Friday, December 31, 1993

Frank English

The celebration of a generation of public service as a Town Councillor brought together Athy Councillors past and present on the 15th of December last. The recipient of many congratulations and good wishes on the night was Frank English who first stood for election to Athy Urban District Council in 1967. His colleagues on the Council that year included M.G. Nolan, doyen of the Fianna Fail party in South Kildare and Paddy Dooley, then a member of the Dail and the only Athy townsman to gain a seat in the Dail since the days of Sidney Minch. Others re-elected in 1967 were Tom Carbery of St. Martin's Terrace and Joe Deegan. While all of these men were being re-elected towards the end of their active involvement in local politics Frank was being elected to the Council for the first time. Also elected with him on that occasion were Jim McEvoy, Enda Kinsella, Mick Rowan and Jack MacKenna.

First elected at 26 years of age Frank has stood for re-election on three occasions since then. The length of his service as a Town Councillor is not unique as longevity of service at this level of Local Government has in the past been the norm rather than the exception. However, in todays volatile political environment 27 years of service as a Town Councillor is sufficiently unusual to merit public recognition. Not least for the level of commitment and public spirit shown in putting his name before the Electorate on so many occasions. Many of us are reluctant to get involved - and in that respect the unwillingness extends to almost all facets of life. Non-participation by the many places an uneven burden on those who are prepared to share the responsibility of community life. Community leaders like Frank English are fair game for the "hurlers on the ditch" who are either unwilling or fearful of putting themselves before the community at election time. Whether in the local club or organisation we have all too often come across the same experience where the willing few share the burden for the many who wish to participate on their own terms without making any contribution at committee level. So it was fitting that we gathered in the Leinster Arms Hotel to pay tribute to somebody who has not been afraid to put his time and his talents at the disposal of the local community.

In his younger days Frank was known as Harry, a name which disappeared as adulthood loomed. Strange when you look back over the years how in the middle of new relationships youthful friendships endure. Harry, as he then was, was never part of the Offaly Street gang but yet it was with Frank as he then became that I shared many experiences over the years. Together as young lads we ventured onto the Continent as intrepid travellers thumbing our way around France and later venturing into East Berlin a few short years after the erection of the Berlin Wall. Trips to Belgium, Holland, England and America followed and experiences were shared which added enormously to our knowledge, if not to our interpersonal skills while no doubt confirming the Continental's perception of young Irishmen as "Mad Dogs of the Midnight Sun".

His penchant for overseas travelling has abated in recent years to be replaced by an enormous likening for a late night pint in the cosy confines of Frank O'Briens. Maybe old age affects you that way. I will have to wait another year before finding out for myself.

Frank, as his mother Peg would say, is "a great lad". Indeed he is and his 27 years on the Town Council amply demonstrates that the townspeople of Athy share that view.

Friday, December 24, 1993

Tom Flood and Kavanaghs Autograph Book

On the 6th of September, 1984 the Irish Independent reported the death of Sean Kavanagh, former Governor of Mountjoy Jail. Born in Tralee in 1897 Kavanagh spent the early part of his life as a member of the Gaelic League, on whose behalf he worked as an Irish teacher in County Kildare. It was in that capacity he stayed in Athy on numerous occasions prior to and during the War of Independence. Unknown to those who met him he was also employed as an agent for Michael Collins’ Intelligence Services as Chief Intelligence Officer for County Kildare. He was a frequent visitor to No. 41 Duke Street, then the home of Michael Dooley who was very active in Republican circles during the War of Independence. Dooley’s Terrace is named after him.

Kavanagh was eventually captured and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail in November 1920 where he was to remain for 12 months. During his long term in prison he got many of his Republican colleagues to sign an autograph book which was recently for sale at a rare book auction. The first signature in the book is that of Michael Staines, one of James Connolly’s stretcher bearers during his evacuation from the G.P.O. in Easter week. Staines was later to be appointed the first Commissioner of the Garda Siochana. Arthur Griffith and E.J. Duggan, two signatories of the Anglo Irish Treaty appended their signatures in Kavanagh’s book on the 21st of April, 1921.

Perhaps the most interesting signature for an Athy reader is that of Thomas Flood who on the 23rd of September, 1921 dedicated an inscription to his late brother Frank Flood who was hanged in Mountjoy Jail. Given Kavanagh’s links with Athy it is a strange coincidence that Thomas Flood, a Dublin man, was soon thereafter to come to live in the same South Kildare town where he set up business in Leinster Street.

Frank Flood and his brother Thomas were members of the Republican movement during the War of Independence and Frank was captured following an attack on Crown Forces in Drumcondra. Court marshalled and convicted of treason he was hanged at Mountjoy Jail on the 14th of March, 1921.

Thomas Flood took part in the attack on the Custom House, Dublin by Republican Forces on the 25th of May, 1921. After being wounded he was captured and lodged in Mountjoy Jail to await trial. He escaped a probable conviction for treason and the inevitable sentence of hanging when an acute appendicitis on the eve of his trial led to its postponement. He remained in Mountjoy Jail until November 1921 and the Declaration of the Truce on the eve of his re-scheduled trial allowed him to escape the death penalty.

Following the end of hostilities Thomas Flood married Peg Mullane from Carlow and came to Athy where he purchased the Railway Dining Rooms owned by Margaret Byrne. He was later to become a member of Athy Urban District Council and he died in 1950 on the eve of an election to Kildare County Council for which he was a candidate. His son, Tom, lives in Church Road, while another son Danny was a member of the last Kildare team to win a Leinster Championship medal in 1956.

Sean Kavanagh, the original owner of the autograph book, was to return to Mountjoy Jail as Deputy Governor after the Treaty and he was later promoted as Governor, a position he held for 34 years.

Looking through the autographs and inscriptions, now 72 years old, it is difficult to imagine the personal sacrifices made by these men and their women folk at such a crucial time in Ireland’s history. Now that we have arrived at another cross-roads in our country’s story it is important for us to acknowledge our debt to these men and women while realising that it does no disservice to what we believe in if we seek a peaceful solution to the problems facing our country today.

Friday, December 17, 1993

James McNally - Mass Serving

Growing up in Athy in the 1950's the height of every young man's ambition was to be an altar boy. This was not necessarily an indication of religious fervour, merely I suspect a desire to be involved in the adult world from which young people were then so totally excluded. Being an altar boy was almost akin to taking to the stage and like the actor proclaiming his words to a hushed audience the altar boy intoned the responses to the Latin Mass with a solemnity and gravity beyond his years.

The attraction of being an altar boy is even now difficult to ascertain. Maybe it lay in the unquestioning desire to emulate an older brother who had himself perhaps followed in the steps of a near neighbour. The Mass servers surplice was handed down from brother to brother and well I can remember the relatively dishevelled lace ends of my surplice which repeated washing and delicate darning could never hope to conceal was a hand-me-down.

Morning masses in those days were timed to try the body if not the spirit and my memories are of being awakened at 6.30 a.m. by my father to get up on cold dark winters mornings to serve 7.00 a.m. Mass. The only constants at that ungodly hour were the celebrant and the local Christian Brothers who each morning walked alone and some distance apart from each other from their Monastery in St. John's to the local Parish Church. A Mass server could not always guarantee to arise and arrive in time and to this day I recall the terror felt when I arrived at the Sacristy one morning soon after I joined the Altar Servers to find that I was the only server present. In those days one had to contend with responsibilities which seemed awesome for a young lad so a hasty retreat was beaten leaving the Priest to face the congregation on his own.

One man whose face appears to me out of the distance of almost 40 years is James McNally, Sacristan extraordaire. For how long he was in the Parish Church I cannot say but he always seemed an important part of the Church in Athy and I can still visualise him guiding the Priests through the Easter ceremonies with the assurance and confidence of a man well versed in the intricities of Church ceremonies.

James was a widower and he lived in Convent View with the Mullerys. As Fr. McLoughlin, the Senior Curate who was later to become Parish Priest of Celbridge once said "James McNally could say Mass". It was a tribute well deserved and one which acknowledged his value to the local Church which he served with dignity and respect for many years. When he died he was buried in Old St. Michael's Cemetery and today it is sad to realise that this servant of the Church and of the people of Athy lies in an unmarked grave.

I am sure there are many others who like me remember James McNally and his contribution to the Church. It is rather surprising that he should be forgotten but perhaps he was not forgotten, merely overlooked in the myriad of problems and troubles that assail all of us throughout our lifetime. Now that we are reminded of James McNally maybe we can ensure that his grave is suitably marked as a tribute to a man who served a Church and a community so well for so long.

Friday, December 10, 1993

Sisters of Mercy

The Sisters of Mercy have a long cherished involvement with Athy and District. The first steps were taken to bring the Sisters to Athy in the days immediately before the Great Famine. However, it was not until 1852 that the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Athy to take charge of the newly built convent at the rear of St. Michael’s Parish Church. Like other religious communities throughout Ireland the local convent has seen a sharp decline in numbers in recent years. There are approximately twenty-six nuns in the convent today, with another eight nuns in St. Vincent’s Hospital. Thirty years ago there were sixty five nuns in the convent which had it’s own Noviciate to cater for the novices wishing to join the Sisters of Mercy in Athy. The Noviciate is now based in Dublin and no novices have entered for the Athy convent for many years past.

How different the story was in previous generations when the local convent was home to novices from all over Ireland. Athy convent was particularly popular with young women from the West of Ireland while the South of Ireland also gave many novices who were to teach in the local school work in St. Vincent’s Hospital, or do other charitable work in and around Athy. The remarkable fact is that so few of the nuns living in the convent over the years were from the South Kildare area. This is possibly explained by what may originally have been a rule later changed to a tacit understanding that Athy girls would join the Mercy Order in convents outside their own locality.

