Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Athy in the 1930s

The 1930s was a period of great change in Athy.  The Urban Council as part of a National Slum Clearance Programme tackled the issue of unsanitary housing accommodation which historically was centered in the lanes and courtyards hidden away behind the town’s main streets.  As a result of the Clearance Programme long established localities such as Canal Lane, New Row, Garden Lane and Crosses Lane disappeared, while houses in Shrewleen Lane, Nelson Street and Meeting Lane disappeared from the streetscape. 

It was also a time of numerous craft trades, none of which are to be found in Athy today.  O’Rourkes of Stanhope Street had a thriving saddlery and harness making business.  Other harness makers in Athy during the 1930s were Campbells of Leinster Street, the Hayden Brothers of Meeting Lane, Lynams of Duke Street and Delahunts of Chapel Lane.  Blacksmith forges were to be found in Duke Street, St. John’s Lane and Garter Lane under the respective proprietorships of Messrs. Brogan, Vernal and Wall.  Forges existed up to the 1950s as I well remember Vernal’s forge still operating in St. John’s Lane as I passed by every day on my way to the nearby Christian Brothers School.  Another craft family then living in St. John’s Lane were the Quinns who were noted basket makers, as were the O’Neills of St. Joseph’s Terrace who also produced hickory furniture. 

I vaguely remember Glespens Motor Works in Duke Street in the early 1950s.  In the 1930s Glespens were coach builders, while at the other end of the town Blanchfields had a saw mills where I am told they also engaged in boat building and cart making.  Does anyone remember Greg Ronan who was a tinsmith, or Mrs. Loughman who lived in Garden Lane from where she made and sold drisheen?

The 1930s was also a time of change as evidenced by the introduction by Mrs. Watty Cross of Athy’s first ice-cream making machine.  Mrs. Cross carried on business in the small premises which was later occupied by McStay’s butchers and it was from there that she sold ice-cream in the 1930s.

Sport in those pre television days was a large part of young people’s lives and their sporting involvement saw Athy town securing unprecedented success in different football codes.  It was the local GAA footballers who first achieved success when winning the 1933 Senior County Football Final.  It was the Athy club’s first time to win the senior title, a feat it would repeat in 1934 and 1937.  The members of that first championship winning team were Patrick Chanders, Charles Walsh, Joe Murphy, Michael Kavanagh, Tom Kelly, Jim Cunningham, Barney Dunne, Paul Matthews, Jim Fox, Tommy Mulhall, Johnny Doyle, Michael Mannion, Paddy Looney, James McEvoy and Patsy Ryan.

Barney Dunne would feature in all of Athy’s championship final victories of the 1930s, as well as featuring on the team which won the final in 1942. 

The local rugby club won its first ever Provincial Towns Cup in 1938.  The only score in that final played against Dundalk was a penalty kicked by Des McHugh who was a pharmacist based in Duke Street.  Not to be outdone Athy Hurling Club, formed in the early 1930s at the instigation of John Dooley of Patrick’s Avenue, won the club’s first senior hurling championship title in 1936.

Another sport which attracted a lot of local interest in the 1930s was tennis.  The long established tennis club in the Showgrounds was somewhat exclusive prompting the local curate Fr. Maurice Browne to call a public meeting with a view to forming a second tennis club.  Fr. Browne who later wrote a number of books including ‘In Monavella’ called a meeting for the Town Hall following which tennis courts were developed at Chanterlands in a field then owned by T.J. Bodley.  The club opened in 1934 and in time had over 400 members with 10 tennis courts.  The tennis club was still operating in the early 1950s and I recall that Mattie Brennan of Offaly Street was the caretaker at that time.

If sport of all kinds found favour with the locals the same could also be said of music.  Athy had a fife and drum band in the 1930s while the Churchtown Pipe Band was then at the height of its fame which brought national attention when the band broadcast on several occasions over Irish radio.  There were three dance bands in the town, the most famous of which was Joe O’Neill’s ‘Stardust’.  Alex Kelly led Alex and the Aces, while Mona Sylvester, whom I remember living with her mother in the sweet shop in Emily Row, had a group called ‘Ivy’s Orchestra’. 

Music and sport is still a prominent part of today’s life in Athy.  A happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year to all readers of the Eye.

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