Thursday, February 1, 2001

Bits and Pieces

Chris Corlett, an Archaeologist with Dúchas and recently appointed Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries Ireland gave a first class lecture to an appreciative audience in the Leinster Arms Hotel last Thursday night. His subject was “The Sacred Mountain” known to you and me as Croagh Patrick, located just a few miles away from Westport in County Mayo. He illustrated his presentation with slides and the resulting interesting insight into the legends and archaeology of St. Patrick’s Mountain was well received. Arranged under the auspices of South Kildare An Taisce and Athy Museum Society the lecture was the first in a series which will continue next month with a talk by the recently appointed Heritage Centre Manager, Margaret O’Riordan on the Holy Wells of Ireland.

One of the many interesting letters received by me since Christmas was from Bill Wheeler who lives in Mosely near Birmingham seeking information on a friend of his from Athy with whom he has lost contact. In 1943 Bill Wheeler and Gilbert Carey from Athy joined the British Royal Air Forces as 16 year old aircraft apprentices. They served together until July 1947 at RAF Halton and St. Athan after which they were sent to different units and lost contact with each other until 1951. That year Bill Wheeler was serving in Canada and received a letter from Gilbert which was posted in New York and had been sent to Bill via his own mother who was living in England. That’s the last Bill heard of his Athy friend Gilbert Carey. Bill had previously met Gilbert’s older sister Eileen who worked as a Nurse in a hospital in Totteridge in London, and an older brother Jim Carey who was also in the RAF. If any of my readers can give me any information as to Gilbert Carey or his family I will be pleased to pass it on to his old friend Bill Wheeler.

Writing of soldiers reminds me of a photograph which appeared in the Saturday Herald on 10th June, 1916. The accompanying text read “This is a photograph of Private Michael Bowden (Standing) and Private John Byrne taken at Limburg Lahn in Internment Camp, Germany. Private Bowden previous to the outbreak of the War was a local postman in Athy, Co. Kildare and Private Byrne was head gardener to Mr. Holland, Vetinerary Surgeon, Athy. They were taken prisoners early in 1914.”
I have often wondered what happened to Michael Bowden and John Byrne. Did they survive the War and if so did they return to their native Athy. Does anybody know what happened to them. I would be delighted to get further information on both of these men.

I received a telephone call from a reporter on an Irish Sunday newspaper a few days ago following up a reference in another local paper to my recent piece on the marriage of local girl Bridget Dowling with Alois Hitler, brother of the infamous Adolf Hitler. His interest in the little known association between South Kildare and the German führer was equaled only by my surprise on hearing a recent claim made to me that Auvril and Wilbur Wright, the World’s most famous aeronauts were grandsons of a man who had emigrated from South Kildare at the beginning of the 19th century. My good friend Richard Corrigan, an indefatigable genealogical researcher, was my informant but the evidence to support a County Kildare connection is still subject to verification. More about that again.

Last weeks news regarding the proposed new hotel on the Abbey site at the rear of Emily Square is most welcome. That area has seen many developments over the centuries stretching back to 1253 when the riverside site was the location of the very first Dominican Monastery in Athy. The Friars Preachers, as the Dominicans were known, were a Mendicant Order who survived on the charity of those amongst whom they lived and served. The Monastery of St. Dominic was a substantial complex of buildings and included at the time of the Reformation in the 1540’s a Church, a Bell tower, a chapter house, a dormitory, a large hall, three chambers, a kitchen, a cemetery, an orchard and a garden containing one acre. The Monastery also had ownership of two fishing weirs in the town, six cottages and ten acres of arable land.

The Monastery itself covered an area which ran from the Barrow River to the corner of the present Emily Row and from there up the present Offaly Street returning to the River Barrow via Janeville Lane which is at the side of St. Michael’s Church. The large building or rather two buildings which now occupy the original Dominican Monastery site probably conceal within their grounds the last remaining evidence of the 13th century monastic buildings. Before work commences on the building of the new hotel I hope that adequate time will be set aside to allow for a comprehensive archaeological examination of this ancient monastery site.

Watching the work on the footpath over the Crom-a-Boo bridge last week prompted me to marvel at the excellent bridge builders of the 18th century. Built a few years before the 1798 Rebellion and designed to carry horse-drawn carriages of that era the bridge still continues to carry traffic into it’s third century. But nowadays the traffic is heavy vehicular traffic which could not have been envisaged by those who planned and built the bridge over 200 years ago. Isn’t the strength and sturdiness of that ancient bridge a lasting monument to the foresight, design excellence and workmanship of the men who worked all of those years ago without the modern equipment and facilities available today.

Its near neighbour White’s Castle which has stood guard over that bridge and its predecessors on the River Barrow for almost 600 years is sadly showing that old age puts everyone and everything at risk. The fabric of the building has been deteriorating for some time and in particular what appears to be early 19th century additions in brick are a cause of considerable concern. Whites Castle on account of its location and historical associations is one of the more important buildings in Athy and one can only hope that either the Town Council or the Department of Arts and Culture will move to acquire Whites Castle and thereby ensure its future.

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