Thursday, August 29, 2002

Athy U.D.C. Now Athy Town Council

The change was made imperceptibly and without fuss or fanfare. It wasn’t just a change of name but it was the name change highlighted on headed notepaper received in correspondence some days later which alerted me to what had happened. It was the first time that illustrious body had changed its name since it was set up in 1898, but even then it had been superimposed on an institution with a history stretching back to the 16th century.

I am referring to Athy Town Council which up to December 31st last was known as Athy Urban District Council but which at midnight that night changed its name. The links with the 16th century are very real as it was Henry VIII, who so far as we can ascertain, granted the first charter to the village of Athy, thereby constituting it a borough. There is the possibility that a previous charter had been in place but research to date has not unearthed any evidence of it.

The charter of 1515 was granted by the English King to the village founded by Anglo Norman’s in the 12th century and peopled by settlers from the English mainland. It established the office of Town Provost, who had overall charge of the town’s affairs and who was elected each year by the Burgesses of the town on the Feast of St. Michael. His modern equivalent would be town Mayor. However, Mayors today share power and authority with administrators and consequently wield less power than their medieval predecessors.

In addition to the Office of Town Provost, Henry VIII’s charter established a borough council comprised of 12 burgesses who were to be elected by the freemen of the village of Athy. In time the appointment of the burgesses of the town was exercised by the head of the House of Leinster, by what authority, if any, we cannot say. The Earl of Kildare whose successor was later to be elevated to the Dukedom of Leinster thereafter nominated his own friends as burgesses of the market town. This situation continued even when the new Charter granted to Athy in 1613 under which a town Sovereign was elected each year to take charge of the town’s affairs. The Borough Council continued in place with powers similar to those provided under the earlier charter.

Athy Borough Council, an unelected body, consisting of members who were by and large non-residents of the town with no apparent proprietary interest in south Kildare continued in existence until the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1840. Up to 1800 Athy Borough Council returned two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. It was not however active in improving the infrastructure of a town whose population had increased to almost 5,000 by the early decades of the 19th century. The undemocratic nature of the Borough Councils such as Athy and their failure to make proper provision for the development of urban areas signaled the need for the reform of Local Government in Ireland. This culminated in the Municipal Corporations Act, 1840 when a large number of Borough Councils, including Athy, were abolished.

For a short time Athy was without any form of municipal government but in the mid 1840’s the people of the town petitioned the Dublin authorities for Athy to be granted Town Commission status. When granted it lead to the first municipal elections for public representatives on the new body which was named Athy Town Commission. The previous office of Town Sovereign which had replaced the earlier Town Provost was itself replaced by the Office of Chairman of the Town Commissioners. The Commissioners who were elected at regular intervals thereafter set about their task of improving the paving, lighting and cleaning of the streets of the town. With the limited powers available to them the Commissioners continued to develop the towns facilities over the following 60 years. The passing of the Local Government Act, 1898 put County Local Government on a representative basis and at the same time gave Town Commissioners the right to be reconstituted as Urban District Councils.

On 14th November of that year Athy Town Commissioners agreed to submit a petition to the Local Government Board to separate the town of Athy from the rural district and to constitute it an urban district. For some unexplained reason the petition was not submitted and a further petition agreed by the Town Commissioners in February 1899 was sent forward following which a public enquiry was held in the town hall. As a result of this enquiry Athy was constituted an Urban District Council with effect from 1st April, 1900. This was the third time in the form of local government for the town was changed since Henry VIII’s charter of 1515. It would not be the last.

The next 100 years witnessed the most active period in the development of public services in the town under the mandate of the Urban District Council. The Slum Clearance Programme of the 1930’s initiated under the housing programmes of the first De Valera led government together with the provision of a piped water supply system in the second decade of the 20th century were the highlights of the Council’s successes over the years. During the periods when the town was governed by a Borough Council, Town Commissioner or Urban District Council, the chief administrator of the town was the Town Clerk. Initially a part-time job it later required the services of a full-time official who was based in the municipal offices in the Town Hall. The Clerk of the Urban District Council was appointed by the members of the Council on the recommendation of the Local Appointments Commission and as such was an officer of the Council. However, under recent changes in the Local Government structure the recruitment of personnel for the town of Athy is now centralised to Kildare County Council and the Town Clerk of Athy is employed directly by that Council. Athy Urban District Council has also had its title changed to Athy Town Council.

As successors to the Borough Council, the Town Commissioners and the Urban District Council, Athy Town Council continues to serve the local people, even if the changes heralded with the change of name confirm that the roles of town councils are to be reduced in the drive to centralise Local Government in this country.

The photo exhibition presently in the Heritage Centre is to be augmented for the Christian Brothers Class Re-union scheduled for the weekend of 20th September. Photographs relating to Athy and school groups during the 1940’s and later will be on display. The Heritage Centre would like to hear from anyone who has any photographs which could be lent for the period of the exhibition. All photographs will be returned to the owners at the end of September when the exhibition closes. If you have any suitable material for display please contact Margaret O’Riordan at (0507) 33075.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Pamela - Lady Fitzgerald

Thames Ditton. A strange name isn’t it? It was my latest port of call in the continuing quest for links with the history of Athy. I arrived in Thames Ditton after a long and somewhat bewildering drive through the spaghetti-like streets which criss-crossed London’s suburbia before exiting into the countryside around Hampton Court Palace. This one time home to Wolsey and King Henry VIII is but a few miles from Thames Ditton to where I travelled to locate the grave of Pamela, wife of Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

Every Irish schoolboy has heard of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. There is almost a Che Cuevara quality to the aristocrat who turned his back on privilege and status to align himself with the revolutionaries of 1798. Lord Edward represented the borough of Athy as a Member of Parliament on the nomination of his brother William the 2nd Duke of Leinster in 1783. Incidentally William Duke of Leinster is the man whose name is recalled in the principal street names of our town which are named William Street, Duke Street and Leinster Street in his honour. Lord Edward who was a younger brother of the Duke was himself well known in the town of Athy having succeeded to a family estate at Kilrush. He also stayed on a few occasions at Leinster Lodge on the outskirts of the town. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was and remains to this day not only an important name in Irish history but also important and relevant in the history of Athy.

In 1792 he married the 19 year old Pamela who is believed to have been the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Orleans by Madam de Genlies, a French Countess. Lord Edward and Pamela had three children, a son called Edward and two daughters, Pamela and Lucy. They lived for a time in France and in the years immediately prior to the 1798 Rebellion at Kildare Lodge, Kildare town and also for different periods at Leinster House, Dublin, Castletown and Carton. In April 1798 Lord Edward was appointed Lieutenant General and Commander and Chief of the United Irishmen. This followed the arrest of most of the Leinster Directory of the United Irishmen in Oliver Bond’s house in Dublin the previous month. Lord Edward went into hiding using a number of different houses including that of James Moore, a merchant of 119 Thomas Street, Dublin. Moore’s wife was a native of Athy and their house was used for at least one meeting between Lord Edward and a number of United Irishmen from the town of Athy shortly before the planned uprising. Lord Edward escaped arrest while passing from Thomas Street to Usher’s Quay with his body guards on the night of 17th May but within two days his fate was decided. He had earlier moved from Moore’s house to 153 Thomas Street and was in bed after dinner when Major Sirr accompanied by a number of soldiers entered his bedroom. In the ensuing struggle Fitzgerald was wounded and he was to die of his wounds while in prison on 4th June.

Lady Pamela Fitzgerald and her three children were forced to flee the country and following the attainder of the Fitzgerald estates by the Crown his family was effectively pauperised. Now commenced an unsettling and unhappy period for Lady Pamela which would last for most of her remaining life. She arrived at Thames Ditton where Lord Edward’s brother, Lord Henry Fitzgerald and his sister Lady Sophia Fitzgerald were living. Lady Pamela’s third child Lucy was but one month old at the time. Suspected of involvement with the United Irishmen Pamela was not allowed to stay in England and she left for Hamburg leaving her youngest child with Lady Sophie Fitzgerald and her only son with the Duchess of Leinster. With her on the journey to Hamburg she took her second child and namesake Pamela. Within two years Lady Pamela married John Pitcairn, the American Counsel in Hamburg. The marriage was an unhappy one and while she had another son and daughter her husband refused to pay for the education of Lord Edward’s eldest daughter Pamela, claiming that it was the responsibility of the Fitzgerald family. Disillusioned Lady Pamela and her young daughter left for France where she hoped to petition Napoleon for a pension but her husband on hearing of this refused to allow her to return to Hamburg.

After spending some time in Vienna Lady Pamela Fitzgerald returned to France where she would spend the rest of her life. Following the banishment of Napoleon to Elba in 1814 Louis XIV, brother of the guillotined King of France was crowned King and the Duke of Orleans arranged for a pension to be paid to Lord Edward’s widow. Her last years were more comfortable than those which had gone before but she suffered the loss of her youngest daughter Lucy who died in 1826. Lady Pamela herself died in 1834 aged 58 years while staying at the Hotel de Danube in Paris.

In November 1857 Richard Madden, author of “United Irishmen Their Lives and Times” visited Montmatre Cemetery in Paris to trace the last resting place of Lady Pamela Fitzgerald. After a long search her headstone was found. It consisted of a slab of white marble with an inscription, inserted into a headstone which had sunk below the level of the adjoining graves. Madden arranged for it to be raised to its original height, the inscription re-cut and the headstone otherwise repaired. In 1880 J.P. Leonard, an Irishman living in Paris contacted Pamela Fitzgerald’s grandson who was living in Thames Ditton to alert him to a proposal to build a road through the Montmatre Cemetery. The remains of Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s widow were exhumed and transferred to England where they were re-interred in the Churchyard of Thames Ditton Parish Church. A marble slab inset into the headstone at Thames Ditton reads “Lady Edward Fitzgerald’s remains were removed from Paris by J.P. Leonard Esq. and interred here the 21st of August, 1880 by her grandchildren. The above stone was on her tomb at Montmatre Cemetery and was broken by the bursting of a shell during the siege of 1870.”

Before visiting Lady Pamela’s grave I was lead to believe that a local lady tended the grave with red, white and blue flowers, the colour of the French tricolour. On the warm sunny day I stood at her graveside there was no evidence of any flowers. The grave, like its neighbours, was devoid of any floral decoration but was otherwise neat and tidy.

Lady Fitzgerald’s daughter Pamela who was married to Sir Guy Campbell and lived in Thames Ditton until her death in 1869 is buried beside her mother. Her other daughter Lucy who married Captain George Lyon and who also lived in Thames Ditton where she died in 1826 is buried in the same cemetery. Lucy was remembered for her charitable works among the poor in Thames Ditton and for founding a local school in which she taught for a time.

The tombstone over Lady Pamela Fitzgerald’s grave at Thames Ditton incorporating part of the damaged tombstone which stood over her first resting place in Montmatre Cemetery Parish is the only visible reminder of the woman who shared her life with the aristocratic and revolutionary Member of Parliament for Athy, Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

In last weeks article I gave details of the web page for the CBS Class Reunion in September. Unfortunately the information given was incorrect. The correct web page is

Thursday, August 15, 2002

School Photograph - Independent House 1959

This week I am on holidays so Eye on the Past is largely comprised of what one man’s eyes saw through the lens of his camera in 1959. The occasion was a visit to Independent House in Middle Abbey Street in Dublin, home of the Independent group of newspapers by senior classes of the Christian Brothers School Athy. The one teacher I can recognise in the photograph was the then principal of the school, Brother Brett. The lay teacher standing at the back of the group I do not know, nor can I recognise him from the caption to the photograph when it appeared in the Irish Independent of 43 years ago. There he is identified as Mr. C. Buckley.

I believe the photograph is of pupils from the 5th year class as well as possibly the 2nd and 3rd year classes in the old Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane. The original photograph which was kindly lent to me by Ted Wynne has a note appended which gave the date of the visit as 1960. I think however since that was the year we sat our Leaving Certificate examination that it is more likely to have taken place the previous year when we were free of exam pressures. I am open to correction on this however and look forward to hearing from anyone who can identify some or all of the youngsters pictured in the photograph.

Many of those young fellows now approaching pension age will be coming to the class reunion scheduled for the weekend of 20th to 22nd September 2002. The latest bookings confirm that former classmates will be travelling from Australia, America, Canada, China and England to renew acquaintances with many they have not seen for over 40 years.

Details of the programme for the class reunion weekend are on the net at If you know of anyone who was at school at anytime with the likes of Billy Browne, Teddy Kelly or Enda Dooley contact them and let them know of the upcoming reunion.

