I am often asked from where and how I get the information for the weekly Eye on the Past. Much of it I have to confess comes from years of accumulating apparently useless bits and pieces about Athy. On their own they gave little insight into the secrets of our past but occasionally the jig-saw falls into place and what were once individual scraps of information, mesh together to provide a chronological or thematic story.
Such happened this week when I was given a small black notebook, the inside cover of which bore in copperplate handwriting the words "Athy Branch of Gaelic League - Minutes of Meetings". In perusing the Minute Books of the local Urban District Council and reading back issues of local newspapers I have come across several references to the Gaelic League in Athy. With the Minute Book I could now hope to put some resemblance of order on the various pieces of information I had gleaned over the years. expect
The first meeting of the local branch was held on 31st January 1919 in the Technical School. Strictly speaking the Minute Book records that the meeting was called "to revive the local branch of the Gaelic League" clearly indicating that the League had an earlier existence in Athy. But when, I do not know. Incidentally the Technical School which was the venue of that meeting was located in Stanhope Place and had been built in 1907 next to the C.Y.M.S. building which occupied a former school building at the corner of Stanhope Street and Stanhope Place.
Using the Technical School for the meeting was surprising given that on the 2nd of December 1918 the Urban District Council had passed a Motion which demonstrated that at least one member of the Technical Committee was not in agreement with the promotion of the Irish language. That Resolution condemned Mr. T. Hickey, J.P. a member of the Council's Technical Committee for imposing a fine at the local petty sessions on the Irish teacher in the local Technical School who signed his named in Irish.
That "revival" meeting of the Gaelic League was attended by Miss Bridget Darby, Miss O'Loughlin, Miss Kealy, Miss Timmons, Tadgh O'Shea, Michael Dooley, John Bradley, James Kealy and John Gibbons. Michael Dooley of Duke Street was elected President, Miss Darby Treasurer and James Kealy Secretary. Not at that meeting but appointed to a sub-committee were Brothers Hoctor and Egan of the local Christian Brothers Schools.
Subsequent meetings of the Gaelic League were attended by Joe May, Patrick McEvoy, William Mahon, J. Whelan, J.J. O'Byrne, Ed Nolan, J. Hickey, John Hayden, Dick Candy, P. Doyle and Mr. Scully. After a number of meetings held in the Technical School the League moved to the Ancient Order of Hibernian Rooms in Duke Street. The Branch members were greatly concerned with finances during the early months and a concert in the Town Hall on the 17th of March 1919 realised £60.00 profit while a flag day raised a further £9.00. An application from the newly formed Gaelic League branch in Barrowhouse for some funding from their Athy colleagues was rebuffed but later on it was agreed to share with them the proceeds of a Ceile in the Town Hall provided that it was well supported by the Barrowhouse people.
In early April 1919 the Gaelic League sent a deputation consisting of Rev. Fr. Sheridan C.C., Castledermot, Michael Dooley, Athy, and Mr. Price, Language Organiser, Carlow to a local Urban District Council meeting. Following this the Council agreed to have all Council cheques signed in the Irish language and all "printing on the official notepaper and bill heads and the names of the streets printed in the Irish language as well as in English". It is no surprise to find that the Gaelic League had to write to the Council one year later asking when the Irish notepaper and the name of the streets in Irish would be provided. The present Urban District Council has Irish headed notepaper but to my knowledge Athy has never had Irish street names.
Miss Darby, as Treasurer of the local branch, was consistently reminding the members of their impending bankruptcy. It seemed never to have happened but equally a shortage of funds restricted their activities in relation to the promotion of the Irish language. A Feis Committee was established in Athy early in 1919 in connection with a Feis or an aeriocht planned for the local football pitch on the Dublin Road in July. There were disturbances in the town during that Feis which were still talked about over 70 years later by men and women who knew of what had occurred. In its aftermath the local Urban District Council met on the 24th of July 1919 to consider what steps should be taken to preserve the peace and to protect property in the town. The District Inspector of the R.I.C. in a letter to the Council referred to the disgraceful conduct of the demobbed soldiers who during the Feis attacked a shop in Duke Street and destroyed stock without provocation.
The shop referred to was that of "Bapty" Maher who had a bicycle shop in Duke Street opposite the present O'Dohertys. "Bapty" was a member of the I.R.A. and was imprisoned during the Black and Tan period. Damage was also caused to the confectionary shop of Miss Darby's mother in Leinster Street. This was where Conroy's premises is now located. Apparently bunting and decoration erected by the Darbys on their premises for the Feis included the Sacred Heart emblem and its destruction with the rest of the bunting was regarded as sacrilegious and a source of great scandal at the time. The ex-British soldiers involved in the disturbance were all natives of Athy and I can recall an old resident of the town in 1984 recounting how each of the men named as being involved in that disturbance subsequently met horrible death. It is often difficult to distinguish history from myth and folklore.
To return to the Gaelic Leaguers they continued to meet in various locations throughout the town including the office of local Solicitor Mr. Tristan who had offices in Duke Street. Meetings were also held in the Urban Council offices in the Town Hall and in Miss Darby's sitting room in Leinster Street. Mr. Tristan also apparently made available a room for the Irish class provided by the Gaelic League on Thursdays between 7.00 p.m. and 9.00 p.m. I understand that Tristan with whom Mrs. Hester May, daughter of Michael Dooley worked for a while in 1919 had his offices in what was later the Garda Barracks in Duke Street. This was also the location of the A.O.H. Rooms. The room used for the Irish class was commonly known by the locals as the Gaelic League room.
The last entry in the Minute Book is dated the 13th of December 1921 when Mr. Tierney, Irish teacher, was let go and his Irish classes were discontinued. What happened to the Gaelic League in Athy thereafter I cannot yet say.