Thursday, July 31, 1997

Business Houses of 1937 Continued

Last week I started to list the various business houses in Athy which in 1937 advertised in the Ballylinan Carnival programme of that year. One of those was the publican and grocery Louis O’Mara who is still remembered in Athy even many years after he died.

Louis of 67 Leinster Street offered a wide range of services including tea, wine, spirit, hardware provisions and coal. His son Michael who was in Athy for a visit recently now runs a very successful public house in Drumcondra known as The Red Parrot.

The L & N Tea Company was in 1937 advertising its stamp collecting scheme which ensured future discounts for its customers. This mind you was in the days long before Green Shield stamps came on the scene. No address is given for the L & N as it was known locally, but most locals will remember it being next to Andersons on the corner of Leinster Street and Emily Square.

Michael Kelly of Leinster Street another grocer and spirit merchant had his premises at the corner of Meeting Lane and Leinster Street in what is now Murphys. He also had a timber and grain Stores and sold hardware seeds and manures. Who knew A.P. Nolan of Leinster Street buyer of corn, wool and most agricultural products who stocked the famous Lepit gas cartridges which he assured us was a safe, sure and cheap method of killing rabbits, rats etc. John J. Collins, Chemist of 15 Duke Street occupied what is now Blooms Flower Shop. 1937 was the year Collins assistant Tim O’Sullivan arrived in Athy from his native Kerry. Tim now retired is living in Church Road. Shaw & Sons Limited another advertiser of 60 years ago still retains its role as a leading supplier of household, drapery, shoes and hardware goods. Duthie Large & Company, main Ford dealers and agents for all leading makes of agricultural machinery are no more and their extensive shop and garage premises in Leinster Street is now given over to a number of different businesses. Their near neighbours Jackson Brothers Limited of Leinster Street advertised as “the best house for family” encouraged all to “get an iron horse and have your own electricity”. I wonder what sort of contraption was referred to there?

D. Meehan was another chemist practising in Emily Square in what is now Mulhalls while A.B. Finn was a butcher in Leinster Street. His premises is now a betting shop. It must have been encouraging for his customers to read that “scarlet ox tongue was always in stock”. Other businesses noted in the carnival programme but now gone was that of publican Michael Hughes of 5 William Street and M. Wall, Ladies and Gents Hairdresser of 17 Duke Street. The latter claimed his as the “most hygienic and smartest saloon in the district”. The Leinster Arms Hotel managed by Miss K Darcy was then a high class family and commercial hotel while Joseph Rigney undertakers was one of the few enterprises which has survived over the years.

James Reid & Son of Market Square, Athy grocery and wines has long changed hands as has Mansfields of Duke Street and Purcells Bros. Butchers of Duke Street. Mansfields was the place for hats, coats, costumes, and ladies apparel occupying the substantial premises now known as Griffin Hawes. McHughs Medical Hall and Loughmans Bennettsbridge are still operating but not so Athy Co-Operative Agricultural Society or Morris Brothers the Satisfaction House described as drapers and shoe warehousemen. Does anyone remember the Morris Brothers whose boast was “Morris sells it for less”.?

Another name not familiar to me is that of Thomas O’Gorman, grocer and publican of Duke Street. Next door to the post office was E. Carroll wine and spirit merchant while Martin Brophy was at the canal side. Names familiar even today included Doyle Brothers established in 1883, Michael Conroy grocery of 70 Leinster Street, EP Mulhall, Publican Hardware and Arms Dealer of Barrow Bridge House and Purcell Brothers, grocers and publicans of William Street.

While the names are familiar none of the businesses have survived.

Newcome Empey 10 Leinster Street, house sign and ornamental painter, HJ Prole 35 Leinster Street, tailor and outfitter, boot and shoe warehouse, David Walsh, Leinster Street, Grocer, Publican and hardware are like their near neighbours P O’Brien, the Railway Bar no longer part of the business life of Athy as we near the second millennium.

It is amazing what changes have occurred over the last 60 years and less. The names over the shop doors are changing with alarming regularity and the younger generation cannot hope to know the men women who were an important part of the business life of the town such short years ago.

Thursday, July 24, 1997

Ballylinan Carnival 1937 and Athy Business Houses of that Year

Do your remember the Carnival held in Ballylinan from August 15th to 29th in 1937. As best I can find out it was the third annual carnival held to raise funds for the primary school opened in the village in 1935. The school which cost £5,600.00 was built on a site provided by John Hovenden and for a number of years the local PP Reverend J. Killian had encouraged the carnival committee in its efforts to reduce the parish debt.

