Friday, March 25, 1994

Luggacurran Evictions

On Tuesday the 22nd of March, 1887 the evictions on the Luggacurran Estate commenced. Some months previously the tenants at a public meeting decided to seek reductions in the rents payable to the Marquis of Lansdowne who owned vast tracts of land in County Laois and County Kerry. When their demands were not met Luggacurran tenants adopted the Plan of Campaign and withheld their rents. Lord Lansdowne reacted by seeking to evict his tenants.

On the first day of the evictions William O'Brien, the Nationalist leader, arrived in Luggacurran. A deputation from the Athy branch of the Irish National League met the organisation's national Secretary who travelled by road from Portlaoise. Headed by Rev. John Staples, C.C.. Timothy Byrne, Town Commissioner and Frank Fitzgerald, Branch Secretary, the deputation presented O'Brien with a formal address from the Athy branch.

After the presentation O'Brien walked towards Denis Kilbride's house. Kilbride, who was a Poor Law Guardian and a tenant of Lord Lansdowne with holdings of over 850 acres was the first to be evicted. The emergency men who were to carry out the evictions arrived with ladders, crow-bars and hatchets. Anticipating their arrival the local people had cut down trees on the avenue leading to Kilbride's house forcing the police and emergency men to travel across the fields.

The large house was secured against entry and the emergency men having unsuccessfully tried all the doors and windows were forced to go up on the roof. In a short time a large opening was made through which entry was made. Once inside the obstructions were removed and at 3.00p.m., after about four hours work, the eviction was completed and the house secured. During this time William O'Brien arrived at the house with a large following but no resistance was offered to the police or to the emergency men, some of whom were left in the house to guard against re-entry by the Kilbride family.

The police then withdrew to Luggacurran village, the greater number of them marching on to Athy where they were billeted in the Town Hall for the duration of the evictions. Immediately after the first eviction the local people held a public meeting in the village where they were addressed by William O'Brien and the local curate, Rev. John Maher, who was the leader of the Land League Campaign in Luggacurran.

On the following day the evictions resumed at 11.30 a.m. On this occasion nine families the heads of which were labourers or sub-tenants of Denis Kilbride were forced out of their homes. The first house visited was that of Thomas Kelly who lived with his wife and three children in the Gate Lodge leading to Kilbride's house. The emergency men numbering between 30 and 40 were accompanied by almost 200 policemen. Two of the Kelly children had been sent away while the youngest aged 2 years had taken refuge with her parents in the back room of the house. Most of their furniture being removed the Kellys resisted the attempts to evict them while Mrs. Kelly sat on top of a table refusing to move. Mrs. Denis Kilbride felt compelled to talk to Mr. & Mrs. Kelly after which they left their house. The fire in the grate was then put out and a couple of emergency men and a police guard were left in charge of the Lodge.

The Sheriff went to the next cottage where John Ryan, his wife and seven children lived. The family left quietly and their furniture was moved out onto the road.

Mick Lawler's house was next visited and Lawler, his wife and young children the youngest only one month old, were turned out. Thomas Reddy, his wife and five children with his 85 year old brother and 83 year old woman were next evicted. By evening time the Conroy family, the Cranny family and the Rigney family had also been evicted.

So ended the first day of the Luggacurran Evictions which were to continue until June 1889.

Friday, March 18, 1994

Cinema in Athy

An eight sided perforated aluminium disc with the words "Athy Picture Palace Limited" on one side and stamped "9d" and the number "244" on the reverse is the only memento I have of the early days of cinematography in Athy.

Nicholas O'Rourke-Glynn, the former Manager of a travelling show called "Peppers Ghost" is generally acknowledged to have held the first Magic Lantern shows in Athy on a regular basis. Travelling showmen had called to Athy on and off and gave displays of their wonder machine in the Town Hall but the first resident proprietor of the Lantern Shows was O'Rourke-Glynn who settled in Athy in 1916.

Early purpose built commercial cinemas were confined to the larger cities and it was not until about 1925 that the then Captain Hosie established Athy's Picture Palace. It was located in Offaly Street on the site of a former Malt House and the site of the present Mount Offaly Press. Billy Kelly, an electrician in Duthie Larges in Leinster Street was the projectionist. Captain Hosie, an English Army Officer, later to be promoted to the rank of Colonel is now best remembered for establishing the foundry business known as "the I.V.I." in the mid-1930's.

