Thursday, December 24, 1998

Gravestone inscriptions of St. Michael's (1)

History is everywhere around us and local history is to be found amongst the gravestones and slabs of the town cemeteries. For instance I have often wondered how the name Gray’s Lane came to be applied to the laneway which leads to Spring Lodge. The answer invariably pointed to a previous owner of the farm which lies at the end of the land but it was somewhat satisfying to find amongst the gravestones of St. Michael’s more information on Mr. Gray.

James Alexander of Spring Lodge died on 2nd October, 1871 aged 47 years leaving his widow Euphemia who as the widow of the late Robert Gray of Corrie, Edinburgh had married Alexander. Euphemia, having survived two husbands, herself died at Spring Lodge on 23rd January, 1878 at the young age of 38 years. Her daughter Augusta married R. Gray and both lived at Spring Lodge where Mrs. Gray died in 1905 and her husband in 1915 aged 76 years. Over 80 years later the laneway to Spring Lodge is known by some as Gray’s Lane while to others it is still called “The Gullet”.

Not too far away from Alexander’s grave in St. Michael’s Cemetery is that of John Alexander Hannon of Ardreigh House who according to his tombstone “entered higher service” on 3rd April, 1923, joining his sons Ian and Leslie who had died in the Great War. His wife Martha died on 22nd March, 1934. It would seem that even in the early 1920’s St. John’s Cemetery where the Hannons of previous generations were buried could not accommodate any more burials.

The Scottish Presbyterian settlers who arrived in South Kildare after the Great Famine must have included a young Robert Anderson who died at Castlemitchell on 5th February, 1884 aged 47 years. I wonder what was the story of his son David who died a year later in Winnipeg, America aged 27 years and whose death is commemorated on the Anderson gravestone in St. Michael’s Cemetery.

I was puzzled by the tombstone for the Carey family which shows that John died on 8th July, 1925 aged 75 years having an address at St. Dominic’s Park, Athy. As the present St. Dominic’s Park did not exist then I am wondering where the St. Dominic’s Park listed on the tombstone was located. Luke Carroll of Purcellstown erected a monument to his mother who died in 1825 and his 19 year old daughter who died in 1819. I have never previously come across a reference to Purcellstown in this area.

A poignant reminder of the short lives allowed to those who went before us is found on the Roberts’ gravestone where in it is recorded the passing of Jane Cobbe “who died in the bloom of her womanhood on 6th January, 1875 at 28 years”. Erected by her husband John Roberts it also recorded the death of “our dear little girl Lizzie who died on 23rd August, 1873 aged 4 years and Stanley who died an infant on 26th August, 1873.” John Roberts was himself to die in October 1880 aged 39 years.

A man whose name I have come across several times is recorded in stone in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Joseph Coleman Reynolds, Dental Surgeon of 21 Leinster Street died on 13th October, 1951 at the comparatively young age of 50 years, just a few years after his son Joseph Michael had died aged 21 years. I am sure there are many who remember the young man whose brother Ken was one of the Social Club Players of the 1950’s.

Ever true to the Gaelic language for which she did so much to encourage was Bridget Darby who died on 26th March, 1958. In one of the very few headstones on which Gaelic script is chiselled there appears her name with that of her mother and three married sisters, Mary Foley, Mary Masterson and Margaret McDonald. Bridget and her mother lived at Leinster Street and while head mistress of Churchtown National School and a Town Councillor she did much to encourage the development of Irish in Athy.

Dr. James Deegan died on 5th July, 1915 aged 55 years and was followed four years later by his wife Margaret. I wonder does anybody remember where Dr. Deegan lived and what of his daughter Teresa Josephine who died on 3rd January, 1972.

An interesting memorial can be found to Elizabeth Delaney who died in 1855. The interest arises from her husband Joseph’s position in life which he notes on her gravestone with undoubted pride as “an officer of Inland Revenue”.

A mother’s sad memorial to her son notes the death of Reverend Laurence Doyle CC, Athy on 1st August, 1902 at 34 years of age. Mrs. Doyle who lived at Annamoe, Co. Wicklow erected the memorial following her son’s tragic death. Strangely it rests alongside the grave of his namesake and fellow curate Rev. Mark Doyle who died on 16th January, 1900 at the age of 31 years. He had spent four years as a curate in Athy and his memory was commemorated by the people of Athy and neighbourhood. What a tragic coincidence that two curates in their early 30’s should die within two years of each other while serving in Athy Parish. Just a few steps away is the grave of another local priest, also called Doyle who died in 1892 aged 64 years. Fr. James Doyle had been Parish Priest of Athy for 13 years having spent the previous 17 years as a curate in the town.

Well liked in Athy was Dr. Edward Ferris to whom a memorial was erected “by his numerous admirers” following his death on 25th March, 1877 aged 65 years. Ferris was described as an able physician whose death caused the poor to lose “a King and a generous friend.”

Tom Flood, former Captain in the Dublin Brigade of the IRA 1917 and Commandant in the National Army 1922 died 8th October 1950 aged 50 years. At the time of his untimely death he was a town Councillor and publican in Leinster Street. Not too far from the old IRA grave lies Captain Robert Glynn Dedrickson, late Kingsown 3rd Hussars 9th Cavalry 1914-1915 who died on 30th June, 1945. His wife Frances died in 1973. Was he a native of this area or does anyone know of his involvement in World War 1?

I finish off this journey through St. Michael’s Cemetery at the grave of Myles Hickey of Emily Square who died on 15th April, 1894 aged 64 years. His wife Ann died aged 78 years on 23rd April, 1909. I wonder were Myles and Ann the parents of Tim Hickey, the butcher whom I remember carrying on business in Emily Square up to the early 1960’s.

Thursday, April 23, 1998

Inner Relief Road

Today I return to a subject which has exercised all of our minds over the past few years. The inner relief road saga is about to take another step on the way to oblivion or completion depending on the outcome of next Saturday’s meeting of Athy Urban District Council. The elected members of the Council all true and trusted warriors of local democracy have the responsibility every five years of adopting a town development plan for Athy. This time round, the Council’s deliberations take on a significance which it has never before enjoyed. The reason can be found in the exceptional growth of building development in and around Athy and the expectations raised by the prospect of urban renewal status for Athy. Even this would be sufficient to give the planned Council meeting an importance far beyond its normal worth. However, the inclusion on the agenda of the proposals for an inner relief road through the centre of Athy gives the entire proceedings an importance seldom before equalled.

