Thursday, November 7, 1996

Houses at the Bleach

This weeks article is prompted by a note received from the well known antiquarian book dealer, P.J. Tynan of Courtwood Books, Vicarstown who sent me a cutting from the Irish Times of 17th July 1924. On the back of the cutting is a news report concerning the release of Eamon de Valera and Austin Stack from Arbour Hill Prison the previous night. However, it is the article headed "Athy Council Housing Scheme" with a photograph of a row of new houses which is of interest.

The photograph had me puzzled for a while until a little detective work discovered that the houses were those of the Bleach Houses before the Bleach Cottages, a row of small houses for ex-servicemen were built in 1925/6.

The newspaper article of July 1924 is of sufficient interest to quote in full :-

"Forming the first section of a larger scheme, the present Housing Scheme undertaken by the Athy Urban District Council is nearing completion.

It consists of eight houses. The type of dwellings, illustrated above, being at present carried out consists of living room, scullery, larder and fuel store on ground floor, and two bedrooms on first floor. The construction adopted is cavity brickwork, which gives the most weatherproof walls, with rooms warm in winter and cool in summer. The eaves course has a deep projection, with a view to protecting the upper portion of walls from weather.

All materials, as far as possible, are of Irish manufacture or made in Ireland. The bricks are manufactured in Athy, and, we understand, are also available for the Dublin market. The joinery throughout was made in the Athy workshops of the contractor and all labour employed is local.

The Architects for the scheme are Messrs. Donnelly, Moore, Keefe and Robinson, of 14 Lower Sackville Street, Dublin and the Contractors Messrs. D. and J. Carbery, Athy."

The eight houses when completed were only the second scheme of new Council houses built in Athy. The first such scheme built in 1913 consisted of nine houses in St. Michael's Terrace, six houses in St. Martin's Terrace and five houses in Meeting Lane.

In 1919 the local Urban Council had estimated the need for two hundred new Council houses in Athy and had sent their Solicitor, Mr. Kilbride, to the Treasury Office in London to pursue their demands for funding to build those houses. The political and military events in Ireland at the time did not help Athy's Application and the British Government were not to provide any further monies for the town following the 1913 Scheme. It was the Irish Free State Government which sanctioned the Bleach Housing Scheme, but even their limited resources did not permit any more funding to be made available to the local Council for further housing during the rest of that decade.

The Urban District Council had originally advertised on 24th March, 1923 for tenders for six houses at The Bleach. The Town Clerk at the time was J.A. Lawler and the Chairman was Michael Malone, or as he was better known "Crutch” Malone, Author of "The Annals of Athy". It is interesting to note that at the time the tenders were being sought the Council's total expenditure for twelve months was £4,907.00, of which £1,457.00 represented the County Council demand. This gave a consolidated town rate of eight shillings in the pound compared to the present rate of approximately £35.00 in the pound.

Quotations for the six houses at the Bleach were originally submitted by D. and J. Carbery of Athy, J.F. Keating & Sons of Dublin and Watchorn & Sons, Builders of Crumlin, Dublin. Watchorns sought to revise their quotation after the closing date, and correspondence between the Housing Department in Dublin and Athy Urban District Council resulted in fresh tenders being obtained from Carberys and Keating. D. and J. Carbery, the local builders, revised their original tender downwards provided eight houses were built, indicating that the savings they were offering to the Council resulted from their proposed use of "concrete instead of brick in party walls, chimney breasts and partitions". The Council pressed the Housing Department for approval for the eight houses, which approval was subsequently granted and the tender of D. and J. Carbery, Buildings and Contractors, Athy was accepted.

The Council in the meantime had purchased land from Mrs. Lydia Guest of Hillview House as the site for the housing scheme and later sold part of that site for £75.00 to the Sailors and Soldiers Association in Dublin.

On completion of the housing scheme a total of nine applications were received for the eight houses, with rent payable from 1st May, 1924. The first tenants in the new houses at The Bleach were as follows :-

No. 1 - Joseph Carbery, Carpenter
No. 2 - D.S. Walsh, Commercial Traveller
No. 3 - Mrs. Lucy Cogan, Housekeeper
No. 4 - Patrick Shaughnessy, Bricklayer
No. 5 - Mrs. Kate Nolan, Housekeeper
No. 6 - John Logue, Malt House Worker
No. 7 - C.J. Supple, District Councillor
No. 8 - Thomas Moran, Tailor.

The row of eight Council houses built in 1924 were the subject of favourable comment by Nessa Roche, Architectural Historian who gave a lecture on the Buildings and the architecture of Athy in the Town Hall last week.

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