Thursday, May 11, 2000

Council Housing Projects of the 1930s

When Sean T. O’Ceallaigh, then Minister for Local Government came to Athy on 5th April, 1934 to open the new Housing Schemes at St. Joseph’s Terrace and Michael Dooley’s Terrace he acknowledged that no local authority had responded better to his Government Housing initiative than Athy UDC. He remarked that Ireland was a “good Christian country with Catholic morals prevailing and families were increasing and would have to be provided with houses”.

The local Council had already made substantial strides in replacing the unsanitary hovels which were the remnants of 18th century Athy with modern local authority houses and suitably emboldened by the Minister’s words planned to build upwards of another 171 houses. No doubt it’s announcement of the proposed 5th Housing Scheme for Athy owed much to the local elections scheduled for 26th June, 1934 and which for the first time would be held under the Proportional Representation System. Six of the fifteen outgoing members of the Urban Council nevertheless lost their seats and John Dillon, Francis Doran, Patrick Kelly, Richard Murphy, James Tierney and Daniel Toomey never again graced the Council Chamber.

The newly elected Council met with it’s Engineer three days after the election and after much discussion decided to reduce the number of proposed new houses to 56. This may have been due to a realisation that the Council’s finances were overstretched for within a few weeks the Department of Local Government felt obliged to inform the Council that the proposed sewerage scheme for Athy “will receive immediate consideration as soon as all outstanding loan instalments are paid and an undertaking given under seal to pay all future instalments promptly.” Despite their obvious financial difficulties the Council advertised in September 1934 for contractors to build 20 one story four roomed houses at Clonmullin, and 25 two story four roomed houses on Carbery’s field at Rathstewart. The Minister for Local Government wrote to the Urban Council in a letter read at it’s meeting on 10th October in which he expressed himself :- “Very dissatisfied with the Council’s attitude regarding outstanding instalments of housing loans and unless they are paid regularly no further advances will be made.” Undaunted the Council opened tenders for new houses in Rathstewart and Clonmullin on 5th November, 1934. Messrs Duggan of Templemore and D. & J. Carbery of Athy who between them had built the recently opened new houses in Lower and Upper St. Joseph’s Terrace were duly appointed as Contractors. Carberys agreed to build 20 one story houses on Mr. Rodger’s site at Clonmullin for £5,482 and Duggans were entrusted with the building of 25 two story houses on Carbery’s field at Rathstewart which when completed would link up with the 17 houses previously built by D. & J. Carbery to form Upper St. Joseph’s Terrace.

The Urban Council must have settled it’s differences with the Department regarding the unpaid loan instalments as the Department approved the tenders and further approved the Council’s acquisition of Mrs. Holland’s field at Geraldine Road and Plewman’s site at Blackparks for £80 per statute acre. Before the end of the year the Council had agreed to purchase 1 acre 1 rood of land from Dan Finter at the rear of Carbery’s houses in Woodstock Street which had been demolished under the first Clearance Order. The Duke of Leinster also sold to the Council the site on which the 22 Carbery houses had stood, measuring 1 rood and 10 perches. Clearly the site density was of quite extraordinary proportions.

Patrick Tierney of Stanhope Street was appointed Clerk of Works for the Council’s fifth housing scheme and two months later in February 1935 the Department of Local Government sanctioned a loan of £36,500 for the Council’s scheme “of about 106 houses”. One can only marvel at the latitude apparently given to the Urban Council.

Before long the Urban District Council were pushing it’s luck when in March it asked the Office of Public Works “because of our poor financial situation” to undertake the sewerage scheme for the town. The Office of Public Works promptly replied that such work was “normally undertaken by local authorities”. Brigid Darby who during her time as a Councillor displayed remarkable foresight was again somewhat ahead of her colleagues when early in 1935 she brought forward a proposal that the Council provide a children’s playground in connection with the St. Joseph’s Terrace houses. She was defeated by an amendment which provided for the tenants to be given all the land at the rear of their houses for gardens.

McHugh’s Malt Store and site at Woodstock Street which the Council had tried to acquire for many years was finally the subject of a Compulsory Purchase Order. A public enquiry was held in the Town Hall on 25th November, 1934 by Denis J. Hickie, Local Government Inspector to hear the objectors and joint owners Miss M. McHugh and Mr. J.S. McHugh. Dr. James McHugh of Dublin Road, Carlow indicated that the store was last used in or about 1923 as a Malthouse. Built of stone it was a substantial building and according to the evidence of the Council Engineer P.J. Sheehan it’s roof was not in the best of condition while the windows of the store were barred with boards and had no glass in them. The Inspector closed the enquiry after deciding to inspect the stores for himself.

On receiving confirmation of the Compulsory Purchase Order on McHugh’s site the Council decided to build 12 houses there under the fifth housing scheme instead of 16 houses as originally intended. J. Reynolds, a local dentist of Leinster Street who was first elected in June 1934 now brought before the Council a Motion that “the Council consider the construction of a swimming pool”. Supported unanimously this led to the appointment of Reynolds, Tom Carbery, Tom Flood, Patrick Dooley and Dr. J. Kilbride to a Committee to confer with the local Engineer J.J. Bergin. The Committee agreed to meet at Chapel Well on Thursday, 9th May, 1935 at 8pm, presumably, although it was not stated, because this was to be the site of the proposed pool. Within two weeks plans for the oft discussed sewerage scheme for Athy were received from Nicholas O’Dwyer B.E. who had estimated it’s cost at £17,866 for which the Department promised a Grant of £400. The Council agreed to go ahead with a modified sewerage scheme costing £13,000 but only if the Department gave it a substantial grant for the work. At the same time the brave Councillors sent to the Department a request for funding for a swimming pool to which the Department Officials replied that they regarded “a sewerage scheme for Athy as more important than a swimming pool”. Dr. Kilbride, the local Medical Officer of Health, agreed with the Department and suggested that a plan to provide bathing facilities could be carried out “owing to the fact that they are less than 100 houses in Athy provided with bathrooms and the population of the town is about 3,700.”

…….. to be continued

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