Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hotels in Athy

The Clanard Court Hotel’s recent celebration of its 10th anniversary reminded me of the changes in Athy over the years.  For as long as the older generation can remember the local hostelry where all the important local functions took place was the Leinster Arms Hotel.  It was there that President Sean T. O’Ceallaigh attended the formal dinner to celebrate the opening of the Macra na Feirme offices in Athy.  It was also in the Leinster Arms Hotel that Eamon de Valera and Dan Breen were guests of honour at a Fianna Fáil dinner on 20th October 1954. 

The name ‘Leinster Arms’ clearly reflected the Duke of Leinster’s all embracing influence on the South Kildare town where the Duke’s family names and antecedents are remembered in the principal street names.  The Leinster Arms occupied a prime location in the centre of Athy and opposite it on Leinster Street was the hotel yard.  It was there in the old days that the hotel clientele stabled their horses and carriages.  Later the yard provided secure garage space for the new fangled motor cars, several of which passed hurriedly through the streets of Athy in 1902 during the Gordon Bennett Race.

While the Leinster Arms was described as the head inn in 1824, it was not the only local premises offering accommodation to the traveller.  In 1846 Robert Kennedy was proprietor of the Leinster Arms, while the Coach Hotel, also in Leinster Street, was under the ownership of Thomas Shiel.  Thirty five years later the two hotels were still operating, with the Leinster Arms under the ownership of Michael J. Kavanagh, while the former Coach Hotel, then called ‘Shiel’s Hotel’, had Henry Shiel in control.  I have not been able to positively identify the location of Shiel’s Hotel but it was possibly what was later known as Hamilton’s Hotel in the premises now occupied by Bradburys.

In the Post Office Directory for 1911 no less than three local hotels are identified, all located in Leinster Street, with another premises offering ‘good bed and attendance at an extremely moderate charge’ without claiming it to be a hotel.  It was operated by Margaret Byrne and described as ‘dining, boarding and refreshment rooms, railway restaurant’.  This I believe was what was known locally as The Railway Hotel, later purchased by Tom Flood and now owned by Margaret Kane.

Apart from the Leinster Arms Hotel the two other hotels noted in the 1911 directory were the Hibernian Hotel located at the corner of Leinster Street and Meeting Lane and Hamilton’s Hotel.  The Hibernian was owned by Michael Lawler and the premises in more recent years housed the Oasis Public House, while Hamilton’s Hotel, which is now Bradburys, was advertised as ‘a family, commercial and tourist hotel.’

Over 25 years ago a lady in Wales wrote to me of family memories of Hamilton’s Hotel which was once operated by her family.  Her story was a strange one, somewhat typical in one sense of a time when religious differences kept Catholic and Protestants apart. The hotel owner, my correspondent’s mother, was a Protestant widow who married one of the hotel workers.  This was a cause of apparent social scandal, further aggravated by the fact that the hotel worker was a working class Catholic.  The couple felt they had to leave Athy and sold the hotel which had operated under the name Hamiltons for several years. 

Sixty five years ago a Sergeant W. Duggan, then stationed in Charleville, Co. Cork, wrote an account of the first Garda force to take up duty in Athy.  He recounted how the first draft arrived in Athy on 15th August 1922 and were accommodated in the Town Hall.  The same party consisting of 16 men had previously been stationed at a protection post in Bert.  Having spent some months in the Town Hall the Garda took over the former RIC Barracks in Barrack Street after it had been evacuated by the National Army.  When the Barracks was subsequently burned the Gardai moved to the Leinster Arms Hotel.

Today the Clanard Court Hotel is the only hotel in Athy.  Opened 10 years ago, for its first few years it had a competitor in the Carlton Abbey Hotel which was opened in the former Convent of the Sisters of Mercy.  The closure of the Carlton Abbey added to the changing building landscape of the town which will be further changed if and when the former hotel re-opens as a nursing home.

Mary Tuohy and Clement Kehoe, both of whom were part of the Offaly Street background of my young days, recently passed away.  Mary, who married and lived in England for many years, was a daughter of Garda Mick Tuohy who came to serve in Athy in 1933.  She worked for several years in Minch Nortons and participated in many of the company shows put on in the 1960s in the Town Hall.  Clement, a son of the legendary John W. Kehoe, was one of several Kehoe brothers who featured on Athy Gaelic football teams during the 1950s.  Clement operated a public house in nearby Stradbally for many years.  My sympathies are extended to both families on the deaths of acquaintances who were an integral part of the memory mosaic of my young days.

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