Friday, January 12, 1996

Butlers Row in 1930s

The local Urban Council will shortly commence building houses for the elderly in what was once Butler’s Row, a short narrow cul-de-sac off Offaly Street. Butler’s Row consisted of 11 small two storey houses on the left hand side of the lane which ended at the entrance gate to an orchard. The apple and pear trees which provided generations of young boys from the area with illicit nourishment are no more, and the orchard itself will soon form part of a new housing scheme which will have a pathway linking it with Offaly Street and Meeting Lane.

When the original houses in Butler’s Row were built I cannot say, but the roofless shells which are still standing were once homes to countless families. At the entrance to the lane in the 1930’s was Webster’s sweet shop on the left hand side and Pat Dowling’s public house and grocery on the right.

The first house on the lane was also the largest. It had, like all the others, one room at ground floor level but two bedrooms upstairs. Every other house had one large bedroom upstairs. In that first house lived Billy Leakes with his sister Bertha and her daughters Mary and Bertha. Billy had lost both legs in World War I and was confined to a wheelchair. Despite this handicap he worked as a sack mender for Minch Norton’s and for Jackson’s, also occasionally repairing sacks for local farmers in his own house. Billy was an experienced fisherman, and his fishing rods had pride of place on the wall of the living room of his small house. He was often to be seen each evening sitting in his wheelchair at the end of the lane, chatting to the local people on their way to the Picture Palace in Offaly Street. He died in January 1949. His daughter Bertha worked in the Church of Ireland Rectory for Rev. Dunlop. She died approximately ten years ago, having emigrated to England, and is buried in a cemetery in Eastbourne, where coincidentally, her friend, May Sunderland, formerly of Offaly Street, is also buried. May was an usherette in the Picture Palace before she emigrated to England. Following Billy Leakes’ death, Jim and Sarah Doyle and their family came to live in No. 1 Butler’s Row.

In the adjoining house in the 1930’s lived Mr. & Mrs. Tom McHugh and family. Tom had a foundry in Janeville Lane which continued in operation into the late 1950’s. Some of the men who worked in McHugh’s Foundry included Mannix Thompson, Des Donaldson and Paddy Eaton. The McHugh family included John, Tommy, May, Annie, Gertie, Babs, Matt and Una. Annie died in Butler’s Row before the family moved to No. 7 Offaly Street. Mick O’Shea and his sister Molly later moved into the second house in Butler’s Row.

In the third house over 60 years ago, lived Granny Murphy, even then a very old woman, remembered for the large white apron she always wore. With her was her son Seanie, whom I believe is now in England, and her daughter-in-law Maureen who worked in Murphy’s of Sunnyside. Maureen later remarried Jack Carroll, who was in the Irish Army.

Next door lived Mrs. Stafford and her children John, Peter and Julia. They later moved to No. 28 Offaly Street which adjoins the present Credit Union office. John Stafford was later to occupy the premises opposite the courthouse now owned by Jim Lawlor, from where he operated a bicycle shop and a hackney business. Replacing the Staffords in Butler’s Row were Matt Collingwood, his wife Lil and their family. Lil was a daughter of Mrs. Woods of Meeting Lane, who operated a dairy at the end of Janeville Lane, where Bill Cash and his family later lived. Matt was caretaker of the local courthouse. The entire Collingwood family emigrated to Luton in the mid-1930’s. I believe that one of Matt’s daughters is married in England to Johnny Hoare’s brother, while a son, Thomas, is married to Mick Dunphy’s daughter, formerly of The Bleach. After the Collingwoods, the house was occupied by Jack and Ciss Webster and their young family. Jack was a painter and local fireman, and Ciss, who is now living in Offaly Street, is remembered by me for her early start as an office cleaner in Bob Osborne’s solicitors’ office in Emily Square. In the 1950’s I invariably met Mrs. Webster walking to work as I plodded my way to serve 7.00 o’clock morning Mass in the Parish Church. Her son Tom, who was a good friend of mine when we were growing up, is now a fire officer in Athlone.

Mrs. Mahon, a widow, lived in No. 5 with her children Molly, Stacia, Michael, John and Betty. John, who was a good footballer, died of T.B. while living in Butler’s Row. His team-mates from Athy Gaelic Football Club carried John’s coffin from Butler’s Row on the day of his funeral. His brother Michael was one of the stars of Gaelic football in Athy and he emigrated to America in October 1927. On the night before he departed, members of the G.A.A. Club, then called Young Emmets, made a presentation to Michael at a function in the urban council offices in the Town Hall. He had played for the Athy Senior Team in the 1923 Senior Championship Final when Athy was defeated by Naas, and was chosen for the Kildare County Senior football team in the year he emigrated. Michael Mahon later returned to Ireland, and is believed to be the only Athy man to win an All-Ireland Senior Football medal which he received for playing for his county in the 1928 championship, even though he did not figure in the final of that year. The Mahon family members are all deceased.

Tommy Moran and family lived in the house next door to the Mahons before they transferred to St. Patrick’s Avenue, where Mrs. Moran is still living. Tommy was a master tailor, a craft once very much in vogue in the pre World War II years but which went into decline with the advent of ready-made suits. Jack Bennett and his family replaced the Morans in Butler’s Row, transferring from Janeville Lane on the far side of Offaly Street. Jack worked as a baker in Bradbury’s. His daughter Mary Whelan now lives in Pairc Bhride.

