Thursday, March 14, 1996

Michael 'Robbie' Robinson

His father George Robinson enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at the start of World War I. Home on leave he married his sweetheart Mary Nolan of Ballyshannon before returning to the trenches. He was one of the lucky ones, surviving a bullet wound in the leg. At the end of the War he returned to farm work as a ploughman eventually ending up head ploughman with Condells of Prusselstown.

Michael Robinson, one of his six children was born on the 8th of August 1920 at Thomastown, Kilcullen and has lived in Athy since 1928. Known to everybody as "Robbie" he has a remarkable recall of life in Athy since the early 1930's. After attending the local C.B.S. he got his first job from Captain Hosie, as he was then known in the local Foundry at the top of Leinster Street on the 25th April 1935. The I.V.I. Foundry was established by Hosie in what was previously the Pound Field adjoining St. Michael's Terrace. The field has been designated as a site for the proposed new Technical School for Athy to replace the old school building then in use in Stanhope Place. For whatever reason another site on the Carlow Road was later purchased and it was there that the new Technical School was opened in 1940.

Captain Hosie acquired the Pound Field after it was no longer required as school site and established the I.V.I. Foundry. He has previously worked in Duthie Larges of Leinster Street, an extensive business which had a Foundry Works in Chapel Lane. Hosie left Duthie Larges to open a garage in 1928 where Maxwells is now located and when McDonnell's Amusements left the Pound Field in 1934 for the last time John Blanchfield of Leinster Street began the levelling of the site for the new Foundry buildings.

The first casting was made in the Foundry on the 21st March 1935 and the following months saw Michael Robinson join the firm where he was to remain for 48 years. His nickname "Robbie" was given to him on his first day in the job by Captain Hosie and has remained with him ever since.

He recalled some of the people who worked in the I.V.I. in those early years. Hannah Hosie and Miss Large of Rheban were in the office while in the Foundry itself were men such as Mick Webster, Upper William Street, Tommy Pender of Mount Hawkins, "Compri" Nolan of Leinster Street, Hepburn of Duke Street, Paddy Donegan of Duke Street, Tom and Paddy Hickey of Bert and Sean Dooley of Levitstown. He recalls Malachan Campbell, a Scotsman, as the Foreman to whom he reported on his first morning at work. The working hours were from 7.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m and on Saturdays from 7.00 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., for which "Robbie" received 5/= each week.

Some weeks ago when writing of Meeting Lane where "Robbie" and his family lived for a short while, I mentioned the nickname "Black Sam" by which he was known to some people. Those who knew him by that name thought that it arose out of his involvement in the Black and White Minstrel shows in the Town Hall in the 1930's. "Robbie" who has a fine tenor voice did indeed take part in many concerts and shows in the Town Hall but as he explains the name "Black Sam" had a more romantic provenance. Apparently when he was interviewed for the job in the I.V.I. in 1935 it was confidently expected that another man known locally as "Black Sam" who was dating a Cunningham girl from Meeting Lane would get the job. Michael got the job and with it the name of the man whom many believed he had replaced in the I.V.I.

During his 48 years in the I.V.I. he saw the Foundry go through many good and bad times. In the early years manufacturing agricultural implements was the main stay of the business but the outbreak of World War II brought a downturn in demand. All pig iron and coke used in the Foundry were imported from England and during the years 1939 to 1945 pig iron could not be brought into the country. It was then that scrap metal was utilised whenever and wherever it could be obtained while a limited supply of English coke was supplemented by supplies from Irish coal mines. The Foundry closed down for short periods during the War when supplies of coke and iron were not available.

The end of the War saw a resurgence in the Irish building industry and the making of rainwater goods gave a new lease of life to the Foundry. At the height of its activity upwards of 150 men were working in the I.V.I. Hosie, who had enlisted for the duration of the Second World War returned as Colonel Hosie while sadly his only son who might have been expected to follow his father into the Foundry business was killed in action. Colonel Watson, an Englishman, was employed after the War as General Manager of the Foundry and later on George Hudson came from Wales to take over as Works Manager. Mr. Hudson is retired and living in McDonnell Drive and it is to him that Michael and others who worked in the Foundry gave credit as the man "who put the I.V.I. on his feet".

The post-War success was not to be sustained and the business was to close in 1986 having been taken over some years previously by Waterford Foundry.

"Robbie" over the years has involved himself in many aspects of community life in Athy and has used his talents as a singer to benefit many local charities. Indeed he spent a time in the late 1940's and early 1950's as lead singer with the Ivy Band lead by Mona Sylvester of Emily Row. But that is another story for another day.

"Robbie" is now living in retirement in Clonmullin with his wife Caroline whom he married in 1942. Caroline's family owned and ran the "Caledonian Amusements" which wintered in Athy in 1939 and subsequent years. The amusements were located in the area known as the Chapel Well where the car park is now located opposite St. Michael's Church. Caroline and her sister Nora married locally, Nora subsequently emigrating to England with her husband "Thrush" Kelly. Of "Robbie's" and Caroline's four children their son George known as "Bargy" and daughter Caroline are living in Athy while their eldest son Michael is in Australia and the youngest Victor in Wexford.

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