denominational system of education. This led to the denominational school system we have today. Within three years of the founding of the new national education system Athy had three schools. The former Poor School, now known as the National Day School, had 168 boys and 76 girls attending. The Parochial Day School, previously known as the Parish School, had 84 boys and 60 girls as pupils. An evening school operated by G. Bingham was also recorded in the Commissioners of Education Returns for 1834. The following year the National Day School had separated into a girls school and a boys school. To the school building provided years earlier by Col. Fitzgerald was now added another school building provided by Mrs. Doorley who had a malting business in the town. At the height of the Great Famine records show that what was called the Protestant School, where A. Jackson and M. Shugar taught, was located in Emily Square. It had moved from the Courthouse to the house at the corner of Emily Square and Meeting House Lane, owned in recent years by Jack Deegan. The National School in Stanhope Place had as teachers W. O’Connell and C. Lawler, while Emily Square was the location of a classical and boarding school operated by John Flynn. This was one of the many private schools which had been operating in Athy from as far back as the 1670s. The schools in Athy have grown through various stages over the years to arrive at the impressive primary and secondary educational facilities now located at Rathstewart and the Monasterevin Road. We should never forget the dark days of 200 years ago when the majority of the town’s children did not have the means or the opportunity to attend school. That opportunity would come with the opening of the Model School, the Christian Brothers schools and the Sisters of Mercy schools, all of which were established in the years immediately following the Great Famine.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Athy Markets

I never fully appreciated the large number of markets in Athy of old and the range of goods for sale at those markets. That all changed when I came across the market byelaws passed by Athy Urban Council in July 1907. Twelve market places were mentioned in the byelaws. The enclosed market on the ground floor of the Town Hall was for the sale of butter and eggs. The markets for corn, fish, vegetables, fruit, cabbage plants in carts, cooperage, ponies and kerries were located in the market square. The market for hay, straw, coals and wool were to be found in the hay market, while the fowl market was at the west and south side of the courthouse. The markets for turnips and mangolds were at the northern end of the courthouse, while the market for potatoes was in the aptly named potato market. The calf market was at the east side of the courthouse. The market for secondhand clothes, potato baskets, earthenware and all miscellaneous articles was held between the Barrow Bridge and south end of chains on Barrow Quay. The turf market was located opposite the chains on Barrow Quay. The buttermilk market in Woodstock Street. The pig market in Woodstock Street and William Street as far as the Canal Bridge and Nelson Street. The market for gates, ladders, etc. at the northern side of Leinster Street above the public pump. I am unable to identify the precise location of the hay market and potato market. The cattle market was held on the first Wednesday of the month, with the pig market on the preceding day. The various markets were to be opened at times specified in the byelaws. Fowl market not earlier than 7am. The butter, calf and egg markets at 9am. Hay and turnip markets at 10am. Corn and potato market at 11am. Fruit, vegetables and fish at 8am. Fat pig market not earlier than 7am, while the small pig market started at 10am. Secondhand clothes, earthenware, etc., turf, horses, creels, carts, donkeys, jennets could be sold not earlier than 10am. No one was allowed to bring a cart into the pig market before 10am, except while loading or unloading. The Council forbade persons in charge of any wagon, cart or other vehicle, whether with a horse or otherwise, at any time while the markets were held, to keep them in the market places or any street leading to the markets so as to cause an obstruction. Market traders were also required not to place goods on the ground so as to inconvenience the public, while a similar restriction was imposed on local shopkeepers with premises adjoining the various marketplaces. A unique byelaw was that which prohibited persons from smoking or spitting in the butter market for which a penalty of five pounds was payable in the event of a breach. An appendix to the byelaws set out the tolls payable on all goods and produce exposed for sale in the various markets. Sack of corn 1 penny. Sack of potatoes 1 penny. Basket or box of fish 2 pence. Churn of buttermilk 1 penny. Cart of cabbage, plants or fruit 3 pence. Cart of fish 6 pence. Every calf, pony, donkey, Kerry