The earliest maps of Athy were those prepared by the French cartographer Rocques for the Duke of Leinster in 1755 and 1756. The Woodstock area was mapped in 1755 and Athy East of the Barrow was mapped in the following year. The Lordship of St. John's, that is Athy West of the Barrow, was mapped by Scale in 1768. From these maps and subsequent maps prepared of the town we can study the changes in street names over the years.
In the early 18th century Rocques maps the present Duke Street was known as St. John's Street, a name derived from the Trinitarian Monastery established on the West bank of the River Barrow close to Woodstock Castle in the 13th century. St. John's has survived as the name of the laneway which runs in a loop from both ends of the present Duke Street. The street bearing the name of the old Monastery was re-named Duke Street in 1796.
At the same time High Street, which ran from the present traffic lights to the junction of Meeting Lane and Leinster Street and Boher Bui, which extended from that junction out the Dublin Road were re-named Leinster Street.
The occasion for the re-naming of the principal streets of the town was the opening of the newly erected Barrow Bridge on the 23rd of May 1796 by William Robert Fitzgerald the 2nd Duke of Leinster. William Street which once formed part of Beggars Inn was renamed at the same time and so it is that we have the principal streets of the town William Street, Duke Street and Leinster Street, named after William Duke of Leinster. William, born in 1749, was a brother of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and he succeeded his father the 1st Duke of Leinster on the 19th of April 1773. He died on the 20th October 1804.
Market Street, which for centuries was the centre of market activity in the town, was re-named Emily Square after Emily, Duchess of Leinster, wife of the first Duke of Leinster and mother of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Following the death of her husband she married William Ogilvy by whom she had two daughters having already had nine sons and ten daughters by her first husband. Emily died in 1814 and she has been the subject of a biography written by Brian Fitzgerald and published in 1949 under the title "Emily Duchess of Leinster". Three volumes of her correspondence edited by the same author was published by the Stationery Office in Dublin between 1947 and 1954. She was undoubtedly a more interesting individual than her husband James the 1st Duke of Leinster who so far as I am aware has yet to be the subject of a biographical study.
It is interesting to note that in the 1827 map of Athy produced for the then Duke of Leinster by Clarges Green of Dublin the town square was still known as Market Street. The Ordnance Survey map for 1837 gave the name as Emily Square so it is apparent that Athy Borough Council made the name change long after Emily's death in 1814.
I have always understood that all the principal streets in Athy with the exception of Barrack Street and Woodstock Street were named after members of the Fitzgerald Family. Stanhope Street, formerly known as Cotter's Lane and subsequently Kildare Road, was renamed after Francis Charles Stanhope following the street's re-widening in the early 1830's. Stanhope had been elected a free burgess of the Borough of Athy on the 11th December 1822 in compliance with the wishes of the Duke of Leinster. His relationship to the Fitzgerald family is something I have not as yet unravelled.
Offaly Street, previously known as Ophaly Street and earlier still as Prestons Gate, was presumably named after one of the innumerable members of the Fitzgerald family who held in addition to the premier Dukedom of Ireland, the Earldom of Kildare, the title of Marquess of Kildare and Earl and Baron of Offaly.
The Fitzgerald family are remembered not only in the names of our principal streets but also in the name of the Bridge built in 1791 over the newly constructed Grand Canal branch to Athy. Augustus Frederick Fitzgerald, the eldest son of William Robert 2nd Duke of Leinster, was born on the 21st of August 1791 and his birth was commemorated by naming the new structure Augustus Bridge. The original bridge was built to accommodate Canal traffic with little regard for vehicular traffic on the roadway which passed over it. In time there were many repeated demands to lower the bridge but this was not done until 1897 when the re-modelled bridge was opened by Thomas Plewman, Chairman of Athy Town Commissioners. It is now known simply as the Canal Bridge, it's original name of Augustus Bridge having long passed from memory.
Barrack Street, so named following the opening of the military barracks in the 1730's, originally extended from St. John's Street or Duke Street to it's junction with Barrow Lane which led directly to the Barracks located in the area of the present Greenhills housing estate.
On the 3rd of November 1884 the Town Commissioners renamed the southern part of Barrack Street as Woodstock Street. By then the military barracks had been vacant for upwards of twenty years and it is believed that some of the local residents were less than happy with the bad name which the area known as Barrack Street had gained and consequently sought to change the name.
At a later date I will take a look at the laneways and courtyards, many now disappeared, which once housed people struggling to live amongst the squalor and deprivation of 18th and 19th century Athy.