A lot of changes in the commercial life of Athy have been noticed during the past few years. Chief amongst them is the change in personnel owning and manning the various local public houses in the town. As I passed down Leinster Street last night I saw that the sign over one of the those establishments has changed yet again. Now known as “Next Door”, it houses an off-licence where in years past there was a grocery and public house.
The first reference to this premises I have so far come across relates to the pre-Famine days of 1843 when the Duke of Leinster granted a lease in favour of William Fogarty. The shop was described as being formally in the possession of Denis Fogarty, in all probability, the father of William. The next occupier was Michael Keating whom I have reason to believe was the owner of Clonmullin Mills which was destroyed in the mid 1860’s. In November of 1865 the Keating shop in Leinster Street was sold to Michael Rourke of Castlecomer for the sum of £560. Keating, unable to meet his debts was declared bankrupt and the shop premises was auctioned off. The lease was subsequently assigned to Edward Rourke, presumably the son of the aforementioned Michael Rourke. When mortgaging the property in 1880, Edward was described as a grocer but, when selling on in 1884 to James Nugent, the property itself was described as a licensed house and included 13 other houses. These were the small two-roomed one-storey houses which once stood at the side of Chapel Lane immediately behind the public house. Some of those houses were still occupied up to the early 1960’s and I can remember the Fleming Brothers Saw Mills located in the middle of the terrace in the late 1950’s.
On the 2nd September 1902, James Nugent sold on his interest in the licensed premises, stores, stabling and yard to David Walsh. Walsh had already been in possession of the property for some years a matter which was confirmed in the lease from Nugent. David Walsh, son of James Walsh, farmer and Margaret Devoy of Graiguenamahona, Abbeyleix, was born in 1860 and married Mary Lalor in 1888. His younger brother Edward Walsh was later to achieve sporting fame as a rugby international being capped for Ireland 7 times between 1887 and 1893. David’s wife, Mary Lalor, was a kinswoman of James Fintan Lalor the County Laois political essayist and his brother Peter Lalor, Trade Unionist and Speaker of the House of Parliament in Victoria, Australia. David and Elizabeth had a thriving business in Leinster Street. The youngest of their 5 children also named David was born in Athy in 1898. Their eldest son James joined the Civil Service becoming a senior auditor in Dublin where he died in 1962. Their second son Joseph died unmarried aged 40 years in the year of the Eucharistic Congress 1932. That same year Margaret Walsh, at the age of 38 years married Joseph Hickey from Narraghmore who had been working in Walsh’s public house cum grocery for many years. A younger sister died in infancy while the youngest member of the family, known locally as “Daney”, married Florence Darcy in 1924. Florence was from Roscommon and at the time of her marriage was working as was two of her sisters in the Leinster Arms Hotel, Athy.
Following the death of Margaret Walsh in 1948 her husband Joseph Hickey continued on the business in Leinster Street until his own death in 1964. There were no children of the marriage and the business which had been the Walsh family for over 70 years then passed into other hands. I remember Joseph Hickey, an old man, or so I thought, in the late 1950’s, and my memory is of his acknowledged expertise as a locksmith. He was the person to whom you referred if you needed a lock repaired or a key replaced. His stock of old locks and keys were kept in drawers around the shop which had once been the grocery part of the country pub cum grocery.
Dave or “Daney” Walsh, born in the centenary year of the ’98 Rebellion worked for a while in the family business and at other times for Minch Nortons. Following his marriage to Florence Darcy he lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue and the couple had 2 children, Mary born 1925 who died 4 years ago, and Tommy born 1927, who died last year. “Daney” and his son Tommy were members of Athy Social Club and “Daney” or “D.S.” as he was known on some occasions, was one of the leading men in the Social Club Players of the 1940’s. A photograph of the cast of “Cupboard Love” put on in the Town Hall in April 1943 shows D. S. Walsh amongst the Players. Another photograph of the Social Club Players five years later includes D. S. Walsh as one of the actors in “The Far Off Hills” together with his 20 year old son Tommy. By then “Daney” who was 49 years of age sadly had but two years to live. He died on the 26th November 1949 and is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery with his wife Florence who died 20 years later.
The Walsh family involvement in amateur theatrics was continued on by “Daney’s” son Tommy who participated in almost all of the plays put on by the Social Club Players until their disbandment in the 1950’s. Tommy’s own son David has featured prominently in stage plays in South Kildare over the last 17 years and he is currently Chairman of Athy Musical and Dramatic Society. The third generation Walsh family member to be so involved, David is currently organising the staging of another play from the pen of local writer John MacKenna. I gather auditions are still being held so if there are any budding thespians out there willing to thread the boards, why not contact David Walsh at the offices of K.A.R.E.
I received a letter during the week from James Fitzpatrick of Kildare who spent an enjoyable 4 years as a postman in Athy from 1946 to 1950. James remember his colleagues in the post office including Patsy Delahunt who trained him on the town post, Tom Langton, Tom Donoghue, Mick McEvoy, Jim Kelly, Jim Keyes, Bill Corr, Danny O’Brien, Paddy Keenan and Harry Hegarty. He lodged with Mrs Keogh of St. Patrick’s Avenue and quenched his thirst in Jim Nelson’s of Leinster Street where he enjoyed the company of Mick O’Shea, Kevin Watchorn and Jim Dargan. James wrote to me following the recent piece on the late Frank Whelan to whom he was grateful for many lifts back to Athy in the mail lorry following weekends at his home in Kildare town. Now 75 years of age, James certainly seems to have enjoyed his years in Athy and as he wrote himself, “It’s lovely to recall the old days”.