In 1746, the normally calm proceedings of the Athy Borough Council were thrown into disarray by the removal from office as free burgesses of the town of Thomas Keatinge, Robert Percy and Nicholas Aylward. The last two named were removed from office on 25th June 1746 for attending a public meeting convened by Keatinge for the purpose of electing a burgess in place of John Jackson deceased. The meeting was called by public notice for a premises known as the Queen’s Head, Athy and by so doing, Keatinge was guilty of impersonating the Sovereign of the town.
The names of the Borough officials, Burgesses and Freemen of Athy in 1746 with one or two exceptions, clearly indicate Anglo Norman or English antecedents. It is note worthy that the families which controlled Athy almost 250 years ago, are no longer represented amongst the present population. The names include:-
William Willock, Town Clerk Thomas Rutledge } Bailiffs
William Bradford, Sovereign William Hoysted }
Thomas Burgh John Berry
Robert Downes Moore Disney
George Bradford John Browne
Edward Harman Joshua Johnston
Walter Weldon Edmund Lewis
Edward Wale James McRoberts
Thomas Weldon Robert Fitzpatrick
Jn. Hoysted Richard Nelson
It was these men who developed the commercial life of Athy and in some cases, provided the financial backing and expertise for the limited industrial growth which the town experienced after 1700. Michael Devoy, a one time resident of the town writing in 1803 tells us that Athy in the 18th century had one of the best and most extensive tanyards in Ireland. Rocques map of Athy West of the Barrow prepared in 1768 shows two very large tanyards. Located at Beggar’s End was a 24 pit tannery owned and operated by Geo. King. At the rear of St. John’s Street, now Duke Street, in the area known to this day as the Tanyard, the Daker family had a 41 pit tannery. This latter tannery was to go into decline and eventually close around 1790 following the death of George Daker. King’s tanyard appears to have suffered a similar fate, as no trace of the once extensive tanyard is shown on a town map of 1831. Tanning was not lost completely to Athy, as a number of small tanyards were to be found in the town during the 19th century. In 1842 James Doyle had a small tanning business in St. John’s while Stephen Wilson of William Street had a somewhat larger tanyard. These were the sole remnants of the once extensive industry which provided much needed employment to the men of Athy in the previous century.
Brewing and distilling were industries also to the fore in Athy of the 18th century. Devoy indicates that Athy was once “the most extensive town in Athy for distilling whiskey”, having 14 working stills in the area. Whiskey making apparently went into rapid decline as Devoy reported in 1809 that “none has been worked here these 20 years”. Brewing in Athy had a longer history. In 1768, Dan Mansergh operated a brewery at the rear of St. John’s Street, and we find the same brewery listed in 1831 with another brewery located between the then closed Daker Tanyard and Duke Street. Malt for the brewing and distilling industries was available locally, there being no less than three malthouses in Athy in 1768. One was operated by Francis Carthy at a site immediately adjoining the Turnpike Gate on the Castlecomer Road, no doubt located there to avoid payment of turnpike tolls. Richard Wall operated a malthouse on the site of the present Minch Norton Malthouse in William Street, while Thomas Kelly had a malting plant at the rear of the present Super Valu Supermarket. Malting was to remain in Athy despite the closure of the stills and breweries and today represents an important part of the town’s industrial activity.
The linen industry was another important element of town and rural life in South Kildare towards the end of the 18th century. On 1790 the French traveller Charles Tetienne Coquebert de Montbret made an overnight stop in Athy. He visited Monavullagh bog where he reported on a number of women retting flax. This process involved the preparation of flax by steeping it in water. An important clue to the existence of linen manufacture in Athy lies in the names given to the locality which in the 18th century lay immediately behind Beggars End. The Bleach and The Bleach Yard are obvious references to the bleaching process carried on in those localities in the past. In a pamphlet published in 1809, Rev. Thomas Kelly of Ballintubbert made reference to a weaving shed established in Athy to give employment to the young men of the area. The conclusion is that weaving of linen was not an uncommon practise in Athy of that time. Another clue to the probable existence of the linen industry in and around Athy was the number of linen drapers in the town. One of these drapers was the Quaker, Thomas Chandlee who had a shop in Athy in the latter part of the 18th century. This was the same Thomas Chandlee who in 1780 was responsible for the building of the Quaker Meeting House in Meeting Lane. This was the first purpose built meeting house for the Quaker Community in Athy although they had been in the area since the latter part of the 17th century.
The second half of the 18th century was a period of improvement in farming methods, and there sprang up throughout the country small groups anxious to encourage such development. About 1780, a farming society was formed in Athy by a local Glassealy landlord, Thomas Rawson, and the local tanner George Daker. The society flourished for a number of years, holding monthly meetings which the landed gentry encouraged the “lower classes” to attend.
On 8th August 1782 the Irish antiquarian Austin Cooper, following a visit to Athy wrote -
“Athy is a small town situated on the River Barrow over which is a plain bridge of arches with a low square castle adjoining on the east side. Here is a market house, Church and County Courthouse, nothing remarkable in elegance of building. On the north west side of the town is a plain horse barracks and near it another old castle”.
No sign of traffic congestion in those days !