Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Happenings in Athy December 1899

The Nationalist and Leinster Times of Saturday, 30th December 1899 priced at 2 pence carried a front page notice proudly boasting that it comprised 12 pages.  The front page was devoted to advertisements, with most space devoted to Carlow and Kildare Auctioneers, including P.J. Corcoran of Athy and Deegan & Sons of Leinster Street.  Miss L. Browne, ‘manageress for the late Mr. C. Timmons’, informed the public of the opening of her boot and leather warehouse in Duke Street, while the Athy Tile & Brick Co. Ltd. had available for sale their new make of full size red bricks 9ins. x 4½ins. x 3ins.

The Evicted Tenants Restoration Fund advertised a meeting scheduled for the Town Hall Carlow on Tuesday 9th January for the purpose of organising a county collection.  ‘All sympathisers with the wounded soldiers of the land war are invited to attend – God Save Ireland’.  Inside the news coverage disclosed that after protracted negotiations extending over at least two years the Clongorey Evicted Tenants Dispute was at last settled.  The evictions took place 12 years previously.  The earlier evictions at Luggacurran had not been the subject of a settlement, but the paper reported the prospect of one as the landlord, Lord Landsdowne, has been induced to consent to negotiate with the representatives of the tenants.

The Athy notes recorded the death of Henry J. O’Neill of Geraldine House, brother of Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill, and the death of ‘a young man named Flynn’ killed the previous week during the course of the Boer War.  I’ve been unable to identify the Flynn man in question but he was just one of the many men from Athy who served in Irish Regiments in Africa during the Boer War.  Recruiting was still taking place in December 1899 as the following week’s paper reported that ‘amongst the volunteers for South Africa are Mr. Butler of Ballybar and Mr. Telford, son of Mr. S. Telford of Barrowford, Athy’.

The Boer War was the subject of several other news items in the last newspaper of the 19th century.  The position of the garrison under siege in Ladysmith was reported as very serious.  From a list compiled by the Press Association it was reported that British losses in the war amounted to nearly 7,000 killed, wounded or missing.  One of those reported as wounded was Billy Nicholson, an athlete particularly well known to the people of Athy where the paper reported ‘his frank and jovial manner made him a great favourite.’

The Boer War was also prominent in a prank played in Athy on Christmas Eve by practical jokers.  The Nationalist and Leinster Times reported ‘that the lads of sweet Athy are famed for fun and frivolity and this year the pranksters decided to float a war flag from the highest point of the Town Hall.  How the feat was accomplished is a mystery, nor is it known how the perpetrators of the joke got access to the building.  Although used as a Town Hall and for the meetings of the Town Commissioners, the building is the private property of the Duke of Leinster.  It is in charge of a very vigilant custodian, William McCleary, who hails from north of the Boyne and is as shrewd as men from the Northern Province usually are.  On Christmas Eve between 7 and 8 o’clock a fireworks and cracker display was noted about the Town Hall.  The police were quickly on the scene but the organisers of the display seemed to be quite as mobile as the Boers and on the approach of the officers of the law they retired.  In the morning as soon as the first streaks of dawn appeared a grand green flag floated from the pinnacle which surmounts the Town Hall.  William McCleary, the Town Hall caretaker, volunteered to remove the flag and at about 3 o’clock he ascended to the roof of the building.  He had armed himself with a fishing rod, to the end of which he had tied a knife.  He cut through the strands of rope which held the standard in position and after some exertion the cords were cut through and the emblem of Krugerdom collapsed.  William handed the flag over to the police who are actively engaged in investigating the matter.

The flag incident has occasioned a great deal of talk about Athy and there is much conjecture as to the individuality of the daring crew who seized on the principal building of the town in this way.  Accounts brought by native runners from Dunbrinn direction disclose the fact that after dispersion by the police the band retired to a lonely kopje overhanging the Barrow and called Coneyboro.  Here they made a bonfire and when it was in full blaze they threw in a shell in the shape of a gallon of paraffin.  The fluid exploded with a report so loud that it awakened sleepers in distant Grangemellon.’
Hopefully the descendants of the Boer War pranksters and the Grangemellon sleepers will note that the Medieval Festival takes place in and around the Heritage Centre on Sunday, 24th August commencing at 12 noon.  On Wednesday, 20th August a walk along the line of the medieval wall of Athy will start at the Heritage Centre at 7.15 p.m.  Under the title ‘All Along the Watch Towers’ the walkers will be given a commentary as they take a leisurely walk through the town.  This is a Heritage Week event for which there is no charge.

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