Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A walk from Lennons Bridge to Augustus Bridge

I walked on both sides of the Grand Canal between Lennon’s bridge and Augustus bridge last Sunday morning, a journey which I had not previously undertaken. It was a journey of discovery, as I noticed in the distance buildings well known to me but seen for the first time from a different angle. Starting my journey at Augustus bridge erected in 1791 and opened by the Duke of Leinster, the bridge was named after the Duke’s eldest son Augustus who would in time become the third Duke of Leinster. The original bridge was so hump backed that it caused great difficulty for carts travelling to the local market. As a consequence, the bridge was re-modelled in the 1890s and the original bridge keystone which was found a few years ago lying in a ditch in Foxhill is now in the local Heritage Centre. The fine building facing onto the canal harbour was the Canal hotel, built to cater for people travelling by canal boat to Dublin. The passenger service to Dublin in the pre-railway days started out from the Athy harbour at 5 o’clock in the morning and the canal boat reached Dublin after a journey lasting 13 hours. The canal harbour was the scene of an arms robbery early on the morning of 7th December 1797 which was to have serious repercussions for the local people. The night boat from Dublin docked in the harbour with a cargo of arms and ammunition intended for a corps of yeomanry in Leighlinbridge. At about 3 a.m. men armed with pistols and swords raided the canal boat and carried away the arms and ammunition. The boat men who were locals of Athy were suspected of complicity in the robbery and were arrested. Troops from the local military barracks carried out searches in the Athy area but without success. The weapons were never found and in all probability were used by the local United Irishmen during the 1798 rebellion some months later. Beyond the harbour one can see to the right the spire of the Methodist church built in 1872 on a site donated by Alexander Duncan of Fortbarrington House. The proprietor of Duncan’s drapery store in Duke Street (now Shaws), was not old enough to have welcomed John Wesley as he journeyed from Portlaoise to Carlow on one of his last trips to Ireland. The church now fulfils a dual role as the Methodist place of worship and as Athy’s Arts Centre. As I continued walking, I passed on my right St. Dominic’s Park housing estate, built in 1963 and named after the founder of the Dominican order. A former owner of the fields on which the next housing estate was built is remembered in the name Flinter’s Place. Beyond it and again in the distance on the right lies St. Vincent’s Hospital opened in January 1844 as a workhouse. It was there that over 1200 persons died during the Great Famine and those unfortunate people today lie buried in St. Mary’s cemetery. The cemetery is on the left as we near Lennon’s bridge. Once neglected and forgotten it now presents as a peaceful and tidy place to remember the Famine dead after Athy folk participated in the annual National Famine Commemoration Day. Just beyond St. Vincent’s Hospital is the former fever hospital, built in 1841 with the proceeds of a collection taken up in Athy for the benefit of William Keating, a businessman of Market Square. Keating suffered the loss of his business premises following a fire in 1836 and the local people collected the sum of £300 which Keating indicated should be used to build a badly needed fever hospital for the town. On the other side of Lennon’s bridge and the bridge leading to Coolroe I noticed the rope marks cut deep into the corner stones of the bridge arches on the towpath side. These deep cuts are evidence of the heavy strain which must have been felt by the canal horses pulling the boats as they manoeuvred them under the bridges. On the return journey to Augustus bridge I came across fishing plaques embedded at intervals in the ground and put there some years ago by the local angling club. Approximately half way between Lennon’s bridge and Augustus bridge I passed Lovers Lane. Still known as such by the older generation the lane has a dark sinister history. It was there in the first decade of 1900 that a young girl was murdered by, I believe, an English soldier. Now into view comes the malt works which in days gone by gave employment to many local men. Minch Nortons, as it then was, still flourishes but today is heavily mechanised. Still standing, though not used, are the kilns known as Port Arthur and Ladysmith, reminders of a time when the overseas exploits of local men serving in the British army were recognised. I gather the government has recently provided funding to improve the Lennon bridge to Augustus bridge canal towpath walkway. The importance of the canal and the nearby River Barrow as recreational and heritage resources cannot be underestimated. Both of them form very valuable parts of Athy’s public amenities.

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