Thursday, December 26, 1996

Sir Ernest Shackleton

He died early on the morning of 5th January, 75 years ago on board a ship anchored off a whaling station in the Antarctic. Ernest Shackleton, Edwardian hero, whose life and achievements are currently being reassessed, was on his fourth journey of exploration to the Antarctic when he died. He had first set foot on that forbidden uncharted area as a member of Scott's expedition during 1901 to 1903 when a young man of 27 years of age. Born in Kilkea House, Kilkea, Co. Kildare on 15th February, 1874, Ernest was the eldest son and second child of Henry and Henrietta Shackleton. His father was a fourth generation descendant of Abraham Shackleton who had founded the Quaker School in Ballitore in the 18th century. The Kilkea Shackletons, unlike their Shackleton ancestors, were Anglicans and they were to leave their large Georgian house and farm for Dublin in 1880 when Henry Shackleton resumed his studies in Trinity College. Immediately on qualifying as a Doctor, he and the entire family emigrated to England where Ernest, the future explorer, was to spend the rest of his life.

Another brother of the future explorer was Frank Shackleton who was to achieve certain notoriety as one of the chief suspects in the robbery of the Irish Crown Jewels in 1904. Sir Arthur Vicars who was murdered in April 1921 during the Irish troubles had always claimed that Frank Shackleton was the thief responsible for the mysterious disappearance of the jewels of which he, Vicars, was the official custodian.

Ernest Shackleton's greatest achievements were on his second and third attempts to reach the South Pole. He led his own expedition to the Antarctic on the whaling ship "Nimrod", which set out from London on 30th July, 1907. This was his most successful attempt to be the first man to reach the South Pole when he came within 97 miles of his objective before having to give up the attempt. On his return to England he was feted and received a Knighthood in 1909, the same year that a book of his exploits titled "The Heart of the Antarctic" was published. The must sought after prize of first man to reach the South Pole was to fall to the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, who arrived there on 14th December, 1911.

It was Shackleton's third trip to the Antarctic for which he is now most remembered. This started on 1st August, 1914, just days before England declared war in Germany. The County Kildare man Shackleton accompanied by 27 men set sail on a boat which he had renamed "Endurance". The name had been taken from Shackleton's family motto, "By Endurance We Conquer" and as events were to prove, was a harbinger of what was to come over the next two years. The initial stages of the journey were uneventful and even when the boat stuck in ice on 19th January, 1915 there were little grounds for fearing the worst. However, the boat was still caught in the icy fastness of the Antarctic on the following 27th October when it was crushed and had to be abandoned. Shackleton now faced the daunting task of saving his men and he decided that they should travel across the ice floes to Elephant Island on the North West edge of the Weddell Sea. The journey was to take 5 months and near the end the men were confined to a single ice floe which had broken away and drifted on the seas. Conscious of the dangers of the floe cracking, Shackleton and his men were very low in spirit, existing as they did solely on seal meat. The 100 sledge dogs brought on the expedition were kept alive as long as possible, but eventually had to be shot on 30th March. Two weeks afterwards the expedition members reached the safety of land, while at the same time the London newspapers were carrying headlines announcing the loss of Shackleton and his men.

The immediate danger had passed now that the expedition had reached unpopulated land, but somehow or other Shackleton and his men had to get to the whaling station of South Georgia Island which was over 800 miles away. The courageous leader and 5 of his companions set off 9 days later in a 22ft. boat called "James Caird" to travel across 800 miles of rough seas. Two of his companions on that trip were fellow Irishmen, Tom Crean and Jim McCarthy. The story of that trip like that of the overland journey across the ice floes was one of amazing courage and on 10th May, 1916 six men reached land but then had to make a further overland trip lasting 10 days to reach the whaling station at Stromness. From there a relief expedition under Shackleton set out to rescue the men left behind in Elephant Island and after no less than 3 attempts these men were finally rescued on 30th August, 1916.

Shackleton and the members of his team returned to London to a heroes welcome and the story of that expedition was recounted in Shackleton's second book published in 1919 which he called "South".

Financial problems beset Shackleton and he was to spend the next few years on a tour of lecturing halls recounting his experiences in the South Pole. Almost inevitably, the attraction of the Antarctic drew back Shackleton yet again and in 1921 he set out on his 4th and final expedition. It was while on the early stages of that expedition that he died of a heart attack on South Georgia on 15th January, 1922. Shackleton's body was sent back to England for burial, but on his wife's instructions the remains were turned back at Montevideo and brought back for burial on South Georgia.

Shackleton, the man who created the image of the polar explorer as a hero, never received, until recently, the recognition that he deserved in this country. This is now changing, ever so slowly, what with the current Irish expedition to the Antarctic retracing one of Shackleton's journeys. The Athy Heritage Centre which will be opened during 1997 will also have as one of it's many attractions, an exhibition on Shackleton, the local man who may not have reached the South Pole, but who conquered the World of Polar Exploration with his courage and leadership.

Thursday, December 19, 1996

Annual Review of Articles for past year

This time of the year I indulge myself in the yearly review of articles penned during the last twelve months. The first off the press this time last year dealt with the Pasley Glynn Cine Variety Company, one half of which was the late Ernest O'Rourke-Glynn. A two part article on Butlers Row in the 1930's evoked huge response which one particularly noteworthy phone call from a former resident now living in Dublin. Butler's Row came again to mind as I walked behind the recent funeral cortege of Christina Shaughnessy, granddaughter of Tom Langton, a one time resident of the lane. My school pal and one time neighbour from Butlers Row, Tom Webster, was also there and was very happy to see that the lane will soon again re-echo to the sounds of family life.

Convent Lane and its residents in the early 1930's also featured in an article as did the Mulhall family, long time barbers in Athy. My information for that latter article came courtesy of Jim Mulhall, himself a barber and a lover of history who sadly passed away during the year. Earlier in the year I had noticed the passing of Tosh Doyle who had opened the floodgates of memory for me and others when his own story was recounted in Eye on the Past.

Caught up in the football euphoria which envelopes every one in County Kildare at the beginning of the season, I penned a piece on the last occasion Kildare contested an All-Ireland Final. The year was 1935 and the human story behind the final was the dropping of Athy man "Cuddy" Chanders from the team. I often wondered whether Kildare is still being made to suffer by the Almighty for the injustice done to "Cuddy" on that September day 62 years ago. How else can be possibly explain the lack of success by the Lily Whites during the intervening years.

The social history of Athy was given more attention with a two part article on the residents of Leinster Street in the year of the Eucharistic Congress. The name of Bridget Darby, an Urban Councillor, Teacher and Gaelic speaker who lived where Conroys shop is today was mentioned in that and a subsequent article on the Gaelic League in Athy. I have come across several references to the formidable Miss Darby since then and maybe a further article on herself is called for.

The closing of Bryan Brothers afforded an opportunity for an article on the fine premises fronting on to Emily Square which had been a soap boilers shop in 1824. Later in the year the refurbishment of what was "Chopsie" Dillon's old premises in Barrow Quay revealed part of its past as a printing shop and was included in an article on printing in Athy.

The Duncans of Tonlegee House or Fortbarrington House as it was originally known featured in a piece on Elizabeth Coxhead's book "The House and the Heart". Some time afterwards I had a visit from a descendent of the Duncan family who very generously passed on to me copies of family papers relating to the late Alexander Duncan. The bi-centenary of the opening of Crom-a-Boo Bridge in May passed unnoticed by the authorities apart from my article on the Bridge which had replaced earlier more primitive methods of passing over the River Barrow. Unusually a father and son featured in separate articles during the year. Tadgh Brennan was the subject of a two part article early in 1996 and I later dealt with the early life of his father Fintan Brennan up to the time of his imprisonment during the troubles.

Sr. Xavier very generously gave of her time and of her memories during a pleasant evening spent with her and Sr. Paul in the Convent of Mercy. She was to pass away a few weeks later. Dr. George Cross from Christ Church, Dorset, met me in the summer and presented the local Museum with original plans of houses in Janeville Lane and Connolly Lane. This gave rise to another article on the two lanes where houses once busy with life are now long vacated. I later received from Dr. Cross a copy of a Diary kept by his ancestor Rev. Thomas Cross while a young man in Athy from 1847 onwards. The Diary entries gave much valuable information on a period long lost to memory and naturally enough formed the basis of another Eye on the Past.

Soon after that I was presented with a small Minute Book of the Gaelic League meetings held in Athy in the 1920's. It was here that Bridget Darby's name came up again and others mentioned included Joe May, Dick Candy and Ed Nolan amongst others. Athy Soccer Club was featured thanks largely to Johnny McEvoy, a former G.A.A. star of the 1930's and 1940's who now lives in Dublin. Johnny wrote me a most interesting letter which prompted that article and later in the year a civic reception was afforded by Athy Urban District Council to Johnny, Gerry Stynes and Paddy Joe Hughes. The occasion was the 57th anniversary of their leaving Athy to join the Garda Siochana.

Ex-Garda Michael Cunnane formerly stationed in Athy gave me much useful background information on the successful Athy hurling team of 1959 and the resultant article was well received especially by Mick "Cactus" Brennan who is now in Castlecomer. Jack Mitchell of the Coneyboro was as generous as ever with his extensive knowledge of Ardreigh in the old days and Hannon's Mill. The launch of John Minahan's book "Portrait of an Irish Town" was the subject of an article which ranged over the old residents of Athy now long forgotten. As another year comes to a close I remember some of those people who have been mentioned in articles during the past twelve months. George Robinson, Sr. Xavier, Tosh Doyle, Kevin Meaney, Matt Murray, Kitty McLaughlin, Maureen Clancy, all of whom had helped in no small way to make sense of the interlocking pieces which form the story of our town.

Towards the end of the year a visit to Rome prompted an article on the connection between the Eternal City and the South Kildare town and the names of Monsignor William Murphy and Fr. Raymond Dowdall provided the links. Another former Dominican priest, now long deceased, Fr. John O'Sullivan, was remembered in an article recalling the 14th of May 1993 when the Grotto to his memory was unveiled before a large attendance in the grounds of the Dominican Church, Athy.

To all the people who have contacted me personally, by phone or by letter during the past year with bits and pieces of information concerning Athy and its past I wish a very Happy Christmas. The same good wishes goes to readers of Eye on the Past.

Thursday, December 12, 1996

Rheban Football Club

He was a very persuasive man. This was expected given his day job as an Insurance Agent. However Tom Moore did not have to give too much encouragement to his young neighbour in Offaly Street on the day that he first broached the subject of playing football with Rheban Club. After all Tom was the long serving Secretary of the rural Club first formed in 1929 and his listener was an eager if unpolished player of the Gaelic code who up to then had plied his skills with the Athy Club. I was no great catch for the Rheban Club but nevertheless the relevant Transfer Forms were passed to the County Board and I was free to line out in Tierney's field with Rheban Gaelic Football Club.

