Friday, January 28, 1994

Bleach Cottages

When war was declared in 1914 Major Henry Lefroy, a relation of the Lefroys of Cardenton, Athy, was given command of a recruiting area of the Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Regiment. He was later to report that recruits coming forward invariably said "Leave out the cry 'come and fight for our home' we have none, our homes are not fit for animals". Lefroy suggested to his superiors that an Act similar to the Labourers Act under which Boards of Guardians provided houses for agricultural workers should be brought in to provide houses for soldiers on their return from the war.

A Parliamentary Bill was eventually brought forward and all recruiting officers were instructed to tell recruits that approximately 40,000 houses would be provided for Irish ex-soldiers at the end of the Great War. The Bill became law in 1919.

On the passing of the Irish Treaty in December 1921 the British Government reduced the number of houses to be provided to 3,600 for the entire 32 counties. At the same time a Trust was established and provided with £1.3 million to complete the building programme at a maximum cost of £500 per house. Difficulties between the Trustees delayed the implementation of the scheme. It was not until 1925 that the Trustees sanctioned a scheme of six cottages for ex-soldiers in Athy.

In a letter dated the 6th of May, 1925 Major Lefroy confirmed that
"the Trustees agreed to commence building six houses at Athy ......the estimate for the scheme being £545.00 per house ......... each with a floor area of 542 sq. ft." Expressing regret that the Trustees financial position did not allow them to erect houses of a class to which they believe the ex-service men to be entitled, Major Lefroy considered that the promises made to the ex-service men were not kept even though "this small and inferior (house) type exceeds the available amount per house".

The six houses were erected on lands formerly known as the Bleach Yard, an area in which flax was laid out for drying and bleaching in the 18th century. The cottages are known to this day as The Bleach Cottages, although older residents often refer to them as Sydney Terrace after Sydney Minch of Rockfield House who was the local representative of the British Legion for many years.

In 1983 I interviewed the late Mrs. Cathy Kelly who for many years was housekeeper to the Dominicans and who lived in the area. She recalled the original tenants appointed to the Bleach Cottages in 1926. Tom Aldridge was in No. 1 and next door was Mrs. Casey, later Mrs. Archie Sullivan, whose first husband died from wounds inflicted in World War I. Pat or "Sixty" Kelly lived in No. 3. He was Caretaker in the Town Hall for many years and sported a waxed moustache and a nickname which was reputed to be his Army number. The last of the original tenants according to Mrs. Kelly was Mick Dunphy who lived in the corner house at No. 6.

The fallibility of memory no doubt led my informant to give me four additional names as original tenants of what was a six house scheme. Those named were Messrs. Houlihan, Corcoran, Donnelly, and Mrs. Crampton formerly Youell. The origin of the Bleach Cottages is undoubtedly known to many. What is not known are the untold stories which each of those original tenants could tell of the horrors of War and the pain and suffering of those who lost loved ones.

Friday, January 21, 1994

Athy Workhouse

On the 9th of January, 1844 the newly built Workhouse in Athy opened for the first time. Earlier that morning the Board of Guardians met in the Board Room to decide on the meal times and diets of the inmates who had to enter and live in the Workhouse to qualify for relief.

Adults were to have breakfast at 9.30a.m. and dinner at 4.00p.m. Children would eat at 9.00a.m. and 2.00p.m. and have an additional meal at 7.00 p.m.

The diet laid down by the Board of Guardians under the Chairmanship of Sir Anthony Weldon was in keeping with the Poor Law Commissioners recommendation of providing minimal sustenance so as not to encourage poor people to come to the Workhouse.

Adults were to receive for breakfast seven ounces of oatmeal made into stirabout with one pint of mixed milk and for dinner three and a half pounds of potatoes with one pint of buttermilk. The harshness of this diet was marginally improved when the Board of Guardians agreed on the 15th of February, 1844 to allow each adult an extra ounce of oatmeal for breakfast. The Guardians however reviewed this decision within a fortnight and on the 29th of February returned the adults to their original breakfast of seven ounces of oatmeal, but in addition allowed each man and woman to have supper in the evening consisting of two pounds of potatoes with half a pint of buttermilk.

Young persons between the age of three years and fifteen years were to receive a breakfast of four ounces of oatmeal made into a stirabout with half a pint of sweetmilk. For dinner each got five pounds of potatoes with half a pint of buttermilk and supper consisted of a quarter pound of bread with half a pint of buttermilk.

Infants up to three years had for breakfast two ounces of oatmeal made into stirabout and each day received a half a pound of bread with one pint of sweetmilk. Women nursing children in addition to the adult fare also got one pint of sweetmilk each night while infants without mothers were to get half a pound of bread and one quart of sweetmilk until they were nine years old.

At the end of their meeting The Board of Guardians approved the first admissions to Athy Workhouse and that night five men, four women, ten boys, five girls and one infant slept in the Workhouse.

On entering, the paupers as they were classified, were bathed, their clothes were removed and they were supplied with the Workhouse uniform. Men and women were segregated as the separation of the sexes was seen as a fundamental requirement to maintaining discipline in the Workhouse.

Built to accommodate 360 adults and 240 children the Workhouse had 300 inmates on 2 January 1845. On 7th October of that year the numbers had increased to 390 but within two months as the potato famine worsened the number of inmates increased to 615.

On the 26th of December, 1846 there were 732 inmates of which 65 were in the Workhouse hospital and 482 were children under 15 years. The returns for Athy Workhouse for the four months to the 1st of May, 1847 showed that 174 inmates died in the Workhouse in that period.

In the first week of 1849 the number of Workhouse inmates had jumped to 1,399, during that same week 13 persons died in the Workhouse. The overcrowding in the workhouse was alleviated by the opening of two auxiliary Workhouses in the town. One located in Barrack Street occupied a row of five houses while a second auxiliary Workhouse was a store belonging to the Grand Canal Company at Woodstock South.

The Workhouse system was by then part of the lives of the local people and would remain so until the emergence of the Irish Free State.

Friday, January 14, 1994

McHugh's Chemists

Des McHugh will be celebrating 100 years of family involvement in the pharmaceutical business in Athy on the 18th of January. His father, John McHugh, who was born at the Dry Dock in 1870 qualified as a chemist in October 1893. Within three months he founded his own business in the premises now occupied by Josie's Hair Salon in Duke Street. Later moving his business a few yards up the street to Staffords premises he subsequently purchased numbers 39 and 40 Duke Street from the Hurley family. There he continued to practice until his death in 1929.

The pharmacy was run for a number of years by his son, Thomas McHugh, a medical doctor, who later emigrated to South Africa. A manager was then employed to keep the business open until Des, the youngest son, qualified as a pharmacist in 1939 when he returned to Athy.

After almost 55 years in the profession Des has seen many changes all of which he regards as for the better. The long hours spent with the pestle and mortar and the pill tile making up compounds and pills are but a memory. Nowadays Des would admit to using the pestle and mortar once a week on average in these days of proprietary medicines. The making up of ointments was another time consuming role for the pharmacist in days gone by requiring dextrous use of the ointment slab and spatula to produce potions and remedies which were eagerly sought after.

The McHughs have a long association with Athy. Des' grandfather Timothy McHugh was a local grain buyer whose stores in Nelson Street were later acquired by Minch Nortons as part of the malting company's building complex. Timothy McHugh was one of the group of grain buyers for whom the Duke of Leinster had a corn exchange built near the harbour on Barrow Quay in 1862. Designed and constructed to facilitate the busy corn market for which Athy was famous it soon fell into disuse because of complaints relating to the bad lighting and ventilation in the building. Later converted it is used today as the local Courthouse.

Des McHugh has played a very active role in community life in Athy over the years. A founder member of Athy Lions Club established twenty three years ago he still regularly attends the monthly meeting of that Club and participates in all it's fundraising activities for local charities.

