Friday, June 25, 1993

Street Names of Athy

The earliest maps of Athy were those prepared by the French cartographer Rocques for the Duke of Leinster in 1755 and 1756. The Woodstock area was mapped in 1755 and Athy East of the Barrow was mapped in the following year. The Lordship of St. John's, that is Athy West of the Barrow, was mapped by Scale in 1768. From these maps and subsequent maps prepared of the town we can study the changes in street names over the years.

In the early 18th century Rocques maps the present Duke Street was known as St. John's Street, a name derived from the Trinitarian Monastery established on the West bank of the River Barrow close to Woodstock Castle in the 13th century. St. John's has survived as the name of the laneway which runs in a loop from both ends of the present Duke Street. The street bearing the name of the old Monastery was re-named Duke Street in 1796.

At the same time High Street, which ran from the present traffic lights to the junction of Meeting Lane and Leinster Street and Boher Bui, which extended from that junction out the Dublin Road were re-named Leinster Street.

The occasion for the re-naming of the principal streets of the town was the opening of the newly erected Barrow Bridge on the 23rd of May 1796 by William Robert Fitzgerald the 2nd Duke of Leinster. William Street which once formed part of Beggars Inn was renamed at the same time and so it is that we have the principal streets of the town William Street, Duke Street and Leinster Street, named after William Duke of Leinster. William, born in 1749, was a brother of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and he succeeded his father the 1st Duke of Leinster on the 19th of April 1773. He died on the 20th October 1804.

Market Street, which for centuries was the centre of market activity in the town, was re-named Emily Square after Emily, Duchess of Leinster, wife of the first Duke of Leinster and mother of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Following the death of her husband she married William Ogilvy by whom she had two daughters having already had nine sons and ten daughters by her first husband. Emily died in 1814 and she has been the subject of a biography written by Brian Fitzgerald and published in 1949 under the title "Emily Duchess of Leinster". Three volumes of her correspondence edited by the same author was published by the Stationery Office in Dublin between 1947 and 1954. She was undoubtedly a more interesting individual than her husband James the 1st Duke of Leinster who so far as I am aware has yet to be the subject of a biographical study.

It is interesting to note that in the 1827 map of Athy produced for the then Duke of Leinster by Clarges Green of Dublin the town square was still known as Market Street. The Ordnance Survey map for 1837 gave the name as Emily Square so it is apparent that Athy Borough Council made the name change long after Emily's death in 1814.

I have always understood that all the principal streets in Athy with the exception of Barrack Street and Woodstock Street were named after members of the Fitzgerald Family. Stanhope Street, formerly known as Cotter's Lane and subsequently Kildare Road, was renamed after Francis Charles Stanhope following the street's re-widening in the early 1830's. Stanhope had been elected a free burgess of the Borough of Athy on the 11th December 1822 in compliance with the wishes of the Duke of Leinster. His relationship to the Fitzgerald family is something I have not as yet unravelled.

Offaly Street, previously known as Ophaly Street and earlier still as Prestons Gate, was presumably named after one of the innumerable members of the Fitzgerald family who held in addition to the premier Dukedom of Ireland, the Earldom of Kildare, the title of Marquess of Kildare and Earl and Baron of Offaly.

The Fitzgerald family are remembered not only in the names of our principal streets but also in the name of the Bridge built in 1791 over the newly constructed Grand Canal branch to Athy. Augustus Frederick Fitzgerald, the eldest son of William Robert 2nd Duke of Leinster, was born on the 21st of August 1791 and his birth was commemorated by naming the new structure Augustus Bridge. The original bridge was built to accommodate Canal traffic with little regard for vehicular traffic on the roadway which passed over it. In time there were many repeated demands to lower the bridge but this was not done until 1897 when the re-modelled bridge was opened by Thomas Plewman, Chairman of Athy Town Commissioners. It is now known simply as the Canal Bridge, it's original name of Augustus Bridge having long passed from memory.

Barrack Street, so named following the opening of the military barracks in the 1730's, originally extended from St. John's Street or Duke Street to it's junction with Barrow Lane which led directly to the Barracks located in the area of the present Greenhills housing estate.

