Thursday, July 26, 2001

Michael 'Icecream' Kavanagh

Strange are the coincidences which brought me face to face with the image of Charlie Doyle, a local worker on the railway, now long dead and which days later saw me enquiring about Mickey “Icecream” Kavanagh. Charlie’s image was captured in a photograph which graced the London home of Pat Aldridge and his wife Josie with whom I grew up in Offaly Street many years ago. Josie Murphy as she then was, lived directly opposite No. 5 Offaly Street in what was even then a small house next to Kehoe’s pub. The one time Murphy home was a few years ago made even smaller to allow the entrance to the pub yard to be widened. But I digress.

Charlie Doyle was married to Lizzie Morrin and they had two children, Paddy and Polly, the latter being the mother of the talented Murphy family who lived in Offaly Street up to the 1960’s. Charlie died following an accident on the railway and Lizzie remarried Danny Kavanagh and reared seven more children, all of whom are now dead. Danny Kavanagh was a brother of James Kavanagh, batman to Lieutenant John Vincent Holland during World War I and the man whom some locals claim won the Victoria Cross which however was awarded to Holland in 1916.

Three days after meeting Pat and Josie Aldridge in London and becoming acquainted for the first time with the story of their Kavanagh connections I had a caller to my office. Frank Kavanagh, whose father Michael had died earlier that day in Kilkenny at 87 years of age, was urgently seeking information on his father’s Athy background. For Michael Kavanagh was a native of Meeting Lane and lived and worked in Athy until he left for Kilkenny at 27 years of age as a member of the 39th Infantry Battalion in 1941. He married two years later and served as a member of the Fire Brigade staff in Kilkenny city for 37 years.

Frank who is employed in Kilkenny Castle knew something of his father’s background but was anxious to find out before the funeral service as much as possible about his father’s connections with Athy. A few phone calls and visits to St. Joseph’s Terrace and to St. Michael’s old cemetery unearthed details of Michael Kavanagh’s parents. They were Michael and Margaret Kavanagh of Meeting Lane who died in 1946 and 1928 respectively. Michael Senior worked in the Barrow Yard for the Board of Works. Buried with his parents was their son William, known locally as a talented artist and gifted cartoonist who died of TB in February 1943, aged 23 years.

But what of their eldest son named after his father Michael. Even though he left Athy 60 years ago he was still remembered by a number of the locals as “Micky Icecream”. For you see the young Michael Kavanagh worked as an icecream salesman for Tom Flood of Leinster Street whose icecream was a particular favourite with Athy children in the 1930’s. Mickey Kavanagh was employed to sell the icecream from an icebox mounted on a large tricycle. Always turned out in a white coat and cap his call of “icecream, icecream, anyone for icecream?” as he cycled around the town made him a popular figure. Thus was Michael Kavanagh remembered in Athy but he also had another name “Switzer” Kavanagh which one of my local informants could recall. This was a nickname he had before he went to live in Kilkenny and its the name by which he was commonly known in the Marble City.

Michael Kavanagh had a brother Jimmy who also left Athy to live in Kilkenny and there is mention of another brother Myles, about whom I have been unable to get any information. Certainly the name Myles was a well known name amongst the Kavanagh families in Athy over the years and many will remember “Queenie” Kavanagh’s son of that name who died some years ago. He was brother of Paddy, Peter, Eamon and Rose Kavanagh and they were cousins to Michael “Switzer” Kavanagh and like him once lived in Meeting Lane before moving to St. Joseph’s Terrace.

Frank Kavanagh was delighted to unearth some background details on his father’s family and I was left wondering at the strange coincidence which brought two strands of the Kavanagh family story together drawn from places as far apart as London and Kilkenny. For you see Michael “Switzer” Kavanagh was a cousin of the Danny Kavanagh who married Lizzie Doyle, widow of the man whose photograph I saw in London just days previously.

It is only when you visit Athy people living away from their own home that you realise the depth of affections which is held in people’s heart for their own place. Athy has not only been the easiest place in which to live and work over the years but no matter what difficulties were met those early experiences in our home town provide the touchstone against which all other experiences are measured and assessed. It is a place where once familiar since forgotten faces can help to recall mislaid memories of places and people. Such was my feeling when I saw photographs of Charlie Doyle and his daughter Polly who with her husband Paddy Murphy reared a family of eight in No. 24 Offaly Street all those years ago.

While I was away last week Catherine Bergin passed away, just a few weeks after her sister Brigid Bolger died. They were inseparable in life and so it proved also in death. I remember Brigid and Catherine when they lived in Leinster Street and while Brigid was working with I.V.I. Foundry Limited. The I.V.I. was a place of substantial employment for decades from the late 1920’s before it succumbed to market forces and competition in the 1980’s. Men reared families on the hard earned wage packets which were handed out at the I.V.I. each Friday afternoon. Working in the Foundry wasn’t easy but in the 1930’s and up to and including the 1950’s there were few other job opportunities in Athy. It’s no wonder that so many Athy men and women had to emigrate as did so many members of the different Kavanagh families who lived during the 1920’s and the 1930’s in Meeting Lane.

Josie Murphy and her near neighbour Mary Tuohy whom I had also hoped to meet last week are some of the emigrants of the 1960’s who have made their homes and reared their families on the far side of the Irish Sea. Some like Michael “Switzer” Kavanagh were fortunate to find employment in their own country, even if that employment was not to be had in their native town. The common thread linking the emigrant and the migrant of yesteryear is the place where they first saw the light of day and the place from where they set out on the journey of life, bringing with them the memories and mementos of a time that could never again be re-lived. For all its apparent obstinacy and persistent failure to keep pace with the advances of the Celtic Tiger those of us who live here and those who once lived here can still be proud of our home town.

Thursday, July 19, 2001

Athy 1670-1698

Athy in the 1670’s was apparently a distressful place in which to live as evidenced by Dalton in his History of Drogheda in which he wrote that two aldermen
“were appointed to receive the benevolence of the inhabitants of the town for the relief of those of Athy who had suffered greatly in the late wars, and the major and aldermen were empowered to add what they thought fit out of the town purse, to make the sum of value”.

After the first years of the Cromwellian plantation, the Irish and the descendants of Anglo Norman settlers began to move back into the towns and to regain some of their previous prominence. Alarmed at this development the Protestant settlers demanded new tougher measures to curtail the Catholics. Under the Test Act passed in 1673, Catholics were barred from all civil, judicial and military offices. In 1678 there arose the “Popish Plot” following which it was decided to banish all regular and secular clergy from Ireland by November 20th.

On 2nd December 1678 the Council of State wrote as follows to the Sovereign of Athy:-
“We have received information that on Sunday the 24th of November last there was a great concourse of people in and near Athy and there were about 1300 persons assembled there to hear Mass. We require you to inform yourself of the number so assembled and their condition and qualities and the names of some few of the principals”.

The Sovereign in his reply stated that only 300 persons were present, mostly parishioners, including Edmund Dunn, Priest, William Smith, Michael Smith, Richard Hoey and another member of the Corporation. It was further reported that the size of the congregation was due to the fear that Mass would become scarce “and so nobody would omit it while it was to be had”.

The Council wrote again on 9th December 1678:-
“We find by your letters of the 5th inst. an account of the late concourse of people in which letters you mention that you heard that the Parish Priest there hath displast priests and divided parishes thereabout. We require you to inform yourself of that matter and discover the names of the priests removed and the names of the priests who were put in their places and whether the Parish Priest hath any authority and from whom, upon all which you will make return to us”.

The Parish Priest referred to was in fact Dr. Mark Forrestal, Bishop of Kildare who was captured in February 1681 and imprisoned until his death in 1683.