or other animal 2 pence. [A Kerry was a breed of small black dairy cattle peculiar to Ireland]. Basket of fowl 1 penny. Cart of fowl 3 pence. Creel of bonhams 3 pence. Every fat pig 1 penny. Basket or box of eggs 1 penny. Cart of secondhand clothes 1 shilling. Cart of churns, etc. 6 pence. Every gate, wheel, barrow, ladder, cart 1 penny. Every lump of butter not exceeding 7 lbs. 1 half penny. Every lump of butter not exceeding 14lbs. 1 penny. Every lump of butter not exceeding 28lbs. 2 pence. Every lump of butter over 28 lbs. 3 pence. These tolls were payable to the Urban Council and I suppose they were the 1907 equivalent of parking fees which the County Council impose on today’s traders and customers alike. Butter was apparently weighed free of charge, but other produce sold by weight at the markets had to pay the following tolls at the town ouncel. Every sack of corn 1 penny. Every sack of potatoes 1 penny. Every pack of wool 1 shilling. Every load of turnips, mangolds, potatoes 3 pence. Every load of coal 6 pence. Every load of hay or straw one farthing per cwt. Every load of metal, iron or timber 6 pence. Every load of stones or gravel 1 penny. Every pig 1 penny. Every sheep 1 penny. Every beast 2 pence. Athy in 1907 was regarded as one of the leading market towns in Ireland with links to Dublin via the canal, the railway and with a road system then more than adequate to meet the needs of the time. The Urban Council by utilising its byelaw powers played a significant role in regulating the commercial life of the market town 113 years ago.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

J.J. Bergin

A name which regularly appears whenever I research events of the past 100 years is that of John James Bergin, known by all as J.J. Bergin. Today he is remembered as the founder of the National Ploughing Association. I remember J.J. Bergin for his involvement in athletics in the mid 1950s and his attempt to develop another Ronnie Delaney from amongst the youngsters who attended for training on the green at Pairc Bhride. An even earlier memory of J.J. Bergin is of a film show in the Social Club in St. John’s Hall featuring the 1953 World Ploughing Championships held in Canada which J.J. Bergin attended and where he was elected Vice President of the World Association. Long before the 1950s J.J. Bergin was a famous figure not only in Athy but nationally as well. The first local reference I have found to him was in a newspaper report of January 1917 which mentioned him acting as Master of Ceremonies at the annual Ancient Order of Hibernians Dance held in the Town Hall. J.J., whom I understand was an engineer, was then manager of Wolfhill Colliery and it was he who met with the Chief Secretary of Ireland, H.K. Duke when he travelled to Athy in January 1917 to discuss the proposed construction of a railway line between Athy and the colliery in Wolfhill. By all accounts J.J. Bergin was a busy man as later in 1917 he was reported as having designed the scenery for the Athy Hibernian Players who staged the play ‘The O’Carolans’ in the Town Hall. He was also reported in the local press as the organiser of Irish dancing classes in Athy as well as the founder of a Pipers Band in the town in or around 1914. The founding of the Sinn Fein Club in Athy prior to June 1917 saw many of the local A.O.H. members joining the Republican Club. Amongst those who joined was J.J. Bergin who was one of the speakers at a dinner held in the Leinster Arms Hotel arranged by the local Sinn Club to mark the visit to Athy of the singer and 1916 activist, Gerald Crofts, following his release from Lewes Jail. J.J. issued a statement five days before the arrival of Crofts in Athy in July 1917, asserting that he was a Sinn Feiner for the previous three years and declaring that ‘Sinn Fein are now the only hope for nationalism’. However, he was careful to explain that he had nothing to do with ‘a policy of open rebellion’. The Pipers Band which J.J. formed practised in the Ancient Order of Hibernian rooms in Duke Street. However, relationships between the A.O.H. and the Sinn Fein Club deteriorated and the A.O.H. took exception to the Pipers Band participating in a Sinn Fein Rally in the summer of 1917. The band members had to give an undertaking not to take part in any further Sinn Fein events before they were allowed to continue using the A.O.H. rooms. The undertaking was breached in December 1917 following which J.J. Bergin, his piping friends and their instruments were removed from the A.O.H. rooms. This undoubtedly caused J.J. to lose out in his attempt to become the local A.O.H. president that same month. The anti conscription campaign of April 1918 saw J.J. speaking from a platform in Emily Square with the local P.P., Canon Mackey, the Council chairman Martin Doyle and Denis Kilbride, M.P. He was also one of the marshals, the others being Michael Dooley, Martin Doyle and William Mahon who controlled the Anti Conscription