Thursday, July 20, 2000

Bits and Pieces - The O'Rahilly, Jacksons, Cycling Bench Marks

A newspaper Report of the Dublin Insurrection of 1916 referred to The O’Rahilly who was killed while leading a charge against a British Barricade in Moore Street on Friday of Easter Week. It noted that the forty one year old Kerry man returned to Ireland after spending some time in America where he had gone for health reasons. He soon became active on both Sinn Fein and the Gaelic League and on the establishment of the Volunteers in November 1913, he was appointment Chairman of the Arms Sub-committee and helped to organise the Howth Gun Running. As an organiser for the Irish Volunteers, he visited Athy in 1914 when a Branch of the organisation was formed in the Town. He addressed a Volunteer meeting in the Town Hall on that occasion. Another speaker at a similar meeting in Athy later that year was Thomas McDonagh who was executed on May, 3rd 1916 for his part in the Easter Rebellion. McDonagh who was a founder member of the Irish Volunteers was a teacher who addressed what was described in the local papers as “A big Volunteer Meeting in Athy”.

Public meetings of Nationalist groups in Athy at that time invariably had the support of St. Patrick’s Band, Athy whose banner was always given pride of place on public platformers. Does anyone know anything of the band and what might have happened to the band instruments and the banners used in band parades?

I am sure that many of my readers will remember Jackson Brothers Limited of Leinster Street, Athy once one of the most prosperous businesses in County Kildare. The business premises included grocery, drapery, hardware and motor departments. In its later years the Grocery was managed by John Dooley of St. Patrick’s Avenue and Kevin Watchorn of Ardrew who had his own business in Duke Street up to some years ago. The Drapery was managed by Bob Bryan and Eric Taylor. Bob with his brother George later opened a drapery shop in the former Commercial House in Emily Square which is now Supermac’s. The Hardware Department was managed by Harold Bryan and Jake Glynn. Harold later moved to Tinahealy, Co. Wicklow where he opened up his own business. The motor department was managed by Ken Jackson and Jim Robertson. In the office were the Proprietor, Francis Jackson, John Harvey and Kathleen Watchorn, now Mrs. Lawler of St. Patrick’s Avenue.

Following the death of Francis Jackson, the business continued under the control of his sons Ken and Francis. They modernised the premises and ran a successful business for a number of years. However, in time the business went into decline and in 1963 a receiver was appointed and Jackson’s was eventually taken over by Quinn Brother’s of Mothill, Co. Leitrim. Quinns continued in business until recent years under the management of Pat Flood who is now retired and living on the Carlow Road. The one time Jackson Premises is now home to Telford’s Hardware Store and Perry’s Supermarket.

It is believed that the first bicycle seen in Athy was a Penny farthing ridden by Gerald Dunne, son of John William Dunne of Raheenahown, Luggacurran, Co . Laois. John William Dunne was a sub-tenant of Lord Landsdowne who with Denis Kilbride was evicted from his holding during the Luggacurran evictions. Another Penny Farthing seen on the streets of Athy in the 1880’s was ridden by A. J. Bergin of Maybrook. The Large’s of Rheban Castle were also noted for their enjoyment of the earliest models of bicycles. The most notable sporting cyclists of the last decade of the 19th Century was the earlier mentioned A. J. Bergin who known locally as Andy. He was a noted cyclist on track and roads in the 1890’s. Incidentally, his younger brother J. J. Bergin who in later years founded the Irish National Ploughing Association was also a good sporting cyclist in the first decade of the 20th Century. J. J. Bergin was an extraordinary man whose achievements were many and varied and whose life story is worthy of a biography. Apart from the setting up of the Ploughing Association, he was very involved with Canon John Hayes and Macra Na Tuaith. As I write this, I have before me a copy of “The Farmer’s Guide”, described as a “Bi-monthly publication with a private circulation in every county”. It is the fourth issue of a four page journal dated the 15th January 1924 which cost one and a half pence, post free. It was printed by M.C. Carey of Athy and published by its owner and Editor, J. J. Bergin of Maybrook, Athy. Containing all the news and prices for farming produce and stock, it also had a small number of short articles on agricultural matters. Of particular interest to locals who will recall the famous ballad penned over fifty years ago concerning the stealing of Bergin’s pig is an advertisement for “Bergin’s Automatic Pig Feeder”. I have only seen one issue of this journal and wonder if any of my readers can tell me for how long “The Farmers Guide” remained in circulation.

Some years ago I set out to identify the bench marks around Athy but stopped after I had recorded five of the marks used by Surveyor’s of the Ordnance Survey. The marks were intended to provide a “bench” or support for a levelling staff in order to determine altitudes above mean sea level. Below the horizontal notch is the broad arrow head used since the middle ages to mark the kings property. Bench marks are to be found on Ordinance Survey Trigonometrical pillars and on prominent buildings. In Athy bench marks are located on a number of buildings. The lower right hand corner of the Town Hall facing the front square and the doorway to what until recently was the ladies toilet at the Courthouse have bench marks. There is also a bench mark on the north side of the Crom a Boo Bridge and on the left pier at the entrance to St. Vincent’s Hospital. St. Vincent’s is also the location of the fifth bench mark which is to be found on the right hand side of the Hospital’s main door. Have a look out for these very distinctive bench marks and if you see any more in and around Athy, perhaps you would let me know.

I will finish this weeks article by asking for your help in compiling background information on six O’Rourke Brother’s who lived in the packing stables alongside the Grand Canal in the early 1900’s. Some members of the O’Rourke family played a very prominent part in the War of Independence but so far I have been unable to get any information other than sketchy details of their involvement. Can you help? The brothers were Mick, Jim, Joe, Tom, Dinny and Fran O’Rourke.

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