Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Luggacurran Evictions

The first evictions from the Luggacurran estates took place on Tuesday 15th March 1887 when Denis Kilbride, a sub tenant of Lord Lansdowne with a holding of 868 acres, was evicted.  Just before the Bailiffs and the R.I.C. men had completed their work under the supervision of the local sub sheriff, William O’Brien M.P. arrived at the scene accompanied by Patrick Meehan of Maryborough.  As the policemen withdrew following the completion of the eviction process, some to Luggacurran village but the larger number to Athy, William O’Brien and Denis Kilbride addressed their supporters.  O’Brien encouraged the Lansdowne tenants, most of whom were now under threat of eviction, to continue with the Plan of Campaign and to withhold their rents until rent reductions were granted by Lord Lansdowne. 

Denis Kilbride who would be later elected Member of Parliament for Kerry and subsequently for Kildare, was a local leader of the Plan of Campaign.  Lord Lansdowne who was then acting as Governor General of Canada wrote to his mother on 23rd July 1887: ‘Trench [Lansdowne’s agent] cables that he has just evicted our ringleader at Luggacurran.’

John W. Dunne who leased 1305 acres from Lord Lansdowne was later evicted from Raheenahone, together with his sub tenants.  Amongst those evicted during 1887 was Michael Kelly and his family.  Kelly was the sub tenant of 22½ acres of Lansdowne’s land for which he paid a yearly rent of fifteen pounds five shillings.  Michael Kelly’s family were distinguished from the other Kelly families on the estate by the name, ‘Kelly’s of the Hill’.  Michael Kelly had married Ellen Kealy and they had six sons and one daughter.  Sadly Ellen died in her forties when her daughter Margaret was just 8 years of age and the youngest son Tommy was only 5 or 6 years old.

The Kelly family following the eviction from Luggacurran went to live in Wolfhill and it was from there that at least one of the Kelly sons attended the Christian Brothers school in Athy.  He was Patrick Kelly who was just one year old when the family were evicted.  At 17 years of age he enlisted in the Royal Artillery British Army and four years later emigrated to Canada where he joined the Royal Canadian Artillery.  Patrick Kelly would go on to have a distinguished career in the Canadian Army. 

He transferred to the Canadian Army Pay Corps in Quebec in 1913 and a year later arrived in England with the first Canadian troops sent overseas to serve in the First World War.  He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1915 and the following year he was sent to France where he was attached to the Canadian overseas base pay office.  A year later he returned to England as assistant head of the officers pay branch.  Promotion to the rank of Army Captain followed in April 1917 and following the ceasefire of 11th November 1918 he returned to Canada.  Appointed a member of the Pay and Allowance Board he subsequently received various promotions and appointments, culminating in his appointment as District Pay Master Military District No. 2 Toronto on the outbreak of World War II. 

The young man from Luggacurran was once again sent overseas in October 1939 on promotion as Lieutenant Colonel and appointment as Senior Officer Pay Services Canadian Military Headquarters.  Further promotion followed a year later when he was appointed Chief Pay Master of the Canadian Army overseas with the rank of Colonel.  Two and a half years later the former Athy Christian Brothers school boy was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and a year later he was awarded the CBE by King George VI in recognition of his distinguished army service during both world wars.  On his return to Canada in 1945 Patrick Kelly was appointed Pay Master General of the Canadian Army from which position he retired on 7th January 1947.

Brigadier Kelly was a frequent visitor to Athy during the 1950s and 1960s, always taking the opportunity to visit both Wolfhill and Luggacurran.  His Athy base was always the Leinster Arms Hotel and he took enormous pleasure in meeting the people of the area and especially the family members whose predecessors like the ‘Kellys of the Hill’ were evicted from their small farm holdings on the Luggacurran estate during the War of Campaign. 

