On the 17th November 1855 the Lord Lieutenant in Dublin Castle was memoralised by forty “inhabitants of the town of Athy occupying houses and tenements rated to relief of the poor, at the annual value of £8 and upwards” to have the provisions of the Town Improvements (Ireland) Act 1854 carried into operation within the town. The signatories headed by Martin Kavanagh, Chairman of the Town Commissioners suggested “that the boundaries of the said town for the purpose of the Act shall extend three quarters of a statute mile from White’s Castle which is in the centre of the town”.
On December 14th Dublin Castle suggested the adoption of the boundaries as delineated by Richard Griffith which the Town Commissioners declined to do on the grounds that “some public buildings would be outside the limits proposed”. Following a visit to Athy on 8th February 1856 by Mr. Griffiths Assistant James Montgomery the boundaries were redrawn and agreed. The stage was now set for the legal formalities to be complied with and on Monday March 10th 1850 a public meeting in the Courthouse adopted the boundaries and agreed a memorial to be forwarded to the Lord Lieutenant. Transmitted to Dublin Castle on March 20th the memorialists request that Athy be put under the 1854 Act was approved in principle by letter of April 30th. Mr. B.L. Lefroy and Thomas E. Fitzgerald Justices of the Peace for Athy were instructed by Dublin Castle to convene a meeting in the town for the purpose of formally adopting a resolution
“That the Act entitled “The Town Improvements (Ireland) Act 1854 be adopted by the ratepayers of Athy”.
Public notice of the meeting having been advertised in the Leinster Express of the 17th May 1856 the meeting was scheduled for Thursday 22nd of May at 7 o’clock in the Courthouse of Athy. With the passing of the required resolution and its certification to the Lord Lieutenant by Benjamin J. Lefroy and Thomas E. Fitzgerald the application of the 1854 Act to Athy was formally approved on 2 June 1856.
On 10th June 1856 the following 15 qualified ratepayers were unanimously elected the first Commissioners under the Town Improvements (Ireland) Act 1854.
Martin Kavanagh Farmer
Mark Cross Architect
Thomas Fegan Merchant
Henry Hannon Miller
Patrick Cummins Malster
Joseph Irving Apothecary
Michael Lawler Merchant
Robert Molloy Merchant
Patrick Byrne Merchant
Edmund E. Butler Farmer
James Leahy Merchant
Alexander Duncan Merchant
John McDonald Merchant
William O’Melia Auctioneer
Thomas Peppard Merchant
On 21st June 1856 the Leinster Express published a letter to the Editor from a disgruntled Athy ratepayer complaining that he was unaware of the meeting held a week previously by the Athy Ratepayers Association to elect 15 householders as Town Commissioners.
“I hope they will show by their future acts that they are worthy of the important trusts reposed on them - for what they had been doing as old Commissioners amounts to nothing.” The letter continued:
“The streets would require to be frequently cleansed. It is impossible to cross any of the main streets without being up to ankles in filth. The market ought to be better regulated at present. Bad fish and meat are frequently exhibited for sale and the confusion at weighing corn is so great that it is impossible for the weigh master to avoid making mistakes.”
The disgruntled ratepayer continued
“the furious driving of cars through the streets ought to be prevented the town. Athy and its inhabitants are in a most prosperous state due to the individual exertions of its individuals and not to anything done by the Commissioners as a body.”
The Commissioners held their first meeting on the 16th June 1856 and appointed Martin Kavanagh as Chairman and Henry Sheill as Town Clerk at the salary of £10 a year. John Roberts was appointed Inspector of Nuisances at a yearly salary of £12. John Hayden obtained the lucrative position of weighmaster and adjuster of weights and measures for which he was paid £35 a year. Patrick Byrne the public bellman received two guineas a year. While the weekly meetings of the Commissioners were held in the grand jury room of the Courthouse the Town Clerk’s office was located in Henry Sheill’s house in Leinster Street. Porters appointed to the public crane and weighbridge were William Langan, Pat Hyland, Michael Moore and James McDonald.
Public dissatisfaction with the town commissioners resulted in an attempt on the 15th October 1857 to contest five vacancies on the Commission caused by retirements under the agreed rota system. The five outgoing Commissioners were opposed by Luke O’Neal, Patrick Whelan, John B. Meredyth, John Diven, Pat Grace and James Lawler who however only received five votes each compared to the twenty votes cast to the outgoing Commissioners. A Poll demanded by Matt Minch was agreed to and fixed for October 22nd but was subsequently rescinded on technical grounds and the five outgoing commissioners were deemed re-elected. The decision was a cause of frustration for many unhappy ratepayers and was in time to result in concerted effort to break the existing town Commissioners monopoly of the elected positions in the town.