As is evidenced by the clerical activity in Athy during November and December 1678, few clergy obeyed the order of banishment and on 4 April 1679 we find the Council writing to the Mayors and Sovereigns of all cities and towns:-
“We are informed that contrary to the Proclamation of 20 November 1678 great and unusual number of the Popish religion do meet and assemble themselves within divers of the cities and towns corporate of this Kingdom, to exercise their religion, we require you to take care that such meetings within the walls and liberties thereof be dispersed and dissolved and that you do not permit any popish services to be publicly celebrated within the said towns, cities or liberties or suburbs thereof.”

In 1680 James Geoghegan, a defrocked Franciscan was instructed to proceed to Ireland for the purpose of searching out priests. On December 12th of that year he came to the house of James FitzGerald of Maddenstown after arriving from Athy with a priest Thomas Archbold under arrest. Having enquired if FitzGerald would enter into bonds for the priest, Archbold was released on paying 32/6 to Geoghegan. It was also reported by the same FitzGerald that Geoghegan took a horse, with saddle and bridle on December 16th and sold them to a horseman in Athy for one guinea.

The Protestant settlers alarmed at the Catholic resurgence under Charles II were further alarmed by the accession of James II in 1685 and by his subsequent appointment of the Catholic Richard Talbot in charge of Ireland. That year witnessed an exodus of Protestant merchants from Ireland in the face of the readmission of Catholics into military and judicial office. Cities and towns were required to surrender their charters and accept new ones granted by the King under which Catholics were not to be excluded. Athy was granted a new charter by James II on 4 July 1688, which owing to subsequent events was never acted upon.

The result of King James’ attempt to bring the Catholics back into positions of power culminated in the Battle of the Boyne, after which Protestant rule of a Catholic majority was assured. The position of the Protestant minority was reinforced by the application of an English Act of 1691 which required members of both houses of the Irish Parliament to subscribe to a declaration against Catholic doctrine. The Parliament summoned for 1692 in which Athy Borough was represented by Richard Locke and Raphael Hunt, pressed for measures against the Catholics. So began the penal laws which were to remain in force for many years to the detriment of the native Catholics.

One of the first victims in the Athy area was the Titular Archbishop of Dublin Dr. Patrick Russell who with two priests sought refuge in a cave near Ardreigh in 1692. It is said that their hiding place was known only to a man named Bailey and his immediate family, all members of the established church, but who nevertheless daily supplied the fugitives with food and drink. A Catholic servant woman named Devoy was entrusted to carry provisions to the cave. Questioned by the Authorities she was induced to pinpoint the hiding place which she did by leaving a trail of seed in her wake on her next visit to the cave. When she had returned to her masters house the Authorities had no difficulty in arresting the Archbishop and his companions. Sent as a prisoner to Dublin Bishop Russell appears to have suffered the ultimate penalty as his Bishopric was vacant within 6 months.

Local tradition translates the story to Derryvullagh Bog where a small piece of arable land in the middle of the bog approached only by a narrow path is supposed to be the place where Dominican Fathers from Athy Friary hid from Cromwells soldiers. A local man who supplied the soldiers with flour, marked the pathway to the Friars hiding place with flour. Captured by the soldiers the priests, according to tradition, were executed.

In 1697 the Irish Parliament passed an act banishing all “papists exercising any ecclesiastical jurisdiction and all regulars of the popish clergy” from Ireland before 1 May 1698. Punishment for failure to leave was imprisonment and transportation. Persons sheltering priests were liable to a £20 fine for the first offence, £40 for the second offence and liable to forfeit their entire property for a third offence. The second dissolution of the Dominican Monastery in Athy dates from this time, and a further 30 years were to pass before the Dominicans returned to Athy. Official reports furnished to Rome in 1736 indicated that all Dominican houses except Naas, Aghaboe and Youghal had priors, thereby indicating the revival of the Athy monastery sometime after 1730 when the state of Popery Returns show no friars for Athy.

