Thursday, May 29, 1997

Refuse collection in 19th century Athy

Much of life in Athy is carried on in a seamless and carefree manner. We have the amenities of modern society to thank for this, whether it be the water in our taps, the heat from our radiators or the weekly collection of rubbish from our doors. This was brought home to me most acutely while I perused notes I had taken many years ago from back issues of the Nationalist Newspapers dating as far back as the turn of the century. What struck me was the very same facilities that we take for granted were in their absence the source of many problems in the town. In an era before internal plumbing in houses was commonplace, the inhabitants of the town had to concern themselves with the disposal of all forms of domestic waste and refuse. This gave rise to a particular problem which was reported in the paper on the 13th February 1904.

“At the Athy Petty Session on Tuesday a larger number of parties were at the behest of the Urban Council fined for creating obstructions by allowing heaps of manure to accumulate outside the doors on the streets at their residences. At this time the occupants of small houses sell whatever manure is accumulating in their back premises to the local shopkeepers and farmers. The manure has of course to be transferred to the streets where it is sometimes allowed to remain for days constituting a source of danger and presenting a most unsightly appearance. It is a pity however that the real culprits, the purchasers, can apparently escape scot free. In one case disposed of on Tuesday the defendant, a delicate, sickly and indeed hungry looking old woman who was in receipt of 1 shilling and 6 pence a week out door relief was ordered to pay in fines and costs exactly what she received for the manure, 2 shillings. Yet in the case it was shown that the purchaser had bought the manure fully a week before it was transferred to the street. It’s failure to remove it resulted in the unfortunate woman who sold it being punished in a manner almost beyond bearing. Neglect of this description is certainly a crime.”

The principal complaint of the writer was what he perceived as the inequitable treatment of a poor, old woman. Of interest to the social historian is the detail the report provides regarding the living conditions of the period.

Towns varied in their tolerance towards the keeping of dunghills outside private houses. One writer noted - ‘Every house had a heap of refuse outside it, partly because many horses and pigs were kept in the towns, and partly because destruction of refuse by burning was not considered safe.’ In Cambridge in 1402 dung and filth was allowed to accumulate in heaps for up to seven days while in York in the late fourteenth century any accumulation that could be called a heap was prohibited.

Up to the last century Athy Council had a centre at Green Alley and another in the back Square for the accumulation of manure collected from the streets which was then auctioned off every few months to local farmers.

Refuse collection was as you would expect not a service provided in mediaeval towns. Squalor and filth was an integral part of street life of that time. Householders disposed of their rubbish by dumping it outside the town walls or into the river which ran through or around the town. An Act of 1388 prohibited the pollution of rivers and ordered that refuse be carted away. It was around this time that towns such as Athy began to formalise arrangements for disposal of refuse and designated specific areas as dumping sites. The modern system of refuse collection began with the Public Health Ireland Act 1875 which required local Councils to provide for the collection of refuse from private houses on appointed days during the week.

The writer, Theo Richmond, in his book ‘Konin’ dealing with his mothers home town in Poland noted the arrangements the townspeople had for the disposal of waste in the 1920’s -

‘We shared our toilet with two other families. When it came to cleaning, every family had to do it - wipe the wooden seat and so on. The seat was on top of a kind of wooden box. Underneath was a deep hole in the ground. Everything from the seven toilets went into the same hole. Late on Friday night a Polish peasant with a horse and cart came along. There was an opening in the ground outside the shed. They used a long pole with a bucket on the end to get everything out. They poured it into a tank on the back of the cart and took it to the farmers who used it as manure, so they took it away for nothing’.

A memoir of the mid-19th century recalls the individual known as the nightsoil man :-

‘There was the man who came, mysteriously, in the night, every month or so, to empty the earth closet, the little shed screened by bushes, which stood in the corner of the tiny yard by the side of the house. No one ever talked about him, the nightsoil man with his horse and creaking cart. He came when we were all supposed to be asleep and it was proper to behave as though he did not exist’.

