Last night I spent some time reading through some of the old school registers dating back to 1878 which had been maintained by the Christian Brothers in Athy. Each pupil’s name is entered with his address and date of admission to the school. The age at which children first attended school in those days when school attendance was not compulsory varied from nine years down to four years. The average however seemed to be somewhere between six and seven years of age.
The interesting details noted in the Registers about each new pupil included parents’ occupation, generally of course referring to the father’s work. Of the thirty children who entered the first class between April 1878 and September 1884 two were sons of boatmen residing at Barrack Street. Very few trades were represented and of those mentioned there was one carpenter, one maltster, one boot maker and one tailor. There were eighteen labourers, one charwoman, one pawnbroker, two farmers and two shopkeepers represented by sons in the first class during the six year period already mentioned.
Details of when the young students left school was also given with an explanation for their departure. Bernard Browne of Barrack Street who was five years of age when he enrolled in a school in February 1883 emigrated to America five years later. Presumably at that young age he was accompanied by his father who was a carpenter and the other members of his family.
Ten of the school boys left the Christian Brothers in St. John’s Lane after a few years and the Roll Book noted after their names, “went to work” or “working”. Of those one was only nine years of age when he left school for work, while another was ten years old. Three had attained eleven years of age when they gave up their studies to take up employment while one boy was twelve years old and two others had reached thirteen years of age when they finished their studies. This was a time when there was no legal requirement to attend school and where minimum age limits for work did not apply to those working on the land or in the local brick yards.
Some of the addresses given in the School Register speak of places which are now no more - Nelson Street, Dry Dock, Preston’s Gate, Shruleen. At least they are still remembered and we can identify the areas with which they were connected. What about Tynan’s Row however where Gerry Mulhall and Thomas Byrne lived in 1885. I have never before come across a reference to Tynan’s Row and wonder whether any of my readers know where it was located?
In 1888 Denis Lawler then aged six years enrolled in the school. His address was given simply as “The Turnpike”. I know where the Turnpike Gates were located in the latter part of the 18th century at either end of the town but wonder to which area the name “Turnpike” was applied 110 years ago.
A wonderful array of trades are mentioned in the Register as one moves through the years from 1878 onwards. A milliner in Duke Street, a tinsmith in James’ Place, a baker of Meeting Lane, a tailor of Preston’s Gate, a harness maker of Duke Street, a boot maker of Canal Side and a stone breaker of Meeting Lane. This gives just a flavour of the diversity of occupations to be found in Irish provincial towns of the latter part of the 19th Century.
Reading through the Register one is struck by the numbers who left Athy either for Dublin, England or America. One of the many former pupils of Athy Christian Brothers School who emigrated was John J. Bealin who was born in the house now occupied by Mrs. Lehane in Stanhope Street on 28th December, 1854. His father Mark Bealin owned a flourishing bakery business at No. 2 William Street and his mother was the former Margaret Brewster. John had two brothers, William, older than himself and a young brother named Mark. He also had two sisters Margaret and Mary who attended the Sisters of Mercy School in the town.
Before the Christian Brothers came to Athy in 1861 a local committee was set up to raise funds for the boys new school which was proposed to be opened off St. John’s Lane. Mark Bealin Senior was Secretary to that committee and it was due to his efforts and those of his committee that the Christian Brothers were able to open their school in Athy on 19th August, 1861.
John Bealin’s father died in 1866 and on the subsequent re-marriage of their mother to a Mr. Coffey John and his two brothers emigrated to America in 1868. They apparently continued their studies in New York City and in time John J. Bealin became a successful business man. He kept in touch with his former teachers in the Christian Brothers in Athy, particularly Brother Holland and Brother Flanagan. On 26th December, 1924 John J. Bealin died in New York City and when his Will was probated it showed a bequest of $1,000 to his old school in Athy.
New York was also the home of another famous emigrant from this part of the country who in 1880 became the first Irish born Catholic Mayor of that city. William Russell Grace who was a native of Ballylinan emigrated to South America where he worked for some years on a farm in Lima, Peru. He later went to New York city where he was to achieve wealth and fame as the first citizen of that city at a time when Tamanny Hall was at the height of its power and influence. Many American publications have erroneously referred to Grace’s place of birth as Queenstown (Cobh) obviously mistaking the port from where he emigrated from this island. In February 1947 a Mr. S.H. Grace of New York wrote to Athy Urban District Council for information on the relatives of the late William Russell Grace who his namesake claims had previously lived in Ballylinan.
The future Mayor of New York had emigrated for South America long before the Christian Brothers arrived in Athy. Nevertheless he was part of the diaspora from this area which continued unabated throughout the last century and beyond and which was reflected in the school registers in the Christian Brothers in Athy.