By now I must assume that anyone with a morsal of interest in Athy and its future must be acquainted with Kildare County Council’s plans for the new roadway. The issue to be decided by Athy UDC is whether the planned inner relief road should proceed or whether Athy’s future is best served by a by pass or an outer relief road.

It was 23 years ago that the proposal for an inner relief road was first mooted. That was the time when there was little environmental consciousness in Ireland. Thankfully there have been changes in that regard since then and town communities are no longer prepared to have their towns mutilated in order to facilitate traffic movement. It is a well known fact that traffic will always increase to meet any extra roads that may be provided. It is for this reason that road planners in recent years have acknowledged the necessity of preserving urban areas as free as possible from vehicle traffic, and why by pass routes are being built with greater frequency throughout Ireland.

Advocates of the inner relief road claim that the free movement of traffic in Athy necessitates the building now of such a road with a by pass being required in another fifteen years. I can visualise the scene in twenty years time when Athy will begin to take on the appearance of Los Angeles suburb geared to accommodate the local people so long as they are travelling in cars.

By the time you read this the Heritage Centre, the latest addition to Athy’s facilities, will have opened its doors to the general public. Located in the ground floor of the Town Hall the centre is a visual feast of Athy’s past showing the town’s development since it was founded 800 years ago. That such a centre should be located in the middle of the town in a building flanked on all sides by such important urban spaces as Emily Square is a happy coincidence. The substantial Town Hall building forms an important back drop to the cobbled plaza while its rear environs provides a sense of spaciousness which is both pleasing and environmentally important in the context of a town centre.

The inner relief road, if built, would occupy the back square obliterating that fine urban space and replacing it with a spaghetti type junction serving approach roads on four sides. The tenacity with which the project is being pushed is surprising. Opposition to the County Council plans has been steam rolled into oblivion over the years and in more recent times consultants have been engaged presumably at enormous expense to get around the growing local opposition to the roadway plans. It is therefore of some satisfaction to find that the consultants having reported back to Kildare County Council and Athy Urban District Council have found themselves at odds with those who commissioned the report.

An interesting fact about the relief road plans for Athy is that nominally responsibility for same rests with Kildare County Council. However, the County Council will not proceed with the inner relief road plan if the majority of the people of Athy are opposed to it. This in some quarters has been taken to mean a majority of the elected members of the Athy Urban Council. The town Council comprises nine members all of whom are elected for five year terms by the townspeople. During that five years the elected representatives take many important decisions and generally do so having regard to the best interests of the town and its people. Politicians local or otherwise are smart enough to work within the parameters set by their supporters and understandably always strive to act in a way which would meet with general approval.

The decision on the inner relief road is the most important decision to be taken in the life of this or any other Council. The local people have amply demonstrated that they do not want the inner relief road which would destroy the amenities of the town and turn this most attractive of towns into a twin highway. Despite this the elected representatives or at least some of them would deny the townspeople the right to express their views on the issue and certainly would not permit them to participate in the decision as to how Athy town is to develop in the future.

It has been suggested in the past that the Urban District Council might take a vote of the local people to assess the strengths of those in favour of or opposed to the inner relief road. This proposal never got the necessary backing of the Urban Council and indeed attempts were made to copper fasten the inner relief road supporters case by a snap decision which would not allow further discussion on the merits of the issue.

The shifting sands of the Sahara are brought to mind when observing the moves and counter moves of those who promote the inner relief road project. Pedestrianisation, partial or otherwise, a new roadway, which might be a street or might not, are all part of the features of the Inner Relief Road which have been given to us in recent years. Even urban renewal status has been brought into the frame by officials who eager to stifle opposition to the plans hold out the possibility of such status not being granted unless the inner relief road goes ahead.

This is reminiscent of the claims made last year that funds were then immediately available if the people of Athy would only support the inner relief road. Those funds we were told would be lost to us if we did not row in and support the savage mutilation of our town centre. It was not of course described in such terms and now it is clear finance was not available at that time.

I have been questioned by many people over the weeks as to what local men and women can do. Is there any way of expressing their feelings on the issue I am asked and what affect, if any, will those views, once expressed, have on the local government officials and public representatives who are pushing the inner relief road project. My answer is simply to remind everyone that Kildare County Council and Athy Urban District Council are all part of the democratic process which is called local government. In other words its government by the local people and unlike national government it is the one area of activity where local people’s views and opinions must have a say. So do not be afraid to voice your opinion on the relief road proposals for Athy and do so on or before Saturday 23rd May when the local Councillors will meet in special session commencing at 10 a.m. to consider inter alia whether Athy’s future is as a motor way site or a heritage town.

If you wish to influence the Council decision on the 23rd May why not contact your local Councillor and let him know your views. It may be too late on the 24th May.

Thursday, April 16, 1998

May Murphy No. 4 Offaly Street

May Murphy formerly May Kelly of Leinster Street died in Adelaide, Australia last week aged 87 years. She had left No. 4 Offaly Street about 8 years ago to stay with her daughter, Noeleen who had emigrated down under in the 1970’s. Offaly Street in my young days had no less than three Mrs. Murphy’s. Mrs. Joe Murphy who lived in No.3, Mrs. Paddy Murphy who lived across the road in No. 24 and Mrs. May Murphy who lived next door to our own house. Now they are all gone, May being the last to pass away many years after her husband John Joe had died.

I can still recall as a young fellow in Offaly Street together with Teddy and Leo Kelly, Tom Webster and Willie Moore attending my first wake. The deceased was May Murphy’s young husband, John Joe whom I cannot recall other than as a dead man laid out in the front room of No. 4 Offaly Street. We five youngsters self consciously and somewhat apprehensively walked through the front door of Mrs. Murphy’s house that day, knelt at the end of the bed, said some prayers for the dead and before leaving sprinkled holy water over the body. To be in the same room as a corpse even though it was a room crowded with sympathisers was to us youngsters a badge of courage. It was something we could talk about, even boast of, until later years of maturity cloaked us with the awkwardness and repressed silence of teenagers.

That’s my memory of John Joe Murphy. I can’t recall his funeral but I can still picture the scene as we young gurriers tiptoed into the waking room and looked upon the first dead person we had ever seen. John Joe was a former British Army Soldier who had enlisted at the start of World War 2 and had been involved in the retreat from Dunkirk. Indeed, I understand that his involvement in soldiering was very limited after that. I have often heard him described as a powerful footballer in his day as was his brother Joe. Both played for Athy Gaelic Football Club and featured in the 1934 Senior Championship winning side which Joe Murphy captained. John Joe who was a big man played at full back, a position which he also held when he won his first Championship Medal with Athy in 1933. He was still playing in that position in the 1936 team and his brother Joe was again the Captain. I gather that John Joe’s height and strength allied to a competitive streak discouraged many a forward from advancing too close to the goalpost he defended.

