1932 - The Year of the Congress. Perhaps one of the most easily remembered dates in our recent history. Equalled only by the epoch making Easter Rebellion of 1916 but with this difference. There are not many whose memories can extend back 80 years to the time when Pearse and his colleagues set out to change the course of Irish history. The Eucharistic Congress is however another matter. There are many who can recall the pomp and ceremony which surrounded the biggest religious ceremony ever witnessed in this country. It was a year which was forever to be fixed in peoples memories.
Some of our elders can still recall the events in Dublin that year but it's to a man, then only 12 years of age, to whom I turn for his memories of Leinster Street in the year of the Congress. 'Robbie' Robinson of whom I wrote recently remembers the street which he walked through each morning and afternoon as he travelled to and from the local Christian Brothers School.
Starting at the junction of Emily Square 'Robbie' recalls Henry Sylvester's Public House which is now incorporated into the Leinster Arms Hotel. In more recent years it had been an off-licence and in my young days was the site of Miss Dallon's sweet shop. Henry was the father of Mona Sylvester who later owned a sweet shop in Emily Row. A first class musician she was leader of the Ivy Band which played at local dances in and around Athy in the 1940's and early 1950's. The Leinster Arms Hotel was next door managed then by Miss Darcy. An Inn or Hotel has been on this site since the 18th century and perhaps even longer.
Freddie Darling's barber shop and the Misses Dillon's sweet shop were next in line followed by the public house now owned by Des Noonan but then operated by Jim Nelson. Fred Darling was a superb tennis player whose brother Harry Darling, also a barber in Kildare Town, was perhaps the finest tennis player in County Kildare. The Dillon sisters premises was subsequently acquired by Charlie Prendergast who carried on an electrical business there for many years. Their brother was "Chopsie" Dillon who had a butchers shop further up the street. Blanchfields lived next door and when I had my offices in the same building I recall Eoin Blanchfield paying a visit to what was once his old home and telling the sad story surrounding the tragic death in the house of his young brother.
John Maher's Public House and Undertaking business was next door, today still carrying the name Baptys over the front door even though Bapty, son of John Maher is now long dead. John's father was the first funeral undertaker in Athy who started his business in the 1880's from premises at the corner of Kirwan's Lane which is now a Chinese Take-Away. Johnny Bollards Printing Works was next and I recall meeting some years ago Johnny's son who is now an official of the Bank of Ireland. Athy Tea Rooms and J.C. Reynolds, Dentist, came before 'Chopsie' Dillon's Butcher shop. 'Chopsie' is not to be confused with the man of the same name who had a pub in Barrow Quay. J.C. Reynolds and his son Ken were prominent members of the Social Club in St. John's Lane and Ken is included in many of the photographs of the Social Club drama players of the 1940's and 1950's. Archie Sullivan, a cobbler, and Mrs. Brennan's shop were under the same roof just before Meeting Lane. Archie died in England some years ago and his remains were brought home for burial in his beloved town of Athy.
Across the lane named after the Quaker Meeting House built on the site of the Dispensary in 1780 was Lawler's Hotel. Next door was a private house and then Mrs. Candy's sweet shop. Her son Denis Candy was County Manager in Meath when I took up my appointment as Town Clerk of Kells in the 1960's. James and Nell Mulhall, parents of "Hocker", "Smiler" and "Gussy" lived in No. 14 next to the Nags Head Public House owned by Michael O'Brien and further up the street was William Scully's public house now owned by Clancys. The Railway Hotel was the second of three Hotels on Leinster Street, this establishment being owned by Tom Flood, an old I.R.A. veteran who had been imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail during the War of Independence. Empeys, Painters and Decorators occupied what is now the video shop. Most Rev. Bishop Walton Empey, Bishop of Kildare and Meath, lived here while a young man next door to McLaughlins Public House which is today still operated by Bridie and Kitty McLoughlin. Their father James McLaughlin, born in Buncrana, came to Athy in the 1920's from Belfast. Mrs. Grimes sweet shop was next door followed by Mrs. Blanchfield's private house and Dillons private house. The two end houses were occupied by Matt Murray, Plumber, who was later succeeded by his son of the same name and Peter Hyland whose son Tom was one time Caretaker of St. Michael's Cemetery. In the small recessed square at the end of the street was to be found Blanchfields sawmills and their private house next door to the small houses occupied by "Compri" Nolan, "Golly" Germaine and Anthony Nolan. "Golly" was an ex-World War I veteran whom I recall as one of the great characters of Athy when I was growing up. To be continued.