In 1937 McDonalds Amusements occupied the carnival grounds where the most popular attractions were the dodgems, the chairoplanes, the swing boats and the hobby horses. On the first Sunday the No. 3 Army Band gave an outdoor recital while a drilling and gymnastics display featured soldiers from the Curragh Camp. A miniature nine hold golf course was specially laid out for the duration of the carnival while for most people the chief attraction of the fortnight was the nightly carnival dance. This surprisingly enough was held in the new primary school
where each night the Adelaide Melody Band under the directorship of Vincent Rogers held sway from 9 to midnight. The nightly ceili featuring the Ballylinan Ceili Band was held in what was described as the Ballylinan Club. A whist drive and a children’s sports were other notable features during the carnival fortnight.

The Ceili band members who performed every night from 9 to 12 included Joseph Byrne, James Daly, James Brennan, Pat Kaye, J. Loveday, D. Murphy, Joseph Kelly and Thomas Kirwan. John Farrell was responsible for what was described as a touring troupe of more than twenty men and women who performed exactly what I cannot say. The Chairman of the carnival committee was John Murphy with Laurence Dunne, as secretary and Thomas Roche and Mary Bambrick as treasurers. Unusual for events of this kind a very comprehensive programme was issued which as you can imagine was well supported by local businesses through advertising.

Looking through the advertisements 60 years later is like making a tour of the pre war town of Athy which is largely un-recognisable to the present generation. One of the most eye catching advertisements was that inserted by John Farrell, Licensed Carrier, Ballylinan and Athy who exorted his readers to “send it by Farrell”. John apparently made daily trips to Dublin where he had a depot at 10 and 12 Mary’s Abbey.

Cunninghams of William Street advertised their lounge/bar as well as their groceries, provision and hardware. The proprietor was Michael Cunningham later a County Councillor and an Urban Councillor whose premises are now known as the “Canal Bar”. M.A. James of Duke Street had stationery, fancy goods, pipes and cigarettes for sale in a shop which is now no more. Nolans of 6 Duke Street and 27 Leinster Street were drapers offering gents and ladies clothing in addition to furniture and radios. Most of us will recall M.G. Nolan’s premises in Duke Street which is now Moores Chemist shop. I had not realised that Nolans either M.G. or his Mountrath based brother had another shop in Leinster Street in what is now Tom Manley’s.

John Anderson of Market House, family grocer, tea, wine and spirit merchant is one of the businesses sixty years ago still going strong. Andersons, however no longer boast a grocery section while William Crawley’s grocery and bakery in William Street another advertiser in 1937 is long gone. Such is also the fate of D & J Carbery Limited Building Contractors of the Joinery Works, St. John’s and A. J. Mape of Duke Street who had a millinery, mantels and drapery warehouse with dressmaking as a specialty.

Thomas Flood another family grocery, tea, wine and spirit merchant owned the Railway Hotel in Leinster Street. The beautiful brick building is now owned by Margaret Kane. Those attending the Ballylinan Carnival were exorted to visit Thomas Dowling, tea, wine and spirit merchant of Offaly Street “for courtesy, civility, value and attention”. Tom also supplied coal at keenest prices from the premises which remains the only licensed premises in Offaly Street. Tom a Naas man returned to his native town in the 1950’s when he sold his business to the legendary John W. Kehoe. The Commercial House recently revamped and now Supermacs was in 1937 owned by Murphys who had traded as general drapers for over sixty years. Their advertisement referred to the range of goods which were available there including boots and shoes, furniture and bedding, Irish tweeds and linen.

An interesting advertisement which I had not seen elsewhere before was for castings in cast iron, brass and aluminum. Matt McHugh & Sons of Meeting Lane also offered to repair all classes of machinery with hay bogies, ring rollers and plough fittings being a specialty. McHughs foundry has been silent for many years as has that of Tom McHugh his brother which was located in Janeville Lane.

Next week I shall continue my perusal of the advertisements of 60 years ago in the Ballylinan Carnival programme.

