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, February 9, 2021

Fundraising for new Convent of Mercy in the 1840s

The Museum Standards Programme for Ireland was established by the Heritage Council some years ago to promote professional standards in the care of collections in Irish museums and galleries. Last week this national organisation announced the names of museums throughout Ireland which had achieved full or partial accreditation, and in the case of four museums, which had maintained their full museum accreditation first achieved some years ago. Amongst these four museums was Athy Shackleton Museum, which shared equal billing with Fota House Museum, Cork; the Hunt Museum, Limerick; and the Medieval Museum in Waterford. Our local museum’s achievement is enormous given the rank and status of the other three museums and the financial resources available to each of them. In terms of available finance, the Shackleton Museum cannot compete with Fota House, the Hunt Museum or the Medieval Museum. However, in terms of the commitment and dedication exhibited by the museum’s staff, volunteers and Board of Directors, the wealth of the Athy museum cannot be overstated. The museum’s manager is Margaret Walshe, assisted by Sinead Cullen and museum volunteer Clem Roche, who have done a wonderful job of helping visitors to enjoy the Shackleton Museum. The museum, which started in a small way in 1983, has helped to create a sense of place for Athy folk and has given us a greater understanding and appreciation of our town’s past. Well done to Margaret Walshe and her team for maintaining such high standards to have merited full museum accreditation for Athy Shackleton Museum. If the museum is an important part of our town’s cultural heritage, so too are the buildings and monuments - some old, many more recent - which form a backdrop to Athy’s townscape. One such monument was removed during the replacement of the 150-year-old Catholic church of St Michael’s in the last months of 1960. The fine Celtic cross which had stood for almost ninety years in front of the main entrance to St Michael’s church was erected in 1873. It was the gift of the people of Athy and neighbourhood in honour of Fr Thomas Greene, a former curate in the parish of St. Michael’s. Fr Greene arrived in Athy on 12 May 1843, just nine days afar his ordination in Maynooth. He would spent the next eighteen years of his priesthood serving the people of Athy before moving in 1862 to become parish priest of Skerries. It was in Skerries that he died in 1871, aged fifty-two years. I have in the past credited Fr Greene as the leader in the movement which led to the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy to open a school in Athy in 1852. From Fr Greene’s own account, as included in the Convent of Mercy annals, the idea of opening a convent in Athy originated with a Miss Goold of Leinster Street. This was some time prior to the Great Famine, and Miss Goold was supported by a Mrs Fitzgerald and her daughter Ann of Geraldine Lodge. Clerical support was afforded by Rev Patrick Byrne, who I understand was a curate in Athy, but unfortunately I have been unable to positively identify him. Fr Byrne’s sudden death, followed soon thereafter by the death of Ann Fitzgerald, interrupted Miss Goold’s plans. However, in her will Ann Fitzgerald left the sum of £100 for the founding of a convent in Athy, in addition to which her father, Colonel Fitzgerald offered £50, as did her sister Elizabeth Fitzgerald. Patrick Maher of Kilrush, who would prove to be the most generous benefactor of the Sisters of Mercy in Athy also pledged a sum of £50. As a result, the local people met in the parish church in the spring of 1843, following which it was agreed to take up weekly collections in the town to finance the building of a convent for the Sisters of Mercy. The general management of what was called ‘the convent collection’ was entrusted to Fr John Gaffney just a few months before he left Athy to join the Jesuit order. With Fr Greene’s arrival in the parish, responsibility for managing the convent collection fell to him. The weekly collection continued during the first two years of the Great Famine but was stopped as the worst effects of Black 47 began to be felt. Collecting resumed in 1848, but the hardships suffered by the local people during the Great Famine were such that Fr Greene and his fellow curate Fr John Harold were obliged to take up collections every Saturday in Leinster Street and Duke Street. The local fundraising proved insufficient, and eventually Archbishop Cullen and the Superioress of the Mercy Convent in Baggot Street, Dublin were obliged to provide funds to allow the convent building to be completed. Fr Greene’s involvement in St Michael’s parish during his eighteen years as a curate was clearing cherished by the local parishioners, for when he died in 1871 the people of Athy and neighbourhood collected funds to erect a Celtic cross in his memory. He was the only curate, or indeed parish priest, of St Michael’s who was honoured in this way. The cross was erected in 1873 and two further priests of the parish were subsequently honoured by having their names inscribed on the base of the Celtic cross. The first was Fr James Doyle, who served as a curate in Athy between 1862 and 1879, and as the parish priest for the following thirteen years. He died aged fifty-eight years in 1892. He was replaced as parish priest by Fr James Germaine, later Canon and Archdeacon, who served as parish priest of St Michael’s for thirteen years, dying in 1905. His name was also inscribed on the base of the Celtic cross. The cross was removed in 1960 and brought to a quarry in Co. Wicklow, where it has been stored ever since. I understand plans are afoot to have the damaged Celtic cross repaired and restored in a prominent position in front of St Michael’s parish church. Its restoration will be a fitting reminder of the huge contribution made not only by Fr Thomas Greene, but by all the other priests who have served in the parish of St Michael’s over the years.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Turf Development Board/Bord na Mona

