For many local people living in and around Athy the Gordon Bennett Race of 1903 provided the first opportunity of seeing a motor car at close quarters. The motorised vehicle had arrived just a decade or so earlier to a world which was not quite ready for it. The roads which traversed the Irish countryside were adequate for horse and carriage, but were in no way ready for the motor car. Despite the development of the railway communities were still largely isolated and the development of the motor car was regarded with some misgivings in much the same way as the early years of the bicycle just a few decades earlier. No wonder then that the Gordon Bennett Race created such extraordinary interest, not only internationally but also amongst the Irish people.
Did the race bring cars for the first time onto the streets of Athy? I am unable to definitely answer that question, although I feel safe in asserting that even if there was not a local car owner in the town it is more than likely that visiting motorists had passed through Athy before June 1903.
The first reference I found in the minutes of meetings of Athy Urban District Council concerning motor traffic was an entry dated 18th March 1903 relating to applications from Duthie Large & Co. and J.J. Bergin’s Ironworks, Athy for licences to store and retail petrol and motor spirits. A later reference dated 2nd May 1910 was a resolution of the Council calling on the Irish Automobile Club to have warning posts erected at the main entrances to the town cautioning motorists to drive slowly through Athy, the speed not to exceed 7 miles per hour.
Recently I came across a 1911-1912 Irish Motor Directory which gave details of cars and motor cycles registered in County Kildare. There were 173 motorbikes or cycles in the county, with 316 registered motor cars. The first vehicle which was allocated registration no. IO 1 was a car owned by Rev. P.T.S. Large of Carnalway, Kilcullen. Rev. J. O’Gorman, a Catholic Curate in Kildare, was the registered owner of car IO 2. Dan Carbery of Athy, whom I presume to be the building contractor of St. Johns, Athy had a car with the registration no. IO 3.
Other Athy vehicle owners listed in the 1911-12 Directory were Daniel Carbery, this time registered as owner of a motorised bicycle registration no. IO 36. J.J. O’Gorman of Ballitore was the owner of a bicycle, reg. no. IO 46, while Richard Alvey of Rock House, Fontstown had a bicycle, reg. no. IO 53, as did George Nash of Narraghmore with registration no. IO 63.
Bike reg. no. IO 71 was registered to Henry S. Large of Rheban Castle. Hugh Hurley of Duke Street had a bike reg. no. IO 83. Francis R. Jackson of Leinster Street was another with a motor bike reg. no. IO 91. Who was F.R. White of Athy who was allocated IO 105 for his bike? S.M. Telford residing at The Abbey Athy came of a well known Athy family and his ownership of a car was noted in the Directory with the reg. no. IO 135. Reg. no. IO 189 was allocated to a car owned by John A. Butler of Emily Square, while Henry Hosie of Coursetown was the owner of a bike, reg. no. IO 210.
Strangely amongst the 489 registered vehicle owners listed in the 1911/12 Irish Motor Directory were a considerable number of English folk with addresses overseas. More than 50% of the entries in the Directory bore English addresses for vehicle owners whose cars or bicycles were registered in County Kildare. What was the explanation for this?
James Duthie, The Foundry, Athy was, as expected of a garage man, the registered owner of a motor car reg. no. IO 280. Duthie Large & Co. Ltd. were included in the Directory as a garage and petrol vendors with the Foundry Company as the only other such establishment in Athy. Was the Foundry referred to J.J. Bergin’s iron works which was licensed by the local Urban Council in 1903? Interestingly only two hotels were given for Athy in the 1911/12 Directory – the Leinster Arms and Hamilton Arms (now Bradburys).
W.B. Jackson of Leinster Street was the registered owner of a bike IO 303 and at the same address William B. Jackson had another bike reg. no. IO 351. Car reg. no. IO 367 was registered to J.S. Maxwell, 50 Duke Street, while another car, reg. no. IO 394 was in the ownership of T.G. Lumley, Holmcroft, Athy.
Matthew J. Minch of Rockfield House, Athy took his time in changing from horse and carriage to the motor car as evidenced by the registration of his car with the registration no. IO 458. The three hundred and thirteen motor car to be registered in the County of Kildare was owned by James Duthie of 50 Leinster Street whose car carried the registration number IO 495.
The record shows that there were a total of eight cars registered to Athy owners in 1911. Carbery, Telford, Butler, Duthie, Maxwell, Lumley, Minch were proud owners of the new fangled and expensive motor cars of the period.