I had intended this week to write of a young man from our town who was recently ordained to the Priesthood but the time and opportunity to do so has eluded me but I will return to this story in the near future. Instead I will pass onto other mundane matters in the not so recent past. In particular Dr. Kilbride who on the 3rd November 1906 reported to the Urban District Council on the sanitary condition of the “houses of the working classes” in Athy. He was now about to embark on his second social campaign to improve the lot of the people living in Athy. In his report he stated:
The floors in many houses are lower than the laneway in front and the fall of the yard is to the back door, consequently the floors are wet and sodden in rainy weather and frequently are flooded. In the yards are found underground drains choked in most cases and quite ineffective. In less than a dozen cases was there found any sanitary accommodation … in some rooms the only light admitted is through a few (sometimes only one) small pane of glass found in the wall, sufficient light or air cannot find entrance to these rooms … there are many houses in more than one lane that if the poor people had other houses to go to should be closed as unfit for human habitation in their present condition… there is no main sewer in the west end of the town beyond Keating’s Lane… the Order of the Council with regard to the removal of manure heaps is not in force. In some yards there were accumulations for the greater part of the year.
Having started on the Water Supply Scheme for Athy just one month previously, the Urban Councillors probably felt justified in leaving Dr. Kilbride’s report aside without taking any further action. Instead, the Council renewed its efforts to persuade the Inspector General of the R.I.C. to have the local police barracks restored to the centre of the town, as it was felt that the old military barracks at Barrack Lane, to which the R.I.C. were relocated, was too far away. Their efforts were in vain and the local police were to continue to occupy the military barracks until the end of the British rule in Ireland.
Dr. Kilbride’s concern for the public health of the townspeople was supported by Lady Weldon of Kilmoroney who was instrumental in the formation of an Athy Branch of the Women’s Health Association in November 1907. A Tuberculosis Committee was also formed and a series of health lectures organised for the Town Hall. In December 1907, a Tuberculosis Exhibition was held in the same hall at which members of the Tuberculosis Committee were on hand to explain the various exhibits to the general public who were summoned to attend by the local Bellman. On 24th July, 1908, Lady Aberdeen, the Viceroy’s wife, visited the town to formally launch the newly-established Womans National Health Association for Athy. The Leinster Street Band met her at the railway station and paraded to the Town Hall where Lady Aberdeen was presented with an address of welcome.
By 1909 the Urban Council was in a position to address the need for housing in the town and appointed a committee to recommend an appropriate scheme under the Housing of the Working Classes Act. This committee when it met on the 26th February split into two groups to select suitable sites for housing in the east urban and the west urban of Athy. Within a month sites had been selected and the Council agreed to build three different classes of houses to be let at rents ranging from 2/= to 3/6 per week. The selected sites were at Matthew’s Lane (off Leinster Street), Meeting Lane and Woodstock Street. Public advertisements for plans for suitable houses for Athy elicited ten submissions and James F. Reade, already well known in Athy as the architect of the Water Supply Scheme, won the five guineas prize for the best design.
Within twelve months the Councillors were re-thinking the original house plans and decided to build “eleven better class houses” on the Matthew’s Lane site, five, “better class houses” at Woodstock Street and five “labourers houses” at Meeting Lane. A public enquiry was held in the Town Hall on 15th February, 1911 under the auspices of J. F. MacCabe, a Local Government Inspector to consider the Council’s proposed compulsory acquisition of lands for housing in Athy. Following that enquiry, an advertisement was placed in the local newspapers inviting tenders for the construction of twenty one Council houses - ten at Matthew’s Lane, five at Meeting Lane and six at Kelly’s field off Woodstock Street. The successful tender was received from H.A. Hamilton of Thomas St., Waterford, but when it was not acted upon after the lapse of ten months Mr. Hamilton withdrew. The Council re-advertised on 26th June, 1912, but not before Michael Malone, Secretary of Athy’s Town Tenants League had written to the Town Council protesting against “its inactivity in relation to house building”. Within a month Dr. James Kilbride had resigned as medical officer on health grounds.
It would be remiss of me not to bring to your attention the Ernest Shackleton Autumn School which is to take place in the Town Hall, Athy over next weekend. The Shackleton story of Antarctic Exploration between 1901 and 1922 is known to most people and especially those who live in the Kilkea area where he was born 125 years ago. The Shackleton Autumn School is organised by the local Heritage Company to celebrate the achievements of a man who lived his early life within a few miles of Athy. The lecturers for the weekend Seminar are of an extremely high calibre and include Jonathan Shackleton a direct descendent of the Explorer, Dr. Robert Headland of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, Frank Nugent who was part of the team which re-enacted in 1997 the heroic voyage of the James Caird and Michael Smith the recent biographer of Tom Crean. I would urge everyone with an interest in the subject to come to all or some of the Lectures over the weekend.
As part of the weekend festivities, there will be a Concert in the Dominican Hall on Saturday, 27th October at 9.00 p.m. Liam O’Flynn and the Pipers Call Band will provide the musical entertainment and tickets can be obtained from the Heritage Centre or at the door on the night. However, early booking is advisable as this is the first Concert to be given by Liam O’Flynn in Athy and promises to be a sell out. Also entertaining those attending the Earnest Shackleton Summer School on Friday night will be Brian Hughes whose CD, “Whistle Stop” which issued some time ago by Gael Linn was a huge success. He is joining forces with Michael Delaney who will be singing some of the old forgotten ballads of Kilkea and South Kildare area which he has collected over the years.
See you there.