Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Athy Golf Club - Foundation Meeting - Erskine Childers Links with Athy

On Tuesday 18th April the committee of Athy Golf Club will meet in the Town Council Chambers in Rathstewart as part of the club’s celebration of the centenary of it’s foundation.  It was 30th January 1906 that the first meeting of what was to be the future of Athy Golf Club was held in the offices of Athy Urban District Council in the Town Hall.  That meeting was called by a number of local men who had been involved in helping to establish the Royal Leinster Golf Club at Gotham, Maganey just seven years previously.  Amongst those were Patrick Lynch who lived in The Abbey at Emily Square when the Leinster club, which catered for Athy and Carlow, was founded but who had moved to Monasterevin by 1906.  Another involved was the local Catholic curate, Rev. William Duggan, who like Lynch was a founding member of the Leinster Club seven years previously.  Indeed, Duggan, Lynch and H.K. Twomey, a solicitor in Athy with a practice in Emily Square, were all committee members of the Royal Leinster Golf Club.  Matthew J. Minch of Rockfield House was also believed to have been involved in calling the meeting which led to the setting up of Athy Golf Club.  Minch, like his father Matthew J. who died in 1898, was a member of the local Council and of the Board of Guardians.  He had been elected a Member of Parliament as an anti-Parnellite candidate in 1892 and subsequently re-elected, unopposed, in 1895 and 1900.

The invitations for that first meeting arranged for the Council offices in the Town Hall issued under the name of local auctioneer, John Corcoran.  The attendances recorded in the local newspaper included, in addition to those already mentioned, the Parish Priest, Canon Joseph O’Keeffe, the Church of Ireland Rector, Rev. Edward Waller, the manager of the Hibernian Bank, H.F. Lesmond, John A. Duncan of Tonlegee House, Dr. John Kilbride, Dan Carbery, P.J. Murphy, W.G. Murphy, J.F Wright, Charles Collins and R. Anderson.  The attendance was a cross section of the commercial, farming and merchant classes of the area, with the added advantage of clerical support from the two mainstream religions, Catholics and Church of Ireland.

The Parish Priest, Canon Joseph O’Keeffe who had served as a curate in Athy for many years, had returned to the town as Parish Priest the previous May following the death of Canon Germaine.  Rev. Edward Waller came to Athy as Rector in 1891 and would leave in 1913 on his appointment as Dean of Kildare and Canon of Christ Church Cathedral.  Waller was a friend of Erskine Childers from the time when he was Rector of Annamoe at the entrance to the Glendalough Estate of the Bartons where Childers spent his boyhood.  He was Childers’ oldest Irish friend and was with him when he was shot by firing squad at Beggar’s Bush Barracks on 24th November, 1922.  Rev. Waller never forgot the awful sadness of Childers last morning as he walked out into the yard of the Barracks and shook hands with the members of the firing squad who would within minutes shoot him dead.  The prison commander at the Beggars Bush Barracks, Sam Irwin, was later to say “I cursed the fates, the frailty of the leaders, the stupidity of man or whatever it was, that brought the country to this pitch of barbarity”.

Another interesting local connection with Erskine Childers is that the junior member of his defence team was Conor Maguire who was later to be Attorney General and Chief Justice.  His son is Dr. Brian Maguire.  Childers was court martialled in Portobello Barracks and his legal team comprised Michael Commyn, S.C., Patrick Lynch, K.C. and Conor Maguire instructed by John Wood, Solicitor.  The same legal team appeared for Childers in the High Court when an application for Habeas Corpus was made and when that application, which lasted from Monday through to Thursday, was rejected on Thursday, 23rd November Childers was moved to Beggars Bush Barracks.  An appeal was immediately lodged with the Court of Appeal but despite that the authorities decided to go ahead with his execution on Friday, 24th November.  His execution while an appeal was still pending was an inhumane travesty of justice and his good friend, the Reverend Edward Waller, would remember until his own death in 1938 the tears shed by the men whose duty it was to execute Childers that Friday morning.

Dr. John Kilbride, whose father Dr. James Kilbride was Medical Officer of Health for Athy, would later succeed his father in that position.  It was Dr. James Kilbride who campaigned over a long period to get the Urban District Council of Athy to have the unsanitary and unhealthy public wells of the town replaced with a piped water supply system.  His early efforts in that regard were met with opposition from the Ratepayers Protection Association.  At one stage Dr. James, having castigated the Town Council for their neglect which led to a number of deaths from typhoid fever, felt obliged to tender his resignation after he was “unjustly and insolently” attacked by some members of the Council.  His resignation was not accepted and he subsequently succeeded in having an improved water supply system put in place for the town.

His son, Dr. John Kilbride, one of the founding members of Athy Golf Club, enlisted in the British Army during the 1914-18 war and on his return and following the death of his father in September 1925 became Medical Officer of Health for Athy.  He was to the forefront of the Slum Clearance Programme started in the early 1930’s which led to the transformation of the town and in that he was continuing a campaign first started by his father, Dr. James, who in November 1906 reported to the Urban District Council on the “unsanitary housing of the working classes in Athy”.  Dr. John Kilbride would eventually retire to live in Tramore in the early 1960’s having become the last surviving member of the small group who came together in January 1906 to set up a golf club in Athy.  [I wonder what connection, if any, did Dr. James and Dr. John have with Surgeon Lieutenant Commander T.J. Kilbride who died on 14th May 1924 and who is buried in St. Michael’s?].

John A. Duncan of Tonlegee House was chairman of Athy Urban District Council and proprietor of Duncans (now Shaws) of Duke Street.  A Methodist, his father was Alexander Duncan, the moving force in the building of the Methodist Church and Sunday School in Barrack Street which was dedicated in June 1874.  Alexander Duncan was a Home Ruler and a successful businessman and while his son John also became involved in local politics, he lacked his father’s business acumen.  The long established Duncan business went into decline and on being purchased by Sam Shaw in time developed to become part of “Shaws Almost Nationwide”.

Dan Carbery, who was born in 1865, was the son of a carpenter of the same name whose family was evicted from his holding at Luggacurran on 30th May 1889.  The Carberys were one of 87 families evicted from the Luggacurran estate of Lord Landsdowne in the first wave of evictions between 22nd March and 23rd April 1887 and the second evictions between 28th May and 31st May 1889.  Daniel Carbery Senior brought his family to Athy where four years later he died aged 53 years.  His two sons, Dan and John, set up the business of D. & J. Carbery Building Contractors the following year but within two years John Carbery died.  Dan Carbery retained the running of the Athy branch of the business, while another brother, Peter, took over the running of the Carlow branch.  Dan Carbery attended the meeting in the Urban District Council offices in January 1906 and would remain a member of the club until his death in February 1949, aged 83 years. 

P.J. Murphy of Emily Square was, I believe, the proprietor of the Commercial House which is now Supermacs.  He lived in Prospect House on the Carlow Road and was a member of Athy Urban District Council.  It is surely no coincidence that of the small number of men (no women) who attended the inaugural meeting of the Golf Club on 30th January 1906, no fewer than four were Urban Councillors.  Matthew J. Minch, Daniel Carbery, John A. Duncan and P.J. Murphy were all members of the newly constituted Urban District Council which met for the first time on 2nd April 1900.

The Hibernian Bank Manager, H.F. Lesmond who also attended the 1906 meeting, was to become the second captain of the new Golf Club following the resignation of Patrick Lynch of Monasterevin from that position in October 1906.  Lesmond himself was to step down as Club Captain the following March when news of his arrest for embezzlement became public.  I have not positively identified the following men who also attended the first meeting in January 1906:-  R. Anderson, W.G. Murphy, J.F. Wright and Charles Collins.  On 18th April the town chamber will again play host to golfing enthusiasts as it did that January evening one hundred years ago.  I wonder will the current club committee members dress up in  top hats and tails as did their predecessors?

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