Thursday, November 27, 1997

Fr. Peter Hickey O.P.

Last week Minch Norton celebrated 150 years in Athy. Theirs is truly a wonderful record of achievement and one which was fittingly recognised when the Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy paid a visit to the factory on Friday. In the present modern production facility there is little to remind us of the past years when malting work was carried out under difficult circumstances. The now unused chimney stacks on the older Minch Norton buildings are a silent reminder of those early days when men laboured with wooden shovels in the malt houses. Do you remember the malt house in Stanhope Street occupying the site opposite Noonan’s public house? Not many, if indeed anyone, can go back so far as to recall the malt house in Offaly Street where the cinema was later located or the Malthouse in Rathstewart where Batchelors factory is situated. Now however all of Minch Nortons malting activities are centered in their Kilkenny Road complex and it was there last week that the 150 years celebrations took place.

Another celebration during the week was occasioned by the 50th anniversary of the ordination of Fr. Peter Hickey which took place on 20th December. A member of a local Kilberry family and now a member of the Dominican Community it was appropriate that Athy Urban District Council should honour Fr. Hickey on his Golden Jubilee. Son of Peter and Elizabeth Hickey of Kilberry, he was born in October 1921, the second youngest in the family of seven boys and six girls. He attended Kilberry National School and for a short while Barrowhouse National School while his sister Sheila was teaching there. She was later to join the Sisters of Mercy in Athy where as Sr. Michael she was principal of the Primary School for many years.

At nineteen years of age Peter Hickey entered the Dominican novitiate in St. Mary’s, Cork. As a native of Athy Peter was undoubtedly following in the footsteps of many Athy men who joined the Order of Preachers since the Order first established a monastery in Athy in 1253. After seven years of study Peter Hickey was ordained to the priesthood on 20th December, 1947 by John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of All Ireland. By then his brother Willie and sister Jenny had died, while brothers Ted and Paddy were in America and New Zealand respectively.

After three years in the Retreat House in Tallaght, Co. Dublin he was assigned to the Missions in Trinidad in 1950. A country about one fourteenth the size of Ireland, the islands Trinidad and Tobago form an archipelago located near the Orinoco River Delta of the Venezuelan Coast. With a population of about one million people oil production is the principal form of production. With a slight majority of people of African origin and a large minority descended from Asian Indians, European and Chinese groups make up a small minority of the population. Mainly Christian with a Catholic majority Trinidad has a substantial minority of Hindus and Muslims.

It was to there that Fr. Hickey sailed from Cobh via New York in October 1950 to take up his first post as Chaplain to the Colonial Hospital and also to the prison in the Trinidad Capital of Port-of-Spain. As the hospital name would indicate Trinidad was in 1950 still a British colony but Fr. Hickey’s arrival coincided with the granting of internal autonomy and the holding of elections. In 1962 after a brief period as members of the West Indian Federation, Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from Britain. Fourteen years later a Republic was declared.

Fr. Hickey travelled to America in 1952 for a holiday during which he performed marriage ceremonies in Pittsburgh for his two brothers Tom and Ted. Returning to Trinidad he was appointed to the Parish of Rio Claro, an inland town on the island. After ten years in Trinidad Fr. Peter returned to Ireland on holidays and remained two years as Bursar in Newbridge College. In 1962 he returned to the Missions in Trinidad where he remained for another five years before he returned to St. Saviours Monastery in Waterford. He served there as Bursar and sub-Prior for a number of years before transferring to St. Dominic’s in Athy twelve years ago.

I have often felt that the Dominican Order’s links with Athy stretching back all of 744 years are one of our town’s most important historical elements. Throughout virtually the entire life of Athy from early village to mediaeval town to the 20th century town the Order of Preachers have had a presence here. This most valued connection has seen the Dominican Monastery firstly on the East bank of the River Barrow, later still in the area of the present Kirwan’s Lane when it was called Convent Lane before the Monastery re-located in the 18th century to Riversdale House. Fr. Peter Hickey has spent the last twelve years of his priesthood amongst the people of his home town of Athy. A nephew of the formidable Monsignor Hickey, late President of Clonliffe College, the Kilberry born priest has earned the respect and esteem of all with whom he has come in contact.

The local Urban District Council in recognising his Golden Jubilee as a priest has also acknowledged the importance of the Dominican Order to present day Athy and the Order’s significance in the history of our town. In the same week that the Dominican priest Fr. Hickey was honoured, a local firm celebrated it’s contribution to the local economy over the past 150 years. To both go our congratulations and good wishes. The Minch Norton Maltings and the Dominicans have become synonymous with Athy and long may they both flourish.