May and John had two daughters. Eva was my own age and I remember her for a particularly enjoyable birthday party in her house where as a very young fellow I took notice for the very first time of the fact that girls could be quite enjoyable company. There were several other boys and of course girls also at the party none of whom I can now recall. However, I can still remember the innocent enjoyment of a forfeit game for which the penalty involved the unlucky participant engage in a smooch with a member of the opposite sex. Imagine the embarrassment of that for a young fellow not yet old enough to know when he should be enjoying himself. Eva let me hasten to add was not the cause of my embarrassment. She later married Michael Toft of Kildare and sadly she died at a very young age while living in St. Patrick’s Avenue. Her daughter, Pauline who is now married was in Australia with her granny when Mrs. Murphy died.

May Murphy’s second daughter Noeleen married Denis Reidy, son of the late Garda Sergeant Reidy of Carlow before emigrating to Australia. It was with Noeleen and her family that May Murphy lived for the last eight years of her life.

Very recently I wrote of Mrs. Josephine Gibbons another woman who like May Murphy was widowed at a very young age and had to fend for her young family. Both were great friends over the years and both had to work very hard to give their children the opportunities they got in life. May Murphy worked in Duthie Large’s for as long as I can remember, remaining there until the business closed down. She also worked as a Cashier in the Grove Cinema until it closed its doors to the public.

May like her brother Alex Kelly was an exceptionally good musician. She played the Piano, one of the many instruments which Alex also played during his dance band days. When she left for Australia some years ago, I understand it was for an extended holiday but as time went by, she eventually decided to stay there with her only surviving daughter Noeleen. May was a lovely friendly woman who was always kind and never known to utter a harsh word.

Another who passed away last week and who was buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery on his 86th Birthday was Donegal born, Jim O’Doherty. An Army Officer who married Mona Purcell of William Street, he established an Auctioneering business on his retirement from the Defence Forces. A staunch follower of Gaelic Football, he represented his native County at Senior level and had the privilege of seeing his eldest son, Bryan play on the Kildare Senior Football team.

Athy born May Murphy now lying in Australian soil and Donegal born Jim O’Doherty were once part of Athy’s community life. Their passing will recall for many people times past and other days when the older generation of today shared a world of young dreams.

Thursday, April 9, 1998

Adoption of Town Improvements Act for Athy

On the 17th November 1855 the Lord Lieutenant in Dublin Castle was memoralised by forty “inhabitants of the town of Athy occupying houses and tenements rated to relief of the poor, at the annual value of £8 and upwards” to have the provisions of the Town Improvements (Ireland) Act 1854 carried into operation within the town. The signatories headed by Martin Kavanagh, Chairman of the Town Commissioners suggested “that the boundaries of the said town for the purpose of the Act shall extend three quarters of a statute mile from White’s Castle which is in the centre of the town”.

On December 14th Dublin Castle suggested the adoption of the boundaries as delineated by Richard Griffith which the Town Commissioners declined to do on the grounds that “some public buildings would be outside the limits proposed”. Following a visit to Athy on 8th February 1856 by Mr. Griffiths Assistant James Montgomery the boundaries were redrawn and agreed. The stage was now set for the legal formalities to be complied with and on Monday March 10th 1850 a public meeting in the Courthouse adopted the boundaries and agreed a memorial to be forwarded to the Lord Lieutenant. Transmitted to Dublin Castle on March 20th the memorialists request that Athy be put under the 1854 Act was approved in principle by letter of April 30th. Mr. B.L. Lefroy and Thomas E. Fitzgerald Justices of the Peace for Athy were instructed by Dublin Castle to convene a meeting in the town for the purpose of formally adopting a resolution
“That the Act entitled “The Town Improvements (Ireland) Act 1854 be adopted by the ratepayers of Athy”.

Public notice of the meeting having been advertised in the Leinster Express of the 17th May 1856 the meeting was scheduled for Thursday 22nd of May at 7 o’clock in the Courthouse of Athy. With the passing of the required resolution and its certification to the Lord Lieutenant by Benjamin J. Lefroy and Thomas E. Fitzgerald the application of the 1854 Act to Athy was formally approved on 2 June 1856.

On 10th June 1856 the following 15 qualified ratepayers were unanimously elected the first Commissioners under the Town Improvements (Ireland) Act 1854.

Martin Kavanagh Farmer
Mark Cross Architect
Thomas Fegan Merchant
Henry Hannon Miller
Patrick Cummins Malster
Joseph Irving Apothecary
Michael Lawler Merchant
Robert Molloy Merchant
Patrick Byrne Merchant
Edmund E. Butler Farmer
James Leahy Merchant
Alexander Duncan Merchant
John McDonald Merchant
William O’Melia Auctioneer
Thomas Peppard Merchant

On 21st June 1856 the Leinster Express published a letter to the Editor from a disgruntled Athy ratepayer complaining that he was unaware of the meeting held a week previously by the Athy Ratepayers Association to elect 15 householders as Town Commissioners.
“I hope they will show by their future acts that they are worthy of the important trusts reposed on them - for what they had been doing as old Commissioners amounts to nothing.” The letter continued:
“The streets would require to be frequently cleansed. It is impossible to cross any of the main streets without being up to ankles in filth. The market ought to be better regulated at present. Bad fish and meat are frequently exhibited for sale and the confusion at weighing corn is so great that it is impossible for the weigh master to avoid making mistakes.”

The disgruntled ratepayer continued
“the furious driving of cars through the streets ought to be prevented the town. Athy and its inhabitants are in a most prosperous state due to the individual exertions of its individuals and not to anything done by the Commissioners as a body.”

The Commissioners held their first meeting on the 16th June 1856 and appointed Martin Kavanagh as Chairman and Henry Sheill as Town Clerk at the salary of £10 a year. John Roberts was appointed Inspector of Nuisances at a yearly salary of £12. John Hayden obtained the lucrative position of weighmaster and adjuster of weights and measures for which he was paid £35 a year. Patrick Byrne the public bellman received two guineas a year. While the weekly meetings of the Commissioners were held in the grand jury room of the Courthouse the Town Clerk’s office was located in Henry Sheill’s house in Leinster Street. Porters appointed to the public crane and weighbridge were William Langan, Pat Hyland, Michael Moore and James McDonald.

