Friday, December 16, 1994

Housing Conditions in Athy - 1932

In May 1932 Dr. John Kilbride, local Medical Officer for Health carried out a survey into the housing conditions in Athy. In his subsequent report to the Urban Council he stated that there were 1292 townspeople living in 323 houses of not more than two rooms each. These houses were for the most part without the most basic sanitary accommodation, nearly all were in a poor state of repair and many were situated in "airless and sun-starved slums."

Dr. Kilbride, whose Uncle Denis Kilbride was one of the many thrown out of their homesteads during the Luggacurran Evictions, found that none of the earlier described two-roomed houses were vacant. "Directly one is vacated there are several applicants for it and it is straightaway re-occupied - and under those wretched conditions families are being starved and children reared."

As the towns Medical Officer for Health, Dr. Kilbride was obviously concerned about the consequential adverse affects of such housing conditions and he posed the rhetorical question "How, we must ask ourselves, can children be brought up properly under these conditions". In his view the bad housing was responsible for what he referred to as "the moral shortcomings and the physical ill health that is at present in the town."

There then followed an analysis of the sub-standard housing stock in the town. Starting with Barrack Street he mentioned one house of two rooms in which eleven persons including married couples lived. On Canal Side were four houses with no yard, one of which housed ten persons and another six persons. New Row had four houses in which families of ten, nine, eight and eight lived, each family huddled together in two small rooms. Rathstewart had two houses each with only one room and no yard.

Further on in his Report Dr. Kilbride in a general comment on the prevailing state of affairs in the town described Athy as "an agricultural community and conditions at present do not supply a demand for all available labour in the town. The present tendency is for the people to move from the country into the town - changing from the healthy open air existence to the unsanitary closed in urban conditions."

He considered the Council to be partially at fault for building houses "while leaving the existing hovels still open for occupation". He urged that in any future scheme that the Council consider building houses in "open avenues off the main roads where children can play without being in danger of motor traffic".

Ending his Report Dr. Kilbride gave a detailed breakdown of the sub-standard houses in the town mentioning placenames which have now passed into folk memory. The areas on the east side of the town included such names as Garden Lane, Kellys Lane and New Row while substandard houses were also to be found in Offaly Street, Leinster Street, Janeville Place, Meeting Lane, Mount Hawkins and Rathstewart.

On the west side of Athy the housing problems were apparently more acute and some of the addresses now long gone included New Gardens, Higginsons Lane, Turnpike and James's Place. Other areas identified and still mapped included Nelson Street, Shrewleen Lane, Plewman's Row, Blackparks, Canal Side, St. John's Lane, Convent View, Woodstock Street and Barrack Street.

The Urban Council anticipating Dr. Kilbride's Report had earlier initiated a Slum Clearance Programme and on completion of the St. Patrick's Avenue houses in 1930 had commenced the closure of the worst slums in the town. In 1933 the Urban Council completed work on 56 houses in Dooley's Terrace, 20 houses in Lower St. Joseph's Terrace and 17 houses in Upper St. Joseph's Terrace. Athy brick was used in the building of these houses as it was during the huge housing programme carried out between 1935 and 1937. Houses in Convent View, Plewman's Terrace, Geraldine Road, Minches Terrace and No.'s 15 -42 Upper St. Joseph's Terrace were to be the Council's final response to the 18th and 19th century unsanitary hovels demolished during the Slum Clearance Programme. No further houses were to be built by the Council until 1950 but under its extensive housing programme initiated in 1930 it had managed to rid Athy of the worst excesses noted in Dr. Kilbride's Report.

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