Friday, December 9, 1994

The First Council Houses in Athy

In the census of 1901 Athy returned a population of 3,599. The majority of the local people lived in the most primitive conditions. A Report prepared in 1900 indicated that little effort was made to keep the lanes of the town in a sanitary condition. It was common to see slop water and liquid filth lying in stagnant pools about all the laneways, in the crevices of the cobbles and in the depression of the surface channels. The Report continued
"The state of the backyards is also a danger to the health of the inhabitants, large accumulation of manure heaps and other refuse matter are in close proximity to the dwellings and are apparently only removed at long intervals. What tends to make these manure heaps a grave danger to the public health is the fact that the backyards where these accumulations exist are very small and confined, are undrained and in many instances pigs are kept in them. A considerable number of houses have also no backyard accommodation whatsoever."

On 15th February 1909 Athy U.D.C. adopted Part III of the Housing Act 1890 and immediately appointed a Housing Committee which held its first meeting on 26th February. The Committee divided into two groups to select suitable housing sites on both sides of the River Barrow.

A number of local sites were recommended and approved at a Council meeting on 22 March 1909. A subsequent failure to acquire the properties by agreement resulted in the holding of an Arbitration Inquiry in the Town Hall following the making of a compulsory acquisition Order by the Council. Advertisements were placed in the National Press offering prizes of 5 guineas for the best plans for houses suitable for labourers to cost £100, £150 and £200 each. The £100 house was to be one or two storey, the dearer houses to be two storied. James F. Reade C.E. won the prize with his design. On 29th July 1910 it was agreed by the Urban Council members to erect 11 of what was termed the "better class houses" in the Matthews Lane/Pound Field Site (now St. Michael's Terrace), with 4 of what they deemed "labourers houses" in Meeting Lane and 5 better class houses in Nicholas Keating's Field at Woodstock Street.

A year was to pass before the Council advertised and received tenders for its housing programme which in the meantime had been increased to 21 houses. The Matthew's Lane/Pound Field Site was to have 10 houses, with 5 in Meeting Lane and 6 in a new site in Woodstock Street - John Kelly's field. The Athy branch of the Town Tenants League was now pressing the Urban Council to proceed with more speed while the local St. Vincent de Paul Society through its President Mr. M.W. Roche was equally anxious for some measures to alleviate the overcrowded unsanitary conditions in the town. The housing contract was awarded to H.A. Hamilton of Thomas Street, Waterford but he withdrew in May 1912 following prolonged delay in commencing the work due to a disagreement between the Local Government Board and the Urban Council.

The problem centred around a Local Government directive that each house be provided with a privy and ashpit rather than a water closet as sought by the local Council. The Councils opposition centred around the systematic attention which dry closets needed
"and which is very unlikely to be given in such cottages and even where a tenant would have every desire to give such attention there is no way whereby he could ensure the continuous supply of dry earth or bog mull without which these closets would certainly become a dangerous public nuisance."

The Local Government Board won the day resulting in a revision of the house plans to provide back entrances. With Hamiltons withdrawal the Council again advertised for contractors on 26th June 1912. Three contractors were successful. D. & J. Carbery, Athy, obtained the Matthew's Lane/Pound Field contract for 10 houses at £2,544.7.11. Michael Sweeney was to build 6 houses at Woodstock Street for £1,264.2.10 while D. Toomey, Leinster Street, Athy, was to receive £704.10.0 for building 5 houses at Meeting Lane. The Contracts completed their work in March/April 1913.

An additional house was built on the Leinster Street side of what is now St. Michael's Terrace making in all 22 houses. In his report to the Council the Town Clerk indicated that there were 33 applicants for the newly built houses, a surprisingly low number having regard to the primitive housing conditions in the town.

In last weeks article I referred to Dillons Butchers shop in Leinster Street. It was located in Galbraiths premises and not Hylands as stated.

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