Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Athy's Architectural and Social Heritage as seen on a walking trip from Barrow Quay to Ardreigh Lock

Heritage Week prompted me to review some elements of the town’s story insofar as it related to buildings and structures along the Barrow trackway between the harbour at Emily Square and Ardreigh lock. I was pressed into service during Heritage Week to walk the route with which I was very familiar since my young days in Offaly Street. However, like many of those who walked with me on Saturday morning, as a youngster I had no knowledge of the history behind the bricks and the stones which have stood in some cases for centuries past. Theirs was a past which we have only begun to unravel in recent years and in doing so we are beginning to understand how the local townspeople of the past shaped our local history and the history of our country. St. Michael’s Church at the top of Offaly Street which presents a handsome architectural backdrop when viewed from Church Road can also be viewed from the Barrow trackway. It was consecrated on 15th September 1841 to replace an earlier church located in Market Square between the Town Hall and what in the 18th century was known as Rotten Row. It was claimed by a 19th century local historian that stone used in the building of the 13th century Dominican Friary was used in the building of that the first post reformation church in Athy. If so it’s quite possible that the same stone was used in the building of the present St. Michael’s, thus providing a link to the medieval village of 800 years ago. St. Michael’s was designed by the architect, Frederick Darley whose contribution to Irish architecture includes inter alia, the Royal Dublin Society building and the Kings Inns, Dublin. He was retained by the Duke of Leinster in connection with the refurbishment of Kilkea Castle and presumably because of his relationship with the Duke, Darley is represented by considerable architectural heritage here in Athy. In addition to St. Michael’s Church, Darley who was one of the founder members of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland was also the architect for the Presbyterian Church and Manse, the Model School, and it is believed, the Courthouse which was originally built as the towns corn exchange. The Rector of St. Michael’s Athy when St. Michael’s was built was Rev. Frederick Trench, whose wife Helena was a niece of Spencer Perceval, the British Prime Minister assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812. Rev. Frederick had his own problem with some of his parishioners for as a High Church cleric and friend of John Keble of the Oxford Movement, his celebration of feast days did not find favour with some of his parishioners. Michael Carey, a local man whose diaries are in the National Library wrote of Trench in February 1851: ‘The Rev. Mr. Trench has taken down all the emblems from his popish windows and made an apology to his congregation. The Duke and the Bishop condemned them at once. He stated to the congregation that he had not the slightest notion of Puseyism or Popery. My publicly denouncing the pictures and windows before the congregation on that Sunday set them all going….. Other buildings mentioned in the walk to Ardreigh included Mount Offaly House, once the home of the Disney family, the town jail on the Carlow Road and Dukes Lodge. However, before reaching the last-mentioned house, the walkers passed under the One Horse Bridge. Built in 1791 or thereabouts, the bridge allowed the horse drawn canal barges to exit the Grand Canal and enter the Barrow navigation. Just ahead was the railway bridge built in 1918 as one of the earliest pre-stressed concrete bridges in Ireland. It was built to carry the railway line from Athy to the Wolfhill coalmine which was re-opened at the end of World War 1. The work on the railway line was carried out by local men and by a large number of workmen from Belfast. It was those same Belfast men who are believed to have brought to Athy the Spanish Flu which would kill untold millions worldwide. Belfast had the first recorded incident of the 1918 flu in Ireland and Athy was the first County Kildare town where the flu epidemic took hold. The Saturday morning heritage walk ended at Ardreigh Lock near to where Ardreigh mill once stood. All that is left today of the substantial mill building are the stumps of the outer walls and the millrace which once powered the mill wheel. The story of the Haughton’s and the Hannon families, the proprietors of the Ardreigh mill and the mill at Duke Street concluded the walk

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