Public dissatisfaction with the town commissioners resulted in an attempt on the 15th October 1857 to contest five vacancies on the Commission caused by retirements under the agreed rota system. The five outgoing Commissioners were opposed by Luke O’Neal, Patrick Whelan, John B. Meredyth, John Diven, Pat Grace and James Lawler who however only received five votes each compared to the twenty votes cast to the outgoing Commissioners. A Poll demanded by Matt Minch was agreed to and fixed for October 22nd but was subsequently rescinded on technical grounds and the five outgoing commissioners were deemed re-elected. The decision was a cause of frustration for many unhappy ratepayers and was in time to result in concerted effort to break the existing town Commissioners monopoly of the elected positions in the town.

Thursday, April 2, 1998

Athy's Heritage Centre

There are lots of interesting history related happenings in Athy this year. Just published with financial assistance from the South Kildare An Taisce is a booklet on the history of St. John’s Cemetery with an index of burial plots and inscriptions. The booklet was researched and compiled by participants in the Athy Alternative Project which was in turn funded by the Probation and Welfare Service of the Department of Justice. It’s very welcome addition to the growing list of material on Athy and its history and congratulations must go to everyone involved in the project.

As you read this article the finishing touches are being put to the fitting out of the Heritage Centre in the Town Hall. Orna Hanley, Architect and daughter of the former Dublin city Architect Daithi Hanley is responsible for design work in the centre and she has been recently supervising the installation of the display cabinets and audio visual equipment in what was formerly the old butter market of the town. The visual and oral presentation of Athy’s history through the centuries highlights a number of topics which will be of particular interest to visitors and locals alike. Ernest Shackleton famous Antartic explorer and native of Kilkea just outside Athy and not Kilkee, Co. Clare as so many newspapers have claimed, is featured in one of the special displays in the centre. The story of his expeditions across the frozen wastes of the Antartic is told in pictures and sound and features a number of personal items belonging to Shackleton. The centre of attraction will probably be the dog sledge used by the explorer on one of his Antartic expeditions. It was returned to Ireland some years ago from New Zealand where it had been stored for many years in a suburban garage. Jonathon Shackleton who now owns the sledge has very kindly loaned it to the Heritage Company for display in the centre. Athy will have the only exhibition of material relating to Ernest Shackleton in Ireland and it is expected that it will create a lot of interest.

Another first for the Heritage Centre is the important and extensive material devoted to World War I. This is of particular relevance in the context of our town’s story as so many men from Athy and district enlisted to fight in what is now commonly called The Great War. I have extracted the names of 188 men from the area who died during the 1914 - 1918 War and of those 105 men were from the town of Athy.

For so long it was deemed imprudent to recall the involvement of these men in a war in which they fought on the side of “the old enemy”. However, the Irish nation has grown in stature and maturity and the Irish people now realise it does no disservice to what one believes in to honour our dead no matter in what uniform they died. Republicans or not, all of us have a shared history in which some of our parents or grandparents or maybe some of our uncles or granduncles enlisted to fight and perhaps to die in the fields of France or Flanders over eighty years ago.

The untimely death of so many local men during the four year period had a devastating affect on post war life in Athy. Their names will now be recalled in the Heritage Centre’s exhibition relating to Athy and World War I.

Interestingly I see a letter in today’s Irish Times from Mark McLoughlin the Manager of the Centre in which he refers to the World Ward I material to be displayed in Athy. This I believe was in response to some earlier correspondence concerning the controversy surrounding a plan to have a War museum in Tipperary town. While our Heritage Centre will deal with all aspects of our town’s history, I am particularly gratified that at a time when the Northern peace process is gathering support from so many opposing sides that we have a sufficiently strong understanding of our past to be able to acknowledge the contribution of local men during the great War. By a happy coincidence the first public event in the Centre will be a book launch on Saturday 9th May at 4 p.m. when Schull Books of Co. Cork will launch their publication of the history of the Leinster Regiment in which many local men served during World War I.

Lest you think the Heritage Centre will be a war museum let me hasten to add that another of its many exciting exhibitions will deal with the Gordon Bennett race run over the Athy course in 1903. The visual display will include some actual film taken of the race and promises to be a particular interest to car racing fans.

The Heritage Centre has been in the planning for a number of years and it is quite exciting to think that on the 15th May those have given sponsorship for the Centre will be able to see it first hand how their money has been spent. The official opening of the Centre will take place on Thursday 25th June when the Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy T.D. will be the guest of honour. By a happy coincidence Charlie McCreevy as Minister for Social Welfare officially opened the Town Hall some years ago.

Athy’s rich and extensive history marked out the South Kildare town at an early stage as a likely contender for Heritage town status. When the town was so designated the euphoria which it created was understandable in the light of Athy’s past experience in always being the bridesmaid and never the bride. The granting of heritage town status and more importantly the co-operation needed to realise the dream of the Heritage Centre has laid to rest once and for all Athy’s run of bad luck which I feel commenced with the loss of the sugar factory to Carlow nearly 70 years ago.

We are now confidently awaiting the granting of urban renewal status for the town. Athy surely is now on the move.

Thursday, March 26, 1998

Mrs. Josephine Gibbons

Towards the middle of the last century Edward O’Connor operated a small dairy from the premises now occupied by Gerry Lynch at Stanhope Street. His only son Richard was a cattle dealer and a lifelong member of the C.Y.M.S. when it was located at the corner of Stanhope Place. Edward’s daughter Mary Ann born in 1880 was married at eighteen years of age to a young railway clerk, then employed by the G.S. and W.R. in Athy. John Horgan was a Cork man whose love of hurling led him to start a hurling team in the South Kildare town of Athy at a time when cricket was then the most popular field sport in the area. The young couple’s first two children, Edward and Thomas, died in infancy and in 1902 the first of eight children to survive was born. Mary, known to family members as Molly, was later to marry Jim Tierney of Woodstock Street and they eventually set up home in Emily Row. The next child Jack born in 1905 was destined to join his father on the railway and he served as the Station Master in Cahir, Co. Tipperary before retiring to England where he died.

John Horgan was promoted from railway clerk at the Athy Station to Station Master in Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick and was later transferred to take charge of the Railway Station at Harristown, Co. Kildare in 1912. Six more children were born between 1906 and 1920, Hannah, Josephine, Lar, Richard, Catherine and William.