Thursday, July 12, 2001

Extracts from Minute Books - Athy U.D.C. Contd.

This week we continue with some extracts from the Minute Books of Athy Urban District Council during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

5TH MAY, 1930
A new lighting system came into operation in Athy in September 1930. It consisted of fifty 200 watt lamps, ten of which were pilot lamps. The pilot lamps were lit from dusk to dawn, the remaining lamps one hour after sunset to midnight. The total cost for the year was estimated to be £170.00.

The Urban District Council agreed that in future the poor people of Athy would be allowed to have graves opened at their own expense under the supervision of the Cemetery Caretaker, Mr. P. Hyland.

Reference was made to the fatal accident at St. Michael’s Cemetery on 25th September when Mr. B. Bolger died. The local Councillors agreed that a railing should be erected on the wall where the accident occurred.

21ST MARCH, 1932
The Duke of Leinster’s Agent offered a room adjoining the Leinster Estate Office in the Town Hall to be used as a local library at a rent of £1.00 per year.

Miss M. Gibbons, Local Librarian was allowed to open the Library on Tuesday nights instead of Thursday nights as practice dances were being held in the Town Hall on Thursdays.

A special meeting of Athy Urban District Council was held to meet a deputation from the local St. Vincent de Paul Society to discuss the distress prevailing amongst the poor of Athy caused by the bad weather. The Vincent de Paul Society was represented by T.J. Brennan, D. Carbery and Fintan Brennan. It was agreed to set up a Distress Committee consisting of the members of the Urban District Council and representatives of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The Town Clerk and Fintan Brennan were appointed Secretaries to the Committee.

6TH MAY, 1935
The Urban District Council passed a Motion proposed by J.C. Reynolds and seconded by Tom Carbery “that the Council consider the construction of a Swimming Pool and sanction preliminary expenses not exceeding £5.00 to have plans prepared and estimates of costs made with a view to applying for a Grant for same.”

18TH MAY, 1936
It was reported to the Urban District Council that John Farrell “one of the Councils oldest workmen” was unable to resume work due to illness. He had over forty years service and the Council agreed to write to the Department of Local Government seeking for approval to pay him a small gratuity. The Department subsequently replied that there was no statutory basis for any such payment.

Mr. L. Doyle sought the Urban Council’s support for a request to the proprietor of the local cinema for a free night show to provide boots for the poor children of Athy.

In 1936 a Council tenant in the newly built Dooley’s Terrace Scheme came to the Council to get permission to change his house for a house in “one of the condemned areas”. The tenant was in arrears with his rent and he was given two weeks to find someone who was willing to exchange houses with him and to pay the outstanding arrears. At the same time a tenant from St. Joseph’s Terrace who was also in arrears with his rent wrote to the Council informing it that he was going to England to seek employment and would pay off his rent arrears as soon as possible. This was accepted by the Urban Council.

31ST MAY, 1937
The Urban District Council presented an address of welcome to Sean Lemass, Minister for Industry and Commerce on the occasion of his visit to the town to officially open the Asbestos factory on 31st May, 1937.

5TH AUGUST, 1937
Athy Urban District Council agreed to give a yearly grant of £50.00 to the Athy District Nursing Fund for the part time services of a nurse for infant welfare, half of the amount to be recouped from the Central Fund.

18TH MARCH, 1942
At the Council meeting on 18th March, 1942 reference was made to a fire at Levitstown Mill on the previous Saturday night at 10.30 p.m. A quantity of petrol on reserve plus thirty eight gallons supplied by Mr. Minch were used in the fire fighting operations which lasted intermittently from Saturday night until Tuesday morning. On Monday and Tuesday mornings the Fire Brigade were called out again to deal with small outbreaks of fire from the smouldering material in the Mill. Three extra men were taken on to fight the fire. All firemen were paid at the rate of three shillings per hour. It was agreed that all the costs in connection with the fire fighting operation were to be recouped from Messrs Minch Norton & Company.

