Thursday, July 7, 2011

Athy's Lions Club Barrow Towpath Walk

Athy Lions Club is part of the world’s largest charitable organisation.  It was in 1971 that 20 local men met in the Leinster Arms Hotel to found the local branch of this international organisation and today four of those original foundation members are still actively involved in Athy Lions Club.  Over the years the Club has made substantial contributions to local charities and was involved in the purchase of the former Dreamland dance hall and the building of 10 sheltered housing units at St. Vincent’s Hospital. 

All this work was done without fanfare, yet willingly by men and women who over the years have themselves contributed to the commercial and business life of Athy.  Their voluntary involvement in the work of the Lions Club is an aspect of their community work which is little known or seldom highlighted.

An unusual initiative by the Lions Club is the forthcoming Barrow Towpath Walk Day planned for Sunday 24th July.  Its purpose is to highlight a little used local leisure amenity which started out life over 200 years ago as part of a new transport system.  It was the coming of the Grand Canal to Athy in 1791 which re-invigorated the commercial life of the town which had once enjoyed prosperity far greater than any of its neighbouring towns.

Throughout the 18th century Athy experienced a steady increase in its population, reaching a figure of 2032 by 1798, with 354 houses.  To the principal streets of the town laid out in the early years of Athy’s developments were added in the 19th century the lanes and alleyways which remained a feature of town life up to the time of the Slum Clearance Programmes of the 1930s. 

The Grand Canal joined the Barrow navigation at Athy and the 43 mile stretch of the River Barrow from Athy to St. Mullins in County Carlow had to be provided with several short canal cuts to enable shallow stretches of the river to be bypassed.  In the days when all boats were towed by horses towpaths were provided and it is on the towpath from Athy to Maganey that the walk will take place on 24th July.

A report on improving the navigation of the River Barrow prepared by a William Chapman of Oldtown, Naas dated 9th October 1789 made the following references to Athy.

‘Convenient landing may be made on both sides for the general use of the town and public – on the west side the Millers Island can be formed into an extensive quay and a good communication made with the end of the bridge – on the east side the slip forming the mill course is at present used as a landing place, it is exceedingly inconvenient for taking away anything on carriages – this however may be amended and there is besides good access to the east side of the town by the Church Lane in front of which there is a dry strand where a quay may be built.’

The Church Lane referred to linked Offaly Street with the River Barrow, passing by the side of St. Michael’s Church which was then located behind the Town Hall.  In another contemporary account of the town in the early 1800s the same lane was referred to as ‘rotten lane’.  The quay referred to in the last line of Chapman’s report was built by William Delahunty at the same time as the bridge of Athy and both were completed in 1796. 

The Barrow towpath walk on 24th July will start from the Barrow Quay where Chapman’s report stated was the site of ‘a dry strand’ just a few years before the 1798 Rebellion.

It is intended to be a leisurely walk to give those participating an opportunity to learn of the history of the Barrow navigation and of the various habitats along the way and the animals and plants to be found there.  This is not a fundraising event, it’s a community engagement initiative by Athy Lions Club which is being sponsored by some generous local businesses including Pettit’s SuperValu.  Do come along for the walk on July 24th.

Another community celebration is planned for Thursday, 14th July when members of Athy Musical and Dramatic Society reprise their show ‘Going for a Song’ in the Clanard Court Hotel.  The show which first played to a huge audience a few weeks ago is being repeated to raise funds for two very worthy local causes – Teach Emmanuel and the Alzheimer’s Unit in St. Vincent’s Hospital.  The show will start at 8.00 p.m. under the direction of Sean McGilly and tickets at €10 (concessions €8) can be purchased in The Gem or in Winkles.

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