Friday, February 19, 1993

Alexander Duncan

"In these parts the Protestants all are about one in ten, composed of Irish Church, Presbyterians, Methodists, Brethren and an odd antique of a Quaker". So wrote Alexander Duncan from Athy in May 1886 in a letter to a friend.

Duncan, then in the penultimate year of his life, lived in Tonlegee House and carried on business as a draper in premises now occupied by Shaws of Duke Street. He was one of the leading members of the Methodist congregation in Athy but surprisingly enough he did not share the political views of his co-religionists.

Nationalists in 19th century Ireland tended to be Catholics while the supporters of Unionism were by and large Protestant Anglo-Irish. Unionism such as existed in Athy was of a non-aggressive kind, unlike the Unionist movement in Northern Ireland where opposition to Home Rule sometimes took on a less than acceptable level of violent activity.

Support for Home Rule amongst the Athy Nationalists was as muted as the local opposition to this measure of self-government. Alexander Duncan alone stood out as a strong voice advocating an independent and non-clerical legislature for the Irish people.

The local Presbyterians were described by Duncan as "too busy in their farms to weigh well such a weighty question as Home Rule but are ready to reap any advantage accruing from the Land Bill."
These views expressed in 1886 may not have been entirely accurate as in 1893 the Elders of the Athy Presbyterian Church presented a Memorial to that year's General Assembly declaring their opposition to Home Rule.

He complained that his fellow Methodists were willing to view the issue from a sectarian view point "rather than the highest and nobler one of our country's need and independence". Similarly the Church of Ireland were criticised by him as being afraid of losing the Landlords who were the chief contributors to Church funds.

An outspoken yet generous man Duncan was for many years a member of Athy Town Commissioners and served as Chairman of that body in 1852, 1867, 1875 and 1879. He presented a finely carved chair to the Town Commissioners for use by the Chairman at Council meetings on stepping down from that office in 1879. The chair is now exhibited in the Museum Room in the Town Hall.

In 1867, Duncan who was then on his second term as Chairman of Athy Town Commissioners, purchased some ground at Woodstock Street and offered it to the local Methodist congregation as a site for a new Methodist Church. The foundation stone of the new building was laid by Mrs. Alexander Duncan on the 12th of June 1872 before a large crowd of local people. Her husband had donated £600.00 to the Church building fund in addition to the site. Exactly two years later on Friday the 12th of June 1874 the newly constructed Church and Sunday School which cost £2,200.00 was dedicated.

Alexander Duncan died on the 30th of September 1887 and the leaders of the Circuit and the members of Athy Methodist congregation erected a fine Memorial Tablet to his memory in the Church built largely as a result of his generosity and energy. He was aged 68 years and lies buried in St. John's Cemetery.

No comments: