Thursday, May 24, 2001

Athy Courthouse

Our Courthouse having received a one million pounds revamp was officially opened by the Minister for Justice John O’Donoghue on Thursday morning last. The one time corn exchange built in 1857 to Frederick Darley’s design looked at its best after almost 1½ years of careful tending at the hands of D. & J. Cabery, Building Contractors.

The opening ceremony was performed in the presence of Judges of the District Court, the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court, all of whom were women. I’m not sure if this was a coincidence or a reflection of the shifting of the gender imbalance which for so long deprived our State and its institutions of the enriching influence of the female mind. The Supreme Court Judge was Justice Mrs. Susan Denham whose father Douglas Gageby was for so long editor of the Irish Times and in whose newspaper there appeared almost four years ago a letter from a Dublin man criticising those responsible for the sad state of Athy’s fine Jacobean-style Courthouse. Judge Jackie Linnane of the Circuit Court and Judge Mary Martin of the District Court made up the judicial triumvirate at the opening.

The refurbishment work undertaken by D. & J. Carbery, Builders under the guidance of Michael Lysaght, Architect is first class and the mid-19th century building which within two years of being built was described as deficient in ventilation and lighting is now a lasting monument to the skill and workmanship of today’s craftsman as much as it is to the skills of 150 years ago.

Brothers Dan and Brian Carbery now manage the building firm which has been operating in one form or another since the 1880’s and possibly earlier. Dan Carbery and John Carbery of the original company formed sometime at the turn of the last century were Luggacurran brothers who did building work for Lord Landsdowne on his Luggacurran estates, as well as on his estates in Co. Kerry. The Plan of Campaign adopted in Luggacurran in 1886 with the active encouragement of local Curate Rev. John Maher saw the Carbery families as well as 60 or more other families evicted from holdings which they had held as tenants or under tenants of Lord Landsdowne. Some of those evicted, including the Carberys, came to Athy town where the building contracting business of D. & J. Carbery flourished, becoming in time the largest contracting firm in the region. D. & J. Carbery were involved in almost every major housing scheme undertaken by Athy Urban District Council from 1913 onwards. The very first Council housing scheme in Athy saw D. & J. Carbery build 10 houses in what was then known as Matthew’s Lane for the sum of £2,544.7.11. Those houses are now known as St. Michael’s Terrace. The Athy-based firm also built St. Patrick’s Avenue in 1931 and completed the houses in Dooley’s Terrace in January 1934. Convent View was built by them two years later and in November 1936 they completed work on Plewman’s Terrace and Minch’s Terrace. The Geraldine Road housing scheme was also the work of the Cabery firm which they finished in 1939 and their next big local authority housing scheme in Athy was Pairc Bhride in 1951.

The last major contract in which D. & J. Carbery, Building Contractors, Athy were involved in was the building of the Secondary School complex at Rathstewart which now houses Scoil Eoin and St. Mary’s girls school. Soon after completing that contract D. & J. Carbery Limited of Athy went out of business but the Carlow branch of the firm continued and indeed were involved in building houses for Athy Urban District Council at Butler’s Lane a few years ago.

The awarding of the Contract for the restoration of the Courthouse to the firm now managed by Dan and Brian Carbery was significant in terms of the State’s committment to preserving one of the most important architectural features of Athy. The architect of the original building Frederick Darley was one of the most important Irish architects of the 19th century and he was responsible for the Kings Inn library in Henrietta Street, Dublin as well as several other important buildings in the Nations Capital. Here in Athy we have several examples of his work including the Model School on the Dublin Road, St. Michael’s Church of Ireland on the Carlow Road which was built in 1840 during the Rectorship of Rev. F.S. Trench and while Darley was architect to the Ecclesiastical Commission. The Presbyterian Church and former Manse on the Dublin Road were also designed by Darley.

The choice of D. & J. Carbery Limited to refurbish the Courthouse was one which helped to continue this firm’s connection with the built heritage of Athy. The Town Hall and the Courthouse now both handsomely refurbished after years of neglect and fears of their possible demolition for car parking spaces provide a wonderful backdrop to the important urban spaces formerly known as Market Square before being renamed in honour of Emily, Duchess of Leinster. The generous proportions of both buildings are enhanced by the equally generous proportions of the spaces which surround them and which never fail to impress visitors to our town.

Last week Mullingar-based Paddy Looney passed away. Paddy was a former playing member of Athy Gaelic Football Club and won Senior Championship medals with Athy in 1933 and 1934. Athy’s first ever Senior Championship win in 1933 followed a hat trick of defeats in the County Finals of 1923, 1926 and 1927 and was achieved with such great footballers as Cuddy Chanders, Tommy Mulhall, Paul Matthews, Jim Fox and Barney Dunne. These five players were also part of the much fancied County Kildare team which failed to win the 1935 All-Ireland final against the men from the Breifne County. With the death of Paddy Looney, Barney Dunne who played alongside him in the full forward line in the 1934 County Final is the last surviving member of that great Athy team.

No comments: