Thursday, October 28, 1999

Shaffrey's Report on Athy's New Street

“The new street of Athy will not be implemented as one major project. Rather it happen gradually over a longer period”. So wrote Patrick Shaffrey in the conclusion to his “Report on the Architectural Urban Design and the Heritage Aspects of the Proposed Inner Relief Road”. Note carefully the usage of the term “road” in the title to his report which, by a subtle form of metamorphosis is transformed into a street by its conclusion. The man engaged by Kildare County Council to advise it on the Relief Road Project for Athy first produced his report in January last. It is now being reproduced in a glossy format, replete with photographs and aspirations carefully designed to win over those people who, up to now, have remained unimpressed by the hard sell tactics of the County Council’s road engineers.

To be utterly fair to Mr Shaffrey, he has acknowledged that “the proposals included in this report are indicative only”. They are not definite plans by either Kildare County Council or Athy Urban Council - they serve merely to show what can be done on paper.

There is a hint here of the approach advocated by the Council officials when pressed at meetings of the Urban Council on such issues as pedestrianisation, one or two way traffic flows and other little details of that sort. “These are matters which can be agreed after you have decided to go ahead with the Inner Relief Road”, we were told with all the panache of a head teacher admonishing school boy truants. “Trust us”, is and was the message which the Council and its consultants would have us recite mantra-fashion while the bulldozers move in to rip up the most important urban spaces serving any town in Ireland.

Shaffrey’s report claims the Inner Relief Road is an opportunity to create new civic spaces and to improve the environment for pedestrians by strict and careful management of traffic. The proposed new civic space would be created around the Dominican Church where Mr Shaffrey finds the present building “has a poor connection” with Duke Street. How that “connection” can be improved with a new road running across the front of the church cutting off pedestrian access to Convent Lane is anyone’s guess. What will the Dominicans, who have served us for almost 750 years feel about the public annexation of the ground around their church. What indeed will they think of the huge reduction in the parking facilities for church goers as a substantial part of their car park is taken over by a new road.

Mr. Shaffrey, as an architect of some repute, recognises the importance of Emily Square as the heart of Athy and states that “the impact of the new street (on the Square) needs to be handled with great sensitivity”. How sensitive can you be when you plan to run a major traffic route through an open urban space as important as Emily Square, both front and back, a form never to be regained, if once lost, tier of environmental jewels in the heart of our ancient town. Why destroy a civic space of such importance while seeking to fob us off with the artificiality of a restricted area around the Dominican Church.

How can it be said that the environment for pedestrians can be improved by a decision to channel all vehicular traffic, whether car or lorry, through the heart of the town. This is the basis of all the plans and reports which have flowed from Kildare County Council over recent years in a costly, and I am happy to say, fruitless attempt to persuade the local people of Athy to meekly set aside and let the bulldozers free in our town.

Even Mr. Shaffrey, unwittingly perhaps, highlights the crassness of the County Council’s position when he wrote of the challenge “to moderate the negative impact introduced by increasing traffic”. The negative elements of introducing or retaining traffic within the urban centre is universally recognised and nowhere more so than in England where town planning took its first faltering steps. The English road authorities have had the good sense to protect their own urban environment by by-passing towns. In Ireland, we too have learned the benefits of by-passes and Kildare County Council, to its credit, has included in its own draft Development Plan for the County, the objective of by-passing the towns within the County. Alas, Athy, located in what some public representatives claim is a backwater of the County, is the only town in County Kildare, not to have the benefit of a by-pass. So much for democracy.

There are so many other aspects of the County Council’s latest charm offensive (what I must call Mr Shaffrey’s report) which do not stand up to scrutiny that they cannot be adequately covered in this short article. Suffice it to say that Athy Urban Development Group will be holding a meeting in the Town Hall tonight Wednesday 17th November at 8pm to discuss the latest developments in the Inner Relief Road saga. Everyone with an interest in protecting Athy against the worst excesses of the road engineers should come along to that meeting.

