Thursday, June 5, 2003

Photograph - Building of St. Patrick's Avenue - 1931

The first houses built by or on behalf of Athy Urban District Council were those completed at Meeting Lane, St. Michael’s Terrace and St. Matthew’s Terrace in 1913.  Three different building contractors were involved, with local firm D. & J. Carbery constructing eleven houses at what was then known as Matthew’s Lane.  On completion the scheme was renamed St. Michael’s Terrace.  Michael Sweeney, a building contractor from Portarlington, built six houses at what we now know as St. Martin’s Terrace, with local man D. Twomey of Leinster Street building five houses at Meeting Lane.  The houses were ready for occupation and let for the first time in May 1913. 

It’s strange to relate that soon thereafter the Town Clerk reported to the members of the Council that “none of the tenants of the new houses belong to the labouring classes.” This was surprising given that the impetus for building the houses came from the local Medical Officer of Health, Dr. James Kilbride, who had campaigned for years against the unhealthy conditions which prevailed, and which would continue to prevail, up to the 1930’s, in the houses available for renting in Athy.  Why then, we may ask, did not those most in need of re-housing get the opportunity to take up the tenancies of the new Council houses?  The answer is likely to be found in the amount of the weekly rents which the new tenants were required to pay to the Urban District Council.  These rents ranged from 3/= per week for Meeting Lane to 4/= for St. Martin’s Terrace and 5/= for St. Michael’s Terrace.  Not princely sums by any means but yet apparently too much for a large proportion of the population who were living in unsanitary conditions for which they paid no more than 1/= per week in rent.

The onset of World War II in the following year and the subsequent start of the War of Independence delayed the Urban Council’s ambitious plans to tackle the housing crisis in the town.  Another eleven years were to pass before further Counsel houses were built and these were at the Bleach.  D. & J. Carbery of St. John’s, Athy were again the builders and eight houses finished in March 1924 were called “Bleach Cottages”.  The firm of D. & J. Carbery were to be involved in almost every local Council funded housing scheme over the following fifty years or so, as well as many other important building contracts in the South Kildare area.  I have often wondered whether the firm’s records have been retained as they would undoubtedly offer social historians an important insight into the development of Athy during the 20th century.

This week I feature a photograph showing a Council housing scheme nearing completion.  It’s a photograph of what was the Council’s third housing scheme which commenced in 1930 on a site known as “the Gaol Field” on the Carlow Road.  You and I know it as St. Patrick’s Avenue but as the original name indicates the site formed part of the gaol which had been opened on the Carlow Road in 1830.  The housing scheme was started on 30th June 1930 and again D. & J. Carbery of Athy were awarded the contract to build the 36 houses.  The clerk of works on the site who was appointed by the Council at a salary of 5 guineas a week was Captain H.B. Foy from Dublin.  While the houses were under construction the Council amended the building contract to permit the installation of electricity and J. Hutchinson of Leinster Street was employed to do the electrical work.

The final cost of the 36 houses amounted to 11,366.10 and the benefit to the local community of a housing project of this magnitude can be gauged from the Clerk of Works Report that 10 plasterers, 10 carpenters and 16 labourers were employed by the Contractor as at January 1931.  Many of those workers can be seen in the photograph and it is interesting to note that each house was provided with a barrel to catch rain water from the roof.  The houses were completed and let by the Council in March 1931.

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