Tuesday, August 27, 2013

John Howard Wrestler and Barrowhouse Ambush

Professional wrestling on television was a Saturday afternoon sport which held audiences enthralled long before professional soccer was able to secure a stranglehold on national T.V.  I can remember afternoons spent watching the wrestlers going through their well rehearsed performances when during the 1970s I lived in Monaghan town.  Little did I know that one of the wrestlers, who week in week out featured on that T.V. coverage, was an Athy man who in the 1970s lived just down the road from me in Carrickmacross.  Johnny Howard, a giant of a man, was one of a family of six born in the Howard family home in Gray’s Lane, Ardreigh.  His father Jimmy was himself one of six Howard brothers from Ardreigh, five of whom, Paddy, Jimmy, Barney, Michael and Jack all emigrated to England.  The only Howard brother to remain in Athy was Willie, who in the 1950s lived in Janeville Lane.  So far as I can remember Willie was a widower and when his brother Jimmy’s family emigrated to Manchester in the late 1950s Willie moved into the Howard family home in Gray’s Lane.

Johnny Howard, known as Sean when living in Athy, was the eldest of the family of Jimmy Howard and his wife Margaret Mulhall whom I believe was from the Bleach.  His brothers and sisters included Jim who now lives in Tankardstown, Mick, now in Monasterevin and Margaret, Raymond and Patricia who still live in Manchester. 

Johnny adopted the name Rasputin – the mad monk, for what the Guardian newspaper in its obituary for Kent Walton described as ‘the grunts, groans and theatrical mayhem of professional wrestling’.  Kent Walton was the voice of professional wrestling on ITV Saturday afternoons from the mid 1950s until wrestling was removed from the network in 1988.

Jimmy Howard, aka Rasputin, was a regular on ITV with other well known professional wrestlers such as Mick McManus, Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy.  He sported a beard and long hair which was concealed at the start of each bout under a brown cloak and cowl reminiscent of a medieval monk.  At the start of his wrestling career Johnny was billed as Sean Doyle and he wrestled as a welter weight.  When the original Rasputin, aka Frank Hoy, retired from the ring Athy born Johnny Howard took the name and was thereafter known as Rasputin – the mad monk.  Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s Johnny competed throughout Europe, Africa and the Far East, topping the bill on many occasions until he retired in the early 1990s. 

Living in Carrickmacross since the early 1960s Johnny married and had three children, a son and two daughters, one of whom sadly passed away 2½ years ago.  Johnny later divorced and re-married, moving to Lochbrickland, Co. Down where he died on Monday, 19th August of this year.  He was laid to rest following a funeral service in the Baptist Church in Banbridge, Co. Down.

Among the many interesting emails I received in recent weeks was an enquiry from Roger Wiloughby of Oxfordshire who is currently writing a book on awards made to members of the R.I.C.  It would appear that at least two of the constables involved in the Barrowhouse Ambush were subsequently awarded constabulary medals for gallantry.  I have previously written of the Barrowhouse Ambush based on interviews I had with an old resident of the area.  All of the participants in the ambush were dead by then and my written account of what occurred that fateful day was of necessity based at best on secondhand information.  A number of corrections in my narrative are now necessary.  Firstly in referring to those attacked I described them, as did my informant, as Black and Tans.  This was not correct as the party travelling on bicycles from Ballylinan to Maganey were local R.I.C. constables with their sergeant.

Secondly the account of the ambush as told to me described the I.R.A. men lying in wait only to have to change their position and move across fields when school children came out of the nearby school as the R.I.C. men were approaching.  Travelling the road from Barrowhouse to Maganey would not have required the R.I.C. men to pass the local school.  The original ambush position as described to me would not seem correct as it was not on the Barrowhouse to Maganey Road route and claims that the I.R.A. men had to change position and run across a field seems highly unlikely.  They could not have done so without disclosing themselves to the R.I.C.  It seems more likely that the site of the shooting which is marked by a memorial was the original ambush location.  However, it is quite likely, as claimed by my informant, that the ammunition used by the I.R.A. men was damp and ineffective.  This would explain the failure of those lying in wait to have succeeded in their ambush plans.