The Station Master’s house at Harristown was a big red brick house from where the Horgan children watched the trains passing each day on the Naas/Tullow railway line. The 8.30am passenger train to Dublin was followed by the 11.30am train to Tullow, with an afternoon train to Dublin and the last train at 7.30pm on the down line to Tullow. In between the scheduled passenger trains the goods train shunted up and down the tracks bringing freight for the local shopkeepers and cattle to the Dublin market. The large freight store at Harristown was generally full of goods awaiting collection by local shopkeepers and publicans.

Such were the memories of Josephine Horgan who attended the primary school in nearby Two-Mile-House and who later travelled each day by train to the convent secondary school in Naas. The idyllic times were shattered when Station Master John Horgan died suddenly when out hunting with his eldest son Jack in 1924. He was buried at Coughlanstown near Ballymore Eustace with his young son Richard who had died just two weeks previously. Within another two weeks a letter was received by the young widow now left with seven children requiring her to vacate the Station Master’s house within seven days. Fortunately she was able to return to her native town of Athy to live with her unmarried brother Richard who was still residing in the O’Connor family home in Stanhope Street.

So it was that Josephine Horgan who was born 90 years ago in Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick came to the town where she was to spend all of her adult years. Josephine took up work as a seamstress and in 1937 with her mother and her younger brother William moved into 19 Emily Square which they rented from Mrs. Minchin who was then living in England. Within two years Josephine was married to local man and widower Frank Gibbons who had returned to his native town of Athy from Dublin with his young son Fintan. Frank was a staunch republican whose parents Frank Lawlor Gibbons and Josephine Gibbons [nee Proctor] of St. Martin’s Terrace were at different times reporters for the Leinster Leader Newspaper. Frank’s brother Paddy, a staunch member of the Gaelic League, was the local librarian in the late 1930’s. He married Bella Blanchfield of Leinster Street before emigrating to England in 1941 where he since died.

Josephine Gibbons remembers times past in Athy with nostalgia, recalling the silent films in the Offaly Street Cinema where Jean Duthie of Killart played the piano. The Motor Club Annual Dances held in the Town Hall which she attended with her good friends Alice Hughes and May Kelly are mentioned with particular pleasure, especially the Club Dance once held in Lefroys of Cardenton. She remembers the building of the houses in St. Patrick’s Avenue nearly 70 years ago and recalls when there were only two houses on the Kildare Road - Shamrock Lodge occupied by the Misses Baggots and a thatched farmhouse on the right hand side beyond Botharnooka Cross occupied by Miss Harrington who taught in the Vocational School in Stanhope Place.

Josephine’s younger brother Bill on marrying Ann Lawler lived at No. 1 St. Patrick’s Avenue after the death of it’s first tenant Mrs. Corcoran, a sister of Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill. Bill, like Josie’s husband Frank, worked in the Asbestos factory and both men sadly passed away many years ago. Bill was a leading member of Athy Golf Club at the time of his death, while Frank Gibbons, long retired from the Republican Movement, died in 1960 leaving a very young family.

Josephine continued to work from No. 19 Emily Square as a seamstress and also rented out her two front rooms to local Doctors to help keep herself financially independent. Dr. Cowhey opened his surgery there in 1954 and he was followed by Dr. Gleeson and later by Dr. Brian Maguire who held his surgery there for almost twenty years. Her children Raymond, Valerie and Lorraine have all done well and both of her daughters are married and living in Canada. Josephine tells me that she has travelled to Canada on no less than 41 occasions, the last time in 1997 when she was 89 years of age. She was a good friend of my late mother and I can still recall her visits to 5 Offaly Street where the two mothers, one from County Limerick, the other from County Mayo talked late into the night. In those days I never knew her as anything other than “Mrs. Gibbons” and having talked to her of her life and of her family I came away with admiration for her extraordinary recall and strength of character.

Life has not always been easy for the Station Master’s daughter since that day nearly 75 years ago when her father unexpectedly died. Her own happy married life was brought to a sudden unexpected end just like her own mother’s, at a time when her children were still of school going age. That she has managed to retain her wonderful zest for life is a tribute to her courage and indomitable spirit.

Thursday, March 19, 1998

The Bleach and District Residents Association

During the 18th century the Bleach in Athy was an area which as it’s name implies played an important part in the then developing linen industry. Here was the town’s equivalent of the Bleach Yards where the retted flax was laid out to dry, creating conditions that would have been very unpleasant for the cottagers who lived in the area.

Over 150 years later Athy Urban District Council purchased a field in the area known as O’Rourke’s field and later accepted the tender of local firm D. & J. Carbery Ltd. to build on it 94 Council houses for the sum of £134,166. The newly built houses were allocated to tenants by the Urban Council in March 1950 at rents varying from 18/6 to 6 shillings per week. Local Councillor Tom Carbery proposed that the Estate be named St. Dominic’s Park. He got no support for his suggestion and it was the Council Chairman M.G. Nolan who first suggested that it be called after St. Brigid. At a Council meeting on 24th March, 1950 the members agreed that the new housing scheme would be called Pairc Bhride. It was suggested to me some time ago by a reader that the Estate was in fact named after former Councillor Bridget Darby, but in fact the minutes of the Urban District Council confirm that the patron saint of County Kildare was honoured in the naming of Athy’s newest housing estate.

Just a few short months afterwards on 30th September a newly elected Urban Council held it’s first meeting. It comprised M.G. Nolan, Tom Carbery, P.G. Dooley, Matt McHugh, Paddy O’Neill, J.C. Reynolds, Thomas Flood, Eddie Purcell and P.L. Doyle. Thomas Flood of Leinster Street, elected as Vice Chairman of the Urban District Council on 30th September died 9 days later. His son Francis was later co-opted to fill the vacancy on the Council.

The 1950’s were in many ways difficult times for the local people. The cinema in Offaly Street had been closed down for some time because of the local Council’s refusal to issue a Cinema Licence on the grounds that the facilities provided were substandard. At the same time another cinema proprietor McNally Cinemas Ltd. of Dublin were writing to the Council advising of their intention to build a new cinema on the bridge mill site at Duke Street “as soon as legal and other difficulties are overcome”. That cinema was never built and “Bob’s” cinema in Offaly St. was to regain it’s licence after rudimentary toilet facilities were provided in the passageway which ran the length of the cinema building.

