Thanks to a referral by Colm Walsh I have been priviliged in the last week to read a Journal kept by a local man Charles Carey during part of the 19th century. It is now in the Manuscript Section of the National Library and for long it has been there I cannot say. It is a most interesting compilation of news, gossip and opinion, the latter particularly evident in the letters Charles Carey wrote to his nephew Michael Carey. Charles, local farmer, wrote to his nephew who was subsequently a printer based in Barrow Quay, Athy with a pen dipped in vitriol rather than in ink. The Journal itself is worthy of note for the extensive chronology he gives of life in Athy between 1823 and 1858. Where else could one hope to find a gem of local information such as the entry which read :-
“The bell was first rung at the Chapel for the death of a man on 7th March, 1830 - he was Bradley, a baker.”
Or what about the entry :-
“The bell first rung for divine service in Athy Church on 22nd March, 1857.”
The reference here and presumably in the previous entry was to St. Michael’s Church in Offaly Street where Mr. Cross had commenced building the Church steeple in June 1856.
The events noted in Carey’s Journal are the stuff of local history, even if some of them are destined never to be more than one liners designed to bring a smile to the face of the reader as in the reference to Andrew Conroy who was interred on 21st June, 1827. Carey appended a note claiming that he had hanged himself in the County Carlow to prevent the Coroner of Kildare benefitting from the Inquest.
The real usefulness of the entries lies in the minutiae of local life which tells us of conditions 175 years ago. For instance we learn of “cholera raging in Athy from May to November, 1832”. This followed by another entry:- “Cholera bad - Six died in Barrack Street, 7th February, 1833.” Elsewhere the names of other unfortunates who died in the Cholera Epidemic are given.
In an entry for January 1847 Charles Carey notes that he is frightened at the aspect of the time, “people dying of hunger - great misery in Ireland - no work for labourers - 100 bankrupt in the South in one week in December - misery never to be forgotten - fever prevalent - trade stagnant and starvation in the land.”
In 1856 he records that a Crimean canon was brought through Athy, unfortunately not detailing where it was journeying to. The departure of local people for America was carefully noted throughout the life of the Journal, and in that regard offers an invaluable record for local historians and genealogists.
As you can imagine the Journal threw up interesting if as yet unclear references. Such is the reference to “Convent Building August 1844”. Was this a reference to the future Convent of Mercy or to the Dominican Convent? A later entry noted :- “Fr. Cremin purchased Mr. Mansergh’s house from Mr. Beasley - 8th August, 1845.” Thus the 1844 reference may well have been to the Convent building at Rathstewart.
A further reference to the consecration of a new Churchyard on 25th March, 1848 may well be a reference to an extension of St. Michael’s cemetery, or perhaps the opening of St. Mary’s Cemetery across the bridge from the present St. Vincent’s Hospital.
Early in the Journal Charles Carey referred to Robert Robinson, a local man who was transported for bigamy in October 1839 to Norfolk Island. In his Journal Carey has transcribed one and possibly the only letter he received from the transportee. It provides a fascinating glimpse of the fate awaiting those transported overseas and raises the question which I cannot yet answer :- Who was the Athy man named Fletcher referred to in that letter? The letter read :-
“My Dear Charles,
I received your kind letter dated 27th March, 1840 but I had not money to pay postage for an answer. I remained four years in Norfolk Island. It is called The Garden of the World. Nothing can equal it in point of beauty, but on the other hand you might lawfully term it The Field of Slaughter. Thank God I always had a good friend in the commandant so I passed my time like the soldiers dog - hunger and ease. Tell the poor people to beware of violating the law. If they saw the scenes I have been obliged to witness they would say the gallows was much preferable. What would you think if you saw one of our poor countrymen receive 100 lashes and then sent out to work - if he did not do his task that day the next day he received the same. The man that has not interest here is very soon settled. I must say that the feeling here is in favour of Irishmen. However, we all stand well to each other. As to myself, Irishmen keep my pocket low. I could not have it and see them in want. I know you will be glad to hear I am at last well off. I arrived here last March twelve months penniless and as I thought friendless. However, God soon raised up a friend for me. By chance I heard of my townsman Mr. Fletcher who is Commissary General here. I waited on him and he had me appointed Watch Housekeeper that day. The duties were such that a man should have the heart of a stone to fulfill them so I resigned in three weeks. I went again to my friend who had me appointed Deputy Jailer where I still remain and shall until I am free which will, if God spares me, be 1st August, 1846. After all, I never enjoyed better health. This country is totally ruined. Property of every sort is of no value. You can buy sheep for 2/6 per head, which four years ago were worth £2 each. Other cattle equally low. Tea 1s. per pound. Sugar 1p. Bread 1p. I understand Bigham is here, badly off.
Let me hear from the children above all things and how the mother is behaving to my dear babes. How I long to see them both. My folly drove me from the children of my heart. Let me know does the mother ever talk of her unfortunate Bob.
Oatland, Van Diemans land.”
One of the last entries of the Journal was made on 22nd October, 1858 when Carey noted “Kavanagh Malting in Cottiers Lane.” I wonder how many people know where Cottiers Lane was located. It is still there, although now known by a different name.
Charles Carey died in his Athy home on 29th January, 1859 leaving his property including no doubt his Journal to his favourite nephew Michael Carey who for many years carried on business as a printer at Barrow Quay.