Thursday, February 13, 1997

Athy UDC and the War of Independence

New Year's Day 1921 saw no respite in the continuing conflict between the Black and Tans and the newly recruited auxiliaries on the one hand and the Irish Republican Army on the other. The year started as the old year had ended with killings on both sides, but losses were heaviest amongst the ranks of the largely untrained volunteers on the Republican side. Even before the first 24 hours elapsed John Lawler of Ardfert, Thomas Murphy of Ballylanders and Daniel Tobin of County Limerick would be killed.

In Athy the Urban District Council met in the Town Hall on 4th April under the chairmanship of Thomas Corcoran of Woodstock St. His vice-chairman was Michael "Crutch" Malone, also of Woodstock St. whose later claim to fame was as author of the "Annals of Athy". The other Council members included Rex Hannon of Athy Mills, Thomas J. Whelan, Thomas O'Rourke and Joseph O'Rourke, all of William St., Patrick Keogh and Peter Paul Doyle of Woodstock St. The Bleach was represented by Patrick Dooley who was not to be confused with another Council member of the same name but who lived in Leinster St., which was also the address of Francis Jackson. William Mahon of Clonmullin, John Joseph Bailey of Stanhope St., Daniel Toomey of Meeting Lane and James Dargan of Butler's Row were the remaining Council members.

The Town Clerk, Joseph A. Lawler, had little to do that night as the fifteen man Council quickly went through the meetings Agenda. Apparently the Council's only decision concerned the taking down of the public lamps and gas fittings for the summer of 1921. The Town Surveyor, Michael Bradley of Offaly St. informed the members that surfacing with broken limestone and steam rolling of the main roads would continue, while five heaps of manure had been sold by P.J. Corcoran, Auctioneer for £5.7.6.

On 11th April the Council members met yet again to strike a rate of £7.6s in the pound to meet it's financial needs for the coming year. One week later it again convened to establish a Committee to further the appeal issued by the Irish White Cross. This organisation had been established late the previous year to help cope with the distress and hardship resulting from the War then being raged throughout Ireland. The Athy Committee consisted of Canon Mackey, the Parish Priest; Archdeacon Johnson, Church of Ireland Rector; Thomas Corcoran, Urban Council Chairman; M.E. Doyle; P.P. Doyle; William Malone; R.A. Hannon; Michael Dooley and C.J. Supple, a local Trade Union organiser. The White Cross Organisation was later to report that £125.15 was paid in personal relief to Athy people to 31st August, 1922. During the same period a total of £1,302.00 was paid to residents in Carlow.

Athy Young Emmets, the local Gaelic Football Club were granted permission by the Urban Council to erect a barrier at the entrance gate of the show grounds on the occasion of the Kildare v. Laois football match on Sunday, 8th May 1921. No doubt the young men from Barrowhouse area travelled to Athy that day to cheer on their County team. They were to be disappointed as the Kildare men ran out victors on the score of 2:3 to 1:3. As they travelled home that evening little did they realise that on the following Sunday two of their neighbours would become part of the deadly statistics in the bitter armed struggle which would end even if only temporarily with the calling of the truce on 11th July.

James Lacey and William Connor would die on the side of the roadway at Barrowhouse on 15th May, 1921. They had been members of a party which attempted to ambush a group of Black and Tans which were travelling through the Irish countryside around Barrowhouse on their way from Ballylinan to Maganey.

The next night the members of Athy Urban District Council met again in the Town Hall. Reference was made to the house Dr. John Kilbride was building in what the minute writer termed "Crib Road". Even now we know that the reference was to Church Road, although the name "Crib Road" has long gone out of use. A vote of sympathy was passed on the death of Mrs. Murphy, wife of Michael Murphy of Commercial House, Athy who had been a member
of the Council for many years. The minutes of that meeting do not record any reference to the killing of Connor or Lacey, nor was there any reference at their next meeting held on 6th June. At that latter meeting votes of sympathy were passed on the death of Matthew Minch, "a member of this Council and it's Chairman for many years and it's largest rate payer". A similar vote of sympathy was also passed on the death of John Holland, veterinary surgeon of Model Farm, Athy.

During the month of May 1921 70 Irishmen were killed by the Crown forces in Ireland, while 39 men were killed the following month. Nowhere is there recorded in the minutes of the local Urban District Council any reference to this. No outrage followed the shocking events which were unfolding daily throughout the country. Even where the drama unfolded within shooting distance of the town, it did not apparently merit any mention at meetings of the local Council.

Life in the Market Town went on as before, with the town fathers' only concern being with that of the public lamps, the sale of manure heaps and road surfacing. History appears to have passed by the Town Council without leaving it's mark.

No comments: