A few weeks ago I travelled to Maynooth College to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Federation of Local History Societies. With time to spare before the start of the meeting I had an opportunity of visiting the College Museum and viewing the many interesting artefacts of our ecclesiastical past. Two items were of particular interest. Both had an Athy provenance the first being a Holy Week book published in Paris in 1634. It was of the type used by priests during penal days and was found in an old building adjoining the Parochial House in Athy. Unfortunately there was no information available as to when it had been found and indeed I have not yet followed up my curiosity in this regard with a query to the College authorities.
The population of Athy in 1659 numbered 565 of which 83 were English settlers and 482 native Irish. In September 1653 Murdo McKenzy was directed to preach in Irish as well as in English as a Minister of the Established Church in the Athy area. Two years later the Dublin Castle authorities ordered that James Carey, a former Catholic Priest who had become a Minister of the State religion, preach in Irish in Trim and Athy. Before long Carey was to complain that the Athy people were very remiss in coming to hear him preach and that they preferred to spend the hours appointed for Church services in frequenting ale houses and indulging in "unwarranted exercises".
Whatever about the laxity in Church attendance there appears to have been some Catholics in Athy who conformed. The sincerity of the conformist was however doubted for in July 1654 an order was issued to John Murcit to examine the conversion of the native Irish about Athy who for that reason had been excused from transplanting to the West of Ireland with those who had opted for Connaught rather than hell. Murcit was enjoined to see "whether they have upon any conscientious grounds deserted popery or for any feigned considerations or by ends pretended the embracing of Protestantism."
In 1662 William Weldon M.P. for Athy and then residing in St. John's reported that two Catholic priests named Fitzgerald and Carroll daily frequented the place and "lately said Mass in the middle of the town several times". Maybe the Holy Week book now in Maynooth Museum belonged to one of these priests who have had good reason to hide it when it was not in use. The same Weldon reported that on a particular Sunday Fitzgerald was found "at his devotions" attended by five hundred people. Being arrested the Priest was rescued four times by the locals but was eventually taken prisoner by the soldiers. It was around this time that Fr. Raymond Moore, Prior of the Dominicans in Athy, was also arrested and imprisoned in Dublin where he died in 1665.
The second item in Maynooth Museum of local interest was a silver cup presented by the citizens of Athy to John Stoyt, Steward to the Duke of Leinster. The inscription on the cup read "Presented by the inhabitants of Athy to John Stoyt Esquire as a token of their appreciation of his upright and impartial conduct and the many services he has rendered to the town during his sovereignty September 29th 1795."
Stoyt was elected a Burgess of the town on the 29th of September 1791 in place of Sir Kildare Dixon Burrowes and served as Sovereign of Athy in 1794/95 and again in 1798/99. The Sovereign was the 18th century equivalent of the Council Chairman with substantially more powers than the present day office holder would have.
John Stoyt's house in Maynooth was acquired by the Trustees of the newly founded College in Maynooth in 1795 and Stoyt's house is today the principal building in the College complex which has grown over the past two hundred years.
It was an unexpected pleasure to encounter these two links with Athy's distant past in Maynooth College. Maybe some day when our long awaited Heritage Centre is up and running the silver cup and the Holy Week Book could be returned to Athy where they would form an important part of our town's story as presented in artefacts of the past preserved for the enjoyment and knowledge of the present generation.