Thursday, November 20, 1997

Brian Bracken Whistle Player

Irish Traditional Music, an important part of our Irishness, is one of the most rewarding of my many personal indulgences into the many facets of Irish culture. Music has formed an important part of community life in Athy down the years as evidenced by the many bands and musical combinations to be found in the town over different periods. Who can ever forget the stories, some no doubt improved in the telling, of the Leinster Street Band and their rivalry with the Barrack Street Band of the early decades of this century. The pipers of the Castlemitchell Pipe Band and the earlier St. Brigid’s Pipe Band left a legacy of music which long after their disbandment is still a source of inspiration. Nearer to our own time we can recall the bands of the 1950’s and particularly in the Irish music context the Ardellis Ceili Band founded by Fontstown man, Brian Lawlor in the mid-1950’s. There is even in that backward look sufficient evidence of music and musical talent to satisfy even the most demanding of tastes.

Two weeks ago I walked into the `Celtic Note’ music shop on Nassau Street, Dublin and asked the assistant to help locate a recently issued CD of a whistle player by the name of “Bracken”. Her puzzled expression prompted a quick correction and an acknowledgement by me that the player was in fact “Hughes”. I had used his mother’s maiden name, the former Claire Bracken being well known to me at a time when we were both members of Aontas Ogra. The shop assistant smiled and with her right hand pointing in the general direction of the ceiling said; “that’s his music being played at the moment!” Only then did I take note of the exuberant tin whistle playing which was coming over the shops loudspeaker.

As I listened it was with a sense of pride, knowing that the musician was an Athy man, but also with a sense of excitement only previously experienced when I first heard the singing of Galway man Sean Tyrrell and heard the piping of the legendary Johnny Doran. Johnny Doran who apart from his brother Felix was the last of the travelling pipers, died in the County Home, Athy in 1950. Twenty years later in the same institution, then renamed St. Vincent’s Hospital, was born Brendan Hughes, the whistle player whose music I was hearing that afternoon in a Dublin music shop. Brian the son of Liam and Claire Hughes of Woodstock Street has been a traditional musician for over 15 years. He was first introduced to the Uileann pipes by his grand-father Christy Bracken, when he was 12 years of age. He later travelled every week to the Pipers Club in Henrietta Street, Dublin home of Na Piobairi Uileann founded by Seamus Ennis and Breandan Breathnach. Here he was to master the chanter and here also he listened to and learned from the different piping styles of men such as Leo Rowsome, Seamus Ennis, Kildare’s own Liam O’Floinn, Roscommon’s Andy Conroy and the legendary Patsy Touhy. It was here also he would have heard for the time the only extant recording of the late Johnny Doran the man who played the Uileann pipes with a fire and passion bordering on reckless abandon. A frequent competitor at Feis Ceol Brian non All-Ireland competitions for uileann piping. Not content with mastering this most difficult of instruments, Brian also took up the tin whistle and before long was to gain further success as an Irish champion for that instrument.

One of the growing band of young Irish musicians who have been influenced by Planxty, the Bothy Band and Moving Hearts, Brian’s music is more contemporary than traditional. This is evident in his new arrangement of old tunes and in his exuberant legato style which owes more to the contemporary Irish groups than to the traditional stylists of Sliabh Luachra and the Western seaboard.

Brian, who is married to Bernadette Connell is the proud father of four month old Grainne. A trainee fireman with the Dublin Fire Service, presently he has little time to involve himself in the traditional music sessions which play an important part in sustaining and developing the Irish music scene. In the past he has played in Clancys in Leinster Street, in the Avalon Inn, Castlecomer and in the highly regarded music sessions held in Coffeys of Clogh. However, when the training is completed in March ’98 Brian hopes to be involved in a number of promotional concerts and sessions.

Brian’s CD was issued under the Gael Linn label and represents three years preparation in choosing tunes and making news arrangements for the recording. The choices he made are excellent and the playing is quite superb. Indeed after I had heard all of the tracks on Brian’s CD I then listened to recordings of the late Micko Russell and Michael Tubridy. The contrast in style could not be greater and I was left to marvel at Brian Hughes fast free flowing style which is so reminiscent of what we know of Johnny Doran’s style on the Uileann pipes. Amongst the tracks are two slow airs played on an African Blackwood Whistle. They have a haunting mellow sound which is heard to particularly good effect in the tune Turas go Tir na n’og. Included on the CD are some of Brian’s own jig compositions. All in all this is an exceptional first CD from a confident young players who has talent, feeling and a delightful touch all combining to give us a taste of good traditional music played in a contemporary style.

