Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Athy - a Settlers town found3ed by the Anglo Normans

John Dymmor in his treatise on Ireland referred to Athy in May 1599 as ‘a great market town, but brought by these late wars into the state of a poor village’. The wars referred to were those waged by the O’Mores and O’Connors of the Midland septs and the O’Byrnes of west Wicklow against the English settlers. Athy, as a settler’s town inhabited from its foundation by French speaking Anglo Normans, had by the end of the 16th century a population comprised of English settlers and unfree Irish who were descendants of the former Betaghs of the feudal manor of Woodstock. The O’Brynes attacked Ardreigh Castle in 1593 and killed its occupants including Sir Piers Fitzjames, his wife and five others. Ardreigh served as an easy target for the Irish rebels as nearby Athy, then used as a staging post for supplies destined for the English settlers in nearby Laois and Offaly, was heavily garrisoned. However, emboldened by the rise of O’Neill in Ulster and his alliance with O’Donnell the waring Irish in the midlands again attacked the settlers town of Athy. Athy, perhaps better described as a village, had endured numerous attacks by the Irish over the centuries. It was attacked and torched no less than six times between 1308 and 1375. Further misfortune was to befall the settlers when the Black Death claimed many local victims during the three years from 1348. Athy as a frontier town was not a peaceful place in which to live in later medieval times, but despite whatever difficulties it faced the town survived when other Anglo Norman settlements such as Ardreigh, Rheban, Mullaghmast, Ardscull and Moone went into decline and eventually vanished. The defeat of the Irish and the Spanish at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 brought peace for a time to the midlands. Athy, which had been granted a charter by Henry VIII in 1515, was the beneficiary of a more extensive charter by James I in 1313 which would form the basis of the town’s local government for the next two centuries or more. Little is known of the town’s history during the following 30 years but in 1641 Athy was heavily involved in the Confederate wars. For a period of eight years Athy was the focus of attention involving armies from the Confederates, the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. At different times during that war the town was home of the Confederate leader, Owen Roe O’Neill and Gen. Thomas Preston of the Parliamentary army. It was the arrival of Oliver Cromwell in Ireland in 1649 which marked the end of the Confederate War and the killing in Drogheda of the sub Prior of the Athy Dominicans, Fr. Richard Overton. A few years later his superior, Fr. Raymond Moore, prior of Athy, died in jail. At the end of the war a number of local landowners had their lands forfeited, including Nicholas Wolfe of Oldcourt, Christopher Archbold of Timolin, Gerald Fitzgerald of Castleroe and John Pilsworth of Bert. The Cromwellian plantation, although not as successful as planned, nevertheless brought great changes among the landlord classes in south Kildare. One local property owner who is recorded as surviving the upheaval which followed the Confederate war was Daniel Hutchinson, a prominent follower of Cromwell, who established a cloth manufacturing enterprise in Athy. In 1669 the restored King of England was petitioned by the people of Athy for leave to have two additional fairs in the town. The petition claimed that Athy was ‘an ancient and loyal corporation and seated in the heart of a plentiful country both for corn and cattle.’ It also stressed that many of the town’s inhabitants were English tradesmen and that they had suffered much, ‘both by the recent wars and by two fires which lately destroyed most of their houses.’ Athy in the 1670s was apparently a distressful place in which to live as the Corporation of Drogheda was moved to appoint two alderman ‘to receive the benevolence of the inhabitants of the town for the relief of those of Athy who have suffered greatly in the late wars.’ History tells us that Athy during its 800 year existence experienced several extremely difficult and troubling times. It has always recovered, some past recoveries being identified with the coming of the canal in 1792 and again in 1846 with the opening of the railway line between Dublin and Carlow. Athy is today at a low ebb commercially and industrially, but on the horizon is the promise of an outer relief road which holds out the prospect of facilitating the revitalisation of the historic inner core of our ancient town.

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