Thursday, March 15, 2018

Danny Kane and Mary Fleming

Danny Kane and Mary Fleming came from a similar rural background in South Kildare.  Danny was from Oldgrange, while Mary was from the nearby townland of Fontstown.  In age they were a generation apart but both passed away within weeks of each other.  Mary was an extremely devout person whose commitment to her church never waivered, while Danny’s work ethic was an essential part of his approach to life. 

Mary left Ireland as a young girl in 1937 at the height of the economic war.  She would spend the next 67 years of her life in England where she qualified as a nurse and midwife.  Even in retirement she continued working as a health visitor in Northampton, near to the home place of the great English poet John Clare.  She was however never lost to Ireland or to the extended Fleming family and she returned to Athy 12 years ago.  Here in Athy she renewed her commitment to the local parish in the same way as she had committed herself as a volunteer in her UK parish over many years.

Danny Kane, who was one of the most agreeable persons one could meet, left school like so many of his peers at an early age.  His lack of formal education did not in any way impinge on his ability to relate to people and he enjoyed an excellent relationship with everyone as he passed through life.  While working on local farms at an early age he developed an extraordinary work ethic which he maintained all his life.

In or about 1971 Danny purchased a small grocery shop at 32 Woodstock Street.  I am told that the enterprising young man from Oldgrange found that the mortgage repayments exceeded his income and so with friends Syl Bell and Eddie Ryan he purchased a chip van.  Travelling to various functions in the area selling chips proved profitable and prompted Danny to open a chipper in part of the existing grocery shop in Woodstock Street.  In time Danny gave over the entire premises to the fish and chip business and it flourished while Danny was the proprietor before selling it on in 1998. 

Legion are the stories I have heard of Danny’s thoughtfulness and generosity during his time as the shop proprietor in Woodstock Street.  It was the same spirit and thoughtfulness which saw him working later in his life as a volunteer driver for the Cancer Society.  After retiring from the business he had built up over 26 years Danny worked for a time as a driver for his brother-in-law Fergal Blanchfield.  This was followed by a spell as a driver with local hardware firm Griffin Hawe Ltd. and later as a taxi driver for Vals Cabs and Ernest O’Rourke-Glynn.

Sadly in more recent years Danny was troubled by a heart complaint brought on unquestionably by a life of hard work and long hours.  He was scheduled to have heart surgery for some time past but health cutbacks caused the operation to be postponed several times.  When at last the call came it was via a text message while Danny was attending 12 mass at St. Michael’s Parish Church.  He was admitted to St. James’s Hospital the following morning but tragically following a 14 hour operation died shortly after being transferred to the intensive care unit.

Danny is survived by his wife Fidelma who on their marriage in 1972 brought together two families, Kanes and Blanchfields, who are long associated with this part of the county of Kildare.  Fidelma and their 8 adult children have lost a wonderful caring husband and father and a man for whom the local community came out in their hundreds to honour on the occasion of his funeral. 

The contrasting lifestyles of both Danny Kane and Mary Fleming, both from rural backgrounds, were founded on commitment, one to the church, the other to the family.  Mary, who remained single throughout her whole life, found contentment and purpose in the Catholic Church and in her later years on returning to Ireland found great happiness with the extended family members, young and old, with whom she spent her final days.  Danny found great happiness in his family life and the life stories of Danny and Mary while different in so many ways show that their passages through life were marked by dedicated commitment to life’s true values.  Our sympathies go to the families and friends of Mary Fleming and Danny Kane. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cyril Osborne

As a young lad growing up in Offaly Street my sporting activities were largely confined to the playing of Gaelic football, with an occasional clumsy foray into the classiest of all team sports,  hurling.  In those pre-television days sporting heroes were of the homegrown sort.  English soccer was no part of my sporting lexicon and even the home based equivalent seldom aroused any interest.  However, despite the operation of the G.A.A. ban the local rugby team always attracted some of my attention.  Was it I wonder a reflected interest stemming from the Irish rugby team which so far as I was aware was the only Irish sports team which embraced the 32 counties?  Whatever the reason this proud G.A.A. fellow was an interested follower of the local rugby team and being a young lad looked on the likes of Reggie Rowan, Jack Ryan and Cyril Osborne as some of my early sporting interests.  Reggie was a good friend of my brother George, while Jack had shared early school classes with me in the local Christian Brothers school. 


Cyril Osborne was one of the stars of the Athy Rugby Club during the second half of the 1950s.  His electrifying burst of speed at a time when rugby role models centered on the likes of Jack Kyle rather than ‘battering ram’ players of today gave the young Athy player a cache of young supporters and admirers.  I was one of those young fellows and in later years, long after Cyril retired from rugby and when I returned to Athy, I met the man who was not only a good rugby player but more importantly an exceptionally thoughtful and helpful person.