Athy is undergoing something of a musical renaissance at the moment, what with Jack Lukeman’s recent release and the emerging singing and song writing talent of David Bradbury. More about both of them in the future, but in the meantime everyone in Athy should go out and buy Brian Hughes’ new release “Whistle Stop”. Its a gem and would make a wonderful present for Christmas. There will, I feel, be many more recordings from this wonderful musician.

Thursday, November 13, 1997

Athy's Model School and 1866 Commissioners of National Education Report

The 33rd report of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland for the year 1866 presented to both Houses of the English Parliament contained many interesting references to Athy’s Model School. Built on a site provided by the Duke of Leinster the Model School was opened in August 1852. A total of 32 Model Schools were intended to be provided throughout Ireland for the dual purpose of providing schooling for children and also training for teachers for Irish National Schools. A number of candidate teachers were to be boarded in each Model School for a period of six months having first been selected by the Commissioner’s Superintendent from National Schools within the district. Each candidate teacher who received the Superintendent’s certificate after the initial six months training in the Model School would then spend another two years teaching in a National School before completing teacher training at the National Model School in Dublin. With the early development of the National school system in Ireland there was a shortage of suitably trained teachers and so the Model School system of training teachers was devised. In addition to the candidate teachers Model Schools also employed Monitors. These were deserving pupils from the area who were admitted as free scholars into the Model School and who in return for small weekly payments helped the teachers in the class. Monitors could in time be selected as candidate teachers by the school superintendent.

In its report for 1866 the Commissioners of National Education stated that there had been no change in the staff of principal or assistant teachers in Athy Model School during the year. However, one pupil teacher was removed for irregularity and one pupil teacher and two monitoresses left at the end of their contracts. The school catered for boys, girls and infants and in charge of the boys’ school was John Walsh a Roman Catholic who held that position since 1852. His assistant was John Henderson of the Church of Ireland and their pupil teachers were William Patterson, Church of Ireland and Charles Dodd, Roman Catholic. The recitation of the religious background of the teachers 130 years ago was significant given the non denominational nature of the Model School which when established was intended to “promote united education”. The boys’ school had 124 on the roll during 1866 although the average daily attendance was considerably less than that. Apparently at a time when school attendance was not compulsory every boy who enrolled even for a day was included in the yearly enrolment figure which tended to give an inflated account of the school numbers. The average attendance was in fact 69 boys and of the 85 school boys on the roll by the end of the year 45 were Church of Ireland, 16 Roman Catholic, 17 Presbyterian and 7 others. They showed an increase of 25 pupils over the previous year with a doubling of the Roman Catholic boys in the school.

In the girls’ school the principal was Ann O’Reilly a Roman Catholic who had joined in 1852 and her assistant was Bessie Glover, Church of Ireland. Their total enrolment for the year was 94 girls with an average attendance of 40. At the end of 1866 the school had 56 girls on its books 30 of whom were Church of Ireland, 11 Roman Catholic, 9 Presbyterian and 6 others. This reflected little change from the previous year.

Harriet Souter, Church of Ireland was Principal of the infant school and her assistant was Teresa Mackey a Roman Catholic. They had enrolled 70 infants during 1866 of which on average 31 infants attended daily. At the end of that year there were 29 infants on the roll.

When the Model School first opened a very substantial majority of its pupils were members of the Catholic Church a fact which did not find agreement with the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. The opening of the Convent of Mercy in 1852 which had been planned long before the Model School reduced the latter school’s numbers. Further substantial reductions were noted when the Christian Brothers opened their school in 1861. The Brothers were invited to come to Athy by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin so that the Catholic pupils would be withdrawn from the Model School. The enrolment figures for 1866 confirm that the Archbishop’s campaign was largely successful although the parents of 22 Roman Catholic children who still attended the Model School felt sufficiently strong to withstand “a belt of the Bishop’s crozier”.

Regarding the Model School the Education Board’s inspector reported that in 1866 pupils generally speaking attended irregularly throughout the year especially in Spring and Harvest owing to demands of field labour. “The prevalence since September last of fever in several portions of the district interfered very much with the pupils attendance. In February, March, August, September and October the attendance was thinest”.

An important element of the Model School complex was the Agricultural Training School which was founded to train young farm workers in the most up to date agricultural methods. I will deal with its story and that of its pupils in a future Eye on the Past.

The Model School will be celebrating the sequecentenary of its foundation in five years time. The fine Tudor building constructed in the Gothic style to a design by Frederick Darley is one of the most impressive buildings in Athy. Equally impressive is the history of the school which has provided educational facilities in town for 145 years and has managed to survive and prosper despite early sustained opposition to Model Schools by the Catholic hierarchy.