The recent announcement of the cessation of peat extraction by Bord na Mona highlights the important part ancient boglands have played in creating jobs in south Kildare. As early as the final year of the Great Famine the bog at Kilberry was the location of a manufacturing process which produced chemicals from peat. Kilberry was also associated with briquette making as early as 1855 when an English entrepreneur opened a briquette factory there. However, the process of using air-dried peat for compression by machinery proved unsuccessful and the factory soon closed. A Bog Commission established by the House of Commons considered between 1804 and 1813 the developmenet potential of bogs in Ireland and “the practicability of draining and cultivating them, and the best means of effecting the same.” The Commission was set up as it was believed that upwards of one-seventh of Irish land which was bogland might usefully be brought into use for agricultural purposes. Glassealy resident Thomas Rawson had made this case in his book “The Satistical Survey of County Kildare”. Amongst the Commissioners appointed was Henry Hamilton, an agent for the Duke of Leinster, who owned the largest land holding in the County of Kildare. The Bog Commission submitted four reports to Parliament, but because of private property rights these reports made little difference to the development of Irish bogs. However, the surveys carried out on behalf of the Commission and the maps prepared by their various surveyors were to prove of use to the Turf Development Board when it was established in 1934. In south Kildare in the early part of the 19th century one local initiative saw the growing of flax in boglands supported by grants from the Irish Linen Board. Place names in Athy which reflect that early 19th century flax industry are “Bleach Yard” and ‘The Bleach.” Rev. Thomas Kelly, the Ballintubbert native and founder of the religious group “the Kellyites”, was involved in setting up a weaving shed in Athy which he referenced in his published pamphlet “Some account of James Byrne of Kilberry addressed principally to the Roman Catholic Inhabitants of Athy and its Neighbourhood.” Following the setting up of the Turf Development Board, the first bog considered for development for machine-produced turf was the Kilberry bog. The bog, which was in private ownership between the Earl of Drogheda, the Irish Land commission and some private owners, was acquired by the Turf Board in 1936. However, following its acqusition it was decided that Kilberry bog would be used for the production of peat moss rather than machinery turf. The production of peat moss in Kilberry was to start in 1939 but the Turf Board reversed its decision a year later and decided to concentrate its peat moss operation in Turraun, Co. Offaly. Hand-won turf continued to be harvested in Kilberry but this work was discontinued after a few years as the local peat moss provided poor fuel material. In the final year of World War II, Todd Andrews of the Turf Development Board travelled to Sweden following a Board decision approved by the wartime Department of Supplies to use Kilberry for the production of peat moss. It was there that Andrews met Konrad Peterson, a Latvian who took part in the 1905 revolution against Russia and who had been a student in Dublin during the 1916 Rising. Peterson was invited to manage the new Kilberry factory, which he did on taking up employment in 1946. Work on building the factory commenced in the latter part of that year. Peterson remained in charge of the Kilberry plant until 1958, when he transferred to the experimental station in Newbridge. He died in 1981 and is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery, where I attended a ceremony a few years ago organised by the Latvian Ambassador to Ireland to honour a man who is highly regarded in his native country as a Latvian patriot. The Turf Development Board became Bord na Mona in 1946 and the following year peat moss production started in Kilberry. Wihin a few years the Kilberry factory was supplying markets in America, Britain and the Channel Islands. In the mid 1960s Bord na Mona began to market peat moss for horticultural purposes and that marketing campaign was enhanced by the Board’s decision some years earlier to market peat moss under the brand name ‘Shamrock.” In 1964 another peat moss factory was opeened in Cuil na Mona near Portlaoise, where Athy man Jimmy Dooley was manager for a number of years before retiring as Chief Executive of Bord na Mona’s Horticultural Product Division in 2004. In August 1974 the Kilberry factory was destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt. Twenty years later a new bark processiong plant was installed in Kilberry. This followed a campaign by conservationists to reduce the use of peat and instead use alternative material. In time the Kilberry works was used to store and compost grain and green waste for use in producing horticultural growth material. Many local men and women have worked for Bord na Mona over the years. For Leaving Certificate students of the 1940s and 1950s, Bord na Mona, with the ESB and county councils offered the most sought-after opportunities for employment not otherwise available in rural areas. Today, Kilberry is the centre of a vibrant rural community whose work life is inextricably linked to the past, and hopefully continuing, success of the Kilberry peat factory.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Irish Land League Branch Athy