At a time when religious vocations were the norm rather than the exception it was not unusual for several members of the same family to join the convent. There were no less than ten families represented by two or more daughters in the Athy convent over the last fifty years. These included Sr. Laurence and Sr. Ursula who were Malones of Barrowhouse, and the Cullen sisters of Ballytore who in religion took the names of Sr. Joseph and Sr. Cecilia. The Gavin family of Westmeath gave us Sr. Francis and Sr. Peter while Sr. Sacred Heart and Sr. Agnes were Blanchfields from Thomastown in Co. Kilkenny. Still in the convent today are Sr. Finbar and Sr. Dolores, members of the Cowhy family who entered from Ballyhea, Buttevant, Co. Cork. The O’Leary sisters from Dublin, Sr. Joseph and Sr. Carmel, were another set of siblings who came to Athy to embark upon life as Sisters of Mercy.

Nearer to home were the Fingleton sisters of Ballyadams who as Sr. Ignatius and Sr. Theresa were to live in community with Sr. Claud and Sr. Cecilia, two members of the Hall family from Killinaule in Co. Tipperary. The Meagher family of Doon, Co. Limerick gave us Sr. Alphonsus and Sr. Oliver but perhaps the most extraordinary family record was that of the Cosgrave sisters from Daingean, Co. Offaly. Sr. Xavier, Sr. Paul and Sr. Rose were members of the same family who joined the Sisters of Mercy in Athy and happily Sr. Xavier and Sr. Paul are still with us.

Around 1940 the house rule which restricted the members of the community to the convent was changed to allow sisters and postulants to return to their own homes one day each year. Irrespective of the distance to be travelled anyone availing of the opportunity to visit their home had to be back in the convent by 9.00 p.m. the same night. At a time when so many members of the community were from the West of Ireland even this concession had limited benefit. One can imagine the difficulties posed for someone like Sr. Brendan who entered the convent in Athy in 1914 and who was from the Glens near Dingle in Co. Kerry, a distance impossible to travel in one day.

Community life in Athy’s convent is more relaxed and less restrictive than ever before and the nuns are now actively involved with the wider community outside the convent. The regret is that the future of the Sisters of Mercy in Athy is so uncertain, but hopefully they will continue to have a presence in Athy continuing a tradition extending back over 140 years.

Friday, December 3, 1993

Geraldine Tennis Club

As you walk along the Carlow Road past Chanterlands, Oaklawns, and the other housing estates it is difficult to visualise that just a few years ago the entire area was given over to fields. The only visible reminder of that time is a single yew tree growing on the footpath near the entrance to Oaklawns. It once stood in the front garden of Mrs. Flood's house, which with Mrs. Anthony's house on the same road were once the only dwellings between the railway crossing gates and Coneyboro. Some short distance away and in the area now given over to the Chanterlands housing estate I can recall the site of the Tennis Club now long gone. One of my earliest memories is as a very young lad in the company of other young fellows on our hands and knees looking for weeds on the smooth green sward of one of the Club's Tennis Courts. The Caretaker at that time was Mattie Brennan, of fond memory. I never played tennis on those same courts and could not recall the name of the club until last week when the Minute Book of Geraldine Tennis Club came into my possession.

The inaugural meeting of the club was held in the Urban Council room in the Town Hall on Tuesday the 8th of May, 1934. The first Committee was headed by Fr. Maurice Browne C.C. who was later to become Parish Priest in Ballymore Eustace. He was brother of Cardinal Browne O.P. but is perhaps best remembered as the author of those fine books "The Big Sycamore" and "In Monavello". The first Chairman was Joseph Hickey while Brother Dolan of the local Christian Brothers School was Vice-Chairman. James Tierney was Treasurer and joint Secretaries were Edward Dooley and Philip Gunne. The first Captain of the club was Tommy Mulhall, better known in those days as a County and Provincial footballer. William Keyes was Vice-Captain while the Committee included P.J. O'Neill, John Harvey, William Mahon, Frank Bramley, Joseph Carbery, Michael Mannin and John Dooley.

The Ladies Committee comprised Ms. K. Carolan, Ms. Cullen, Ms. M. Kelly, Ms. P. Bradley, Ms. E. Flinter, Ms. K. May, Ms. Browne, Ms. R. Dooley, Ms. O'Brien, Ms. Hickey, Ms. J. Horgan, Ms. K. Candy, Ms. Molly Lawler and Ms. May Lawler.

On the proposal of Joe May the Club was named "Geraldine Tennis Club" and the meeting also agreed to fix the annual subscription at 12/6. It is interesting to note that 60 years before the emergence of equality legislation those in attendance at the inaugural meeting voted down a Motion that women be charged 2/6 less than men for their annual subscription.

The grounds used by the Club were leased from Mr. Bodley and the tennis courts were officially opened on Thursday the 24th of May, 1934. Early rules established by the club included limitation of sets to not more than eleven games and prohibiting singles play while members were waiting for games. Interestingly enough at an early date the club had more than six courts - as of January of 1936 it was agreed to reduce the number of courts to five or six. The first groundsman employed by the club was John Mitchell.

In September 1934 the Club decided to run practice dances on Thursday evenings every week and an all night dance on September 26th. An all night dance required a band to be booked to play from 9.00 p.m. to 3.00 a.m. As to the nature and purpose of a practice dance I cannot say but I would welcome hearing from anyone who might have attended them. Incidentally the admission charge for an all night dance was four shillings (20p) which included government tax and supper.

In 1935 the club purchased a galvanised hut from the Barrow Drainage Board and this was used as the Clubhouse. You can see the Clubhouse in a photograph of social club players taken in the 1940's which is presently on exhibition in the Museum Room in the Town Hall. In October 1936 the club changed it's name to South Kildare Tennis Club and affiliated with the Irish Lawn Tennis Union. By now the committee included Ger Moriarty, Liam Ryan, M.G. Nolan and Paddy Dooley. On the 18th of November, 1941 a special meeting of the Tennis Club was called to consider the possible purchase of the legion hall in St. John's Lane. It was agreed to proceed and the purchase was made for £213.3.5 inclusive of all costs. Thereafter, the story of the South Kildare Tennis Club is that of the Social Club and I will turn to that story at a later date.

Friday, November 26, 1993

Freemasons Lodge Athy

Freemasonry is a little known part of the fabric of our history and at local level nothing is known of the Society by those who are not members. No doubt you, like myself, only know it as a secret organisation indulging in secret rituals and handshakes to which vivid imaginations over the years have imparted demonic significance. To Freemasons, however, it is not a secret organisation and they reject any suggestion to the contrary.

Modern Freemasonry in Ireland began with the establishment of the grand Lodge in 1725. It is claimed that traditionally Freemasonry began with itinerant craft masons or stone cutters who travelled in search of work and who developed secret signs known only to fellow craft masons. Whatever the validity of that claim it is indisputable that the earliest Freemason lodges consisted mainly of the gentry who were not in any was associated with craft workers.

Today there are approximately 730 Lodges in Ireland with a membership close to 50,000 of which approximately 7,000 members are in the Irish Republic. Athy has St. John's Masonic Lodge for which a Warrant issued from the Grand Lodge in 1840. The Athy Lodge is No. 167 and it has a membership of approximately 48.

Membership of the Freemasons is technically open to men of all religions but in practice it's membership is largely comprised of members of the Reformed Church. Within the ranks of the Athy Lodge there has only been one known instance of a Roman Catholic member. He was an employee of a local factory who spent a short time in Athy in the 1950's. Daniel O'Connell, a Catholic, was also a Freemason despite a Papal Decree of 1738 which prohibited Catholics from joining the organisation. It would appear that the Irish Hierarchy did not enforce that Decree until the early part of the 19th century. The present situation in relation to Catholic membership of the Freemasons is somewhat uncertain.

The first Master of the Athy Lodge was B.A. Yates who was followed in 1841 by Henry O'Neill. The Lodge Master and the other Lodge Officers are nominated in September, elected in October and installed in January each year. In addition to the Master, the other Lodge Officers are Senior and Junior Wardens, Senior and Junior Deacons, Inner Guard, Steward of Charities, Director of Ceremonies and Chaplain. Masons are called Brother while a Past Master is addressed as Worshipful Brother.

The position of Lodge Secretary has been occupied by only three persons since 1898. H.K. Toomey, a local Solicitor, was Secretary for 38 years and in 1937 Robert Youell took up the position which he retained until 1960.

The Lodge Members of Athy meet nine times a year and the meeting lasts approximately two hours. The earliest meetings which followed the issuing of the Lodge Warrant in 1840 took place in the house of Samuel Connolly of Emily Square. He was to be Lodge Master in 1846. Later on the Lodge met in the Courthouse before obtaining from the Duke of Leinster the lease of a room in the Town Hall, Athy, in the early 1860's. The Duke was Grand Master of the Irish Freemasons and for a peppercorn rent of 1/= per year the Athy Masons had exclusive use of a room on the top floor of the Town Hall for over 100 years. They left the building prior to its refurbishment and moved to their present meeting place.

The members in meeting wear the Masons Apron, and other regalia with it's predominantly blue colour. The Deacons bear staffs while the door is guarded by the Inner Guard who restrict entry to Freemasons only. The Masonic rituals are part of the Masonic secrets which members may not disclose as are the secret words, signs and grips used by the Masons. A Freemason is quite entitled to disclose his membership to a non-mason but most are very secretive about their membership.

There are five branches of Freemasonry operating in Ireland ranging from the Craft which is lodge orientated to the Royal Arch membership of which is open to Master Masons. Membership of the Royal Arch meet in Royal Arch Chapters and it's governing body is the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Ireland. The next highest branch of Freemasonry is the Order of Knights Mason, membership of which is open to Royal Arch Masons. The Order of the Temple is restricted to those Masons invited to join and its members meet in Preceptories. The highest unit of Freemasonry in Ireland is the Ancient and Accepted Rite for Ireland, membership of which is again strictly by invitation only.

Members of the local Masonic Lodges in Athy, Newbridge, Portlaoise and Carlow would not all necessarily operate at the various levels within Irish Freemasonry. However, Chapter Meetings of the Royal Arch are held four times a year in Athy while Preceptory Meetings of the Order of the Temple meet in Carlow and Portlaoise.

The objectives of the Freemasons have been claimed as "Benevolence and Brotherly Love" and a number of charities have been established by the organisation. These include the Masonic Girls Fund, the Masonic Boys Fund and the Masonic Annuity Fund for widows of deceased Members.

The claim that it is an anti-religious and politically orientated organisation is vehemently denied by the Freemasons. While the Masonic Meetings begin and end with prayers they dismiss any claims that theirs is an alternative religion. Perhaps its greatest and possibly only benefit to a local community lies in the expression of that Brotherly Love which causes Freemasons to come to each others help and assistance as and when required.

Friday, November 19, 1993

George Hegarty

George Hegarty always seemed to be part of the Athy I knew as I grew up. Surprisingly he has only been with us since 1957.

Of West Cork farming stock George was born in the townland of Smorane, Skibbereen, where his brother still works the farm which has been home to Hegartys for seven generations. At an early age George was apprenticed to a draper and shoe merchant in his native town. In those days shop apprenticeships were much sought after and indoor staff, who lived over the premises, actually paid for the privilege of learning their trade. As an outdoor staffer who lived at home George earned 7/6 per week for the first six months. To younger generations unaccustomed to the intricacies of pounds, shillings and pence, his pay in modern coinage came to 37½ pence per week.

In April 1945 George was on the move when he got a job in Templemore. Staying only eleven weeks he moved further inland on being appointed Chargehand in the Boot Department of Goods of Kilkenny in July 1945. As a member of the indoor staff George lived over the premises with full board and a salary of £14.0.0 per year. Boots and shoes sold in those days were of the sturdy type, designed to last. Every home had an iron last used when reinforcing newly purchased boots or shoes with the metal heels and toe caps so prevalent in the 1940's and 1950's.

George spent three years in the Marble City before returning to Templemore in November 1948 to set up his own boot, shoe and light drapery business. Marrying the following year George was to spend the next eight years developing his business during the difficult years of the pre Lemass boom years. Giving up the unequal struggle in 1957 George came to Athy to work for Shaws as Manager in mens clothing.

In the late 1950's and well into the 1970's tailor made suits were all the vogue. A good quality suit cost sixteen guineas although a cheaper version was available for £12. Rolls of cloth decorated the shop shelves but the choice was limited normally to dark grey or navy with or without stripes. Customers were measured on the premises and the cloth was then sent to a local tailor or to Dublin to be made up. If made up locally all the trimmings were provided by Shaws. These included buttons, thread (including twist or heavy thread for button holes), heavy outer lining and inner lining of canvas, hair cloth or synddo. The local tailors included Mick Egan of Leinster Street, Tom Moran of St. Patrick's Avenue and John Connell of Prusselstown. Once made up the garments were returned to Shaws for a fitting after which final adjustments were made before completion.

The emergence of the ready made suits in the early 1970's hastened the demise of the town tailoring skills. George recalls how his boss reacted on seeing the first readymade suits which George had ordered for the shop. Made of shiny cloth material with narrow trouser legs they did not find favour with Sam Shaw who ordered them to be returned as "they will never sell". They were sold within a week leading to another order from George and the admission from his boss who was over 50 years in business "Hegarty, I have gone beyond it".

Up to the mid-1970's Athy was still a hive of business activity especially on Saturday nights with late opening until 9.00 p.m. George recalls many a Christmas Eve leaving the store with work colleagues at 10.30 p.m. after a long and busy day clutching Santa's toys secured at the last moment for his children Ivor and Anne. Stories of the same toys scattering around Leinster Street under the watchful eye of the local Gardai after a nocturnal visit to a well known watering hole are recounted with mirth and a wistful regret for times now past.

Friday, November 12, 1993

Remembrance Sunday

Sitting in my study writing this week’s column, I have before me a list compiled from past editions of the Kildare Observer and Leinster Leader of men from Co. Kildare killed in World War 1. The bulky computerised list does not contain the names of all the 567 men from the county who died in the 1914-’18 war. Listed only are those men whose deaths were reported in the local newspapers and the surprise is how many were never publicly recorded. One name which immediately catches my attention is that of Norman Hannon of Ardreigh House, Athy, who died in 1915. Further on, the same list records the name John Hannon of Ardreigh House who died in 1916. They were brothers.

How poignant to reflect that 77 years later the Hannon family are no longer in Athy and the house which Norman and John left to enlist is home to another generation and another family whole allegiances and background are so different from theirs.

The Hannon brothers were joined in death before the end of the war by their first cousins Henry Hannon and Thomas Hannon, both of Millview House, Athy. Their premature deaths were to leave their ageing parents without successors and this, in part, was the reason for the ultimate failure of the once thriving Hannon mills at Ardreigh and Duke Street in Athy.

On the same list I find the names Thomas Stafford and Eddie Stafford of Athy, two brothers, whose death in the fighting fields of France must have brought unimaginable grief and despair to their parents. But what of the Kelly family of Meeting Lane whose three sons, John, Eoin and Denis, were never to return home to Athy. No words can describe the sense of loss suffered by young and old alike whose lives had been touched by those young men whose lives were sacrificed on the Western Front.

Anthony Byrne and his brother Joe of Chapel Lane were another two uniformed men who set off on the train from Athy Railway Station enveloped in the camaraderie and excitement of the time, having said goodbye to their family. They also died fighting in the war to end all wars.

The list goes on and on. Throughout Co. Kildare the daily despatches from the War Office were awaited with fear and apprehension. Death had no respect for rank or age. Every street suffered losses. Few homes escaped the dreadful carnage which enveloped a generation which was never to grow old.

The men of Athy and Co. Kildare who fought in World War I were soon forgotten in the emerging nationalism of the 20th century. Times have changed ever so slowly. From the rather shameful neglect of over 70 years there has began to emerge an acceptance and an appreciation of a lost generation’s sacrifice. As individuals and as a nation we have learned to acknowledge that bravery wears many uniforms and is not confined solely to the daring and sometimes heroic escapades of guerrilla fighters of the Irish War of Independence, whom we have always honoured.

For the last two years a growing number of local people have given public expression to their respect and reverence for the men of Athy who died in World War I. On Remembrance Sundays in 1991 and ’92 ceremonies of commemoration were held in St. Michael’s Cemetery, Athy over the graves of those World War I soldiers who are buried there.

On Sunday, November 14th at noon, there will again be an opportunity for us all to remember in prayer and poetry those men. St. Michael’s cemetery will be the venue. Your attendance would be a fitting way of paying your respects. Elsewhere, you will read of the lectures and other events forming part of the remembrance weekend in Athy on November 13th and 14th. If you can attend any or all of these, please do so.

Friday, November 5, 1993

Brother Joseph Brett

Late on Monday afternoon with two old school friends I set out for Thurles to attend the funeral of Brother Brett, Superior of the Christian Brothers in Athy from 1955 to 1961. His time in Athy coincided with our entry into and subsequent departure from the Secondary School then housed in the upper floors of the old school premises in St. John's Lane. As we travelled along the road we reminisced about our schooldays and the part Brother Brett had played in our lives.

He was a giant of a man. A gentle giant whom we never remember raising his voice in anger or his hand to hurt. His fresh face complexion was a clear indication of his relative youth but to young 16 or 17 year olds he seemed well entrenched in the grey eminence of adulthood which to us then seemed so far distant. Now as we look back from the quickening years of middle age we are astonished to find that Brother Brett arrived in Athy as a young 39 year old.

He died last weekend aged 78 years after several years of illness which had seen his fine strong features change beyond recognition. As the funeral prayers were said for Brother Joseph we realised for the very first time that we had not previously known his christian name. To us he was Brother Brett or simply "The Boss", a name which was his alone, long before Bruce Springsteen arrived on the scene.

Hurrying through the Tipperary countryside, 33 years after we had taken our leave of the Christian Brothers, we recalled the generosity of spirit which was the hallmark of Brother Brett and his colleagues. As Christian Brothers they dedicated their lives to others. They had forsaken the joys and comfort of family life to live in communities of men bound by vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The personal sacrifices made by men such as Brother Brett are not always appreciated. As we stood around his coffin it seemed to us so sad that a once young man from Balla in County Mayo should die almost forgotten and unacknowledged in a strange town mourned only by his own immediate family and the members of the Christian Brothers. His Brothers in congregation were all old men whose faces bore testimony to lives dedicated to prayer and service. They had come to mourn one of their own and in his passing they recognised the drawing of the curtain which could shortly signal the end of the Irish Christian Brothers.

For over 160 years the Order founded by Ignatius Rice has provided the bedrock upon which the future of young Irishmen has been secured. Their work commenced in times of poverty and ultimately famine but throughout good times and bad the Christian Brothers gave of themselves and their resources to help Irish men to achieve their full potential.

Nowadays it is fashionable to belittle the part played by religious orders in Irish education and even to focus solely on the unacceptable behaviour of the few misguided individuals who were found wanting. We can so easily overlook the good work which was done by the Christian Brothers. We must resist the temptation to do so. After all we owe so much to those men who helped to shape our young lives and gave us the confidence to face into the future.

Our old school in St. John's Lane is now closed. The new school in Rathstewart no longer has a Christian Brother on its staff. The Monastery on the Carlow Road is home to two retired Brothers whose presence helps to continue Athy's link with the past. Many Christian Brothers have come and gone since the Orders arrival in Athy in August 1862. Their work is not yet done but it is to other men and women unburdened by clerical vows that the responsibility must now pass.

The memory of the Christian Brothers will I hope always find a response in the hearts and minds of the people of Athy. We owe them so much. The passing of Brother Brett last weekend marked the end of an era for one group of middle aged men who as 13 year old youngsters bounded up the metal stairway of the old Christian Brothers School under the watchful eye of the newly arrived Superior. "The Boss" is now dead. His memory remains. Thank you for making that memory one to be cherished.

Friday, October 29, 1993

Bert House

Bert House, largest mansion in South Kildare, has been advertised for sale. Described as an outstanding Georgian residence on 165 acres the Auctioneers blurb refers to the building’s classical style and generous accommodation.