The only other times I had ventured out into the Rheban area was when I accompanied my father and my brothers to our plot in the bog. The plot in fact was not ours at all but apparently my father had for many years rented one of the many banks available for cutting turf. With my brothers I was employed in what for a very young lad was back-breaking work of footing and stacking the sods of turf which would later provide the winter warmth in our house in Offaly Street.

But to return to Tierney's field, it was to be found on the right hand side just over the Railway Bridge leading to the bog. It was there for one season that I played my football, travelling to and from Athy by bicycle accompanied by Michael and Willie Moore, my friends from Offaly Street and sons of the Club Secretary Tom Moore. Success did not mark my efforts in the Rheban jersey and I was soon to return to the town team but not before I had acquired a life-long interest in the rural Club which this year has achieved remarkable success on the football field.

The Club's successes in 1966 read like a football litany. Junior A Champions, winners of the Jack Higgins Cup, Minor B Champions, Junior League Division III winners and Special Club Award Winners for 1996.

The founders of the Club would have been justifiably proud. It was on the 6th of February 1929 that a group of men gathered in a field in Rheban intent on forming their own football club. County Kildare had won two successive All Irelands in 1927 and 1928 and understandably every young man in the County wanted to emulate the feats of such great footballers as Larry Stanley and Jack Higgins.

The first Club Chairman was John Moore and his younger brother Tom was appointed Secretary and Treasurer. Tom was to remain in that position for over 50 years, the longest serving Club Secretary in the County, if not in Ireland. The cricket field in Rheban was the venue for the Club's early practice games while Mary Moore's field in Rheban was used for inter-club games. Rheban won its very first game of football when playing in Geraldine Park, Athy, against opposition provided by Suncroft Club. The team on that occasion was Peter Taylor, Christy Myles, Owney Pender, Mick Hickey, Jack Kavanagh, Paddy Myles, Jack Foley, Willie Hutchinson, Mick Flynn, Jim Haughton, Tom Moore, John Moore, Christy Keane, Dick Tierney and Paddy Mooney. The Club Captain was Paddy Fitzpatrick, a former Athy Club player who had played with Co. Kildare in 1928.

Another Rheban player to wear the County jersey was Paddy Myles who was on the Kildare County Junior team which won the Leinster title in 1931. Paddy also played for County Kildare at right half-back position on the Senior team defeated by Kerry in the All Ireland final of 1931.

The newly formed Rheban Club was to suffer many disappointments before winning its first Championship in 1940. Before that it lost the 1937 Junior Final to Kilcock and in 1938 lost to Rathangan. The 1940 Final played between Rheban and Ardclough ended in a draw but in the subsequent replay Rheban Gaelic Football Club defeated their opponents on the score of 0-8 to 1-1 thus giving Rheban its first major success on the Gaelic football field. The team on that day included Alf Keane, Mick Hickey, Owney Pender, Tony Keogh, Mick McEvoy, Billy Marrum, Tom Hickey, Arthur Lynch, Hugh Owens, Pat Fitzpatrick, Paddy Myles, Jack Foley, Willie Moore, Jim Keane, Pat Connolly, John Cardiff, Bill Tierney and Joe Barry. It fell to an Athy man, Fintan Brennan, then Chairman of the Leinster Council, to present the medals to the victorious team. Further success soon followed and in 1942 the Club won the Intermediate Championship while on the Kildare Junior team of 1943 there were four Rheban Club players Arthur Lynch, Tom Hickey, Paddy Myles and Mick McEvoy. The post-War years were lean periods for Rheban and it was not until 1969 that the Club achieved further success when winning the Junior A Jack Higgins Cup. This was soon followed in the following year by success in the Intermediate Championship and in the League. Other notable successes by the Club down the years included a League win in 1985 and last year Rheban Gaelic Football Club won the U-16 B Championship and the U-16 League.

The success of the Club has been secured by the contribution of many young players and Club officials over the last 67 years. To Tom Moore, my old neighbour from Offaly Street, must go a substantial measure of the credit for keeping Rheban Club going through the good and bad times. Like myself he played Club football with Athy before joining Rheban but unlike my one year sojourn on Tierney's field Tom devoted the rest of his life to the Club he helped to establish. He was "Mr. Rheban" inspiring a great community of players and workers who down the years made Rheban one of the proudest Clubs in County Kildare.

This year the Club has achieved remarkable success on the playing field. Everyone involved in Gaelic games applaud their achievements. No doubt Tom and "Skinner" and all the other players who have passed to the other side are looking down today on their beloved Rheban basking in the limelight of the Club's hard won success.

Thursday, December 5, 1996

Paddy Walsh

A Gaelic speaker from Ring in Co. Waterford, Paddy Walsh, despite 46 years spent in the settlers town on the " Marches of Kildare", still retains an affection for and a wonderful command of his native language. Paddy first came to Athy in August 1950 as Foreman with P.J. Walsh & Company, Tramore, who had been contracted by the local Town Council to clean the water pipes leading from the reservoir in Modubeigh, Co. Laois. His digs were in Minches Terrace with Nora Carbery and her husband, carpenter and Town Councillor Tom Carbery. Unlike other digs where you had your tea, washed and went out, Carberys treated their paying guests as members of the family. Discourse and discussion developed in front of the sitting room fire on winter evenings ably led by Tom Carbery, the man who brought many an Urban Council meeting to life with his direct methods and straight talking.

For the six months of the water main cleaning contract, P.J. Walsh & Company had two of its permanent staff in Athy, Paddy Walsh and Larry Murphy from Doneraile in Co. Cork. Local men employed included Chevit Doyle of St. Joseph's Terrace, "Twin" Power, Frankie Keane and Tom Hughes of Dooley's Terrace, "Red" Mick Keane of Barrack Street and Jack Chanders of St. Joseph's Terrace.

The cleaning of the towns water mains which had been installed in 1907 was a very difficult job which started after 6.00 p.m. each evening when the supply was cut off. The original cast iron pipes which 43 years previously had been brought by train from Dublin and then drawn by Johnny Rigney's horse and dray were meticulously cleaned every 300 yards or so by scrapers pulled through each opened pipe section. The road surface was opened with a jack hammer and a trench eight yards long by three foot deep and eighteen inches wide was dug by hand at the piece rate of three shillings a yard to gain access to the water main. The pipe was then cut and a hemp rope floated down the pipe to the next cutting 300 yards away. To the end of the hemp rope was attached a steel rope with a scraper which was pulled along the pipe to clean it.

It was a New Year's blind date with Nancy O'Rourke, daughter of local harness maker Paddy O'Rourke of Stanhope Street which was to lead to their marriage on the 11th of February 1953. Paddy left Athy when the Modubeigh contract finished but returned finally to live permanently in Athy in 1955. A period with Bord na Mona was soon followed by a 21 year stint in the Wallboard factory where he worked with Mick Doody in the boiler room.

He remembers with particular affection the camaraderie of the early days in the Wallboard factory with the likes of Charlie Holohan, William "Belgium" Cranny, Tom Murphy of Maganey and Jim Keeffe of Ardreigh. The Wallboard Company had been incorporated in 1939 but due to the intervention of the Second World War the necessary machinery could not be imported and the factory did not open until April 1949. The night before the factory went into production 1,700 tonnes of baled straw stored within yards of the factory buildings were destroyed by a fire which was subsequently the subject of a malicious damage claim.

When "The Wallboard", as it was generally known in Athy, closed down in 1977 Paddy joined Peerless Rugs from where he was to later become a member of the outdoor staff of Athy Urban District Council. He finally retired in 1990 and is now as busy as ever with his involvement in a number of local voluntary organisations.

Paddy's involvement in the promotion of the Irish language is inspired by his deep affection for the language he learned as a young boy in the Ring Gaeltact of Co. Waterford. It is no surprise then to find that he was one of the principle promoters of the Gaelic League in Athy during the 1950's and 1960's when the efforts of Maisie Candy, Dorothy Mullan, Peadar O'Murchu, Mick Kelleher, Kevin Meaney and others obtained sixth place for Athy in the Glor na nGael Competition in the under 10,000 population category. Paddy received a cheque from President Hilary on behalf of the Athy Committee, an event which is recorded in the photograph which has pride of place on his sitting room wall.

Paddy also founded the Padraig Pearse Commemmoration Committee in Athy along with Paddy Dooley who was a former pupil of St. Enda's School in Dublin. It was one of the last Na Pearsaig Clubs in the country and I was reminded by Paddy that I had presented to the Committee some years ago a Cup in memory of the late Sean MacFheorois for a competition between the local schools.

Paddy is also involved with many good causes in or around Athy including the Care of the Elderly Committee of which he has been Vice-Chairman for a number of years. He revived the Athy Dog Show in or about 1971 and it still continues each year as a very successful feature. About 10 years ago with Eileen Goulding he founded a local branch of the Guide Dogs Association and arranges their Annual Walk and Flagday each year to provide much needed financial support for the association.

To Paddy I leave the final word in an Irish poem he composed quite recently which amply demonstrates his affection for his adopted town of Athy.

"Nac aoibhinn mo Shaol deire an lae,
Is an ghrian ag dul faoi um thrathnona
Nil scamall so speir no scail ar mo chroi
Is me suite cois na Bearra ag iascaireacht.
Ta aoibhneas ann seachas ait ar domhan
An Moinin is an bearra ag meascadh le cheile
Is na cnoca glasa go geal is go neata
Cuilleoga Mheithimh i mbarr an uisce
Is breaic ag eiri chun feasta,
Is molaim Tu a Dhia mar thug Tu duinn Ath I
An Bhearra, Tobararra is an Moinin."

Thursday, November 28, 1996

Magan's Memories of Levitstown from 'An Irish Boyhood'

Just a few miles from Athy on the road to Carlow stands the remains of Levitstown Mill. The tall crenellated building is of another age and of a time when the men from Levitstown worked long and exhausting hours at the Mill. It has been silent for many years standing sentinel like as it keeps it's lonely vigil over the Canal and the surrounding countryside.

Last week I came across William Magan's book of reminiscences entitled "An Irish Boyhood" in which the 88 year old Author born in Athlone, Co. Westmeath and educated in England recounts his early years in Ireland. Now living in Tonbridge in Kent, Magan as a young boy lived for some years from 1919 in the Mill House, Levitstown when his Father took up employment at Levitstown Mills on the invitation of Charlie Norton of Minch Norton and Co. He describes Levitstown as

"An altogether fascinating place, the Mill House was not very large but was big enough with a bit of a squeeze to accommodate the Family, a Father and Mother and five children, three indoor servants, a cook, kitchen maid and house maid and a governess for the younger children and there was a spare room for guests. There was a Dining room, a Drawing room, a Study and a School room for the younger children. In the back of the house were the kitchen premises - kitchen, pantry, larder, dairy and maids bedrooms. There was only one bathroom in the house and two lavatories, one of them outside.

