Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Margo Gough, Alice Lawler, Nicholas Ashe, Martin Murphy

I can't remember when I first met Margo Gough.  The redoubtable Margo was a lady of character.  Charitable and generous, despite her oft repeated claim as to be the meanest woman in Leinster, she was fiercely independent, yet appreciative of whatever was done for her.  An active woman, she proudly cherished the benefits of fresh air and her walks along the River Barrow with her trusty walking stick clutched behind her back afforded her the opportunity to meet, greet and talk to passing acquaintances and strangers alike.  Margo raged against the advancing years which curtailed her outings outdoors.  Life was to be treasured and shared with others and she found the restricted confinement of indoor life an unacceptable disadvantage of old age.

I liked Margo.  Anyone whose concern for the less well off in a Continent as far away as India had an appreciation and an understanding of the true meaning of the brotherhood of men or perhaps I should write, the sisterhood of women.  The Dominicans held a special place in Margo's heart and her visit to the Barrowside Chapel for morning mass was a daily occurrence which lasted for as long as her health permitted.  The presence of two Dominican priests including her friend Fr. Hugh Fenning at the funeral mass was an acknowledgment of Margo's long standing affinity with the Order of the Black Preachers.

Margo passed away aged 84 years, just a few days after Mrs. Alice J. Lawler, aged 98 years.  Widowed at a young age when her husband Jim was killed while working on the Poulaphouca Electricity Scheme, Alice Lawler was, for as long as I can remember, a valued and trusted member of the staff of Bob Osborne's office and subsequently that of his son Cyril.  She was a lovely good natured lady who during her long life brought a smile and good humour wherever she went.  May both Margo and Alice rest in peace.

Delving into correspondence recently received by me I have a number of unanswered queries with which I need some help.  A lady from Massachusetts America, having read the second book of the Eye on the Past series asked me for some information on the Caulfields of Levitstown.  I have some reference to Dan Caulfield who was one of the principal Catholic landowners harassed by government troops during the 1798 period and if I recall correctly he was one of the parties to whom the site of St. Michael's Parish Church was transferred to in trust in the early part of the 1800's.  The family seems to have left the area in the 1880's when according to my correspondent “the estate was forfeited”.  Can anyone throw any light on the Caulfields of Levitstown?

Another less recently received query was from a London man who is preparing a book for publication on prize book plates.  A rare example of an 18th century plate puzzled him.  It was quite a handsome engraving showing Apollo awarding laurels to a young lad with a Temple in the background.  The engraving is surmounted by a scroll with the words “Athy School” and beneath the engraving was written the name of the prizewinner with the signature of the school head “Nich Ashe”.  I was able to identify Nicholas Ashe's signature from copies of some letters he wrote to the Duke of Leinster during and after the '98 Rebellion. 

Ashe had a school in Athy, the first reference to which I have found was in 1791.  It was then mentioned as the school in which Thomas Lefroy and his brother Ben enrolled after arriving from County Longford.  In keeping with private schools of the time it was probably a private house catering for a small number of boarders located somewhere on the main street of the town.

Thomas Lefroy would later in life become Chief Justice of Ireland and he had a romance with Jane Austen during the summer of 1795.  The character Fitzwilliam Darcy in her book “Pride and Prejudice” is reputably based on Thomas Lefroy with whom Jane Austen is believed to have fallen in love.

Nicholas Ashe was the Church of Ireland curate at Fontstown, a position to which he was appointed in 1794.  He was elected sovereign of Athy for 1797/'98 and the latter part of his term in office coincided with the early weeks of the rebellion.  Ashe, as town sovereign, encouraged the rebels to hand up their arms and tried, unsuccessfully it must be said, to stem the acts of cruelty which were common to both rebels and crown soldiers.  He was a good man, as one would expect of a man of the cloth, but he was nevertheless roughly treated by the soldiers, 60 of whom were quartered with him in his private residence.  This imposed the responsibility of  feeding the 60 soldiers on Ashe who was so impoverished as a result that the Duke of Leinster was moved to claim  “Ashe was obliged to do his duty as a magistrate in his slippers”.

Nicholas Ashe was appointed vicar of Laraghbryan, Maynooth in 1799 and he died there in 1816.  It's quite likely that the Duke of Leinster obtained the appointment to enable him to get away from the loyalists of Athy who turned against Ashe, as did the crown soldiers, because of his efforts to get the Irish rebels to peacefully hand up their arms. 

Has anyone come across an Athy school bookplate, and perhaps more importantly are there any documents or maps to show where Nicholas Ashe's school was located just over 200 years ago?

I have on my desk as I write a photocopy of a telegram received in Castledermot in 1915 addressed to “Murphy Kileen Maganey Kildare” with the message: 
            “Regret to inform you that No. 7618 Martin Murphy was killed in action on 21st October.           Letter follows
                                                                        Commander Irish Guards”

Murphy was 22 years old when he died in France, and fighting on the same war front was his brother Jack who would survive the war and return to live in Meeting Lane Athy.  There were two other Murphy brothers, one too young to enlist, but the eldest Michael wore the makeshift uniform of a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army.  Enlistment to fight in the First World War did not indicate political affiliation with the crown or indeed disassociation from the ideals of the Sinn Fein party.  Divergences of political opinion were largely absent from the Ireland of 1914 and 1915 and would only emerge following the Easter Rebellion of 1916.  But by then the thousands of young Irishmen emboldened by the apparent glamour of uniformed life and the thrill of overseas travel had committed themselves for the duration of the war.

The awful tragedy of those years is captured in the telegram announcing the death of young Martin Murphy who died as his brother Jack continued his temporary army career in war torn France, while brother Michael joined local men Ned Kane, Tom Wilkie, Paddy Cosgrave and others in drill and arms training for a future war – the Irish War of Independence.  Irish history is full of these apparent contradictions but behind them lies explanations and the reality of life as it was lived in Ireland 90 years ago.

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