Life today is made relatively easy by the public utilities available to us. The nightsoil man, the public lamp lighter and the “scavenger” are no more and in their place are the highly trained technicians who monitor gauges in specially equipped stations such as the modern filtration and pumping system recently installed by Athy UDC at Ardrew.

Thursday, May 22, 1997

Athy Gaelic Football Club

On Sunday the 2nd October 1887 a General Meeting of the newly formed Athy Gaelic Football Club was held and Rev. James Carroll C.C. was elected President with David Walsh, Thomas Dignan and Edward O’Reilly as Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary respectively. The Committee included D. Foley, W. Doriss, N. Hoban, J. George and M. Scully. The meeting noted that Athy Brass Band had donated their musical instruments to the club and that a house had been procured for band practice and the use of Club members.

A report in the Kildare Observer of the 22nd of October 1887 gives a flavour of the almost genteel activities of the Club in these pre-competition days. “A practice came off on the Club grounds on Sunday last at 3.00 o’clock. A large number of people were present and the proceedings were most enjoyable. Mr. J.E. Nolan and Mr. A. Stynes having called sides the ball was set in motion by Mr. E. J. O’Reilly, the Referee, and there was an excellent evenings amusement. Another practice will be held on Sunday next”.

The report of the “second practice match of football” confirmed that “most of the players appeared for the first time in costume”. A meeting of the members was called on the following Sunday to elect a Captain and Vice-Captain for the first and second teams. Mr. P. Lawler of Farmhill was elected Captain with Mr. Scully Vice-Captain of the first team. The members of the Club totalled 150 in 1887 and according to the local newspaper “additional members are enroling every day”.

The first competitive match involving the new Athy Club was played on the 13th November 1887 against Knock, Co. Laois in Mr. Anthony’s field in Rathstewart. The visitors were declared the winners when the Athy team objected to the Knock team wearing heavy nail boots. Patrick Lawler and his team later withdrew their objection and although helped by team mates who included Ms. Bonfield, McConville, Dooley, Anthwell, Scully, Lawler had to concede defeat on the score of 3 goals and some points to nil for the home team. The visitors were later treated in Kavanaghs Hotel in Leinster Street.

Athy played its first Senior Championship match in 1889 when a draw was secured against a Suncroft Team in Monasterevin. Athy won the replay but lost to Sallins in the second round. Athy reached its first semi-final in 1904 when defeated 4-12 to 0-0 by Roseberry. This set back caused Athy to drop out of the Championship for the next two years and to re-enter at Junior level. In 1907 Athy had its first ever success winning the Junior Championship against Caragh following a re-play.

Further success was to elude Athy for many years. On the 4th of May 1924 at Newbridge the Athy team played its first Senior Championship final. The victory in what was the 1923 Championship final went to Naas on the score 2-6 to 0-0. In 1925 Athy beat Caragh in the semi-final but subsequently lost on an objection. Athy lost in two successive finals in 1926 and 1927 and doubts began to emerge as to the Club’s ability on the big day. Success eventually came when Athy won its first Senior Championship beating Rathangan in the 1933 final. In the following year Athy won its second Championship Final beating Raheens after a re-play. Successful again in 1937 when beating Sarsfields, Athy lost the 1941 final to Carbery before exacting revenge on the same team in the 1942 final following a re-play. Athy was not again to win the Championship until 1987 after losses in 1946 and 1978. The 1987 Championship win was at the expense of Johnstown Bridge on the score 2-9 to 0-9.

In 1905 the Club rented a field from the South Kildare Agricultural Society. The successful development of the playing pitch and spectator area resulted in the Athy Club hosting the All Ireland Football Final for 1906 and the Hurling Final for 1908 in what is now called Geraldine Park. Leinster Football Finals were played in Athy, in 1907, 1908, 1942 and 1944 and the Leinster Hurling Final in 1907. Over the years many men have contributed to the success of Geraldine Park as a venue for Gaelic Games. Frank O’Brien Snr., Christy Walsh and Martin Hayden contributed much in the early years and in 1926 Seamus Malone, a teacher in the Local Christain Brothers School spearheaded further improvements at Geraldine Park. Banking for spectators was first provided in 1937 and completed in 1950 using material cleared for an extension to the local Asbestos factory. A further major development in 1950 was the provision of seating, the building of dressing rooms and the levelling and enclosing of the playing pitch. Playing a leading part in this was local District Court Clerk Fintan Brennan who was Chairman of the Leinster Council between 1945 and 1947. John W. Kehoe a Publican in Offaly Street was Chairman of the Geraldine Park Grounds Committee when a boundary wall was built in the early 1960’s to be followed some years later by the provision of modern dressing rooms. The building of the Clubhouse in 1988 was the final act in the development of Geraldine Park which had commenced in 1905.