parade led by the Athy Pipers Band which was described as the ‘most remarkable demonstration witnessed in Athy in living memory’. An interesting local press report mentions the Council’s concerns that J.J. Bergin was using town water in a flax dam he had built at Bennettsbridge. Flax was grown in this area in 1917 which year saw the appointment of a Mr. L. Kelly to supervise the growing of flax locally. There is no record of what action, if any, the Town Council took in relation to the Bennettsbridge flax dam. Athy Farmers Union sought to counter the development of the Transport Union amongst local farm labourers. J.J. Bergin stood as a Farmers Union candidate in the General Election in June 1922. He came sixth of the ten candidates with the first five elected. He again stood for the Dail in the 1927 election this time as an independent farmer candidate but failed to gain a seat. One of the more interesting discoveries I made in relation to J.J. Bergin was his involvement in the publication of a bi monthly paper called ‘The Farmers Guide’. I have an original copy of Issue No. 4 dated 15th January 1924, printed by M.C. Carey of Maryborough and Athy and published by the owner and editor J.J. Bergin, Athy. I have yet been unable to research this publication in the National Library but clearly it is evidence of the remarkable energy and initiative of the man from Maybrook who during the first half of the last century figured so prominently in local and national affairs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Athy in the 1860s

The Leinster Express reported in September 1861 that Athy had 44 public houses. The town population that year was 4,113 housed in 745 houses which gave a ratio of a public house for every 17 private homes. Little wonder that the Temperance campaigner, Fr. Matthew, visited Athy in 1840 and again in 1842. A total Abstinence Society was formed in the town in May 1861 and was reported as progressing favourably some months later. Earlier that same year the newspaper reported that due to the bad weather a large number of unemployed men gathered at the local workhouse during the course of a meeting of the Board of Guardians. They petitioned the Board members for some measure of relief for themselves and their families. The Guardians agreed to employ 30 men with dependent families to work on the workhouse farm and pay 1/= per day per man. The employment offered was of benefit for within a few weeks the local press reported:- ‘In Athy large bodies of labourers were saved from starvation or the poorhouse by work at a low rate of wage provided for them.’ Local employment in the 1860s was largely confined to seasonal work on neighbouring farms. The local workhouse employed a master tailor and a master shoemaker to train inmates, especially young boys. Many of those trained would in time leave the Workhouse. The number involved is not known but Athy’s Town Commissioners were moved in November 1861 to direct the Town Inspector to remove cobblers who were working on the streets. Three years later the Commissioners refused an application from a local cobbler anxious to resume work in some public part of the town. Apparently he had worked in the doorway of the Courthouse for upwards of 20 years before the 1861 Order was implemented. In January 1862 the Town Commissioners felt it necessary to convene a public meeting in the Courthouse to consider adopting measures to relieve distress amongst the ‘labouring classes’ and the families who suffered from recent flooding of the Barrow at Rathstewart. It was agreed to make a collection in the town and on the following Saturday, 17 women from Rathstewart were given three shillings and six pence, while over 80 labourers were employed breaking stones and cleaning the streets at a daily cost of £8. It was claimed that local distress was a perennial issue, only that year it was aggravated by the unusually wet weather. But amidst the hunger and the poverty there were occasional glimpses of people enjoying life if sometimes it prompted critical letters in the local press. On 30th July 1859 an anonymous letter of complaint to the Leinster Express read:- ‘Nuisance of a most dangerous character carried on every Sabbath day on the road from Kilberry to Dunrally Bridge, that of throwing large metal balls. A number of men and boys regularly spent the whole of the Lords Day at that disgraceful and dangerous amusement, almost in sight of a police station.’ More local excitement was generated when in the summer of 1861 two local men held a race on the main street of the town of Athy. Michael Melay, a gunsmith and William Cullen, also a gunsmith, were summonsed under the Town Improvement Act arising out of a race between them in Duke Street. Cullen, riding his own invention, a hand driven machine which he called ‘The Patent Ziranza’ raced against Mealy who was riding a Velocipede. This early example of a cycle race did not find favour with the Town Commissioners who prosecuted both men. The case against them was dismissed. 