The Irish National Land League, commonly called the Land League, was founded on 21 October 1879 at a meeting held in a Dublin hotel attended by Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell. It followed on the earlier Mayo Land League which Michael Davitt and James Daly founded following meetings in Irishtown and Westport the previous August. Its objectives were rent reductions and the right of tenants to purchase the freeholds of their holdings. It was in truth a reaction to the agricultural depression of the 1870s and to the arbitrary system of rackrenting and evictions which the Land Laws allowed Irish landlords to inflict upon tenant farmers. The passing of the 1870 Land Act gave Irish tenant farmers the right to be compensated in the event of eviction for improvements carried out during their tenancy. However landlords were entitled to contract out of the operation of the Act, thereby depriving their tenants of its benefit. The Duke of Leinster was one of the first Irish landlords to seek to defeat his tenants’ rights under the 1870 Act. The Leinster Lease, as it became known, sought to sidestep the Land Act and local opposition to its terms saw the founding of the Tenant Defence Asociation in Athy. This was the first such association formed in Ireland following the decline of Isaac Butt’s Tenant League of 1848. The Athy Tenant Association held its first meeting on Tuesday 19 November 1872 with Captain Morgan of Rahinderry in the Chair. Local man Thomas P. Kynsey, J.P. acted as the Association’s Secretary. The group passed the following resolution: “That an attempt has been made on the Leinster Estate to deprive the tenants of all the advantages conferred on them by the Land Act, the attempt in question should receive the instant and most determined opposition from the Association.” The Duke of Leinster succeeded in overcoming local opposition to the Leinster Lease, usually as a result of the threat of eviction. One tenant farmer who signed was James Leahy, Chairman of Athy Town Comissioners, who would later attend the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament for South Co. Kildare. Athy’s Board of Guardians, at its Board meeting on 1 January 1879, declined to sign the Leinster Lease on the basis “that this Board as the representatives of the people decline to give their signatures to a document directly opposed to the provisions of the Land Act of 1870.” Parliamentary elections brought Charles Stewart Parnell to Athy for what I believe was the first time on Easter Monday 1880. At that meeting James Leahy, the farmer from Ardscull, was nominated as the candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party. He would win the seat and remain a Member of Parliament for the next fifteen years. Opposition to the Leinster Lease was maintained at a low level up to the summer of 1880, but evictions in September of that year on the local Verschoyle Estate prompted the formation of a branch of the Land League in Athy. Michael Boyton, an Irish American who lived in Kildare town, organised the meeting which established Athy’s Land League branch on Sunday 10 October 1880. Boyton, on addressing the meeting, claimed to have been commissioned by Charles Stewart Parnell to establish the Athy branch of the Land League following a request from tenant farmers of Athy to the League’s national organisation. It also followed approximately three weeks after Parnell, in a speech in Ennis, Co. Clare, had called for a “boycott” against those who opposed the Land League. Parnell had not used that exact phrase, but boycotting soon became the Land League’s most effective weapon following aggrieved tenants’ refusal to engage with Captain Charles Boycott of Lough Mask House in Co. Mayo. I have been unable to discover who was elected President of Athy’s Land League branch. Dr. Patrick O’Neill was the Vice-President, with Timothy Byrne as Treasurer and John Cantwell as Secretary. The Athy Branch had a flag which was last known to have been in the possession of Peter P. Doyle of Woodstock Street. Made of green silky material, it had a picture of Parnell on one side, with the words “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” on the reverse. On 8 January 1881 the local papers reported a Land League meeting in Market Square, Athy, during which Michael Blyton burned a copy of the Leinster Lease. However, within a few weeks local support for the Land League was undermined by a clerical instigated tenants’ agreement to accept a 20% rent reduction offered by the Duke of Leinster. Dr. Kavanagh, the parish priest of Kildare, chaired a meeting of tenants which accepted the Duke’s rent reduction without referring the matter to the Land Leauge breanch. As a result, Dr. O’Neill resigned as Vice-President of the Athy branch as “the acceptance of the Duke’s offer had broken the backbone of the local Land League.” Athy, which in 1872 had given Ireland the first of the new wave of tenants’ defence associations, had little further involvement in the Land League. The movement first started by Davitt and Daly in a small Co. Mayo village united Irish tenant farmers as never before. The British Prime Minister William Gladstone acknowledged that if the Land League had not existed the 1881 Land Act would not have been brought to Parliament. His Act gave legal status to the tenants’ freedom of sale and right to compensation for improvements. It also established the Land Commission and a Land Court with power to review rents under the Fair Rent clause of the Act.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Tom Moore, long time Secretary of Rheban G.F.C.

