Thursday, February 18, 1999

Athy and Urban Renewal

An announcement made by Mr. Bobby Molloy, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government is one which will impact greatly on the development of the town of Athy over the next few years. Athy, together with Kildare, has been designated for urban renewal. The scheme as proposed will provide generous tax incentives to refurbish and build anew in particular areas of the town. From the 1st of march 1999 the scheme will be open to developments of residential properties. The commercial and industrial elements of the scheme have yet to be finalised. At present it unclear as to which areas within the town will benefit from the designation but what is apparent is that the town as we know it will undergo significant change as we head into the new millennium.
As we stand on the threshold of large scale re-development of our town it is important that we carefully consider the impact that this development will have not only the urban fabric but upon the lives of those who live and work in Athy. It has been a common refrain down through the years in the street and in the Council chambers that Athy is the forgotten town of Kildare. Athy is a town which does not seem to have benefitted from the affluence generated by the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. Now it seems that all this is about to change. The series of tax incentives which are now available for building and construction in town should be a incentive to attract investment into the town. Without doubt Athy has been a forgotten centre in Kildare for many years. Under the aegis of the urban renewals schemes we have been presented with the opportunity to develop our town on an unprecedented level then heretofore. Therefore we must be careful to ensure that the town retains the character and personality of which we are so justly proud. Every development that is carried out should be sympathetic to not only the needs of the people of the town but also to the character of the streetscape which has developed over many centuries. Although much of the town’s buildings appear to be of nineteenth century date many of their fascades hide earlier structures.
All development should respect the character of these buildings, which currently flank the town’s streets.
Too often in the past urban areas which have benefited from such urban renewal schemes have rushed head long into re-development projects giving little or no consideration to the pre-existing buildings in the streets which have defined their towns for many centuries. The quays of Dublin are testament to the destruction that can be wrought on historic properties in a short space of time.
We must of course welcome the opportunity to rejuvenate the town but never at the cost of its unique character. At this stage it is too early to ascertain what the nature and form of development shall be but we shall await the proposals for Athy’s re-development with interest.
While it’s welcome to watch the reclamation of many sites from dereliction around the town it is still sad to reflect that probably the earliest building in the town remains neglected, unwanted, and uncared for. I have written many times in the past on Woodstock Castle, sometimes of its history and many times of its neglect. Having visited it quite recently I was appalled at its continuing vandalism and neglect. It is a terrible indictment of a local authority when a building of such national importance is left to decay in such a public fashion. At a time when towns and cities across Ireland are formulating their plans and activities for the coming millennium, would it not be most appropriate that Woodstock Castle, which has stood for eight centuries, be restored to its former glory.
It’s restoration would be an appropriate gesture to mark the dawn of a new century and reaffirm our commitment to preserving important elements of the towns history.
There are those who believe that conservation and the protection of our heritage are objects incompatible with development and progress. This is misleading. Many years ago the Town Hall faced demolition, a fate from which it was saved, thanks to the vigorous efforts of many different people and groups such as an Taisce. Today the Town Hall is home to the local Library and the heritage centre and also it’s a frequent venue for exhibitions and lectures. Its vitality is a great tribute to those who fought for its preservation and to the enlightenment of the County Council officials who oversaw its restoration. Over the next few months Athy Museum Society in Conjunction with South Kildare An Taisce will be holding a series of lectures in the Town Hall. Tonight at 8.00pm Mary Deevy, a consultant archaeologist will give a talk entitled ‘Dress and Jewellery in Medieval Ireland’.

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