The Picture Palace was in time sold to a Mr. Holmes of Portlaoise and he in turn sold it on to the Roscrea Cinema Company. Difficulties with the local Urban Council which was the licensing authority led to the closing of the cinema for almost twelve months during the 1940's. When it re-opened it was to a renewed lease of life and an eager audience which each night made its way up Offaly Street to view the very latest cinematic offerings.

Growing up in that same street throughout the 1950's I can recall the activity coming up to opening time as the picture goers made their way to the darkened palace of fantasy. In those days one went to the "pictures" - movies were an invention of a later period and did not then form part of our vocabulary.

Kitty Webster's sweet shop on the corner of Butlers Row did a good business with the picture goers. Even in those leisurely days, ever alive to commercial opportunities there was a break in the programme to enable the audience to stock up with the latest offerings of Cleeves toffee, ice-cream and fruit. No popcorn or canned drinks in those days. The more energetic, unwilling to join the queue at the cinema shop made the short journey to Kitty Websters. In time however the picture house proprietors ensured a greater turnover at the cinema shop by the simple expedient of not allowing anybody out once the pictures had started. It is a wonder we never questioned this arbitrary restriction on our freedom. Maybe it was the knowledge that any objection to the practice might lead to ones exclusion from the picture house - a fate not to be envied in pre-television provincial Ireland.

I can still recall the pangs of withdrawal symptoms when with a few young friends we were barred from attending our normal Sunday afternoon offerings of the latest Hopalong Cassidy episode. Our crime, the stoning of the picture house Manager when he unluckily came into our line of fire during a pitch battle with a neighbouring gang on Church Road. Having suffered for four or five weeks we had no option but to proffer our abject apologies before we were again allowed to spend our modest pocket-money in "Bob's Picture House".

The opening of the Grove Cinema in 1957 saw Athy with two cinemas where before it had only one picture house. The terminology had changed, the comfort and standards expected were improved and in time the old favourite in Offaly Street was to close its doors for the last time. Even the Grove Cinema has now gone, the building standing in mute testimony to the changing times when every house is now a picture house where the very latest movies can be viewed in the comfort of ones home. A far cry from the heydays of the Picture Palace.

Friday, March 11, 1994

Hester May

Women's role in Irish history has never been satisfactorily or adequately acknowledged. In a society where women were denied a vote until 1918 this oversight is easily understood. The tendency to write of mens involvement in times past is one which even I regretfully have unwittingly or otherwise failed to arrest. Today I make some amends for my omission and it is fitting that the subject of this article should be a lady who over the years I have had the privilege of interviewing on several occasions.

In her 92nd year and as sprightly and alert as most persons 40 years younger Mrs. Hester May lives today with her daughter Sheila in St. Patrick's Avenue. As the daughter of Michael Dooley of 41 Duke Street, Athy, whose name is remembered in the Housing Estate on the Stradbally Road, she had an early introduction to the politics of Irish Independence. Her parents house and shop was a well known "haunt" of republican activists and was raided on many occasions by the local R.I.C. and the Black and Tans. At an early age Hester joined the Cumann na mBan which was organised locally by Miss Moloney. Her eldest sister Kathleen, who was later to marry Eamon Malone of Dunbrin, Commander of the Carlow Brigade I.R.A., left Athy to work in the Post Office in Dublin. Hester joined Kathleen in Dublin in 1919 and before long she was interviewed for a job with Piaras Beaslai, who was Editor of An t-Oglagh and head of publicity for the I.R.A. She was to act as his Secretary for a number of years and when he went to America she worked for J.J. 'Ginger' O'Connell who was director of training for the I.R.A. She also worked for Oscar Traynor who was Officer Commanding the Dublin Brigade and the leader of the attack on the Custom House in May 1921.

Her offices were located at No. 14 North Great Georges Street but raids by the Black and Tans often meant frequent unplanned moves to safer offices such as those in the Plaza Hotel near the present Barrys Hotel. She met all the great Irish leaders of the day and remembers particularly Michael Collins and Eamon DeValera. Another frequent visitor to Piaras Beaslai's office was Emmet Dalton, a member of the G.H.Q. staff of the I.R.A. who was with Michael Collins when he was ambushed and killed at Beal na Blath. Her impressions of Dalton, who was previously a member of the British Army, are not entirely favourable.