Thursday, July 17, 1997

Select Vestry - Glebe House

The select vestry of St. Michael’s Athy met on Tuesday 24th October 1824 for the purpose of appointing overseers to inspect the public houses of the parish. The same meeting decided to adjourn until Tuesday 2nd November consideration of the need to enlarge the parish Church which was then located in Market Square. The Minutes of the meeting recorded that in consequence of the great increase in parishioners and the want of seats in the church it was imperative that the Church wardens plan and estimate the cost of extending the existing church but so as to “respect the rights of the present occupiers of pews”.

The adjourned meeting on 2nd November 1824 decided to borrow the sum of £300 from the Board of First Fruits to be repaid by tithes levied on the parish to finance an extension of the church and the provision of new pews. Strangely enough it was also decided to put the new pews up for auction to the highest bidder with the proceeds thereof being applied to liquidating the church debt. A subsequent select vestry minute entry for 1830 showed that the Parish of St. Michael’s was required to borrow the sum of £500 for the Church extension and new pews. Despite their efforts a further select vestry meeting on the 30th July 1833 considered the necessity of erecting a new parish church and a deputation consisting of Reverend Frederick Trench, James Goodwin, Robert Molloy, Reverend Charles Bristow and Dr. George Barker was appointed to meet the Duke of Leinster to seek a suitable site.

In 1835 a petition was submitted to the Duke of Leinster seeking to change the site of the proposed new church to Janeville. There is no record of where the original site was to be located. At the same time a vote of thanks was passed with the Duke of Leinster for his “princely and significant contribution towards the building of the new church in Athy and also for his liberal present of a most eligible site”. The church was opened in 1840.

In 1859 Reverend Trench the one time Curate of Athy but promoted to the Rectorship in 1848 decided to build a Glebe House or Rectory and applied to the Duke of Leinster for a site near the church. The Rectory was designed by Deane and Woodword a well known firm of architects based in Dublin. While Trench as the Rector of Athy was required under the Appropriate Act to finance the provision of a Glebe house he pleaded inability to do so and sought to take out a mortgage to finance the building works.

The building contractor of the Glebe house on what was later known as Church Road was Mark Cross of Emily Square a man about whom I have previously written in connection with the building of small terraced houses in Janeville Lane and Connolly’s Lane. As Reverend Trench’s plans for the Glebe house were being approved the town Jail erected just thirty years previously on the Carlow Road was being vacated. The prisoners and staff were transferred to the County Jail in Naas. Sections of the relatively new jail building in Athy were demolished during the building of the glebe house and the cut stone from the jail was used in its building.

Before the glebe house was completed Frederick Trench the last sovereign of the Borough Council of Athy which had been abolished in 1840 died. On Tuesday the 16th October 1860 as Reverend Trench who resided at Kilmoroney drove in his gig to Athy accompanied by a servant the horse took fright and careered down Offaly Street in the direction of Emily Square. The horse and gig crashed into the medieval gateway known as Preston’s gate situated at the end of Offaly Street. Both Trench and his man servant were thrown from the gig and received serious injuries and on Friday 23rd November the Rector died aged 74 years.

The Leinster Express named Preston’s gate as the cause of many previous accidents involving eleven deaths and lead a campaign to have the gate removed. On the 10th November 1860 the editor of that paper reported to its readers “Preston’s Gate, Athy - this relic of ancient times is about to be numbered amongst the things that were. On last Monday several workmen were employed in throwing it down and ere another week runs round its removal will have taken place. Had it been removed years gone by it would have prevented the many accidents which its obstruction in the way of entrance to the town by the Carlow Road had so often taken place and none so much to be deplored as the late one which occasioned the upset to the Reverend Mr. Trench and his servant the lives of whom are greatly endangered. Its removal will give general satisfaction to the townspeople”.

So passed one of the last and most visible remains of the medieval town of Athy. Fortunately a French draftsman, George Victor De Noyer had recorded in water colour this ancient monument while he was engaged on ordnance survey work in Athy in 1844.

Reverend Trench’s successor Reverend Henry McDonald was responsible for completing the glebe house and was its first occupant. Described as being in the Victorian gothic style the glebe house as it was originally called and rectory as it is now known is an important part of Athy’s built heritage.

Thursday, July 10, 1997

Betty May

Betty May returned to Athy in July for a few weeks holidays. It was her second trip home to the place of her birth since she emigrated to America in 1949. Betty’s parents, Michael and Julia May, lived in St. Martin’s Terrace and it was with D. & J. Carberys, Building Contractors of St. John’s Lane that Michael worked as a carpenter. He died a short time before Betty made her first return trip in 1969 and her mother, who was then ailing, was to pass away in 1972.