I recently received from her grand-daughter, a copy of a local newspaper report dated the 5th November 1955, which dealt with the passing of Mrs Agnes Glespen of Duke Street, Athy. I can remember as a young fellow, Tommy Glespen works at Duke Street but little or no detail can I recall. Mrs Glespen, in her young days, was a contralto, who sang with the Dublin Operatic Society and later still with the D’Oly Carte Operatic Company in England. Do any of my readers remember Mrs Glespen ? I would be interested in hearing of people’s memories of her and particularly if she ever sang in any of the local halls in Athy.

Thursday, October 21, 1999

Sergeant John P. Taaffe

It’s twenty-one years since my father died. It seems only like yesterday that I sat at his bedside in Naas Hospital when the time came for the fine spirit which was my fathers to pass into the other world. He was later buried as the February snow lay on the ground in the country town where he had pitched his final family tent some thirty three years earlier.

As I mentioned last week my father had been trained as a National Teacher in St. Patrick’s College Drumcondra before joining the Garda Siochana in 1925. On 23rd March, 1926 he was assigned to his first Garda Station at Tulsk, Co. Roscommon before moving on 20th April of the following year to Boyle in the same County. Before that year was out he was assigned to his third Station. This time, Cloonfad described in his service records as being in County Roscommon. My knowledge of the west of Ireland however confirms that Cloonfad is just over the border in County Mayo. He was to remain there until February 1933 and it was there that he met and married my mother Kathleen O’Regan, a farmer’s daughter. It was in Cloonfad that he acquired a motor bike and as I write this piece opposite me on the wall is a photograph of my father as a young man astride a motor bike, registration no. EI 1794, goggles perched on his forehead with a cigarette dangling in his mouth. No doubt the height of sophistication over 60 years ago!

My parents married on 8th September, 1932 and this necessitated a transfer for my father out of the Cloonfad area. The newly married couple found themselves initially in Sligo town, then in a succession of small stations in County Sligo, Easkey, then Bunninadden and finally Ballymote where my father was promoted Sergeant in November 1937.

The next transfer was out of the familiar surroundings of the North West and necessitated a long journey down to the South East of Ireland. Stradbally in County Waterford welcomed the growing Taaffe family in March 1938, the same place where a few years previously the missing postman saga had been played out. It was while stationed in Stradbally that my father thought he had solved the crime of the decade when the skeletal remains of a male was found in long grass near an old house. It wasn’t of course the remains of the unfortunate postman Griffin who was believed to have died during an after hours drinking session in a local pub in circumstances which have never been satisfactorily explained.

In December 1941 my father was transferred yet again, this time to Castlecomer in County Kilkenny, the home of legendary hurlers and the birthplace of one avowed Inner Relief Road critic! It was also there that the family numbers were completed with the birth of a fifth son, my brother Seamus. We were the second successive Taaffe family where there were five sons and no daughters. A growing family and the need to be near a secondary school where none existed in Castlecomer prompted the first request for a transfer to a town with second level education facilities. The new Sergeant arrived in Athy on 26th February, 1945 and a short while afterwards his young family were settled in a house rented from Myles Whelan at No. 6 Offaly Street. The two up and two down roomed accommodation seems nowadays somewhat inadequate but in those days few dreamed of aspiring to anything better.

The fact that my father was the local Sergeant in a way marked me out as a young fellow for special attention, not always welcome I can assure you. The threat of being caught and reported was a constant constraint on the activities of a full blooded young fellow whose horizons were curtailed only by the fear of retribution. Nowadays I marvel at the devilment we young fellows got up to, some of which in these politically correct days would land us in a Court of Law. Thankfully I was never caught and so I passed through my teenage years unscathed, even if my innocence was somewhat dented.

My father’s dedication to his job was, in family circles at least, well known. He patrolled the streets day and night, although I am sure he was not required to do so. He knew what moved in the town, who was where and had instant recall of any incident, no matter how trivial. He was also somewhat direct in the language used to describe some of his customers. I can recall the one and only time I was ever in the Courthouse as a young fellow during a Court session when Mattie Brennan, the caretaker, let Teddy Kelly and myself slip in the back door and briefly watch the proceedings. All I can recall is the Judge, whose demeanour struck fear into those appearing before him, enquiring of the local Sergeant what he had to say about a fellow who was up on some charge or other. I can still visualise my father in uniform moving towards the bench while telling the Judge “that fellow is the biggest bowsey in town”. We quickly left the Court for fear that our presence would give lie to my father’s forthright claim.

