Contrary to popular belief, which owes much to the mistaken claims of previous writers on Athy, our town was noted by PTOLEMY the Greek Astronomer. The reason for this is easily understandable when one appreciates the enormity of the task facing the second century astronomer in recognising a 12th Century settlement.
The earliest maps of Ireland tended to be crude in terms of accuracy and the data they supplied. Until the production by Gerard Mercator of his 1564 map of Ireland, Athy had not been previously represented on any map. In Mercator’s work, Athy is shown sited slightly east of the river Barrow, another local inclusion being BALIA DUM (Ballyadams). In subsequent maps of Ireland, Athy was to be included sometimes as Athigh or Athey, indicating more a lack of familiarity with Irish placenames than any change in the official name of the town.
It is in the 18th century estate maps prepared for the Duke of Leinster that one finds the first town map of Athy. John Rocque, a French artist, came to Ireland in 1754 and from his lodgings at the Golden Heart opposite Crane Lane, Dame Street, Dublin issued a prospectus for maps of Dublin. His talents found immediate recognition and he was commissioned to prepare maps of the Duke of Leinster’s extensive estates. Rocque surveyed Athy east of the river Barrow and produced his manuscript map in 1756. Prepared on a scale of 16 perches to one inch, it gives us the earliest known layout of part of Athy. The French cartographer followed it up with a survey and a map of Athy west of the River Barrow in 1768. Produced on a scale of 4 perches to one inch, the later manuscript map offered a more detailed view of that part of the town than was available with the 1756 map of East Athy. The National Library has Rocques’ Maps on microfilm while Trinity College, Dublin has the original manuscript maps of the 1756 Survey. The whereabouts of the original 1768 maps is not known.
The manuscript town maps prepared by Rocque indicate that the major road patterns of today were well established by the middle of the 18th Century. However some of the minor roads such as Church Road and the Stanhope Place/Mount Hawkins Road were not then laid down. Street names in 1756 and 1768 included St. John’s Street (Duke Street), Market Street (Emily Square), Prestons Gate (Offaly Street), High Street (Leinster Street) and Cotters Lane (Stanhope Street).
The east side of the town was better developed than the west side, where extensive ribbon development had taken place on the approach roads from Stradbally and Castlecomer. Across the river was found, with one single exception, all the public buildings usually associated with an urban settlement - the Town Hall which also served as Courthouse and Market House, the town gaol and the Church of Ireland and Catholic Churches. The only public building not located on the east side of Athy was the cavalry barracks erected in Barrack Street early in the 18th century.
It is likely that the river Barrow divided Athy into an Irish town and an English town which was a social division quite common in towns of the 18th century. John Rocque, is giving Beggars End as the name of the locality on the Castlecomer Road, gives us a clue as to the existence there of the low standard housing associated with the Irish of the time. This, coupled with the concentration of the public buildings on the east side of Athy, indicates a social division between the two parts of Athy which may have been formally or informally recognised in the descriptions - Irish town, English town.
The next map of Athy was prepared in 1827 for the Duke of Leinster by Clarges Greene of Dominick Street, Dublin. On a scale of 80 feet to one inch the manuscript map shows with great detail and clarity the entire town on a single sheet measuring 56” x 82.5”. Changes in local street names since Rocque’s Surveys of 1756 and 1768 noted in Greene’s manuscript map included :-
St. John’s Street to Duke Street
High Street and Bore Buoy to Leinster Street
Prestons Gate to Ophaly Street (present Offaly Street)
Cotters Lane to Kildare Street (present Stanhope Street).
Other changes reflected in the 1827 map included the removal of the Turnpike Gate and the Turnpike House at the junction of Green Alley and Duke Street with the subsequent realignment and widening of Duke Street from Green Alley to a point approximately opposite St. John’s Lane. Another road widening project, although not completed in 1827, was also noted by Greene. The realignment of the former Cotters Lane, now renamed Kildare Street, was to be completed before 1837, following which it was renamed Stanhope Street.
The major development in Athy since Rocques days was of course, the construction of the Grand Canal. Clearly intended in its approach to Athy to cause the least disruption to the town’s layout, the Canal skirted the town requiring the demolition of few houses, except where it traversed the Castlecomer Road. With the construction of the Canal and its numerous ancillary stores, the as yet unnamed Shrewleen and Nelson Street were laid down. Another laneway opened up since the Rocque period and noted on Greene’s map was the future Stanhope Place and Mount Hawkins. In 1827, the unnamed laneway connected Kildare Road with the lane (present Convent View) leading from Leinster Street to Moneen Commons. Names given in Greene’s manuscript map for previously unnamed thoroughfares included William Street, Meeting Lane and Chapel Lane (taking in the present lane of that name and Stanhope Place). The original 1827 manuscript map of Athy prepared with obvious care and skill by Clarges Green, was purchased in 1974 by the National Library.