The Peace Preservation Force instituted by Robert Peel in September 1814 was the forerunner of the modern Garda Siochana. A heavily armed force drawn mainly from the ranks of the militia and ex soldiers, its operations sometimes gave cause for public complaint. On October 22nd 1817 Thomas Fitzgerald of Geraldine and magistrate for Athy forwarded to Dublin Castle the sworn affidavit of Thomas Noud of Kilmead concerning outrages committed by the new force. On the other hand the replacement by the Peace Preservation Force of the local yeomanry whose knowledge of their own locality was invaluable in combating crime, gave the locals greater scope for illegal nocturnal activities. Such activities were then gaining prominence and in August 1818 a number of outrages committed in and around Athy were the first indication of the resurgence of Ribbonmen activity in South Kildare. These outrages reported to Captain Mansergh of Athy included:
“Party of 5 men had entered the house of a farmer near Athy and shot him.
Another man shot by the same party on the Carlow Road and an attempt made to burn
Church windows of Athy broken and the piers of Dr. Johnstons gate demolished.”
Ribbonmen were mostly tenant farmers who because of high rents and inadequate prices for their farm produce found their tenancies at risk. Working men were in time to adopt Ribbonmen tactics in their attempt to improve the level of wages. On 1st December 1819 Robert Rawson writing from Glassealy, Athy informed the Dublin Castle authorities that:
“a few nights ago a soldier on duty at the Barracks of Athy having heard a shot looked from a rising situation over the wall and saw as he swears upwards of 12 men, but he has since in private admitted there were 30 running in the field and calling on each other to come on … since, it has been stated that an assembly of 30 persons were at the house of one Keating swearing on the Ribbon business”.
Rawsons distrust of his Catholic neighbours extended even to those occupying government positions for he went on to complain:-
“the investigation has fallen into the hands of Mr Bergin a Catholic magistrate who I fear will not be very jealous in developing the facts and the Sovereign of the Town being weak the loyal man may be easily imposed on …”.
Whether Rawson’s fears were well founded or not we do not now know. Whatever the result of Bergins investigation it did not serve to stop the Ribbonmen activity in the area. Early in 1822 an attempt was made to burn the Athy Goal for which a conviction was secured against a hapless individual the following March. Around this time the Peace Preservation Force was replaced by County Constabulary, a police force to which local magistrates retained the right of appointing Constables and sub Constables. James Tandy newly appointed Chief Magistrate of Police residing at Annfield Kilcullen was petitioned in October 1822 by some Kildare baronies to reduce the level of the police numbers in the county. The local land owners no doubt felt that their financial position did not permit them to finance a large public force whatever the consequences. Robert Rawson son of Thomas, having succeeded his father as owner of Glassealy warned Tandy:-
“that the emissaries of sedition are at work again as busy as ever …. I am assured there are regular meetings held now in this town (Athy)…. I have succeeded in dissuading the landholders of East Narragh from petitioning”.
Tandy no doubt wise to the Rawson scares of the past reported to the Castle that no outrages had been reported in East Narragh since he stationed the police there some months previously.
On 27 December 1822 Rawson ignoring Major Tandy wrote to Dublin Castle enclosing an anonymous letter which he had received from an Athy informant. The letter undated, unsigned and without an address read:
“….. there was a meeting in Murphy’s public house in Athy on Saturday 21st at which there was 12 men … it was agreed to take up arms from the gentlemen and farmers, your house is the first on the list Colonel Bagots next …. You will find the meetings at Murphy house once a week either Saturday or Sunday …. “
Rawson suggested that himself and Mr Butler the Town Sovereign of Athy attended by the yeomanry force raid Murphys on the following Saturday night. He asked the government authorities not to mention his name to Major Tandy.
“as he is imprudent in speaking of things I told him, only desire him to patrol more frequently and at different hours and I expect an attack on New Years night that his party should be in my vicinity on that night”.
The Castle official dealing with Rawsons correspondence wrote across the letter
“I would rather trust Tandy than Rawson, this is an idle letter”.
Two generations of Rawsons had cried wolf too many times, although subsequent events tended to prove the accuracy of the information concerning Murphys public house.
On 12th March 1823 N. McDonagh wrote from Ballitore to Major Tandy advising him of an attack on the night of the 11th on the farm house of Milo Farango within two miles of Athy, by about 15 men all of whom had their faces blackened. Mr. Farango who kept mills near Athy had previously received threatening letters. The writer continued:-
“… on being refused admittance by a man named Anthony Kavanagh who was lately sent there as a herd by Mr Farango the windows were all demolished. However Kavanagh having got alarmed he gave them admittance on which he was threatened in the severest manner to quit his masters employment. He was then knocked down and most inhumanly beaten his head cut severely in two places so much so that he was obliged to get medical assistance. He was also brought out of his house and stripped laid prostrate on the ground and flogged with furze brushes to that degree that his skin was torn off. I proceeded immediately after to the place and succeeded in apprehending the following persons who are sworn to and committed to Athy Goal:
Pat Moran Thomas Doyle
James Goode John Dunn
James Doyle Thomas Dunn”
The fate of the arrested men is not known.
On 29th October 1824 Tandy reported to Dublin Castle the houghing of cows belonging to Hugh Shields who doubled as the Duke of Leinsters agent and Athy Pound keeper. A number of cows belonging to the local Church of Ireland curate Charles Bristow were similarly ill-treated. It was suspected that the arrest of Patrick Kirwan a local farmer for unpaid rent due to the Duke of Leinster was the cause of the unsavoury activities of the night of 28th. A number of local men were arrested shortly afterwards by a large party of police under the command of Mr Butler Town Sovereign and charged with the houghing offences.