Old guide books on Athy give a wealth of information on past business life in the town, and comparisons show how much the town has changed in the intervening years. The Annals of Athy compiled by Michael Malone, a former Chairman of the Urban Council, which appeared in the early 1930’s was the first guide book produced for the town. In it, the Leinster Arms Hotel Company Limited took a full page advertisement which extolled its qualities as a “First Class Family and Commercial Hotel, fully licensed with free garage”. Another full-page advertisement accompanied by a photograph was for Murphy’s Commercial House, a general drapery and boot and shoe warehouse, where furniture, bedding, Irish tweeds and linens were sold. Murphy’s is long gone, as is J. Hutchinson, Electrical Contractor of Leinster Street who advised his customers that he was “an expert in wiring business houses and private dwellings for electric light”. He gave his address in Leinster Street as the “Central Hotel”, which is now the location of Bradbury’s restaurant.
Industrial Vehicles (Ireland) Limited, manufacturers of the “Universal” Tractor Trailer and main Fordson Tractor Dealers, promised service and satisfaction and a guarantee that “repairs to tractors, trailers, lorries and cars would be expeditiously carried out by qualified mechanics.” Further on in the Annals we find the Hibernian Hotel of Leinster Street, owned by Mrs. Lawlor, advertising moderate terms for its centrally situated accommodation “Close to Railway Station, Buses pass the door”. Michael Lawlor of the same family advertised as a Family Grocer, Tea, Wine and Provision Merchant.
All are now gone, as is W.S. Cross, Plumber and Domestic Engineer of Duke Street whose advertisement was next to that of F.J. Darling’s Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Hairdressing Saloons of 28 Leinster Street, and Jackson Bros. General Merchants and Automobile and Electrical Engineers of 58 Leinster Street. St. John Jeweller, Athy, advertised a full range of wedding and birthday gifts with watches, artistic jewellery, silver broaches and fountain pens while Duthie Large & Co. Ltd. were automobile and agricultural engineers with a Ford Motor Company agency. Others who advertised in the Annals included Thomas L. Flood, a Family Grocer, Spirit and Provision Merchant in the Railway Hotel, Leinster Street who specialised in fifteen-year old whiskey and Purcell Bros. who carried on business in William Street, as well as Market Square, Maryboro. D. & J. Carbery Building Contractors paid particular attention to house repairs and sanitary alterations and had Joinery Works in Athy and Carlow.
These businesses are no longer to be found in Athy and of the advertisers in the Annals over 60 years ago only two businesses survive, Shaw & Sons and McHugh’s Pharmacy.
Many years later, “Athy Official Guide” was published with the approval of Athy Urban District Council. I can only hazard a guess that it was printed in the mid-1950’s, as unfortunately there is no publication date on the booklet itself. Of the businesses which advertised in the Annals 25 years previously only D.P. McHugh, Dispensing Chemist, Duthie Large Ltd. and Shaw & Sons Ltd. were again to be found. Those advertising for the first time included Carlow Kildare Livestock Ltd. which held monthly sales in Athy, Carlow and Bagenalstown, and Michael Cunningham of William Street a Tea, Wine, Spirit and Provision Merchant. W. T. Duthie, Watchmaker and Jeweller offered guaranteed repairs, gramophone records, musical instruments, engagement and wedding rings, crest of Athy souvenir goods and fishing tackle. Located at 30 Leinster Street, the business was established in 1905 and happily is still occupying a commanding position on the principal street of the town. The Kildare County Show was advertised as the event of the year scheduled for the second week of July with the largest Industrial Exhibition outside Dublin and Cork Shows.
O’Rourke-Glynn Stores offered souvenirs of Athy and urged all to “make a habit of visiting our Gents Hairdressing Saloon”. M. O’Connor of Leinster Street advertised Helena Rubinstein Real Silk Face Powder with the claim, “You’ll never be lovelier”. Maxwells Garage Duke Street, Athy, was the simple message of the advertisement which marked the entry of one of the few businesses still operating in the town. Nolan’s General Drapers of Duke Street, specialists in Ladies and Gents outfitting, is now long gone as are Doyle Brothers Ltd., Hardwaremen, Fuel Merchants and Electrical Contractors. The biggest loss to the town was undoubtedly that of the final advertiser in the Guide Book of 40 years ago. Bowaters Irish Wallboard Mills Ltd. informed the readers :
“New plant and machinery at the Mills have sent production figures up and up. Soon the output will reach 50 million square feet of hardboard per year. For house, factory, or farm, Bowater Board has 101 uses and is available from your local stockists.”
Many of us will recall the advertisers of yesteryear, who are no longer part of the business life of Athy. That there has been so many changes in the years since the publication of the Annals of Athy and the later publication of the Official Guide to Athy is not unexpected. The constant movement of people in and out of the town is a perennial experience and the changing names over local businesses must be a reminder to us of the importance of the written record in preserving the history of our own place.