........water for the house and the Mill was pumped out of the Canal by a Mechanical Ram. Water for drinking was brought daily in galvanised buckets from a well in a nearby field. We had a rose garden, flower garden and vegetable garden. All the outside work was done by one man, Paddy Whittaker. He did the gardening, looked after the animals, milked the cows, fetched the water from the well field and washed my Fathers car.

Norton & Co. decided to diversify at Levitstown at the time that we went there. Half the Mill continued to be used as a Malting -the other half was to be used to Manufacture Cattle Cake. The chief source of power for the manufacturing process was water. My father installed a water turbine near the Canal Lock, the source of its power being the difference in level between the Canal and the river which gave a strong flow of water to revolve the turbine blades at high speed. The principle purpose of the turbine was to run an electric generator. We therefore had something which in those days in country districts in Ireland albeit in a somewhat crude form, was an unusual luxury - electricity. .....

There being no radio or television and living a long way from places of entertainment such as Cinema's, we made our own amusements. Our doctor, Dr. John Kilbride who lived on the outskirts of the town of Athy, four miles to the north of us was a Pianist and he would sometimes come in the evenings and play duets with my Mother on her violin and there would be songs around the piano.

There were many splendid local characters. The Dooley Family lived in the Lock House and were traditionally the Lock Keepers. One of them Tom Dooley became the Foreman at the Mill. He was typical of the skilful, dextrous and ingenious people who were often to be found in Ireland. He himself largely installed all the new machinery in the Mill and when he decided to marry, he built a new house and did the whole of the construction with his own hands. He was tragically killed by a fall from his bicycle.

His relative Ned Dooley was a most attractive man. When I was not at home, he was my Father's boatman for fishing. He also worked in the Mill. He knew that I knew that he surreptitiously smoked a short pipe at work when no-one was looking and I never gave him away. Smoking was strictly forbidden and rightly so as the whole of the inside of the Mill, all the floors and partitions and the props and pillars holding up the floors were timber and as dry as matchwood. The building was indeed and most
unfortunately for such a beautiful old building burnt down but after our time at Levitstown.

....I cannot omit another local character, Biddy Nolan. The driveway to Levitstown House was I suppose a couple a hundred yards long. It was approached by a drawbridge over the Canal. In effect we lived on an Island. Across the drawbridge 50 yards or so onwards and at right angles to it ran the Athy/Carlow road and straight on across it the road to Kilkea. That area was known as "The Cross" - short for crossroads. There were some cottages there and in one of them lived Biddy Nolan who was our washer woman. She came up to the house I think a couple of times a week to do the washing and ironing. She was a most loveable person and as children, we adored her.

... Being a Protestant Family, we followed the conventions common at that time. We went to Matins on Sunday mornings either at the Church in Athy of which my Father was for a time a Church Warden or at the little Church at the gates of Kilkea Castle to which in fine weather, the Fitzgerald Lords and Ladies walked down the Castle Avenue".

The Author ends his fine book of reminiscence with the hope that the account of his boyhood is enough to suggest what life was like for a child of an old Irish Ascendency Family growing up in Ireland in the years immediately following World War I.

This is a book which will be of interest to people in Athy and especially those living in the shadow of Levitstown Mill.

Thursday, November 21, 1996

Maureen Clancy / Irish Music in Clancys

I had intended to write last week of Maureen Clancy, well loved patron of the famous hostelry in Leinster Street who recently passed away. Other commitments however conspired to divert my attention elsewhere so that it is only now that I can return to the subject. Let me first of all make a declaration of interest insofar as I made my first hesitant steps in pursuit of the delights of Eros in the company of a daughter of the hostelry at a time when the young daughter was pushing out the present proprietor Ger Clancy in an old fashioned baby pram. That as they say was in God's own time but I have fond memories from those days of both Maureen and her husband Jim who died 20 years ago.

Clancy's of Leinster Street and O'Brien's of Emily Square are the last of the old time grocery cum public houses which were once to be found in every street in Athy. As other premises were modernised or as someone has said "were demonised", the gentle atmosphere of another age was replaced by the slick but frantic ways of the 1990's and the mock bar fittings of the displaced era. It was only in Clancy's or O'Brien's that the loaf of bread and butter could be ordered for collection after you had slaked your thirst in the inner sanctum where only the male patrons were once to be found.

Since the death of her husband Jim in January 1976 Mrs. Clancy of the small porcelain-like figure presided over the business which prospered under her wise and generous direction. Over the years she had helped many people and Sr. Consillio speaks warmly of her generosity when the first Cuan Mhuire Centre was opened in outbuildings attached to the local Convent of Mercy. In time Clancy's became a favourite meeting place for many and it was in the small back room that the South Kildare Literary Group met for many years. Amongst those who were members of that group were Desmond Egan, now a renowned and internationally acclaimed poet and John MacKenna, a writer who has achieved enormous success to date with his works of fiction.

It is however the Thursday night gatherings of the traditional musicians in Clancy's back room for the past thirty years who have given Clancy's its unique position in Irish music circles. Twice in the last few weeks I have had occasion to bring overseas visitors to Clancy's Thursday night session and on each occasion the visitors have come away delighted and astonished at the quality and virtuosity of the music played there.

Sitting on bar stools in the back room the players and singers alike effortlessly but with enormous skill and talent put on a performance which enthrals their audience and allows one to luxuriate in the richness of our Irish musical culture. On the nights I attended the musicians included two uileann pipers, Toss Quinn and Seamus Byrne who are continuing a musical tradition which stretches back through Willie Clancy and Leo Rowsome to the legendary County Kildare piper William Kelly. After Kellys death a set of Uileann pipes which had been presented to him by King George IV were given to a Mrs. Bailey of Newtown Bert, Athy whose son Sam was also a famous piper. In September 1995 I wrote an article on St. Brigid's Pipe Band, Athy which was formed prior to World War I and I mentioned, amongst others, two members of that band, George Bailey of Oldcourt who later emigrated to Canada and John Bailey, Publican of Stanhope Street. I have often wondered whether these two men were related to Mrs. Bailey who once had possession of William Kellys famous pipes so many years ago.

To return to Clancy's back room other musicians at the Thursday night sessions included Tony Byrne, a fiddle player from Glencolumbkille in Co. Donegal who came to Athy in 1954 as Principal of Ballyadams National School. If that other Donegal man Tommy Peoples and Sean Keane of the Chieftains are regarded as master fiddlers in the Irish tradition, Tony Byrne is not far behind as he bows and fingers his Fiddle with an expressiveness which prompts a desire to hear more of his solo playing.

Jack Dowling of Kilgowan played the Button Accordion with gusto and the retired County Council Overseer now approaching the 10th year of his retirement also regaled the audience in Clancy's with renditions of his comical monologues. Monologues are also the speciality of Ger Moriarty who at 85 years of age is not quite the oldest performer in Clancy's. That honour falls to Ned Whelan, former banjo player who now joins in the sessions on his tin whistle. There are many other regulars including Conor Carroll, Niall Smyth and his wife Mary who as one would expect of a member of the extended Doody clan, has a nice singing voice. Martin Cooney, Banjo player extrordinaire and Dinny Langton are some of the others who regularly take part in what is one of the best Irish Music sessions in the area.

On the last night I was there, the musicians and audience stood for a minutes silence in honour of their patron Maureen Clancy who had passed away the previous week. How the sessions in Clancy's first started I cannot say but no doubt Mrs. Clancy's helpful efficient manner nurtured the quiet respectful pub atmosphere which each Thursday encouraged the Irish Traditional Musicians to give of their best. That the sessions continue so splendidly after 30 years is a fitting tribute to the good lady of the house who passed away a few short weeks ago.

Thursday, November 14, 1996

Fintan Brennan

In an article some time ago I made a passing reference to the late Fintan Brennan, a name unfamiliar to some, but one readily recognised by anyone whose memory stretches back at least a generation.

Like myself he was "a blow in" coming as he did from Monasterevin where he was born in 1885, the son of a farmer. At 14 years of age he was apprenticed to a butcher where he worked for nine months without pay in conditions which he later described as deplorable. Returning to work on his father's farm he remained there until March 1904 when he took up a shop apprenticeship with Denis Boland at Vicarstown. The pay was £10.00 per year all found with boots and clothing at cost. Later he transferred on promotion to Boland's premises at Cush, Kildangan, where Fintan's brother John Brennan was in charge.

When the Gaelic League established by Douglas Hyde spread throughout the country Fintan joined the Nurney branch where Stephen O'Brien and an old Kerry teacher named Dillon taught Irish. This was the first stirring of Irish Nationalism which would later lead to Fintan's involvement in the fight for independence and his imprisonment in an English jail.

In February 1910 Fintan gave up shop work and became a canal agent in Mountmellick which job he got with the assistance of P.J. Kilroy, then the Grand Canal agent in Athy. He spent four years in Mountmellick where he was an active member of the Fintan Lalor branch of the Gaelic League. He treasured to the end of his days a prize won in the Laois Ossory Feis of 1912 for which he was examined by Arthur Griffith who awarded him first place.

Fintan was next appointed canal agent in New Ross and it was there that he joined the Irish Volunteers. The Company of about 700 men drilled in Barretts Park, the local G.A.A. Grounds, and it was there one Sunday that the Company's officers put to the men the choice of following John Redmond. All but twenty of the Wexford men stayed with Redmond but Fintan Brennan was among the small band who left to form an I.R.A. brigade.

In December 1915 Fintan was transferred as canal agent to his home town of Monasterevin. He recalled the winter of 1916/1917 as one of the severest during his years on the canal. The frost which came in early December lasted throughout the month of January. The canal froze to a depth of several inches requiring a steel boat pulled by six horses and a motor to break up the ice and allow free passage through the water.

Fintan's brother Pat Brennan took part in the Easter Rebellion in 1916 as a member of the Bolands Mill Garrison under the command of Eamon de Valera. Fintan married Mary Malone in 1917 and continued his involvement in Republican affairs which did not go unnoticed by the local R.I.C. He was especially active during the 1918 General Election on behalf of the Republican Candidates for County Kildare.

