During the 18th century the Bleach in Athy was an area which as it’s name implies played an important part in the then developing linen industry. Here was the town’s equivalent of the Bleach Yards where the retted flax was laid out to dry, creating conditions that would have been very unpleasant for the cottagers who lived in the area.
Over 150 years later Athy Urban District Council purchased a field in the area known as O’Rourke’s field and later accepted the tender of local firm D. & J. Carbery Ltd. to build on it 94 Council houses for the sum of £134,166. The newly built houses were allocated to tenants by the Urban Council in March 1950 at rents varying from 18/6 to 6 shillings per week. Local Councillor Tom Carbery proposed that the Estate be named St. Dominic’s Park. He got no support for his suggestion and it was the Council Chairman M.G. Nolan who first suggested that it be called after St. Brigid. At a Council meeting on 24th March, 1950 the members agreed that the new housing scheme would be called Pairc Bhride. It was suggested to me some time ago by a reader that the Estate was in fact named after former Councillor Bridget Darby, but in fact the minutes of the Urban District Council confirm that the patron saint of County Kildare was honoured in the naming of Athy’s newest housing estate.
Just a few short months afterwards on 30th September a newly elected Urban Council held it’s first meeting. It comprised M.G. Nolan, Tom Carbery, P.G. Dooley, Matt McHugh, Paddy O’Neill, J.C. Reynolds, Thomas Flood, Eddie Purcell and P.L. Doyle. Thomas Flood of Leinster Street, elected as Vice Chairman of the Urban District Council on 30th September died 9 days later. His son Francis was later co-opted to fill the vacancy on the Council.
The 1950’s were in many ways difficult times for the local people. The cinema in Offaly Street had been closed down for some time because of the local Council’s refusal to issue a Cinema Licence on the grounds that the facilities provided were substandard. At the same time another cinema proprietor McNally Cinemas Ltd. of Dublin were writing to the Council advising of their intention to build a new cinema on the bridge mill site at Duke Street “as soon as legal and other difficulties are overcome”. That cinema was never built and “Bob’s” cinema in Offaly St. was to regain it’s licence after rudimentary toilet facilities were provided in the passageway which ran the length of the cinema building.
Turf was sold in Athy at 4/3 per hundredweight at a time when Bord na Mona were supplying only one load of machine turf to the traders of Athy each week. This situation which had applied since before Christmas 1950 resulted in a scarcity of turf supplies in the town and a consequent increase in turf prices which prompted the local Urban District Council to protest. Concern was also felt at the closure of Bachelor’s Pea Grading Depot at Rathstewart. This was due to the lack of restrictions on the import of frozen peas, which reduced prices available for home grown peas.
The new tenants in Pairc Bhride were for the most part young married couples who like most other people in Athy were badly hit by the economic difficulties of life in Athy in the 1950’s. It was nearly 23 years after the housing estate had opened that the residents first came together to form a tenants association. The man who brought together his neighbours for that first meeting was the late “Dinny” Whelan who like his father before him was employed by the Railway Company in Athy. That meeting took place in the Leinster Arms Hotel in April 1973 and two weeks later a further meeting was held at which 36 local residents attended. They elected a Committee consisting of “Dinny” Whelan as Chairman, Eamon Gray as Secretary and Mrs. Trish Coogan as Treasurer. All of the Officers elected at that meeting have since passed away. Other Committee Members elected included Sean Loughman, Paddy Coogan, Paddy Kane and Sarah Davis. The following year the Association started a monthly draw with tickets at 10 shillings each and after 25 years the draw still continues with the tickets remaining at the decimal equivalent of the old ten shilling note.
Outings during the Summer and over Christmas at a time when very few people had their own cars were the highlight of the Association’s early years. Nowadays the Residents Association which embraces The Bleach, Pairc Bhride, Avondale and Plewman’s Terrace and goes under the name of The Bleach and District organises garden competitions, annual Christmas parties and other events. The “Dinny” Whelan Perpetual Trophy given to the owner of the best kept garden in the district commemorates the Association’s long serving Chairman and Founder “Dinny” Whelan. As the oldest Residents Association in Athy, if not in County Kildare, The Bleach and District will celebrate it’s 25th Anniversary with a dance in the former Dreamland Ballroom on Friday, 24th April commencing at 9.00pm. Music on the night will be provided by the Imperial Imps Showband of County Meath and tickets at £10.00 each are still available. The present Residents Association Committee members include Kieran Browne, John and Margaret Donnelly, Pauline O’Rourke, Maureen Scully, Sarah Davis, Paddy Kane, Eithne Moore, Ann Flynn, Sheila Rigney, Kevin and Maura Doran, Angela Heuston and Noel Scully. Noel has been Chairman of the Association for the past 5 years, while Angela has been Secretary for the same period. Long serving Treasurer and PRO are wife and husband team of Maura and Kevin Doran who have held their positions for the last 10 years.
Two of the original Committee Paddy Kane and Sarah Davis are still Committee Members and they will no doubt take pleasure from the letter sent to the Association by President McAleese in which she wrote “In communities throughout this island there have been remarkable successes by Parish and Community based initiatives just like yours which bring neighbours together in a shared goal to enhance their community facilities and to improve the quality of life in the area.”
The celebrations for The Bleach and District’s 25 years committment to better community relationships will include a recital by the No. 1 Army Band on the Green in Pairc Bhride at 3.30pm on Saturday, 25th April.
Apart from their record of longevity I wonder if The Bleach and District Association was the first Resident’s Association ever formed in Athy. Let me know if you can throw some light on the subject.