The select vestry of St. Michael’s Athy met on Tuesday 24th October 1824 for the purpose of appointing overseers to inspect the public houses of the parish. The same meeting decided to adjourn until Tuesday 2nd November consideration of the need to enlarge the parish Church which was then located in Market Square. The Minutes of the meeting recorded that in consequence of the great increase in parishioners and the want of seats in the church it was imperative that the Church wardens plan and estimate the cost of extending the existing church but so as to “respect the rights of the present occupiers of pews”.
The adjourned meeting on 2nd November 1824 decided to borrow the sum of £300 from the Board of First Fruits to be repaid by tithes levied on the parish to finance an extension of the church and the provision of new pews. Strangely enough it was also decided to put the new pews up for auction to the highest bidder with the proceeds thereof being applied to liquidating the church debt. A subsequent select vestry minute entry for 1830 showed that the Parish of St. Michael’s was required to borrow the sum of £500 for the Church extension and new pews. Despite their efforts a further select vestry meeting on the 30th July 1833 considered the necessity of erecting a new parish church and a deputation consisting of Reverend Frederick Trench, James Goodwin, Robert Molloy, Reverend Charles Bristow and Dr. George Barker was appointed to meet the Duke of Leinster to seek a suitable site.
In 1835 a petition was submitted to the Duke of Leinster seeking to change the site of the proposed new church to Janeville. There is no record of where the original site was to be located. At the same time a vote of thanks was passed with the Duke of Leinster for his “princely and significant contribution towards the building of the new church in Athy and also for his liberal present of a most eligible site”. The church was opened in 1840.
In 1859 Reverend Trench the one time Curate of Athy but promoted to the Rectorship in 1848 decided to build a Glebe House or Rectory and applied to the Duke of Leinster for a site near the church. The Rectory was designed by Deane and Woodword a well known firm of architects based in Dublin. While Trench as the Rector of Athy was required under the Appropriate Act to finance the provision of a Glebe house he pleaded inability to do so and sought to take out a mortgage to finance the building works.
The building contractor of the Glebe house on what was later known as Church Road was Mark Cross of Emily Square a man about whom I have previously written in connection with the building of small terraced houses in Janeville Lane and Connolly’s Lane. As Reverend Trench’s plans for the Glebe house were being approved the town Jail erected just thirty years previously on the Carlow Road was being vacated. The prisoners and staff were transferred to the County Jail in Naas. Sections of the relatively new jail building in Athy were demolished during the building of the glebe house and the cut stone from the jail was used in its building.
Before the glebe house was completed Frederick Trench the last sovereign of the Borough Council of Athy which had been abolished in 1840 died. On Tuesday the 16th October 1860 as Reverend Trench who resided at Kilmoroney drove in his gig to Athy accompanied by a servant the horse took fright and careered down Offaly Street in the direction of Emily Square. The horse and gig crashed into the medieval gateway known as Preston’s gate situated at the end of Offaly Street. Both Trench and his man servant were thrown from the gig and received serious injuries and on Friday 23rd November the Rector died aged 74 years.
The Leinster Express named Preston’s gate as the cause of many previous accidents involving eleven deaths and lead a campaign to have the gate removed. On the 10th November 1860 the editor of that paper reported to its readers “Preston’s Gate, Athy - this relic of ancient times is about to be numbered amongst the things that were. On last Monday several workmen were employed in throwing it down and ere another week runs round its removal will have taken place. Had it been removed years gone by it would have prevented the many accidents which its obstruction in the way of entrance to the town by the Carlow Road had so often taken place and none so much to be deplored as the late one which occasioned the upset to the Reverend Mr. Trench and his servant the lives of whom are greatly endangered. Its removal will give general satisfaction to the townspeople”.
So passed one of the last and most visible remains of the medieval town of Athy. Fortunately a French draftsman, George Victor De Noyer had recorded in water colour this ancient monument while he was engaged on ordnance survey work in Athy in 1844.
Reverend Trench’s successor Reverend Henry McDonald was responsible for completing the glebe house and was its first occupant. Described as being in the Victorian gothic style the glebe house as it was originally called and rectory as it is now known is an important part of Athy’s built heritage.