Thursday, January 12, 2012

History of Athy in 25 objects

‘History of the World in One Hundred Objects’ was the title of a recent bestselling book which enlivened the retelling of history in an interesting and novel way.  It soon gave way to a series currently running in the Irish Times of the ‘History of Ireland in One Hundred Objects’, the objects in this case being artefacts to be found in the National Museum.  I wasn’t surprised therefore to be presented recently with a challenge by my eldest son Seamus to write of the History of Athy by reference to a limited number of objects.  It struck me that if 100 objects were sufficient to deal with world history, or indeed the history of Ireland, then surely the history of our relatively small urban settlement on the banks of the river Barrow could be more than adequately covered by say twenty five objects.  And so having arbitrarily set this figure of twenty five as the appropriate one for telling the story of Athy I set about identifying the objects which would be the best vehicles to carry the text of a town’s history from foundation to modern times. 

Firstly, the word ‘object’ would have to be defined and its dictionary definition ‘a material thing that can be seen or touched’ more than adequately met my requirements, it allows me to utilise buildings and documents or artefacts as visual props to highlight aspects of the town’s history.  Now the difficult part of the task facing me was identifying the twenty five objects which of necessity must have a connection with Athy and its people.  The period to be covered stretched back eight hundred years to the time of the foundation of the village of Athy and even further if one was to relate the story of the river crossing which was the forerunner of the first settlement.

Perhaps the easiest part of the task would be identifying local buildings, existing or in ruins.  The compiling of a list of possible inclusions in the final twenty five objects must, of course, give us many entries later to be discarded.  So the initial list of objects should be far wider than the final twenty five and so in terms of  buildings, I could include several such as Woodstock Castle, White’s Castle, Crom-a-Boo Bridge, St. Vincent’s Hospital etc. 

There are many more buildings or parts thereof which could or perhaps should be included and I await readers suggestions as to further inclusions.

Identifying suitable ‘material things which can be seen or touched’ is likely to pose greater problems than that posed by the identifying of appropriate buildings.  One such object which came to my notice within the past few weeks was a document which issued following the laying of the cornerstone of Athy’s Jail on the Carlow Road by the Duke of Leinster on the 20th day of June 1826.  It was returned to Athy from Australia and added significantly to what I already knew about the Town Jail which was opened in 1830. 

Other documents appropriate for inclusion in the list of twenty five are the pamphlets published in the 1640s concerning Ireland’s involvement in the English Civil War.  First amongst those pamphlets is one printed in London in 1641 which as the title page states was ‘Sent into England by Mr. Hierome, Minister of God at Athigh in Ireland’. The eight page pamphlet includes a pictorial depiction of ‘Athigh’ surrounded by town walls and in the background a Church.

But the objects to be chosen for the list while having to be historically significant do not have to be rare or indeed immeasurable in terms of cost.  For instance, World War 1 death plaques of which over two hundred were received in homes in the South Kildare area must, I feel, be one of the final twenty five chosen objects.  It would allow the story of the 1914-1918 War to be told and how that war impacted on Athy and district.

There are so many other objects for consideration and inclusion in the final list of the twenty five that it would seem appropriate to seek the assistance of everyone interested in history to help compile that list.

Let me have your suggestions as to objects which bearing in mind the definition should be included in the list of twenty five objects to tell the story of the Town of Athy.  Give me a list of any number of objects and all suggestions received before the end of January will be included in a future article before the twenty five final objects are chosen and are written about.

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