Athy Gaelic Football Club has given many stars to Gaelic Football over the years. Those who have achieved County or inter-provincial selection include Tommy Mulhall, a player of matchless artistry, Barney Dunne a Cavan man still happily with with us who was the only Athy player to win four Senior Club Championship medals. Johnny McEvoy, a goalkeeper of considerable skill and bravery later played with the great Larry Stanley on the Garda team and won a Dublin Senior Championship medal in 1948 to add to the Kildare Championship medal won with Athy in 1937. Danny Flood first played in Kildare in 1954 and occupied the full back position for many years, winning a Leinster Senior Championship medal in 1956. Mick Carolan started with the County team in 1958 and was still a regular on the team fourteen years later. In more recent years Footballing Stars in Athy and indeed in County Kildare have been somewhat scarce. Gaelic Football in the short grass county has been living for a long time on memories of past glories. Hopefully Clubs like Athy will herald the arrival of a successful County Football Team which will regain for us a pride which has lain dormant for so long.

Thursday, May 15, 1997

Fitzgeralds - Dukes of Leinster

I recently attended a seminar in St. Werburgh Church in Dublin, a Church dating in part from the end of the 12th century. It also has many links with Athy and particularly with two members of Anglo-Norman families with connections to the town. In 1715-1719 the Church was rebuilt to the design of Colonel Thomas Burgh who also designed Bert House, Athy for his brother. Burgh also designed Trinity Library and Dr. Steven’s Hospital which can now be seen at its most splendid following its refurbishment as the headquarters of the Eastern Health Board.

In the vaults beneath the Church lie the remains of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a member of the United Irishmen and for a period a member of Parliament for the Borough of Athy. By a strange coincidence the man who captured him, Major Sirr, lies in the Church Yard of St. Werburghs.

It was during the morning break in the Seminar that I was told of the recent tragic death of what was claimed to be the last direct descendent of the Dukes of Leinster. Thomas Fitzgerald who as Lord Offaly would have succeeded in time to the premier title in Ireland, died at the young age of 23 years in a car accident in the Midlands. He was the only son of the Marquis and Marchioness of Kildare and Grand-son of the present Duke and Duchess of Leinster.

The Fitzgerald family have lived in England for the last 40 years or so, following the sale of their ancient seat of Kilkea Castle. Their connection with the town of Athy lives on in the Street names of our town. William Street, Duke Street, Leinster Street, Offaly Street, Stanhope Street and Emily Square all commemorate members of the Leinster family. Strangely enough Lord Edward Fitzgerald fondly remembered as the Irish Patriot who took a leading part in the planning of the 1798 Rebellion has not given his name to any street in the town which he represented as a Member of Parliament. Maybe in the 1798 bicentenary which will be celebrated next year this omission can be corrected and due honour paid to the man whose family has such long links with Athy.

The family’s association with County Kildare began in 12th century. The Geraldine family of which the Kildare’s were a branch were prominent in the early stages of the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland. Their kinsmen, the annalist and cleric, Gerald of Wales writing in the twelfth century eulogised the power and influence the family had in the settlement of Ireland. He noted that they were the most successful in subjugating the native Irish.

By the close of the 13th century the Kildare’s owned large tracts of County Kildare with important castles at Kildare, Maynooth and Woodstock in Athy. In 1316 John Fitzthomas, Lord of Offaly, was made Earl of Kildare as reward for service to the crown during the invasion of Bruce, the Scottish King’s brother. By the early 16th century the Fitzgeralds had consolidated their power to such an extent that they effectively were the most powerful family in Ireland.

