Thom’s Directory, produced each year, is an important record of the commercial life of any town represented within its pages. This was brought home to me as I perused the 1948 edition and for comparison purposes delved also into the edition produced exactly 100 years previously.
The latter gave an account of a world which today we would not recognise. Two Members of Parliament were returned by the County of Kildare to the Parliament in Westminster, while the County Gaol at Athy received 130 persons committed during 1845. Its counterpart in Naas received 77 new prisoners during the same year. The Governor of Athy Gaol was Patrick Dill who operated under the supervision of the Board of Superintendence which included Edward Bagot of Nurney, William Caulfield of Levitstown, Benedict Yates of Moone Abbey, Thomas Fitzgerald and Daniel Browne.
The Fever Hospital was still functioning in 1848 with Dr. William Clayton as Medical Officer, a duty which he performed in addition to acting as Dispensary Doctor for the town of Athy. What was referred to as the Union Workhouse had opened just a few years before but a much older addition to the South Kildare landscape was the Military Barracks at the end of Barrack Lane. The Constabulary were based in Whites Castles, one of 45 Constabulary Stations throughout the County of Kildare. The local officer in charge was Inspector A.G. Judge. The local Magistrates were John Butler of St. John’s, Lord Downes of Bert House, George Evans of Farmhill and B. Lefroy of Cardenton, while the Petty Sessions Clerk for Athy was John D. Waters. The Petty Sessions were held on Tuesdays, the traditional court sitting day still retained by our own District Court.
The 1948 Thom’s Directory has no mention of Members of Parliament, no reference to the town Gaol or Magistrates or Petty Session Clerks. The entries for 43 years ago reflected the more democratic times which then prevailed compared to 100 years previously. Local Government as we know it today was less than 50 years old and on Kildare County Council the Athy electoral area was represented by Thomas Carbery of Woodstock Street, Joseph Greene of Barnhill West, Castledermot, George Henderson of Ardmore and William Mahon of Prusselstown. The one-time Union Workhouse was called the County Home where Sr. Mary Vincent Lalor was Matron. The Medical Officer was Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill, while Dr. John L. Kilbride held the position of Medical Officer of Health for the town of Athy. The local Town Council comprised Michael G. Nolan, Chairman, Patrick Dooley, Tom L. Flood, Joseph C. Reynolds, Liam Ryan, Thomas Carbery, Thomas Dowling, Michael McHugh and Edward Purcell. The Town Clerk was James O’Higgins who had continued to fill that position on and off for another 40 years or so. The District Court which had replaced the Petty Sessions still continued to sit on Tuesdays which was also the market day in the town. The Court Clerk who had his offices in the local Courthouse was Fintan Brennan, whose address in 1948 was given as Offaly Street. As with the Magistrates of 1848 the Peace Commissioners of 100 years later appear to have been drawn from the well-to-do classes and included J.J. Bergin of Maybrook, Edward Doyle of Kilrush House, Reggie Hannon of Ardreigh, M.P. Minch of Rockfield House, Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill of Mount Offaly and Joseph C. Reynolds of 21 Leinster Street. Fortunately for them they did not have to sit in on the District Court proceedings as had the local Magistrates of 1848.
The commercial life of Athy in 1948 as listed in Thom’s Directory is littered with names of enterprises and businesses which are no longer in existence. Under Agricultural Implement Manufacturers there are five names, none of which are represented in Athy today - The IVI, Duthie Larges, Michael Kelly [Leinster Street], Matt McHugh and Tom McHugh. Of all the hardware shops of 53 years ago only one, Shaws & Son Limited, has survived to today. The Co-Op Stores, Duthie Larges, Jacksons, Michael Kellys, E.T. Mulhall, M. Nolan, David Walsh and G. Willis have gone the way of the foundries. As one might expect the tailors and saddlers of those post-war years have not survived the competing demands of 20th century technology and so their names read as of a litany of times past. Murt Hayden, Meeting Lane, Dan Lynam, Duke Street and Pat O’Rourke of Stanhope Street were the saddlers, while the tailors were Michael Egan of Leinster Street, Tom Moran of Butlers Row and Joseph Walsh of St. Joseph’s Terrace.
But surely I hear you say the restaurants and Inns of that year must have survived. But no, they too have gone, including Athy Tea Rooms and Miss Dooleys, both of Leinster Street, O’Rourke-Glynns and The Gem in Duke Street. The Inns, so called to distinguish them from the town’s only hotel, were The Central, Floods, Hibernian and Railway, all located in Leinster Street. The buildings they occupied still remain as public houses, although they no longer provide travellers with meals and accommodation as they had done since the 19th century.
I was intrigued to see that in 1948 cycle agents were more numerous than motor garages. Pedal power was then supreme and John Stafford of Maxwells of Duke Street vied with Jacksons and Duthie Larges of Leinster Street for the business of the town and country folk. Maxwells are the only surviving business from that period and today operate as a motor garage in Leinster Street. It is interesting to note that in 1948 no less than five shops were regarded as booksellers. B.J. Carolans, M.A. James, Mary Lalors, O’Rourke-Glynns and the Pipe Shop. Carroll’s Shop at the corner of Stanhope Street is now Winkles, while James has disappeared completely, demolished many years ago to widen the Convent Lane approach to St. Dominic’s Church. O’Rourke-Glynns and the Pipe Shop continue today under different ownership and in different business, while Mary Lalors of William Street is now the St. Vincent de Paul shop. Mary Lalor was the author of a book published in England in 1926 under the title “The Red Menace” and during the 1940’s she operated a small lending library from her premises in William Street.
One profession given in prominence in Thom’s Directory of 1948 and to be found in every town in Ireland at that time was that of Pawnbroking. Doyle & Son carried on business at Duke Street and P.P. Doyle who lived in Woodstock Street was the last proprietor of what was once the best attended establishment in Athy every Monday morning. No less than 7 butchers were listed that year, all of whom have long since closed for business. Their names were John Farrell, P. Fingleton, Andy & B. Finn, J. Hickey, Matt Hughes, Martin Purcell and Ned Ward who had two butcher shops.
Looking through a directory which is younger than myself brings a sharp reminder of the changes which time brings in its wake. With a few exceptions the names of 53 years ago are no longer over the shop doors of today. Businesses come and go and no doubt the Town Directory for 2001 will in 50 years time read like a history book of a bygone age.