The Ordnance Survey which was to give the most complete and accurate mapping of Irish towns and countryside commenced in 1825. A map of Co. Kildare on a scale of 6 inches to 1 mile was published in 1837. While not sufficiently large scaled to allow comparison with the earlier manuscript town maps of Athy, the county maps which were revised in 1870 and 1908 were nevertheless a welcome addition to Athy cartography.
In 1839 the Ordnance Survey produced its first town map of Athy. The manuscript map on a scale of 20 inches to 1 mile was not published, a matter of much regret now that Ordnance Survey officials are unable to locate the original map.
The first printed town map of Athy was published by the Ordnance Survey in 1872 on a scale of 125 inches to 1 mile. This enlarged scale was never again to be used, but the detailed information it offers makes it an invaluable source document for any person interested in the town’s past. Revised town maps were published in 1908 and 1974 on a scale of 25 inches to 1 mile. Another cartographical source is the valuation Offices on whose behalf maps were prepared in connection with their valuation work in Athy.
In the absence of the 1839 Manuscript Town Map of Athy we can turn to the name books compiled by those engaged in the Ordnance Survey work to obtain valuable contemporary information regarding the streets and lanes of the town. The entries made by the field workers give the approximate location of the smaller laneways in addition to which comments on the general standard of housing in each street or lane is given. The following extract from the name books gives a good insight into the social conditions of Athy in 1837 :-
Ophaly Street Clean street occupied by merchants and small dealers.
Mount Hawkins Poor cabins, occupied by journeymen, shoemakers, labourers and paupers.
Convent Lane Only one or two cabins in this lane.
Chapel Hill Only a few houses occupied by shoemakers and labourers.
Chapel Lane Occupied by shoemakers and labourers.
Duncan’s Lane Off Ophaly Street opposite Butler’s Lane. Few cabins occupied by shoemakers.
Butler’s Lane Row of very poor cabins occupied by labourers.
Reeve’s Lane Off south side of Leinster Street and near its east end, few poor cabins.
Mathew’s Lane Few poor cabins.
Devoy’s Lane Off south side of Leinster Street and near its each end, few poor cabins.
Boher a boy Few poor cabins on east end of town.
Green Alley Few poor cabins.
Tea Lane Few poor cabins occupied by labourers and paupers.
St. John’s Lane Mostly poor houses occupied by mechanics and labourers.
When the 1872 Ordnance Survey Map of Athy was prepared many new laneways were added. Some of these have since disappeared including -
Barker’s Row - formerly Duncan’s Lane
Janeville Lane - off Barker’s Row
Carr’s Court - off Mount Hawkins
Kelly’s Lane - off Mount Hawkins
Merins Lane - off Mount Hawkins
Keating’s Lane - off Chapel Hill
Higginsons Lane - off Woodstock Street
Nelson Street - southern end of lane running parallel with Woodstock Street
Woodstock Lane - northern end of the same lane
Cooper’s Lane - off Turnpike Road as that part of the Castlecomer Road leading from Augustus Bridge was called.
Even as late as the 1908 Ordnance Survey Revision, further lanes were included on the town map. The following is a list of these lanes built after 1872 which are no longer in existence.
Connolly’s Lane - off Meeting Lane, 30 yards from Emily Square
Garden Lane - off Meeting Lane, opposite present Dispensary
New Row - off Mount Hawkins, about half way between Chapel Lane and Merin’s Lane which it replaced
New Gardens - off Nelson Street between Shrewleen Lane and Higginson’s Lane
James’s Lane - in the vicinity of Cooper’s Lane
Porter’s Row - off Mount Hawkins, nearest lane to, and parallel with Kirwan’s Lane.
The maps of Athy dating back to 1756 have faithfully recorded over the centuries the effects a rising population has had on the Anglo Norman town. The extensive ribbon development on the west side of the River Barrow and the more centralised development of East Athy which were a feature of the 18th century, gradually gave way to the uncontrolled and claustrophobic infill development of the 19th century. If laneways and small cabins were the extent of Athy’s development in that era, the 20th century gave hope for a better environment with the systematic eradication of the slums of Athy. Today’s map of Athy carries few reminders of the miserable slums of Victorian times. Addresses ending in Drive and Park which the latest Ordnance Survey Sheets show, tell a story of better days for Athy and its people.