Provincial newspapers present a varied and interesting snapshop of our daily lives and a pristine copy of “The Nationalist and Leinster Times” of Saturday, 30th December 1899 which I have in front of me confirms that newspaper’s vital role in recording the local events of the day.
The newspaper first published in September 1883 was sold for two pence and here in Athy copies were available from the Nationalist Office or Mrs. Noud’s shop or that of Mrs. Watts. Advertisements filled the front page but in the final issue for the 19th century, space on that front page was found for a letter from a young Carlow man who was a member of the 2nd Battalion Dublin Fusiliers serving in the Boer War. Writing from Natal in South Africa to his family in Carlow he recounted the difficulties experienced in the fight against the Boers.
“We are marching day and night. We are 600 strong out of 1,060 men we had. The other day we had a company blown up and those who were not killed were captured by the Boers. We have not a single dry stitch of clothes on us after marching along 23 miles all night - it was raining all the time.”
A separate report on the progress of the Boer War claimed “the position of the garrison at Ladysmith is becoming more serious daily. Besides the effect of the constant and heavy bombardment the outlook is a gloomy one from the point of view of supplies.”
The events in South Africa prompted some Athy lads to signal their support for the Boer cause in a way in which the Nationalist Newspaper reported under the headline “THE ATHY BOYS PLAY A PRANK ON CHRISTMAS EVE - A BOER FLAG FLOATS OVER THE CAPITAL”. It would seem that Christmas Eve in Athy was traditionally a favourite night for practical joking and as the paper reported “in years past ‘singing the waits’ used to be a favourite pastime about the small hours of the morning. This year the custom was allowed to lapse and instead a war flag was floated from the highest part of the Town Hall.”
No one knew how or by whom the flag was placed in the Town Hall where the caretaker was William McCleary “who hails from North of the Boyne”. The report continued :-
“On Christmas Eve between 7 and 8 o’clock a firework and cracker display was noticed about the Town Hall. The Police whose duty is to repress unauthorised exhibitions of this sort came on the scene but the organisers of the display seemed to be quite as mobile as the Boers ….. in the morning a grand green flag floated from the pinnacle which surmounts the town clock. As the day wore on and as the crowds who viewed the banner increased it was felt that steps should be taken to haul the flag down. William Cleary volunteered for the task and about 3 o’clock he ascended to the top of the building armed with a fishing rod to the end of which was attached a knife which he used to cut down the flag.”
The report of the Christmas Eve shenanigans concluded :-
“Accounts brought by native runners from Dunbrim disclose the fact that after dispersion by the Police the band retired to a lonely kopje overhanging the Barrow and called Coneyboro. Here they made a bonfire and when it was in full blaze they threw in a shell in the shape of a gallon of paraffin. The fluid exploded with a report as loud as that of ‘Long Tom’ himself and so loud that it wakened sleepers in distant Grangemellon”.
Returning to the front advertisements Miss L. Browne [Manageress for the late M.C. Timmons] announced the opening of her “Boot and Leather Warehouse in Duke Street” where boots and shoes of every description could be had including “strong handmade boots”. An advertisement on the back page of the same issue advised readers that the “home manufacture of boots and shoes” carried on at the Leather Warehouse, Duke Street of the late Christopher Timmons would be continued by his personal representatives.
Deegans & Sons of Leinster Street had a front page advertisement under the heading “Athy Fairs” advising farmers “we have just completed extensive stabling and cattle sheds, close to Fair Green, for the free use and benefit of our ever increasing customers desirous of finding home comforts. None but the purest and best brands of whiskey, wines, brandy’s, etc. stocked. Tea and coffee from 5 a.m. Dinner at shortest notice. Cold luncheons always available.”
The Evicted Tenants Restoration Fund advertised a public meeting for the purpose of organising a county collection in aid of the Evicted Tenants Restoration Fund to be held in the Town Hall, Carlow on 9th January 1900. “All sympathisers with the wounded soldiers of the Land War are invited to intend - God Save Ireland”.
In notes under the by-line “Tatler” which followed the weekly editorial appeared the following.
“After protracted negotiations extending over at least two years the Clongorey evicted tenants dispute is at last settled. The holdings have been striped by the Land Commission officials and next week the tenants will sign the deeds which will constitute them owners in fee subject to payment of the annual instalments for 49 years to the Land Commission……it is now over 12 years since the evictions took place……I am also delighted to learn that on the best of authority that there is every likelihood of a settlement being arrived at in Luggacurran (where tenants were evicted 13 years previously). The Marquis of Landsdowne has been induced to treat with the representatives of tenants and as in Clongorey the basis of a likely settlement is by purchase.”
The funeral of Henry J. O’Neill which took place on Friday, 22nd December was reported. From Geraldine House, Athy, Henry was a young man who was survived by his father, Dr. P.L. O’Neill and his brothers Dr. Jeremiah, Dr. P.L. Jnr., John, Stephen and Dennis. His sister was married to local auctioneer, P.J. Corcoran. Athy Rugby Club held a special meeting on the evening of the funeral to pass a vote of sympathy with the O’Neill family and as a mark of respect postponed the match with Clontarf fixed for Stephen’s Day.
Under the headline “CHRISTMAS DAY IN ATHY” appeared this report.
“Christmas in Athy was unusually quiet. The effects of the recent retreat was observable in the decorum which prevailed and a noticeable absence of drunkenness. At an early hour of Christmas morning the town bands paraded the streets playing a series of stirring airs which served the double purpose of reminding the townspeople of the great festival which had dawned and of awakening them for their morning devotions. The first mass in the Parish Church was celebrated at 6.00 o’clock and there was frequent masses up to 12 o’clock. In the Dominican Church the festivities were celebrated with the usual solemnities”.
This was how “The Nationalist and Leinster Times” of 30th December, 1899 recorded local events of the last days of the 19th century.