On the proposal of Tom Carbery it was agreed to recommend to the County Manager that in the next Cinema Licence issued by the Council a condition be inserted prohibiting the admittance of persons under sixteen years of age at any cinema performance terminating later than 8.00 p.m.

4TH MARCH, 1946
At a meeting attended by Garda Sergeant Duggan the Council agreed to ask the Minister for Local Government to have a fifteen mile per hour speed limit in the town of Athy. It was also agreed to have car parks in Blanchfield’s Square in Leinster Street, Woodstock Street, Emily Square and Brogan’s Square in Duke Street.

2ND MARCH, 1947
A public meeting was held in the Town Hall on Sunday, 2nd March, 1947 under the auspices of the Urban Council to form a local committee to provide fuel for the poor of Athy. M.G. Nolan and Liam Ryan were appointed to interview Mr. Myles Whelan of Fortbarrington and T.G. Dowling and M. McHugh were asked to interview Miss Geoghegan of Bert House in order to procure sufficient trees for use as firewood.

1ST MARCH, 1948
McNally Cinemas Limited of Dublin wrote to the Council confirming that it was their intention to build a cinema on the Bridge Mill site as soon as legal and other difficulties were overcome.

At it’s meeting on 4th November, 1948 the Council members referred to the tragic drowning of James Bracken during the week and to the gallant efforts of James Dargan of Offaly Street to avert the tragedy.

Someone phoned me following last weeks article asking whatever happened to the Council’s resolution of July 1920 to change the street names of the town for which purpose a committee of the Council was appointed. I’m afraid the Mminute book does not indicate that anything was done with regard to changing the street names. The issue, so far as I’m aware, has not come up since in the Council Chamber. William Duke of Leinster need not be disturbed at the thought that his name might be removed from our principal streets.

Thursday, July 5, 2001

Extracts from Minute Books - Athy U.D.C.

A centenary booklet to celebrate 100 years of Athy Urban District Council has just gone to the printers and the following material culled from the Minute Books of the Council for inclusion in the Booklet give an interesting insight into the happenings in Athy during the last two decades of the 20th century.

The Council extended congratulations to Patrick Brien of Canalside who saved three children from drowning in the River Barrow at the Horse Bridge on 15th November, 1902.

MARCH 1904
The School Attendance Committee of the Urban Council reported in March 1904 that the average number on rolls in the local Christian Brothers School in 1901 was 291, with an average attendance of 191. The figures for 1904 were 298 and 233. In the Convent Schools the numbers on the rolls in 1901 was 493 with an average attendance of 283 pupils. Three years later the number on the rolls averaged 438, with an average attendance of 207. The 1901 figures for the Model School averaged 62.4 on rolls with average attendance of 42.5 and in 1904 68.4 average on rolls, with an average attendance of 48.

6TH MARCH 1905
The Council Resolved :-
“That in order to constitute St. Patrick’s Day a General Holiday the Urban Council appeals to all the traders of the town to close their houses on that day.”

It was also agreed that posters to this effect be posted throughout the town as they had been done the previous year.

APRIL 1907
In a letter dated 15th April, 1907 James Duthie, Secretary of the Volunteer Fire Brigade for Athy, indicated that it’s membership was 27 which it was hoped to increase to 37. The Urban Council approved the use of the Fire Brigade engine by the newly formed Volunteer Fire Brigade Group.

It was reported to the Council on 23rd December, 1907 that there were eighteen T.B. cases in the Workhouse and five deaths from T.B. in the town since 12th November. The recently formed Tuberculosis Committee urged the Urban Council to adhere to Dr. Lumsden’s appeal for “dry cleaned drained yards, dry floors, water tight roofs and large windows made to open up and down” in the houses of the poor.

MAY 1908
On 18th May, 1908 the Council agreed that the workmen in the employment of the Council be granted an early leave off at 4.00 o’clock p.m. on every Saturday for the following six months on a trial basis.