Monday, 16th May 1921 was the day on which two young men William Connor and Jim Lacey died at the side of the road at Barrowhouse.  A small memorial marks the site of the Barrowhouse ambush.  As we enter a decade of centennial commemorations of major events in Irish history perhaps it would be appropriate for a new memorial to be erected at the place where two young Barrowhouse men died in 1921.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Walsingham - a Place of Pilgrimage

Books open up avenues to places previously unknown and sometime suggest journeys never before planned.  I was conscious of this after reading ‘Walsingham – A Place of Pilgrimage for All People’ written by Claude Fisher which I bought in a second hand book shop in Norwich while on a recent visit to the Norfolk Broads.  The book aroused my interest because of a lengthy handwritten dedication by its author to a named policeman in which Mr. Fisher expressed appreciation ‘of the way you tackled the case in which I was “welshed”’.  The signature and dedication was clearly in the handwriting of an elderly man and was dated 9th April, 1985.  I was later to find out that Claude Fisher, who at one time was the only Catholic living in the village of Walsingham, was the father figure for the Catholic pilgrim shrine of his village where he died on 14th May, 1985.

Walsingham, I learned, was the place where Our Lady was claimed to have appeared in 1061 and which thereafter was venerated as one of the holiest places in England.  The Walsingham Pilgrimage was established at the time of the Crusades when it was impossible for pilgrims to visit the Holy Land and so for English Catholics Walsingham became for centuries prior to the Reformation one of the four major shrines of Christendom ranking beside Jerusalem, Rome and Compostello.

As a result of reading Fisher’s book I undertook the journey from Norwich to Walsingham, not as a pilgrim, for I am a disbeliever when it comes to apparitions, but as an interested student of history.  The routes that pilgrims took to Walsingham, which is a village located at the northern end of Norfolk, were once marked by stone crosses and occasionally by chapels.  Just one mile outside of Walsingham is the last of those pilgrim chapels called ‘the Slipper Chapel’ which survived the destruction which came with the Reformation of the 1540s. 

Walsingham owed its prominence as a pilgrimage centre to King Henry III who in April 1226 made the first of his many visits to the Lady Shrine which was then under the protection of an Augustinian Priory.  It’s importance in the Catholic world was further emphasised with the establishment of a Franciscan Friary in the village in 1347.  In the meantime successive English monarchs made the pilgrimage to Walsingham, ending with King Henry VIII whom tradition relates walked barefoot to the Marian Shrine in thanksgiving for the birth of his son Prince Henry.   

Following the Reformation the priory and the friary were destroyed and Walsingham as a place of pilgrimage was no more.  In October 1781 John Wesley made his only visit to Walsingham and preached there, noting in his diary ‘had there been a grain of spirit in Henry VIII the friary, the cloister and chapel need not have run to ruin’.

It was the Oxford Movement lead by Newman, Keble, Pusey and others at Balliol College, Oxford in 1833 which lead to the development of Anglo Catholicism in the Church of England.  Almost 90 years later a devotee of the High Church, Fr. Alfred Patten, was appointed vicar of the Anglican Parish Church in Walsingham and he set about re-establishing Walsingham as a place of pilgrimage.  Fr. Patten had a Marian Shrine built to duplicate the medieval ‘Holy House’ of pre-reformation days and he soon established Walsingham as a place of pilgrimage for Anglicans.

Around the same time the Slipper Chapel which some decades previously had been purchased and restored for Catholic devotion was re-dedicated as ‘the National Shrine of our Lady for Roman Catholics in England’.  So it is today that the village of Walsingham is a place of Marian pilgrimage for both Anglican and Roman Catholics.  It is also a centre of reconciliation for both faiths which was a major theme of Claude Fisher’s book which he subtitled ‘A Place of Pilgrimage for All People’. 

The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster usually leads the annual national pilgrimage for Roman Catholics, while the Archbishop of Canterbury leads the Anglican pilgrimage.  Both the Catholic and Anglican hierarchy have come together at times to share ecumenical services in the Church of Reconciliation which was constructed some years ago next to the medieval Slipper Chapel.  The Russian Orthodox Church has also had a presence in Walsingham since 1967 and now occupies as their church the former Victorian Methodist Chapel. 

