The present parliamentary constituency consisting of an artificially created South Kildare bears little comparison with the parliamentary constituencies which in the past included this area. Way back in the 16th century Athy Borough, consisting of an area within a circumference of half a mile from Whites Castle, had the right to elect two Members of Parliament. Those elected seldom had any connection with the town and owed their political careers to the Earl of Kildare who also controlled appointments to the local Borough Council. The record of parliamentary representation for Athy showed that Edward Blount of Bolton, England was M.P. for Athy Borough in 1634. Five years later two Dublin men, Stephen Steevens and Sir Robert Meredith were elected to represent the citizenry of Athy in the Irish House of Parliament. John Days of Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim was one of Athy’s M.P.’s in 1692 and this tendency for non resident representatives would continue until the Act of Union. Indeed despite the fact that one of Ireland’s most famous patriots Lord Edward Fitzgerald was a Member of Parliament for Athy Borough from 1783, the Borough’s parliamentary history ended discreditably in 1800 when it was represented by William Hare and Richard Hare of Cork. Their father had purchased the right to nominate M.P.’s for Athy Borough from the Duke of Leinster and on the passing of the Act of Union both the Duke and the purchaser of the Athy Parliamentary nomination rights were compensated from the public purse.
Kildare County subsequently returned two Members of Parliament to the Westminster Parliament until the county was divided into a North Division and a South Division in 1885. Interestingly the first local resident to represent Athy at the Westminster Parliament was M.J. Minch, the head of the local malting firm who entered Parliament in 1892. The Kildare South Division remained unchanged for the 1918 General Election when Art O’Connor of Sinn Fein was elected.
In 1921 the constituency was changed with South Kildare and part of West Wicklow forming the Kildare Wicklow constituency which also remained for the 1922 Election in which Athy man J.J. Bergin first stood for Parliament.
The following year the Kildare County constituency was reconstituted and continued as such until the 1937 election when the Carlow Kildare constituency was formed. That election saw Athy man Sydney Minch elected for the third time and Bill Norton for the Labour Party elected for the first time. Carlow Kildare shared a constituency for the 1943 and 1944 elections but split in 1948 when Kildare County again became a three seat constituency. M.G. Nolan and Michael Cunningham, both from Athy, stood for election that year and Nolan would do so again in 1951. The Kildare County constituency was still a three seater when in 1954 Paddy Dooley stood as a candidate for the first time. He was elected in 1957, re-elected in 1961 and lost his seat in 1965 when another local man, Charles Chambers, was also unsuccessful.
The County Kildare constituency existed until recent years when separate South Kildare and North Kildare constituencies came into being. The new constituencies very roughly equated to the North and South Kildare Divisions created at the height of Charles Stewart Parnell’s powers as the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
Our present form of parliamentary democracy came to us from the English model but thankfully parliamentary reforms commencing with the Reform Act of 1832 have ensured that the will of the people rather than that of the town patron determines who represents us in the Irish Parliament.
Congratulations to Seamus Byrne on passing an age milestone which still lies ahead of some of his former classmates from the Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane. Seamus has been a leading member of the traditional Irish musicians which have played in Clancys Bar every Thursday night for the past 40 years. Indeed he is the longest playing member of that group and I am reliably informed that the weekly session in Clancys is possibly the longest continuously running traditional music session in the country. Seamus plays the uilleann pipes and the Clancy session has proved to be one of the most enduring and enjoyable cultural experiences which Athy has to offer its visitors and locals alike. To celebrate the unique 40 year long sessions a traditional music event involving musicians from all over Ireland will be held in Clancys over three days commencing Thursday 28th April and continuing on the following Friday and Saturday.
Don’t forget the Athy Museum Society meeting which will take place in the Heritage Centre, Town Hall Athy on Wednesday night, 23rd February at 7.30 p.m. All are welcome.