Bert House was built between 1720 and 1730 for Captain William Burgh who was Comptroller and Accountant General for Ireland. His brother Thomas Burgh of Oldtown was the Architect. Thomas had been appointed Barrack Overseer in Ireland in 1701 and was responsible for the building of Trinity College Library, Dr. Steeven’s Hospital, Dublin and Collins Barracks in Dublin. The original Bert House consisted of the central block of seven bays, three storey high over a basement. The overlapping side wings were added early in the 19th century. It’s a house steeped in history and the people who lived there helped shape the course of Irish history during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Captain William Burgh, the first owner of the house, was born in 1667, son of Ulysses Burgh of Dromkeen, Co. Leitrim. He was succeeded by his only son Thomas Burgh whose sister Elizabeth was married in 1734 to Chief Baron Anthony Foster. Their son, John Foster was to be the last Speaker in the Irish House of Commons. Thomas Burgh was born in 1696 and while he sat in Parliament as Member for Lanesboro in Co. Longford he never represented Athy in that capacity. He was however a freeman of Athy Borough and served as Sovereign of Athy in 1755. He married Ann Downes, daughter of the Bishop of Cork and Ross whose wife Catherine was a sister of Robert, 19th Earl of Kildare. His wife’s brother Robert Downes was later to sit as M.P. for Kildare and was appointed Sovereign of Athy in 1749. Thomas Burgh of Bert House, was the owner of extensive tracts of land in South Kildare. The present house has but 165 acres of land remaining.

When Thomas Burgh died in 1758 he was succeeded by his eldest son, William, who was born in 1741. William was the first Burgh of Bert House to represent Athy in Parliament which he did between 1768 and 1776. Removing himself to England when the Parliament ended he died in York in 1808. A monument to his memory by the famous sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott is to be found in York Minster.

When William left Bert House his younger brother Thomas succeeded him as M.P. for Athy and he continued to do so until 1790. Thomas, who had previously resided in Chapelizod, Co. Dublin succeeded to the Bert House estate in 1808 but died two years later.

The Parliamentary connection was maintained by Thomas’ sister Anne who in 1767 married Walter Hussey. Born in Donore, Co. Kildare, Hussey who was regarded as the finest Orator of his day represented Athy Borough Council in the Irish House of Commons between 1769 and 1776.

On the death of Thomas Burgh in 1810 Bert House passed to his only son, Ulysses. Born in 1788, Ulysses married Maria Bagenal of Bagnelstown in 1815. He was a member of the Borough Council of Athy until it’s disbandment in 1840 and served as Sovereign of Athy in 1834 and again in 1840. Incidentally he was not the last Town Sovereign, a distinction held by Rev. F.S. Trench of Kilmorony House.

Ulysses Burgh succeeded to the title of Lord Downes in 1826 on the death of his cousin William Downes who was appointed Lord Chief Justice in 1803 following the assassination of Lord Kilwarden during the Robert Emmet Rebellion. William Downes, son of the former Sovereign of Athy Robert Downes, was created Lord Downes in 1822 on his retirement as Chief Justice. Dying without male issue the title passed to his cousin Ulysses Burgh of Bert. It was the former Ulysses Burgh, by then Lord Downes, who presented the Town Hall clock to the people of Athy in 1846.

When Lord Downes of Bert died in 1863 he was succeeded by his eldest daughter, Charlotte who had married Lt. General James Colborne in 1851. Colborne was the son of John Colborne who led the decisive movement of the 52nd Light Infantry which secured the victory of Waterloo. He was later Commander in charge of the British Army in Ireland and was raised to the title of Lord Seaton in 1839. Charlotte’s husband, James Colborne, succeeded to his father’s title in 1863 and it was as Lord and Lady Seaton that James and Charlotte came to live in Bert House following the death of Lord Downes. The house remained in their ownership until 1909 when it was sold to the Misses Geoghegan.

Friday, October 22, 1993

Captain George Weldon

I recently attended in the Town Hall, Athy, an exhibition of elements of the forgotten heritage of County Kildare. The display sought through the use of photographs, text and line drawings to illustrate the less obvious but no less important aspects of the County’s heritage. Of particular interest to Athy was the display relating to Kilmoroney House. Included in the Kilmoroney material was a copy of an old photograph of a young man dressed in an Officer’s uniform of the British Army. He was Captain George Anthony Weldon who was killed in 1899 at the age of 33. His position in history is assured as the first Army officer killed in the Boer War.

Weldon, the son of Col. Thomas Weldon of the Indian Army, was grandson of Sir Anthony Weldon of Kilmoroney, Athy. He followed the family tradition of service in the British Army as did his two brothers, Francis Weldon and Waller Weldon who served in the Sherwood Foresters and Manchester Regiment respectively. Commissioned in 1886 into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers he served during the Burmese expedition of 1887 - 1889. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1896. As an Officer Weldon involved himself in all the gentlemanly pursuits which were the preserve of landed gentry and officers in those Victorian days. General Sir Alexander Godley in his Reminiscences published in 1939 recalled playing polo on the Dublin Fusiliers Regimental Team with George Weldon in tournaments held in the Curragh Camp.

Just before the outbreak of the Boer War the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were despatched to the northern Natal town of Dundee in anticipation of the Boer invasion. The Boer forces occupied the crest of a hill called Talana which rose some 600 ft. to the north of the town giving it a commanding view of the British position. On the morning of 20th October, 1899 the 2nd Battalion Dublin Fusiliers with the 60th Rifles and the Royal Irish Fusiliers were all ordered to take the hill.

The Irish men attempted to advance up the hill under sustained fire from the mauser rifles of the Boers. Weldon led a Company of the 2nd Battalion. Their advance being checked by the heavy rifle fire Weldon followed by men from his Company climbed over a wall and sheltered behind it. One of his soldiers, Private Gorman climbing the same wall was shot and fell backwards in full view of the Boer Marksmen commanding the hill. Captain Weldon rushed forward, seized Gorman by the arm and was dragging him to safety when he himself was shot. Weldon died instantly. The battle continued and later that evening when attempts were made to retrieve his body Weldon’s pet terrier was found waiting patiently by his master’s lifeless body. Weldon was buried that same afternoon in a small cemetery facing the hill on which he met his death.

Captain George Weldon has the unique distinction of being the first Army Officer to die in the Boer War. Memorials to Weldon can be found in St. Michael’s Church, Athy and in the former depot barracks of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in Naas. There are also memorials in St. James’ Church, Dundee, Natal, South Africa and at St. George’s Church, Pietermaritzburg. On a memorial to Weldon in St. Mary’s Church, Blyth, are inscribed the words “He hath done well and so made good his name”.

I understand that the original of the photograph which was on display in the Town Hall is in the possession of a lady in Naas whose father was batman to Captain George Weldon. After almost 100 years the story of the man captured in the photograph is almost forgotten. The FAS trainees who were responsible for putting on the exhibition in the Town Hall have done an excellent job of work in highlighting this and other aspects of County Kildare’s almost forgotten heritage. I hope that they will continue to delve into our history and help us all to have a better understanding of our past.

Friday, October 15, 1993

John MacKenna

In my articles I have always written of the past. In a sense these are like acts of atonement for lives and experiences spent without recognition. Forgotten and unacknowledged the events and people, the subject of my articles, tend to have slipped from our memory.

How nice then to remember and to pay tribute to someone who has embarked on a literary career which will undoubtedly bring him and his native Castledermot, and by association the town of Athy, fame, and for him, I hope, fortune. For today I write of a man whose literary talents are emerging into the glare of national and international recognition. In years to come as someone else writes of Athy's past no doubt John MacKenna will figure prominently as a writer famous for many works as yet unwritten.

In his short literary career to date, which commenced with the South Leinster Literary Group based in Clancys Pub, MacKenna has produced a book of poetry, short stories and a number of plays in which he has continuously sharpened and honed his literary imagery. Not everything he produced was of the finest quality but within his early work there was a clear indication of an improving style which would soon bring him into the first ranks of emerging Irish writers.
Winner of a Hennessy Award in 1983 he won Cecil Day Lewis Awards for works of fiction in literary competitions run by Athy Urban Council's Cultural Sub-Committee in 1989 and 1990. During that time he was and still remains a radio producer in RTE.

His love for and involvement in theatre gave rise to his founding The Mend and Makedo Theatre Company in 1988. Using the Company as a vehicle for his plays, he wrote, produced and acted in six original works over the last three years.

His substantial literary output during that period owed as much to his astute reworking of material for play and short story as to his quite prodigious energy. "The Fallen" a voice play first produced in November 1989 was later broadcast on Radio Eireann as play of the week before subsequently emerging under MacKenna's skilful hands as a novella. As the title story in his first book of short stories "The Fallen" was published in 1992 by Blackstaff Press to great critical acclaim. Those of you who visit the local Library in the Town Hall will no doubt have seen the review his first book received in the London Times which is pinned to one of the bookstands. The Glasgow Herald reviewing the same book of short stories placed the author "in the forefront of Irish fiction". Strong praise indeed for a writer with his first book of short stories.

John MacKenna has now won the 1993 Irish Times Literary Award, the most prestigious prize in Irish Literature, for his first book "The Fallen". Last week he gave a reading of his work in the Royal Festival Hall, London, sharing a platform with the famous Authoress, Beryl Bainbridge. He has been featured on BBC Radio and no doubt you will have seen his recent appearance on the Pat Kenny -j.'V Show.

How nice then to pay a tribute to one of our own and to acknowledge a man who in time can be one of Ireland's literary greats. This week in the Community Library, Town Hall, Athy, John MacKenna's first novel "Clare" will be launched. Already critically acclaimed in England and Ireland his new work is an extraordinarily intimate and lyrical exploration of John Clare, the English Poet who died in 1864.

The launch will take place on Thursday October 14th at 8.00 p.m. and gives all of us in Athy and surrounding district an opportunity to acknowledge the success of a local man and to pay tribute to a talent which developed in Athy and which now reaches out beyond our borders to touch the lives of people we can never expect to know.

Well done John MacKenna. It is nice to look back on the past while at the same time looking to the future for a new and exceptional talent.