16TH JUNE, 1909
The following Resolution was passed by the Urban Council :-
“That the Secretary of the Athy Hurling and Football Club be granted permission to place the necessary number of posts on the Gallowshill Road footpath at the entrance gates of the Showgrounds in connection with the All Ireland Hurling Match between Dublin and Tipperary to be played at Athy on 27th June, 1909. The posts to be removed immediately after the match and the footpath left to the satisfaction of the Town Surveyor. The Football Club to be responsible should any accidents occur.”

2ND MAY, 1910
The Urban Council resolved :-
“That the Irish Automobile Club be requested to have warning posts erected at the main entrances to the town cautioning motorists to drive slowly through the town at a speed not to exceed seven miles per hour.”

The Council noted that on 7th November, 1910 there were twenty-one cow keepers in the town of Athy and two retailers of milk.

1ST MAY, 1912
The Shops Act of 1911 came into operation on 1st May, 1912 under which shop assistants were entitled to a weekly half day holiday. The local traders were balloted by Athy Urban District Council to find out whether :-

1. They were in favour of a half day holiday in the town.
2. If so, whether it should be on Monday or Thursday.

A majority of the local traders opted for the half day holiday on Thursday of each week. The results of the plebiscite showed that 36 publicans, 31 grocers, 16 drapers, 4 hardware merchants, 6 butchers, 3 watchmakers, 2 chemists and 2 hairdressers voted. Interestingly enough this was the second plebiscite held by the Urban District Council within a period of ten years. Following a subsequent request submitted on behalf of 12 local drapers the Council agreed to delay the early closing on Thursdays from 1.00pm to 2.00pm.

21ST JULY, 1913
Lord Frederick Fitzgerald agreed to install a new floor in the Town Hall provided Councillor Michael Malone who originally sought this improvement would give a ball at the opening of the hall. Malone in a letter of 21st July, 1913 declined in favour of the Urban District Council Chairman Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill wrote:-
“In selecting me for the honour of opening the much extended and renovated Town Hall with a ball, his Lordship, not being living amongst us could scarcely be expected to fully understand the storm of resentment which would be evinced by other members of the Council towards myself at being the recipient of such an honour, a storm before which I would have to bow my head.”

28TH MAY, 1914
Urban Council workman James Chanders of Rathstewart, stone breaker, employed at the Gallowshill Gravel Pit, was killed on 28th May, 1914 by a 13ft. high bank falling on him.

21ST JUNE 1915
The Council ordered that a “role of honour” be compiled of the soldiers who had gone to the War from Athy Urban District and also a list of the men who had been killed or wounded and that the Central Recruiting Council in Dublin and the local Recruiting Officer be asked to help in the matter and to supply the necessary forms.

Athy Urban District Council resolved :-
“That the action of Mr. T. Hickey J.P., the representative of the Council on the Technical Committee in imposing a fine at the last Petty Sessions on the Teacher of Irish Language in the Technical School for signing his name in Irish be condemned and that Mr. Hickey be called upon to tender his resignation to the Council as their representative on the Technical Committee.”

The Urban Council workmen were unionised after the first World War and on the application of the Transport Workers Union in February 1919 their wages were increased. The workmen worked 52 hours a week in summer and 47 hours a week in winter for a wage of 33 shillings per week. This had been increased from 27/6 per week.

19TH JULY 1920
The Urban Council resolved :-
“That the names of the town’s streets be changed and a Committee consisting of the whole Council be appointed to go into the matter, the question to be placed especially on the Agenda for the next meeting.”

The Council meeting of 1st November, 1920 was adjourned as a mark of respect for the late Lord Mayor of Cork and also “to mark our horror and indignation at the sentence passed on the youth Kevin Barry, ruthlessly carried out this morning.”

The centenary booklet which will give a brief overview of the first 100 years of Athy’s Urban District Council will hopefully be available in late September. More about that again.