He was born in 1901, the youngest of seven children, and grew up in Rheban on a small farm with the nearby Grand Canal as his youthful playground. His name will be forever linked with Rheban Gaelic Football Club, which he helped to form in February 1929. Tom Moore was living in No. 7 Offaly Street when the Taaffes arrived from Castlecomer in 1945 to live in No. 6. We were neighbours and I was friends with Tom’s sons Willie and Mickey; together we shared with Teddy Kelly, Basil White and Tom Webster much-treasured youthful memories. Tom Moore and his brother John were Gaelic footballers who played for Athy for many years prior to the founding of Rheban Football Club. Both featured on the first Athy team to contest a Kildare Senior Championship Final. That was in 1923 when Naas defeated an injury-hit Athy team whose performance was described as less memorable than that of the Athy Jazz Band “who paraded in fancy dress befor the match.”.That Athy team comprised, in addition to the Moore brothers, Eddie “Sapper” O’Neill, Chris Lawler, Dan Nolan, Jim Clancy, Paddy Hayden, Tom Forrestal, Johnny Kelly, P. Brogan, Tom Germaine, George Dowling, Mikey Grant, Dick Mahon and M. Byrne. I wonder if Athy Club’s loss of the Senior County Finals in 1927 and 1928 while the Country Senior Team won the All-Ireland Finals in those years might have prompted the Moore brothers to join their Rheban neighbours to form the new football club in 1929. Whatever the motivation, John and Tom Moore were to the forefront in establishing Rheban Gaelic Football Club, with John elected as the club’s first Chairman and his younger brother Tom as the Treasurer/ Secretary for the next 55 years, during which time he oversaw many successes by the Rheban players on the field of play. The club’s very first victory was achieved in Geraldine Park, Athy when Rheban defeated Suncroft in a Junior match in 1929. That first winning team included the two Moore brothers as well as a young Paddy Myles, who played so well on the Kildare County Junior Team which won the Leinster Title in 1931 that he was promoted to the Kildare County Senior Team. Uniquely, his first and only time to play for the County Seniors was in the All-Ireland Football Final against Kerry in 1931. Under Tom Moore’s stewardship Rheban won its first Championship Final in 1940 when defeating Ardclough following a replay of that year’s Junior Championship. That was followed two years later by the club’s success as County Champions in the Intermediate Championship, and in 1945 the same team contested the semi-final of the County Senior Championship. Pat McEvoy, who was a member of the 1942 Intermediate Team, wrote the now famous “Rheban Victory Song” to celebrate the club’s success in the Junior Championship of 1940. The song concludes with a reference to those non-players “who brought us fame, Ben Kane ever faithful, Tom Moore for his brains and Tom Mac for his field where we could always train.” The history of Rheban Gaelic Football Club is inextricably linked with the life of Tom Moore. In addition to his role as Club Treasurer/ Secretary, he served as a County Board delegate and as selector for the County Junior Team which won the All-Ireland in 1970. He also served as a selector for the County Minor Team which won Kildare’s first Leinster Minor Title in 1973. Tom, who worked as an insurance agent, served one term as a Fianna Fáil member of Athy Urban District Council from 1955 to 1960. Tom and his wife Margaret, a native of Rathcormack, Co. Waterford were an ever-present part of my growing up in Offaly Street in the 1950s. I don’t know what prompted Tom to call on me to join the Rheban Club but join I did, travelling with Willie Moore to play in matches in the field just below the Railway Bridge at Kilberry. I only lasted one year before rejoining Athy G.F.C, but I’m afraid Rheban G.F.C never missed me. Tom Moore’s service to Rheban G.F.C and the wider GAA community was marked in 1954 by the presentation to him in the Old School in Kilberry of a gold medal. Fifteen years later he was presented with a seven day clock to mark 40 years uninterrupted service to the club. Tom passed away in 1984, just five years after the club had purchased grounds which over the following years were developed to provide up-to-date playing facilities. On Saturday, 19 June 1999 the grounds, now supplied with dressing rooms and parking facilities, were officially opened and re-named as the Tom Moore Memorial Park. It was a fitting tribute to a great Gael and a man who I remember as a quiet, gentlemanly neighbour of whom I have many good memories.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Irish White Cross Committee Athy

