Thursday, April 19, 2001

Pubs in Athy 1924 and Billy/Skurt Doyle

Two weeks ago I listed the forty Publicans who in 1924 traded amongst the 4,000 or so, souls whom made up population of the former garrisoned town of Athy. Just imagine, one pub for every 100 persons whether man, woman or child. There was little or no full time employment in Athy in the early years of the Irish Free State and the local brick yards and Minch Nortons were what passed for industry in those days. Clearly there was little spare money for drinking which makes me believe that to be a Publican in Athy 77 years ago was not an occupation guaranteed to lead to wealth and fortune.

I made a passing reference in that same article to an industrial dispute in what I believed was Sylvester’s Public House at the corner of Emily Square. I had identified the right premises but apparently by the time the dispute broke out, it housed a Pork Butchers shop operated by a Mr. Conlan. He purchased the premises from Henry Sylvester, who had operated a Public House there in 1924. Details of the Industrial dispute which dragged on for several years are still unclear. Two workers employed by Conlan’s Pork Butchers have been identified as Hopkins and Kavanagh but I have no knowledge of whether or not they were involved in what is claimed to be one of the longest industrial disputes in this country. I would like to hear from anyone who can fill me in on any part of the Conlan’s strike.

Des McHugh tells me with reference to queries I raised in the same article that Stan Glynn’s Public House was subsequently purchased by Townsends and was later known as Smugglers while Thomas Bergin’s is now Barney Dunne’s premises. Matthew Cunningham’s Public House in Duke Street burnt down one Christmas night resulting in the tragic death of a woman whom I have not yet identified. The premises was later rebuilt but not as a public house and it is now incorporated in the front portion of the Super Value Supermarket. Can anyone recall the year of the Christmas night fire in Duke Street which resulted in a tragic loss of life and the destruction of one of Athy’s oldest public houses.

May Lalor phoned me in relation to the same article and was able to identify the location of the various public houses in Athy in 1924. She remembered Stan Glynn and his wife as a kindly elderly couple whose only son died at a young age. Was this I wonder Joseph William Glynn who died in December 1916 when 22 years of age and whose grandfather William Glynn died 20 years earlier aged 85? May also pinpointed Thomas O’Gorman’s Public House in Duke Street as the premises located between what is now Kane’s shop and the vacant Goalpost Public House.

Hackett’s Bookmakers were repainting the front of their premises in Leinster Street during the past week. Did you notice the unusual sign underneath the shop window which came to light when years of accumulated paint had been removed. “The River Plate Fresh Meat Company Limited” was an unusual name for an Irish Firm. Clearly the reference is the Argentinian area which was and still remains one of the foremost beef production areas in the world. But who were the promoters of the Company who so proudly advertised their wares in this way on the main street of an Irish provincial town. Was it the late Andy Finn, a farmer of Milltown, Athy who had a butcher’s shop in the same premises in the 1940’s and 1950’s?

I had a welcome visit recently from Billy Doyle whom I last met at a Kildare Association Function in Manchester a few years ago. Billy, now 64 years of age is a son of the late James “Barracks” Doyle and his wife Elizabeth MacMahon who was originally from Levitstown. Like many of his peers “Barracks” served in the British Army during World War 1 and on returning home joined the Irish Army. The Doyle Family lived in a thatched house at Moneen at a time when it was the only house on what was once the town’s commonage. Moneen or Clonmullin as it is now known is unrecognisable today from the time when Paddy Doyle and his siblings walked the short distance through Moneen lane and Convent View to the nearby school. “Barracks” Doyle who was one of Athy’s enduring characters died on the 20th March 1958 at 65 years of age. Billy went to England ten years later to work in the Lairds Shipyard in Birkinhead having earlier served his time as an apprentice mechanic with Joe Brophy and Jim Kenny in Duthie Larges of Leinster Street. He was able to fill in for me another part of the local jigsaw when he recounted a conversation he had with Jack McKenna some years ago. Jack in an interview with me some time before he passed away spoke of the day he stole a gun from a black and tan who has been pushed through Jackson’s Shop window. Jack told Billy that it was his father “Barracks” Doyle who had sent the Black and Tan flying through the plate glass window following which the youthful Jack McKenna relieved him of his weapon which he quickly passed on to a member the local republican army.

Talking to Billy brought to mind snippets of stories heard and remembered over the years concerning his father “Barracks” and that other great character with World War experience “Skurt” Doyle. “Skurt” who was married to one of the Lawler’s of Ardreigh died in or about 1953 and so far I have been unable to locate his last resting place in St. Michael’s Cemetery. He was one of the most remarkable men of his time and is still remembered by the older people of the Town. I have tried for some considerable time to gather information on “Skurts” involvement in the British Army and his sporting career which spanned many decades. I would like to hear from anyone who can help me piece together the story of the extraordinary “Skurt” Doyle as his is a story which needs to be recorded while his deeds are still part of the folk memory of some of the older people of Athy.

Let me finish off this week by referring to the consultation process which has just begun in connection with the proposed new road linking Dublin and Waterford. The views of the general public are being canvassed as to the best route for this major new road and Athy’s opportunity to meet with the road Engineers was on Monday and Tuesday last. However, information on the different routes being canvassed as possibilities for the major road link will be on display in the Library in the Town Hall until Friday 15th June.

The eventual decision on the chosen route could have a bearing on the ongoing local controversy centered on the Inner versus the Outer Relief Road . If the suggested route nearest to Athy is chosen this would undoubtedly serve as the long awaited Outer Relief Road for the town thereby saving the heart the town from destruction. Might I encourage you to check out the plans for the new Dublin/Waterford roadway at the local Library and make your views known to the National Roads Design Office at Naas telephone (045) 898199.

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