On the 4th of April 1920 Fintan's son Tadhg was born on the same day that a one day National Strike was called in support of the I.R.A. hunger strikers in Mountjoy Jail. The main Cork/Dublin road was blocked by carts at Monasterevin preventing race goers from travelling to the Punchestown Races. The key to the canal drawbridge was taken up by the I.R.A. thereby ensuring that there was no traffic on the Grand Canal during the strike. Fintan subsequently addressed public meetings in Monasterevin, Nurney and Kildangan in support of the rail workers who were dismissed for participating in the strike. The following June he was appointed Chairman of the Parish Court established by the first Dail. The Courts were held in Fintan's rented house as were meetings of the local Volunteers of which he was Company Quarter Master. Staying with the Brennans during this time was Hugh McNally, a Clerk in Hibernian Bank and Captain of the local I.R.A. Towards the end of 1920 McNally was arrested and Brennan's home was raided. Luckily enough Fintan's wife had the foresight to hide McNally's revolver under their baby son Tadhg.

However other guns and arms hidden in outhouses were discovered leading to Fintan's immediate arrest. Captain McNally, Lt. E. Prendergast and Quarter Master Fintan Brennan, all of the Monasterevin Company I.R.A. were brought to the Curragh Camp and Court martialled. McNally got a ten year sentence, Brennan five years and Prendergast three years.

Fintan was later to write of the sixteen months he spent in jails in Mountjoy, Wormwood Scrubs in England and Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, and his memories of those times were published in the Capuchin Annual in the 1960's.

Thursday, November 7, 1996

Houses at the Bleach

This weeks article is prompted by a note received from the well known antiquarian book dealer, P.J. Tynan of Courtwood Books, Vicarstown who sent me a cutting from the Irish Times of 17th July 1924. On the back of the cutting is a news report concerning the release of Eamon de Valera and Austin Stack from Arbour Hill Prison the previous night. However, it is the article headed "Athy Council Housing Scheme" with a photograph of a row of new houses which is of interest.

The photograph had me puzzled for a while until a little detective work discovered that the houses were those of the Bleach Houses before the Bleach Cottages, a row of small houses for ex-servicemen were built in 1925/6.

The newspaper article of July 1924 is of sufficient interest to quote in full :-

"Forming the first section of a larger scheme, the present Housing Scheme undertaken by the Athy Urban District Council is nearing completion.

It consists of eight houses. The type of dwellings, illustrated above, being at present carried out consists of living room, scullery, larder and fuel store on ground floor, and two bedrooms on first floor. The construction adopted is cavity brickwork, which gives the most weatherproof walls, with rooms warm in winter and cool in summer. The eaves course has a deep projection, with a view to protecting the upper portion of walls from weather.

All materials, as far as possible, are of Irish manufacture or made in Ireland. The bricks are manufactured in Athy, and, we understand, are also available for the Dublin market. The joinery throughout was made in the Athy workshops of the contractor and all labour employed is local.

The Architects for the scheme are Messrs. Donnelly, Moore, Keefe and Robinson, of 14 Lower Sackville Street, Dublin and the Contractors Messrs. D. and J. Carbery, Athy."

The eight houses when completed were only the second scheme of new Council houses built in Athy. The first such scheme built in 1913 consisted of nine houses in St. Michael's Terrace, six houses in St. Martin's Terrace and five houses in Meeting Lane.

In 1919 the local Urban Council had estimated the need for two hundred new Council houses in Athy and had sent their Solicitor, Mr. Kilbride, to the Treasury Office in London to pursue their demands for funding to build those houses. The political and military events in Ireland at the time did not help Athy's Application and the British Government were not to provide any further monies for the town following the 1913 Scheme. It was the Irish Free State Government which sanctioned the Bleach Housing Scheme, but even their limited resources did not permit any more funding to be made available to the local Council for further housing during the rest of that decade.

The Urban District Council had originally advertised on 24th March, 1923 for tenders for six houses at The Bleach. The Town Clerk at the time was J.A. Lawler and the Chairman was Michael Malone, or as he was better known "Crutch” Malone, Author of "The Annals of Athy". It is interesting to note that at the time the tenders were being sought the Council's total expenditure for twelve months was £4,907.00, of which £1,457.00 represented the County Council demand. This gave a consolidated town rate of eight shillings in the pound compared to the present rate of approximately £35.00 in the pound.

Quotations for the six houses at the Bleach were originally submitted by D. and J. Carbery of Athy, J.F. Keating & Sons of Dublin and Watchorn & Sons, Builders of Crumlin, Dublin. Watchorns sought to revise their quotation after the closing date, and correspondence between the Housing Department in Dublin and Athy Urban District Council resulted in fresh tenders being obtained from Carberys and Keating. D. and J. Carbery, the local builders, revised their original tender downwards provided eight houses were built, indicating that the savings they were offering to the Council resulted from their proposed use of "concrete instead of brick in party walls, chimney breasts and partitions". The Council pressed the Housing Department for approval for the eight houses, which approval was subsequently granted and the tender of D. and J. Carbery, Buildings and Contractors, Athy was accepted.

The Council in the meantime had purchased land from Mrs. Lydia Guest of Hillview House as the site for the housing scheme and later sold part of that site for £75.00 to the Sailors and Soldiers Association in Dublin.

On completion of the housing scheme a total of nine applications were received for the eight houses, with rent payable from 1st May, 1924. The first tenants in the new houses at The Bleach were as follows :-

No. 1 - Joseph Carbery, Carpenter
No. 2 - D.S. Walsh, Commercial Traveller
No. 3 - Mrs. Lucy Cogan, Housekeeper
No. 4 - Patrick Shaughnessy, Bricklayer
No. 5 - Mrs. Kate Nolan, Housekeeper
No. 6 - John Logue, Malt House Worker
No. 7 - C.J. Supple, District Councillor
No. 8 - Thomas Moran, Tailor.

The row of eight Council houses built in 1924 were the subject of favourable comment by Nessa Roche, Architectural Historian who gave a lecture on the Buildings and the architecture of Athy in the Town Hall last week.

Thursday, October 31, 1996

'Cara' - Irish Organisation

"There will be a meeting in the lower classroom after school which you should all attend." Brother Brett, Headmaster of the Christian Brothers School in Athy, taciturn as ever, addressed his remarks to the eager young pupils of second year. The year was 1956. Later that day the noisy gathering of schoolboys was addressed by a third year student, Michael O'Neill, who had obtained Brother Brett's permission to hold the meeting. Michael was from Kerry and had arrived in Athy about one and a half years previously when his father had taken up work as a farm steward with Shaws of Cardenton. His rich mellifluous Kerry accent soon earned Michael the nickname "Aru". As he stood before his schoolmates that day he spoke firstly in Irish and then in English.

Michael, a native Irish speaker, wanted to start an Athy branch of an Irish youth organisation which up to then had only one other branch in Ireland. "Cara" or Friends of the Irish Language sought to bring the Irish language and culture to the forefront and Michael was anxious to enrol his school mates as club members.

As far as I can recall Pat Flinter, a classmate of mine, was one of Michael's acolytes that afternoon and so must share with him the honour of founding the organisation which was later to become Aontas Ogra. Last Tuesday I attended the 40th birthday celebration of Aontas Ogra at the Youth Centre in Athy with a number of schoolpals who had also attended that initial meeting at the Christian Brothers School so many years ago. We had a lot of reminiscing to do, remembering those who had shared experiences with us in the early years of Cara and later Aontas Ogra.

Our early attempts at promoting the speaking of Irish was less than successful. The margins of Irish culture were in time pushed out to encompass dancing, not necessarily confined to the Walls of Limerick or the High Cauled Cap. Truth to tell we did start out with Irish dancing classes which of course necessitated the readily obtained co-operation of our female colleagues from St. Mary's Convent School. Margo Clandillon, Sheila Kehoe, Betty Clancy, Catherine Millar, Josie Murphy and Olga Rowan were just some of the names which immediately come to mind when I recall Sunday afternoon spent in St. John's Hall or the Town Hall struggling through the intricities of Irish dancing.

I am especially reminded of one Sunday afternoon in the Town Hall when our less than well co-ordinated limbs were concentrated on learning the quick-step. We were really keen on extending the frontiers of Irish culture, even it meant stepping over the accepted demarcation line between the Gael and Gall. Whatever the quality of our dancing our interpersonal skills were being nicely honed, from the intermingling with the girls from St.Mary's.

Eddie Hearns, Pat Timpson, Mick Robinson, George Robinson, Anthony Prendergast and many others have occasion to remember with some pleasure those innocent days. Indeed I can even recall that a well-known public representative now living not a hundred miles from Church Road had his first romantic attachment during one such session organised by Cara. Discretion must even now prevail despite the lapse of almost 40 years, lest Teresa Delaney should feel offended by being linked with her paramour of old. There you are Frank, I never mentioned your name.

A Club outing to the Rock of Donamaise on a hot Sunday afternoon is remembered as boys and girls, each with a bicycle walked in formation down the hill into Stradbally whistling the theme tune from the Bridge on the River Kwai. What an odd lot we must have appeared to the locals as the Athy contingent strode through the village with an unwordly confidence and unabashed joy born of innocence.

Several trips to the only other Cara group then in Dublin with club premises in the basement of Molesworth Street was also a welcome diversion from studies and the narrow confines of provincial life of the late 1950's. A bus brought us there and back on the Sunday outings where we met like minded young Dublin folk who shared an enthusiasm for dancing and life generally.

Another highlight in those young days was a trip to the Scalp, a part of outer Dublin never before known to us but where we stored up enough memories to last a lifetime.

Everything comes to an end and for those who attended the initial meeting in 1956 this meant that by June 1960 at the latest they had passed out of the school system. With most of those involved leaving Athy to take up employment in Dublin and elsewhere Cara was to continue with new members but with one person who throughout the years has been the lynchpin in the organisation. Billy Browne was in the Christian Brothers School when Michael O'Neill called his now famous meeting. Today he is still involved in the Club, carrying on a proud tradition first begun forty years ago. Honoured in the past by the Town Council and by the Lions Club International for his contribution to the youth affairs in Athy, Billy epitomises the commitment, dedication and support which everyone in our community should give to worthwhile youth initiatives such as Aontas Ogra.

Thursday, October 24, 1996

Poverty in 19th century Athy

During the 1860's widespread poverty and the precarious state of public health in Athy were constant sources of concern and worry. In January 1863 the local Medical Officer reported that the mortality rate in Athy was unusually high. He claimed that "six persons died on Old Christmas Day, two of them of the Low Fever alarmingly prevalent. The extensive use by the poor and the labouring classes of a cheap American bacon, which judging from appearance and smell hardly seemed fit for human food, is considered by many to predispose delicate or enfeeble constitutions to the attacks of disease".