It was 35 years ago that I set up practice in the town where I had spent my formative years.  I did so after an absence of 21 years spent in Naas, Kells, Monaghan and Dublin and although I had qualified initially as a barrister and later as a solicitor I knew little or nothing of the practicalities or procedures which are an important part of any solicitor’s practice.  Cyril Osborne was of tremendous help to me in that regard.  I well remember my first day in Court.  I had no cases but Cyril with whom I was sitting passed me what I now know was a straight forward application and advised me how to address the Court.  His thoughtfulness for the newcomer was admirable and was displayed on many occasions in the following years whenever his advice was sought.  He was always generous with his advice and never once in the past 35 years had I ever any reason to question his common-sense approach to even the most complex issue.  He was for me, especially in my early years of practice, a valued mentor who was always ready and willing to help a colleague.


The practice of law requires not just a knowledge of the law but also a level of honesty, tact  and integrity which was the hallmark of the legal profession of times past.  Cyril’s father, Bob Osborne, qualified as a solicitor in 1915 and opened a practice joining with Robert Monks.  Bob Osborne subsequently bought out his partner and developed what was to become the largest legal practice in Athy.  Cyril, who qualified as a Solicitor in 1965, joined his father in the practice and Cyril in turn was joined by his son David who now carries on the practise as the third generation of the Osborne family. 


With the passing of Cyril Osborne, who was a former President of the Kildare Bar Association, the Athy legal profession has lost a colleague who gave of his best for his clients.  He did so with tact and discretion bringing to his role as a solicitor a wealth of knowledge and experience coupled with a sympathetic understanding of the needs of his clients.  Cyril was not only a colleague, but also a friend who was justifiably proud of his family’s involvement in the affairs of the town of Athy over the past 100 years.  Over 60 years ago Bob Osborne donated land on the Carlow Road for community use and I am conscious that a young Bob Osborne after he married lived for a few years in Ardreigh House where I am now writing this article. 


We will all miss Cyril Osborne.  Others may write of his contribution to Athy Rugby Club and Athy Golf Club but for me and my colleagues in Athy, in County Kildare, and in the neighbouring counties the memory will be of a gentleman who brought courtesy and integrity to his practice of the law.


Cyril is survived by his wife Maeve, his daughter Brona and his sons David and Alan and four grandchildren to whom our sympathies are extended.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Athy casualties at Messines 1917 / Cumann na mBan members Athy July 1927

In the third year of World War I Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Forces on the Western Front planned a military offensive in Flanders to commence on 7th June 1917.  This offensive which lasted during June and July included the third Battle of Ypres (commonly called Passchendaele) and the Battle of Cambrai.  Ypres was a British held salient which projected into the German lines and Haig planned a full-scale offensive from there to divert attention from the French army which had suffered huge losses during the month of April.  Those French losses, amounting to 120,000 men in one five-day period, were deeply resented by the surviving French troops who mutinied and refused to attack the German lines.  Haig had planned his offensive strategy for some months and had Welsh miners excavate several tunnels under the German lines.  He realised that if an attack from the Ypres salient was to be successful it was necessary to secure the high ground dominating the area which was known as Messines – Wtyschaete Ridge. 


The tunnels dug by the Welsh miners were packed with explosives and at dawn on 7th June the explosives were set off, producing a blast which we are told was heard in London.  The explosion was followed by British troops going over the top and using, amongst other forms of weaponry, poisonous gas canisters which were hurled into the German trenches.  The week-long battle at the Messines Ridge saw for the first time the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division fighting alongside each other.  The German casualties at Messines were approximately 25,000, while the British Army casualties accounted for 17,000 men wounded and killed. 


Among the Irish causalities was Athy man Thomas Alcock, a member of the 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and William King of Crookstown who was a private in the South Irish Horse.  William was the brother of Jim King and Tommy King who also served in the South Irish Horse.  Many years ago I was told by a family member that Tommy King later deserted from the army and dumped his uniform down a well at Burtown.  Was Tommy Alcock, I wonder, a brother of Frank Alcock who aged 20 years died of wounds in France on 4th July 1916?  He had enlisted in the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and in the 1911 Census was recorded as living in Woodstock Street.  Another possible member of the Alcock family, Richard Alcock, born in 1892 was noted in the Irish Military Service Pension Records as a member of the Volunteers during the Irish War of Independence. 