My father retired in 1967 after forty years service, only one and a half years after he had been called out to a traffic accident on the Dublin Road, not knowing that his youngest son Seamus was the victim. It was he who unwittingly identified the body at the scene. He himself died in February 1978 having enjoyed eleven years of his well earned retirement. When he retired he bought his first motor car, a black Morris Minor in which he learned to drive. However, he gave up driving after a journey with my mother to his old home in County Longford. He completed that journey after much tribulation but had to seek assistance from a bystander to drive the car over the humped backed bridge at Rathangan. A non-drinker all of his life he delighted in smoking a few cigarettes in his retirement, something he had not done during his working life.

He had a particular affection for the Dominicans in Athy and on his retirement served Mass there during the weekday mornings. Indeed I can still recall reading in the Nationalist Newspaper a report of an important criminal trial in the Circuit Court in Athy where the evidence of Sergeant Taaffe confirmed that the interrogation of the suspect arrested and lodged in the Garda Barracks was temporarily stopped when the Sergeant went to morning Mass in the Dominican Church.

When he died in 1978 he did so with enormous dignity. Admitted to Naas Hospital on a Wednesday he spoke to his family on Thursday knowing, although we did not, that his days were numbered. The next day his condition deteriorated and he died on the following Saturday. He was the twenty second Garda Sergeant to serve in the town of Athy.

Thursday, October 14, 1999

An Garda Siochana and some Gardai based in Athy

Gregory Allen a former member of the Garda Siochana and curator of the Garda Museum had written an accomplished and a very readable account of the first sixty years of the Garda Siochana. There has been a number of books produced on the same subject since my good friend the criminologist Seamus Breathnach published his book the “ The Irish police from the earliest times to the present day” in 1974.

The story of the Garda Siochana is an interesting one. Following the Anglo Irish Treaty the members of the Provisional Government were concerned to ensure that a properly trained police force would be in position to take the place of the soon to be disbanded R.I.C. The R.I.C. Barracks in Athy had been located in Whites Castle up to 1889 when due to the unsatisfactory accommodation in that building arrangements were put in place to relocate to the vacant Military Barracks in Barrack Lane. The move did not find agreement with local Town Commissioners who petitioned Dublin Castle on several occasions to have the police Barracks relocated to the centre of the town. In 1895 the Members of Parliament for Co. Kildare were asked to put a question in the English House of Commons “Relative to the removal of the Constabulary to their present out of the way location and to have the authorities change them to a more central position”. All to no vail, as the authorities had spend the not in considerable sum of £500 in renovating the former Military Barracks and the police inspector asked to review the Commissioner’s request was able to report that “The peace of the town is well maintained”. The R.I.C. were still in the former Military Barracks when the Irish Independent newspaper carried a report of the intended formation of the Garda Siochana or the Civic Guards who would replace them.

Recruiting for the new police force started on the 21st February 1922 and the first member was Patrick Joseph Kerrigan from Co. Mayo. On the 13th April Civil War erupted with the seizure of the Four Courts in Dublin by Rory O’Connor and the Anti Treaty Forces better known as “The Irregulars”. Twelve days later Michael Staines newly appointed Commissioner of the Gardai took over the army Barracks in Kildare as a recruiting depot for the Garda Siochana. This was soon to be the centre of attention when on the 15th May what became known as the Kildare mutiny took place. Several Ex R.I.C. men had been brought into the Civic Guards as officers and objections were taken to their presence by many former IRA men who had themselves enlisted in the new police force. The mutiny further heightened existing tensions in the country and led to formation of Civic Guard Active Service Units. These were police men armed with rifles who were deployed to protect the railways in Co. Kildare by day and night. On Sunday the 16th July 1992 the first Civic Guards were sent into South Kildare as part of the active service units even before the first Garda recruits had finished their training. Posts were established in Kildare and Monasterevin and later at Cloney, Doneaney and Athy staffed by armed units of the Civic Guards.