1860 saw the opening of the Provincial Agricultural Implement Depository in Leinster Street by William O’Neill who four years later would open an iron foundry on the premises. It would later become O’Neill Telford and subsequently Duthie Larges. This was also the year the first steam powered boat passed down the Canal, watched by a large crowd of onlookers at Athy. The death of the local rector Rev. Frederick S. Trench following an accident at Preston’s Gate was perhaps the most noteworthy item of the year. The press reported on 28th December 1861 that ‘a beautiful stone pulpit was erected in the Athy Church as testimonial to memory of the late Rev. F.S. Trench’ and that the Duke of Leinster had built a handsome enclosure wall and improved the Church grounds. Four years earlier the press claimed that the Duke had built ‘a mansion for the Roman Catholic clergy’. The year concluded with the holding of the Kildare Queens County and Carlow Horticultural Association Show in the People’s Park after a lapse of seven-eight years. In the following year the Horticultural Show was held in Athy’s Corn Exchange which is now the Courthouse.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

An Tostal Athy 1953

It was reported in the local press as one of the biggest parades and pageants seen in Athy in living memory. The occasion was the inaugural An Tostal Festival which was held throughout Ireland between 5th and 26th April 1953. The festival was an idea borrowed from the 1951 Festival of Britain and was planned to attract overseas visitors to Ireland during the off-peak tourism season. The festival organised in most Irish towns throughout the country opened with parades and as one could expect the principal parade on that Easter Sunday, 5th April, took place in Dublin. Here in Athy the An Tostal organising committee was chaired by Fr. Patrick Crowe C.C. who had been transferred to St. Michael’s Parish two years previously. In nearby Castledermot Fr. S. O’Sullivan C.C. chaired the local committee with the Church of Ireland Rector, Rev. W. Moncrieff Cox as the vice chairman. Tadgh Hayden, principal in the local Vocational School, was the committee secretary and thanks to him the An Tostal Festival in Castledermot in 1953 was marked with the production of a handsomely printed souvenir brochure and programme. The Castledermot booklet set out the festival programme comprising concerts, a billiard tournament, a historical tour, a children’s fancy dress parade, football matches and a grand parade to open proceedings on the first Sunday. The only record I have of Athy’s celebration of An Tostal is the press report which under the heading ‘From the reaping hook to the tractor’ gave an account of the first week’s events. The Sunday afternoon parade attracted close on 2,000 spectators, with over 150 vehicles extending for a mile taking part. Music was provided by no less than three local bands, St. Joseph’s Boys Band, St. Michael’s Fife and Drum Band and St. Dominic’s Band. The parade comprised four sections, the first consisting of local clubs and organisations preceded by a colour party. Next came the agricultural section, showcasing a pageant depicting the evolution of harvesting machinery in south Kildare from 1853 when the scythe and the reaping hook were used up to the time of the combine harvester. Representing the two final sections were the industries of south Kildare and nearby counties and approximately 25 local businesses. The parade which assembled at the Showgrounds travelled through the town, turning around at Pairc Bhride before returning to Emily Square. Organisers of the parade were the local Young Farmers Club and the Athy Show Society in collaboration with the town’s An Tostal committee. The press report named J.J. Bergin as the chief steward, with Thomas McDonnell, Michael Rowan and Ivan Bergin as section stewards, helped by members of St. Joseph’s Welfare Club, the Knights of Malta and Athy F.C.A. I’ve had for several years a number of photographs which I was unable to identify until I read the press report of the An Tostal Parade. I am now satisfied that those photographs are of the ‘biggest parade and pageant’ held in Athy that Sunday in April 67 years ago. The days events concluded with a clay pigeon shooting competition in the Show Grounds, organised by Athy Gun Club. Fr. Padraig Crowe was responsible for organising a choral and instrumental concert involving pupils of the local Christian Brothers school and the Convent of Mercy later that same week. On the Tuesday night an An Tostal Ball was held in St. John’s Hall, while on the second Sunday a River Gala was organised by St. Joseph’s Welfare Club. During the week the Social Club Players put on the play ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ in the Social Club in St. John’s Lane. The Social Club Players had put on the play in the Town Hall a month previously and in the cast were what the Nationalist and Leinster Times described as ‘veteran players’ Liam Ryan, Tadgh Brennan, Tommy Walsh, Ken Reynolds, Tom Fox, Florrie Lawler Nellie Fox and May Fenelon. The press report of the Town Hall performance also made reference to Mary Harrington, described ‘as a pretty brunette teenager ….. who infused a light heartedness and gaiety of spirit that could scarcely be excelled by an experienced professional actress.’ Sadly, Mary was to die with her friend Breda Kennedy in a road traffic accident on the Dublin road a few years later.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The old laneways, alleyways and courtyards of Athy