In the meantime let me have the names of those captured in this weeks photograph. Again, as with the previous class photograph, a book prize will be offered to the first person coming up with the names of the youngsters photographed on the roof of the Independent House in 1959 or was it 1960?

Thursday, August 8, 2002

Visit to Dun Chaoin / Blasket Islands / Annascaul, Co. Kerry

I was in County Kerry last week on a weekend trip organised by the local Heritage Centre, the main purpose of which was to meet members of the Tom Crean Society in Annascaul. Tom Crean you will recall was a colleague of Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer whose exploits are featured in an exhibition in Athy’s Heritage Centre. Annascaul was the birth place of Tom Crean and the place to where he returned when he retired from the Royal Navy in 1920. It was in the South Pole Inn in Annascaul, Co. Kerry that the Athy visitors met the Tom Crean Society members. It was an appropriate meeting place, given its association with Crean who was landlord of the Inn following his retirement until his death in 1938.

On Friday night Brendan Grunewald, originally from South Africa but now living in Belgium, gave a lecture on “living and working at the South Pole”. Brendan who is a physicist spent 14 months living in the Antarctic in conditions which would tax the bravest and the sanest amongst us. His was a wonderful and well received lecture accompanied by slides which I gather may well be included in the Shackleton Autumn School scheduled for Athy during the October bank holiday weekend.

Saturday morning saw the intrepid would be explorers from Athy and South Kildare venturing on foot across the Kerry landscape to visit sites and places associated with Tom Crean. Our guide was Maeve Kelly of Donegal who is now living in Annascaul from where she operates “Walking Boots Tours”. The montbretia and the fuchsia laden hedges provided a colorful backdrop as the walkers followed the Tom Crean Trail which brought us on his favourite walk as well as to his place of birth and his final resting place. It was a lovely sunny day and would remain as such for most of the day as the men and women from the short-grass county made their way past houses still adorned with the Kerry flag following the recent football match played in Thurles. The Crean family home and where Tom Crean was born was down a narrow country lane and there it stood deserted and somewhat dilapidated. A kindly neighbouring farmer did his best to clear the laneway of cow dung so that visitors could walk with greater ease while the football banter flew between the followers of the vanquished and the spade wielding follower of the victors. The men of the kingdom so long used to success bear their football superiority with a generous display of good humour.

The graveyard where Tom Crean is buried is a small one, perhaps a mile or more away from the village of Annascaul. Bound on one side by a stream it occupies ground which was clearly of even poorer quality than the surrounding fields. Those fields for their part did not, to Kildare eyes at least, seem capable of maintaining more than a handful of sheep and even they were conspicuous by their absence. The boggy ground in which the dead of Annascaul had been laid for generations past had caused a village of pedestal tombs to be erected there. These chest-like tombs whose height are greater than their length encased in concrete or stones the remains of local families. There, in the furthest corner beside the murmuring stream was the tomb which the Antarctic explorer Tom Crean built with his own hands to hold the remains of his family. Resting there with Tom Crean is one of his daughters and his beloved wife.

Later that afternoon we journeyed to Dún Chaoin at the uppermost tip of the Dingle Peninsula to meet up with Kilkea born Michael Delaney who was bringing us on a guided tour of the Great Blasket Island. Michael who has spent 30 years or so teaching in the National School in Dún Chaoin had arranged what for most of us was our first opportunity to set foot on the island which was last occupied in 1953. The Great Blasket is thought to have been first occupied in the 17th century and at one time had a population of about 160 people. The chief livelihood of the islanders was fishing, but emigration, particularly to America, provided an escape route for the younger generation. With only 22 or so remaining on the island in 1950 the island was officially evacuated three years later.

Interest in the Blasket Islands has been nurtured over the years by the writings of islanders such as Muiris O’Suilleabhain, Peig Sayers and Thomas O’Criomhthain. O’Suilleabháin’s “Twenty Years of Growing” and O’Criomhthain “The Island Man” are particularly good examples of Blasket Island literature. As for Peig Sayers work anyone who has had to study her for the Leaving Certificate course generally claims that hers is the literature of depression!

