Thursday, August 9, 2001

Rathstewart and Sleaty's Row

I met an old resident of Athy in the Heritage Centre last Sunday when I dropped in on Jerry Carbery’s woodturning exhibition. Old in the sense that it was many years ago since he lived here, and not in any way a reference to his age. Although, on second thoughts, one must necessarily reflect the other, and so perhaps the word old is not necessarily misplaced. He has lived in England for a long time but recalls as a very young boy, days spent in Sleaty Row. I had never previously heard of Sleaty Row, or if I had, the reference has been quite lost to me. I was intrigued to hear of the place name and got my informant to draw a sketch of the area which I was later able to compare with an Ordnance Survey map of 1872. His memory of the layout of what he called Sleaty Row was excellent, as the map prepared 129 years previously was to prove.

Just beyond Rathstewart Bridge and on the right hand side of the road were six two-storey houses which were knocked down in the early 1980’s. They were then demolished to make way for Athy’s Urban District Council Offices. Immediately beyond and adjoining them were two single storey cabins facing the river Barrow, with an entrance into the courtyard of Sleaty’s Row separating the row of houses from another two cabins on the far side of the entrance. As you entered the courtyard there was a small back lane running at the rere of the two river-facing cabins on your right, and on the far side of that small lane entrance were three two-storey houses making up the right hand side of the courtyard. Facing you as you stood at the entrance to Sleaty Row was a single storey house, which I understand was referred to as the garden house. It formed the back of the courtyard and the fourth side of the complex comprised the rear of four houses which were accessed by another entrance off Rathstewart, just beyond Sleaty Row.

I suspect, although I am open to correction, that the adjoining Sleaty Row cul-de-sac which consisted of eight houses on the right, a house at the end and six houses on the left was called the Gulch. The last mentioned six houses had rear yards, as did the house standing alone at the end of the cul-de-sac, but the other eight houses had no outside facilities.

It was as a young man in the early 1930’s that my friend remembered Sleaty Row, and that must have been before St. Joseph’s Terrace housing scheme was build in 1933/34. Indeed the records show that the new tenants of the houses in Lower St. Joseph’s Terrace and those in numbers 1 to 17 Upper St. Joseph’s Terrace received the keys to their new homes on the 2nd of March 1934. Several of the new tenants were re-housed from addresses in Rathstewart and many, if not all, were presumably tenants of Sleaty Row or the Gulch.

These former tenants of Rathstewart are mentioned in the Urban Council Minute Books as M. Keogh: W. Leonard: T. Alcock: James Neill: Patrick Neill: E. Rainsford: John Rainsford: M. Mulhall: C. Kelly: John Chanders: C. Dunne and Patrick Murphy. I suspect that the Council records may not always accurately record the correct names of the people involved as for instance in the case of James Neill and Patrick Neill who were in fact O’Neill. The others recorded in the Council records were Mick Keogh, Mrs. Leonard, Tommy Alcock (known as “Tut”), James otherwise Jim O’Neill, his son Paddy O’Neill, Eddie Rainsford, his brother Johnny Rainsford, “Hocker” Mulhall, “Messcock” Kelly, John Chanders, Christy Dunne and Patrick Murphy.

After writing the above I re-read an article I which wrote on Lower St. Joseph’s Terrace in the Eye on the Past series some five years ago and appended thereto was a note of a telephone call which I received afterwards from Mrs. Sheila Mulhall of Ballylinan, a daughter of “Hocker” Mulhall. She brought me up to date on some of the old residents of St. Joseph’s Terrace and in the course of that phone call I noted her as saying “Sleaty Row was the name of the area where Lower St. Joseph’s Terrace was built, while the Gulch was where the Urban District Council offices were put up”. So I had heard of Sleaty Row before last Sunday but quite obviously forgot about it. Now that I have identified with the aid of the Ordinance Survey map of 1873 three distinct types of houses at Rathstewart, I wonder to which of them the place-names Sleaty Row and the Gulch applied. Is it the six two-storey houses facing onto the street and adjoining St. Joseph’s boys school, or the courtyard just beyond, or the cul-de-sac beyond that again? Can anyone help me to positively identify the locations of the Gulch and Sleaty Row, as unfortunately the old town map does not give them these place-names.

While I’m at it, can I set another poser for the older generation. If travelling into Athy from a certain direction I would have to turn at “the Hand” to get onto the main road. Where was “the Hand”? I never heard of it until last Sunday when the wife of the good man who brought Sleaty Row to my attention mentioned how her mother always referred to a certain part of the town as “the Hand”. I’d like to hear from anyone who knows where it is.

The Chairman of Athy Urban District Council, Councilor Séan Cunnane, will launch the book “Athy Urban District Council - A brief overview of its first 100 years” in the Council Chamber on Thursday, 20th September at 7.30pm. The book is published as part of the centenary celebration of the Council and is by and large based on material culled from the Minute Books of the Council over the past 100 years. I understand that the Town Clerk, Tommy Maddock, who will shortly be resigning to take up a new position with Kildare County Council, is offering a glass of wine to anyone brave enough to come to the Book Launch. See you there.

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