The Anglican Marian Shrine at Walsingham is a measure of the strength of Anglo Catholicism within the Anglican Church where devotion to Mary and recourse to the confessional continue to present challenges.  Today Walsingham is a fine example of a planned medieval village with some excellent timber framed and jettied buildings where modern pilgrims, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox can find comfort and perhaps look to the possible future unification of the various churches.  For myself, even as a non believer in the Marian Shrine phenomenon, I took the opportunity to reflect on the recent miracle that resulted in the saving of the life of a young colleague of mine. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

War Poets and John O'Donnell Solicitor and Poet of Carlow

August is generally one of the quieter months around the town of Athy as most of us are returning to our work places after our Summer breaks and children begin the return to schools by the end of the month.  However August in 2014 we can expect a pleather of events both in Ireland and abroad commemoriating the centenary of the start of World War I or the Great War as it was known for so long.

There has been a great re-awaking of interest in Irish participation of the Great War over the last 20 years marked by a number of fine publications.  We can expect a number of new publications to be released over the next 12 months on the run up to the centenary.  Some of the dominant images or memories of the war are conjured up for us by the Great War poets such as -------- ------ and Wilfred Owen and their view of war has oftened coloured the public's perception and understanding of the war in the subsequent 100 years or thereabouts and there are also of course a number of very fine Irish poets who have contributed to this metology including Francis -------, T.M. Kettle and W.B Yates particularly with -------- poem Death of an Airman.  It led me to wonder whether or not Kildare had made any such contribution to the ------ of Irish War Poetry.  Alas to date I have been unable to identify any particular “---- poet from Kildare”  the only Kildare linked poet to the War is Winifred M. Letts.  Although English born she spent much of her life living in Kilberry with her husband W. H. F. -------------------- and she wrote extensively up to teh 1940's many works of fiction and some of her plays were staged in the Abbey.  She wrote particularly of rural Leinster and wrot two books of poetry entitled “Songs from Leinster” and “More Songs from Leinster”.  However during the War years she served as a nurse and a publication which first brought her to the public's attention was her book “Halloween and Poems of the War” published in 1916.  Much of her ------ was inspired by the scenes she encountered daily in a hospice in which she worked such as an extract from the following poem “Screens” (in a hospital).

“they put the screens around his bed; a crumbled heap I saw him lie,
white counterpain and rough dark head,
those screens – they showed that he would die

they put the screens about his bed; we might not play the gramophone,   
so we play the cards instead and left him dying there alone.

The covers on the screen are red,
the counter plains are white and clean; - he might have lived and loved and wed
but now he is done for at nineteen. 

She resided in Kilberry from 1926 until the death of her husband in 1943 where she returned to the UK before finally returning to Ireland in the late 1960's where she died in Dublin in 1972.

Our near neighbours in Carlow can claim to be the birthplace of a War poet.  John P. O'Donnell was born in Tullow on the 8th of December 1890, one of a set of twins to T.H. O'Donnell being the manager of the National Bank in Tullow.  In or about 1911 John Patrick and his brother, Thomas Henry emigrated to Australia.  They both worked as bank clerks in the Bank New South Wales and after the outbreak of War in 1914 both joined the Australian army serving in the 10th Battelion, third brigade, first devision of Australian Forces.  Their first experience of War was when they landed in ------------ on April, 25th 1915.  While the Carlow men were landing on the beaches of the Turkish Peninsula Athy men were dying on the Western Front.  Joe Byrne of Chapel Lane, a Sergeant in the ----------------- was killed in action in France on teh 26th of April while his brother Anthony a private in his regiment would also die in France two days later.  On that same day on Cape ------- again in ----------- the First Battelion of the Dublin ------------------- landed.  No men from Athy would die on the 25th of April but five days later in defending the beach head from a ferocious counterpart ??? by the Turks John Farrell, Christopher Hannon and Larry Kelly, all from Athy were killed.  The O'Donnell boys were fortunate in surviving the ---------------- landings and the subsequence was months in the trenchs thereafter. 

Patrick's brother Thomas Henry did not enlist until 1916 and served in a different battelion in the same regiment to his brother.  It is believed that they met briefly in Frank in 1916 but sadly Thomas  was to die at Westhoek on the 28th of September 1917.  While recoperating from war wounds in ----- hospital in Hampshire in the UK in 1918 O'Donnell wrote a poem in memory of his brother and the concluding lines recall their emigrant life in Australia in the hope that they would be reunited after Jack's death.