On the 7th of March of the same year the Athy Town Commissioners decided not to illuminate the town on the occasion of the wedding of the Prince of Wales, on the grounds of "the extreme poverty at present existing in the town". For all the concern expressed by the Towns Commissioners their principal contribution to the eradication of disease in the town consisted of the periodic purchase of a load of lime to be given to the poor for whitewashing their houses. Street cleaning was still of the most rudimentary type and complaints of unsightly heaps of manure on the public roads in the town were common. The extent of the public health problem in Athy was obvious to all when the returns for the local Fever Hospital for the first three months of 1863 showed 107 new cases of fever.

At around midnight on Saturday 5th November 1864 a thatched cottage on the outskirts of Athy was burnt to the ground. Patrick Roche, a farm labourer, his wife Mary and two of their teenage children John and Bridget died in the fire. Following an inquest in the Workhouse on the following Monday the bodies were immediately brought to St. Michael's Cemetery where they were buried by candle light. The Medical Officer had refused to allow the friends of the Roche family to wake the bodies overnight.

An Editorial in the following week's local newspaper read "In the small hovel seven adults slept - four in one bed and three in the other. There was not a back door through which effectual or timely aid might have been extended. No back yard and but one small window. Their pig was a constant resident day and night in close proximity to the very bed where slept Roche, his wife and their son and daughter. If such is the true picture of the state of cabins on the outskirts of Athy, what must be expected from a close examination of the abodes of want in the courts and lanes in the heart of the town?"

The question went unanswered in an age when disease and poverty stood side by side with wealth and rank. The welfare state was to await another age.

The poverty on the streets and lanes of Athy of the 1860's was readily traceable to the bad employment situation then prevailing in the market town. Such jobs as were available tended to offer seasonal employment only at low rates of pay. For many family men the employment situation was never to improve even if jobs in the local mills were occasionally available. When the oat mill at Clonmullin owned by Michael Keating was burnt to the ground in March 1864 several local men were thrown out of work. The large four storey building was the victim of an arson attack by a disgruntled former worker.

Unemployed labourers in Athy saw their only possible hope in joining the ranks of the English army which for so long had a small detachment in the town. The Crimean War of 1853/1856 saw the first large scale influx of recruits from Athy, creating a tradition which was to be followed during the Boer War and the First World War. For those who remained at home the prospects were not encouraging. Shortly before Christmas 1864 the local builder W. Crampton found a family of four living in a twelve foot square, four foot high space dug out of a rick of straw on his land at the Carlow Road. The resulting publicity in the local newspaper prompted a meeting in the Town Hall on December 27th. It was there decided to raise funds to relieve "the distressing labouring poor by employing them in works of improvements in the town."

This showed a new social awareness for the problems of the poor of Athy. Despite this the townspeople's uphill struggle against hunger and disease took on an even greater urgency with the outbreak of cholera in the winter of 1866. The Fever Hospital was filled to overflowing and many deaths occurred.

The Town Commissioners response to the situation was the appointment in August 1868 of a man responsible for ensuring that all vagrants and beggars were kept out of Athy. Dressed in the overcoat and top hat supplied by the Town Commissioner Pat Walker was soon active in arresting vagrants, beggars and prostitutes whom he brought before the local Magistrates Court every day.

Throughout the 1870's the town’s only Medical Officer was constantly reporting to the Towns Commissioners on the unsanitary state of the town and the resulting dangers to public health. Time and again he reported in adverse terms on the state of the town and in 1873 complained directly to the local Government Board in Dublin. Accusing the Town Commissioners of Athy of being inactive and remiss in their duties the Medical Officer suggested that the local Government Board needed to pressurize the Towns Commissioners into taking necessary action to improve the sanitary state of the town. His efforts were in vain as by 1872 the "principal inhabitants" were more concerned with land tenure than they were with the unsanitary state of Athy.

Many more years were to pass before the necessary improvements were noted in the living conditions in Athy.

Thursday, October 17, 1996

Barrow Quay premises of Michael Carey

Barrow Quay has been the site of a Public House for as long as anyone can remember. Markey's were the last owners of the Pub there which had previously been owned by Tony Dillon and before him by his Father "Chopsie" Dillon. The same premises is shown on a Lawrence Photograph of Barrow Quay at the turn of the Century with the name Sterling over the door.

The current owners are presently involved in refurbishing the building and have removed the plaster from the front of the premises exposing the fine cut stone. They have also revealed some lettering high up on the building which proved extremely difficult to decipher. However, some research in "The Irish Book Lover" of May/June 1929 which carried an article on "Printing in Athy to 1900" helped to unravel the mystery posed by the lettering which was removed last weekend. In an article in that journal we find that in 1864 Michael Carey had his printing office at Barrow Quay and in that year he printed "The twenty Fourth Report of the Kildare Diocesan Education Society". The letters exposed on the front of the Public House last week formed part of the sign "Printing Office"'

This then was the office of Michael Carey who was one of the many Printers who carried on Business in Athy during the 19th Century.

Another Printer was W.H. Talbot who 163 years ago printed a a sixteen page pamphlet entitled "A letter to R.M. O'Ferral and E. Ruthven Esqrs. as members of Parliament for the County of Kildare". The earliest reference I have traced on Athy Printer's was in Walker's Hibernian Magazine of 1802 which noted the death of John Richardson Printer, Athy. The 1833 pamphlet of W. H. Talbot is the only known example of his work coming from his Printing Office in Athy. Successive members of the Talbot family were to be involved in printing and publishing in Athy over the following 50 years. The Maryborough Branch of the Talbot Family were to have an even longer involvement with the publishing world through their proprietary interest in the Leinster Express which they founded in 1831.

Another name which has long passed from public memory is that of Thomas French who had a spectacular but unsuccessful publishing career in Athy in the 1830's. From his printing office in Market Square, French carried on a general printing business including among his customers Athy Borough Corporation. In 1836 he came to the notice of a wider public with his printing of the 7th edition of the "Biographical Sketch of the adventures of Captain Grant with a full report of his trial". On November 14th of the following year French embarked upon the ambitious scheme of Publishing and printing a literary magazine from his printing works in Market Square. "The Athy Literary Magazine" was to have a longer life than later publishing ventures based in the town. The only copies in existence end with the 25th issue dated the 13th February, 1838. On sale every Tuesday, the small eight page magazine cost one penny. Throughout its short life, the magazine gave an unvarying mixture of leading articles of local interest, extracts from literary works such as Dickens Pickwick papers and material from national magazines of the period.

The last known edition of "The Athy Literary Magazine" was the 25th number which appeared on Tuesday, 17th April, 1838. The Royal Irish Academy has copies of the first eighteen issues but of the remaining seven issues, the only known copies were in the possession of a Dublin family in Drumcondra in the 1920's. Their present whereabouts are not known.

Within a few months of the ending of the Great Famine Athy was to experience a Journalistic feast. Controversy revolved around the proposed publication of a newspaper called "The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle" which its promoters indicated would be the only paper printed and published in Athy. Before then the Leinster Express published in Maryborough, now Portlaoise had enjoyed a monopoly position in South Kildare. In the face of the competition posed by the Chronicle, the proprietors of the Express rushed through plans to print and publish a local paper in Athy called "The Irish Eastern Counties Herald". Edited by James E. Talbot "The Irish Eastern Counties Herald" was put on sale on the streets of Athy on Tuesday, 13th February 1849. " The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle" appeared for three issues only before folding while "The Irish Eastern Counties Herald" appeared as usual on March, 13th with Editorial which undoubtedly surprised the Athy Newspaper reading public which only one week previously was adjusting itself to the habit of two weekly local papers were previously none existed. The Editorial acknowledged that the principal object for which the paper was established having been effected, the printing of the Irish Eastern Counties Herald in Athy would be terminated. So ended a short but lively era during which Athy for the only time in its long history was a centre of the provincial newspaper industry. "The Irish Eastern Counties Herald" and "The Kildare Wicklow Chronicle" have passed largely unnoticed in the history of newspapers in Ireland.
In January 1852, Samuel Talbot a member of the Talbot family already noted was responsible for the last major publishing event in Athy. He published Volume 1 of "The Press" which was intended as a monthly magazine "devoted to the advancement of science, literature and industrial arts". Published in Athy, it did not survive to a second number. Costing four pence it consisted of 36 pages with items of local interest such as an article on Woodstock Castle and a summary of a lecture delivered by Mr. Reece, Manager of the Irish Peat Company given on the 10th December, 1851 at a meeting of Athy Mechanic's Institute.

Talbots unsuccessful venture was the last major publishing event in Athy, until the advent of the Stephen Scroop Press which published a number of books in the 1980's from an Athy address.

Thursday, October 10, 1996


The recent ceremonies in Rome for the Beatification of Edmund Rice, Founder of the Irish Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers brought over 5,000 pilgrims from Ireland, some of whom were from Athy. The splendour of that most historic city, founded nearly 2,700 years ago, readily confirms its right to be referred to as the Eternal City. Visitors to a foreign country always welcome the opportunity to discover some association with their homeland but I wonder how many of the Athy pilgrims realised the quite extraordinary links which Athy shared with Rome during this century.

Monsignor William Murphy of Athy was Rector of the Irish College in Rome between 1901 and 1905. The College was then attached to the Church of Saint Agata Dei Goti where it had been since 1837 and where it was to remain until 1926 when it transferred to its present location near to Lateran Square. Fr. Murphy had been a curate in Harrington Street, Dublin before transferring to Rome where as Rector of the Irish College he was appointed a Monsignor. He was brother of ‘Pip’ Murphy who had a butcher’s shop in what is now Café Noir which was recently opened in Emily Square. ‘Pip’ lived with his sisters Nan, Zilla and the well-remembered Gypsy whom I recall was the last of the Murphy family to live in the Square.

Monsignor Murphy died unexpectedly on the 7th of July, 1905 and on the occasion of an exhibition in the Technical School during the Marian Year celebrations I remember seeing a letter from Pope Pius X, now a Saint of the Catholic Church, which he had written to the Murphy family in Athy expressing sympathy on the death of their brother.

In the Church of Sant Agata Dei Goti with its beautiful granite columns dating from the fifth century is to be found a marble tablet on the wall of the Nave erected by the Murphy family of Athy which reads :-
“Sacred to the memory of the Right Rev. Mgr. W.H. Murphy D.D., Protonary Apostolic, Priest of the Diocese of Dublin and Rector of the Irish College, Rome, where he died on the 7th day of July, 1905 in the 49th year of his age and the 25th of his priesthood.

A warm friend,
A true Priest,
A kindly Superior,
His loss was mourned by many,
And sorely felt by the students
Over whom during four years
He did well and wisely ruled.”

Monsignor Murphy is buried in the Campo Verano Cemetery which is the main cemetery for the city of Rome.

