The jeweller’s shop at No. 30 Leinster Street holds youthful memories for many locals. It was there in the shop window next to the L&N Stores that Albert Duthie signalled the approach of Christmas by placing a nodding Santa Claus on the top shelf. As youngsters, my friends and I approached the window in the darkening gloom of winter evenings to bask in the simple belief that anything we asked for would somehow magically appear on Christmas morning. As we grew older and innocent beliefs disappeared, the nodding Santa Claus still attracted our attention but now as a forerunner of Christmas festivities and the school holidays to which we looked forward with eager anticipation.
Albert Duthie sadly died at a relatively young age in 1979 and the business, which had been started in No. 30 Leinster Street by W. O’Connor sometime in the 1800s, passed to Albert’s widow Anna. Mrs. Duthie has recently retired and what was once a watch and clockmaker and jewellers business, closed its doors for the last time on 31st July, 2013.
It is believed that W. O’Connor started the business in Athy, exactly when it’s not known, at a time when other watch and clockmakers were or had been practising in Duke Street. William Plewman was an Athy watch and clock maker listed in a trade directory of 1824 and was still in business 32 years later as evidenced by a William Plewman watch hallmarked 1856. Another watchmaker of the 19th century was Thomas Plewman whom I suspect was a son of William who was responsible for repairing the Canal Company clock in Monasterevin. C.H. St. John had his shop where Shane Gillen’s business recently opened and further up Duke Street was the shop of W.P. St. John. I don’t know the connection, if any, between the two St. John’s but with such an unusual surname I can reasonably assume that they were related. W.P. St. John carried on business in the Crown House, now occupied by Griffin Hawes.
Albert Duthie’s father, William Thomas Duthie, who came from a farming background, worked for W. O’Connor from sometime around the late 1880s. When the veteran watch and clockmaker Mr. O’Connor died in 1903, his wife having predeceased him, and leaving no family, the business was left to William Thomas Duthie and to O’Connors two spinster sisters, the Miss O’Neills. The O’Neill sisters were family members of the O’Neill half of O’Neill and Telford whose foundry and machinery works in Leinster Street were later taken over by Duthie Larges. The family links were extended into the new firm as James Duthie, who set up the partnership with Harry Large of Rheban, was a brother of William Thomas Duthie and an uncle of Albert Duthie. William Thomas Duthie bought out the interest of the Miss O’Neills and the Duthie name went over the door of No. 30 Leinster Street just over 100 years ago.
Albert Duthie after a five year apprenticeship in Dublin returned to Athy to work with his father a few years before William Thomas passed away in 1949. Just a year earlier Ann Breakey from Ballybay in Co. Monaghan came to work as a chargehand in Shaws. In 1953 Albert and Anna married.
Duthie’s jewellery shop was always an important part of the business streetscape of Athy and Albert Duthie a passionate promoter of the town. I can recall how he had tea spoons, key rings and cups embossed with the Athy crest for sale in his shop. He was proud of Athy and proud of the Duthie family association with the town. It was an association which saw his uncle James Duthie acting as secretary of Athy’s volunteer Fire Brigade in 1907. The local Town Commissioners had first organised a voluntary Fire Brigade for the town in 1881 when public funds were used to purchase ‘12 zinc buckets and a barrel or a tub for the better working of the engine.’ James Duthie wrote to the Town Clerk on the 15th of April 1907 advising that the Fire Brigade had 27 volunteers but hoped to increase the number to 37. The Council for its part approved the use of the fire engine by the newly formed voluntary group.
Albert Duthie died in 1979 aged 54 years, leaving his wife Anna and their two children Heather and Alastair. For the next 34 years Mrs. Duthie carried on the business first started by W. O’Connor and continued through two generations of the Duthies to become Athy’s oldest watch and clock repair and jewellery business.
Anna Duthie, like her late husband Albert, has always exhibited a great interest in and appreciation of all things Athy. She has been a wonderful help to me in relation to the history of the Presbyterian Church in Athy and has always shown a willingness to share with me information on aspects of Athy’s story, a story in which generations of the Duthie family once played a prominent part.
Good wishes are extended to Mrs. Duthie on her retirement and with it goes the thanks of many hundreds of local youngsters of yesteryear who remember with fondness the Santa Claus which graced the shop window of Athy’s oldest jewellery shop over many Christmases.