Thursday, March 27, 1997

Jack Murphy of Convent View

Last week Jack Murphy passed away at the age of 94 years. He had been a bicycle mechanic all of his working life. The heyday of the bicycle has long gone and with it the skill of the bicycle mechanic. Indeed, the motor mechanic who succeeded the bicycle mechanic is himself in danger of extinction with the new fangled diagnostic machinery now being built for the cars of today.

Jack first started work in 1919 with Duthie Larges in Leinster Street and about eight years later moved up the street to Jackson Brothers when they started a motor and bicycle business. Both Duthie Larges and Jacksons have since disappeared from the commercial life of Athy.

The first Jackson to come to the town was Francis Robert Jackson who was the local station master employed by the Great Southern Railway Company. A man with apparent entrepreneurial flair, he became involved in the sale of grain waste from Guinesses Brewery in Dublin. He rented the yard at the rear of McEvoy's Public House in Leinster Street from where he carried on business under another persons name while at the same time remaining on as Station Master in Athy. The Railway Company disapproved of his commercial activities and this ultimately led to him resigning his position and purchasing a shop in Leinster Street where he lived with his family for a number of years. He developed a hardware and general merchants business on the premises which was later to grow into the most substantial business outlet of its kind in Athy.

The older generations will remember Jacksons which was always referred to as Jackson Brothers. This was a hark back to the days when the developing business was carried on by the original proprietor Robert Francis, with his two brothers John and William. The prospering business activities of the brothers were brought to a temporary halt in 1907 when their two storied

shop premises was destroyed by fire. The local newspaper reported the disaster as follows :-

"A few minutes before three o clock this morning a fire was discovered on the premises of Jackson Bros. Athy, hardware and general merchants. The residential portion of the premises consists of a two-storey house facing Leinster Street, and a wing at the back or north side...................... The newly formed fire brigade was summoned, and soon arrived as did a large force of police, under Head-Constable Blessing. The efforts of the brigade were principally directed towards keeping the flames from spreading to the adjoining buildings, and in this they were successful. So fierce however, were the flames that within half an hour the roof of the building fell in, and subsequently the walls collapsed. The extensive stores at the back were also burned to the ground."

The shop was re-built and the opportunity was taken to purchase adjoining premises. The hardware and grocery extended over a very large premises which are now occupied by Perrys Supermarket and the adjoining Goggin Hardware Shop. The man who started the business, the former Station Master Francis Robert Jackson died in 1916 and his interests were assumed by his eldest surviving son and namesake, Francis Robert. Before his death Francis Jackson, the elder, had been living in Kilkea House and previously in Shamrock Lodge, Kildare Road where he had moved with his family from the living quarters over the original shop in Leinster Street. It was the second Francis Robert Jackson who in the early 1920'2 opened the garage to cater for the then developing motor business. He obtained permission from Athy Urban District Council to install petrol pumps on Leinster Street and it was to join the newly opened garage that Jack Murphy left Duthie Larges in 1927. Jackson Brothers prospered over the years and it was Francis Robert Jackson, the son of the founder of the firm who purchased Farmhill on the Carlow Road as the family residence. He was also to buy out the interest of his

uncles John Jackson and William Jackson in the family business
which however continued to be known as Jackson Brothers.

Francis Robert Jackson died in October 1949 and was succeeded by his son Francis Kenneth whom locals will recall lived in Farm Hill, the house first purchased by his father. Francis Kenneth, known locally as Ken, worked in the Leinster Street Shop before serving in Italy during World War II where he attained the rank of Major. On his return to Athy he continued the business first set up by his Grandfather improving and expanding it over the years. It was a coincidence that in Leinster Street were to be found two thriving businesses, one managed by Major Jackson while the other was controlled by Colonel Hosie, both of whom served overseas during World War II. Jackson Brothers continued in business until 1963 when a Receiver was appointed and the business was eventually sold. Quinns opened their hardware business in one part of the premises while Byrnes had a supermarket in that portion of the property now occupied by Perrys.

Jack Murphy had left Jacksons long before Francis Robert Jackson had taken over the business. Injured at work he lost a finger and his job in Jacksons Garage, but was fortunately able to rejoin his old employers, Duthie Larges where he was to remain until 1979. As I wrote in a previous Eye on the Past on Jack Murphy when he retired at 78 years of age, Leinster Street no longer had a Duthie or a Large or a Jackson in business.

Thursday, March 20, 1997

Herterich's Pork Butchers

Paul Herterich closed the door of his pork butchers shop in Duke Street for the last time on Saturday, 29th March. Another family's long connection with the business life in Athy has now become part of the towns history. The departure of the Herterich name from our main street is a sad reminder of the everchanging face of Irish life as new occupations and skills push out the old and the traditional. Butcher shops, once a familiar site in every town and village in Ireland, are fast disappearing, a victim of the one stop shopping environment established and developed by the supermarket conglomerates.

Paul's father Ernest Herterich opened the doors of his pork butchers shop in Athy in February, 1942 in a premises purchased the previous year from Slaters Bookmakers. He was a member of a large family, the head of which was his father George Herterich who had emigrated from England at the turn of this century. George's father was German born Karl Godfrey Herterich who had opened a pork shop in Preston, England where he died in 1909. George Herterich emigrated to Ireland with two friends, George Haffner and George Mogley and all three were to be involved in pork butchering in one way or the other for the rest of their lives. Haffner was in time to found a sausage manufacturing business of the same name, while Mogley operated a pork butchers shop on the South Circular Road in Dublin. George Herterich opened his first business in Newry, Northern Ireland which did not succeed. He then moved to Dublin where he and his family lived in Percy Place, while he worked with Haffner Sausages.

In or about 1926 George set up a pork butchers business in Main Street, Naas which flourished and from where the later Herterich pork butchering empire was to spring. George and his wife Maud had eleven children, all of whom with he exception of their daughter Alice are now deceased. As the head of the Herterich family, George was noted for his strongly held views on the "perfidious" nature of Roman Catholicism which found expression in a tale often told of George and the annual Corpus Christi procession in Naas. Apparently the procession wound its way around the back of his property and passed a spot on George's wall where someone mischievously or otherwise had placed a statue. George stood nonchalantly at the side of the wall while the procession approached and as the standard bearers drew close, he tumbled the statue to the ground with a flick of his hand where it smashed in smithereens.

What is extraordinary to relate is that all eleven of his children became Catholics, and even his wife Maud was receiving instruction in the Catholic faith when she died. His two eldest sons, Charlie and Fred apparently made their decision to convert without recourse to their parents and on the pretext of travelling to football matches, cycled to Mass in Newbridge each Sunday morning. Ernest, who was to set up business in Athy, wanted to marry local Naas girl, Margaret Mahon but in the days of Ne Temere could not do so without himself being received into the Catholic Church. On approaching the local Parish Priest, Ernest was advised to his astonishment to discuss the matter with his two older brothers who unknown to him had already become Catholics.

The Herterich story is not limited to extraordinary happenings on the religious front, but follows the trail of the eight sons of George and Maud who opened up pork butchering businesses throughout the country. Charlie took over his father's business on the latter's death in 1932, while Fred opened up a shop in Galway which is still going strong. Ernest came to Athy and his brother Reggie went west to Tuam, both shops having since closed. Louis Herterich opened his pork shop in Longford, George in Newbridge and after his early death Harry opened up there. Desmond Herterich had his own shop in Westport which is still in business. Of the nine pork shops opened over the years, only three are still in operation. Ernest Herterich died in Athy in 1967 aged fifty three years and now the business he started fifty five years ago has closed for the last time.

As a young lad I can recall the enormously appetizing cooked hams which were once the hallmark of Herterich Pork Butchers. Unlike today, ham was then something acquired for the special guests, especially someone who arrived unannounced at teatime. Their presence generally necessitated a quick rethink on the evenings eating arrangements and a high tea was quickly assembled after a dash to Herterichs Pork Shop. There the whole cooked hams looked splendid in their dressed state, awaiting your choice before being plucked from the cabinet and sat comfortably into the slicer where the thin slices of meat were carefully assembled for weighing. A slice more or less could make all the difference as regards an equal distribution between young family members, the guest of course always having more than the rest of us and generally far too much for one person. At least that is what one could only presume from the protestations which always seemed to greet the proffered plate of ham. "Ah, sure that's too much for me" was the oft repeated claim which however never seemed to result in a more even distribution of Herterich's ham amongst the rest of us around the kitchen table.

The delights of Herterich's homecooked hams are today replaced by the bland uniformity of the Supermarket product which lacks the taste, texture and aroma of that which we enjoyed so many years ago. The closure of Herterich's Pork Shop would seem to suggest that we value convenience shopping more than we do the wholesome distinctive qualities which are the hallmark of the local shopkeeper.

