Thursday, April 6, 2000

Housing Schemes in Athy in the 1930s

In 1932 the Department of Local Government in a move clearly designed to encourage economy in the cost of house building submitted to Athy Urban District Council plans of houses which were to be built in other parts of the country. A three roomed house in Ardee, Co. Louth costing £166. A four roomed house serviced with water and sewerage in Clonmel for £200 and a similar type house in Mullingar for £250. These figures compared very favorably with the £316 which Athy Urban District Council had paid for each of the recently completed houses in St. Patrick’s Avenue. The Council Members attention was however diverted to an issue of greater importance to them as local representatives and that was whether any new houses should be built in concrete or brick. Athy’s brick industry was in the doldrums and the Council agreed to ask the Minister for Local Government to have Athy Brick used in all future housing schemes. At the same time Peter P. Doyle, Proprietor of Athy Tile & Brick Company, the only survivor of the once flourishing brick industry in South Kildare, offered to dispose of a small portion of his field at the rear of McHugh’s Malt Store in Woodstock Street which the Council wanted to acquire if Athy Brick was used in any houses built there. The offer was accepted with the Council agreeing to buy Athy Brick at £3/15 s. per 1,000 bricks delivered on site.

When work commenced on the building of houses in Rathstewart in what was subsequently called “St. Joseph’s Terrace” the Architect on the Scheme advised the local Council that an adequate supply of Athy Brick was not available. He sought permission to use Dolphin’s Barn Brick until the Athy Brick was available. The Council directed that only Athy Brick was to be used, a wise decision at a time when a special meeting of the Council and the local St. Vincent de Paul Society was being arranged to discuss measures to alleviate “present distress prevailing amongst the poor of Athy owing to the recent bad weather”.

Following the official opening of St. Joseph’s Terrace on 5th April, 1934 the Council hosted a luncheon in the Leinster Arms Hotel for Minister Sean T. O’Ceallaigh. One of the guest speakers that afternoon was Peter P. Doyle who thanked the local Council for it’s decision to use local material in the new houses as a result of which he had been able to employ 20 men constantly in the brick yard for over two years.

Before long the relationship between Peter P. Doyle and the local Urban District Council soured somewhat after local carpenter and Councillor Tom Carbery attempted but failed to get his Council colleagues to support his Motion not to use Athy bricks for any housing schemes unless Mr. P.P. Doyle paid trade union wages to the workers he employs in manufacturing the bricks. Clearly there was concern at the issue raised by Councillor Carbery, but apart from Councillor J.P. Dillon who seconded his Motion, none of the other Councillors felt able to vote one way or the other on the issue. The Athy Tile & Brick Company was the only surviving member of the extensive brick industry which had existed in and around Athy at the beginning of the century. Despite the huge increase in Council house building from 1932 onwards the brick industry found it difficult to compete in the face of competition from onsite manufacture of concrete blocks which were cheaper and easier to use. Because of the special efforts made by Athy Urban District Council to use brick in it’s fourth housing scheme, Athy Tile & Brick Company had prospered briefly. Councillor Carbery’s Motion, although not passed by the Council, pointed to difficulties in Doyle’s brick yard and it was not long before those difficulties were to lead to the closure of Athy’s last brick yard.

Following the appointment of tenants to the Convent View houses in January 1936 Peter P. Doyle wrote to the local Council :-

“I noted that at a recent meeting of the Council was a report from the Architect on the floors of the houses in St. Patrick’s Avenue which are affected with dry rot. These houses were built of concrete four years ago and numerous complaints have been made by the tenants since they were occupied. The floors rotting after four years, particularly when the boards were laid on concrete, is a practical proof of the unsuitability of concrete for building purposes and shows concrete is only suitable for engineering purposes or boundary walls. The sum saved by building in concrete will be found to be penny wise and with cost of repairs many pounds foolish. The houses erected in brick at Bleach over ten years ago have given every satisfaction. The cottages in the rural district built over 50 years ago are still as good as ever. All Architect’s agree that bricks are the ideal building material and the firms that use them are a good index of their superiority. We have supplied Athy Bricks to the Christian Brothers, Messrs Guinness, The Great Southern Railway Branch in Athy which is a classic in architecture. The noted Architect Messrs William H. Byrne & Son states :- “We use Athy Brick in the Hibernian Bank, Athy and in several other buildings and we also found them first quality bricks which are the only bricks we use. They are in our opinion good, strong, hard brick and are excellent for facing as well as for backing up walls.” Messrs Bradbury & Evans, Architects & Engineers state :-

“Athy Bricks are harder and better burned than other bricks used in Dublin and their appearance is in our opinion vastly superior.

It is therefore up to the Council to see that the best material is obtained for the erection of houses.

Yours truly,
Peter P. Doyle.”

The struggling brick industry was dealt a mortal blow when in October 1936 the Department of Local Government approved the tender of D. & J. Carbery, Building Contractors of St. John’s Athy to erect 25 houses in Holland’s site on the Geraldine Road. The houses were to be built of concrete blocks rather than Athy Brick for a price which was only marginally cheaper. There is nothing in the Minute Book of Athy Urban District Council to indicate that the local Councillors were in any way concerned at the likely closure of the town’s only brick yard resulting from the proposed use of blocks rather than bricks in the new house scheme. The eventual closure of Athy Tile & Brick Company was inevitable and almost immediate.

Several persons have contacted me about last weeks article inquiring as to the names of some of the original tenants of St. Patrick’s Avenue. Those appointed at tenants included as I wrote last week several whose connection with Athy is unclear. These included :-

Mr. J. O’Connell Lacka, Kildare
Mr. J. O’Regan Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim
Mr. P. Mulcahy Blackpool, England
Mr. Burke 6 Hardwick Street, Dublin
Mrs. E. Healy Drumcondra, Dublin
Nurse O’Donoghue Newbridge
Mr. J.J. Flanagan Portarlington
Mrs. M. O’Brien Enniskillen
Garda M. Noonan Aughrim, Ballinasloe.

Mr. J. Donoher of Leixlip refused the offer of a tenancy as he had no means of keeping animals on the premises, while two Dubliners, one from Blackrock, the other from Rathmines, also turned down the opportunity to move to Athy.

How many of my readers recognise these families who moved into St. Patrick’s Avenue and Athy in 1931? Clearly Garda Noonan transferred to Athy Garda Station and his descendants are still living in Athy but what of the other families? What connection, if any, did they have with Athy. I would like to hear from anyone who could throw some light on the subject.

No comments: