Thursday, June 27, 1996

Mark Cross and the Building of Houses in Janeville and Connolly's Lanes

Dr. George Cross, Medical Doctor, Dental Surgeon and Gemmologist, accompanied by his wife recently travelled from his home in Christchurch, Dorset to visit Athy where his Cross ancestors lived during the last century. It was not his first visit to Athy but on this occasion he was able to positively identify properties in the town once associated with his family. His great grandfather was Mark Cross who in Slaters Directory for 1846 was described as a Civil Engineer and builder of Market Square. This of course is the present Emily Square and Dr. Cross, born in England over 80 years ago, was able to pinpoint Mark Cross's former house as the property where Dwyer and Cleary now carry on a dental practice.

Dr. Cross brought with him a map dated 1836 showing outlined in red a plot of ground lying to the south side of the then Church of England Church in Athy which ground had been originally let by the Duke of Leinster to Dr. Clayton. Clayton was a local G.P. living in The Abbey and the property on the map was that of the present corner shop and the two houses facing on to Emily Square occupied by Dwyer and Cleary and the Fennin family. I have previously come across references to that Church which stood in Market Square up to 1840's but never before had I seen a reference as in this map to Church Lane which ran from the corner of the Carlow Road towards the river as far as the entrance to Dr. Clayton's house. The road now referred to as Emily Row between the corner shop and the Credit Union Office on the map carried the notation "from the Market Square to Prestons Gate". Prestons Gate stood opposite Paddy Garrett's house in Offaly Street and if ever you are in St. Michael's old cemetery look for the tomb stone, in the corner of the medieval Church which gives Prestons Gate as the address of one James Kenna. The property outlined on the map which had been originally let by the Duke of Leinster to Dr. Clayton was apparently later transferred by Dr. Clayton to Mark Cross.

Two other maps brought from Dorset to Athy by Dr. Cross were of even greater interest. One marked "Plan of Janeville 1872" carried the additional notation "commenced 4th January 1872, finished 20th April 1872". Regrettably somebody had obliterated what would have surely been the building cost for this small scheme of houses leaving only the word "pounds" to be read.

The scaled drawings consisted of a plan and front elevation of the ten houses, five on either side of the laneway which was known as Janeville Lane. It is highly probably given that the drawings were in Dr. Cross's possession that the builder was Mark Cross, Civil Engineer and Building Contractor of Market Square. The Mark Cross of 1872 was son of Mark Cross mentioned in Slater’s Directory of 1846. Each single storey house consisted of two rooms with a floor area measuring 13 ft. by 18 ft. 6 ins. or 240 sq. ft. approximately. The tiny dwellings were bounded on the east side by Hogan's yard which is now the short private laneway at the rear of No.'s 4 to 6 Offaly Street. On the south side of the houses lay Duncan's Gardens now Lawlers and on the west side Dr. Clayton's now Mrs. McDermott-Donnellys and on the north side Hogan's Lane. In recent years we have tended to refer to the entire area to the rear of Offaly Street which is entranced between 3 and 4 Offaly Street as Janeville Lane when in fact Janeville was the name of the ten house scheme to the left of the main laneway which was officially called Barkers Row. It was that latter lane which in the 1872 map was referred to as Hogan's Lane. The name Janeville was also used in connection with the cul-de-sac leading to Janeville Cottage at the rear of the present St. Michael's Church in Offaly Street. Whey this name was so popular in this small area of Athy I have yet to find out. The Janeville Lane houses are now derelict and only a few of them remain standing in a sadly dilapidated condition.

The second drawing was noted on its reverse as "Plans of Cottages built at Meeting Lane 1872". Again Mark Cross is believed to have constructed these houses and indeed a handwritten note on the map indicates that work on them started two days after the completion of the Janeville Lane houses. Commenced on the 22nd of April 1872 the seven houses were completed on the 17th of July 1872. Tantalisingly these details were followed by the words "cost" but without any insertion to satisfy our curiosity.