Turf was sold in Athy at 4/3 per hundredweight at a time when Bord na Mona were supplying only one load of machine turf to the traders of Athy each week. This situation which had applied since before Christmas 1950 resulted in a scarcity of turf supplies in the town and a consequent increase in turf prices which prompted the local Urban District Council to protest. Concern was also felt at the closure of Bachelor’s Pea Grading Depot at Rathstewart. This was due to the lack of restrictions on the import of frozen peas, which reduced prices available for home grown peas.

The new tenants in Pairc Bhride were for the most part young married couples who like most other people in Athy were badly hit by the economic difficulties of life in Athy in the 1950’s. It was nearly 23 years after the housing estate had opened that the residents first came together to form a tenants association. The man who brought together his neighbours for that first meeting was the late “Dinny” Whelan who like his father before him was employed by the Railway Company in Athy. That meeting took place in the Leinster Arms Hotel in April 1973 and two weeks later a further meeting was held at which 36 local residents attended. They elected a Committee consisting of “Dinny” Whelan as Chairman, Eamon Gray as Secretary and Mrs. Trish Coogan as Treasurer. All of the Officers elected at that meeting have since passed away. Other Committee Members elected included Sean Loughman, Paddy Coogan, Paddy Kane and Sarah Davis. The following year the Association started a monthly draw with tickets at 10 shillings each and after 25 years the draw still continues with the tickets remaining at the decimal equivalent of the old ten shilling note.

Outings during the Summer and over Christmas at a time when very few people had their own cars were the highlight of the Association’s early years. Nowadays the Residents Association which embraces The Bleach, Pairc Bhride, Avondale and Plewman’s Terrace and goes under the name of The Bleach and District organises garden competitions, annual Christmas parties and other events. The “Dinny” Whelan Perpetual Trophy given to the owner of the best kept garden in the district commemorates the Association’s long serving Chairman and Founder “Dinny” Whelan. As the oldest Residents Association in Athy, if not in County Kildare, The Bleach and District will celebrate it’s 25th Anniversary with a dance in the former Dreamland Ballroom on Friday, 24th April commencing at 9.00pm. Music on the night will be provided by the Imperial Imps Showband of County Meath and tickets at £10.00 each are still available. The present Residents Association Committee members include Kieran Browne, John and Margaret Donnelly, Pauline O’Rourke, Maureen Scully, Sarah Davis, Paddy Kane, Eithne Moore, Ann Flynn, Sheila Rigney, Kevin and Maura Doran, Angela Heuston and Noel Scully. Noel has been Chairman of the Association for the past 5 years, while Angela has been Secretary for the same period. Long serving Treasurer and PRO are wife and husband team of Maura and Kevin Doran who have held their positions for the last 10 years.

Two of the original Committee Paddy Kane and Sarah Davis are still Committee Members and they will no doubt take pleasure from the letter sent to the Association by President McAleese in which she wrote “In communities throughout this island there have been remarkable successes by Parish and Community based initiatives just like yours which bring neighbours together in a shared goal to enhance their community facilities and to improve the quality of life in the area.”

The celebrations for The Bleach and District’s 25 years committment to better community relationships will include a recital by the No. 1 Army Band on the Green in Pairc Bhride at 3.30pm on Saturday, 25th April.

Apart from their record of longevity I wonder if The Bleach and District Association was the first Resident’s Association ever formed in Athy. Let me know if you can throw some light on the subject.

Thursday, March 12, 1998

Janeville Lane and 'the pavements' in Nelson Street

Last week I was wondering about the location of Tynan’s Row which was mentioned in the Roll books of the Christain Brothers School over 100 years ago. On Wednesday afternoon I got a number of phone calls only one of which I feel gave the answer to my question. George Lammon of Phairc Bhride said that his mother often referred to Tynan’s Row as the area generally known to old timers as Blackparks. For those not familiar with the local geography of the recent past, Blackparks were the houses on the left side of the Kilkenny road between the Bleach and the new estate known as Tonlegee Lawns. The single story houses which stood there were demolished approximately twenty years ago. Indeed, without checking I think I may have devoted an earlier Eye on the Past to the area. Certainly I can recall writing of what may have been the areas most memorable tenant in recent years, the redoubtable Dr. Don Roderique De Vere.

In last weeks article I mentioned Jerry Mulhall and Thomas Byrne young boys from Tynan’s Row who enrolled in the local Christain Brothers School in 1885. Other Tynan Row residents of that time included Patrick and John Lawler, Thomas Doyle, John Hogan and Patrick Bolger. I wonder if any of their descendants are still living in Athy?

The relatively slow pace of development in Athy since the beginning of this Century has served to preserve many of the old buildings as well as the placenames which were familiar to previous generations. Nevertheless, the slum clearance programme of the early 1930’s initiated by Athy Urban District Council caused whole streets of substandard houses to be razed to the ground. This was not always followed by new house construction on these cleared sites and so it was that some of the old laneways and courts were lost forever. Even into the late 1940’s and beyond small clusters of houses were demolished and never to be replaced. I can recall the small two roomed uses at the back of Offaly Street which were still occupied up to the 1950’s. Janeville Lane is now a vacant site when only a short few years ago it was home to several families. As one went down the lane with Joe Murphy’s house on the right hand side you came on two houses facing the rear of Murphy’s. The Hubbock Family lived in the corner house while the adjoining house was occupied by the Bennett’s. “Hack” Walsh a soldier in the Irish Army lived with his family in a two storey brick house to the rear of Hubbocks. Running the length of Bennett’s and Walsh’s house and between them and Sylvester’s garden was Tom McHugh’s foundry.
Walshe’s house faced the cul de sac which ran parallel to Offaly Street and on both sides of which were one storey, two roomed houses. This was the original Janeville Lane although the name was later to include the earlier mentioned areas as one exited from Offaly Street.

As one stood outside “Hack” Walsh’s front door and looked up Janeville Lane, the first house on the left corner was occupied by “Goggy Walsh”. He was an old man with no family who worked for the Board of Works. Next to him was Bobbie Ivors the Stonemason who lived with his sister. The last house on the left was occupied by the Boylan Family. Mr. Boylan was a retired British army soldier and his daughter later married Tom Fleming.