It all started with a query concerning Carrs Court, a small courtyard of houses at the back of Leinster Street with an entrance off Mount Hawkins. Who was Carr was the question which prompted me to consider the number of laneways, alleyways and courtyards in Athy named after landlords of previous generations? Athy, long a garrison town but soon to lose whatever economic advantage accrued from having a cavalry barracks in the town, was in the early decades of the 19th century a typical poor Irish provincial town. Unemployment and poverty went hand in hand and a countryside reeling from the devastation of the Great Famine held few opportunities for its people. The medical officer of the Athy dispensary, Dr. Edward Ferris, reported to the Town Commissioners in September 1873 that ‘the dwellings of the labouring population of this town and still more the yards attached to them are for the most part in a very bad state.’ Another 40 years were to pass before the first local authority houses were built in Athy. Prior to that housing for what was always referred to as the poorer classes was provided by private individuals. Houses of the most basic type were built to rent to local families. Those same houses were the subject of a report submitted to the local Town Council in 1932 by Dr. J.L. Kilbride in which he claimed that 1,292 persons were living in 323 houses containing ‘no more than two rooms and devoid of any sanitary accommodation whatsoever.’ In Barrack Street he found 11 people including married couples living in a two roomed house. On Canal Side there were four houses with no yard and in one lived ten people and another house had six occupants. This state of affairs, he claimed, was a strong indictment against the landlords even though he acknowledged the rents charged were as small as 10 pence a week, but generally ranged from one shilling to one shilling and six pence a week. The local Urban District Council which succeeded the Town Commissioners and the much earlier Borough Council were the first local authority for the town of Athy to provide local authority homes. The first housing scheme was completed in 1913 and comprised eleven houses in Mathews Lane, later renamed St. Michael’s Terrace, five houses in Meeting Lane and six houses in St. Martin’s Terrace. Although the houses were built following the Council’s adoption of the Housing of Working Classes Act of 1890 the Town Clerk reported that while there were 33 applicants for the 22 new houses ‘the houses are occupied principally by artisans. None of the tenants belong to the working class.’ No doubt the rents changed, ranging from 2/6 to 5/= per week were too expensive for the largely unemployed families whose men folk would enlist in large numbers during the first world war. The Urban Council would continue with its house building programme and gradually removed from the town landscape the privately rented houses which for so long accommodated many local families in unfit and unsanitary conditions. The local Slum Clearance Programmes of the 1930s saw the demolition of these small unfit houses built in the previous century by private landlords. With their removal was lost also the local names of laneways, alleyways and courtyards first noted on maps of Athy prepared by Clarges Greene in 1825 and later by the Ordnance Survey Office of Ireland. Carrs Court, Kellys Lane, Butlers Row, Baxters Lane, Higginsons Lane, Connollys Lane, James Place, Meirs Lane, Coopers Lane and Plewmans Row were all reminders of the landlords of another era about whom we now know nothing. They were probably men or women of wealth and importance in Athy of their time, but now in 2020 their names and the houses they built have disappeared. Some Athy local authority housing schemes bear the name of locals honoured for their involvement in public affairs. Michael Dooley’s Terrace, opened in 1934, was named in honour of a former member of the Town Council and the one time Chairman of the local Sinn Fein Club. Carbery Park was named to honour Tom Carbery, a town and county Councillor who died in May 1974, while Plewman’s Terrace honours Thomas Plewman, a former Chairman of the Town Council. Malone Place remembers Eamon Malone, local Old I.R.A. leader during the War of Independence, while Minches Terrace was so called in tribute to the local firm ‘so long connected with the public and industrial life of the town.’ Contrary to some peoples belief Pairc Bhride was not named after Bridget Darby, Cumann na mBan member and Gaelic League Secretary as well as town and county Councillor but like St. Patrick’s Terrace and St. Patrick’s Avenue, was named after the Irish saint. Bridget Darby it must be said was deserving of the honour and perhaps she will be suitably honoured in the future.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Dominicans in Athy