But where on Meeting Lane were these houses built? The first clue lay in the map itself which showed that on either side of the row of houses was to be found Cross's garden and Connolly's garden. This raised the possibility of Connolly's Lane which late 19th century town maps showed as running off Meeting Lane at the rear of the houses facing Emily Square. Dr. and Mrs. Cross with me as their guide went to Meeting Lane and there before us in the blanked up wall extending the full length of the garden to the rear of Mrs Germaine's house we saw the outline of the houses built in 1872. We counted the five doors and ten windows of the small one storey houses which once stood on the left side of the lane. The two houses built at the end of the lane are now gone but it is clear from the map that they had been constructed out of an old barn which stood on the site.

I was delighted to have had the opportunity of showing Dr. Cross and his wife the small houses which his predecessor Mark Cross had built 124 years ago. Dr. Cross videoed what remained of Connolly's Lane and Janeville Lane ending a journey which started with the finding of the two old maps amongst family papers in Christchurch, Dorset. Dr. Cross later wrote to me generously donating the maps to the local Museum where they will soon be on display when suitably framed.

Dr. Cross's family had a long association with Athy and Mrs. Anne Cross listed in 1910 Post Office Directory as a resident of The Square was the last member of the Cross family. Of course we all remember Wattie Cross of Duke Street but I believe he was not a member of the same family.

It is amazing how far the strands of local history stretch. In this case from Athy to Christchurch in Dorset where a few small maps not otherwise identifiable as relating to Athy town provided another link in the town's hidden past.

Thursday, June 20, 1996

Sr. Xavier

She came to Athy in the year of the Eucharistic Congress to take up the Principalship of Churchtown National School. Delia Cosgrave was but 25 years of age but the Galway girl having spent four years in University College Galway was well qualified to replace the previous Principal the formidable Bridget Darby. Delia obtained lodgings in the home of Mrs. Cox at 26 Duke Street where she soon made friends with the daughters of the house Rita, Mossie, Thelma and Millie. The last named was later to marry Newcombe Empey's son and their son is soon to become the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin.

Athy appeared a depressing place to the spirited West of Ireland girl who had spent her early years on a dairy farm in Dangan on the outskirts of Galway city. However her friendship with Maureen Lawless, the first lay teacher in the Convent Secondary School in Athy and Sheila Hickey of Kilberry who was the newly appointed Principal of Barrowhouse National School ensured a happy social scene. Late night dances n the Town Hall were then grand affairs unlike the cheerless, colourless events of today. Musical evenings in Cox's with Mrs. Cox on piano accompanying Mr. Gill, a local Post Office worker and fellow lodger, and Mossie Cox, two vocalists of quality are remembered with nostalgia.

For the good friends, Delia Cosgrave and Sheila Hickey both Principals of local schools, the religious life beckoned and so it was that in 1935 encouraged by their friend Maureen Lawless they both decided to enter the local Convent of Mercy. One last trip awaited them this time to Twickenham for the annual international rugby game. So it was that Delia Cosgrave, Sheila Hickey and their companions Tess Morrin, a local V.E.C. teacher and Paddy Broderick N.T. in Wolfhill travelled by boat to London in February 1935. A last dance in the Irish Club in London before the return trip was followed by what must have been a most unusual sight as Delia Cosgrave distributed her jewellery and money amongst her friends as the train pulled into Athy Station. Awaiting her was Paddy Murphy's hackney car to bring her straight away to the door of the Convent of Mercy. So it was that Delia Cosgrave on the 11th February 1935 started her postulancy which was to end with her final profession as Sr. Xavier six and a half years later.

Having retired as Principal of Churchtown she was replaced by Paddy Dooley, later our local T.D. Pupils remembered from the rural school over 60 years ago include Jim Connors and his sisters Ellen and Mary and Pat Fennin. Also remembered are Lily and Nellie Dillon whose mother was the school caretaker. As a qualified teacher Sr. Xavier was immediately deployed in teaching the sixth class in St. Michael's National School and as her class passed on into St. Mary's Secondary School she also transferred with them. She was to remain as their class teacher until they sat their Leaving Cert. five years later.

Amongst the pupils in her first Convent class were Kitty McLaughlin, Kay and Nan O'Brien, Sheila May and Anna Fennin, Mary O'Brien, Maureen Walsh, Sydney Gannon, Jo Mulhall, Jo Lawler, Vera Cross, Essie Slator, Vera Bellew, Mary Jo Coogan and Brid Bergin. Her friend Sheila Hickey was to enter the Athy Convent in June 1935 taking Sr. Michael as her name in religion. Sr. Xavier was soon to be joined in the Convent by her own sisters Margaret who took the name Sr. Rose and Agnes whom we all know as Sr. Paul. Margaret had been a teacher in Galway V.E.C. before entering the Convent and while in U.C.G. had captained the College Camogie team. Agnes was a Clerk in the General Post Office in Dublin for a number of years before answering the call to the religious life.

St. Mary's School which had been a private Secondary School from 1922 and whose pupils did not sit the State exams became a grant aided secondary school in 1934. In fact it was an all Irish School until 1948 or thereabouts and it was there that the Cosgrave sisters from Galway taught until the 1960's.

Sr. Rose passed away some years ago but Sr. Xavier now in her 89th year retains an absorbing interest in the town where she has lived for the last 64 years. Sr. Paul, also retired, is still very much involved in her art work and especially with Athy Art Group with whom she is travelling to the Burren in Co. Clare on a painting expedition next weekend.

It is sometimes difficult to unravel the paths which led so many young women to join the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Athy in the years before the Second World War. Even more so when those paths started in Counties on the Western seaboard as in the case of the Cosgrave sisters or for the late Sr. Brendan in Co. Kerry. The advertisement placed by the local Parish Priest Fr. McDonnell in the national newspapers in 1932 seeking a Principal for the two teacher school in Churchtown brought Delia Cosgrave to a town about which she knew nothing. She could not then have envisaged that the rest of her life was to be spent in Athy which her late father felt was too far away from her home in Dangan, Galway. Three of the Cosgrave sisters were to come to the "far away" place, seldom heard of in Galway where they devoted their lives to the people of Athy. We are grateful for the work done in Athy by Sr. Xavier, Sr. Rose and Sr. Paul and for what the Sisters of Mercy have achieved in our town since they first arrived in 1852.

Thursday, June 13, 1996

Eaton family / Paddy Eaton

The Eaton and Ellard families have long associations with the town of Athy. Many will remember Pat Ellard who lived in a small house next door to the shop now owned by Bertie McDermott in Leinster Street. Pat drove the mail van for the Post Office and also had a side car for hire. His wife Beatrice Causer, an English woman first met Pat while on holidays in Athy. Pat died in 1959 and his wife in 1962. Their daughter Ellen married local painter Martin Eaton in the early 1930's bringing together two of the oldest families in the area. Martin Eaton worked with Newcombe Empey, House, Sign and Ornamental Painter and Gilder of Leinster Street whose grandson who is soon to be raised to the Archbishopric of Dublin. For the first few years of their married life Martin and Ellen Eaton lived in New Row, off Mount Hawkins before being appointed the first tenants of No. 19 Convent View. Their eldest son Paddy was born in New Row and now lives in Clonmullin within a stones throw of his old home.

Martin Eaton's half-brothers Lar, Pat, Mick and Charlie all served in France and Flanders during World War I and returned home unscathed in 1919 to their father Mick Eaton who lived in Meeting Lane. He worked in a brick yard in Castlecomer and every Saturday after finishing his weeks work he walked the 19 miles home to Athy. The return journey was made on Sunday nights again on foot, a trip he made for many years.

It was his son the earlier mentioned Martin Eaton who was the first family member to be apprenticed to the painting trade and he in turn passed on his skill and knowledge to his own son Paddy Eaton. Paddy who was born in 1934 started his apprenticeship in 1948 earning 7/6 per week. He served three and a half years before being recognised as "an improver" with a modest increase in his wages. Another four years were to pass before he became a qualified tradesman earning £3=5=0 per week.

Even before he had embarked on a career in painting and decorating Paddy had spent some time in Tom McHugh's foundry. He was then only 13 years of age but the illness of his father who was the only wage earner in the family necessitated Paddy's early entry into the workforce. He spent almost a year in the Janeville Lane foundry owned and operated by Tom McHugh, a resident of Offaly Street. He recalls working with Robbie Lynch of Shrewleen, Frankie Aldridge, Des Donaldson, Mannix Thompson, Pat Roche and Jim Carter both of Ballylinan. Tom McHugh he described as the best floor moulder in Ireland working with his "clearer", "boss lickers" and "harp and square", all moulders tools to help him shape in the sand boxes the intricate design he required. The red sand used in the Foundry came from Dan Neill's field on the Carlow Road which is now given over to Graysland and Kingsgrove housing estates. Paddy recalls with amusement and with no little awe the occasion a local Janeville Lane man called to Tom McHugh's foundry to have a tooth extracted which was troubling him. With a minimum of fuss and expertly using a pliers or pinchers, Tom soon had the offending tooth pulled.

Paddy Eaton's time in the foundry was generally spent breaking scrap metal or lining the furnace with bricks or clay prior to it being fired with coke. He also shovelled the sand and moved the sand boxes into place ready for the molten metal to be poured into the carefully prepared moulds. All of this was being done at a time when young Paddy should have been at school. Inevitably the long arm of the law caught up with him and he recalls Sergeant Taaffe calling to his home and gently encouraging his mother to get young Paddy into school "for a day now and then".

Paddy left the foundry to join his father in the painting trade and in 1956 after finishing his apprenticeship he emigrated to England. It was to Kettering, Northamptonshire, near the home town of his grandmother Beatrice that Paddy went to work for Wimpeys Building Contractors. Three years later Paddy returned to Ireland accepting for the second time in his young life responsibility for his family's welfare. His father had suffered serious injuries after falling from the roof of St. Vincent's Hospital while working for Kildare County Council. Paddy was to take up employment with the same Council for the next three years but when his father died in 1962 he returned to England, this time settling in Birmingham. He was soon followed by his younger brothers and sisters Frank, Tony, Christy, Martin and Nancy and his mother Ellen.

Recalling his young days in Athy in the early 1940's Paddy remembers with affection the efforts of "Skurt" Doyle, a legend in his own lifetime who trained the local young men in athletics and football. "Skurt" who had an illustrious career in the British Army, firstly in India and later during World War I lived in 18 Convent View. He was a noted athlete and sportsman who on retiring from the British Army became involved in training local teams of all codes including Gaelic football, soccer and rugby. He was one of the organisers of the football street leagues of the 1940's in which most of the young boys of Athy played. For Paddy Eaton there was the additional involvement in distance running again tutored by "Skurt" Doyle in what was known locally as Lawlers field in Clonmullin. Times were hard and two of Paddy's abiding memories of the 1940's was the weak cocoa made by Fran Lawler for the schoolboys lunch break in the local C.B. School and his daily chore of collecting sticks in Sawyerswood for the family fire.

Retired on health grounds Paddy is married to Mary Logan, formerly of Dublin and their two children Shirley and Patrick are living in Birmingham. The wheel of emigration has come full circle for this member of an old Athy family.

Thursday, June 6, 1996

Tadgh Brennan (2)

Tadhg Brennan's involvement in the social life of Athy in the post-War years was wholehearted and as befits the man he left his mark in the many areas in which he was involved. But not even he could regard his L.D.F. days during the Second World War as being particularly noteworthy. As a Private he soldiered under the local officers who included John Stafford, Matt McHugh, Paddy Dooley of Levitstown and Norman Plewman. He recalls attending Army Camps in Tramore on two occasions but missed the year when his friend and army colleague Pat Mulhall was accidentally shot while attending a lecture in the camp. Rumour has it that this was the only shot fired by the L.D.F. for the duration of the second World War. The L.D.F. recruits met each week marching from Emily Square to Geraldine Football Park where further marching routines were a major part of their training. Gun practice without ammunition live or otherwise was another part of the Geraldine field training. He remembers patrolling at night armed with a rifle, but again without ammunition spending four hour stints sometimes cycling between Athy and Cloney Bridge other times manning the bridges leading into the town. In his own words "nothing of interest ever happened unless one is to disregard the occasional use of an L.D.F. ground sheet by courting couples in the Peoples Park." The prospect of a Court Martial for misuse of L.D.F. equipment was very much a possibility on one night when the local Garda Sergeant came on a scene in the People's Park which by the light of his torch he could see was adorned by one of his own daughters. The L.D.F. lads as you can imagine were always popular and patrolling without ammunition in your rifle was a cheerless unexciting chore where a "lark in the Park" offered some diversion. I know the feeling of the luckless L.D.F. man on that occasion as a generation later the same scene was played out again. This time it was a different Garda Sergeant whose son was caught in similar circumstances in the same Park. The young man on being caught in the beam of his father's flashlamp bore more than a passing resemblance to a frightened rabbit caught in a lampers spotlight.

