Thursday, July 15, 2010

A history shared

Last Saturday representing Athy I joined representatives of local history societies from around the country in welcoming visitors of the Ulster Federation of History Societies to our county town of Naas. The Ulster Federation is an umbrella organisation of history societies throughout Northern Ireland and in that regard fulfils the same role as does the Federation of Local History Societies in the south. The two federations have enjoyed excellent relationships extending back beyond the dark days of the ‘troubles’ and the visit to Naas by 35 Northern Ireland local historians was part of an Urban Experience Project initiated by the two federations over 20 years ago. The Project involves exchange trips between the two federations and these annual visits, either north or south of the border, help to cement strong bonds of friendship and cultural cooperation between all their members.

Seamus Moore, the newly elected Mayor of Naas, welcomed the visitors and as he did I was mindful that Seamus’ father Michael Moore, a native of Barrowhouse, had made his home in Nás na Rí, the meeting place of the Kings, some years after his involvement in South Kildare as a member of the Carlow/Kildare I.R.A. Brigade in the War of Independence.

While waiting for the Northern Ireland visitors to arrive Seamus showed me a banner made by Watsons of Sackville Street Dublin in 1882, on which was depicted a portrait of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Lord Edward was at one time a Member of Parliament for the Borough of Athy and the banner with the words ‘God Save Ireland’ and ‘Eire go Brath’ boldly emblazoned above and below Lord Edward’s portrait was apparently a Land League banner. I understand Naas Town Council has gone to a lot of expense to preserve this important artefact from our past and their decision to do so is highly commendable. I am reminded that I have sought in vain over the years to track down a number of banners which at various times graced parades and public meetings held in Athy and elsewhere in the County of Kildare during the Land League and subsequent Home Rule periods of agitation. The Luggacurran Land League banner was traced to a pub in the Swan, but unfortunately has yet to be seen or recovered.

The fine room at the top of the Town Hall in Naas which was originally built as the town gaol in 1792 is now used at the local Council’s meeting chambers. It is a graceful room, the walls of which are adorned with paintings recording scenes from the history of Naas which was once the second town of the short grass county after Athy.

A quick guided tour of some of the more important buildings in Naas followed, of which St. David’s Church, built on the site of an earlier Celtic church in the centre of Naas, was the highlight.

After lunch more than 75 local historians from north and south of this island visited Palmerstown House, the seat of the Bourkes who were Earls of Mayo. The present house, located just outside Naas, was built in the Queen Ann style, by public subscription as a tribute to the Earl of Mayo after he was assassinated in India. The Earl’s body was returned to Ireland preserved in a barrel of rum, thereby earning him the nickname ‘the pickled earl’. His story, and that of Palmerstown House, was eloquently related to the visitors by Brian McCabe of the local history society.

I was delighted to hear from Brian that the memorial to the old Fenian John Devoy which marked his birthplace in Kill has recently been replaced near to its original site following the works on the motorway. The Devoy family originally came from Athy and Michael Devoy of Kill wrote a short history of Athy which was published in the Irish Magazine of March 1809. Michael, whom I believe may have been John Devoy’s grandfather, also wrote a history of Castledermot which was published in the May 1809 edition of the same magazine.

The visit of the Ulster Federation Members was a very enjoyable occasion and gave the Naas Local History Society members an opportunity to showcase their ancient town. I was particularly impressed by the generosity of Jim Mansfield in allowing access to his fine house at Palmerstown. There were minimum restrictions imposed on the 75 or so interested visitors as they went through almost every part of the building. It was the highlight of the day and congratulations must go to Larry Breen, National President of the Federation of Local History Societies of Ireland, who is also an active member of Naas Local History Society.

In Eye on the Past No. 541 I wrote of Patrick Moran who worked for some years as a shop assistant in Athy and who was hanged in Kilmainham Jail on 14th March 1921 for his alleged participation in the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ 21st November 1920. Kilmainham Jail will be the venue for the launch of ‘Executed for Ireland – The Patrick Moran Story’ on Wednesday, 21st July at 7.00 p.m. The book by May Moran will be of particular interest for Athy folk.

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