Clem Roche, whose book on Athy men killed in World War I, was recently published (copies can be purchased in the Heritage Centre) has embarked on a project with me to identify those local men and women who were involved in the Volunteer movement during the Irish War of Independence.  Clem has trawled through the I.R.A. pension records, the War of Independence medal records and statistics compiled by I.R.A. leaders in 1921 and 1922 and has identified many individuals, some whose involvement was confirmed by the award of an I.R.A. pension or a black and tan service medal.  Many others who may well have been active during that period, did not succeed in getting either a pension or a medal and consequently their involvement has not received the attention it deserves.  Clem has identified 33 local men whom he is satisfied were members of the Athy Company of the 5th Battalion Carlow Kildare I.R.A. Brigade.  More names will undoubtedly be added as there are a few men generally believed to have been involved who are not included among the 33 already identified.


As we come to commemorate the Irish War of Independence it is important that those men and women from Athy who were actively involved should be remembered.  If any reader has any information about any local person involved in the Irish War of Independence I would welcome hearing from them.


The following list of Cumann na mBan members in Athy in July 1921 has recently come to hand.  I am familiar with some of those named, but others are unknown to me and I would welcome hearing from anybody who can help identify those involved. 


Julia Whelan, Kilmoroney

Kathleen McDonnell

Rose McDonnell

Mary Malone

Mrs. Julia Dooley, St. Michael’s Terrace

Mrs. May, Woodstock Street

Mrs. O’Neill, Newbridge

Alice Lambe, Upper William Street

Mrs. John Whelan, Ballylinan

Miss Murphy, Maganey

Christina Malone


Let me hear from you if you can help in the search to identify local patriots of almost 100 years ago. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Helen Dreelan Matron St. Vincent's Hospital

A nursing career which includes six years spent as an outpost nurse in a nursing station catering for the people of Northern Newfoundland and Labrador comes to an end shortly when Helen Dreelan retires as matron of St. Vincent’s Hospital, Athy.  Helen came to the position in St. Vincent’s Hospital in 1999 and I met her soon afterwards as she was involved with a number of Athy Lions Club fundraising events.  Always helpful and never less than cheerful Helen brought a keen sense of shared responsibility and a wealth of experience to the profession of nursing management.


Helen qualified as a registered nurse in Dublin and later worked as a staff nurse in several different hospitals in the capital city.  She later took charge as head nurse of the urology unit in Galway University Hospital.  In 1987 she joined the Grenfell Regional Hospital services and spent the next six years as the nurse in charge in Mary’s Harbour nursing station in southern Labrador.  For the young Ballymore Eustace native, this was an extraordinary change of working environment as she worked in sub-arctic conditions where the temperature in winter times fell as low as minus thirty degrees.


The Grenfell Regional Health Board was established in 1981 to take over operational responsibility for the delivery of health care and social services in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador.  William Grenfell, an English doctor who first went to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1892 as part of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, opened cottage hospitals in the villages scattered along the inhospitable coastline of Labrador.  Mary’s Harbour was one of the small coastal villages with a population of a couple of hundred people, situated in the south-east coast of Labrador.  In Labrador itself there are three ethnic groups, the Inuit, the native Americans and descendants of European origins.  The village of Mary’s Harbour has no roadwork to any of the other towns and villages on the Labrador coast.  The nearest village was a 25 min. boat ride or a 10 min. plane trip away.  Medical facilities in the sub-arctic environment of Labrador village of Mary’s Harbour were provided by head nurse Helen and another nurse whose day to day work was complemented by visits every four or six weeks by the District Medical Officer and the District Dentist. 


Winter on the coast of Labrador lasts from November to early May when temperatures can fall so sharply as to freeze rivers and sea alike.  Inshore cod fishing, which is the principal occupation of the coastal villagers in Labrador comes to a standstill in winter, resuming only in May each year.  The summer fishing season is short but busy and October sees the fishermen returning to Mary’s Harbour to prepare for the winter.  Life as an outpost nurse in the Labrador coastal village, as one can imagine, can be extremely challenging.  It was a challenge Helen Dreelan as a nurse from Ireland found simulating during her six years there.  She also found enormous job satisfaction in providing a comprehensive medical service for a scattered community whose lives are regulated by the harsh weather conditions which give a seemingly unending horizon of frozen lakes, snow and ice. 


Helen took up the position of matron of St. Vincent’s Hospital in 1999 and now, in addition to that role, is also Director of Nursing for the Kildare West Wicklow area.  St. Vincent’s Hospital which first opened as a workhouse in January 1844 has seen a large number of both lay and religious masters and matrons in its 173 years’ history.  Many of us will remember the legendary Sr. Dominic who for many years epitomised all that was good in Irish religious life and whose charity earned for her the respect and gratitude of many.