While working in Dublin she returned as often as possible to her native Athy and despite the difficulties at the time found romance with a local man living in Woodstock Street. Almost inevitably that man, Joe May, was involved in the Republican movement and had been a regular visitor to the Dooley household at 41 Duke Street. Joe was arrested in November 1920 by the Black and Tans and brought to the Curragh Camp where he was detained for three weeks before transferring to Arbour Hill and later still to Ballykinler Camp. He was not released until November 1921. One of Mrs. May's most treasured mementos of that period is an autograph book kept by her late husband and signed by a number of his fellow prisoners in Ballykinler Camp. A fellow inmate at the time was another Athy man, "Bapty" Maher.

Hester Dooley's involvement in the Republican movement extended up to the end of the Civil War in May 1923 when she returned to Athy to marry Joe May. They settled down in their home town where Joe was appointed to take charge of the former Union Workhouse which the Irish Government designated as a County Home. He was to continue working there until his untimely death in 1961 at the age of 63 years.

Hester May's involvement in the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War are not well known. She has lived in Athy since returning from Dublin over 70 years ago and has only recently retired as Registrar of Births Marriages and Deaths for this area. The younger generations of Athy people have largely remained unaware of Hester Dooley, the young girl from Athy who crossed paths with the men and women whose lives and experiences are part of the history of our country.

Friday, March 4, 1994

Macra na Feirme - Brother Joe Quinn

Last weekend I attended two celebrations of service to our community. One was the well publicised corporate celebrations of Macra na Feirme's Golden Jubilee. Amongst those honoured was Paddy Keogh of Kilcoo whose involvement in Athy's first farmers club and the national organisation which developed from it was acknowledged and commemorated by the presentation to him of a replica of the sundial earlier unveiled in Emily Square by President Mary Robinson.

Macra's celebrations acknowledged the organisations debt to the foresight of the local men who founded Athy's club. Foremost amongst them was Stephen Cullinan, a young Galway born agricultural instructor then teaching in the local Technical School. The more one reads and hears about Stephen Cullinan the more one appreciates what an extraordinary man he was. His tragic early death in 1951 undoubtedly deprived Macra and Irish farming generally of a talent which was difficulty to replace.

The second celebration was that of Brother Joe Quinn's Diamond Jubilee as a member of the Irish Christian Brothers. His life, like that of his brothers in religion was spent out of the glare of press and publicity but yet his achievements as an educator and a fosterer of Irish sporting traditions was recognised by many persons who came from all corners of Ireland to pay tribute to the 76 year old Christian Brother.

Brother Quinn entered the Christian Brothers novitiate on the 10th of January 1934 and in September 1939 as the war clouds were descending over Europe he travelled to take up duty in Tuam, Co. Galway. The milestones in his life are measured in terms of hurling and football finals and like a drunk who will direct a lost traveller using public houses as points of reference, Brother Quinn uses the September activities in Croke Park as his personal yard stick. But on Final days in Croke Park the young Joe Quinn was required to follow his Superiors bidding of walking alone "into the countryside", the only acceptable recreation available to Christian Brothers. For a young man reared on a daily diet of Gaelic football such deprivations were part of the personal sacrifices expected of a Christian Brother. However in 1945 he succeeded in obtaining a coveted ticket for the All Ireland football final. Fate dealt him another hand however and his commitment and resolve was tested when he received instructions to transfer to Doneraile, Co. Cork on the Saturday before the Final.

One can picture his dismay and disappointment as he embarked on the train journey out of Kingsbridge Station as the excited football followers streamed into Dublin. It was with a heavy heart that he let his prized stand ticket flow on the breeze as he threw it out of the train approaching Doneraile. He was later to attend his first All Ireland Final in 1947 and I doubt if he has missed one since.

However it is not as a follower of football that we remember Brother Quinn. It is as a man representative of that great band of men - the Irish Christian Brothers - who have given of their all for the youth of this country. Brother Joe Quinn's involvement in basketball in Athy is well known. Sine he came to Athy in 1978 he has encouraged the development of the game to the point where it is now an important sporting activity in the South Kildare area.

On the Friday before President Mary Robinson came to Athy for the Macra celebrations the colleagues and friends of Brother Quinn joined him in his celebration of life and service to communities throughout Ireland. A service which in the best traditions of the Christian Brothers saw him make many personal sacrifices for the education and welfare of the young people in his charge.

The weekend celebrations of Macra na Feirme and Brother Joe Quinn were a public recognition of service to our community and to the jubilairians, Golden and Diamond, Macra and Brother Joe, we extend good wishes for the future and gratitude for the past.