Patrick Kelly died in 1973 and is buried in Clopook cemetery.  His only sister Margaret who had married Patrick Burke of Clogh, Castlecomer, came to live with her daughter Stasia and her son Eddie in McDonnell Driver after her husband died.  Eddie Burke, grandson of the evicted sub tenant Michael Kelly, had bought Carolan’s shop in Emily Square following the sale of his father’s land holding in Clogh.

Athy and Luggacurran are interlinked by events and people connected with the Plan of Campaign on the Lansdowne estate of the 1880s.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the extended family of ‘Kelly’s of the Hill’ where Kellys, Burkes and Kealys have been found and are still to be found in the Anglo Norman town in the South of County Kildare.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

'I hate to see the town go down' - Athy's economic slump

‘I hate to see the town go down’ sung by Dave Mallett is playing in the background as I sit down to write this week’s Eye on the Past.  The blank sheet which faced me as I put pen to paper suddenly came to life with the very words ‘I hate to see this town go down’.

This town is Athy – the one time Anglo Norman village which over a period of 800 years or so grew to a sizeable town.  During its long life it has witnessed good times and bad.  Having survived several destructive wars it faced into the relative calm of mid 18th century Ireland, seeking to claim its share of the prosperity which came with peace. 

Its future as a thriving market town seemed assured when the Canal company extended the Grand Canal to Athy in 1791.  This gave direct access to the great metropolis of Dublin, and courtesy of the navigable River Barrow, to the seaports of Waterford and New Ross.  What more was needed to create the conditions necessary for the commercial and economic wellbeing of an Irish town?  Surely Athy in the 1790s was on the cusp of a great drive forward which would bring prosperity to one and all.  It was not to be for within just 7 years of the Canal opening murder and mayhem again raised their heads with the events of 1798, creating and maintaining for perhaps decades thereafter suspicion and unrest within the local community.

The opening of the railway line between Dublin and Carlow in August 1846 was the next great impetus for reviving and developing the commercial life of Athy.  By all accounts the opportunity was seized on that occasion, not however without some criticism of the alleged failure of the Duke of Leinster (who effectively owned and controlled the town of Athy) in preventing the recently opened town jail and the Quarter Court sessions being transferred to the county town of Naas.  Both were a huge loss to the south Kildare town, but that loss spurred and prompted the local business people to do something about reviving the town’s fortunes.

It was soon thereafter that Athy came to be recognised as the best market town in Leinster.  Local businesses prospered and the town’s markets and fairs flourished.  It was a commercial town where businesses were geared primarily to meet the needs of farmers within a 12 or 15 mile radius of Athy.  Men living in the lanes and courtways of the town had little opportunity for fulltime employment.  Industry was limited to the local brickyards, the malting works and the experimental peat works at Kilberry.  The town’s success in the second half of the 19th century was by and large enjoyed by the local shopkeepers, but at least the trickledown effect gave much needed employment to some of the local population.  Unfortunately there was not enough work to go around, but viewed against the situation then prevailing in towns of similar size in Ireland of the day, Athy was doing well.

The modern industrialisation of Athy started with the I.V.I. Foundry in the 1920s and received a tremendous boost with the opening of the Asbestos Factory in 1936 and the Wallboard Factory in 1949.  Only one of these factories now survives and even that survival is based on an extremely small workforce.  In the meantime our local shops have been hit by the recession and more and more vacant shops are beginning to appear on the local streets. 

What can we do to stop the slide?  Is there in the long promised outer relief road something approaching the Canal and the railway in terms of its beneficial impact on the commercial life of the town?  I believe so, indeed I am firmly of the belief that the commercial revival of Athy cannot succeed unless and until the outer relief road is in place.  I am assured that funding for the road will be made available within the lifetime of the present government, if so the Town Council and local businesses should get together now and plan for the future redevelopment of the town centre. 

Does our future lie in large scale shopping centres on the edge of town or in the development of independent retailing units in the town centre?  Is there a need to look at the possibility of pedestrianising our main shopping streets to improve the town centre shopping experience?  These are some of the questions which need to be addressed now by everyone concerned.  Planning requires action today, not when the outer relief road is in place.