Friday, October 8, 1993

Harvest Thanksgiving

In St. Michael's Parish Church on the Carlow Road on Friday 8th of October the annual Harvest Thanksgiving Service will take place. The successful gathering in of the harvest has always been followed by festivities. Farmers down the centuries have traditionally celebrated the last of the harvest work with the harvest supper or in some areas with a harvest party. On these occasions the farm workers, whether hired hands or voluntary workers from the neighbourhood would eat and drink at the farmer's table or sometimes in the barn specially decorated for that purpose. Merry making and dancing was an important part of the harvest celebration and signalled the end of the farmer's year.
The countryman's celebration of the harvest is as old as man's cultivation of the soil. The bountiful harvest secured the farmer and his family over the hard winter months and in joyful celebration the harvest feast came into existence. The tradition continued in good and bad times and many variations of the harvest festivities were to be noted throughout different parts of Ireland.
In parts of County Carlow and South Kildare during the last century the cutting of the last sheaf of corn was attended with great ceremony and superstition. This last piece of standing corn, normally in the centre of the field, was believed to hold the destiny of whoever cut it down. The task was usually entrusted to the females of the area, each of whom were required to have a stroke at it with a reaping hook. The girl who succeeded in felling the remaining corn with one blow was traditionally believed to be destined for marriage within a year.

The last sheaf, when cut, was borne with some ceremony into the farmer's house where it was presented to the woman of the house in return for a promise of a harvest feast for all the workers. In some areas the sheaf of corn was handed over in return for money which was used by the workers to celebrate the end of the harvest in the local public house.
Another tradition associated with County Kildare was "Gleaning" Sunday held on the first Sunday after the middle of August. On that day the farm workers and their families would walk through the fields "gleaning" corn which was made into sheaves to be added to the corn already gathered. The farmer's wife would meanwhile prepare a meal to be eaten by everyone taking part in picnic style in the corn field. Again it was an opportunity for festivities and merriment with the added bonus of ensuring the farmer had every salvageable ear of corn saved.
The church celebration of Harvest Thanksgiving is quite a modern custom but one which has links with the earlier harvest feasts and traditions. It began in 1843 when Rev. R. S. Hawker, Vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall revived the ancient thanksgiving and service of Lammas. This word is derived from an anglo saxon word-meaning "loaf mass" and referred to the first day of the harvest, traditionally the l st of August which the Medieval Church in prereformation days celebrated by bringing newly ripened corn into the Parish Church for the making of the bread of the sacrament. The custom revived by Hawker soon spread to other parish churches and today Harvest Thanksgiving ceremonies form a common and accepted part of the liturgy of the Church of Ireland.

It is customary to decorate the Church with fruit, flowers, vegetables and corn, all of which are subsequently donated to local charities and institutions. Hymns of praise with special reference to the harvest now finished for another year are sung in thanksgiving. The children in the congregation generally bring up to the altar gifts symbolising the fruits of the soil and the labour of man.

It is interesting to note that some of the hymns of Rev. Thomas Kelly are generally included in the Harvest Festival service in our local Church in which he no doubt preached during his time
in Athy. "We sing the praise of Him who died" and "The Heart that once was crowned with thorns" while not harvest hymns are songs of praise which fit easily into the liturgy at harvest time.

For farmers the harvest yields this year may not be as good as expected but for what they have reaped voices will be raised in praise and thanksgiving in St. Michael's on the 8th of October.

Friday, October 1, 1993

Daniel O'Connell and Mullaghmast meeting

On the morning of October 1st, 1843, the 68-year-old barrister and Member of Parliament, Daniel O’Connell, stepped outside the main door of the Leinster Arms Hotel, Athy. His appearance was immediately met with a loud and continuous cheer from the men and women who had waited patiently from early morning to see the Liberator. Raising his hat above his head, O’Connell acknowledged the cheers as he stepped into his waiting carriage. Accompanied by members of the Repeal Association travelling in several carriages drawn up behind O’Connells, they made slow progress through Leinster Street, heading in the Dublin direction.

When the leading carriage reached Gallowshill the procession turned right onto the Castledermot road. Now, clear of the crowded streets, the horses increased their pace as they cantered easily over the mud road leading to Mullaghmast. O’Connell and the Repeal Association had held meetings in places as far apart as Baltinglass, Monaghan, Loughrea and Lismore and the monster meeting planned for that day in Mullaghmast was to be followed by a final rally in Clontarf.

The members of the Repeal Association in Co. Kildare had put a considerable amount of planning and work into arranging the Mullaghmast meeting. Up to one million people were expected and a pavilion was erected on the site for the formal dinner which would follow the public meeting. Local men from Athy, Ballytore and the surrounding areas were recruited to act as stewards and each man was given a hat badge which bore the inscription “O’Connell’s Police.” Not that Daniel O’Connell was in any danger or needed protection, but stewards were needed to marshall the huge influx of visitors expected that morning.

Approaching Mullaghmast at 2.00 p.m. in the afternoon O’Connell could see from his carriage the flags and banners carried by his exuberant followers “Ireland for the Irish”, “Remember Mullaghmast” and “Ireland must be a Nation” caught his eye as he slowly made his way to the rear of the platform. Standing nearby, taking pride in his handiwork, was Athy builder, Thomas Fagan of Market Square whose men had brought from Athy the timber required for the platform and who had shaped that same timber into a platform from which the great man would deliver his speech.

Ascending the platform, O’Connell’s arrival was met with a loud roar. It was fully ten minutes before the noise had subsided and then John Hogan, Ireland’s most famous sculptor, accompanied by Henry McManus, the painter, and John O’Callaghan, author of The Irish Brigade in the Service of France placed on O’Connell’s head a cap of green velvet with gold in the form of an Irish crown. Raising his two hands as a signal for silence, O’Connell stood at the front of the platform and spoke with a voice which carried far out into the crowd but which was still unable to reach many of the men and women who had come to hear him speak. “Mullaghmast was selected for this meeting”, he said, “as it was the spot on which English treachery and false Irish treachery consummated the massacre of the Irish people.” The crowd pushed forward as he spoke and his every pause was greeted with a loud sustained cheer.

Dressed in the scarlet robes of Dublin City Council, O’Connell’s speech continued as a document headed “A full and true account of the dreadful slaughter and murder at Mullaghmast on the bodies of 400 Roman Catholics” was handed out amongst the crowd. It was later to be produced as evidence of the treasonable nature of the meeting when O’Connell and his associates were tried for unlawfully and seditiously conspiring to raise and create discontent amongst the Queen’s subjects in January 1844.

At the conclusion of the public meeting and as the crowds of men and women started on their homeward journey O’Connell and members of the Repeal Association adjourned to the pavilion erected for the formal dinner. More speeches were to follow and the resolution “that a petition be prepared and presented to Parliament for a repeal of the Union” was passed. It was in the course of his speech after the dinner that O’Connell made the now famous reference to the Duke of Wellington. “The poor Duke, what shall I say of him. To be sure he was born in Ireland but being born in a stable does not make a man a horse”.

The Mullaghmast meeting was to be the last monster meeting of the Repeal Association as O’Connell, in the face of possible military intervention, cancelled the Clontarf meeting.

On October 3rd, the 150th anniversary of O’Connell’s visit to Mullaghmast will be marked by a ceremony at the Rath commencing at 2.30 p.m. Go along and swell the crowd as our ancestors did so many years ago when Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, spoke of his hopes and aspirations for the repeal of the Act of Union.

Friday, September 24, 1993

Ned Wynne and Shoemaking

One hundred and ten years ago Athy had no less than eight shoemakers. Ballylinan had one. His name was Edward Wynne. Today his grandson, also named Edward Wynne, is the only shoemaker in South Kildare.

Apprenticed at an early age to his father John Wynne, Edward or "Ned" as he is generally known has worked at his craft in Athy since 1938. The Wynne family tradition of shoemaking started even before Ned's grandfather's time for it is known that his great grandfather was a master craftsman working in Carlow.

On the 4th of January, 1938 Ned Wynne left his father's workshop in Ballylinan and set up business in his own account in a front room of Bridget Howard's house in Leinster Street. Today, fifty five years later, Ned is still working from the same front room being part of No. 63 Leinster Street which he bought some years ago.

Sitting in the makeshift shoemakers seat which traditionally holds all the tools required for the job, Ned wears as he has done every day for almost sixty years the hard leather apron of the shoemaker. Specially reinforced at chest level to give maximum protection from the paring and cutting knives used in his craft, the gum stained leather apron tells of years of use by the local shoemaker.

Nowadays the work of the shoemaker is confined to repairing shoes. Years ago the task most enjoyed by skilled craftsmen such as Ned was the making of welted shoes or pegged boots. The wooden lasts designed to suit most shoe sizes now lie undisturbed on the shelves. The iron last is now in every day use as Ned heels and soles the factory mass produced shoes of today.

Ned last made a pair of shoes in 1971 and regrets the changes which have been brought about in the footwear industry. He recalls the various stages which had to be gone through in making a pair of boots or shoes to order.

The customers feet were measured using the shoemakers size stick and measure strap. These give not only the traditional shoe size but also measurements of the ankle, the heel, the instep and between the little toe and the ball of the big toe. Translating those measurements to the wooden lasts was part of the shoemakers skill. The cutting of the various leathers, boxed calf for the upper, hard leather for the soles and belly leather for the insoles were skills painstakingly acquired over the years. Hand sewing of the different leathers combined with use of the Singer closing machine for stitching light uppers presented the shoemaker with some of the most difficult parts of the job.

The thread waxed by the shoemaker on his premises and called wax end provided the stitching for welted shoes or boots. Small wooden pegs were used instead of wax end to secure the uppers to the sole of farmers boots. Called pegged boots the wooden peg ensured that water would not enter the boot, a requirement so necessary in our inclement weather conditions.

Ned remembers that in the 1940's a pair of pegged boots were made for twenty five shillings, while a hand make pair of shoes cost thirty two shillings.

As he points out, shoemakers who have become rare nowadays are not to be confused with shoe repairers or cobblers. All shoemakers are capable of doing repairs, but shoe repairers are unlikely to have learned the skill of shoemaking. As he works alone in the front room of No. 63 Leinster Street, Ned Wynne can rightly claim to be the last of the old craftsmen still working in Athy in 1993. In 1883 his grandfather worked as a shoemaker in an area where saddlers, wheelwrights, blacksmiths and coopers were still working at their crafts. Today Ned Wynne, after almost 60 years at his craft, is the last of the town craftsmen and when the time comes for him to leave down his tools an era will come to an end.