Directly opposite Boylan’s were Bill and Mary Brown. Bill was a painter and their daughter Alice Owens is still living in Athy. Molly Fox lived with her parents in an adjoining house and further down was the Whittaker Family. Next door to them was Matt Kane who once worked with Julia Mahon and in the last house in the corner directly opposite “Goggy” Walsh’s lived the Doody Family. Mrs. Doody is still hale and hearty and living in Convent View. I went to school with Paddy Doody who has lived in England for over thirty five years. Indeed, I believe most of his brothers and sisters now live in England with the exception of Ann Fenelon who lives near Ardscull. The Doody Family were gifted in many ways and I can still recall the may bush which every year Paddy Doody put on the pole at the top of Janeville Lane, keeping up a tradition which went back through the generations. I haven’t met Paddy for almost forty years but I can still recall his wonderful ability to improvise which saw him regale us other youngsters with the big band tunes years before Radio Luxembourg extended our musical tastes. Janeville lane is now deserted like so many other areas of the town where over fifty years ago families lived and children played.

Another area which disappeared from public notice is “The Pavements”. This was a row of two-storey houses which ran from the rere of Keyses (now Redmonds) on William Street to the Junction of Shrueleen Lane. Towards the end of the 1940’s, the first house was home to Tom Byrne whose next door neighbour was Tom Rowan who fought in the World War 1. Joe and Hinny Byrne were next door and then Joe Nolan and his family. Joe was also a former British army soldier. The second last house was occupied by Ciss Dunne who kept a lodging house while the legendary blind musician, Joe Lynch lived in the last house.

It’s surprising how quickly a townscape can change even in a town such as Athy where building development to date has been relatively subdued. Understandably, main street premises tend to remain a fairly constant reminder of what the town was in previous generations but its the side streets and especially the laneways which have borne the brunt of the demolition hammer. Whole communities have disappeared, their homes removed from the streetscape leaving no reminder of what once existed.

We can expect even greater changes in Athy over the next few years as the town prepares to take a ride on the “Celtic Tiger” to hopefully increased commercial and industrial activity. Would it be to much to expect that we will manage these changes in such a way that future generations will not curse our lack of foresight or bad judgment.

Thursday, March 5, 1998

Old School Register - Athy CBS

Last night I spent some time reading through some of the old school registers dating back to 1878 which had been maintained by the Christian Brothers in Athy. Each pupil’s name is entered with his address and date of admission to the school. The age at which children first attended school in those days when school attendance was not compulsory varied from nine years down to four years. The average however seemed to be somewhere between six and seven years of age.

The interesting details noted in the Registers about each new pupil included parents’ occupation, generally of course referring to the father’s work. Of the thirty children who entered the first class between April 1878 and September 1884 two were sons of boatmen residing at Barrack Street. Very few trades were represented and of those mentioned there was one carpenter, one maltster, one boot maker and one tailor. There were eighteen labourers, one charwoman, one pawnbroker, two farmers and two shopkeepers represented by sons in the first class during the six year period already mentioned.

Details of when the young students left school was also given with an explanation for their departure. Bernard Browne of Barrack Street who was five years of age when he enrolled in a school in February 1883 emigrated to America five years later. Presumably at that young age he was accompanied by his father who was a carpenter and the other members of his family.

Ten of the school boys left the Christian Brothers in St. John’s Lane after a few years and the Roll Book noted after their names, “went to work” or “working”. Of those one was only nine years of age when he left school for work, while another was ten years old. Three had attained eleven years of age when they gave up their studies to take up employment while one boy was twelve years old and two others had reached thirteen years of age when they finished their studies. This was a time when there was no legal requirement to attend school and where minimum age limits for work did not apply to those working on the land or in the local brick yards.

Some of the addresses given in the School Register speak of places which are now no more - Nelson Street, Dry Dock, Preston’s Gate, Shruleen. At least they are still remembered and we can identify the areas with which they were connected. What about Tynan’s Row however where Gerry Mulhall and Thomas Byrne lived in 1885. I have never before come across a reference to Tynan’s Row and wonder whether any of my readers know where it was located?

In 1888 Denis Lawler then aged six years enrolled in the school. His address was given simply as “The Turnpike”. I know where the Turnpike Gates were located in the latter part of the 18th century at either end of the town but wonder to which area the name “Turnpike” was applied 110 years ago.

A wonderful array of trades are mentioned in the Register as one moves through the years from 1878 onwards. A milliner in Duke Street, a tinsmith in James’ Place, a baker of Meeting Lane, a tailor of Preston’s Gate, a harness maker of Duke Street, a boot maker of Canal Side and a stone breaker of Meeting Lane. This gives just a flavour of the diversity of occupations to be found in Irish provincial towns of the latter part of the 19th Century.

Reading through the Register one is struck by the numbers who left Athy either for Dublin, England or America. One of the many former pupils of Athy Christian Brothers School who emigrated was John J. Bealin who was born in the house now occupied by Mrs. Lehane in Stanhope Street on 28th December, 1854. His father Mark Bealin owned a flourishing bakery business at No. 2 William Street and his mother was the former Margaret Brewster. John had two brothers, William, older than himself and a young brother named Mark. He also had two sisters Margaret and Mary who attended the Sisters of Mercy School in the town.

Before the Christian Brothers came to Athy in 1861 a local committee was set up to raise funds for the boys new school which was proposed to be opened off St. John’s Lane. Mark Bealin Senior was Secretary to that committee and it was due to his efforts and those of his committee that the Christian Brothers were able to open their school in Athy on 19th August, 1861.

John Bealin’s father died in 1866 and on the subsequent re-marriage of their mother to a Mr. Coffey John and his two brothers emigrated to America in 1868. They apparently continued their studies in New York City and in time John J. Bealin became a successful business man. He kept in touch with his former teachers in the Christian Brothers in Athy, particularly Brother Holland and Brother Flanagan. On 26th December, 1924 John J. Bealin died in New York City and when his Will was probated it showed a bequest of $1,000 to his old school in Athy.
New York was also the home of another famous emigrant from this part of the country who in 1880 became the first Irish born Catholic Mayor of that city. William Russell Grace who was a native of Ballylinan emigrated to South America where he worked for some years on a farm in Lima, Peru. He later went to New York city where he was to achieve wealth and fame as the first citizen of that city at a time when Tamanny Hall was at the height of its power and influence. Many American publications have erroneously referred to Grace’s place of birth as Queenstown (Cobh) obviously mistaking the port from where he emigrated from this island. In February 1947 a Mr. S.H. Grace of New York wrote to Athy Urban District Council for information on the relatives of the late William Russell Grace who his namesake claims had previously lived in Ballylinan.

The future Mayor of New York had emigrated for South America long before the Christian Brothers arrived in Athy. Nevertheless he was part of the diaspora from this area which continued unabated throughout the last century and beyond and which was reflected in the school registers in the Christian Brothers in Athy.