“do you recall way back on sunny shores,
the grand old gumtrees by McCarthy's creek; the kookoburas laughing in the trees,
and all the world asleep. 
Sometimes I think I hear your merry laugh,
as down the gully --------------- whose -------------,
and all around the wonderous tropic night and starry sky.
But when again the Spring in France shall break,
with scarlet poppy and wild sun flowers,
per chance some little sky larks note shall shake departing Winter's stillness in the bowers.
When the tempess of my life is over,
and night draws n----- - may I soak up the chance to sleep as peaceful,
when my spring shall break as those who fell for France”. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Athy in the 18th century

Inland towns such as Athy benefitted enormously from improved road making practises of the 18th century.  Prior to then, responsibility for road repairs rested with individual householders organised on a parochial basis.  Under an Act of 1612, each warden of the established church was obliged to convene meetings of his parish on the Tuesday and Wednesday of Easter week.  At these annual meetings, two parishioners were appointed surveyors of whatever road works were considered necessary in the parish.  Over a period of six days each year, every local householder was required to provide free labour on the roads, while landlords and farmers supplied horses, carts and drivers.  In this way Irish roads of the 17th century were maintained in a very rough and rudimentary way.

In 1727, the first Turnpike Act was passed.  In time, turnpike roads led to most of the important towns in Ireland.  They were built and maintained by business people and landlords who derived an income from tolls collected on traffic using the turnpike roads.  Athy had a turnpike road running through the town from Kilcullen through Castlecomer to Kilkenny.  There were three turnpike gates on that road in and adjoining the town of Athy where tolls were paid.  One gate was located on the Dublin Road on the town side of St. Michael’s Medieval Church, while another gate was placed across St. John’s Street (the present Duke Street) at its junction with Green Alley.  The third turnpike gate and the last to remain in use was on the Castlecomer Road at Beggars End approximately 700 yards from White’s Castle.

By 1760 all compulsory road work for householders was ended and the building of what were called “presentment roads” commenced.  Persons wishing to build or improve roads presented plans and estimates of the proposed work to the County Kildare Grand Jury.  If those plans were approved, the applicant proceeded with the work and sought payment from the Grand Jury which imposed a county cess or tax on local landowners to cover the cost of same.

The improvements in road making techniques in the 18th century considerably enhanced Athy’s business catchment area and boosted the weekly markets upon which economy of the town largely depended.  By 1756 Athy’s population had increased to one thousand seven hundred and seventy nine, almost treble the figure of one hundred years previously.  During the same period, the town’s housing stock had increased to 310, while many fine buildings, both public and private, were constructed during the first half of the eighteenth century.  At the same time the Market Square [now Emily Square] was laid out with many fine private buildings constructed on three sides of what was Athy’s first public space.  Around 1710 an army horse barracks was built on the outskirts of the town by the Quaker Joseph Gill, who was responsible for building similar barracks in Tullow and Carlow.  A military map of 1793 indicates that the barracks accommodated 36 horse troops.  Athy had long been host to troops of the English army and they had used White’s Castle as their base for almost 200 years prior to the building of the new barracks.  The removal of the Army barracks to the Stradbally road gives some indication of the extent to which the town had spread outside its original medieval town walls.  The relocation also reflected the end of the siege mentality which for so long had restricted the town’s development within the bounds of the old walls.

In or around 1755, St. Michael’s Protestant Church was erected to the rear of the Market Square just outside the site of the former Dominican Friary.  Tradition has it that stone from the Friary’s church steeple was incorporated into the new church.  If it was, a direct link with the original Dominican Friary may be found in the present St. Michael’s Protestant Church which was built in 1840, partly of stone removed from the Emily Square Church.  The church of 1755 was built to replace St. Michael’s Medieval Church (now known as ‘the Crickeen’) located in the grounds of St. Michael’s Cemetery, which had been used for church services since the Reformation.

Athy’s transition from village to town status was marked by the erection in the centre of the town of the building which is known today as the Town Hall.  Its exact date of erection is uncertain but the building is to be found on John’s Rocque’s map of Athy east prepared in 1756.  The building served as a County Courthouse, Town Hall and on the ground floor as the Market House of Athy.  Fronted by the spacious Market Square, it gave character and durability to the urban settlement which, despite its previous 500 year existence, was only then emerging from the uncertainty of its early years.