Plans for the building of a new 100 bed hospital unit has been developed and approved during Helen’s stewardship of St. Vincent’s Hospital.  That stewardship has also been marked by many improvements to both the existing building and to the system of care afforded to patients in St. Vincent’s Hospital.   As a nurse manager and matron of the hospital Helen Dreelan has demonstrated admirable management and leadership skills.  Looking back at the history of nursing in Ireland we tend to overlook the enormous contribution made by the religious orders to hospital management in the past.  Helen was the first lay person in recent years to take on the role of matron of St. Vincent’s Hospital and in remembering her contribution we should also acknowledge and recall the contribution of the Sisters of Mercy who first came to work in the former workhouse in the 1870s.


Our congratulations, best wishes and thanks to Helen Dreelan who will be retiring on 30th June.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A tour of interesting parts of Athy and South Kildare

I adopted the role of an out of town visitor during the past week as I brought a Galway friend around some of the many interesting parts of south Kildare.  The starting point was Athy’s Heritage Centre where the first-time visitor was impressed by the range and quality of the various exhibitions.  He particularly liked the short films dealing with Andrew Delaney and World War 1, the Gordon Bennett Race of 1902 and the Shackleton ‘Endurance’ expedition of 1914.


A barge trip on the nearby river was promised for another day as we turned our attention to nearby Castledermot.  On the way we passed to look, from a distance, at Kilkea Castle, soon to re-open as a five-star hotel.  Once the home of the Wizard Earl of Kildare it also housed at different periods members of the Jesuit Society and the infamous ’98 informer Thomas Reynolds.  Just beyond the castle we passed Mullaghreelan where the Irish saint Laurence O’Toole, a former archbishop of Dublin, was born.


Castledermot has a host of interesting places, the best known of which is St. James Church with its round tower and high crosses.  These are visible reminders of the 9th century monastery, while the Romanesque archway is believed to be the remains of a 12th century church dedicated to St. Dermot.  The swearing stone and the hogback burial stone add imaginative interest to the scene, even if there may well be doubts as to the historic accuracy of both descriptions.


The substantial remains of the nearby Franciscan Friary founded in the 13th century is all that was left following the Geraldine rebellion of the early 1500s.  It had survived attacks by the Scottish invaders led by Edward Bruce almost 200 years earlier.  Supressed by Henry VIII, as was Athy’s Dominican Friary in the 1540s, the Franciscan monastery became a vacant shell which contains today in the north transept the only example of a cadaver stone in County Kildare.


A stop over for refreshments at the Moone High Cross Inn brought me to the venue where the late Michael Delaney’s book on Kilkea was launched some years ago.  This is a real treasure of a country inn, its wall resplendent with photographs and artefacts telling the story of the surrounding area.  A short journey up the road us to the Moone High Cross.  It is located on the site of one of the early Columban foundations.  The Moone High Cross, one of the finest National monuments in Ireland, is believed to date from about 700 and its elaborate design prompts the belief that the monastery of Moone was well established when the cross was first erected and that the monastery may well have origins near the time of St. Colmcille who died in 597. 


A short detour to Bolton Abbey, the Cistercian Abbey established in 1977, brought with it a pleasant surprise.  We arrived just as five Cistercian monks began to chant their midday prayers.  Many centuries have passed since the same prayerful sounds were heard in nearby Moone and Castledermot and as I watched the elderly Cistercian monks at prayer I became more conscious of the strong ecclesiastical links which mark all areas of south Kildare.


We passed on to Ballitore, the one-time Quaker village, with a built heritage which speaks of prosperous times when Quaker business men were its most prominent residents.  Mary Leadbeater’s house, now the village library and museum, was the first port of call.  It is manned by the newly appointed librarian Pauline Fagan who tells me that she is one of the Birney clan of Kilcullen.  The Quaker museum gives an interesting insight into the lives of the village people of Ballitore of the 19th century.  Their story was captured so well in the writings of Mary Leadbeater whose most famous publication, ‘The Annals of Ballitore’, recently reprinted by Kildare County Library, is for sale in the Ballitore library. 


A visit to the nearby Quaker cemetery to see the recently repaired grave monument for Mary Leadbeater was not possible as the uncontrolled growth of cow parsley at the entrance to the cemetery threatened a sensitive hay fever sufferer. The Shaker store and the Quaker meeting house are worth a visit if you visit Ballitore where Abraham Shackleton started a Quaker boarding school in 1726.  That same school building captured in an early photograph is no more but its most famous pupils, Napper Tandy, Edmund Burke and Paul Cullen are still remembered.  The last named, later to be the first Irish Cardinal of the Catholic Church, was born in Prospect House just a short distance from the village on the way to the town of Athy.


Time did not allow us to visit Killeen Cormac, just three miles north east of Ballitore.  This was a pagan burial place continued in use in Christian times from where ogham stones were removed and placed in our National museum.  Kileen Cormac is believed to be the burial place of King Cormac of Munster. 