The New Year brings us further into the decade of commemoration. The first day of 1921 saw the destruction of seven houses in Middleton, Co. Cork as an act of reprisal by crown forces. It followed the St. Stephen’s Day killing by R.I.C. officers of five young men attending a dance in Bruff, Co. Limerick. I.R.A. members in County Kildare were engaged in road trenching, the destruction of bridges and the toppling of telegraph poles so as to impede the movement of the R.I.C. and crown forces. The local I.R.A. activity in and around Athy resulted in the imposition of a curfew from 9.00p.m. to 5.00a.m. in the town in March 1921 and prompted a military order prohibiting the holding of the Tuesday market. One of the most significant developments of 1921 was the founding of the Irish White Cross by Sinn Fein in February of that year. Its purpose was to help those affected by the ongoing War of Independence, in particular the almost 1,000 Irish families made homeless by the destructive actions of crown forces. Also to be helped were the 10,000 or so Catholic workers driven from their jobs in Belfast. The Irish White Cross was headed up by Cardinal Logue and its trustees included Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. The organisation was tasked initially with distributing the funds collected by the New York based Committee For The Relief Of Irish Distress founded in December 1920. The first report of the Irish White Cross for the period to 31 August 1922 reported that ‘at least 2,000 houses – dwellinghouses, farmsteads, shops – were utterly destroyed, while about 1,500 were partially destroyed’ by crown forces during the War of Independence. The wholesale destruction by crown forces included 40 cooperative creameries totally destroyed, while another 35 creameries were partially wrecked. The report continued: ‘in the course of the struggle some 7,000 persons were arrested and frequently without a charge even being made against them, were confined in prison or internment camps.’ Amongst the many examples of crown forces’ acts of terrorism were the burning of 25 houses and a hosiery factory in Balbriggan on 20 September 1920 and the burning of approximately 45 shops in Cork three months later. Citing examples of the distress caused to Catholic families in Belfast, the report noted that 10,000 workers were forcibly expelled from their places of work, while in July 1921 more than 160 houses belonging to Catholic families were attacked and rendered uninhabitable. A local White Cross committee was founded in Athy on 28 June 1921. It was chaired by the parish priest, Canon Edward Mackey with the local Rector Archdeacon Johnston as the Vice Chairman. The Town Clerk, Joseph A. Lawler, acted as the committee’s secretary. The committee’s first act was to pass on a cheque for £35 to Patrick Lynch of Barrowhouse to buy carpentry tools. His house and workshop had been burned down by crown forces in the immediate aftermath of the Barrowhouse ambush. A later payment was made to his sister Ellen Lynch, while financial assistance was also extended to Mrs. Margaret Connor and James Lacey following written representations from the Barrowhouse teacher, P.J. Walker. The two beneficiaries were the parents of the I.R.A. Volunteers killed at Barrowhouse on 16 May 1921. The late William Connor was described as the second son of Mrs. Margaret Connor and had been a farm labourer who supported his mother and his sister. His colleague, James Lacey, who was also killed, was described as the eldest son of a family of eight whose father was a small farmer and ‘a most respectable man’. Another victim of the crown forces reprisals following the Barrowhouse ambush was Patrick Keating of Barrowhouse whose application for White Cross assistance was deferred as he had taken up a collection in Athy to cover his losses. Another beneficiary of White Cross Committee funding was Mrs. Jane Bradley of Woodstock Street who was in receipt of 25/= per week from the Dependents Fund. She had three young children and no income as her husband James was detained in Rath Camp on the Curragh. He had been arrested in February 1921 and was detained until released on parole on 28th November. The local White Cross Committee held church gate collections in Athy which netted £187 and an additional £25 was collected and forwarded to the Dublin based national organisation by the organisers of a sports day held in Kilberry in September 1921. Athy’s committee distributed £125.15.0 in the Athy area, considerably less than the £736.15.0 distributed in Newbridge, while in Kildare county a total of £2,765.9.0 was distributed. The comparable figures for Kerry were £661,347.77 and Cork £548,862.19.3 The centenary of the Barrowhouse ambush in which William Connor and James Lacey were killed will occur on the 16th May. This will be the most important centenary commemorative event for Athy and district in 2021. The local history group based in Athy’s Town Hall Shackleton Museum would wish to make contact with members of the Connor and Lacey families, as well as the Lynch and other families whose properties were targeted by crown forces in the aftermath of the Barrowhouse ambush. Any information in that regard might be passed to me by email to frank@taaffe.ie.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Methodism in Athy