The Kildare Rental book of 1518 shows that they held extensive lands in Kildare, Carlow, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Wexford and Dublin. Until the mid-sixteenth century they virtually monopolised the office of Lord Deputy, the Kings representative in Ireland. One Tudor official complained that the deputyship was regarded as the inheritance of the Earls of Kildare. The revolt of Silken Thomas, son of the 12th Earl saw the confiscation of much of their property. Although they never were to attain the same power they had before the revolt of 1534 their influence was still significant. In 1598 Sir Henry Yallop noted that there was “hardly a native of the Kingdom who is not dependent on either the Earl of Ormond or the Earl of Kildare”.

Thereafter the family although extensive landowners did not involve themselves to the same degree in intrigue for power, though within the county of Kildare they effectively controlled the nomination and election of MP’s from the Athy borough up to the early 19th century. As a the primary owners of property in the town their influence on its development in the 18th and 19th centuries was profound. Many of the principal public building are attributable to the interest of the various Duke’s in the town. The construction of the town hall is believed to have been financed by the Leinster family as was the corn exchange, now the courthouse. The layout of Emily square is also a product of their influence.

The market rights granted to Athy by King Henry VIII under the Charter of 1515 was for a Tuesday Market “in a place deputed or ordained therefor by Gerald, Earl of Kildare.” The Market Place chosen was the open ground near the River Barrow on it’s East Bank, now known as Emily Square. In 1669 the King of England was petitioned to grant leave to hold two additional Fairs in Athy. Up to then the town had only one Fair on Michaelmas Day and it was felt that “an ancient and loyal corporation seated in the heart of a plentiful country for both corn and cattle” should also have Fairs of three days duration in May and November. The petition supported by the Fitzgeralds as Landlords of Athy was successful.

The presence of a Presbyterian Community in the town is the result of a migration scheme initiated by the Duke of Leinster following the Great Famine to introduce Scottish cottiers to his estates around Athy. Those who accepted the Duke’s offer of lands and houses in South Kildare mainly came from Perthshire and Eastern Scotland. As Scottish settlers they brought with them the industry and energy of the native Scot, together with their religion, Presbyterianism. Throughout the early months of 1851 the settlers arrived in Athy, a town which in centuries past had witnessed similar arrivals from across the Irish Sea. By June of that year 17 Presbyterian families had settled in the area. In February 1852 a site for a Presbyterian Church had been acquired from the Duke of Leinster on the Dublin Road. A foundation stone for the Church was laid in September 1855 and the Church, known locally as the Scotch Church was opened in 1856. Another member of the Fitzgerald Family who is still remembered today is Lord Walter Fitzgerald, historian and antiquarian who was responsible for the formation of Kildare Archaeological Society in the last decade of the 19th century. He was responsible for collecting an enormous amount of local history material and for encouraging an awareness and an appreciation of the wealth of local historical material and the built heritage of County Kildare.

If the death of Lord Offaly is in fact the end of the direct line of the Fitzgerald Family, it marks a sad end to what was once the most powerful family in this Island. The legacy of the Fitzgerald Family to the town of Athy is a proud one and is best exemplified in that important urban space, an architectural composition occupying a central position in Athy - Emily Square. How strange it is that the Fitzgerald Family should suffer such a tragic loss at a time when plans are afoot to put a new road through the centre of Athy and to deprive us of one of the most important elements which makes Athy such an attractive town.

Thursday, May 8, 1997

Castlemitchell Meggars Club

Horse Shoe pitching or “Meggars” as it is locally called has been part of rural life in Ireland for as long as cast off horse shoes have been available. It is claimed to have originated in Roman Times when soldiers spent their leisure hours in camp throwing or pitching horse shoes in friendly competition. Today the sport has evolved as a skillful and well organised one using purpose made pitcher shoes manufactured to a standard size and weight.