A life long interest in golf is still maintained today and at 77 years of age he is a regular player in competitions at Athy Golf Club where he plays off a respectable 17 handicap. Captain of the Club in 1942/1943 and 1954 he was elected President in 1957 and in 1958 and is now a life member of the Geraldine based Club.

His sporting achievements are not confined to the golf course where he won the Captain's Prize in 1936 and again in 1972. A keen rugby player in his young days he first played for Athy Rugby Club in 1932 and holds the unique distinction of being the captain of Athy’s first Town's Cup winning team in 1938. He was a member of the senior team which won the Town's Cup again in 1940. His interest in rugby is maintained as he is a life member of the Athy Rugby Club and a life member of the Leinster Branch of the Rugby Referee's Association.

One hundred years in practice in the same provincial town is a remarkable achievement for any family and good wishes are extended to Des and his wife Eileen who will celebrate a proud family tradition on 18 January.

Friday, January 7, 1994

Eamon Malone

Eamon Malone, Barrowhouse, Athy, Officer in charge Carlow Brigade Irish Republican Army was one of only four men from Athy imprisoned during the War of Independence. Republican activity in and around Athy in the period 1914 to 1932 was of a minimal nature. Only son of a Cork University Professor, Eamon Malone returned with his mother to Barrowhouse following the death of his father. His uncle was Reverend James J. Malone, Author and Catholic Priest based in Australia whose poems centred on the Barrowhouse locality are so well known. His cousin, Christiana, was one of the few members of Cumann na mBan in this area and I had the pleasure of knowing her when she returned to live with her husband some years ago at number 1, Convent View. Sadly, both are now dead.

The young men involved in the Barrowhouse ambush on the 16th May, 1921 were members of the Carlow brigade. This ambush which was a subject of a previous article in this series resulted in the death of William O’Connor and James Lacey, both of whom lie buried in the cemetery adjoining Barrowhouse Church.

As a wanted man Eamon Malone moved from safe house to safe house, never staying more than one night in any one place. On November 27th, 1920, one week after the British Intelligence System in Ireland was smashed following the events now referred to as “Bloody Sunday”, Eamon Malone was staying at Number 41 Duke Street, Athy. As it was a well known republican house it was deemed prudent for him to move elsewhere and accompanied by Joe May, another local republican, he walked the short distance to the home of Peter Doyle’s house in Woodstock Street. They were spotted by the wife of a local Royal Irish Constabulary Officer and on information supplied by her Joe May was later arrested while the hunt for his companion continued. Eamon Malone was eventually captured and lodged in Mountjoy Jail. There his leadership qualities were soon recognised by his fellow prisoners who elected him to a three man prisoners Council. A hunger strike was agreed upon as a means of defying the prison authorities and Eamon Malone was one of many men who underwent the hardships and dangers of a prolonged hunger strike.

Later removed to Jervis Street Hospital, Malone was in time released under the cat and mouse legislation which left him open to re-arrest after he had recovered his health. However, the declaration of the truce on the 11th of July, 1921 saved him from further incarceration. An asthmatic for many years Malone was to suffer ill-health for the rest of his short life.

With the coming of the Treaty, Malone was free once again to move around without inhibition. Within a few years he married an Athy girl, Kathleen Dooley from Duke Street who had started her working life in Athy Post Office before finding employment in Dublin. She was the daughter of Michael Dooley of 41 Duke Street and her sister Hester who was to marry Joe May, another local republican prisoner, is still living in Athy and is hale and hearty at 91 years of age.

Kathleen Malone was employed in the Post Office in Sutton for many years, while Eamon who had opposed the British presence in Ireland was forced to emigrate to England to find employment. Dogged by ill-health he died at an early age at Sutton, Co. Dublin while home on holidays from England. His remains were brought to Barrowhouse Cemetery for burial. His widow Kathleen died in 1964 and he is today survived by his daughters, Joan Fagan and Una Power of Dublin and his son Desmond who lives in Australia.