Thursday, March 13, 1997

Cobh - Emigration - Heritage Centre

I sat at my desk this evening to write of a recent trip to Cobh, gateway to the Americas. It was for me a journey of discovery revealing as it did the evocative nature of Irish history. But as I sat poised to commence the article my eye fastened on a small, somewhat battered green card lying on my desk. Eighty seven years ago that card was sold for the sum of two shillings guaranteeing its purchaser a reserved seat for the Grand Popular Concert in the Town Hall, Athy, on St. Patrick's Night 1910. The Concert was given by the members of the "Athy Pierot Troupe" including Miss Stanford Campbell and Mr. Sealy Jeffares. Songs, choruses, instrumental selections and national dances were on offer for those attending. I have no knowledge of Miss Campbell or Mr. Jeffares or indeed any other member of the "Athy Pierrot Troupe", all of whom have undoubtedly passed away, almost certainly forgotten and unremembered. As they performed on the Town Hall stage that night they were possibly the most talked about group of individuals in the town. Their time is now long passed and their lives have disappeared unmarked and without leaving a trace in our own time.

I had a similar sense of loss as I travelled last week on the road between Cork and Cobh. At times the road narrowed between old stone walls which could have been there for over 100 years and it was then that thoughts crowded in on my mind of emigrants who once made the same journey. I could imagine them travelling with heavy hearts but as the harbour of Cobh came into view their tired faltering steps quickened in anticipation of the adventures that lay ahead. I thought also of the 37 young orphan girls sent from Athy Workhouse to Australia between 1849 and 1850. They were part of the 4,000 or so exported from Ireland under the Orphan Emigration Scheme introduced by the English Government following the Great Famine in order to reduce the number of children in Irish Workhouses. Those young girls probably travelled the same road as I did but they were destined never again to return to their homeland.

I paid a visit to the Heritage Centre located in the old Railway building of the harbour town which told of the origins, history and legacy of Cobh under the general title of the Queenstown Story. I have previously written of Ellis Island, New York, where the Irish emigrants of a later generation were to disembark for health and other checks before being allowed on to the mainland. In the post Famine years most emigrants from Ireland travelled to Canada ending up in Gosse Island which served as a receiving station for those crossing the Atlantic. The Irish travelled to America and Canada from many Irish ports but Cobh is fixed in most of our minds as the departure point for the greater number emigrating from this island. We will never know how many Athy men and women looked upon the towering spires of St. Colman's Cathedral in Cobh as their ships sailed over seas. The personal stories of the thousands who have left this area over the last 150 years cannot now ever hope to be told. All that may now remain, perhaps laid aside and forgotten, are mementos of a time and of a place which can never be reclaimed. Letters, cards and personal effects of the emigrants are like the ticket for the St. Patrick's Night Concert in 1910, a nostalgic reminder of another forgotten age.

The Queenstown Story as related in the Heritage Centre failed to catch my imagination despite the enormous advantages which the wealth of Cobh's historical links should have gained for it. I did not come away with a sense of the awfulness which must have attended the coffin ships and the convict ships which sailed from Cobh. The story of Irish emigration is a sad but inspiring one which gives enormous opportunity in its telling for the rich tapestry of history to be unfolded in its most lucid colours. That opportunity was not seized in the Cobh Heritage Centre and while I came away satisfied enough with what I had read, heard and seen I still long for a more dramatic retelling of a story in which people from my area of Co. Kildare played a part.

The importance of a Heritage Centre in a designated Heritage Town can perhaps be over emphasised. For instance in Cobh there was obvious neglect visible in the grass infested roads and pathways and in the poor state of many shop fronts. Athy could well take to heart the lessons to be learned from this and ensure that its shop fronts, street furniture and road signage complement and support its heritage status. Our Heritage Centre will be ready towards to end of the Summer and it is perhaps now we should be reviewing the need to replace the ugly road signs around the town. Time also to get rid of the E.S.B. sub-stations erected in Barrow Quay and Woodstock Street in the 1930's and time indeed to take away the unsightly poles on our streets and put the overhead wires under ground.

The site of our new Heritage Centre, the ground floor of the Town Hall, this week began to take on an appearance it last had over 100 years ago. It was once an open area which provided shelter for the Town Market and as the walls later built to provide meeting rooms are pulled down we can more easily visualise the market as it was at the beginning of the last century. Here was the centre of commercial life in 18th and 19th century Athy and as we head into the second millennium we are reshaping the building yet again confirming its status as the cultural centre of our town.

Thursday, March 6, 1997

Athy's Town Hall

There is a feeling of nostalgia in the air this week. As a child of Offaly Street, l look upon the development of Butler's Row and the refurbishment of the ground floor of the Town Hall as further proof, if such is required, that the Town of my childhood is changing every so rapidly. The row of little houses in Butler's Row have been demolished and replaced by modern semi-detached models of the Architect's Training and Skill. It's the demolition work on the ground floor of the Town Hall which commenced on the Tuesday after St. Patrick's Day which brings back memories of times not so long ago.

When the builders have finished reshaping what was once the butter market, in its place we will have a Heritage Centre. I never imagined that such a thing existed when as a young fellow I played in the back square under the watchful eye of Jim Dempsey the Weighmaster. He sat in his little office alongside the Weighbridge which was positioned at the entrance of what up to last week was the Fire Station. Then of course the Fire Station was located in Meeting Lane and the Town Hall housed nothing more than the Wright family, the Ballroom on the First Floor and the Freemasons Lodge at the top of the building. What an extraordinary combination that was in the grand building which was provided for the people of Athy by the Duke of Leinster in the early years of the Eighteenth Century.

The initial construction date for the Town Hall is unclear although it was an existence by the time Bishop Pocoke passed through the town in 1745 . He noted "a new market house at Athy". It was for this purpose that the building was first constructed where its arcaded structure provided easy access for traders while protecting them and their wares from the vagaries of the Irish Weather. The building of the new corn exchange in 1862, a building later converted to use as the Courthouse, reinforced the Market Square as the Commercial Centre of Athy in the Nineteenth Century.

The ground floor of the Townhall served as the Market Place while the upper stories functioned as the centre of local Government during the days of the Borough Council of Athy. A number of borough officers would have used the Townhall. These included the Recorder, the Sergeants at Mace, the Town Clerk and Billet Master, the Bellman, the Weighmaster and the Inspector of Coal and Culm. Also on the first floor of the Townhall was the Courtroom where many a local man and woman faced the fearsome rigours of eighteenth and nineteenth Century Irish Law. Lengthy prison sentences were then common place even for what we would now regard as the simplest form of offence. The theft of a chicken merited the harsh penalty of seven years imprisonment which was served in the primitive conditions of the White Castle Prison up to 1830. Thereafter the new jail on the Carlow Road was the centre of detention where the prisoners at least could expect a more reasonable standard of care during their confinement. The Courtroom was a scene of many notable trials including those of persons implicated in the 1798 Rebellion and Robert Emmets Rebellion of five years later. The infamous hanging Judge Lord Norbury sat in Judgement on offenders in the Town Hall and on one memorable occasion he had a Jury which displeased him transported in turf baskets on the back of jennets to the borders of Co. Laois.

In the more recent years the Ballroom was a welcome addition to the facilities provided in the Town Hall. Again it was the Duke of Leinster who had the Ballroom incorporated into the building which was owned by the Duke's Family before it was acquired by Kildare County Council. For natives of Athy, the Ballroom holds many memories. A Theatre at times, it was home to successive amateur dramatic clubs and to Musical Societies long before the Social Club in St. John's Lane came on stream. Indeed, I can recall the very first play I attended in the Town Hall when I was a young lad, I was brought to the Town Hall by my older brother Jack to see "The Barrets of Wimpole Street". The Social Club players were involved and I have never forgotten what for me was a most memorable experience. Later on the Ballroom was a scene of Sunday afternoon dancing classes organised by Cara an Irish Language Organisation started in Athy forty years ago. There my pals and I made our first faltering attempts to follow in the dancing footsteps of our elders all of whom seemed to us to possess uncanny and seemingly unlearnable Ballroom Dancing skills. But the intricacies of the quick step were in time to be conquered even by us clumsily corduroyed lads of the late 1950's and before long we were able to strut our skill with the best of them. Indeed, the Town Hall Ballroom provided a great training ground for us before we transferred our allegience to Dreamland Ballroom when it opened its doors in 1961. By then the Town Hall was no longer the local dancing mecca having lost out to the Ritz in Carlow and Lawler's of Naas. Everything however was put to right with the coming of the Reynolds Brothers to Athy and the opening of Dreamland. The Town Hall was forgotten as we made the weekly Sunday night trip up past Blackparks to the Glitzy Lights of Athy's newest attraction.

As in life the wheel turns full circle and here we are over thirty five years later returning to the Town Hall. The lights have long gone out in Dreamland and its the ancient Buttermarket Building that is now about to come to life again.