In the Irish context, horse shoe pitching is not regarded as a particularly ancient sport. This may well have been because of the large number of small holdings in rural Ireland which did not justify the ownership of even a single horse. It was in the 1940’s that pitching became popular especially during the war years when other forms of sport and entertainment were difficult to organise. The equipment for the game was readily available in all rural areas and before long, weekend matches gained a popularity they have not since lost.

It was in County Wexford that the first Meggar Clubs were organised in Ireland. Counties Laois, Carlow and Kildare were soon to follow and in Ballykilcavan between Athy and Stradbally, meggars were played in the mid 1940’s. In the late 1960’s, meggars was a popular game played by workers in the Sugar Factory in Carlow during their lunch break. In time a club was formed in the factory and soon after the factory workers from Counties Kildare and Laois established Clubs in their own areas. In March 1974, the Midland Horse Shoe League was formed with Clubs affiliated from Cossets of Carlow, Erin Foods of Carlow, Maganey, Tollerton and Ballinabranagh. The first Club from this locality was Castlemitchell founded in 1976. The founder Members included the late Pat Pender and Luke Kinsella and Mick English who later went on to found a Meggars Club in Bray, Athy.

The Castlemitchell Club played on the local green using cast off Horse shoes which were pitched to a spike set in the ground a distance of 33 feet away. The numbers playing increased and as interest developed, a second team was formed in Castlemitchell. This was later to form the nucleus of the highly successful Gouleyduff Team which was founded in 1980. Founder Members included Denis Ryan, Martin Mulhall, Pat Ward, Jim Mulhall and Denis Prendergast. They played in the field next to P.J. Prendergast’s house in Gouleyduff.

Kilberry Meggars Club followed in 1981. Originally based in Mick Drea’s field, the Club Members now play on the green in Kilberry. Mick Drea, Joe McDermott, Mick Clinton and Jimmy Fitzpatrick were some of the original Members of the Kilberry Club. Some short time afterwards, a Club was formed in Churchtown with Billy Harris, Jim Kane, Stephen Lawler and the late Jack “Thatcher”-Carbery as Members. They practised and played on Billy Harris’s field.

When Mick English, one of the Founder Members of the Castlemitchell went to live in Bray, Athy, he was instrumental in forming the Bray Meggars Club with Mick Bolger, Charlie Sourke and Joe Martin.

Today the Gouleyduff, Bray, Churchtown and Kilberry Clubs play under what are described as the Wexford Rules and are Members of the County Kildare Horse Shoe Pitchers. These local clubs are amongst the most successful in the Country. Castlemitchell Club won the inaugural All Ireland Club Championship played in Fairyhouse in County Meath in 1978 with the team of Mick English, Paddy Byrne, John and Charlie Sourke, Pat Prendergast and Luke Kinsella. Since then the Gouleyduff Team has won the All Ireland Championship on three occasions. Victories in 1982, 1989 were followed by last years All Ireland win in Timahoe, Co. Laois. The winning team then comprised Joe Phillips Captain, Pat Ward, John Kelly, Paddy Byrne, Denis Ryan and James Hosy. As a result of that victory, the All Ireland Meggars Club Championship for 1997 will be held in Tegral’s Sport Field in Athy on the Whit Weekend.

Competitions will start on Saturday evening the 31st May and continue on Sunday afternoon. Athy has played host to a variety of All Ireland matches over the years including Hurling and Ploughing Championships. Now meggars is to be added to list given our local sporting activity a unique place in the annals of Irish sport.

Thursday, May 1, 1997

Athy's Inner Relief Road - McCarthy Area Report

I have often wondered how the men of ’98 felt as they rose in the year of rebellion to tilt against the might and power of the English Crown. Their rage and perhaps frustration can only be imagined but must be comparable to that which I feel tonight as I find myself teethering on the brink of outrage at the contents of an innocuous brown envelope which has reached me. Outrage is a term normally applied to hideous and dastardly deeds perpetrated under cover of darkness on unsuspecting folk, but it may well describe what prompts my feelings tonight.