My Galway visitor was very impressed with what he saw in a short trip around South Kildare and I must myself admit that I have a better appreciation of the interesting history and heritage of my own area.  Hopefully more visitors will be encouraged to visit the area when the planned Greenway comes into being and the Shackleton Museum plans for the Town Hall are finally realised. 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Athy men who served with the Anzacs during World War I

A week or so ago I had the privilege of meeting the Australian author Jeff Kildea who stopped off in Athy on his journey home following the launch of his latest book in Tullamore.  As I mentioned in a previous Eye Jeff’s great great grandmother as a young girl was sent to Australia under the Irish Workhouses Orphan Emigration Scheme at the end of the Great Famine.  Roseanna Fleming was from Ballyadams and thanks to the generosity of spirit of Jim Fleming, Jeff on his visit to Ballyadams was able to learn some of the background to that location’s history.


Visiting Ballyadams Catholic Church which with the nearby national school makes up the visible centre of the townland, our Australian visitor came across a reminder of his youthful Australian past.  There in front of the Church are buried a number of former parish priests of the parish of Ballyadams.  Amongst them lies the remains of Monsignor Walter Hurley who died at Ballyadams on 21st June 1956.  Monsignor Hurley was at one time parish priest of Bondi Beach, Sydney and amongst his parishioners was a young Jeff Kildea.  Indeed I believe the Monsignor baptised Jeff Kildea, the man who visiting Athy and Ballyadams in April 2017 was not aware that his former parish priest lay buried before the parish church where his great great grandmother may have worshiped over 160 years ago.


This discovery by the Australian author of the splendid book ‘Anzacs and Ireland’ was one of the highlights of his visit which included a tour of the remaining blocks of the original Workhouse in Athy opened in January 1844. 


‘Anzacs and Ireland’ published by Cork University Press in 2007 provides an interesting and detailed account of New Zealand and Australian soldiers of World War 1 who spent time in Ireland during the 1916 Rising.   The Australian New Zealand connection with Ireland is based in many instances on a common genealogy and a shared heritage.  Soldiers from these two countries and Ireland fought alongside each other during World War I and Jeff Kildea’s book elaborates on the association between Anzac soldiers and Ireland during a difficult period in our history. 


Athy’s connection with the Anzacs was further clarified for me by data shared by Jackie Greene whose own relation was a member of the Anzacs.  Jackie, who researched the Irish Anzacs database provided by the University of New South Wales, discovered six Athy men who enlisted with the Anzacs during World War I. 


Two of those men enlisted but shortly thereafter were discharged.  They were George Cullen, aged 43 years, originally from Bray, Athy who enlisted in Sydney in April 1916.  Patrick Connor, whose brother had an address at Athy Post Office, also enlisted having previously served in the Royal Field Artillery in England.


Gallowshill born Thomas Smyth enlisted in New South Wales in February 1915 and served as an infantry soldier in Gallipoli and later with the Field Ambulance Brigade in France.  He survived the war, despite being wounded in April 1918 and returned to Australia.  Another enlistee in Australia was Andrew Short who also fought in Gallipoli and France.  I believe he was from the Castleroe Maganey area. 


Gerald Whelan, son of Thomas Whelan of William Street, enlisted in New South Wales in April 1915 and fought with the Anzacs on the Western Front.  He also survived the war, as did Charles Prendergast, another Athy man who unlike the other five men was married.  He had enlisted in Melbourne in September 1914.


Jeff Kildea in his book ‘Anzacs in Ireland’ wrote ‘the time is surely ripe to revive memories of the links between Australia’s soldiers and Ireland – links forged in battle at Gallipoli’.  Thanks to Jackie Greene’s research that link has now been made.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Athy's links with the Crimean War

Amongst my papers is a letter sent from Athy to Dublin on 4th December 1857.  The letter sent, to a now unknown correspondent, was written by a man called John McElwain.  In the letter he requested various types of leather to be sent to him on the following Saturday evening’s goods train. 


He pointed out in the letter that it was most important that he had these goods before Monday as it was a fair day in Athy.  Furthermore he wrote that he was unable to come to Dublin himself as he was indisposed because of the illness of one of his children.  That is all I know about John McElwain and the location of his business in Athy is unknown to me.  Given the materials he was ordering from Dublin I presume he was some form of leather maker and possibly a saddler or harness maker.  What is more intriguing about the letter is the stationery upon which it is written.  At the head of the notepaper is an engraved headpiece of ‘Planting the standard on the Malakhoff September 8th, 1855’.   The capture of the Malakhoff was a culminating action in the Siege of Sevastopol in the Crimean War in 1855.  This was a war fought between the forces of Britain and France as against the Russians.  On that day September 8th 1855 13,000 Russians were killed and 10,000 of the allied soldiers.  It seemed curious to me that a shopkeeper in Athy was using a letter heading commemorating a battle fought in the far-flung Crimea two years previously. 