Blame Dave Mallett for this digression or maybe subconsciously I was influenced by my recent experience of city regeneration as practised by the city fathers of Gloucester.  I was mightily impressed how the centre of that ancient city has been transformed into a shopping friendly area by a pedestrianisation scheme facilitated by sensible road traffic routing schemes.  The outer relief road presents us with the same opportunity.  Let’s hope those in charge and those with the opportunity to influence change can give us hope for reviving the town of Athy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Great Famine

In June 1849 even as the awful affects of the Great Famine had lessened, there were still 1,528 men, women and children living in the Workhouse in Athy.  Opened on the 9th of January 1844 the Workhouse was built to accommodate 360 adults and 240 children.  In the intervening 5 years extra accommodation had been provided in fever sheds erected in the grounds of the Workhouse and in two auxiliary workhouses opened in Barrack Street and nearby Canal Side.  Athy, like so many other Irish towns of the first half of the 19th century, was a place where sickness and starvation visited alike the able bodied and the aged poor.  It was a town which an unidentified letter writer to the Athy Literary Magazine of March 1838 described as ‘neglected’.  He wrote:-  ‘Visit us throughout our work days and ramble through our deserted streets and see the able bodied labourers at our corners, hoards of beggars at our doors, disease and famine in the hovels of the poor.’  Such was the description of Athy just seven years before the Great Famine began.

The building of the Great Southern and Western railway line to Carlow brought much needed jobs to South Kildare but those jobs finished as the first train arrived into the newly constructed Athy railway station on 4th August 1846.  The clamour for work was such that as the railway line progressed from Kildare to Athy the railway company had to seek additional policemen to police the Athy area.  Clearly the impoverished locals were desperate and as the Great Famine took hold their conditions worsened.

In my research into the Great Famine in this area I was astonished to find no reference in the minute books of Athy Town Commissioners during the famine years to the obvious sufferings of the local people.  Even when the soup kitchens were providing minimum sustenance for so many in the Athy Poor Law Union area the Town Commissioner records made no mention of the fact.  In the local electoral area of Athy and its hinterland with a population of 13,828 over 3,000 persons were in receipt of help at the local soup kitchens.  In the Athy Poor Law Union area which included parts of County Laois 16,365 persons or 34% of the population were at one time dependent on local soup kitchens.  The Ballyadams area was apparently the worst affected as almost 100% of the local population relied on the local soup kitchen for daily nourishment.

In the first two years of the Famine deaths in the Athy Workhouse averaged two or three a week, but by 1847 the weekly death rate had risen to ten.  By the end of the Great Famine 1,205 persons had died in the local Workhouse and in the adjoining Fever Hospital.  Townspeople who died during the Famine are believed to have exceeded 1,000 leaving the post famine population of Athy at 3,873.  Those who died in the Workhouse or the Fever Hospital were buried in the small cemetery across the bridge over the Grand Canal which we now know as St. Mary’s. 

Local communities within Irish society generally display deeply embedded respect for the dead.  A recent visit to St. Mary’s Cemetery showed however that the Famine dead of this area have not been respected as one might expect.  St. Mary’s Cemetery, the last resting place of the poorhouse victims of the Great Famine, was on my visit overgrown and litter strewn.  Sad to think that such sacred ground should be so neglected as we near the National Great Famine Commemoration Day which takes place on Saturday, 26th September 2015.

Steps however are now being taken to clean up St. Mary’s Cemetery and thanks must go to Denis Ryan and the members of Gouleyduff Meggars Club who in the spirit of community volunteerism are undertaking the work. 

Remembrance services for the famine dead of Athy and district will take place in St. Mary’s Cemetery on Sunday 27th September at 3.00 p.m.  It will be an opportunity for the present generation to pay respect to the memory of those men, women and children who succumbed to illness and/or starvation during one of the most trying periods in our country’s history.

