With the festive season continuing I am again delving into the past by means of two photographs from the not too distant past. The Tuesday market in Athy goes back to the 16th century when Henry VIII of England granted a charter to the inhabitants of the village of Athy. At that time the population was just a few hundred, but even then Athy was developing as a market centre to cater for the outlying regions. The villagers catered for their own needs which necessitated the development of trade locally but in doing so they helped to energise the economy of the region at a time when roads were undeveloped and the River Barrow provided the all important transport corridor in and out of Athy.
The early market was probably located on the west bank of the River Barrow near to the site of Woodstock Castle for it was there that the village of Athy was first located. Markets for the sale of farm produce were complemented by markets for manmade goods where the local tradesmen exchanged their products in a bartering system on which early commerce was founded.
Persistent attacks from the “wild Irish” on the settlers houses which were located in the shadow of Woodstock Castle led to a gradual move away from the site of the initial village to more secure surroundings on the east bank of the River Barrow. White’s Castle had been built in 1417 specifically to secure the bridge over the River Barrow and this gave an impetus to the east river bank development which would in time result in the village of Athy being repositioned there. With the transition came the weekly market which is likely to have been located on the road to Gallows Hill until it returned to the town centre on the development of the market square in the early part of the 18th century.
The weekly market held each Tuesday is now almost 500 years old and brings to the town each week a galaxy of wheelers and dealers with bargains to offer. Even in my time the market has changed. In the 1950’s and the 1960’s the sale of second hand clothes was a major part of the market. Nowadays the market is largely taken over with the sale of tools, household goods and second hand items. The ladies from the Dublin Liberties who regularly came to the Athy Market with bundles of second hand clothes are no more to be seen. The two photographs which were taken in the late 1960’s by Mary Cunningham are an evocative reminder of the market as it was forty years ago.