The 1930's in Athy as elsewhere were hard times. "There was not a shilling about" is one common claim. The weekly markets in the town were a hive of activity to where the local farmers brought their produce to sell in an attempt to off-set the worst effects of the economic war.
The Tuesday market was as always the more colourful of the weekly markets with clothing and haberdashery stalls offering a wide variety of goods. Amongst the Tuesday market stalls in 1935 there appeared a man who by his colour and appearance marked him out as a foreigner. He was believed to be of Indian extraction and the temporary stall which he set up that first morning displayed a bewildering array of bottles, potions and medicines. The stranger who described himself as a herb specialist was known as “Doctor” Don Rodrique de Vere. His appearance excited curiosity as did his loud proclamations as to the efficacy of his specially prepared potions designed to cure the most stubborn of ills.
The response which the new market trader encountered in Athy encouraged him to prolong his stay and he set up home in a disused shed at the rear of Garter Lane. He continued to sell his potions and herbs earning the approval of the local people for whom home remedies handed down from generation to generation were more highly regarded than a visit to a local Doctor for conventional medicine.
A Doctor he was not but nevertheless the well-spoken articulate Indian was always referred to as Dr. Don Rodrique de Vere. His background was unknown but it is believed that he was a former medical student who, for whatever reason, had given up his medical studies.
His success in Athy prompted a search for a permanent address and he secured the tenancy of No. 22 Blackparks, the last house in a row of single storey terraced houses on the Kilkenny Road which have since been demolished. By now a well known character in the town the Black Doctor as he was commonly called was the subject of a ballad composed by local Balladeer Moses Rowe of Churchtown, part of which read:-
"He searched all round for a house in the town
and then he secured one quite near,
Where he took his place with the men of his race,
Dr. Don Rodrique de Vere."
Erecting a sign over the door of his small house proclaiming to all and sundry that he was a "Herb Specialist" the Black Doctor soon built up a substantial clientele. His fame spread beyond the immediate area of Athy and soon he purchased a motor bike with a side car which he ingeniously covered in to give the appearance of a bubble-like car. An impressive dresser he always wore a Panama hat and gaiters which with an off-white suit and a double watch chain to match his gold tooth marked him as a man apart.
His success with potions and lotions almost inevitably brought him into contact with those unfortunate women who for one reason or another wanted a concoction to induce a miscarriage. This was at a time before Public Health Schemes were in place. Poor people, especially those unable to pay for medical treatment, were left to their own devices and in the absence of any health education or information concerning birth control it was almost inevitable that the services of a herb specialist such as the Black Doctor would be called upon.
This was to be his downfall. In time he was arrested and charged with assisting in procuring an abortion and on his subsequent conviction he was sentenced to imprisonment. After his release from jail he returned to his small house in Blackpark but by then the women folk had turned against the Black Doctor. He was shunned by the local people and confining himself indoors he did not venture out even to replenish his bucket of drinking water from the nearby pump. Instead he availed of the rain barrel in his yard and in time he contacted lead poison, requiring his admission to Naas Hospital where he died in or about 1945. I have been unable to trace his last resting place.
Dr. Don Rodrique de Vere is often mentioned by the older people of the town as a colourful character who is remembered with fondness and whose eventual fall from grace is overlooked in the backward glance at times past.