In No. 6 Butler’s Row lived Fran O’Rourke, who was married to Kate Cunningham of Meeting Lane. He was a carpenter who worked for the railway company in their Inchicore Works, commuting to Athy each weekend by train. His sons Paddy Joe, Thomas, Frank and Hughie are dead, as is his daughter Josephine, who was married to the late Joe Moloney. Another son, Peter, is living in London, while a daughter Breda is married to Michael O’Meara and living in Geraldine Road. George and Mary Ryan were appointed tenants of No. 6 in 1942 and lived there until 1950 when they transferred to No. 63 Pairc Bhride. Their son George, born the same year as myself, was in my class in St. Joseph’s Boys School. He died in 1949 and I can still recall the entire class under Sr. Alberta’s guidance praying for George, little realising that we would never see him again. He was buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery one week after another of our young friends, Jimmy Bracken of Emily Square, was drowned underneath the Barrow Bridge. That was a sad week in November 1949.

George Ryan Senior was a first class handballer who won the All Ireland Hardball Junior Doubles title partnered by “Wiggie” Costello of Shrewleen in 1936. While living in Butler’s Row, George won the All Ireland Handball Junior Singles title of 1946. Sadly he died in 1969.

In the next house lived Mr. & Mrs. O’Brien and their daughter. I have no information about them. They were followed by Mick O’Shea, his mother and grandfather who moved from Garden Lane off Meeting Lane. Mick and his sister Molly, who had spent many years in England, later moved down to No. 2 Butler’s Row. Mick, who worked for many years in the I.V.I. Foundry, was the last tenant of Butler’s Row as he continued to live there for some time after the remaining houses fell vacant. He and Molly now live in Kirwan’s Court off Leinster Street.

“Robbie” Robinson and his wife Caroline later moved into No. 7 Butler’s Row. Robbie worked in the I.V.I. Foundry and was known locally as “Black Sam”, allegedly because of his frequent performances as a blacked up minstrel in local musicals in the Town Hall. Their eldest son Michael, who is now in Australia, was home for Christmas, and renewed acquaintances with his school pals from the Christian Brothers School of the 1950’s.

The Stapleton family lived in No. 8. There were three brothers and one sister, all now long dead. Jim and Larry were bakers in Bradley’s bakery which was located at the rear of the present Delaney’s Barber shop in Duke Street. Mick was unemployed, largely due to ill health, while his sister Mary kept house for her bachelor brothers. Tom and Maria Langton and family replaced the Stapletons. Tom was a local postman and fireman and both himself and his wife were wonderful ballroom dancers, known far and wide for their dancing skill.

Next door in the 1930’s we find Mr. & Mrs. Dargan, their son Jim and two daughters. They later moved to Offaly Street taking over the house vacated by the Stafford family. Mr. Dargan worked in his own forge and also in Duthie Large’s while his son Jim left Athy Christian Brothers School to take up a cadetship with the Irish Army. Jim Dargan, who later left the Army to work with his father in the family forge, participated in many of the musical shows in Athy over the years. When the Dargans moved to Offaly Street the new tenants of No. 9 Butler’s Row were Tommy and Eileen Pender. Tommy worked in the I.V.I. Foundry and when his children were very young, the family moved to Offaly Street, taking over Sunderland’s house. In doing so, Eileen Pender was moving to live directly opposite her old family home, where her parents were still living at the time.

Mr. & Mrs. Dempsey and their daughter Lil lived in the second last house in Butler’s Lane. “Cruiser” Dempsey as he was known, was the porter in the Hibernian Bank in Leinster Street. He was a small man with a moustache and always wore a cap. Lil married a railway porter named Tobin and moved down the country. Mick Corr, his wife and two sons later lived in the house and Mick is now living in Nelson Street, his wife sadly dying while they were living in Butler’s Row.

At the end of Butler’s Row lived Mr. & Mrs. Hendricks. He was a freelance photographer, and used the wall of the Leinster Arms Hotel yard to display his photographs of local events and people which he offered for sale. Hendricks was an exceptionally tall man whose wife was very small. Paddy Dunne, his wife Molly and family later lived in Hendricks house.

The houses in Butler’s Row were privately owned. It may be assumed that the name indicates a previous owner or perhaps the person responsible for constructing the houses in the 19th century. Peter P. Doyle of Woodstock Street, at one time collected the rents averaging 2/6 per week, on behalf of the then owner George Dillon, who was a butcher in Leinster Street. On his death George willed the Butler’s Row property to his nephew Tommy who lived in Ardreigh, and in time he sold the 11 houses to Mona Sylvester of Offaly Street. Mona is reputed to have paid £100 for the entire housing scheme and she continued to collect the rents until the last house was vacated.

Butler’s Row is no more. The roofless remains of the houses which once echoed to the lively sounds of family life now await the bulldozers to knock down their crumbling walls. In recording the names of those who lived there over the years since 1930, inevitably some names will be missed and some mistakes made. If you can help to add to what is written here, I would welcome hearing from you.

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