Thursday, February 8, 1996

Convent Lane in 1930s

Small as Athy is and was in the 1950’s a traditional awareness almost tribal in its origin maintained a barrier around the circumference of the area to which as young fellows we felt free to roam. I and the other youngsters in Offaly Street had security in our own street and the areas such as that part of the People’s Park nearest to the Rectory and “The Line” as far as the Railway Bridge. But no where else. There was nothing sinister in this, merely an unstated acknowledgement that we were comfortable in our own area and felt little or no need to wander into other parts of the town.

One area which was on the periphery of our youthful domain was Convent Lane leading from Duke Street to the Dominican Church. A trip down “the line” across the Horse Bridge would invariably mean an excursion through the Dominican field exiting through Convent Lane and back down Duke Street to Offaly Street. As a young fellow in the 1950’s I can recall some of the tenants of the houses still occupied in that lane. Miss Burley, the Malone sisters and Miss Johnson, dressmaker, were the last three occupiers of the small one storey houses now long demolished.

In the early 1930’s Convent Lane was a much narrower roadway than it is now. At the head of the lane facing into Duke Street was to be found John Farrell’s butcher shop in what is now Rachels. On the opposite side of the laneway and facing the Post Office was a stationers owned by two elderly ladies called the Miss Byrnes. Their shop was to be demolished in the 1960’s to widen the laneway. Immediately behind the shop as one went up the laneway was a high cut stone wall with a gateway. Beyond the gateway were three small houses with a long row of terraced houses on the opposite side of the laneway which started at the end of Farrell’s house. Between this row of terraced houses and Farrells stood the entrance gateway to the rear of the Garda Barracks.

Sixty five years ago the occupier of the first house in that terrace was James McNally, Sacristan in St. Michael’s Church. His daughter Maggie who later married in Dublin lived with him. They subsequently transferred to Convent View and in 1937 Jim and Mary Eaton were appointed tenants. Next door was Essie Johnson and her sister May. Essie for many years walked out with Paddy “Sooty” Hayden of Meeting Lane who was a delivery breadman for Dooley’s Bakery in Leinster Street. They never married but Essie did marry, her husband later drowning tragically in the River Barrow. She was a dressmaker and worked a lot for Shaws. Over the door of her small house was to be always seen a sign “E. Johnson Dressmaker” and there she continued to live as one of the last tenants in Convent Lane. Her sister May married Jim Maher of Barrowhouse and they lived in Geraldine.

In No. 3 lived Mrs. Katie Hogan, formerly Katie Wade who worked in Henry Grattan Donnelly’s house in The Abbey. She had no family. Her next door neighbour was Pat Quinn and his wife Mary. Pat worked in the I.V.I. in the later years. They had no family. Ned Timpson and his wife Bridget and their only daughter Mary were their next door neighbours. Mary was later to marry Athy’s most famous musician, the legendary Joe O’Neill and is now living in St. Joseph’s Terrace. Ned was a regular soldier in the English Army and had served in the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. Like his brother Jack Timpson who had served in the 8th Huzzars, both survived the First World War and Ned Timpson and his family were later to live in the Gate Lodge of Ardreigh House which was then occupied by Bob Osborne, Solicitor before the Timpson family moved on to The Bleach.

Mick Johnson and his family lived in the adjoining house for a while before transferring to Convent View where some of the family still live. The Malone sisters, two well-educated ladies from the Luggacurran area later lived in Johnson’s house and were one of the last people to live in the Lane. The O’Rourke family with their son Jackie and daughter May also lived in the Lane leading to what was once Riversdale House but by then the Dominican Monastery. Jackie married Nan Breen and now lives in Offaly Street while his sister May died some time ago while living in McDonnell Drive.

The last house was occupied by the Burleys. They had previously lived in St. John’s Lane and Miss Burley, a daughter of the family, occupied the old family home until her death. Those familiar with John Minihan’s photographic essay on Athy will be familiar with his picture of Miss Burley peering at a magazine wall rack in St. Dominic’s Church. She was a very quiet gentle lady who had suffered a horrific facial disfigurement in her early years.

There were three houses facing Miss Burley’s house at the entrance to the Dominican Church. The Hayes family lived in the first house. Jack Hayes worked on the Barrow Drainage while his wife Margaret sometimes worked part-time in the Parish Church. Of their four sons two are dead, Christy in America and Jack who died a young man in Convent Lane. He was a member of the L.D.F. and when he died of T.B. he was accorded a military funeral. His brothers Ned and Jim are now believed to be in England. I can remember visiting Mrs. Hayes in the early 1960’s and coming away with a lasting impression similar to that experienced when I visited an old lady in Kells in Co. Meath in 1967. Both were widows and lived alone. In Mrs. Hayes’ case I felt my social conscience gripped by the frustration of an economic system which forced young men to emigrate to find work and compelled old women to live out their final years alone without their family. I have never forgotten Mrs. Hayes and I am constantly reminded of the elderly woman living alone in a small house in Kells who told me of her young husband’s death in World War I. She had no children and remained throughout her life a widow, mourning not only the loss of her young love but the joys of family and companionship. Cruelty comes in many guises.

Next door to the Hayes’s lived Stephen and Mary Anne Shortall and family. Their children James, Richard, Ellen and Annie are now believed to be living in England. Stephen worked on the Grand Canal and had married Mary Anne who was originally from Edenderry.

I am uncertain as to who lived in the third and last house in the 1930’s but I understand that Paddy Howard and his family lived there before they moved on to Geraldine Road.

The terrace of houses were owned by John Farrell, the butcher who lived at the Duke Street end of the laneway. In the 1960’s the last of these houses were demolished. Today no trace remains of the small houses which had been built on Tanyard Lane following the closure of George Dakers Tanyard at the close of the 18th century. With the arrival of the Dominicans following their transfer from what is now Kirwans Lane the approach road was renamed Convent Lane. The shop units and apartments recently built in the area give us little hint of what Convent Lane was like even 35 years ago.

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