The ceremony of thanksgiving held in the Church of the Priory of St. Dominic’s on Sunday, 22nd November 2015 was the last Mass celebrated by a Dominican priest in the town of Athy. The first Mass by the newly arrived Dominicans in the medieval village of Athy took place just thirty-three years after the Dominicans came to Ireland. Those first Dominicans were Normans and spoke Norman French. We know little or nothing about the early years of the Dominicans in Athy except that their first church and all subsequent Dominican churches in the town were dedicated to St. Peter, Martyr of Verona, one of the earliest saints of the Dominican order. The Dominican Provincial, Fr. Gregory Carroll, issued a statement on 27th October 2015 announcing the Order’s long association with Athy was about to close. He continued:- ‘The Irish Dominicans are saddened that declining numbers have forced them to recognise that they cannot remain in all the centres in which they have been serving. The purpose of the reorganisation now under way in the Irish Province is to concentrate in fewer locations so as to make the work of the Dominicans more effective in the core ministries of preaching, primary pastoral care and youth formation, while providing for the formation of those joining the Order, and at the same time respecting traditional postulates’. He expressed gratitude that the church which represented a significant development in church architecture in Ireland and was opened on St. Patrick’s Day 1965, would be available as a public amenity for the people of Athy. Speaking at the final Mass the former prior of Athy, Fr. John Harris, explained that the Dominican friars had made the decision to close the Athy priory with ‘heavy hearts, and we can’t blame Henry VIII or Cromwell this time’. His reference was to the suppression of the Dominican Priory in Athy in 1539 and the subsequent withdrawal of the prior, Fr. Robert Woulff and his small community of Friars from the town. Oliver Cromwell invaded in Ireland in August 1649 and gaining his first military victory against the Catholic Confederates in Drogheda had the entire garrison slaughtered, amongst their numbers being six priests, one of whom was Fr. Richard Ovington, sub prior of Athy. Other members of the Athy Dominican community were subsequently imprisoned including Fr. Redmond Moore, prior in 1661/’62 and Fr. Joseph Carroll, prior of Athy in 1664. When the Dominicans left Athy almost five years ago they left us with a beautiful building which has since been adapted for use as our town library. Within the former church the Dominicans also left a church organ which had been installed in the 1980s. It was intended that it would remain in the building, but Kildare County Council had the organ removed and I understand it has been donated to another church. The bell tower attached to the previous small T shaped Dominican church was built in 1898 and it remains part of the building landscape of the new town library. The small church was erected in 1850 and the bell tower housed the bell presented to the Athy Dominicans 48 years later. The inscription on the bell records that it was presented by ‘the Rosary Confraternity and other kind friends’. It was cast by M. Byrne of the Fountain Head Bell Foundry, James Street, Dublin and brought to Athy by canal boat. The Dominican bell on the west side of the River Barrow has an older church bell companion on the opposite side of the river. This latter bell can be seen high up on the front of the Town Hall. It came from the Anglican church which was once located at the rear of the Town Hall. When the new church at the top of Offaly Street was consecrated in September 1841 the old church was demolished and the church bell which bears the date 1682 was removed and was later placed on what was then the Courthouse in July 1860. Perhaps the most important legacy of the Athy Dominicans is the Lay Dominicans who meet on a regular basis for prayer and study in groups which are called Chapters. The Dominican laity were involved with the local priests in saying the divine office in the Dominican church from about 1992. This coincided with the opening of a novitiate in the Athy priory but unfortunately the Athy novitiate did not last for very long. One of the few visible reminders of the Dominican Order’s long association with Athy is the plaque which was unveiled by Sean Cunnane, Chairman of Athy U.D.C. on Sunday, 7th October 2007. It is located on the small wall at the entrance to the present town library and reads:- ‘This plaque is dedicated by a grateful townspeople to the memory of the friars of the Order of Friar Preachers who since 1257 have faithfully served the people of this town and district’.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Mike Robinson's account of leaving Athy in 1960