Friday, September 17, 1993

Athy Placenames

In 1864 Isaac Taylor's book "Words and Places" was published and for the first time many persons realised something of the historical significance of the names of places in which they lived. At that time the study of placenames was still in it's infancy. Since then many published works have appeared but in the Irish context none have ever surpassed in excellence the three volume work of P.W. Joyce entitled "The origin and history of Irish placenames".

Joyce's first volume appeared in 1870 with a second volume in 1875 and a final volume in 1913. The greater part of his long life was spent in the study of topographical etymology, an interest which he developed from his love of Irish folksong. On his travels throughout Ireland in search of folksongs Joyce noticed that local pronunciations and spellings of local placenames often differed and that hidden within the local spelling was usually to be found the original meaning of a placename. He accumulated a vast store of information on placenames which later formed the basis of his published works.

Of Athy Joyce states that the name comes to us as the anglicised form of the Gaelic Ath I, the name given to the ford on the Barrow where the Munster chieftain Ae was killed in the 2nd century.

Another possible if highly unlikely interpretation of the placename is to be found in the May 1793 edition of the Anthologica Hibernica. There it was suggested that the name was derived from the two Monasteries established on the east and west banks of the Barrow in the 13th century. Because the Monasteries were located so close together the area was referred to as "Bally Da Dhae" pronounced "Blahai" or the town of the two houses.

Recent research in connection with the Athy family name has thrown up a possible French source for the town's name. Gerard d'Athies, a Norman from Athies in France, arrived in England in 1207. As a follower and supporter of De Burgos Athies and his family crossed to Ireland in the wake of the Anglo Normans. Several reference are to be found to members of the Athy family in documents of the 13th century and in 1302 William De Athy had tenements in South Kildare while on 27th January 1306 he succeeded in a damage suit against William Le Poer for the destruction of his apple trees at Ardree. From 1333 onwards the Athy family moved to Galway and from around 1400 the prefix 'De' was dropped from the family name, an indication that they no longer had any links with the town of Athy. In Galway they were to become one of the 14 ancient tribes of that city. It is possible that the town's name derives from the family name of those Anglo Normans who initially settled in the South Kildare area. However, the possible French source for the town's name is at present nothing more than speculation.

At the time of the Norman invasion, surnames were still uncommon in England and many of the first settlers took surnames on Irish soil from the places where they settle. So it is believed that one of the first families to settle in South Kildare took their surname from the placename of the Ford on the Barrow "Ath Ae". This is the more likely explanation for the connection between Athy town and the Athy family of Galway and possible confirmation of Joyce's claim that Athy is the anglicised form of the ancient placename "Ath Ae".

Friday, September 10, 1993

Barney Dunne

He stands in the doorway of his public house in Duke Street, his experienced eye noting the passing traffic. A cheery word greets everyone passing. A fresh complexion belies his eight decades and a few odd years. Probably best known nowadays for his continuing involvement in greyhound racing, Barney Dunne, publican and quintessential bachelor, holds a unique position in the annals of Gaelic football in Athy.

In a way it is strange that Barney should hold that unique and unlikely to be beaten distinction for a football Club in the short grass County. For Barney is a Cavan man who won four Senior Football Championship medals with Athy between 1933 and 1942. This is a record he shares with the late Paul Matthews.

Barney who worked all his life in the bar trade first came to Athy in 1931 to work for Louis O'Meara's mother in the family pub in Leinster Street. The pub which in later years Louis O'Meara sold to Jim Nelson is now known as the "Anglers Rest". In 1935 Barney moved down the street when he worked for Michael Kelly in the present Oasis pub. Spending three or four years there he was to retrace his steps back to O'Mearas where he spent a few more years before departing for Dublin in early 1941.

As a schoolboy in Cavan Barney played football for the local school but had not been involved in club football. Following his arrival in Athy his potential as a footballer was recognised and he was asked in 1932 to tog out with the local G.A.A. team. A tall, strong man Barney was soon a regular team member and in 1933 he played as left-half back in his first Senior County Championship final.

The opponents were Rathangan, an experienced team, which had contested the 1928 final. Athy on the other hand were young and inexperienced but youth was to triumph over experience on the score 2-6 to 1-4. In the following year Barney Dunne played in his second Senior Football Final for Athy, this time in the full forward position. Their opponents, Raheens, led by 0-6 to 0-0 at half time and it required a goal by Paul Matthews almost on the stroke of full-time to earn Athy a draw. The South Kildare team made no mistake in the replay and incidentally won on the same score line as the previous year. Barney scored a goal for Athy at a crucial stage in the first half to put his team on the road to victory. As Barney says himself the aftermatch celebrations were very low key. Arriving back in Athy in hackney cars the players stood around Emily Square talking about the match, went home and got up the next day for work. No fuss or celebration, just young men satisfied that they had done their best and came out on top.

In the 1937 Championship Athy were eliminated early on when Raheens were awarded a walk-over. A subsequent appeal was successful and the reinstated Athy team went on to beat Raheens. The 1937 final was eventually played at Naas on the 17th of July, 1938 when Barney played at centre half-forward. He contributed one goal and one point to the winning score of 3-6 to Sarsfields 1-5.

Athy unsuccessfully contested the County Final in 1941 but without Barney who had earlier left for Dublin where he played with Clan na nGael. Within a few months Barney returned to his adopted town and when Athy reached the 1942 County Final he togged out at left corner-forward. The first match ended in a draw but Athy won the replay 1-6 to 0-6 giving Barney Dunne, the Cavan man, his fourth County Kildare Senior Championship medal.

Barney who played for County Kildare between 1935 and 1937 hung up his boots soon after the 1942 final. He purchased a pub in Duke Street in 1945 from Ned Carroll where he continues to carry on business today. As he looks back on his life in Athy over the last 62 years Barney recalls some of the great players with whom he played. Paul Matthews, Tommy Mulhall, Mick Mannion and George Comerford were for him some of the best. Barney is the only survivor of the 1933 County Championship winning team.

Barney's unique position in the annals of Athy football is assured. His tally of four Championship medals is never again likely to be achieved especially when it is realised that it took Athy forty five years to win it's next Senior Championship.

Friday, September 3, 1993

Moonbeam Entertainments

A bundle of old programmes and play bills recently acquired from an Auctioneer in an adjoining town has proved to be a treasure trove of times past in Athy. The theatrical ephemera related to a local group calling themselves Moonbeam Entertainment which trod the boards in Athy in the early 1920's.

The oldest poster was for an entertainment in the Town Hall, Athy on Thursday, the 5th of May, 1921. The group which was then named the Moonbeams were to change it’s name later to Moonbeam Entertainment. The 1921 show had the unusual starting time of 6.00 p.m. with the doors opening at 5.30 p.m. Frieda Browne was the Musical Director and the admission prices were 2/4 reserved seats and 1/3 unreserved. Tickets were available from H. K. Toomey of 21 Emily Square who was one of the local Solicitors.

The earliest programme was for the show put on by Moonbeam Entertainment in the Town Hall on Friday, the 24th of February, 1922. Starting with a sketch titled "The Bathroom Door" the players included Mr. & Mrs. Painting, Ms. Hosie, Ms. McElwee, Ms. Cecil and Ms. Toomey. Herbert Painting was the Vice-Principal of the local Technical School and was one of the tenants appointed by the local Council to its first housing scheme at St. Michael's. He is often mistakenly credited with designing the badge for the newly established Garda Siochana but in fact his involvement related to the making of a mould for the casting of the badge at Duthie Larges.

Returning to the Moonbeam's it would appear from the names with which I am familiar that they were a local Church of Ireland group. The programmes of entertainment for which I have copies up to the 8th of May, 1924 always follow a somewhat familiar pattern. The opening sketch followed by a chorus, a duet and what was described as a "vocal fox trot". Songs were an important part of the show occasionally interspersed with cello solos or a Musical Monologue.

New members of the Moonbeams for a show on the 15th of December, 1922 in the Town Hall were Mr. Youell, Captain Hosie and R. H. Fry. Mr. Youell was involved in the provision of a private electricity supply in parts of Athy during the early 1920's. He operated a turbine in Garter Lane which was eventually subsumed into the E.S.B. system. Captain Hosey was to establish the I.V.I. Foundry in the 1930's which Foundry was to be the mainstay of Industrial Employment in the town for upwards of 50 years.

An interesting programme for Wednesday, 4th April, 1923 indicates that the show was put on by the Moonbeams in the Technical School. The school first established in 1901 was located in Stanhope Place in the premises adjoining the Catholic Young Men's Society's building. Both buildings were demolished in 1964 to make way for the new St. Michael's Parish Church.

The last two programmes to hand were for shows in the Comrades Hall on the 6th of December, 1923 and the 8th of May, 1924. Captain's Strudwicke and Mr. Telford had joined the group in 1923 as had Ms. May Molyneux. The Comrades Hall located in St. John's Hall on the site of the present Scouts Hall den had been built by the British Legion for soldiers who returned from the first World War.

The bundle of programmes and posters are all that remain of Moonbeam Entertainment. Perhaps there is someone out there who remembers those players of seventy years ago and their light hearted theatrical contributions on the stages of the Town Hall, the Technical School and the Comrades Hall.

Friday, August 27, 1993

John Wesley and the Methodists

I was in London last week and while there I visited the Museum of Methodism and John Wesley's house in City Road, It may have seemed a strange pilgrimage for me to make but in a sense I was renewing a link with Athy's Past.

After all had not John Wesley in one of his many trips to Ireland passed through Athy on his way to Roseanna near Ashford, County Wicklow home of Mrs. Sarah Tighe. It was while in Roseanna that Romney had painted Wesley's portrait on the 5th January, 1789. Mrs. Tighe's daughter, Elizabeth who undoubtedly met Wesley while he was there was to marry Reverend Thomas Kelly of Ballintubbert in 1794. Kelly will be remembered as the founder of the Kellyites that small religious group which existed outside the established Church up to 1855.

As for John Wesley's house and the Museum of Methodism both can be highly recommended as somewhere to visit while in London. The Museum itself is located in the basement of the Wesley Chapel which is regarded as the Mother Church of World Methodism. The neat Chapel building enriched with Victorian stained glass and monuments to Methodist worthies, clerical and lay, is a peaceful and inspiring place even for a non-Methodist. The Museum tells the story of Methodism with material and exhibits showing the various stages of the development of that movement.

It is perhaps John Wesley's house itself in the grounds of the Methodist Chapel which evoked most memories of his time spent in Ireland. Here one could see his furniture and personal effects together with a number of his manuscript letters. His travelling robe, three cornered had and shoes were on display with the chair he used when presiding over the first Methodist Conference in 1744.

John Wesley had overseen the appointment of the first Methodist Minister in Athy before he died in 1791. John Miller was that Minister and in the early years the religious worship of the Methodist was closely associated with that of the Church of England. Methodists attended morning service in the Parish Church in Emily Square every Sunday and attended their own preaching service in the evening.

Itinerant preachers were to pay particular attention to Athy during the early part of the 19th Century in the absence of a full-time locally based Minister. Adam Averall, Gideon Ouseley and Charles Graham were frequent visitors to the town where they reported "Multitudes of Catholics as well as others attended our Ministry in the streets and markets".

The first Methodist Chapel in Athy was established in the former Quaker Meeting House in Meeting Lane sometime between 1820 and 1837. The building continued to be used for this purpose until 1874. On the 12th June that year the new Methodist Church was opened in Woodstock Street. Largely responsible for the building was Alexander Duncan of Tonlegee House in whose memory a memorial tablet was placed in the Church following his death in September 1887.

Incidently when the Church was first opened it was referred to as the Wesylian Church and the congregation is today referred to as Wesylian Methodist. However the correctness of this term it does show that the local church group was and always remained followers of John Wesley.

Following Wesley's death in 1791, there were several secessions, and break away groups including the Methodist New Connexion, the Primitive Methodists and Protestant Methodists sprang up. A number of unions were attempted, first in 1857 and finally in 1932 resulting in the coming together of most of the separate Methodist groups.

Methodism in Athy has suffered a sharp decline in numbers in recent years. The Church in Woodstock Street is still in use for Sunday Service and quite recently hosted a local Ecumenical Service. The legacy of John Wesley lives on in Athy even though it took 204 years to return his visit.
Frank Taaffe.
I returned from holidays at the weekend to be told that 'Mickey' Moore was dead and buried. Known to everybody in business as Michael to Offaly Street Resident's he was always 'Mickey'. Small of stature but ever pleasant he and my brother Seamus were of the same age.

Being some years younger than the rest of the lads in the street, they are only allowed occasionally to join with the big fellows such a Teddy Kelly, Willy Moore, Andrew White, Tom Webster and myself. At least we thought we were the big lads in those heady days of the 1950's.

Whatever Mickey lacked in stature he compensated for with a innate charm which made him friends with everyone he met. It was a quality he used to good effect even when he was a young lad in short trousers in Offaly Street for despite ourselves the so called big lads would inevitably end up with the two young ones tagging along.

But he was good fun. Always was and never known to involve himself in rancour. I can recall I as a young fellow playing with Mickey in what for us was the strange territory of St. John's when Mickey pushing a go cart fell and somehow my boot (which we all wore and hated in those pre-dockmartin days) hit Mickey in the face. He ended up with a cut lip and even in adulthood he retained the mark of that accident of long ago.

As I remember those days it saddens me to think of yet another member of the Offaly Street 'gang' gone to join Seamus, Andrew, Leopold, Mylie and Danny. Time is a cruel reaper. May he rest in peace.

Friday, August 20, 1993


As a young schoolboy attending the local Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane I passed every day what was the last working forge in Athy. Ted Vernal was the blacksmith who in the 1950’s carried on a family tradition which was to end with him.

The forge, located behind the houses which faced the courtyard opposite Herterich’s shop, was itself opposite a row of two storied houses on the laneway leading to the school. Shaws store now extends back into the ground once occupied by these houses while Vernals forge and the laneway have disappeared to become part of the public car park.

Every town and village once had it’s forge and indeed several of them where the blacksmith carried on his craft of shoeing horses. In addition to being a farrier he was also a blacksmith who worked in iron. No doubt we have all seen at some time or another the nineteenth century print showing the village blacksmith performing his other role as village dentist and extracting teeth with a pliers.

The Vernal forge, which I remember so well, had a raised hearth built of bricks with a canopy over it in the north wall to the left of the main door. The big bellows, which created the draught needed to keep the fire going, was pumped by means of a long handle extending outwards from the hearth. A water trough with cold water was positioned nearby for use in cooling tools and sometimes the iron being worked on. Coal was burnt in the fire and the heat generated made the forge an extremely hot and uncomfortable place in which to work.

In the centre of the floor stood the anvil each part of which had a specific purpose. The flat upper part or face of the anvil was most in use and was made of hardened steel. Between the anvil face and the conical shaped projection called the bick was a narrow strip of softer mild steel which was used when cutting metal with a cold chisel. The bick of the anvil was itself used to shape metal and in particular horse shoes.

At the opposite end to the bick and towards the end of the anvil table were two holes. One rounded and called a punch hole was where hot metal was placed when holes such as nail holes in horse shoes were being punched. The square hole, called a tool hole, was used as a receptacle for various tools used in finishing off metal work. The anvil sat on a block of timber and was the blacksmith’s work bench.

Around the forge, hanging on hooks set into the wall, were the tools of trade of the farrier cum blacksmith. He had for instance a variety of hammers of different sizes and shapes, all designed for a specific purpose. Tongs for holding the hot metal being worked were also of different sizes and shapes and they, like the hammers, hung from hooks on the walls.

The blacksmith always wore a leather apron as he worked in the dark dusty confines of the forge, heating, hammering and shaping metal to his requirements. During the early years of this century, before the combustion engine ousted horse power, the blacksmith’s principal function was to make horse shoes and shoe horses. The farmer and indeed the townsman who kept a horse or two for his carriage brought their horses to the local forge for shoeing. The old shoes were removed from the horse with large pincers and the horse’s hooves were cleaned and pared using a paring knife and a rasp. The replacement shoes were put up to the hoof and altered as required. The constant heating of the shoe in the forge fire and the shaping of the shoe on the anvil showed the blacksmith at his skilful best. The rhythmical ring of the anvil as the blacksmith hit the anvil plate and the horse shoe with each alternate stroke of his hammer were the signature tune of the one of the oldest crafts known to man.

The sound of the anvil is no more. The forge in St. John’s Lane has disappeared and those of us who remember it must sometimes wonder why progress must always result in the demise of the old traditional crafts.

Friday, August 13, 1993

Bread Making

Long before the potato became the stable diet of the Irish country folk milled grain was used to make bread which is still so characteristic of the Irish country kitchen. Wheat, oats and barley were ground in the saddle querns of a long lost age and the resulting crushed grain was used to make porridge or bread.

Oaten bread was at one time the most common type of bread. Wheaten bread was regarded somewhat of a luxury while barley bread was regarded as suitable only for monks and clerics who wished to mortify themselves.

The grinding of corn was by law carried out at the mill of the manor Lord. In the manors of Woodstock and Rheban the fees for grinding the corn were paid to the Fitzgerald family. It is interesting to observe in leases of land in Athy, even up to the eighteenth century a stipulation that corn was to be ground at the manorial mill with payment of the appropriate fee.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries mills were located at both sides of the Barrow Bridge. The present Castle Inn occupies the site of one such mill while on the opposite bank a mill existed up to the 1960’s. Hannon’s mill, as it was called, was operational up to 1924, closing two or three years before the Barrow Drainage Scheme commenced. At the same time Hannon’s mill, located at Ardreigh, closed. It too was demolished some time in the 1940’s and little or no trace of the vast Ardreigh buildings remain today. A photograph of the mills as they were in 1910 is on display in the Museum Room in the Town Hall.

The Irish favoured the baking of bread using either a griddle or a pot oven. The griddle was a circular flat iron hung over the open fire or alternatively placed on an iron trivet over the burning sods of turf. The pot oven was a cast iron pot with a flat bottom and a tight fitting lid and like the griddle it was hung over the fire or rested on a trivet.

Built-in baking ovens which were popular in Britain after the seventeenth century were not to be found in many Irish houses. In the larger urban areas and cities the half cylindrical shaped masonry projection with a sloped roof typical of baking ovens was to be found in private houses where the family favoured the use of the baking oven rather than the open fire. In the urban areas also there developed a cottage bakery industry where the locals could buy fresh bread daily.

In Pigots Directory of 1824 the following bakers are listed as working in Athy:- Mary Bryan, Michael Byrne, Catherine Fogarty, Catherine Purcell and James Sourke. Their numbers had increased substantially by 1881 when Slaters Directory listed the town bakers as Gregory Bradley, Emily Square; James Bradley, William Street; Bridget Brewster, Leinster Street; James Conlan, Barrack Street; Margaret Fogarty, Leinster Street; Joseph Nugent, Duke Street; John Roberts, Leinster Street; James Tierney, William Street; Joseph Whelan, Duke Street and Miles Whelan of Duke Street and Offaly Street.

In addition to the bakeries Athy would have had a number of baking ovens where the local women could bring their bread and cake mix for baking. Such an oven, until recently, was to be seen in an outhouse attached to Websters sweet shop in Offaly Street. The availability of such an oven was a tremendous help for the poor people of the town whose circumstances and primitive living conditions did not permit the baking of bread in their own homes.

Today there is only one bakery operating in Athy. The townspeoples’ needs are largely met by bread deliveries brought into the town from Dublin and further afield every morning. The days of the master bakers are no more. Mechanisation and computer controlled systems have lead to bread production methods which do not require the skills and crafts of the bakers of old. Bread is now made in plants employing only one or two machinists where up to six thousand pans an hour can be produced without the intervention of human hand.

This advancement has been sadly achieved at the expense of workers and craftsmen and our local economy is all the poorer as a result.

Friday, August 6, 1993

Sean Maher

Amongst my books I treasure a small red covered volume published by the Talbot Press in 1972. Titled "The Road to God Knows Where" it records the story of Sean Maher, traveller, balladeer, busker and above all gentleman.

