Lords Island. We all know where it is, but from where did the name come? Was it a reference to the Lords of the Manor, who in the 18th century had a fishing lodge built near to the River Barrow and near to the aforementioned island. Dukes Lodge on the Carlow Road clearly indicates in its name that the Duke of Leinster was the first owner of that fine residence.
Whether or not the Lords island, created soon after the Grand Canal was extended to Athy in 1791, was named after the Duke of Leinster is somewhat problematic. The more likely explanation for the name, Lords Island, lies in the name of the family who once owned the land out of which the island was created. The Lords had links with Athy going back to at least 1836, but I suspect that further research will push back that date even further. In 1836 that Edward Lord, the only son of John and Elizabeth Lord, was baptised in St. Michael’s [Catholic] Parish Church. The Lords were descendants of a Dublin family, previous generations of whom were merchants and apothecaries. John Lord was an attorney, as solicitors were known in the 1830’s, with an office in the town of Athy. He was also believed to be an agent for the Duke of Leinster who had extensive property in and around Athy and indeed throughout the whole of the county of Kildare.
Recent family research by a descendant of the Lord family would indicate that Athy Lodge on Church Road was built in 1838 by the Duke of Leinster for John Lord and his family. Apart from being an attorney and agent for the Duke of Leinster, John Lord was also involved in municipal affairs and was a member of the first Town Commissioners elected for Athy in 1842. He was re-elected to the Commissioners in 1847. His only son Edward was educated in St. Patrick’s College, Carlow and after a further period of private tuition he became apprenticed to his father in 1855 at the age of 19 years. Five years later he qualified as a solicitor and joined his father’s legal practice. In 1868 at the Pro Cathedral in Dublin Edward Lord married Josephine Henderson, the daughter of the late James Henderson and brother of William French Henderson, both solicitors from Tuam in County Galway. Attorneys, so called in previous generations, were by then described as Solicitors following the withdrawal of that part of the legal profession from the Kings Inns on the establishment of their own society. The married couple lived in Athy Lodge which was vacated by John Lord who would die in Dublin the following year, aged 78 years.
Edward Lord followed his father into local politics and was elected as chairman of Athy Town Commissioners in 1874 to which position he was re-elected four years later. By now Lord was one of three Solicitors practising in Athy, the others being Jeremiah Mara and Edward B. Smith. His commitment to the social life of the town was evidenced by his involvement as a committee member in the Athy Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club. The birth of his first child John in 1869 followed by his first daughter Mary in 1872 prompted the rebuilding of Athy Lodge, work on which was completed the following year. A second daughter, Moira, was born in 1875 but tragically two years later Mary Lord died at four years of age.
The Lord family had substantial agricultural holdings around Athy, including land at Ardreigh and Coneyboro and the area now known as Lords Island. Another large holding was to the rear of the Convent of Mercy which had been build in 1852 on land which like the field to its rear, was once Commonage. The Parish Church was built in 1808 on marshy ground which formed part of the ancient Commonage to which the locals had grazing rights. The Parish Priest, with a view to securing a site for a school and possibly a convent, offered to pay rent to the Duke of Leinster and in doing so acknowledged the Duke’s property rights to what was for centuries part of the towns Commonage. When the time came for the Parish Priest to press his case for a site for the Mercy Convent, the Duke of Leinster refused, leaving the Parish Priest with no option but to have the convent built on the Parish Church site. In accommodating the new convent building on the restricted site the original convent design had to be altered substantially. How Edward Lord came to acquire the Moneen Commons is not clear but clearly his position as the Duke of Leinsters agent facilitated the transfer from public to private ownership. In 1882 Lord offered to sell to the Sisters of Mercy a sufficient amount of the former commonage to enable the convent to be extended and a pension school to be built. The consideration of £150 was paid by the Sisters of Mercy prior to the departure of Edward Lord and his family to America in 1885. The once wealthy Lord family had fallen on hard times and Athy Lodge and the lands at Ardreigh and Coneyboro were auctioned on 4th September 1885. Dr. James Kilbride bought Athy Lodge.
Edward Lord and his family settled in San Francisco where Edward was intermittently registered as an Attorney at Law for a number of years. His wife Josephine died there in 1897 and five years later Edward died, aged 65 years in the City and County Alms House, San Francisco. Their daughter Monica passed away in 1908 just two years after the Great Earthquake which brought destruction to the Californian city where the Lord family had hoped to make a new life just a decade or so earlier. The only son of Edward and Josephine Lord, enlisted as a private in the Grenadier Guards in Dublin five years after the other members of this family emigrated to America. John Oates Lord who was born at Athy Lodge on 19th July 1869 died in Southampton in March 1915.
Lords Island remains a permanent reminder of a family who in their time must have made a substantial contribution to the social life of Athy, a contribution which the intervening years have allowed to pass from memory and indeed from the extant written records of our town. On a personal level, I finish this article on 17th November as the Angelus bell tolls and I’m reminded that exactly 40 years ago in just 15 minutes time or so, a 21 year old, my brother, died tragically on the road just outside Athy. It was possibly the same road that Edward Lord and his family took as they left Athy for the last time 120 years ago. May God be kind to all of them.
My thanks to the many readers who contacted me over the last few days in response to the queries raised in last weeks issue. The reference to the ploughing match evoked a huge response, with several of those who made contact believing that 1931 was not the year of the first ploughing contest between Kildare and Wexford. The National Ploughing Association celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1981 and published a small booklet in which reference was made to that first ploughing match in 1931. Further confirmation of this came in an article written twenty years ago by the late Jimmy Higgins following an interview with Anna May McHugh. One of my callers, Josh Hendy, confirmed the year as 1931 as he recalled meeting the ploughmen going out to Hosies field at Coursetown [now Foxes] where the ploughing match was held. More about this again.