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.