The Crimean War was one of the most important international events of the 19th century and it was the focus of much attention in the Irish press at the time.  Many thousands of Irishmen served in the war and Irish women were represented by the Sisters of Mercy who travelled to Crimea in December 1854 to nurse the wounded British soldiers.  Their experiences were recorded in journals kept by Sr. Aloysius Doyle and Sr. Joseph Croke.  Sr. Doyle was from Old Kilcullen and had entered the Sisters of Mercy in Carlow in 1851.  She subsequently published her memoirs of her service in the Crimean War in 1896 to raise funds for charitable purposes.  Amongst the many Athy soldiers was Patrick Dowling who enlisted in the British Army on 14th December 1849, giving his occupation on enlistment as a servant.  He joined the 17th Lancers, a cavalry regiment, and fought in the War, receiving recognition for his involvement in the Battles of Alma, Balaclava and Sevastopol.  He was killed in the Charge of the Light Brigade on 25th October 1854.  His Crimean war medal surfaced at Whyte's Auction house in Dublin in 2000.  I understand it was subsequently purchased by a Kildare man and perhaps one day it might find its way to Athy for display in the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum.


The landed class from the Athy area were also represented in the British Army at that time.  Henry William Verschoyle, the son of Robert Verschoyle who lived at Abbey Farm, Kilberry, Athy was one of six children of Robert Verschoyle and Catherine Verschoyle.  Henry was the only one of three sons who survived into adulthood.  Born in 1835 he was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards and served in the Crimean War with distinction having carried the regimental colours of his regiment at the Battles of Alma, Balaclava and was wounded during the Siege of Sevastopol in 1855 but survived the war.  Henry married in December 1856 and continued to live in Kilberry and at 6 Wilton Crescent in London.  He was an accomplished artist and photographer and a large collection of photographic works are held in the Hulton collection in London.  Retiring from the army with the rank of Colonel he spent much of his time sailing.  Indeed he won the Queens Cup at the Cowes Regatta in 1870 and just two days later died suddenly while participating in another race.


Another interesting local connection relates to the institution of the Victoria Cross medal by Queen Victoria at the end of the Crimean War in 1856.  The medal was instituted ‘for conspicuous bravery in the presence of the enemy’.  Uniquely the bronze medal is still cast from Russian guns captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean War.  It is regarded as the highest award for bravery and takes precedence over all other military medals.  The first Kildare man to win a Victoria Cross is remembered in Crookstown Cemetery.  Abraham Bolger, originally from Kilcullen, was awarded his Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Indian mutiny in 1857.  Unusually for a man who began his army service in the ranks Abraham rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and retired from the army in 1887.  He died on 23rd January 1900 having resided for some time close to the Moate of Ardscull.


As to John McElwain, the shopkeeper in Athy whose letter triggered this Eye on the Past, we presume that he must have got his goods on time to ensure that he had a successful fair day!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Outer Relief Road v. Inner Reliefr Road

Last week local newspapers carried several pages advertising Kildare County Council’s Compulsory Purchase Notice relating to lands to be acquired for the Outer Relief Road on the south side of Athy.  This means we are now approaching the final stretch in the long struggle to get traffic relieving measures in place for the town of Athy.  New roads were first mooted in 1976 when the Urban District Council engaged the services of Fearon & Associates.  Their report, issued some months later, recommended the construction of an Inner Relief Road as an immediate short-term measure, with an Outer Relief Road as a medium to long term solution to the town’s developing traffic problems.


The report like most reports submitted to government agencies was not acted upon and remained out of sight and out of mind for almost ten years.  In 1985 the issue of the relief roads was raised and during the subsequent discussions it became clear that the report which recommended the construction of an Inner Relief Road through the back square also suggested that no development would be allowed along that new road which was to have 6ft. high walls on either side.  So much for the quality of urban planning in the 1970s!


This disclosure prompted much heated debate in the Council chamber and alarm amongst the local townspeople and resulted in a decision to remove the walls from any future road development in the town.  It also prompted the council officials to get a compliant Urban Council to entrust responsibility for any new road development in Athy to Kildare County Council, thereby hoping to limit any further criticism by the townspeople.


Over the following years however the Inner Relief Road became a contentious issue and a matter of great concern to the general public.  In September 1998, the Athy Urban Development Group was formed to oppose the construction of the Inner Relief Road and to promote the alternative outer relief route.  The group organised a petition seeking a plebiscite on the best option for the town.  The petition signed by over 2,000 local people was ignored by the Urban District Council. 