The Great Blasket Island is about three miles by one mile of mountainous land, with that part facing Dún Chaoin Parish holding the remains of the houses which in earlier times made up the village. The ruins of about twenty houses dot the landscape and included amongst them is the Protestant school built in the 1830’s as part of the mission work of the Church of England. There is no Church on the island and there never was one. At one time the Church of Dún Chaoin was visible on a good day from the island and the practice evolved of hanging out a white sheet at the Church door when Mass was being said as a signal to the islanders congregated in the island school. There they said their prayers, participating from afar in the mainland Mass across the sea from them in Dún Chaoin. When the white sheet was taken in they new Mass was over and all then departed to their homes.

The Great Blasket trip was the highlight of the weekend trip to County Kerry and to Michael Delaney goes my thanks for generously sharing his time and his knowledge with his former County Kildare neighbours. On the way home on Sunday we stopped off to visit the County Museum in Tralee, and particularly to see the Antarctic exhibition which is on there and will be for a further few months. It’s a first class exhibition and well worth the visit by anyone interested in the South Pole and especially the exploits of such great men as Scott and Kerry’s own Tom Crean.

Tralee itself is like Athy, a 12th century town founded by the Anglo Normans. There the similarities do not end for we find that it was the Fitzgeralds of Desmond who established the town of Tralee and who founded its Dominican Friary ten years before the Dominicans arrived in Athy. Of course it was the Fitzgeralds of the House of Kildare who were the lords and masters of Athy and South Kildare for centuries past and they with the Fitzgeralds of Desmond were the two main branches of the Geraldine family.

The towns of Tralee and Athy founded 800 years ago by different branches of the same family bear many similarities over the years which I hope to go into at another time. Suffice to say that the names Crean and Shackleton are inextricably linked by their Antarctic journeys with Crean honoured in his native County Kerry and the town of Tralee, while Shackleton is remembered in the town of Athy near to where he was born 126 years ago.

The second Shackleton Autumn School will be held in Athy over the weekend of 24th to 27th October, 2002 and further information in relation to the Shackleton School will be announced by Margaret O’Riordan, Manager of the local Heritage Centre over the next few weeks.

Thursday, August 1, 2002

St. Joseph's Boy School Photograph 1946

This week’s Eye on the Past features a photograph of school boys from St. Joseph’s School in Rathstewart. It was taken in or around 1947 or thereabouts. I should be in that photograph as I had started school on 13th May 1946, the same day as Frank English and he figures prominently in that picture from the past. Can you pick him out? And what about the other young lads staring out at the camera lens? A prize awaits the first person who gives me the names of all the young scholars from 55 years ago.

Many of those captured in the photograph all those years ago will be coming together for the first time ever during a class reunion scheduled for the weekend of 20th September. Fifty past pupils of St. Joseph’s School and the Christian Brother’s School have been identified but unfortunately attempts are still being made to locate the present whereabouts of a small number who left Athy many years ago. These include Peter Allen, last heard of in Manchester. Paddy Bracken whom I believe is in Naas but where exactly I have yet to find out. Does anyone know where Leo Dempsey, formerly of the Hibernian Bank, Leinster Street can be contacted? What about Theo Kavanagh, formerly of the Bleeding Horse in Castlemitchell and Paddy Maher, now somewhere in England and originally from Dooley’s Terrace?

Others still to be traced are Colin Seabrook and Christy Southwell, although I am told that Christy might be somewhere in the Curragh/Newbridge area. More difficult to trace will be John Whelan whose family lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue before they emigrated to England in the 1950’s. If you can help trace any of the above I would be delighted if you would contact me.

In the meantime arrangements are going ahead for the class reunion and some of the unfortunate teachers who had to deal with us over the years have now been traced. Paddy O’Riordan, now living in retirement in Cork is the only secondary teacher still with us. Of the primary school teachers Brother Flaherty and Brother Loughran have been traced while the redoubtable Sr. Bernadette who was with us in St. Joseph’s School in the 1940’s will be, hopefully, with us for the September celebrations.

While we have identified 50 past pupils with whom our young years were shared, undoubtedly there will be a few names overlooked. If you are one of those who has not been contacted in connection with the class reunion would you please make contact with me over the next few weeks. The reunion is for everyone and anyone who shared classes with the likes of Frank English, Ted Wynne, Teddy Kelly or myself in either St. Joseph’s School or the Primary School or the Secondary School at St. John’s Lane.

Let me hear from you please. Don’t forget a book prize for the first person to give me the names of all the youngsters snapped in the Convent of Mercy driveway on what was obviously a sunny day over 50 years ago.