I have just received what is described as an executive summary of Athy’s Traffic Management Study which is dated 1997 and which was prepared for Kildare County Council by McCarthy Acer Consultants Ltd. of Dublin. The five page document was prepared by the Consultants following what they described as a “Comprehensive Traffic Management Study for Athy on behalf of Kildare County Council.” The requirements of the study as commissioned by the County Council interalia required the consultants “to validate the 1975 traffic plan for Athy”.

In case you had forgotten, that plan produced in the days before EEC largesse began to transform the road network in Ireland, suggested two new alternative roads for Athy - an Inner Relief Road and an Outer Relief Road. The far sighted Councillors of the day opted for the Inner Relief Road option, but sure wouldn’t they, bearing in mind the quality of Council decision making in those days which for instance failed to secure Whites Castle for the town when offered in exchange for a Council house.

So it was that in 1996 McCarthy and Associates rode into town to start their “Comprehensive Traffic Study”, the outcome of which could never be in doubt. After all, did not their clients Kildare County Council long ago pin their colours to the mast insofar as the Inner Relief Road was concerned. Did we really expect that McCarthy would make a recommendation which would not find favour with it’s clients. I am not of course in any way impugning their professional integrity. Not for one minute would I be so presumptuous, but I am open to persuasion. However, lets return to the traffic study itself. We find that a survey programme was undertaken on a Friday and a Saturday in September 1996 which disclosed that 15% - 20% of traffic on the Main Street was through traffic. The Report also claims that 50% - 60% of traffic entering Athy has either their origin or destination in the town. Into what black hole is the remaining 35% - 20% of the traffic disappearing ? Have I missed something Mr. McCarthy, or is there an explanation which is not apparent on a reading of the executive summary ?

Incidentally, for whom is the five page summary prepared for - hard of reading Councillors or hard pressed Council Officials with limited attention spans ? I have asked for a copy of the full report, but don’t hold your breath while I await a response. Once I got over the shock of reading of Rat Running in Mount Hawkins [I kid you not], I was ready to pass on to the Council’s, sorry Consultants, proposals for managing Athy’s traffic up to the year 2016. A number of proposals were assessed from the “do nothing” to “outer by-pass” to “inner roads with one-way system” to “inner relief two-way system”. McCarthy and Associates do not sit on the fence, especially if it is propped up by Kildare County Council and no doubt to your surprise and mine, they announced their preferred strategy as the Inner Relief Road for two-way traffic ! So there you are, Kildare County Council were right after all and the rest of us were wrong.

“But why an Inner Relief Road”, I hear you say. To the independent consultants who looked at this matter without any prior knowledge of the County Council’s preference I put the same question. The answer is worthy of a consultant. “It will enable existing roads in the town centre to be managed in a way that the environment and vitality of the town centre would be enhanced through the creation of partially pedestrianised areas within Duke Street and Leinster Street”. There you are - I couldn’t put it any better myself. Oh there’s more. “The aim of the Traffic Management Plan is to improve the attractiveness of Athy town centre and the completion of the Inner Relief Road will play a major part in achieving these aims. Facilities for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists will be improved, as will environmental conditions. The civic amenity of Athy will be enhanced and the town centre will become a safer and more pleasant place to work, shop and visit”. Well it must be true, after all, these consultants are highly qualified men and if they say that running two roads through the center of the town and keeping all traffic within the town center will create a safer, pleasant place to shop, who are we to disagree ?

It is quite obvious that all the road engineers and consultants in England and Ireland who have favoured outer relief roads and an appropriate measure to make town centers safer and more attractive are wrong. Mr. McCarthy, how can I thank you for letting me see the errors of my ways. You are a genius with words, but incidentally, why did it take so long to produce the finished article ? Was there an awful lot of consultation involved ? You know how it is ! County Council Officials can be difficult when the Messiah approaches with a message which is not in accordance with the tablets of stone.

Where’s me pike ? I smell rebellion in the air ! The Americans had their McCarthy era. We’re about to start on our own. Maybe the 200th Anniversary of the 1798 rebellion can be suitably commemorated on the Square in Athy with more floggings at the triangle. Have we got any likely candidates you can suggest ?