Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Ancient road works and the turnpike road through Athy

Athy of the 18th century had a population mix of Catholics, Established Church adherents, Quakers and other dissenters, each socially removed from each other yet commercially interdependent. Catholics, excluded from holding land or government office, concentrated on commercial pursuits as did the Quakers who came to Athy towards the end of the 17th century. By 1750 Catholics owned a large proportion of the local ale houses. Despite their commercial involvement, Catholics had no voice in the running of their town and would have none for another 80 years. Little or no effort appears to have been made by the numerically superior Catholics of the town to gain some measure of representation on the Borough Council. The poorer classes were powerless in the face of religious and economic hardship while their better off co-religionists, for the most part shopkeepers and innkeepers, saw little merit in jeopardising their position and status by engaging in public agitation. Inland towns such as Athy benefitted enormously from improved road making practises of the 18th century. Prior to then, responsibility for road repairs rested on individual householders organised on a parochial basis. Under an Act of 1612, each warden of the Established Church was obliged to convene meetings of his parish on the Tuesday and Wednesday of Easter week. At these annual meetings, two parishioners were appointed surveyors of whatever road works were considered necessary. Over a period of 6 days each year, every householder was required to provide free labour on the roads, while landlords and farmers supplied horses, carts and drivers. In this way, the 17th century Irish roads were maintained. In 1727, the first Turnpike Act was passed. In time, turnpike roads led to most of the important towns in Ireland. These were built and maintained by business people and landlords, who derived an income from tolls collected on traffic using the turnpike roads. Athy had a turnpike road running through the town from Kilcullen through Castlecomer to Kilkenny. There were three turnpike gates on the road in and around the town of Athy where tolls were paid. One gate was located on the Dublin Road on the town side of St. Michael’s Medieval Church, while another gate was placed across St. John’s Street (the present Duke Street) at its junction with Green Alley. The third turnpike gate and the longest to remain in use was on the Castlecomer Road at Beggars End approximately 700 yards from White’s Castle. The following advertisement in the Universal Adviser of 2nd July 1757 indicates how important road improvements resulting from the Turnpike Acts were in developing public transport to and from Dublin. ‘Whereas there is now set up a STAGE-COACH, which begun to run the 14th of June, 1757, from the City of Dublin thro’ Athy and Castlecomer, to the City of Kilkenny. It sets off from Dublin on every Tuesday, and from Kilkenny on every Friday; and as the Road is 12 Miles shorter than the Carlow Road, the Owners of the Coach are determined to charge but 12s. each Person which is 2s less than any other Stage-coach charges, allowing twenty Pound Luggage to each inside Passenger, and ten Pounds ditto to each outside Passenger. The Road from Kilcullen thro’ Athy to Kilkenny being now in the best Repair of any Turnpike in this Kingdom, and the Inns well situated, and furnished with all Kinds of Entertainment for Man and Horse, it is not doubted that the Munster Gentlemen will, for their own Conveniency, make Use of this Road. The Stages the Coach stops at are as follows, viz. Going from Dublin they breakfast at Rathcool, dine in Kilcullen, and lie in Athy; next day they breakfast in Castlecomer, and dine in Kilkenny. Coming from Kilkenny they breakfast in Castlecomer, dine in Athy, and lie in Kilcullen; next day they breakfast in Johnstown, and dine in Dublin – The Company may see the Safety and speedy Dispatch of this Coach, which is by dining at their Journey’s-End the second Day, instead of coming into Town late at Night. – Prices from Dublin for each Stage, are, to Naas, 5s. to Kilcullen, 6s. to Athy, 8s to Castlecomer 10s. 6d. – Returning from Kilkenny to Athy, 6s. to Kilcullen, 8s. to Naas, 9s and so in Proportion to or from any other Place on said Road. Places to be taken at Mr. Edmond Cavanagh’s, Grocer at the Raven in High-street, Dublin, and at Mr. Dunphy’s, at the Sun in Cole-Market, Kilkenny, and sets off precisely at six o’Clock in the Morning. And any Person who does not attend at said hour, forfeits their Earnest Money. Half of the Money to be paid as Earnest, the Remainder at the End of their Journey. – The Proprietors beg Leave to assure their Company and Friends, that the greatest Care shall be taken to keep the best Horses, and the Coach to be always in Good Repair.’

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