From Gaelic football to politics seemed an almost inevitable transition especially for someone like Tadhg involved from a very young age with the best traditions of Gaelic Ireland. In 1949 he joined the local Fianna Fail Cumann and successfully stood for the local Urban District Council in 1959. He remembers discussions even then concerning an Inner Relief Road and an Outer Relief Road for Athy which after 35 years are still being talked about as possibilities for the future. He remembers fondly those who were in the local Cumann at that time, all of whom have passed on. John W. Kehoe, M.G. Nolan, John Stafford, Liam Ryan, Tom Moore, Eddie Purcell, Joe Murphy, Christy "Bluebeard" Dunne, Mick McHugh and Paddy Dooley. Paddy was later to be elected to Dail Eireann as a Fianna Fail T.D. in 1959 following a campaign the success of which owed much to his Athy colleagues M.G. Nolan, Liam Ryan and Tadhg Brennan.

Sport and politics and the practice of law seemed more than enough for one man but he also found time to be involved in the Social Club and amateur dramatics with the Social Club players. He regards the Social Club started by Fr. Morgan Crowe with Joe Hickey, Tim Hickey, M.G. Nolan, Tim O'Sullivan, Liam Ryan, John Stafford and Pat Mulhall as the greatest social asset the town of Athy has had in the last 50 years. The Club commenced as the Geraldine Tennis Club on the Carlow Road and with the purchase of the British Legion Hall in St. John's Lane, added billiards and badminton to the range of Club activities. In 1941 or 1942 the Club started an amateur dramatic society which was a most successful adjunct to the Club for the following 21 years. Highlight of those years on the amateur stage was the Social Club players success in the Fr. Matthew Drama Festival in Dublin in 1949. Tadhg and his colleagues won the highest award then available for amateur dramatics in Ireland with Frank Carney's play "The Righteous Are Bold". Actors and actresses remembered from those days include Jo and Florrie Lawler, Ger Moriarty, Ken Reynolds, Dave Walsh, Tommy Walsh, May Fenelon, Liam Ryan, Kitty McLoughlin, Nellie Fox, Mollie Moore, Dermot Mullan, Patsy O'Neill, Mary Harrington and Joe Martin. The Social Club players worked with many famous dramatists and producers as they sought to scale the dramatic heights. Many still recall the involvement of Lennox Robinson of the Abbey Theatre, also P.J. O'Connor of Radio Eireann and Isley and McCabe of the Gaiety Theatre. They all travelled to Athy as guest Directors of productions put on by the Social Club players in the Town Hall or the Club premises in St. John's Lane. Tadhg was highly regarded as an actor, bringing to his roles an intensity of feeling and expression worthy of many performances on the Dublin stage.

All the time Tadhg continued to carry on a very successful legal practice in Athy and was appointed State Solicitor in 1963. He resigned from his practice in 1978 on taking up an appointment as County Registrar for County Kildare, a position he held until 1990. He moved to Naas on being appointed County Registrar but has returned to live in Athy and has brought with him the rich store of memories of his younger years spent in Athy.

In a legal career stretching back over 50 years Tadhg has witnessed many changes in the law from both sides of what I may call the legal divide. Firstly as a defender of those who stood charged before the Courts, like all good lawyers he brought to his task an extraordinary degree of detachment and an ability to suspend disbelief. In later years as State Solicitor his legal training and experience was put to work in the interest of the State in many successful prosecutions of those who infringed the Criminal Code. In whatever role he performed whether in Court, on stage or on the playing field in his younger days, Tadhg always brought to his task energy, skill and authority.