Born on the 15th of January, 1932 in the County Home, Tullamore, Sean who learnt to read and write with considerable skill and talent in an industrial school in Cork, was the son of a travelling family. The winter months were spent by the Maher family in various County Homes throughout Ireland where the sometimes harsh regimes of the 1930's and 1940's were endured because they offered respite from the cold and rain. The male and female members of the family were always kept apart while in the County Homes and Sean's father could not see his wife at any time during their sojourns in what was referred to as "the Spike". The summer months were spent out in the open air "tenting" under the stars and travelling from town to town dealing in delph, rosary beads, needles and anything saleable. Supplies were obtained from the "Monster House" in Kilkenny, where travellers traditionally bought their stock of goods for re-sale while on the road.

An early move into a house in Co. Kildare proved unsuccessful. The family found themselves alienated from their neighbours who believed they had little in common with the travellers who kept in their front garden their cart, rigging poles, wattles and cover, all essentials for camping out in the summer. Within a short while the young family were again on the road and Sean remembers with sadness his mother's tears as she left the first house she had ever lived in.

Sean made his First Communion in Thurles where he was prepared for the great day by the Ursuline nuns. The part played by the religious orders of nuns in Ireland in helping travellers to live out their lives with dignity can never be underestimated. They have always offered kindness and a helping hand when it was required by a group treated as an underclass by the settled community. Sean's memories of the Ursuline nuns in Thurles reinforced his belief in the essential goodness of the settled community and was later to enable him to cross the divide which separated the two communities.

In 1943 he ran away and spent a couple of months on the road living by begging, selling and what he refers to in travellers language as "chanting" (singing). As a streetwise 11 year old he survived on his own for a few months until found by the Gardai sleeping on Tramore beach. Undernourished and suffering from pneumonia he spent two weeks in hospital before being admitted to St. Joseph's School in Cork where he was to stay until he was 16 years of age. It was while there that Sean learned to read and write and as he admitted “school was a God send”. He enjoyed every day of his schooling years. However, his travelling instincts could not be suppressed for as he says himself "to the tober (road) born - to the tober I must return."

He did return to the nomadic way of life some time after leaving St. Joseph's School but not before he had stayed for a short while with his family in their new Council house in Athy. The call of the road was too strong as Sean eventually left Athy to roam the Irish countryside. As he travelled from town to town Sean developed his musical skills and learned to play the tin whistle, the mouth organ and the accordion. Sporting a long beard and calling himself "Rambling John" he became a familiar sight at all the important football matches and fairs in provincial Ireland.

About 20 years ago John decided to settle in Dublin for the winter months and more recently he is to be occasionally seen busking in Grafton Street. As one of the last of the travelling buskers Sean attracts large crowds wherever he plays. With his distinctive appearance he is one of the most easily recognised buskers whose memories are beautifully captured in the skilfully crafted autobiography "The Road to God Knows Where".

I first met Sean in 1984 when outside St. Michael's Cemetery in Athy I saw his van bearing on it’s side in bold letters "The Man From God Knows Where." He was in the cemetery searching for the graves of his mother and father who had settled and died in Athy amongst neighbours who welcomed them into the community. When he signed a copy of his book for me it was with words which Sean could apply with equal measure to many he had met during his life "With many thanks and especially fond memories of your father Sergeant Taaffe".

Sean Maher ended his book with the following words "Life is like this, we all waddle through life, the short span it is. In reality each and every one of us are on the road and one day please God we shall all meet at the final mollying (camping) ground, then the road shall end and for some it will be a very happy molly. There too we will, by the Grace of God, meet the Saviour who travelled and mollied in his humble earthly life. With such thoughts life has meaning and with meaning I can journey with the rest of humanity on the road that leads to God knows where."

Friday, July 30, 1993

Local History Summer School 1993

Last week I talked to a group attending the South Kildare Local History Summer School which was based in the Crookstown Heritage Centre, Ballitore. Locating a Local History School in a mill was an excellent idea. Jim Maher, it's owner, has managed to refurbish a derelict mill of a bygone age and while retaining it as a mill has intelligently used it as a backdrop for the interesting artefacts which he has accumulated over the years.

It was in this setting that the twenty or so persons interested in the history of South Kildare came to hear a number of speakers talk on various aspects of local history.

Most of the participants were primary school teachers and their involvement is an indication of the increasing interest by the general public in the history of place and people.

We have all come to recognise that history is not restricted to the wars and battles of long ago or to the lives of Kings and Queens of other eras. The history of the ordinary people whose life styles were far removed from those of the leaders of the day provide far more interesting and relevant material for study than the regal lives of foreign potentates whose schemes and achievements scarcely touched the lives of ordinary folk.

The vast amount of local history material now being produced is a reflection of the general public's interest. It is also the result of the extensive and sometimes intensive research over long hours by individuals and groups who have blazed a pioneering trail through the archival material stored for the most part in the various public repositories in Dublin.

How nice then to see that here in South Kildare in the week that saw the 90th anniversary re-run of the Gordon Bennett Race over the Athy circuit that the Local History Summer School was taking place. While it was not the first such school it was certainly an early incursion into a field which will inevitably spawn many imitators in other Counties in the future.

Perhaps the idea can be used to reactivate the local history talks which Athy Museum Society put on in the Council Chamber some years ago. I can recall with some disappointment the sometimes excellent topics and excellent speakers where the audiences were so small as to raise doubts as to the publics interest in local history.

The resurgence of interest owes much to the personal interest in the subject of teachers who in turn pass on their enthusiasm to their pupils. I still remember after the passage of more years than I care to acknowledge the history lessons of the late Bill Ryan in the Christian Brothers School in Athy. Unfortunately local history was then unrecognised and unchartered but even in relation to national or international history Bill Ryan's infectious enthusiasm for his subject sparked a response in his listeners which in at least one young student has survived the passing years.

I often regret that a lack of information on local aspects of history in those days meant that so many of us were never able to grasp the significant part which our place and our townspeople played in important historical events. It is sometimes only when one realises what happened in Athy during a particular period of Irish history that there can be an understanding of the significance of what happened nationally.

History is all around us. In the stones of the buildings we pass unnoticed every day. In the experiences of old people and in the visible remains of buildings crumbling and neglected. They all have a story to tell and in it's telling the past comes alive and relives experiences long forgotten. We should study the past because we are the heirs to the wisdom of the past.

Friday, July 23, 1993

Kilmoroney House

As you pass on the road to Carlow cast your eyes across the Barrow Valley on the right hand side and see in the distance the crumbling remains of Kilmoroney House. It is a broken, roofless, derelict shell standing outlined against the Laois skyline. It's story is part of our heritage.

Kilmoroney House was built in 1780 by Stewart Weldon, son of Walter and Mary Weldon of Rahinderry, Co. Laois. Stewart was an only son and he married in 1777 Helen, sister of Henry, the 2nd Marquis of Coneygham. The house as originally constructed was a two storey, five bay Georgian house of grand proportions with a balustraded roof parapet. It was in time to have a lower two storey wing added.

Stewart Weldon died on the 2nd of January, 1829 and Kilmoroney House passed to his first cousin Anthony Weldon, son of Rev. Anthony Weldon of Athy who at 14 years of age had entered the East Indian Service. Inexplicably Anthony Weldon was not heard of for many years and believing him to be dead Kilmoroney was left to Rev. F.S. Trench and his wife Helena on condition that if Anthony Weldon ever returned the property should revert to him on Rev. Trench's death. Frederick Trench, Rector of Athy, and last Sovereign of Athy Borough Council was son of Rev. Thomas Trench, Dean of Kildare and his wife Helena was daughter of Lord Arden. The Trenches who had lived for 12 years at Bert moved to Kilmoroney House in 1832.

Mrs. Helena Trench was niece of The Honourable Spencer Percival, the British Prime Minister who was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons on the 11th of May, 1812. She had four daughters, the eldest of whom Helena later married Rev. Jeffrey Lefroy, third son of Thomas Lefroy, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. Even with this marriage the Athy connection was maintained as Thomas Lefroy, the Lord Chief Justice, as a young boy from County Longford attended Mr. Ash's classical school in Athy as a boarder with his brother Ben Lefroy in 1791.

Helena Lefroy, nee Trench, was 12 years old when the Trench family moved to Kilmoroney. The house, as remembered by her, was situated on a bend of the River Barrow and travelling from Athy the river had to be crossed one quarter of a mile from the house. There was no bridge across the river in the 1830's and a large float was used to carry carriages and horses across. From the river the ground in front of the house rose gently, the drive first passing a wooded area on the left.

The Trench family continued to live in Kilmoroney House until the unfortunate death of Rev. Trench following an accident in Offaly Street when his horse and gig collided with Preston's Gate, the last remains of the old medieval wall of Athy. Trench died on the 23rd of November, 1860 and the Gate was subsequently removed by the Town Commissioners of Athy. In his Will Rev. Trench left a bequest in favour of the poor of Athy and ever since a sum of money is paid each year to the Parish Priest of the town under the terms of his Will. A beautiful carved marble pulpit in memory of Rev. F.S. Trench is to be found in St. Michael's Church of Ireland Church on the Carlow Road.

The long missing Anthony Weldon who at 14 years of age had gone overseas returned after 30 years absence. On the death of Rev. Trench Kilmoroney House reverted to the Weldon family and in particular to Sir Anthony Cresdill Weldon, 5th Baronet Rahinderry, son of the West Indian adventurer who had died in 1858 having earlier succeeded to the Baronetcy of his cousin Sir William Bundett in 1840.

Kilmoroney House and the land on which it stood was to remain in the possession of the Weldon family until 1934 when the then Lady Weldon moved to Dublin following the death of her husband Sir Anthony Weldon in 1931. A public auction of the contents of Kilmoroney House was held that year and many of the valuable artifacts accumulated by generations of the Weldons were dispersed.

The property was then let on a ten year Lease to a Mountrath man but during the second World War Sir Thomas Weldon, the 8th Baronet who by then was living in England, found himself unable to take up residence again in Kilmoroney House. The Irish Land Commission took over the land and the magnificent Georgian House was allowed to fall into ruin.

The remains of Kilmoroney House are a visible and stark reminder of the social changes brought about in the Republic of Ireland in the years immediately following the Treaty.