Reading newspaper accounts of life in Athy in years gone by can be both informative and interesting. For instance the following extract from the Kildare Observer of Saturday, 20th February 1886 paints a different picture of Irish provincial life than that which we normally associate with the Land League years of the time.
“Athy Borough Court was held on Saturday by Mr. Michael Lawler J.P., the town magistrate. The cases on the books numbered 39 and were composed principally of charges involving drunkenness, amateur public musicians and snowballers. The courthouse was thronged by a select audience who seemed deeply impressed by the words of wisdom which poured from his worships lips. Sergeant Breslin charged Michael Keogh of snowballing on the public streets on the 25th of February, he was fined 1 penny and costs and Charlie Roberts was charged with snowballing on the 26th, he was also fined 1 penny and costs. Thomas Coleman was charged of being disorderly in the public street. It appeared that he with others followed another young man on the same day who was playing a melodeon through the streets between 9 and 10 on the night of the 7th varying the music by occasional shouting. He was fined 3 pence and costs. Michael Dandy was charged with snowballing throwing but the case against him was struck out when it was mentioned that his mother was seriously ill.”
The same newspaper carried a report of a difference of opinion at a meeting of Athy National League regarding an application for admission to the branch. Michael Kelly was proposed for membership but he was objected to on the grounds that he was a “land grabber”. Apparently Kelly had taken lands from the Duke of Leinster under the terms of the much disputed Leinster Lease and so upset his neighbours who were in dispute with the Duke. What is of perhaps the greater interest is that the land in question had up to 1878 been in the possession of Miss Goold. She was the lady who with Patrick Maher of Kilrush proved to be the most generous benefactors of the Catholic Church in Athy. I have tried for some considerable time to get some background information on Miss Goold or Gould as her name was sometimes spelt but so far without any success. Does anyone have any information on her?
During the year I had occasion to visit the remains of Kilmoroney House and passed on the way up to the former home of the Weldon family a large field which I was informed was “the race course”. Was this I wonder the site of the Dunbrin Races which were held for a number of years towards the latter end of the 19th century. The following report in the Kildare Observer of Saturday, 20th March 1886 gives an account of what I believe was the Dunbrin Races.
“Athy Steeple Chases Thursday - Very disagreeable weather was associated with Athy meeting on Thursday but despite the fact that the adverse atmospherical surroundings must have to some extent interfered with the prospects of the reunion taken on the whole it must be put down as a great success. The special which left the Kingsbridge at 10.30am was fairly well patronised and with country folk turning out in large numbers the attendance was up to a capital average and we must add to this that the sport proved quiet as interesting as the dimensions of the card suggested would be the case, it is unnecessary to say that nothing but fine weather was wanted to make the affair a thorough success. The change in the position of the stand etc. was voted and decided an improvement. Owning to the big field we were somewhat behind at the finish but this was no fault of Mr. Brindley’s who got through a heavy days work with all possible expedition. As usual Mr. James Dunne gave every satisfaction in the starting department so that no hitch tended to mar the pleasure of the sport. The races were a Pony plate of £21, Farmers race of £21, Athy plate of £45 Subscribers plate of £30, The Dunbrin plate of £25, the Railway plate of £21.”
A report in the same newspaper of Saturday, 4th September 1886 may be evidence of the formation of the first GAA Club in Athy. The reference is to an Amateur Athletic Association which could well be an athletic club rather than the football club so further research in the matter will be required. The report read :-
“The Athy Amateur Athletic Association is to be formed and the names of about 30 members were enrolled at a recent meeting, the annual subscription to be 2/6 each. Messrs. Long and Black were appointed honorary secretaries pro temp. Several gentlemen were appointed as a deputation to source subscriptions from the people of the town and neighbourhood in aid of the proposed sport and the meeting adjourned to Thursday night when the matter will be further discussed and the committee and officers appointed. On Thursday evening a further meeting was held at the Town Hall, Athy when it was decided that owing to the lateness of the season the proposed sport will not be held this year.”
There was quite a lot of sporting activity in Athy during the 1880’s. Apart from the Steeplechase Race and the newly formed Amateur Athletic Association the Kildare Observer carried reports of a meeting of Athy Football Club and the local Boat Club. The Football Club was Athy’s Rugby Club whose captain was Anthony Reeves. The Boat Club was a newly constituted Club of which R.T. Lefroy was captain and it had an initial membership of over 50 men. The Athy Rugby Club team which lined out against the Great Southern and Western Railway Team in 1886 was G.F. Black, A. Pennycook, A. Reeves, A. Beveridge, P. Lennon, J. Brown, T. Whelan, M. Whelan, J. Deevy, R. Clandillon, J. Long, H.M. Kan, E. Hinkley, M. Traylor and J. Doyle.
Handball was then a very popular sport in Athy and the Kildare Observer carried a report of a challenge match played at Athy Ballcourt between local player John Delaney and Thomas Cleary of Carlow. Apparently both players were to play games on a home and away basis and Delaney easily won all ten games on his home ground. The proprietor of the Carlow Ballcourt refused to allow Cleary to complete the match in Carlow owing to the heavy beating he got in Athy and consequently Delaney was declared the winner. Such handball matches were played for money and the players were heavily backed by their supporters who were prepared to wager on every aspect of the game. Handball was a gamblers mecca and occupied the part now played in todays society by horseracing.
A letter printed in the local newspapers of 20th November 1886 will strike a chord with those who today still trumpet despair more loudly than they should.
What may I ask has become of the movement to promote Irish manufacture? I fear there is a great agitation for its encouragement about which we heard so much a few years ago has ended in nothing more substantial than smoke. At present you may see in most of the patriotic drapers shops in Athy made up suits of English shoddy which I regret to say is patronised while tailors (second to none) have not enough to do and while excellent tweeds etc. of Irish manufacture may have procured at the very lowest prices. No wonder indeed that this and other towns should be decaying swiftly while local artisans and labourers are thus ignored.”
I finish this week with an account of amateur theatricals in Athy in November 1886 which was reported under the heading “Athy Amateur Negro Minstrels”.
“This troop of amateurs appeared in the Town Hall on Monday and Tuesday last, were very well patronised. The performance on Monday night consisted of a choice selection of music, witty conundrums and Negro sayings in which Mr. Woods as “Tambo” and Roberts as “Bones” proved themselves amateurs of the first water. The performance of Mr. Gibney on the violin and glassettes was capital and received well merited applause, but the stump speech of Mr. John Coleman was the great event of the evening and convults the house with laughter. The dancing of Mr. Kelly was admirable. The performance concluded with the laughable farce of the “Vulcan Van or Black Justice” in which Messrs. McDonald, Woods, Campbell, Heart, Roberts and May acquitted themselves in the manner that evoked loud applause.”
Athy of the 1880’s seemed a very interesting place!