There was unease at Government level at the arming of the Guards particularly as they lacked uniforms and so far as the locals were concerned they had all the appearances of “Irregulars”. Their rifles were later taken up and replaced with revolvers. Towards the end of August an active service unit on night patrol armed with revolvers was caught in cross fire during an attack on the local Garda Barracks in Athy. The attack was initiated by members of the Carlow Kildare Brigade IRA who had taken the Anti Treaty side. There were no casualties.

Early in September 1922 General Eoin O’ Duffy by now Chief of Police accelerated the plans to deploy uniformed members of an unarmed Garda Siochana throughout the country. A sergeant and four Garda were sent to Athy and took up residence in the former Military Barracks at Barrack Lane which had been built in or about 1730 to house a cavalry troop.

The first sergeant in charge of the local Garda station was Cornelius Lillis who arrived from the depot with four young Gardai, John Hanley, John Kelly, Patrick Fitzgerald and Joseph MacNamara. Sergeant Lillis transferred in May 1924 to Ballytore to be replaced by Sergeant E.O ‘Loughlin. Thereafter Garda sergeants arrived and departed with regular frequency and when my father arrived in Athy on the 26th February 1945 he was the twenty second Garda sergeant to serve in the town of Athy. By an extraordinary coincidence his period of service in Athy was to equal the aggregate total of all his twenty one predecessors as sergeant in the town.

The names of the former sergeants may be of interest to my older readers. Following Lillis and O’ Loughlin came William Duggan in 1924, James Power, Patrick Kelleher and Patrick Murphy 1925, William Thorne in 1926, William Sheehan, John Noonan and Thomas Vaughan in 1927, Philip Griffin and John Mc Carthy in 1928, James Tierney in 1929, James Darmody in 1930, Francis Corr in 1931, Bernard Dugan Patrick Mac Nulty and Daniel Taylor in 1933, Robert Hayes in 1935, Hugh Ruddy in 1936 and Daniel Duggan in 1937. Sergeant John Mc Carthy who arrived from Emily, Co. Offaly in 1928 died while stationed in Athy on the 3rd September 1931. I wonder how many of these men are remembered in Athy today?

Some of the older Gardai I remember in Athy during the 1950’s, all of whom are now dead, were part of the thirty six Gardai who were transferred to the town between 1922 and 1948. The Garda with the longest service in Athy was James Kelly who transferred from Tarbert, Co. Kerry on the 22nd August 1928. Three years later he was joined by John Mac Mahon and in 1933 and 1934 arrived Michael Tuohy and John O’ Connell. Garda Tuohy had the Garda number 854, confirmation that he was one of the earliest recruits into the newly established Garda Siochana. My father the farmers son from the Northern end of Co. Longford was one of five sons two of whom emigrated to America. His other two brothers stayed on the land one inheriting his fathers farm while the other “Fell in” for a elderly neighbours holding. My father as the youngest of the family with every one else cared for was given an “Education” to free him from dependency on the land. He trained as a National teacher but for what ever reason applied to join the Garda Siochana and presented himself at the Phoenix Park Depot on the 4th November 1925 to be medically examined by Surgeon Ellis. Passed physically and mentally fit to perform the duties of a member of the Garda Siochana on the following day he signed a Declaration before a Peace Commissioner that he would be faithful to the utmost of his ability in his employment by the Ard Chomhairle of Saorstat Eireann in the office of the Garda and would render good and true service ……. without favour or affection, fear, malice or ill will. He further undertook as a Garda not to join, belong or subscribe to any political society whatsoever or to any secret society.


Thursday, October 7, 1999

Brother Joseph Quinn

Just a few short weeks ago I had occasion to write of Brothers John Murphy and Joseph Quinn who were the last Christian Brothers to serve in the town prior to their departure from Athy in January 1995. When my article appeared I was on holidays and unaware that Brother Quinn was in a Dublin Hospital. He died last week and was buried in the Christian Brothers’ cemetery attached to St. Patrick’s, Baldoyle.

It is not very fashionable nowadays for those who depended on the Christian Brothers for their education to acknowledge the very great debt owed to the dedicated men who were at the forefront of education in Ireland over the last 170 years. For myself and my classmates from Athy and surrounding countryside the Christian Brothers School in Athy provided an education which I am satisfied was as good as anything obtainable in the many private colleges throughout Ireland. Clearly not everyone was happy in the surroundings of a Christian Brothers School as evidenced by the horrible news stories which have appeared in our National Newspapers over the past few years. On balance however the good perpetuated by those Christian Brothers who lived out their lives in a manner befitting their vocation far exceeded the evil doings of the few.