On the 3rd of November 1884 the Town Commissioners renamed the southern part of Barrack Street as Woodstock Street. By then the military barracks had been vacant for upwards of twenty years and it is believed that some of the local residents were less than happy with the bad name which the area known as Barrack Street had gained and consequently sought to change the name.

At a later date I will take a look at the laneways and courtyards, many now disappeared, which once housed people struggling to live amongst the squalor and deprivation of 18th and 19th century Athy.

Friday, June 11, 1993

Cuddy Chanders

Patrick Chanders, son of a gravedigger, spent his working life as a malt house man in Minch Nortons Maltings. He died in 1980 aged 72 years. Few would recognise in those bald statement of fact a man known to legions as a quite unassuming man who in September 1935 was the focus of national attention as the "Cuddy" Chanders affair unfolded. For it was as "Cuddy" that he was known throughout his life and it was as the County Kildare goalkeeper deprived of a possible All Ireland medal in 1935 that followers of Gaelic Football will recall his name.

Cuddy was born in Athy in 1908 and his sporting involvement began with Barrow Rovers, a local soccer team with whom he played in the late 1920's. Playing colleagues included Ned Ward, Johnny Kelly, Johnny Doyle, Chevit Doyle, Toss Carr, Jim Eaton and Paddy Looney. With the break up of Barrow Rovers, Cuddy began an association with Athy Gaelic Football Club which soon brought him to the notice of the County selectors.

He played in goal for the Athy Club when winning Senior Championship Medals in 1933 and 1934. Chosen for the County Senior team in 1934 he played his first inter-County game in Portlaoise on the 26th of November when he foiled the best efforts of the Laois forwards. Throughout the National League campaign he occupied the goalkeeping position on the Kildare team on six occasions playing in his home town of Athy on the 17th of February, 1935 when Kildare defeated Mayo.

The first match of the All Ireland series of 1935 for County Kildare was played in Tullamore on the 7th of July when Kildare defeated Laois 1-9 to 0-3 in the Leinster semi-final. The Leinster final played in Croke Park on the 28th of July saw Kildare defeat Louth on the score 0-8 to 0-6. In the All Ireland semi-final against Mayo on the 25th of August Kildare were again victorious winning 2-4 to 0-7.

No goals had been scored against Cuddy Chanders in the three Championship matches leading up to the All Ireland final which was scheduled for the 22nd of September. Cuddy was one of three Athy players expected to be on the County team for the All Ireland final, the others being Paul Matthews and Tommy Mulhall.

The 1935 All Ireland Championship saw the introduction of collective training, a concept which was then foreign to the purists of Gaelic football. The Kildare players trained for weeks prior to the semi final and final in Oakley Park, Celbridge at an expense which was to plunge the Kildare County Board into debt for many years afterwards. The sporting world and particularly the supporters of the Lily Whites were astonished by the news released a few days before the All Ireland final that Chanders was dropped for the match. He was to be replaced by James Maguire who had never previously played in the goal keeping position.

Athy Gaelic Football Club met in emergency session and sent a telegram of protest to the County Board. The local Club justifiably felt that there was no logical reason for Chanders to be dropped and the suspicion grew that certain members of the County Board, over confident of Kildare winning the All Ireland, were anxious for Maguire to have the honour rather than Chanders.

It is not known what effect the controversy surrounding the Chanders affair had on team morale and performance on the match day. However, Cavan who had been beaten by Kildare earlier in the season were to deprive the Kildare men of their expected victory and ran out easy winners 3-6 to 2-5. This was to be County Kildare's last appearance in an All Ireland Final and Cuddy who was sub on that day had local Club members Jim Fox and Barney Dunne on the substitute's bench with him.

The bitterness felt over the dropping of Chanders was reinforced by the unexpected defeat of the Kildare men and local newspapers for weeks afterwards carried letters from disgruntled followers which sought to lay the blame for the County's loss on the dropping of Cuddy Chanders.

Maguire was himself dropped after another three matches when the goal tally against him showed twelve goals in four games. Cuddy returned to the County colours on the 24th of November, 1935 in a League game against the All Ireland Champions Cavan. He continued to play for Kildare until the following year when he appears to have temporarily given up Gaelic football. He was to be replaced on Athy's senior team by Johnny McEvoy who was himself to be the County Kildare goalkeeper between 1937 and 1939.

