Thursday, August 29, 1996

Diary of Thomas Henry Cross 2

The extracts from the Diary of Thomas Henry Cross concluded last week with his School Master, Mr. Flynne, absconding leaving considerable debts in Athy, and his pupils including our diarist without a school. Cross noted that with Flynne's sudden departure his education at school ended "for as to the subsequent two I wish I had never known them. The first of these was a Mr. Wintour an Oxford student who came highly recommended from Ballitore early in 1847. I remained with him literally and substantially idling until he became insolvent in October 1848 and on his release from prison he left the town. I then was nine months idle entirely, nine months of my life at a time when above all others I could worst have spared it. A time when habits and prejudices just began to be formed, habits of inattention carelessness and negligence which to this very day hang to me and weigh me to the ground. However, about August 1849 my father took the notion that I should enter College. I call it a notion for I was just beginning to settle myself down in contented idleness and ignorance. I then went for an hour in the evening for about six weeks to Mr. Forde where I learned but very little and it was only on the 20th September that I set about preparing for the entrance examination which took place on 16th October following. I worked hard but I had left too much undone - all my knowledge had been dissipated and my mind was left an empty storehouse which I had set about filling as best I might or could. Accordingly every word in Greek or Latin had to be searched for not only in the dictionary but in the Grammar and I found that I had to begin with the very definitions of the Euclid. The entrance day arrived, the Rev. Mr. Jameson (Curate of Athy Parish) came to Dublin with me and introduced me to the Rev. Mr. Haughton whom I selected as my Tutor. We had the usual entrance breakfast and I made my debut in the Examination Hall of Trinity College Dublin at 10 O'Clock on the morning of the 16th October, 1849. I can't remember now my examiners but the great fact remains on record that out of the 84 who entered that day there were 38 better that I was and 45 worse. My father and Mr. Jameson were rather pleased at my doings so in the afternoon after dinner at Mrs. Moore's of Dame Street my health was drank and an "issue suitable to the beginning" wished for".

Thomas Cross continued his Diary on and off until June 1856 and the entry for the 21st of July 1853 gives an interesting insight into political happenings in Athy at that time. "I was engaged on the Friday and Saturday in the Tally Room for Sir Edward Kennedy the Conservative Candidate. W.H. Cogan and O'Connor Henchy were his opponents. It was a pitch battle between Landlordism and Priestism and indeed I cannot say whether the spiritual anathematisings of the latter or the temporal crushings and threats of the former were the more reprehensible. As to "Freedom of Election" it was a monster farce. If the unfortunate elector did not vote as the Priest wished he was cursed from the altar and if he did not bow before a tyrant Landlord's fiat he was exterminated out of the Land. Henchy and Cogan were the successful candidates, the former is little better than a fool but the latter is a man of some intelligence. Either are better (except so far as Principles go) than Sir Edward Kennedy whose sole virtue consists of keeping up a pack of foxhounds for the gratification of the sickly sprouts and scions of Kildare's Landocracy for the indoctrination of habits of idleness, drunkenness and vice in the too genial soil of the squireens heart."

On the 7th of August 1853 Cross wrote "On account of my permanent removal to Dublin I found it necessary to send in my resignation to the Committee of Athy Mechanics Institute, the Society which I was mainly instrumental in founding and of which I had been the Secretary from the very first. The members wishing to pay me some compliment in leaving them signified their wish that I should go down and receive at their hands at a public meeting a Writing Desk as a mark of their appreciation of my services. I accordingly went. They had the room beautifully decorated, hung around with flowers and mottos. Over the chair where I was to sit was "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot" and in other parts of the room "Knowledge is Power", "Success to our Institute" etc. The chair was taken at 8.00 o'clock by A. O'Keeffe, Esq., the Manager of the National Bank who in a highly flattering speech opened the meeting by reading the address which was to accompany the desk. The Rev. Thomas Jameson, Curate of Athy Parish, proposed and Dr. Edward Ferris seconded its adoption and both particularly Mr.Jameson spoke of me in most complimentary terms. I afterwards spoke for about an hour briefly sketching the past history of the Society and exhorting members to unity and to perseverance in the most noble cause of mental amelioration. There were many other speeches delivered and afterwards we had a very elegant soiree, fruit, wine, cakes, almonds, raisins etc. There was the greatest good feeling manifested by all. Indeed I felt not a little proud at seeing myself thus made much of and seeing old and young, rich and poor, Protestant and Dissenter and Catholic all coming forward to testify as I have said that "wherever industry, perseverance and talent are employed in the promotion of useful purposes and directed to the attainment of noble ends that industry, perseverance and talent would be recognised, appreciated and rewarded".

The Diary of the young Athy man first written over 150 years ago gives us an interesting insight into life in provincial Ireland both before and after the Great Famine. A most remarkable absence of any reference in the Diary to the famine which affected the country between 1845 and 1849 is puzzling. I have elsewhere made reference to a similar lack of reference in the Contemporary Minute Books of Athy Town Commissioners. Wherein lies the explanation for these omissions given that over 2,500 men women and children died in the town and in the local Poor House during the four years of the worst of the many famines experienced in 18th and 19th century Ireland? Despite this omission Thomas Henry Cross's Diary is an important social document enabling us to look backwards to a time which the faded pages of a young man's Diary can only now reveal.

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