In an entirely different setting in Rome is to be found the likeness of another man with an Athy connection. In the Cafe Greco, on the Via Condetti, famous as the haunt of writers, artists and intellectuals since it was opened in 1760, is to be found the portrait of a young man wearing the Roman collar of a cleric. The name given is that of R.M. Dowdall, O.P., a Dominican Priest but the portrait by H. Carlandi gives no further details. It is amongst portraits and photographs of the famous stretching back to the last century and is in fact a portrait of a young Fr. Raymond Dowdall, Dominican Priest, who spent his latter years in Athy and today lies buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery.

But why does his portrait hang on the walls of one of the most famous coffee houses in the world? A native of Newry Fr. Dowdall spent 29 years in Rome between 1921 and 1950. For six years he was Prior of San Clemente, one of three Irish Colleges founded in Rome in the 17th century. The Basilica of San Clemente, a few hundred yards up the road leading from the Colosseum to the Lateran is dedicated to St. Clement, the fourth Pope who was exiled to Drimea and martyred by being tied to an anchor and drowned. The Irish Dominicans have been in occupation since the 17th century of the Basilica which is now world famous because of the archaeological excavations carried out there since 1857. Those excavations, continued during Fr. Dowdall’s period as Prior, having unearthed below street level a 4th century Basilica of which the present 12th century building is a replica. Below that again are ancient Roman buildings which are being excavated to this day.

During the second World War Fr. Dowdall was a friend of Monsignor O’Flaherty, another Irish man commonly known as the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican. Both priests worked together harbouring Jews and allied soldiers and Fr. Dowdall or O’Dowdall as he called himself while in Rome accommodated many escapees overnight in San Clemente. He never spoke of his wartime involvement in sheltering allied soldiers and air men and even in his book “Memories of Italy” he failed to make any mention of his courageous role. I believe his behind-the-scenes role in wartime Rome is the reason why his portrait today hangs in Café Greco, just yards from the Spanish Steps and the nearby house where the young English poet John Keats died in 1821.

Fr. Dowdall on leaving Rome in 1950 went to Lisbon where he was Prior of the Dominican House Corpo Santo which had been founded by another Irishman Fr. Damien O’Daly in 1639. On returning to Ireland he was elected Prior of the Dominican Convent in Limerick before coming to Athy where he spent the last ten years of his life. Fr. Dowdall died in 1980 and is buried in St. Michael’s cemetery.

We can find links and connections in the most unlikely places but few would have expected that the Eternal City and the small town of Athy would be inextricably linked by two clerics, one of whom lies in St. Michael’s cemetery, Athy, the other in the Roman Cemetery of Campo Verano.

Thursday, October 3, 1996

Grotto in St. Dominics

On Sunday the 14th May, 1933 the blessing of the Grotto and unveiling of the Statue of Our Lady of the Rosary in memory of the late Fr. John O'Sullivan O.P. was performed before thousands of spectators in the grounds of the Dominican Church, Athy.

So began a report in the Irish Press on the morning following of the ceremony which was given extensive coverage in all the Irish Daily Newspapers. The Grotto which had taken almost a year to complete consisted of a Statue standing on a high pedestal in a rock garden setting with an artificial pool while on a slab of white marble was reproduced a special prayer for the dead in Fr. O'Sullivan's own words.

Any account of the Dominican's in Athy whose presence in our town stretches back to 1253 is invariably linked with a mention of Fr. John O'Sullivan. Born in Clane on the 25th March 1857, he entered the Dominican Order at Tallaght at 18 years of age and was Ordained on the 20th March, 1881. In the early years of his Priesthood, he spent short periods in Newbridge, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny and came to Athy in 1886 where he remained until 1910. He returned to Athy in 1917 and died on the Altar while celebrating Mass on the 6th January, 1932.

The Provincial of the Dominican Order, Fr. Finbar Ryan before unveiling the statue spoke of Fr. O'Sullivan who had been a familiar sight in and around the Athy countryside as he travelled around in his pony and trap. A saintly man, he had great faith in the efficacy of prayer and for many years was Director of the Rosary, Confraternity in the Dominican Church. Fr. O'Sullivan was highly thought of by the people of Athy amongst whom he had spent the happiest years of his life.

The Grotto was designed by Fr. Michael Kinnane C.C., Athy a close personal friend of Fr. O'Sullivan and Brother Dolan, Superior of the local Christian Brothers Schools. The construction of the Grotto was a voluntary act by the people of Athy to commemorate Fr. O'Sullivan and members of organising committee included Dr. Jeremiah O'Neill, Mr. Sydney Minch and Mr. Lawler the local Town Clerk. Mr. Guilfoyle who was a Gardener for Myles Whelan of Tonlegee House was in charge of building the Grotto while Frank O'Brien Snr. of Emily Square was responsible for organising the dedication ceremonies.

High Mass was said in the small Dominican Church which could not accommodate the vast numbers which attended. The crowds overflowed on to the church grounds and as the newpapers reported "broadcasting apparatus had to be installed so that the congregation outside could follow the Mass". The celebrant was Fr. Michael Kinnane C.C. assisted by Fr. Maurice Browne C.C. who acted as Master of Ceremonies, Fr. P. McDonnell P.P., Athy, Fr. Hipwell P.P., Ballyadams and Members of the Dominican Order. The singing of the Mass was by the joint choirs of Athy Parish and the Christian Brothers and at the conclusion of the Mass, the Clergy proceeded to the grounds for the unveiling and blessing of the Grotto by Fr. Finbar Ryan, Provincial of the Irish Dominican's.

Fr. Ryan had spent five years in Athy four, of which he had shared with Fr. John 0'Sullivan and so he spoke with personal knowledge of the saintly Priest who was been remembered that day. Fr. O'Sullivan's massive figure he said was "An index of his big heart and his all embracing love for the people of Athy". He recounted how on each visit to Athy as Provincial of the Dominicans, he met Fr. O'Sullivan, who constantly pressed him to use his best efforts to ensure that the Dominican's would always remain in Athy. Concluding his address, Fr. Ryan mentioned the members of the organising committee and also the members of the local guild of painters and decorators, Messrs. Brogan, Bracken and Webster who had done so much to beautify the Dominican Chapel and grounds for the ceremony.

The Grotto was to remain a feature in the grounds of the Dominican Church until removed to facilitate the building of the existing Church. At the same time, the small Cruciform Church which had stood on the site since the early part of the 19th Century was demolished. The Grotto built to commemorate Fr. John O'Sullivan is now but a memory to older members of the local community. The well known Dominican Friar who died on the altar while celebrating mass in January 1932 is no longer commemorated in the town where he spent almost forty years of his priestly life.

Thursday, September 26, 1996


Centuries of history were swept away in a few short hours when the remains of Whitechurch forming part of the mearin ditch between the townlands of Turnerstown and Foxhill were bulldozed some weeks ago. The small oblong building was visible only in the remains of walls which has stood on the site for century's past. In the Ballad "Oonah More the legend of Inch Castle", Oonah retreated to the Whitechurch having been slighted by Ulick O'Kelly the son of the Lord of Inch Castle. The Ballad composed in 1856 and which was the subject of Eye on the Past Number 150 relates how

"For Oonah, life lost happiness, and day by day she stray'd,
To the holy walls of White Church, where the saintly maidens pray'd,
In silent anguish pining, she asked that Heaven above
Forgetting Ulick's baseness, might assoil his guilty love".

White Church approximately half a mile south of Inch Castle adjoins the Athy/Ballytore road which skirts around the Church and the burial ground which once surrounded it. The last resting place of the dead had long been obliterated presumably through the efforts of a farmer of another day reluctant to allow the enriched soil to remain uncultivated. Now the ruins of the old church are gone.

The name White Church is quite a common one to be found as a place name in both Ireland and England. White in the context of White Church is very likely to mean a stone church in the same way as White's Castle was so called because it was built of stone. There is a townland of White Church near to Naas which in the 15th Century formed part of the Manor of White Church belonging to the Viscounts of Gormanstown. A priory of Carmelites was once located there. Counties Cork, Dublin, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford all have townlands called White Church but what we had near Athy up to recently was the ruins of a small building known as White Church. How and when the Church came to be built between the townlands of Foxhill and Turnerstown is open to conjecture. The small stone building was obviously of great antiquity as the Ballad of Oonah More refers to the "holy Walls of White Church" an apparent acknowledgement that the building was even then in ruins. As the events related in the Ballad occurred in 1439, it can be assumed that the Church was built long before then.

In an article published in the Kildare Archaeological Society Journal in 1906, there appeared a plan of White Church which showed an oblong building measuring twenty-four and a half feet long by fourteen feet wide with an entrance in the South wall. The walls themselves were two foot four inches thick. The simple building without any apparent division as between Nave and Chancel and oblong in shape is typical of early Irish Churches. An examination of the masonry in the walls of the church could help to determine the period in which it was built but we cannot now do this. From the evidence of the 1906 plan, White Church could possibly have been a 9th or 10th Century building.

It is sad to think that anyone could be so heedless of the history of the building as to destroy it without any thought for the consequences. It requires a quantum leap of generous proportions to forgive the mindless act which has deprived us of the White Church. But maybe its loss will encourage others to realise the importance of the ancient building Heritage of South Kildare. If it results in the saving of Inch Castle to which the White Church was linked in the legend of Oona More, the sacrifice no matter how unintentional might be rendered acceptable. Look around us in South Kildare and see the wealth of the built heritage amongst which we live. Woodstock Castle, White's Castle, St. Michael's Medieval Church, Rheban Castle, the list could go on and on.

An Taisce, the National Trust does what it can to raise peoples awareness of the value of the Heritage of the past. It is currently campaigning to save Woodstock Castle. This ancient keep is owned by Athy Urban District Council whose priorities determined by severe financial constraints do not include the protection or preservation of the Castle. It is quite possible that Woodstock Castle the first building in the future Town of Athy will be lost to future generations if we don't act quickly to counteract the failure of the Council.

A towns history can be measured in stone and our respect for that history can be gauged by how we treat the time soaked stones of another era. We have failed in so far as the White Church is concerned because one amongst us threw caution and respect to the wind and unleashed the hungry jaws of a J.C.B. against the "holy walls of White Church".

We must never forget the lesson which this has taught us. Never again should we impetuously or negligently tear down the helpless stones of history, for if we do, we will destroy ourselves.

Thursday, September 19, 1996

Garda John McEvgoy, Paddy Joe Hughes, Gerry Stynes

On the 28th of September 1939 two young men with suitcases in hand arrived at the Railway Station in Athy to catch the 9.04 a.m. train to Dublin. That same week petrol rationing had been introduced by the Irish Government just three weeks after Germany had invaded Poland, thereby precipitating the Second World War. The train services had been curtailed due to the need to conserve coal stocks but the young men waiting on the platform gave little thought to the events unfolding in Europe. With their friend Gerry Stynes who was to join the train at Kildangan they were travelling to Dublin's Kings Bridge and from there to the Garda Depot in the Phoenix Park. They were the latest recruits for the Garda Siochana and all were former pupils of Athy Christian Brothers School.

Fifty seven years later they will retrace the journey they made as young men when on Saturday 28th September they catch the 11.30 a.m. train from Heuston Station to Athy. This time they will be accompanied by their wives and a lifetime of memories. Theirs will be a nostalgic journey, revisiting the town they once knew so well and renewing acquaintances with neighbours and friends of long ago.

Johnny McEvoy, Paddy Joe Hughes and Gerry Stynes are now long retired from the Garda Siochana and all three live in Dublin. Johnny, was born in 1915 in Woodstock Street and his father John and his brother Mick, now in St. Joseph's Terrace were both Postmen. Prior to joining the Gardai he had worked as a Despatch Clerk with the local asbestos factory and was one of the stars of the G.A.A. football team for many years, winning a Championship medal with Athy in 1937. Indeed Johnny holds the distinction of also having won a Dublin Championship medal in 1948 when playing with the Garda team. An Inter-County player, Johnny played for Co. Kildare for five years but of all his trophies the most prized are a minor Street League medal won with Barrack Street in 1930 and a Midland Schools Championship medal won when playing for Athy Christian Brothers School.

Johnny's football prowess was rivalled by that of Gerry Stynes, a native of Kildangan who played with Athy Christian Brothers School. Gerry played in the 1931 Leinster College Junior Championships when Athy achieved notable victories over Knockbeg, Ballyfin, O'Connell's School and Westland Row before losing to St. Mel's College, Longford in the Croke Park final. Playing for Westland Row in opposition to Gerry was the legendary Jackie Carey who later captained Manchester United to an English F.A. Cup victory as well as captaining Ireland at International level. After leaving school Gerry worked as a Barman for Michael Lalor who carried on a grocery and bar business in what is now Ryans but was then known as Reid Lalors in Leinster Street. His brother was the late Tommy Stynes who had a Hackney and Undertaking business at Leinster Street in what is now O'Sullivan's video shop.

Paddy Joe Hughes was born on the 28th of March 1917, the eldest son of Michael Hughes of Whitebog and Mary Darcy formerly of Woodstock Street. A pupil of the local Christian Brothers School, he sat his Leaving Certificate exam in 1935 when Brother Peter O'Farrell was Superior. While awaiting a call for the Gardai he took up employment in the local asbestos factory where Johnny McEvoy was already working as a Despatch Clerk. P.J. played gaelic football with Athy C.B.S. and Castlemitchell and recalls "big Joe Bermingham" as a team mate. While serving in Stores Street Garda Station he won Junior League and Junior Championship medals in 1940 and 1941 with the Dublin Club Ard Craobh. A team mate of his on that team was the great Tommy Banks, later a Dublin County and Leinster Inter-Provincial Gaelic football player.

The three young men from Athy accompanied by 300 other recruits completed their training in the Phoenix Park after six weeks and were sent to Stations in the Dublin Metropolitan Area. Johnny and Gerry were transferred after a few years to the Detective Branch in Dublin Castle. Paddy Joe spent some years in Sun Drive Garda Station and in the Superintendent's Office in Green Street before transferring to the Assistant Commissioner's Office in Dublin Castle.

On Saturday 28th of September commencing at 12.30 p.m. Athy Town Council is hosting a Reception in the Council Chambers at Rathstewart for the three local men who together left Athy so many years ago to join the Gardai. It was be a unique occasion for Johnny, Paddy Joe and Gerry and I am sure they are looking forward to meeting old friends and many of their relatives on the 57th anniversary of their departure from Athy. The Reception is open to everyone and it is hoped that as many as possible will turn out to meet them on Saturday.

Thursday, September 12, 1996

Kevin Meany, Sr. Xavier, Kitty McLoughlin

I have often found over the years that the summer holidays are almost always a time of sudden unexpected deaths. So many times I have returned from a holiday to find that someone known to me has passed away unexpectedly, and almost always to find the funeral has taken place. This summer has been no different in that regard. Within the last few weeks three local people with whom I have had contact over the years have died and in each case while I was away from Athy.

Kevin Meany of St. Patrick's Avenue I had known since I was a young fellow eagerly perusing the shelves of the local library in search of the latest unread detective novel. In those days my voracious appetite for reading was easily satisfied and a weekly novel coupled with my daily diet of comics was the extent of my young aspirations for literary appreciation. The local library of the 1950's was a small affair compared to the information emporium it is today. It too was based in the Town Hall but in a small room which I must say to my young eyes seemed then more than adequate to meet the town's thirst for knowledge. After all it took me ages to decide what book to borrow from the packed shelves which were to be found at the top of the darkened stairs which led from the street directly opposite Mrs. Meehan's chemist shop. The staircase may not indeed have been dark at all but since the local Freemasons Lodge met in a room at the top of the same stairs you can appreciate how a young fellow fed on stories of the secret and "demonic" activities of the brotherhood might well feel that the stairs too was a dark and sinister place.

But not so the library room. On arrival you were greeted by Kevin Meany, the friendly and knowledgable man who delighted in talking and sharing his love and knowledge of books and bookmen. Maybe it was Kevin's interest in local history which was passed on to me. Certainly I can recall that it was Kevin who first brought to my attention the book, written in 1847 on the 1798 Rebellion by local man Patrick O'Kelly. Kevin's interest in Athy extended far beyond local history and it was he who restarted the Gaelic League in the late 1940's.

When I left Athy and "emigrated" to Naas to work for Kildare County Council I often met Kevin on his frequent visits to St. Mary's, the one time tubercular hospital but by then the headquarters of the Council. He was always an engaging conversationalist and my deep regret is that Kevin was one of many that I had not interviewed before he passed away.

Someone I had talked to was Sr. Xavier Cosgrave who died a few short weeks after I had written about her in Eye on the Past. As one of the "Galway nuns" she had been a frequent caller on my mother, who was also from the West of Ireland, and had expended much energy in attempting to teach my brother Tony how to play the piano. Neither I think benefited from the experience.

I remember the last time we met when St. Xavier, in good spirits, talked to me of her years in Athy. Indeed feeling that she may have unburdened herself of too much personal detail she spent a restless night before phoning me the following morning to urge caution. She need not have worried and was more than happy with the article when it appeared. Sr. Xavier died shortly after one of her former pupils, Kitty McLaughlin had herself passed away. Kitty had been a long time officer of Athy Urban District Council and former member of Athy Social Club and had helped me in many ways in preparing previous articles. She had been in the first ever class taken by St. Xavier in the Convent of Mercy in 1935 and had recalled for me her classmates of that time. Little did she know that she was to die shortly before her teacher, unexpectedly and much missed by her many friends in Athy.

Kevin, Kitty and Sr. Xavier all died in recent weeks when the summer heat was energising the land and reinvigorating spent limbs recovering from the cold and rain of last winter. Their passing saddened me.

May they rest in peace.

Thursday, September 5, 1996

'Shadows from the Pale' - John Minahan's Book

"This Book is dedicated to the people of Athy, County Kildare, both living and dead". The book in question is "Shadows from the Pale" subtitled "Portrait of an Irish Town", a book of photographs of Athy and it's people compiled by John Minahan and published this month by Secker and Warborg of London. The cover footnote claims that for the past 35 years John Minahan has been photographing his home town of Athy and it's people. "It is an ordinary Irish country town which is gradually feeling the incursion of industry, comparative wealth and modernity." Whatever the accuracy of this latter claim, there is no doubting the importance of Minahan's photographs and the wonderfully intimate insight they give us into our town and it's people.

The children of Plewman's Terrace figure prominently in many fine studies executed in 1973, or is it 1963 as one of the photographs would lead us to believe. The timing however is immaterial as one observes in the faces of the children that timeless sense of innocence which might prove all too difficult to recapture today.
The Christian Brothers schoolyard in St. John's photographed in 1965 stands alongside a beautifully evocative snap of the roadside pump leading on to St. Joseph's Terrace. Both scenes are now changed, never more to be recaptured. The same applies to Julia Mahon pictured lifting her bicycle off the footpath at Leinster Street in 1970. Looking at Minahan's fine photograph of Julia who passed away over 3 years ago, it is easy to see why she was one of the best loved characters of our town.

The older generation are well represented in the monochrome studies which have made John Minahan one of the finest photographic artists today. Memories were triggered when I saw Sarah Power's image captured for all time and that of Jack Dalton of Foxhill, a former engine man in Hannon's Mill whose photograph was taken in 1967.

I have often seen Minahan's 1972 study of Mary Byrne holding a photograph of herself as a young girl. It has previously featured in a poster for one of the photographic exhibitions held by John Minahan in Dublin some years ago. Another photograph shows Mary in the County Home four years later and there follows a number of photographs taken in the 1960's in what is now St. Vincent's Hospital. We are not felt to be intruding as we look at photographs of the elderly patients lying in their beds, rather does Minahan's superb camera work create an intimacy between the onlooker and those photographed which is re-assuring. It dispels any discomfort which might otherwise be felt and raises Minahan's work to the level of an art form in which he has few peers.

Peter Boland's photograph in Bertie Doyle's pub in 1963 is on the front cover of the book as well as on the inside pages and the clientele of that famous drinking establishment feature in many of the photographs. Mrs. Maggie Allen of Meeting Lane is to be seen in three photographs evoking memories of times seemingly long gone, but in reality only a few short years ago. It is not only the local people such as "Rexie" Rowan portrayed here who have passed on. A different way of life captured in the picture of John Hickey and Damien Moloney collection refuse in Duke Street in an open lorry in 1969 seems more than a generation ago.
Coffin making in the early 1960's with Martin Rigney speak of a time before mass production put an end to the exercise of that local skill. Cuddy Chanders, so sensationally overlooked by the Kildare selectors for the goal keeping role when County Kildare last played in an All Ireland final 61 years ago, is shown in 1974 checking the runners and riders in the local betting office. Brendan O'Flaherty and Gerry O'Sullivan, two stalwards of the local soccer club are photographed together and further on there are two fine studies of Gerry who, like Brendan, has since passed away. Everywhere in the book are to be seen faces long gone from our streets. Here is local history captured for all time, motionless, yet able to prompt and stir memories. Joe O'Neill, musician extrodinaire, playing side by side with Michael Dunne, a schoolmate of mine who died long before his time. Munsie Purcell in his bar in William Street in 1970. Bapty Maher, publican and undertaker, captured in both roles, the latter at the funeral of another great Athy man Paddy Prendergast, one of Ireland's greatest horse trainers.