Council officials claimed that the consultants engaged by the Council identified only 15% of the town traffic as ‘through’ traffic.  This apparently strengthened the County Council’s arguments in favour of an Inner Relief Road.  However, these traffic figures, while used by Council officials on several occasions to support the case for an Inner Relief Road subsequently turned out to be incorrect.  The ‘through’ traffic was in fact in the region of 45%, as was subsequently outlined to the Planning Appeal Board hearing by the Council’s own traffic consultants. 


The opponents of the Inner Relief Road, led by the Urban Development Group, consistently put forward the Outer Relief Road as the best solution for the town’s traffic problems.  The nine member Urban District Council was split 6-3 in favour of the Inner Relief Road and the road controversy became a local election issue in June 1999.  That election resulted in the election of five councillors who opposed the Inner Relief Road and favoured the building of the Outer Relief Road, but regrettably within a few weeks of his election one of the Councillors changed his opinion and so gave a majority to the proponents of the Inner Relief Road.


The controversy eventually ended with An Bord Pleanala holding a public hearing following Kildare County Council’s application to build the Inner Relief Road.  The hearing was held in the Stand House Hotel, the Curragh and lasted for a week and a day, with numerous consultants and experts called to give evidence on behalf of Kildare County Council.  The decision of the Planning Board delivered some months later refused permission for the Inner Relief Road.  This is believed to be the first time the Planning Appeal Board rejected a road development proposal by a local authority.  Several years have since passed and it is only within the last couple of years that the Outer Relief Road championed by the local people was actively taken up by Kildare County Council. 


‘But for Taaffe we would have the Outer Relief Road years ago’ is a canard on the same scale of reality as the oft repeated claim that ‘Dunnes Stores were stopped from setting up in Athy by a well-known local trader’.   That nonsense was actually put to me last week by an otherwise intelligent person who for whatever reason failed to understand that myself and the other opponents of the Inner Relief Road supported from an early stage the construction of the Outer Relief Road.  It has taken Kildare County Council 41 years to accept that the Outer Relief Road and not the Inner Relief Road was the best option for the town of Athy.  The Outer Relief Road when built can make a huge contribution to the industrial and commercial development of Athy.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Kevin Brady and Sister Anne Guinan

During the past week two members of our community passed away.  Sister Anne Guinan and Kevin Brady were members of two Irish institutions which in recent times have come in for criticism.  Kevin was a retired member of An Garda Siochana and Sister Anne was a Sister of Mercy.  Both the Garda Siochana and the Sisters of Mercy have recently suffered loss of esteem and respect which was their due following years of dedicated service in local communities throughout Ireland. 


For the Garda Siochana, established on the setting up of the Free State in 1922 the recent controversies overshadow the excellent work which members of the force have carried out in their communities over many decades.  Men like Kevin Brady, who as a young man arrived as a uniformed Garda in Athy in 1971.  He retired in 1997, having occupied the role of Station Detective for the previous twenty years.  He was part of a generation of police officers who lived amongst the community they served and whose service was evident in the effective policing methods they adopted.  Chief amongst those was street patrolling which has now disappeared.  Kevin was a first-class police officer who fulfilled his role with integrity and a deep sense of commitment.  Like so many other members of the Garda Siochana he gave of his best throughout his career, honouring the commitment to enforce the law without fear or favour. 


Sister Anne, one of the most pleasant persons one could hope to meet, was a member of the local Sisters of Mercy.  She entered the convent in 1961 and gave a lifetime of service, not only to the religious community, but also to the wider community of Athy.  In that regard she was following in the long established traditions of the Sisters of Mercy founded by Catherine McAuley in 1831.  Since the first Sisters of Mercy arrived in Athy in 1852 successive generations of religious nuns devoted their lives and energies to educating the young people of Athy.  They arrived here at a time when there were little educational opportunities for the vast majority of the young people of the town.    It was due to the devoted work of the Sisters of Mercy and that of the Christian Brothers that generations of girls and boys from the ‘garrison town’ were given the opportunity to better their lives.


Now that the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers are no longer involved in the local schools we tend to forget the priceless contribution that the religious orders made to Irish education.  It is not only in the educational field that the Sisters of Mercy were prominent.  Here in Athy there are untold accounts of the charity of the local Sisters of Mercy.  They were ever generous in helping the less well-off members of our local community, a role which today has fallen largely to be filled by the Athy branch of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.


The death of St. Anne reduces the number of the Athy Sisters of Mercy still living amongst us following the closure of the Convent of Mercy some years ago.  The Sisters of Mercy burial plot at St. Michael’s new cemetery was the scene of a poignant parting ceremony as Sisters of Mercy from the south and central Province joined their Athy sisters in religion in singing the Regina Coeli.  It was a scene we have witnessed all too often in recent years as the aging Sisters of Mercy after a lifetime of service to our local community depart this life.  They do so at a time when criticism is levelled at them for faults and failures, real and imagined, incurred generations ago, but measured by the standards of today.  We can all find fault, not just with the Sisters of Mercy or the Garda Siochana, but we should not at the same time ignore the great good that both were responsible for over many years. 


