Monday, September 8, 2014

Michael Malone’s ‘Annals of Athy’ were published by Burrows of Cheltenham and London in the early 1930s.  The date of publication is not stated on the booklet, which however carries a foreword by the author dated 4th July 1931.  It also carried advertisements for 15 businesses in the town and remarkably only one of those is still trading.  Shaw & Sons proudly claimed that it was ‘Athy’s most popular shopping centre’, offering its services as ‘drapers, outfitting specialists, house furnishers, retailers of shoes and boots, sports outfits, jackets, tennis racquets, suitcases, fancy stationers and travel requisites.’

The local business advertisers who are no longer in the town included St. John, Jeweller, Purcell brothers of William Street, Jackson Bros. of 58 Leinster Street and F.J. Darling, Hairdressing Saloon of 28 Leinster Street.  McHughs Pharmacy of the Medical Hall in Duke Street has changed hands and is now operated by Aileen Wynne, daughter of my school pal Ted Wynne and his wife Eileen.  Duthie Larges Co. Ltd. was another large firm in the 1930s which has since gone out of business, the same with D. & J. Carbery Building Contractors.  Murphys, General Drapers of Commercial House in Emily Square, established for over 60 years when the Annals appeared have gone from the local scene, as has Industrial Vehicles (Ireland) Limited and W.S. Cross, Plumber and Domestic Engineer of Duke Street.

At a time when there was little holiday travel the comings and goings of commercial travellers throughout provincial Ireland brought much needed business to local hotels.  Malone’s ‘Annals of Athy carries advertisements for four Athy hotels.  The principal hotel was of course the Leinster Arms which had occupied the same site at the corner of Athy’s High Street, later Leinster Street, for upwards of 200 years.  It was a ‘first class family and commercial’ establishment, ‘fully licensed’ and with a ‘free garage’.  Perhaps less salubrious was the Central Hotel in Leinster Street owned by J. Hutchinson, who also carried on business as an electrical contractor from that address.  The Central Hotel premises are now owned by Bradburys and I am reminded that several years ago an elderly lady wrote to me from Wales telling me of her connections with Athy.  She had been born in the town to parents who owned and operated the Central Hotel.  Following the death of her father her mother who was a member of the Church of Ireland married one of her employees, who as far as I can remember was a member of the unreformed Church.  Ostracised by her co-religionists the young woman sold the Central Hotel and emigrated with her family to England.  Her daughter who wrote to me has since died but she wrote a play based on the events surrounding her mother’s time in Athy and kindly sent a copy of the play to me.  Her story is one I will return to again.

There were advertisements for four hotels in Malone’s ‘Annals’, the third being the Hibernian Hotel of Leinster Street operated by Mrs. Lawler.  It offered ‘comfortable bedrooms, good cooking and attendance’ with ‘good accommodation for visitors and commercial gentlemen.’  This advertisement was shared with Michael Lawler who operated as a ‘family grocer, tea, wine and provisions merchant’ from the same premises.  Now known as Murphys, the Hibernian Hotel’s location on Leinster Street at the corner of Meeting Lane close to the Railway Station was an attractive feature for commercial travellers who in the early 1930s crisscrossed the country by train.

The same advantage however could be claimed by the four hotels in the town as they were all located in Leinster Street.  The fourth was the Railway Hotel owned by Thomas L. Flood, the former Irish Freedom Fighter who also carried on business as a family grocer, spirit and provisions merchant.

All four hotels advertised in the ‘Annals’ continued to operate for some years thereafter until one by one their numbers decreased to leave the Leinster Arms Hotel as the only hotel in the town.  Occupying a prime position in the centre of the town it too eventually went the way of its competitors, closing its doors a few years ago to be replaced by the Clanard Court and the Carlton Abbey Hotels. 

My attention was drawn to a notice in the Kildare Nationalist to an event in the former Railway Hotel in Leinster Street now owned by Margaret Kane and operated as Kane’s Public House.  ‘Reeling in the Years’, a celebration of 35 years of Kane’s Public House, took place on Saturday 12th December.  Following the death of Tim Flood in October 1950 the Railway Hotel continued to be operated by the Flood family for a number of years but in and around 1961 it was leased to Malachy Corcoran who later sold on his interest to John Rowley.  Margaret Kane from Nart near Swanns Cross in County Monaghan met and married Athy man Liam Kane who had served his time to the bar business in Molly O’Brien’s pub, ‘The Nags Head’.  The young couple spent six years in Sydney Australia, returning to Liam’s home town where in 1974 they purchased the Flood family interest in the fine red brick premises on Leinster Street.  Then operated solely as a pub by its lessee John Rowley, the young couple lived over the pub for three years before buying out the lease and took over the running of the former Railway Hotel which had been renamed the County Bar.  Over the years Kane’s Pub has witnessed many changes in the town of Athy and many of those changes were captured on film and displayed on screen during Saturday’s ‘Reeling in the Years’. 

One of the greatest changes to be noted is in the town’s commercial businesses, some of which have disappeared, while others have changed hands several times over the years.   Nowhere is that more apparent than in the local public houses which over the last ten years have decreased in numbers so that today Athy has fewer public houses than it ever had in the past.  The photograph which accompanies this article is one of many displayed in Kane’s public house and is believed to be of a local Vintners Association outing sometime in the mid or early 1960s.  Can anyone identify the publican’s and their partners and the year in which the photograph was taken?

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