I was mindful of this when attending the funeral of Brother Quinn in Baldoyle, as no doubt was the large contingent of Athy people who came to pay their respects to a good man. Brother Quinn, although born in County Roscommon, had spent his formative years in County Kildare and there was no stauncher follower of Kildare football. He followed the Lilywhites with great fervour and well I recall some years ago his delight when Kildare reached for the first time in many years a Leinster Football final. Brother Quinn saw an opportunity to remember the event in song while earning some badly needed funds for his basketball clinics in Athy. Sadly the success of his venture was not matched by the footballers on the field of play. He was justifiably proud of Padraig Gravin, his grand-nephew who played with the Lilywhites and had hoped that the 1998 All Ireland Football Final would be a fitting culmination to a lifetime’s dedication to the fortunes of the shortgrass County. Alas his hopes and expectations were dashed by a second-half resurrection of almost Biblical proportions by the Galway men.

Athy was Brother Quinn’s eleventh posting following his profession as a Christian Brother in 1943. The first young boys he taught were in the Christian Brothers School in Tuam, Co. Galway and it was marvellous to meet a representative of a Tuam class taught by Brother Quinn over 50 years ago who travelled to Baldoyle for the funeral. As an avid follower of Gaelic Football Brother Quinn would have been delighted by his presence for the one time pupil was none other than the legendary footballer Sean Purcell. This was the man who with Frank Stockwell earned the sobriquet “the terrible twins” following the 1956 football Championship which Galway won, defeating Cork in the final. Regarded as one of the finest footballers ever to grace Croke Park Purcell recently won recognition as a member of the team of the century when he was chosen as a centre-half forward on that team.

Sean Purcell remembered Brother Quinn as a young Christian Brother when he came to Tuam in the mid-1940’s and recalled the huge legacy of goodwill left behind when he departed to take up a teaching post in Glasnevin, Co. Dublin. Sean Purcell never forgot the young Christian Brother whose funeral he travelled so far to attend. As I spoke with him I could not but wonder how Kildare would have fared against Galway if Danny Flood and his colleagues had followed up their success in the 1956 Leinster Final with a win over Cork in the semi-final. The genial Tuam footballing giant admitted with a self effacing smile that Kildare might have secured their long awaited All Ireland Final success that year if they had reached the final. I very much doubt it but as ever Sean Purcell was too gentlemanly to say otherwise.

Some weeks ago I mentioned in passing the future development of second level education in Athy. In particular I referred to the desirability of creating a campus in Rathstewart where the boys and girls secondary schools soon to be amalgamated could be joined by St. Brigid’s School. This I speculated would permit second level education in the town to benefit from economies of scale which are not at present attainable due to the current fragmentation of school facilities. Several people have spoken to me since my article appeared and there would seem to be support for the schools coming together with increased and better school facilities. It would be great if the matter might be looked at by those in authority before the Convent of Mercy and it’s extensive grounds are swallowed up for commercial development.

While I am on my soap box might I also mention something which exercised a lot of minds earlier this year. It is how we intend to celebrate the new year and the dawning of the new millennium. The parties and outings confidently planned earlier this year would not now seem such a good idea as the wage demands of those required to the work on the night are clarified. The occasion will of course be unique and we will be the first of thirty-five generations to usher in a new millennium. I am surprised at the apparent lack of preparation to celebrate the event other than by “booze-up’s” whether in pubs, clubs or elsewhere. Surely this is an occasion when the local people should come together as a community to celebrate in a more suitable way than the customary weekend drinking bouts. I have in mind the entire community coming together in the centre of our town on the last night of the year to celebrate an event which will not be witnessed for another one thousand years. The current millennium has witnessed the fragmentation of communities where religious differences created and sustained divisions. Wouldn’t it be a fitting end to the old millennium and an opportunity for renewal if the Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce and all the local Churches would facilitate the local people in coming together under the stars on New Years Eve night to celebrate in a suitable manner a unique night in the history of the world!