Thursday, November 28, 2002

Christmas Shopping in Athy - 1900

I was going through some old papers during the past week and came across the following article which appeared in the Nationalist just before Christmas 1900. How many of the shopkeepers mentioned have you previously heard of or can you pinpoint where their businesses were located.

The question that has often been asked, whether the old customs, so closely associated with Christmastide, are visibly declining receives a forcible illustration in the affirmative by the want of decoration of the shop windows at the present time. Years ago it was considered an act almost of infidelity to neglect to tastefully arrange the windows of your business establishment, but with modern shopkeepers the question has resolved itself into the eminently practical one whether it pays or not to go to the trouble of giving a cheerful look to the establishment over which he presides. We have much to be thankful for in Athy that this vandalism has made so little progress, and that a good many of our business men have this Christmas given an appearance to their shop windows in consonance with the spirit of the joyful season. We propose to give a short account of the Christmas shopping in Athy which, though meagre in details, may not yet prove uninteresting as regards the capability of our local merchants to provide for their numerous clientele. First on the list comes the great furnishing and general drapery house of Messrs Duncan & Co. which maintains the position it has long upheld of being one of the finest provincial houses in the trade. Here can be seen a splendid display of stock of all kinds suitable for this season. The windows of the large establishments of this well-known firm are artistically decorated, one with all kinds of furniture necessary for modern comfort, another with every class of drapery, and a third with a splendid stock of foot gear. They would well repay a visit. Every class of person is adequately catered for, and the children particularly will be delighted with the splendid stock of Christmas toys, etc. Mr. Michael Murphy’s extensive and well managed establishment as usual makes a successful bid for the patronage it so highly deserves. Turning to the general grocery business, it is unnecessary to do anything further than to refer to such well known establishments as those of Messrs S.J. Glynn, J.P. Whelan, Myles Whelan, William Kealy, T.J. Whelan, Stephen O’Brien, etc., which are all well stocked with a splendid selection of suitable Christmas goods. Mr. Tom Hickey, as usual, caters for an extensive circle of customers. Messrs Duthie, Large, and Co., who are and have been doing a big business in the foundry and iron works trade, have on stock a great variety of every class of agricultural implements. We commend our readers to the advertisement which appears in this issue. Mr. J.J. Byrne has also on hands all classes of machinery and agricultural implements which would well repay inspection by the farming community. Mr. T. Murphy is showing a splendid selection of Christmas goods, and Mr. Coote’s establishment would also well be worthy of a visit from all who desire to purchase the best articles at the most economical cost. Mr. W.W. Baldwin has in stock a very fine selection, and maintains the high standard he has always reached for the supply of the best articles in the drapery line. Turning to the stationery, we notice that the following establishments are well stocked with Christmas goods: Mrs. Noud, Miss James, Miss Stafford, and Mrs. Watts. Mr. T. Murphy, who has recently opened, is doing an excellent business in the grocery line; and the same may be prospectively affirmed of Mr. E.T. Mulhall when he gets the fine old premises belonging to the late Mr. Michael Lawler into working order. Mr. T.J. Brennan’s establishment is also well stocked and would well repay a visit as customers may rely on getting good value from the enterprising proprietor.”

Insofar as I can see the only business mentioned which is still trading is that of O’Brien’s of Emily Square. The present proprietor Frank O’Brien carries on a long family tradition and his is now the oldest continuously operated business house in the town of Athy.

I am intrigued and have been for some time about the possible connections between E.T. Mulhall and the man of the same name who established a Solicitors practice in Athy during the 19th century. Was the Solicitor I wonder the same man who with his brother Michael George Mulhall founded “The Standard” which was South America’s first daily newspaper in English. The year was 1861 and the Mulhall brothers had recently arrived in Argentina from Ireland. Edward had been a professor of English in Carlow College and Edward Thomas was I believe the man who had previously set up a legal practice in Athy. What connection had they with E.T. Mulhall who according to the Nationalist of 1900 was getting “the fine old premises belonging to the late Mr. Michael Lawler into working order.”

Another query this week centers around a disturbance at a Fine Gael meeting at Athy on 24th June 1934. This was during the Blueshirt period of Irish politics and I am anxious to get some information about what happened in Athy on that June day. The Blueshirts originated with the founding of the Army Comrades Association in February 1932 and within five months it was transformed into the National Guard with Eoin O’Duffy, the recently sacked Commissioner of the Garda Siochana, at its head. Within a month the De Valera led government had banned the National Guard and it was replaced by the Young Ireland Association, again led by Eoin O’Duffy. The new association was also banned but in its place was formed the League of Youth which continued under O’Duffy’s leadership until he was replaced by E.J. Cronin. These organisations were formed ostensibly to ensure free speech at political rallies throughout the country, although as events proved it was only at the Cumann na nGaedhall meetings that they assembled uniformed in blue shirts and in military style. It was an interesting period in our history and I have been researching for some time the activity of the Blueshirts in South Kildare. I would like to hear from anyone who can give me any information or who can share with me any photographs or documents relating to that period.

Finally I got a phone call during the week from a man who asked me if I had ever heard of a place in Athy called “the asses gallop”. As it so happens I had and was able to tell him where it was. It strikes me that not many people will have heard of “the asses gallop” and so I pose the question - where is it and how did it get its name?

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