The names of the famine dead are not retrievable after decades of neglect.  There only remains for us an opportunity to honour a past generation whose lives shortened by deprivation, starvation and illness were ended within the grim bare walls of Athy’s workhouse.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Athy's Hurling Club

The first reference I have come across to the game of hurling in Athy was a newspaper report of a Monasterevin team defeating Athy hurlers in a match played in 1890.  Three years earlier Daniel Whelan of Fontstown claimed to have made hurleys for the Athy branch of the GAA but I have yet to find any account of a hurling match involving Athy club players prior to the last decade of the 19th century.

Athy’s Hurling Club’s first major success was in the 1928 County hurling final when the South Kildare team defeated Johnstown Bridge.  Hurling in the south of the County was clearly in the ascendancy as the following year Athy again contested the County final.  However, this time the Athy players had to give way to McDonagh Barracks of the Curragh who were crowned the 1929 champions. 

The first hurler of note associated with the Athy Club was Joe Delaney who played on the Kildare County Senior team which reached the 1934 All Ireland hurling final after defeating Kilkenny in the Leinster final which was played in Athy.  I don’t have any background information on Joe Delaney and wonder if any of my readers could help me in that regard.  With the name Delaney it is likely he was a Kilkenny man working in Athy.

County Kildare’s involvement in senior hurling was short lived, even though the game remained very popular in and around Athy during the 1930s.  An Athy team defeated Broadford to win the 1936 senior championship.  The earlier mentioned Joe Delaney was not on that team but the names Sullivan, Taylor, Hurley, Thornton and two Feeney brothers were prominent in the list of players of 79 years ago.  The same team reached the 1937 County final but lost out by 2 points to Maynooth.  Earlier in the same year the Athy junior hurlers, having been outscored 6:4 to 1:1 by Kill in the junior final, were nevertheless crowned junior champions after lodging an objection with the County Board. 

Athy junior hurlers were again crowned champions in 1950 but the club appears to have gone into decline for a few years until revived in 1957 by John Dooley of St. Patrick’s Avenue.  As a Kilkenny man working in Athy John had a great love for the game of hurling and his efforts were marked with early success when Athy won the junior championship in 1958.  A year later Athy, now playing as a senior team, were awarded the senior County championship on an objection following their earlier defeat by McDonagh Barracks.

Shortly before last Christmas the members of Athy Hurling Club held a reunion of players and mentors who achieved success on the playing fields in 1988 and 1989.  The junior hurlers of 1989 won the Junior A championship of that year and crowned their success by also winning the Junior League.  The Athy team, captained by Tony Foley, defeated old rivals Naas on the score of 1:11 to 1:9 in the Junior championship final.  The team comprised Paddy Byrne, Richie Foley, Tony Foley, Finbarr Stynes, Christy Myles, Con Ronan, Sean Candy, Mick Doyle, Shane Purcell, Mick Donovan, John McCauley, Joe Kelly, Paddy Purcell, Christy Lawler and Eddie Lawler.  A few weeks later the same teams met in the Senior Hurling League when the Athy players again came out on top and so secured the league title for 1989.  Their victory had followed a year after the Athy minor hurling team had secured the double as county minor champions and league winners for 1988. 

Both teams gathered for the reunion on 5th December last to celebrate what was perhaps the greatest period of hurling success enjoyed by the club since its foundation.  The minors of 27 years ago were Martin Germaine, Denis Doyle, Mark Wall, David Dobbyn, Pat Maher, Richard Maher, Richard Foley, Pierce Maher, Paul Whelan, Noel Cross, Aodhgan Kelleher, Barry Hughes, Declan Day, Aidan Corcoran and Mick Kelly.  Incidentally I notice that the club crest records the hurling club’s foundation in 1904.  Given the earlier references to hurling in Athy I wonder if there was an earlier foundation date.