Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The early history of Athy's Workhouse (1)

Whenever I travel abroad I am invariably attracted to local markets. They are generally of interest to visitors as well as being part of the long established local commercial activity of their areas.

Here in Athy we have a market every Tuesday which is held in the town centre square.  It’s a market with a lot of history extending back to the time of Henry VIII.  The authority for holding the market is contained in the charter granted to the town of Athy by King Henry in 1515.  The charter written in Latin specified that the market was to be held on a Tuesday each week in a place chosen by Gerald, Earl of Kildare at whose request the charter was granted. 

The primary purpose of the charter was to fund the erection of walls around the town and so provide greater safety and security for the people of the town which the charter stated ‘lies on the frontiers of our Irish enemy.’  The year was 1515 and the settlers’ town had been subject to attack on many occasions by the ‘wild Irish’ living on the western side of the river Barrow.  The building of town walls was hugely expensive and so the Provost of the newly incorporated Borough Council of Athy was granted the right to impose and collect customs or tolls on goods and animals sold in the market of Athy.  The money so raised was to be used not only for the building and repair of the town walls, but also to pave the streets of Athy.

A question arose many years ago as to whether the Town Commissioners, who replaced the Borough Councillors soon after the Great Famine, were entitled to collect and utilise the market fees.  As regulation of the market under the charter was granted to the town Provost (the equivalent of the modern-day town mayor) the Town Commissioners and now Kildare County Council, as successors in title to the Provost and the Borough Councillors, were deemed entitled to exercise all the rights previously held by the Provost.

It was the sole decision of the Earl of Kildare to decide where the market was held and consequently the local authority, now Kildare County Council, would not appear to have the discretionary right which in 1515 was granted solely to Gerald, Earl of Kildare.

That issue was of importance some years ago when the then Urban District Council considered regulating the market.  It was an issue which was not then resolved.  However, now that we are at the start of implementing a regeneration plan for the town it is perhaps opportune for the question of regulating the market to be considered again. 

Town markets on the Continent and on the British mainland are all well-regulated.  They generally present an attractive appearance for locals and visitors alike and help to bring activity and vibrancy to a town centre.  Our town market is an unattractive shambles. 

Recently I was in Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex on a day when the local market was taking place.  On making some enquiries I discovered that the market stands and canopies were owned by the local Council which set them out on market day and rented them out to the various stallholders.  They presented a colourful sight and the attractiveness of the market was added to by an interesting variety of second hand goods, food and crafts offered for sale.

With the planned reordering of Emily Square surely it is time for Kildare County Council to look again at the need to regulate the Tuesday market and by doing so help to make it an attractive element in the commercial regeneration of the town.

Last week saw the passing of a number of local people.  Nicola Keogh Kenny was a legal secretary in the offices of a local colleague and her sudden unexpected passing was a great shock to all of us.  Another young person to leave us in sad circumstances after a long illness was Brian Barr.  Kate Mitchell who was a near neighbour of mine in Coneyboro died and was buried a few days before Pat O’Gorman of Gallowshill, formerly of Prospect House on the Carlow Road.  Leslie Anderson died at an advanced age and his passing, like those of Nicola, Brian, Kate and Pat brought sadness to the people of Athy and south Kildare. 

Our sympathies are extended to their families, friends and relatives.

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