After 49 years in America the sights and sounds of Athy were surprisingly familiar to the woman who as a young girl attended the local Convent school before graduating to Molly Bradley’s shop in Duke Street. “The shops are the same” she declared. “Only the names over the doors have changed.” Names once familiar and now no more tripped off her tongue with speed and accuracy belying the years spent so far overseas. O’Rourke-Glynn, Bradley, Cross, Whelan, Willis, Mansfield, Glespen, Hepburn, Nolan, Farrell, Collins, Townsend, Deegan and Youell conjured up images of another
generation when Betty was a young woman.

The 1940’s was the heyday of the social club in St. John’s Lane and Betty remembered her then young colleagues in the Lawn Tennis, Table Tennis and Drama sections of the Club. Jo and Florrie Lawler, Teresa Corcoran, Freddie Moore, Vera Cross, May and Dympna Ward, Agnes Doyle, Kay O’Brien, May Fenelon and Kitty McLoughlin were just some of the many names she recalled.

She had heard in America of a photograph exhibited in the local Museum room of the Townhall showing the cast of the social club players in Lennox Robinson’s play, “The Far Off Hills.” Betty played the part of “Ducky” in that play which was put on in the Townhall in April 1947. Others in the cast included the father and son combination Dave and Tommy Walsh, Liam Ryan, Tadgh Brennan, Ken Reynolds, Cahill Kennedy, May Fenelon, Jo Lawler, Agnes Doyle and Kitty McLoughlin. The closure of the Museum room to facilitate the building of the Heritage Centre made it difficult to locate the photograph and unfortunately it was not found before Betty had left for America.

She was one of ten children, most of whom took the emigration trail to America. First to go was her eldest brother Jim, who in 1946 went out to his Uncle Bill Bradley in New York where he took up employment as a baker. Jim was a popular member of the Musical Society in Athy and is remembered for his portrayal of Carmen Marinda on the Townhall stage. The “Brazilian Bombshell”, as Marinda was popularly known, was readily recognised as the performer who went through her song and dance routine with outsized bananas on her head, garnished with other fruits. Jim remained in New York where he died almost five years ago.

His Uncle Bill Bradley was one of four brothers who left Athy in the 1920’s for America. Their brother Patsy Bradley owned a public house in Leinster Street, but was to end his days as a baker in the County Home. The Bradleys in turn had been brought out to America by their mother’s brother, Tom King and three of the Bradley brothers, Tom, Jim and Jack lived in St. Louis. Bill Bradley was Vice President of a store in New York City, while his brother Tom was the owner of the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant in St. Louis. Jack’s wife and children later returned to Athy where they lived with her sister Betty Mulhall who had a shop in Woodstock Street.

A year after the eldest May son emigrated to America the second son Sean also took the boat at Cobh for the New World. Sean had been a member of the local C.Y.M. Society and a shoemaker who worked with his cousin Tom May at No. 1 Woodstock Street. He married Irene MacNamara of Stanhope Street and both lived in St. Louis where Sean died earlier this year.

In 1948 it was Bettys turn to give up her job in Molly Bradley’s shop and head westward. As a young girl of 22 years she joined her brothers and uncles in St. Louis, knowing that she might never again see her family in Ireland. The employment situation in this country just three years after the end of the Second World War was quite hopeless. There was little new industrial development and virtually no worthwhile employment prospects for the younger generation. It is no wonder then that Betty and thousands more like her were part of the great exodus which started in the provincial towns of Ireland in the 1940’s and ended in the industrial towns of England or the seemingly more exotic cities of America. Betty was never again to see her father who died a year before she returned to Ireland in 1969.

Other members of the May family also emigrated to America, including Betty’s sisters Maureen, Joan and Judy, all of whom were to return to Ireland where they married and settled down. Her brother Christy who had worked as a carpenter with his father left for America in 1952 where he remained until he died three years ago. Of the remaining members of the May family, her brother Patrick is in Tomard, Ann is in Kingsgrove and Derry, the youngest of the family and the one I best remember is running the famous Chez Hans Restaurant in Cashel with her husband.

Betty, now a cheerful grandmother, married Don Muckerman and has two children and six grandchildren. Her husband Don served as a navigator on no less than 35 missions over Germany during World War II and luckily survived, despite being shot down. A near neighbour of hers in St. Louis is Kay Walsh, formerly of Athy, whose mother was Molly Walsh of Barrack Street. It was lovely to meet Betty May on this trip, one I hope of many more she will have the opportunity and energy to make in the years to come.

Thursday, July 3, 1997

Athy's Workhouse

A few years ago attempts were made to retain part of St. Vincent’s Hospital as a Famine Museum. Despite the active cooperation of the Eastern Health Board, nothing came of the suggestion. Today the former workhouse remains a silent testimony to the many helpless people who passed through it’s doors since January 1844.

The poor who entered the Athy Workhouse were not allowed to succumb to idleness and all bodied inmates were put to work. Generally this consisted of stone breaking, although at Athy Workhouse paupers were also required to help on the Workhouse lands which in 1853 totalled 34 acres.

In October 1853 the Workhouse master summoned four paupers at Athy Petty Sessions for refusing to work and for disobeying his orders. They were sentenced by the local Magistrates to one months imprisonment with hard labour. Criminal prosecution of “vagrants” as the wandering poor were called was a common action taken by both Athy Town Commissioners and Athy Board of Guardians at different times during the second half of the 19th century.

Understandably the Workhouse contributed to the town’s problems in terms of unwanted vagrants and a local citizen was moved to write in a local newspaper in February 1862 “Athy’s rate payers have their doors constantly besieged by troops of beggars in every grade of wretchedness.” On 24th June, 1886 ten poor men and women admitted to the Workhouse on the previous evening were prosecuted at Athy Petty Sessions for vagrancy. Four of them were sentenced to two weeks imprisonment with hard labour.

In 1906 the Workhouse Clerk reported that a large number of vagrants were coming to the Workhouse. “Twenty five this week, forty five last week and forty seven the previous week”. Mr. Minch, a member of the Board of Guardians and a local resident in Athy, claimed that at one time upwards of 1,500 vagrants visited Athy Workhouse in one year but immediately the Board of Guardians instituted criminal prosecutions, the numbers fell to 500. It was also noted that a number of vagrants arrested in the locality of the Workhouse had notebooks containing the names and addresses of the good Workhouses and those which should be avoided, an early example of an Irish Tourist Guide perhaps! Clearly despite the efforts of the Board of Guardians the knights of the road were attracted to Athy Workhouse. Perhaps it was the meat dinners which the Board of Guardians first authorised for the Workhouse inmates Christmas Dinner in 1859 and for Easter Sundays from 1862 which were the big attraction.

Foundlings were another group cared for within the Workhouse and over the years many young babies abandoned at birth were to live out their early lives there. Names were generally attributed to these babies by reference to the Saints’ Day on which they were found and sometimes also the place where first seen. A child found wrapped in hay was names Hays, while another infant found in the Peoples’ Park was given the surname Parker. A boarding out system for children was introduced in 1862, thereby ensuring that as far as possible those youngsters would not spend all their formative years within the grim surroundings of the local Workhouse.

Schools were opened in Athy Workhouse in 1844. On the 16th of July, 1896 the Commissioners of National Instruction reported on Athy Workhouse School which by then was under the charge of the Sisters of Mercy. “The School is in a high state of efficiency and the course of instruction is carried out by the Sisters in charge with earnestness, zeal and ability. The girls of second and higher grade received instruction in shirt making, dressmaking, underclothing, knitting and darning and the use of the sewing machine”.

A further report on the Workhouse School in 1907 noted that “the pupils are making satisfactory progress. Oral English, Arithmetic and Drawing will require increased attention; kindergarten occupation for a large number of infants attending are urgently required.” The Workhouse Schools continued to operate until the 1940’s when the children then remaining in the Workhouse were sent to the local primary schools in the town.

Today the former Workhouse revamped and refurbished over the years is now a geriatric hospital. The wandering poor and abandoned children are no longer to be found there. To a generation which has lived in the shadow of a comprehensive health and welfare system it is sometimes difficult to realise the difficulties experienced in the early years of the workhouse system. Next year will see the winding down of the Great Famine Commemoration events and it is hoped that Athy will remember in an appropriate way the people of the South Kildare area who died so tragically 150 years ago.

The former Workhouse graveyard adjoining the Grand Canal is presently in a sadly neglected state. Perhaps we should show a measure of respect for the dead by having this sacred ground tided up. After all the poor people who died in the Workhouse so many years ago deserve to have the dignity denied to them in life restored even if only in death.