Talking to "Tosh" Doyle is to open the floodgates of memory. Having lived all his life in Athy Tosh who is almost 80 years old can recall with uncanny accuracy the local events of the past and the people who shaped our town. He can name with accuracy the people who lived in Athy in the 1920's and later, recounting their lineage with a skill equal to that of any Genealogist.
Born on the 14th of November, 1914 in Meeting Lane, his father was a professional soldier in the 9th Lancers who had served in the Boer War. Just shortly before Tosh was born his father, then in the Army Reserve, was called up as the First World War erupted in the Summer of 1914. "Tosh" who was named Thomas says that he owes his familiar nomenclature to a next door neighbour Mrs. Kavanagh who first called the young boy the name by which he is so well known today. He had three sisters and one brother Jim whom the older generation in Athy will remember as Dan Neill’s right hand man.
The Doyles lived in a row of houses now demolished on the left side of Meeting Lane as one approaches from Emily Square. In the first house immediately after the entrance to the existing Tyre Centre lived the Myles Family. Next to them lived the Doyles, then the Kavanaghs with their next door neighbours Eatons house adjoining Dan Neills Builders Yard which is now the site of Pat Tierneys house. Across the road was the first Local Authority housing scheme built in Athy in 1913. The railings around the front gardens of these house were installed in the 1930's by local Blacksmiths, Ted and Jim Vernal.
"Tosh" attended the local Christian Brothers School where he especially remembers two lay teachers, both of whom were locals. John Hayden was a member of the local I.R.A. Brigade who went to America following the death of his young wife. The other local man was Jim Bradley, brother of John Bradley, who for many years was a Nationalist Reporter. The Superior was Brother Clifford, a Kerry man. Just two weeks short of his 14th Birthday Tosh finished school and went to work in Maxwells of Duke Street. As a general factotum he worked the manual Petrol Pump which stood on the footpath directly opposite the Garda Station then located next door to the Gem. He also mended bicycles and looked after the sale of carbide for the Carbide Lamps which were so popular in those days. Carbide Lamps have always intrigued me but until I talked to Tosh I did not know how they worked. Carbide which is somewhat chalk like in appearance was inserted into a chamber in the bottom of the Carbide Lamp and reacted with water which dripped onto it from another chamber above to give off a gas which when lit gave quite a good amount of illumination.
In 1934 Tosh left Maxwells and worked for a year or two with Fran Doran of Leinster Street. Fran, a big man who swam throughout Winter and Summer alike in the River Barrow was a Market trader. He attended all of the local fairs and markets including Tullamore, Templemore and Borris selling clothes to the farmers. As his assistant Tosh had charge of what he refers to as the "Swag" being the braces, Collar studs, Tie Pins and other small items which would be termed haberdashery in a shop context. Fran who was noted for his wit regaled the potential customers with a well practised spiel always alluding to the quality of the "bullet proof trousers" which he had on sale. Tosh recalls an occasion when quick thinking by Fran Doran regained the attention of a crowd diverted by another trader. Giving Tosh a blanket he explained what he was to do. Going to the end of the Street pulling the blanket around his shoulders and rolling up his trousers, Tosh slowly approached Frans stall while the proprietor called out to all and sundry:- "Here he comes, here he comes, Gandhi has arrived". No one could hope to compete against such roguish ingenuity.
It is when he describes a journey undertaken 62 years ago that one marvels at the memory and recall of Tosh. He was one of 12 men who made a slow journey sitting on planks placed on a covered trailer pulled by a tractor as it wended it’s way to Dublin in 1932. The occasion was the Eucharistic Congress and the driver was Jim Malone of Barrowhouse later of St. Patrick’s Avenue who brought his friends to Dublin and back to Athy on the same day. Parking the tractor and trailer in what Tosh recalls was open country at Inchicore the happy travellers continued on foot to the Phoenix Park.
When Tosh left the employment of market trader Fran Doran in 1936 he went to work with John Stafford who carried on a hackney service and bicycle shop in Emily Square. The premises is now occupied by Jim Lawler, Hackney Driver. In those pre-War days when ownership of cars were confined to the very rich, Athy had a very impressive array of hackney car owners. John Stafford had two cars on the road as had Dick Murphy of William Street. Paddy Murphy of Offaly Street and George Ellard of Leinster Street were hackney men as was Jack Loveday of Ballylinan who was never known to exceed 15 mph in his car. Another notable and unmistakable sign of Jack’s hackney car during the War years was the smoke billowing from his car exhaust as he drove on paraffin oil when petrol was scarce.
Not so adventurous was Archie Maxwell of Duke Street who in addition to his bicycle shop also had hackney cars on the road. Tommy Stynes of Leinster Street combined the role of undertaker and hackney car owner and had the biggest and most luxurious car on the road. Tosh who had started work at 14 years of age first drove a car in 1937 while working for John Stafford. He can still recall his first trip which was to drive Jim Lawler and four ladies to a dance in The Ritz Ballroom in Carlow one October evening.
In 1945 Tosh who was still living in Meeting Lane started his own business as a hackney man having bought his first car, a Ford V.8, from Tommy Stynes for £180. One of his most consistent customers was the “Yank” Brennan of Wolfhill, a well liked man who had returned after 40 years in America. One of Yank’s peculiarities was never to drink whiskey from a glass but always from a baby Power bottle. Years in America had taught him never to accept drink in a glass on the basis that “you never know what those guys would slip into your drink”. Another regular customer was Fintan Brennan, District Court Clerk and President of the Leinster Council GAA. Tosh drove him to football and hurling matches throughout the Province, invariably accompanied by Fintan’s trusted aides who manned the gates at big matches. These included Joe McNamara of Stanhope Street, Tom Langton of Leinster Street and Tim O’Sullivan, then an assistance in J.J. Collins’ Pharmacy in Duke Street.
Married in 1950 Tosh was soon to leave Meeting Lane where he was the last resident in a row of houses which had stood for over 100 years. He transferred to St. Patrick’s Avenue where he still happily lives amongst friends.
Recalling some of the residents of Meeting Lane in the 1920’s and 1930’s Tosh mentions Mrs. Smith’s lodging house where John Allen lived until quite recently. It is now bricked up. Next door Tom and Jim Fleming lived and their sister Nancy still lives there. In the houses since demolished to make way for the car park lived Ned Brennan, a local tailor and his wife. Martin (Mert) Hayden, harness maker and his brother Paddy (Sooty) Hayden, a delivery breadman for Dooley’s Bakery were their neighbours. Originally Martin Hayden lived in a house on the site of the present Pymah factory before moving down the street. Johnny Berney who kept a dairy in Janeville Lane also lived in Meeting Lane and it was from his home that the milk was sold. Other names and families now gone and forgotten are remembered by Tosh with affection as he recalls his years in Meeting Lane.
The relevance of oral history is re-affirmed when listening to the young 80 year old who lovingly recalls the past and the men and women whose tears and laughter gave life to our town, for Athy surely is Tosh Doyle’s own place.