Mike Robinson, born in this parish 77 years ago and now a long-time resident in Australia, sent me an email on 7th June which read:- ‘Today is the 60th anniversary of my daring escape from Athy in June 1960.’ What followed was an account of that ‘escape’ which brought him to England and then a year later to Australia by way of an assisted passage scheme. With Mike’s permission I have edited his account and hand over this week’s Eye to a former classmate. ‘Back in those days I was working in the offices of Smiths of Cavan, a car/tractor dealership next door to the IVI in Leinster Street. When I finished work on Saturday June 5th I had a blazing row with my mother ….. in my anger I jumped on my NSU auto-cycle and headed for Kilrush, County Clare ….. John Purtill, who used to be the garage manager at Smiths of Cavan in Athy, returned to his native Clare and opened a garage in Kilrush ….. in my blind faith and ignorance I was sure he would give me a job ….. the trip to Kilrush turned out to be an overnight one. The top speed of the NSU was about 25 miles an hour, and after an hour or so riding at top speed the tiny engine overheated and had to be rested for half an hour. By nightfall I was still in Tipperary and less than half way to my destination. Around 11pm I pulled over and slept in a ditch while a gentle summer rain pitter-pattered down on me ….. around midday on Sunday I reached Kilrush. I asked around for John Purtill and was told he had gone away for the weekend ….. I turned the bike around and headed back towards Athy. Sunday night was again spent sleeping in a ditch in the middle of nowhere ….. I decided early on Monday morning to pack my bags, meagre as they were, and leave Ireland. England it would have to be, but I didn't know anyone there except my uncle John, and I had no idea where he lived in England ….. I went to my grandmother's house to get uncle John's address in England ….. she didn't have his address ….. however, she had an address for an Irish woman she used to work with in years past ….. the address she gave me was in Surrey ….. I went home and quietly packed a few belongings into an old cardboard suitcase that belonged to my sister. Then I zipped down to the post office on my bike and cashed in my savings stamps, which amounted to about £12, giving me £18 to finance my new start in life. I hitched a lift to Dublin from where I caught a bus out to Dun Laoghaire to board the overnight cattle boat to Holyhead. The boat was packed with Irish labourers returning from short summer holidays in Ireland. Many of them were drinking heavily ….. at Holyhead the boat passengers disgorged into a waiting train that soon departed for London. It was a restless night for me surrounded by drunks. At Euston Station early on Tuesday morning I found scenes that were totally foreign to me. The scale of activity at the train station dwarfed anything I'd ever seen in my life and I knew I might never again live in a place where I knew everyone either by sight or by name. [Mike safely reached the address given by his grandmother and there met her old friend and her husband who lived in the basement of a large house. Both were in service with responsibility of keeping the house boilers stoked with coal.] ‘For the next three months I slept on a sofa in the basement of that magnificent house ….. despite living in a sooty-black basement with my grandmother’s friend, her husband and an incontinent hen named Polly, things were looking up. There was a London Transport bus depot in Reigate so I applied for a job there as a bus conductor. What I didn’t know was that the minimum age for London Transport bus conductors was 19. I was only 17 years and one month old at the time ….. at this remove I can't recall how or why I persuaded myself that I could get someone I hardly knew back in Ireland, a person of utmost respectability and public piety, to provide me with a falsified birth certificate. But that's what I did ….. I wrote a short letter to the sacristan in Athy telling her the predicament I was in and asking her if she could get me a birth certificate stating I was born in 1941. The certificate arrived almost by return post and I became a London Transport bus conductor before the end of June 1960, probably the youngest bus conductor in the history of London Transport.’ Mike emigrated to Australia the following year where he had a successful career. That same June 1960 some of Mike’s former classmates sat their Leaving Certificate exams in the C.B.S. school in St. John’s Lane. Many of them were destined to follow in Mike’s trail and take the emigrant boat.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The 150th Anniversary Celebration of Irish Christian Brothers in Athy