The likes of Kevin Brady and Sister Anne represented all that is good in an institution of the State and a religious body and with their passing we mourn the loss of two good people who enriched our lives and that of their local community.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

R.I.C. members killed during the War of Independence and I.R.A. men who joined the Garda Siochana and served in Athy

Between January 1919 and July 1921 425 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were killed and another 725 members wounded in attacks by members of the Irish Republican Army.  Fifteen R.I.C. men were killed in 1919, the first casualties being Constables James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell who were shot dead at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary on 21st January as they escorted three cases of gelignite carried in a horse and cart from Tipperary Military Barracks to Soloheadbeg quarry.  McDonnell was a 57 year old married man from Belmullet, Co. Mayo, while O’Connell was a 39 year old single man from Coachford, Co. Cork. 


178 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were killed by the I.R.A. during 1920 and the following year the I.R.A. killed 241 R.I.C. men of whom 235 had lost their lives by the time the truce came into effect on 11th July 1921.  The disbandment of the R.I.C. commenced on 7th January 1922 and ended on 31st August of that year.  Another 59 R.I.C. men would die before the violence came to an end.


Among those killed were Joseph Hughes and Edward Doran.  Joseph Hughes of Wolfhill, an R.I.C. Sergeant based in Maynooth, was part of a patrol attacked as it approached the local church in Maynooth on 21st February 1921.  He died the following day in Dr. Steeven’s Hospital, Dublin.  Aged 34 years he had served in the R.I.C. for twelve years, having been previously employed as a postman.  The Leinster Leader of 5th March 1921 carried this report, ‘The funeral of Sergeant Hughes to Wolfhill passed through Athy where all shops were closed ….. police with reversed arms marched behind the coffin.  A mourning coach covered with wreaths covered the hearse.  Fr. Byrne officiated.  There was an immense crowd present at the funeral.’ 


Edward Doran of Athy was 24 years of age when he was killed with his colleague John Dunne as they served jurors summonses in Kinnity, Co. Offaly on 17th May 1921.  He had worked as a gardener for Minches prior to joining the Royal Irish Constabulary. 


While the disbandment of the R.I.C. which commenced on 7th January 1922 was still ongoing, the Civic Guards were formed on the 21st of February 1922 and were formally reconstituted as the Garda Siochana on 8th August 1923.  Former members of the I.R.A. joined the new police force in large numbers and amongst those were several men who subsequently served in Athy as members of the Garda Siochana. 


Garda James Kelly of 27 Offaly Street served as a member of the 5th Battalion West Mayo Brigade I.R.A.


Garda John McMahon of St. Patrick’s Avenue served as a member of the West Mayo Brigade.


Garda Michael Tuohy of Offaly Street served as a member of E. Company 4th Battalion Clare Brigade.


Garda John O’Connell of 18 St. Patrick’s Avenue served as a member of H. Company 8th Battalion 3rd Tipperary Brigade.


Garda Robert Hayes of 6 St. Michael’s Terrace served as a member of F. Company 1st Battalion 3rd Cork Brigade.


As a young lad growing up in Athy I knew Garda Kelly, Tuohy, McMahon and O’Connell.  They were long serving members of the Garda Siochana, having been based in Athy for decades.  I was not aware, nor I imagine were many others, of the part they played as young men in the War of Independence.  While they all received service medals, otherwise known as Black and Tan medals, it is rather a pity that the community in which they lived did not recognise or appreciate the role they played in a turbulent period of Irish history. 


For their part the members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, for the most part Irishmen who had joined the force in more peaceful times, bore the brunt of the Republican drive for independence.  After the Sinn Fein election victory of 1918, Sinn Fein, and later the I.R.A., set out to isolate the R.I.C. members who up to then were highly respected within the communities they peaceably served.  The upshot of the War of Independence was the virtual breakdown of law and order in Ireland.  It marked a dark period in Irish history but happily in recent times members and ex members of the Garda Siochana arranged to honour the memory of deceased R.I.C. men.  They too, like the I.R.A. men killed in action, are an honourable part of the story of Irish independence and its martyrs. 


The killing and injuring of Irishmen serving as members of the R.I.C. by fellow Irishmen is one of the tragic elements of the Irish War of Independence.  When we come to commemorate the War of Independence we should not only honour those who fought on the side of the republican movement, but also commemorate with respect those policemen who lost their lives in the same struggle.