Cuddy was to have one final involvement with Gaelic games when in the first round of the 1942 Senior Championship he played in goal for Athy due to the temporary indisposition of the regular goalkeeper. The Club went on to win the 1942 Senior Championship and a special medal was presented to Cuddy for his part in the Club's success.

He was later actively involved in establishing Athy A.F.C. in 1948 and in 1978 during the inaugural Athy Festival Cuddy Chanders was honoured by being appointed the first Lord Mayor of Athy.

He was a gentle and likeable man who despite being cruelly deprived of the great honour of playing for his County in an All Ireland Final in Croke Park never expressed any bitterness over the events of 1935.

Friday, June 4, 1993


At a time when we are witnessing a movement away from the pursuit of blood sports it is perhaps opportune to look back at one of the most popular sports of another era. Cock fighting conjures up images of brutalised rustics indulging their sadistic tendencies in encouraging cocks to fight to the death. Maybe the image is not fair to those who nowadays surreptitiously follow their chosen sport but certainly it is not an accurate representation of cock fighting and its followers of times past.

A sport recorded in the 16th century as having originated in India it soon secured a strong foothold in England and Ireland. Cock fighting was a spectator sport which afforded the opportunity for side bets and it had the advantage of being both an indoor and an outdoor activity. It's popularity during the 17th and 18th centuries led to the construction of cockpits in most of the villages and towns of Ireland. Indeed it is quite surprising to find that the Quaker village of Ballytore had a cockpit in 1827.

In the town of Athy a cockpit was located just off the main street in premises now occupied by Griffin Hawe, hardware merchants. The 18th century octagonal shaped building was in a state of dereliction when it first came to the notice of the Local Authority but happily it's owners agreed to restore the building.

The cockpit as constructed was 26 ft. wide and 12 ft. high to the wall plate with a further 12 ft. to the apex of the roof. A door above ground level confirms the probability of a gallery around the walls of the octagonal building to accommodate spectators. It is likely that the spectators were also accommodated at ground level as the average fighting area provided for the cocks was some 13 ft. in diameter. No doubt the working man stood in the pit while the gentry watched from the relative comfort and safety of the gallery above.

The fighting cocks were fitted with artificial metal spurs and set to battle with each other to the death. The only persons allowed inside the fighting pit were the two men in charge of the cocks called "setters" and the teller who in modern parlance would be regarded as the umpire. The “setters” were required occasionally to disengage the cocks if their spurs became entangled or to place the cocks face to face in the event of either showing any reluctance to fight. In every fight to the death the winner emerged only with the killing of the other cock. Truly it was and remains a cruel sport even if it's primary purpose was to afford an opportunity for wagers to be laid.

No record of the activity in the Athy cockpit remains, probably because of the laws attempts in the first half of the 19th century to put an end to organised cock fighting. The indoor venues fell into disuse after the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1849 and the sport moved outdoors. The popularity of the sport did not diminish over the years as evidenced by a report in the Leinster Leader of the 30th of September, 1916. The newspaper reported that
"among the fifty odd Defendants who will figure at Kilcullen Petty Sessions on today (Friday 29th) for alleged participation in a cock fight at Kilrush on July 11th are three members of the Athy Board of Guardians, two Solicitors and two Doctors."

In the subsequent trial Police Constable Healy gave evidence of being on patrol on the night of July 11th when he was passed by several motors which turned down a side road to Chapel Farm near Ballyshannon. Other motors continued to arrive until there were 64 of them present and over 1,000 spectators. The hampers containing the cocks were taken into the kitchen of the farmhouse and the spurs screwed on. A ring was then formed of piers of green boughs broken off a tree stuck down in the ground outside of which the crowd stood to witness the cock fighting. The Constable indicated that there were 11 main fights and that the last fight ended at 10.00 a.m.

The local M.P., Denis Kilbride of Luggacurran eviction fame, later raised the Kilrush Cock Fighting Case in the House of Commons in London and in the course of a reply the British Attorney General indicated that occasions such as these were controlled by a central organisation for betting purposes.

Cock fighting is no longer one of the field sports of Doctors, Lawyers or public representatives, although I am not so sure that the Dail Chamber, aye and even the Council Chamber have not at times taken on a striking resemblance to a modern day cockpit.