On 24th February 1994 seven local men and women met in Athy to discuss ways of marking the 150th anniversary of the death of Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Irish Christian Brothers. At a subsequent public meeting held in the Town Hall a committee was formed to make arrangements to celebrate the event and to record and commemorate the Christian Brothers’ presence in Athy as the intended departure of the Brothers from the town had in the meantime been announced. The committee, chaired by Frank McNulty, principal of St. Patrick’s School, Monica Langton as treasurer and this writer as secretary, arranged a series of events which took place on Friday 23rd September 1994 and the following day. A memorial plaque commemorating the Christian Brothers was unveiled on the Friday evening in the car park which the Urban District Council re-named Edmund Rice Square. This was followed by a reception and a musical recital in the nearby St. Patrick’s School. The following day the Christian Brothers attending for the weekend were given a civic reception by the Urban District Council. This was followed by another reception and a musical recital in Scoil Eoin. The ceremonies concluded that Saturday with Mass in the Parish Church celebrated by Bishop Eamon Walsh followed by dinner in the GAA clubhouse. A small booklet outlining the history of the Christian Brothers in Athy following their arrival in the town on 8th August 1861 was published. In a copy of that booklet members of the organising committee signed their names during a dinner which was held in the Castle Inn on 21st January 1995. It was the final get together of the committee members and was organised to coincide with the departure of Brother John Murphy from Athy and the planned departure of Brother Joe Quinn two weeks later. They were the last two Christian Brothers of the many members of Edmund Rice’s foundation who had come and gone from the Christian Brothers monastery in Athy over the previous 134 years. That final dinner was remembered by me on a note which I inserted in the earlier mentioned booklet, which booklet each of the committee members at the dinner signed. Amongst the signatures were those of Maureen Dowling and her husband Patrick. I wrote: ‘the dinner party held in the Castle Inn Athy on 21st January 1995 broke up at midnight. Maureen Dowling, on reaching home, suffered a stroke from which she died on Monday 23rd January at 12.40pm. Brother J. Murphy left Athy on Monday at 12.50pm for Dublin, travelling with Brother J. Quinn in the community car. Maureen Dowling was buried on Wednesday 25th January in St. Michael’s cemetery.’ Later that month I wrote the following in the Athy newsletter which the late Noreen Kelleher edited and printed on a monthly basis: ‘Death comes to all of us. In old age it is often greeted as a welcoming release while for the young it is an intruder stalking prey never destined to grow to maturity. Its ravages are to be seen everywhere but its immediacy is not always appreciated even in a community where we share in the grief and sorrow of others. Last Saturday evening a small group of men and women who had worked throughout the summer to commemorate the Christian Brothers in Athy met to give a final send-off to Brother J.D. Murphy and Brother J.F. Quinn. Brother Murphy was to leave Athy for St. Patrick’s, Baldoyle two days later, while Brother Quinn will leave for Naas Christian Brothers within weeks. There were twelve of us and two Christian Brothers gathered at the private meal. Formalities were shunned as we sat around the table swopping stories and sharing our appreciation of the good work of the Christian Brothers in our town over many years. With us was Maureen Dowling and her husband Pat, both of whom had thrown themselves enthusiastically and with dedication into the Committee’s work over the long summer months of last year. Maureen spoke thoughtfully and eloquently of the Christian Brothers in Athy and was in good form throughout the night. Within an hour of leaving that gathering she suffered a fatal illness and died on Monday last, as Brother Murphy was on his way to his last posting in Dublin. The shock of Maureen’s passing stunned all who knew her, especially those people with whom she had shared her last social evening on this earth. Reflecting on her death I could not but feel the tragedy of a loss the immediacy of which was heightened by our mutual association just a short time before. Nothing brings home more effectively the transitory nature of life’s pleasures than the passing of a friend and colleague whose time has been cut short.’ I was reminded of the events of 25 years ago on reading an account of the commemoration held in Athy in 1944 for Edmund Rice’s centenary. The opportunity will be taken in a future Eye to write of that celebration.