March 1932 saw a change in the political leadership of this country. The Cumann na Gaedheal government in place since the founding of the State was replaced by a Fianna Fail government led by Eamon de Valera. On the day following the setting up of the new government I.R.A. members imprisoned by the tribunal, set up by the previous government, as a result of attacks on members of the Garda Siochana were released. De Valera had visited Athy earlier in February and addressed farmers at the town fair for what the local newspapers reported was two hours. He was cheered when he announced to the farmers ‘we will not pay the annuities’. ‘De Valera Abu’ badges were handed out while the local Cumann na Gaedheal candidate Sidney Minch had posters displaying ‘Vote for Minch and vote for peace’.
The local Urban District Councillors’ attempt to have the old fever hospital re-opened as a district hospital was still ongoing. Councillor Bridget Darby, with the support of Councillor Tom Carbery and the Council members, called on the government for a special grant of £25,000 ‘for the relief of unemployment in Athy as there is no part of the county of Kildare suffering so much on account of grave unemployment.’ The unemployment crisis was largely due to the failure of the beet crop the previous year and the uncertainty around the agricultural industry at that time. Later in the year a group called the Fianna Fail Workers Protection Club addressed the meeting of the Urban District Council on behalf of the unemployed Barrow workers. The deputation complained that Laois men were preferred for employment on the Barrow Scheme in advance of Kildare men. The chairman of the club was Tom Carbery and with a membership of 66 it claimed to ‘look after the interests of workers generally and investigate any complaints of harshness.’
Athy Courthouse was the venue for the County Kildare G.A.A. convention held in early February. The Athy delegates at the convention were Fintan Brennan, Willie Mahon and E. Lawler. 1932 saw the setting up of Athy’s new hurling club, while local girls were involved with Athy’s camogie club called ‘Clann Brighde’ which fielded senior and junior teams. Mrs. Minch was responsible for organising a children’s hockey team, while another new local venture was the newly formed St. Patrick’s fife and drum band in Bert. The local Councillor Bridget Darby, who was a national school teacher in Churchtown, presented the band members with green and gold sashes.
Arrangements were still being made for the opening of a library in the town. The latest of many holdups stemmed from the County Library Committee’s order that no books could be supplied for an Athy library until the Urban Council guaranteed that any books lost or stolen would be replaced at the Council’s expense. When the library eventually opened on Tuesday 19th July 1932 Miss M. Gibbons of Woodstock Street was appointed librarian at a salary of £10 a year.
In May Dr. Kilbride submitted yet another report to the local Council regarding the ‘wretched living conditions in the urban area’. His report eventually led to the Slum Clearance Programme which saw the demolition of houses in Kellys Lane, Garden Lane, New Row, Janeville Lane, Chapel Lane, Nelson Street, Shrewleen Lane, St. John’s Lane and James Place.
In July the county Kildare V.E.C. applied to purchase part of the People’s Park as a site for a new technical school. A letter signed by nearly 200 residents and rate payers protesting against the sale was handed into the Council offices, as was another letter signed by locals who were in favour of the proposal. The Councillors refused to sell part of the Park and the new technical school was eventually built on a site on the Carlow Road.
Having received a grant of £5,000 for road works in the town the Council advertised for ‘stone breakers and carters’. The carters appointed were named as Robert Reid of Woodstock Street, Arthur Lawler, Clonmullin, John Rigney, Blackparks, James Connell, Geraldine and James Birney, Chapel Hill, all of whom were employed at seven shillings a day. At the same time the Council employed ten stone breakers.
The big event of the year was the Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin between 22nd and 26th June. The front of the Town Hall was decorated for the Congress, while the decorations in the different streets of the town were reported as having ‘excelled each other, the ideas and design show some brilliant minds and the artistic touch simply holds one in wonder.’ Midnight mass was celebrated in St. Michael’s Parish Church, which was so crowded that the Sisters of Mercy who had charge of the music for the high mass ‘had difficulty in making their way to the organ.’ The Picture Palace in Offaly Street was closed on Sunday during the Congress, while a set of loudspeakers was put in the People’s Park and chairs placed around the trees so that the immense crowd which gathered in the Park could hear the Congress ceremonies transmitted over the radio.
1932 witnessed the start of the Economic War which in the lead up to World War II brought untold hardship to rural and urban communities alike.