‘It was decided in the interest of harmonious relations between all religions in the district that publication of the two letters from Northern Ireland be withheld.’ This entry in the minute book of Athy Urban District Council in February 1949 intrigued me when I first read it 30 or more years ago. The letters mentioned were not filed and so their contents remained a mystery which I felt I was never likely to unravel.
The Nationalist and Leinster Times report had related to a meeting of Athy Urban District Council where Labour Councillor Tom Carbery complimented the people of Athy on their response to an appeal for funds for the Anti-Partition movement. However, in thanking the locals for their contributions Councillor Carbery deplored the lack of response from the non-Catholic communities in the town. Fellow Councillors, M.G. Nolan, a local draper and Liam Ryan, a teacher in the local Christian Brothers School, both of whom were Fianna Fail members of the Council, voiced similar views to those expressed by Councillor Carbery.
The Minutes of the next meeting of the Council noted ‘arising out of the discussion at the previous meeting re failure of some people to subscribe to the Anti Partition Campaign Collection held outside the churches in the town two letters were received from residents of Northern Ireland. Mr. L. Ryan pointed out that none of the speakers at the previous meeting condemned Protestants, as such, but condemned all those who had not subscribed irrespective of their religion. Mr. Patrick Dooley stated he was absolutely opposed to anything that would cause religious bitterness or strife.’ As already noted the meeting agreed not to publish the letters.
However, the two letters sent from Northern Ireland were apparently copied and found their way into the library of the local Dominican Priory. They formed part of a cache of papers and documents given to me recently on the departure of the Dominicans from Athy. The first letter addressed to ‘Chairman and Fellow Bigots Athy County Council’ referred to the ‘Fenian Council’s’ attempt to remove the ‘disloyal element’ for not subscribing to the ‘Chapel pittance’. The unknown letter writer who used the name ‘Ulster Luther’ after signing off ‘Moscow before Rome’ warned that ‘Northern Protestants are united as never before. It will be the sons of the planters you will face and unlike our enslaved and tortured brethren in Spain, whom the Christian Franco intends to obliterate, our cause will prevail.’
The second letter writer appended his name and his Belfast address but his message was perhaps more threatening given his indirect references to the Belfast pogroms. ‘There are 100,000 papists in the six counties and bear in mind they are employed by Protestants and I am sure you don’t want a repetition of 1920 and 1922 again.’
Referring to the remarks by two unnamed members of Athy Council the writer claimed they suggested that Protestants who did not subscribe to the collection ‘should go back to the North’. He finished off his letter with the warning ‘Remember there is no England to come to your aid this time as in the days of Grattan. I warn you against any further moves towards those Protestants as we will move here inside 24 hours.’ The letter writer claiming not to be a communist but a ‘loyal Ulster man and an orangeman’ gave his name and signed off ‘No Pope and no surrender’.
The local Councillors confined their subsequent discussions to more mundane matters such as calling for a regional hospital serving Counties Kildare, Carlow, Laois, Wicklow and Kilkenny to be located in Athy. Equally ineffective was their adoption of a draft development scheme for Athy completed by the Council’s planning consultant which provided for a proposed bypass road of Athy. Sixty six years later the bypass road is still at the planning stage but thankfully references to religious differences are no longer acceptable or even worthy of discussion.
Professor Louise Richardson, whom I believe lived in Athy in the 1960s, was recently installed as the first woman Vice Chancellor of Oxford University. Before her appointment to the Oxford position she had made Scottish history by becoming the first female and the first Catholic appointed as Vice Chancellor of St. Andrew’s University. Her parents, I believe, lived in Chanterlands and her father, Arthur Richardson, was an active member of the local St. Vincent de Paul Society during his time in Athy.
If you remember the Richardson family of Chanterlands I would be delighted to hear from you.