It was in 1983 that Athy Museum Society was formed with the stated objective of developing a local museum here in Athy. Since then the Society’s volunteers, with the financial support and good will of the former Town Council and currently Kildare County Council, together with several private benefactors have made a huge contribution to the cultural heritage of our historic town. The local Heritage Centre which has been developed over the years since 1983 has provided a focal point for people’s growing interest in the town’s past.
Our local history is something that all of us have become more aware of in the last 30 years or more. Recalling my school days in the local Christian Brothers School in the 1950s the only mention I ever heard or read of Athy related to it being the place where the River Barrow and the Grand Canal met. History lessons touching on the 1798 Rebellion, the Great Famine or any of the many Irish or overseas wars in which so many young Athy men were involved, never disclosed any Athy links or connections. We now know that Athy was connected in so many ways with many of the great events in the nation’s history. Athy’s history represents in miniature the history of Ireland and the story of the town is bound up with our nation’s history.
Athy Museum Society has done much to highlight the hidden stories and the forgotten people of Athy’s past. This was particularly important given that the contribution made by so many local men and women to the fabric of life in the past was overlooked and lost to succeeding generations. The Eye on the Past series which has been appearing each week in your local newspaper for almost 25 years has sought to create an interest in and an understanding of the events and the people of Athy and the part they played in the town’s history. The interest generated in our local history as evidenced by the queries I receive and the information shared with me each week confirms that the people of Athy are proud of their town. Pride of place is understandably something normally attributable to one’s place of birth, but Athy, the Anglo Norman town, later the settler’s town, is today home to a lot of people who like myself are not natives of Athy. Our interest in the history of Athy is not in any way diminished by being born elsewhere, which in my case happened 19 miles down the road in Castlecomer.
Several people having expressed an interest in coming together to further their interest in local history, arrangements have been made for a meeting to be held in the Heritage Centre on Tuesday, 5th September at 7.30 p.m. Its purpose is to consider setting up a local history society, which if formed will give interested persons an opportunity to learn more of the town’s history, to encourage research and arrange lectures and field trips. The setting up of a local history society can been seen as a further contribution to the town’s regeneration plan which was initiated by a group originally established two years ago by Athy Lion’s Club. The contribution which a local history society can make to the cultural heritage of the area and thus to the well being of the town’s people is something readily recognised in the regeneration plan.
Heritage ‘Week’ started on Saturday last and ends on Sunday 27th. Here in Athy there are a number of events including a walking tour through Athy’s history on today, 22nd. Starting at 7.00 p.m. from in front of the Town Hall the walk will present an overview of some of the more extraordinary individuals and events associated with the town’s history. The guide will be yours truly.
The Heritage Centre has organised a Museum treasure hunt and further details of this free event can be obtained from the Heritage Centre. On Sunday 27th August at 3.00 p.m. there will be a talk in the Heritage Centre on the incredible voyage of the James Caird. This voyage was one of the greatest seafaring feats of all time led by the Kilkea-born Ernest Shackleton, accompanied by crew members, half of whom were Irish. On the same day at 7.00 p.m. there will be a guided walking tour of medieval Athy starting from the Heritage Centre at 2.00 p.m.
All of the events during Heritage ‘Week’ are free and they give a unique opportunity for anyone interested to savour elements of our town’s history.