Kildare County Council has recently embarked on a survey of memorials, plaques and signs throughout the County of Kildare. They are part of our cultural heritage, marking as they do people of the past, historic events or heritage landmarks of town and countryside. This is the first attempt to collect this information and when the project is completed it is intended to make its results available to the general public. In turn the public’s help in identifying and recording local memorials, plaques and signs is sought.
The Heritage Officer of Kildare County Council has prepared guidelines for the survey. While advising that graveyard memorials are not included almost every other form of commemorative memorial or plaque is deemed worthy of recording. Even what the guidelines describe as ‘significant street names and laneways’ are to be included. Interestingly bench marks, armorial plaques and mile markers also come within the ambit of the survey. The Council’s Heritage Officer Bridget Loughlin who is overseeing the survey would like to get the following information. The memorial/plaque name, where it is located, a brief description with any background information and a photograph, although I suspect the latter while helpful is not essential.
In recent years probably more plaques have gone up in or around Athy than in any other time in the past. Nelson Street has a plaque to Johnny Lynch, musician, while the Dominicans are honoured with a plaque on the entrance wall to the former Dominican Church. The Christian Brothers are remembered with a handsome memorial in Edmund Rice Square, while the Sisters of Mercy have the riverside car park opposite the Parish Church dedicated to their Order.
Until recent years the Town Hall had a large plaque commemorating the founding of Macra na Feirme and its founder Stephen Cullinane but it was removed when the Macra monument was unveiled by President Robinson some years ago. I wonder where that plaque is today? The impressive Town Hall has in more recent years received plaques honouring the local men who fought in the 1914-18 war, as well as a plaque honouring Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer. This year as part of the centenary commemorations of the 1916 Rising a plaque was affixed to the west wall of the Town Hall.
A few years ago the Enterprise Centre arranged for tourist plaques to be placed on the more important buildings in the town. Whites Castle, Canal Harbour, Crom a Boo Bridge, St. Michael’s Church of Ireland church, Methodist church, St. Vincent’s Hospital are but some of the buildings highlighted in this way.
Bench marks will be seldom recognised but offhand I can recall bench marks on the Town Hall, Crom a Boo Bridge and St. Vincent’s Hospital. There are a few more around the town awaiting to be identified. Memorials are less scarce and in the main square of the town we have the water fountain presented to the people of Athy by the Duke of Leinster. Just behind it is the more recently unveiled memorial to the men and women from the locality who in 1798 sought religious and civil liberty.
Would the stone archway taken from the ruins of the cavalry barracks in Barrack Lane and reassembled in Woodstock Street come within the definition of a memorial? I would think so, as undoubtedly will the superb canal lock gate which adorns the roundabout on the Dublin Road. The various pieces of sculpture provided by Kildare County Council under the percentage scheme for major capital projects must also be included in this survey. Examples are to be found at the Flinters Field site, at Butlers Row and the Fairgreen housing site.
What the Council refers to as ‘significant street names’ may pose problems when it comes to their inclusion or exclusion from the survey. I cannot imagine that any one street name is any less or more significant than another. Our principal street names commemorate members of the Duke of Leinster’s family, while many of the laneways bear the names of long forgotten property owners. The building boom of the Celtic years which came somewhat later to Athy than elsewhere resulted in the creation of a lot of housing estates with names which do not resonate historically or otherwise with the ancient town on the River Barrow.
If you can help the County Council in its countywide survey of memorials, plaques and signs do contact Bridget Loughlin, Heritage Office at the Council Offices, Naas, ph. (045) 980791 or email Bloughlin@kildarecoco.ie.