Thursday, November 6, 1997

1798 Rebellion

Last week I mentioned the Bicentenary of the 1798 Rebellion which will be commemorated rather than celebrated next year. The distinction is important because there is little in the events of 1798 which should give rise to any bouts of enthusiastic celebration such as accompanies notable achievements. What happened in the last decade of the 18th Century resulted in considerable distress amongst many communities up and down the country. There is evidence of outrageous and barbarism committed on both sides. The rebels untrained and unskilled were perhaps less blameworthy than the well drilled and better armed Government forces but nevertheless apportionment of blame is less than a useful exercise after such an elapse of time.

Written accounts of the happenings of 1798 first appeared within a short time afterwards. Amongst them was Sir Richard Musgrave’s “Memoirs of the Rebellion in Ireland” first published in 1801. It was unsympathetic to the Irish rebel side as indeed were all the earlier books on the subject. Almost 30 years were to elapse before Wolfe Tone’s biography was published and this understandably included much material relating to the emergence of the United Irishmen and the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion. Another account by an active participant was Teeling’s “Personal Narrative” published in 1828. The major work on the United Irishman which has stood the test of time is Madden’s four volumes “The Lives and Times of the United Irishman” published in the years immediately before the Great Famine. It was Madden who sought to rescue Robert Emmett’s housekeeper Ann Devlin from the dreadfully poor conditions she was forced to live in after her employer’s execution.

In the years since Madden’s substantial tomes first appeared many other books dealing with the ’98 Rebellion have been published. Local man Patrick O’Kelly who was leader of the Athy men during that period wrote his account of the rebellion which he had published as “The history of the rebellion of 1798”. As you might expect it had many references to Athy and to County Kildare never before included in any previously published account of the rebellion.

When the Centenary of the rebellion was remembered in 1898 Ireland was still under English rule. Nevertheless local committees up and down the country were organised to commemorate the rebellion of 1798 and a small number of publications were issued. There has been a tendency for such publications to concentrate on Wexford, Wicklow Antrim and Down with little or nothing appearing in relation to other counties in Ireland. This deficiency was remedied somewhat with the appearance in 1949 of McHugh’s edition of “The Autobiography of William Farrell of Carlow”. Farrell had written graphically of the floggings in Athy and highlighted the hardships experienced by the local people during the rebellion.

Next year we will have an opportunity to study not only the rebellious activities of 1798 but also the events which led up to it. The American War of Independence and the French Revolution were important influences on what happened in Ireland in the 1790’s as was Thomas Paine’s work “The Rights of Man”. The United Irishmen founded in Belfast in 1791 was a radical and largely Protestant movement. It was also a movement of particular appeal to Catholics and Dissenters alike at a time when the cry liberty equality and fraternity first sounded during the French Revolution found an echo on the streets of Irish towns. Within a few years of its foundation the United Irishmen organisation began to undergo a change. Forced to go underground it became a secret organisation committed to republicanism and the organisation became more and more militarised. To the alarm of the Government it was reported that local people throughout the country were involved in pike making while rebel raids for guns were a frequent occurrence. In November 1797 a boat anchored in the Grand Canal Harbour at Athy was raided and guns destined for a Co. Carlow Corps of Yeomanry were stolen. The military based in the local Army Barracks immediately reacted and the people of Athy and district were to incur heavy retribution during the following year.

The local blacksmiths of the town were arrested on suspicion of making pikes for the rebels and lodged in White’s Castle jail. Floggings under the triangle became a common occurrence in Athy and we have a contemporary account of this in William Farrell’s diary.

I have often wondered to what extent the 1798 Rebellion affected the community at large in Athy and specifically the Quaker community which lived there. The Quakers as pacifists did not become involved in the 1798 rebellion but as was noted by Mary Ledbetter in her “Annals of Ballytore” members of the Quaker community were nevertheless subjected to violence. Despite having held a weekly meeting in Athy from the latter part of the 17th Century and having had a meeting house constructed at the corner of Meeting Lane in 1780 the local Quaker community disappeared from Athy a few years after the 1798 Rebellion. Was their departure due to intolerable interference during the Rebellion or was it due to the demise of Thomas Chandlee a linen draper of Athy whose dynamic leadership had earlier reactivated the Quaker community in the town? We may never know the answer to this question but perhaps the Bicentenary of 1798 affords us all an ideal time and opportunity to evaluate the period when Protestant, Catholic and
Dissenter came together in a republican movement.