From every page there appears faces and places that were once familiar and in some cases still are. "Wexford" Foley, Christy Rochford and Pat Rochford are shown as young men, while the smiling cavalier of a local grave digger, my friend Paddy, provides a happy study of a man with his spade at the ready. This is a lovely book. No doubt it will be bought by those who appreciate good photography, but nowhere else in Ireland should it find a more appreciative readership than here in Athy.

No where else will we have an opportunity to look again at the Dominican Lane as it was in 1973 with "E. Johnston - dressmaker", over the doorway of the first small house on the left. The good dressmaker herself, Eileen Johnston, is featured, by then an elderly woman and her neighbour Miss. Burley is captured in the Dominican Church, bent over peering at the Dominican publications. Paddy Hubbock, another face from the past looks directly and with a whimsical smile at Minahan's camera, while two young nuns walk self consciously across the Barrow Bridge, mindful of the photographer's all seeing lens. It was thirty three years ago that Sister Teresa and Sister Dympna caught Minahan's eye as they passed Mulhall's Public House.

Eugene McCabe, Monaghan playwright, has written the introduction to John Minahan's Book of Photographs of Athy. Before he did he visited Athy "to walk and talk and read." Coming across local place names which spoke of Gaelic and Anglo Norman origins, he did not dare to say which "conjures up the most poetry". Clonmullion, Shanrath, Ballybough, Tonlegee, Woodstock, Chanterlands, all offered images giving a sense of the Anglo Norman town.

Like John Minahan's photographs, the images are a timeless and moving reminder of a town's past and the photographer who spent his youth in Athy has done us proud.

Sunday, September 1, 1996

Joe Bermingham

Joe Bermingham, the politician, has been buried with statesman-like pomp and ceremony. A Castlemitchell man born in May 1919, Joe was not a statesman, and had no aspirations to be one. He was a man of the people, a term now in popular currency, but one not always accurately applied as it has been in Joe’s case. Conscious of his being at the heart of events in Castlemitchell stretching back over many years, I had often urged Joe to write his memoirs. I don’t think in the end that he did, and so his death deprives us of the opportunity to gain an invaluable insight into the social history of his area and of his time. Joe was a priceless repository of knowledge concerning the events and people of Castlemitchell, and he was uniquely placed to accurately record and interpret the happenings of many decades past.

It was Joe Bermingham who, on his return from the O’Brien Institute in Marino, Dublin in 1936, arranged with Jim Connor the meeting which led to the formation of Castlemitchell Gaelic Football Club. Joe had played football in Dublin, while Jim Connor who attended the Christian Brothers School in Athy, won two county minor championship medals with Athy in 1937 and 1938. The most popular field sport in Castlemitchell at that time was cricket, with teams representing local farmers, Anderson’s and Young’s. Indeed cricket was possibly the most popular sport in South Kildare during the 1930’s, as cricket teams were also to be found in Kilcrow, Ardreigh, Taylor’s of the Moate and Lefroy’s in Cardenton.

That first meeting of Castlemitchell Gaelic Football Club was held on the side of the road under the beech tree near Comerford’s gate. In attendance with Joe and Jim were Jack Corcoran, Bill Phair, a Wexford man who sold timber blocks around the Castlemitchell area, James Byrne, John Fennin, Mickie Myles and Paddy Myles. The first club chairman was Joe Bermingham, with Jim Connor as club secretary. Fintan Brennan, District Court Clerk in Athy and a member of Athy Gaelic Football Club and Kildare County Board, invited the new club to join a street league competition in the town. The Castlemitchell Club was to play in Athy’s street league competition for three years up to 1938, and the interest developed in Gaelic football in the area led to the speedy demise of cricket-playing in the area.

Following the street league the Castlemitchell club was invited, again by Fintan Brennan, to affiliate with the Kildare County Board G.A.A. Castlemitchell G.F.C. played its first competitive game, as a registered club, at junior level. Joe Bermingham played at full-back in those early years in front of Jim Connor who was the goal keeper. The teams colours were initially all white, but following affiliation to the county board, the club was obliged to change to green and white, to avoid a clash with the Clane Club which played in the lilywhite strip.

Joe’s mother had a shop in the old RIC barracks in Castlemitchell, supporting herself and her three sons, Pa, John and Joe. Pa, who later worked in the IVI, died many years ago, while John, better known by his Irish name Sean Mac Fheorais, subsequently qualified as a school teacher. Joe who sold insurance and worked as a rate collector before entering politics, was justifiably proud of his brother Sean’s literary success. Sean, who died in 1984, had published two books of Irish poetry “Gearrcoigh Na hOíche” and “Léargas - Dánta Fada”, both of which were well received.

The young men of Castlemitchell gathered each evening outside Mrs. Bermingham’s shop, sitting on the row of large stones, in the area known as Barracks Cross. It was there in or about 1948, that Joe Bermingham, Jim Connors and others decided that Castlemitchell needed a Community Hall. Joe with Jim Fennin and Jim Connor were the first trustees of the hall which was built by voluntary labour in the early 1950’s.

Castlemitchell Hall is still a focal point for community activity in the area. Joe Bermingham’s record of achievement in Castlemitchell is impressive, and his legacy, shared with others, of a Community Hall and a Gaelic Football Club, is a fitting reminder of the contributions he made to one of the most vibrant rural communities in South Kildare.

Thursday, August 29, 1996

Diary of Thomas Henry Cross 2

The extracts from the Diary of Thomas Henry Cross concluded last week with his School Master, Mr. Flynne, absconding leaving considerable debts in Athy, and his pupils including our diarist without a school. Cross noted that with Flynne's sudden departure his education at school ended "for as to the subsequent two I wish I had never known them. The first of these was a Mr. Wintour an Oxford student who came highly recommended from Ballitore early in 1847. I remained with him literally and substantially idling until he became insolvent in October 1848 and on his release from prison he left the town. I then was nine months idle entirely, nine months of my life at a time when above all others I could worst have spared it. A time when habits and prejudices just began to be formed, habits of inattention carelessness and negligence which to this very day hang to me and weigh me to the ground. However, about August 1849 my father took the notion that I should enter College. I call it a notion for I was just beginning to settle myself down in contented idleness and ignorance. I then went for an hour in the evening for about six weeks to Mr. Forde where I learned but very little and it was only on the 20th September that I set about preparing for the entrance examination which took place on 16th October following. I worked hard but I had left too much undone - all my knowledge had been dissipated and my mind was left an empty storehouse which I had set about filling as best I might or could. Accordingly every word in Greek or Latin had to be searched for not only in the dictionary but in the Grammar and I found that I had to begin with the very definitions of the Euclid. The entrance day arrived, the Rev. Mr. Jameson (Curate of Athy Parish) came to Dublin with me and introduced me to the Rev. Mr. Haughton whom I selected as my Tutor. We had the usual entrance breakfast and I made my debut in the Examination Hall of Trinity College Dublin at 10 O'Clock on the morning of the 16th October, 1849. I can't remember now my examiners but the great fact remains on record that out of the 84 who entered that day there were 38 better that I was and 45 worse. My father and Mr. Jameson were rather pleased at my doings so in the afternoon after dinner at Mrs. Moore's of Dame Street my health was drank and an "issue suitable to the beginning" wished for".

Thomas Cross continued his Diary on and off until June 1856 and the entry for the 21st of July 1853 gives an interesting insight into political happenings in Athy at that time. "I was engaged on the Friday and Saturday in the Tally Room for Sir Edward Kennedy the Conservative Candidate. W.H. Cogan and O'Connor Henchy were his opponents. It was a pitch battle between Landlordism and Priestism and indeed I cannot say whether the spiritual anathematisings of the latter or the temporal crushings and threats of the former were the more reprehensible. As to "Freedom of Election" it was a monster farce. If the unfortunate elector did not vote as the Priest wished he was cursed from the altar and if he did not bow before a tyrant Landlord's fiat he was exterminated out of the Land. Henchy and Cogan were the successful candidates, the former is little better than a fool but the latter is a man of some intelligence. Either are better (except so far as Principles go) than Sir Edward Kennedy whose sole virtue consists of keeping up a pack of foxhounds for the gratification of the sickly sprouts and scions of Kildare's Landocracy for the indoctrination of habits of idleness, drunkenness and vice in the too genial soil of the squireens heart."

On the 7th of August 1853 Cross wrote "On account of my permanent removal to Dublin I found it necessary to send in my resignation to the Committee of Athy Mechanics Institute, the Society which I was mainly instrumental in founding and of which I had been the Secretary from the very first. The members wishing to pay me some compliment in leaving them signified their wish that I should go down and receive at their hands at a public meeting a Writing Desk as a mark of their appreciation of my services. I accordingly went. They had the room beautifully decorated, hung around with flowers and mottos. Over the chair where I was to sit was "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot" and in other parts of the room "Knowledge is Power", "Success to our Institute" etc. The chair was taken at 8.00 o'clock by A. O'Keeffe, Esq., the Manager of the National Bank who in a highly flattering speech opened the meeting by reading the address which was to accompany the desk. The Rev. Thomas Jameson, Curate of Athy Parish, proposed and Dr. Edward Ferris seconded its adoption and both particularly Mr.Jameson spoke of me in most complimentary terms. I afterwards spoke for about an hour briefly sketching the past history of the Society and exhorting members to unity and to perseverance in the most noble cause of mental amelioration. There were many other speeches delivered and afterwards we had a very elegant soiree, fruit, wine, cakes, almonds, raisins etc. There was the greatest good feeling manifested by all. Indeed I felt not a little proud at seeing myself thus made much of and seeing old and young, rich and poor, Protestant and Dissenter and Catholic all coming forward to testify as I have said that "wherever industry, perseverance and talent are employed in the promotion of useful purposes and directed to the attainment of noble ends that industry, perseverance and talent would be recognised, appreciated and rewarded".

The Diary of the young Athy man first written over 150 years ago gives us an interesting insight into life in provincial Ireland both before and after the Great Famine. A most remarkable absence of any reference in the Diary to the famine which affected the country between 1845 and 1849 is puzzling. I have elsewhere made reference to a similar lack of reference in the Contemporary Minute Books of Athy Town Commissioners. Wherein lies the explanation for these omissions given that over 2,500 men women and children died in the town and in the local Poor House during the four years of the worst of the many famines experienced in 18th and 19th century Ireland? Despite this omission Thomas Henry Cross's Diary is an important social document enabling us to look backwards to a time which the faded pages of a young man's Diary can only now reveal.