One of the many interesting exhibits in Athy’s Shackleton Museum refers to the town’s religious diversity. On its formation in the 12th century and for two centuries thereafter the inhabitants of the medieval village of Athy were French speaking Catholics. The French language in time gave way as English settlers came to live in the settler’s town on the Marches of Kildare. Following the Reformation, the developing town witnessed a change in the religious makeup of its citizenry and over the following generations the religious diversity widened to include not just Catholics and Church of Ireland, but also Presbyterians and Methodists. The first Methodist Minister appointed to Athy in 1790 was Rev. John Mullen. This was a time when Methodism was still closely associated with the Church of Ireland, with Methodists attending morning service in the Parish Church and later attending their own preaching services in the evening. In 1813 approval was given for the erection of a Methodist chapel in Athy. It does not appear to have been built as the 1837 map of Athy shows the former Quaker meeting house in Meeting Lane described as ‘a small house of worship formerly belonging to the Quakers and now to the Methodists.’ The Methodist Minister appointed in 1813 was John Rogers who was replaced two years later by Robert Bowen. Athy was then part of the Carlow circuit and was to remain so until 1970 when it was included in the Portlaoise and Tullamore circuits. In 1824 Rev. Robert Banks, who had been appointed to the Carlow Circuit in 1812, was appointed a supernumerary and settled in Athy. He was apparently the first Methodist Minister to reside in the town, the other appointees dating back to 1790 having lived in Carlow. The Methodist cause was by then very low in the town but soon revived under the guidance of Rev. Banks. The rent for the Chapel approved in 1813 payable to the Duke of Leinster remained unpaid for 10 years or so until Rev. Banks took the matter up with the Duke. The Landlord visited Athy, inspected the Chapel and immediately remitted the arrears of rent and reduced the annual payments from four pounds to twenty shillings. A Sunday School was provided in the Chapel under the superintendence of the Church of Ireland curate Rev. F.S. Trench, while his colleague Rev. Bristow, frequently attended the Methodist preaching service. When asked why he did so he replied, “Many of my people go there and I must hear what it is said to them”. The close co-operation between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist did not continue as it was alleged that Rev. Trench subsequently became narrow and exclusive in his views and removed the Sunday School from the Methodist Chapel. As a result of the formal separation of Methodist and Church of Ireland the Methodist cause in Athy prospered and grew. By 1832 the level and fervour of participation in Methodist services in Athy were such as to excite the interest of a Wexford man, Moses Rowe, who was in the town on business. Moved by what he witnessed he returned to his home town where he held many meetings describing the glorious scenes he had witnessed in Athy. During the Great Famine the Methodist Mission continued and in 1847 two itinerant preachers, Henderson and Huston, reported that in Athy they had at least 15 conversions and “several backsliders were restored.” Rev. Banks was still living in Athy, while one of the principal members of the Methodist congregation were the Duncan family of Tonlegee House. The death of Rev. Thomas Kelly in 1854 resulted in the closure of his meeting house in Duke Street and the disbandment of the 30 or 40 strong Kellyites. Their members returned for the most part to the local Church of Ireland and Methodist communities. With the growth of Methodism in Athy it was felt that the former Quaker meeting house was no longer large enough for Sunday Services and the Sunday School which was also located there. In 1867 Alexander Duncan who was then on his second term as Chairman of Athy Town Commissioners purchased some ground at Woodstock Street and offered it to the local Methodist congregation as a site for a new Methodist Church. In April 1871 the Methodist congregation of Athy decided to construct the first purpose built Methodist Church and Sunday School in Athy on the site donated by Alexander Duncan. The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 12 June 1872 before a large and representative crowd of local people by Mrs. Alexander Duncan whose husband had donated £600.00 in addition to the site. The first Sunday Service in the new church was held on the following Sunday when Rev. G.T. Perks, President of the British Methodist Conference, preached the sermon. The Sunday School opened at 4pm on the same day. During the 1870s the average Sunday service attendance was 120, while a similar number of children attended the summer school. The Methodist Church in Woodstock Street now serves both as a church and as Athy’s Art Centre.

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.