On October 7th 1515 the 24 year old King of England Henry VIII granted a Charter to the town of Athy enabling the townspeople to "erect, construct, build and strengthen the same town with fosses and walls of stone and lime". Located on the Marshes of Kildare and outside the English Pale Athy was of strategic importance to the English settlers yet vulnerable to attack from the dispossessed Irish. The English settlers of the developing town welcomed the opportunity which the King's Charter afforded them to fortress the town. The work on the town walls was to be financed by customs collected by the Town Provost on all goods sold within the town. These ranged from one penny for a horse or cow to half penny for a hide or any goods worth 2/- or more.
The Charter provided for the yearly election of a Town Provost, the modern equivalent to a Mayor, who was to be responsible for governing the town. He also combined this duty with that of Coroner, Justice of the Peace, Weights & Measures Inspector and Clerk of the town market. He was clearly a man of considerable power and influence in sixteenth century Athy.
An important privilege granted by Henry VIII to the townspeople was the right to hold a market in Athy every Tuesday "in a place deputed or ordained therefor by Gerald Earl of Kildare". 477 years on, the market in Athy is still held every Tuesday in what was formerly known as Market Square and now Emily Square.
Customs continued to be collected on goods sold in the Athy Market up to the 19th century. In latter years the right to collect the customs was let out to the highest tenderer until they were eventually abolished in 1824. By then the market was held on Tuesday and Saturday but business had fallen off because of tolls imposed on goods passing through the toll gates on the Dublin Road and the corner of Duke Street on their way to the Athy market. These additional tolls were collected to finance roadworks in the area.
The Duke of Leinster, who claimed the right to the market customs "suggested" that the Borough Council abolish the customs in an attempt to revive the town market. The local Council which always acted as directed duly dropped the market customs except in relation to coal and culm where the custom was doubled because of the extensive trade in Athy between the local Collieries and Dublin. The coal and culm customs were also eventually abolished but the wheel has now turned full circle with the local Urban Council considering the feasibility of imposing charges on market traders in Athy on Tuesday to help to defray the cost of street cleaning.
The market tradition in Athy continues undiminished and seems on the evidence of recent years to have taken on a new lease of life, bringing colour and a change of scenery to the Emily Square area every Tuesday morning.