Thursday, February 26, 1998

Athy's Inner Relief Road

The Athy Relief Road controversy has raised it’s head yet again. Last week the Traffic Management Consultants Acer McCarthy who were employed by Kildare County Council in 1996 to reinvestigate the Inner Relief Road proposals advised the Urban District Council members of the results of the public consultation process which was carried out over a six week period at the end of last year.

The history of the proposed relief road makes interesting reading. In 1975 Athy Urban District Council commissioned a traffic study of the town. A report was presented to the Urban Council in December 1975 in which the consultants recommended two new alternative routes to relieve traffic congestion in Athy. Both an Inner Relief Road and an Outer Relief Road were approved by the then Council and were subsequently incorporated into the towns development plan. Successive Urban Councils maintained the line of the Outer Relief Road free of development, a situation which continues to this day.

Over the years the membership of the Urban Council has changed and with it the unanimous majority which once favoured the building of an Inner Relief Road through Athy. Opposition to the proposed roadway which was to cut through the back square with a new bridge behind the Courthouse was first raised over ten years ago when a newly elected Councillor questioned the wisdom of the Council’s plans. Since then an increasing minority of the Council has steadfastly opposed the Inner Relief Road proposal and their opposition has galvanised into action the local people who up to then were largely unaware of what was proposed.

It was clear from an early stage that the officials of Kildare County Council favoured the Inner Relief Road and when rumblings of discontent were voiced in the Urban District Council chamber some ten years ago moves were speedily made to transfer responsibility for the planning of the roadway from Athy Urban District Council to Kildare County Council. This served for a while to put a cap on criticism of the Inner Relief Road plans.

Subsequent widespread opposition to the perceived destruction of the fabric of the town centre which would result from the building of the Inner Relief Road prompted the officials of Kildare County Council to soften their initial approach to the project. The Inner Relief Road which would run parallel to Leinster Street and Duke Street, exiting at Blanchfields at one end and at Canal Side at the other was originally designed to be a roadway for vehicular traffic only bounded on both sides by high walls. No development was to be allowed along the route of the road, a position which however was subsequently changed, obviously in an attempt to win over local support for the Inner Relief Road. Thereafter the project was to be offered to the townspeople as a new street, with development potential for shops and houses. Unquestionably many people were won over by this new approach and indeed many business people felt that the commercial future of the town was guaranteed by an Inner Relief Road Project which offered opportunities for further commercial development.

Fast forward then to last weeks meeting when Acer McCarthy presented for the second time in nine months it’s proposals for a traffic strategy for Athy. Surprise, surprise the traffic consultants while favouring the Inner Relief Road do not recommend that the new road be used in conjunction with Leinster Street and Duke Street as a one-way system. To do so would in their words lead to “speeding and an increased risk of road traffic accidents”. Instead, Acer McCarthy would make the Inner Relief Road a two-way system with shopping and commercial activity confined to the existing Leinster Street and Duke Street. No development would be allowed on the Inner Relief Road which is planned to facilitate the movement of upwards of ten thousand vehicles a day.

The consultants’ suggestion regarding the pedestrianisation of Duke Street and Leinster Street has been well publicised and were reviewed as part of the public consultation process at the end of last year. Strangely enough the consultants have not changed their initial proposals one iota following the consultations with the public of Athy. A majority of the locals who made their views known to the consultants opposed the Inner Relief Road while others objected to the pedestrianisation of Duke Street and Leinster Street. Neither set of views was taken on board by the consultants and so what we are now left with is an Inner Relief Road carrying two-way traffic with Leinster Street and Duke Street closed to vehicular traffic. Clearly the public consultation process has been a public relations exercise only, disclosing no evidence of any attempt to take account of the views of the local people.

It is also clear that the officials of Kildare County Council are insistent that the towns’ traffic problems can best be solved by an Inner Relief Road rather than an Outer Relief Road. Much emphasis has been placed on the one day or was it a two day traffic count carried out in 1997 by Acer McCarthy and which rather strangely showed a dramatic fall in the number of vehicles passing through Athy compared to the numbers doing so in 1975. This was sufficient to satisfy the consultants and of course the officials of Kildare County Council that an Inner Relief Road was necessary to facilitate the movement of local traffic within the town. They argue that even if an Outer Relief Road was constructed it would not significantly reduce traffic congestion in the town since as they claim so little of that traffic was passing through Athy. I have to express my doubts about the validity of the claim that vehicles passing through Athy contribute so little to traffic congestion in the town. If we are to believe that the congestion is caused by local vehicles is there not merit in the proposal to develop circulating roads at the rear of Leinster Street and Duke Street without any interconnecting new bridge across the Barrow? This would help maintain the integrity of the open squares at the centre of the town and would offer an environmentally better solution than the proposed Inner Relief Road.

The issue now boils down to a contest between County Council officials and the people they serve. Whose views are to have precedence? Will the decision as to the future development of the town of Athy be assumed by officials who do not live in our town and whose decisions are determined less by social and environmental factors than by economic factors or what the officials grandiosely refer to as cost benefit analysis.

Oh, one other little carrot is about to be dangled before you in an effort to get your support for the Inner Relief Road. Kildare County Council will carry out an Environmental Impact Study to assess the effect of an Inner Relief Road on the town. Strangely such a study was previously refused by Kildare County Council and indeed those members of Athy Urban District Council who support the Inner Relief Road recently voted down a motion to have such a study carried out.

It is time to give the town back to the people and to try to develop the town in a way which makes it an attractive place in which to work, to live and to spend our leisure hours. We cannot do that if we fail to grasp the opportunity to find an environmentally friendly solution to the present traffic congestion in Athy. The proposed Inner Relief Road will be destructive of many of the important elements of the towns layout. The Outer Relief Road on the other hand coupled with the suggested circulating roads on either side of the river Barrow afford an ideal opportunity for marrying the future development potential of the town with the preservation and protection of the fabric of the town.

Thursday, February 19, 1998

Motte of Ardscull

The motte of Ardscull has been a dominant feature on the Dublin road as it sweeps down towards Athy into the Barrow valley for eight centuries. Today its summit is crowned by trees and it forms a calm tranquil refuge from the volume of traffic which skirts its edge during the day. The placename of Ardscull is derived from the Irish Ard Scol but its origins are unclear. It has been translated at various times as the ‘hill of the shouts’, the hill of the heroes’ and even the ‘hill of schools’. Whatever it’s origins the motte itself has a relatively recent history. It is a Anglo-Norman construction, a defensive enclosure built in the late twelfth century which would have been topped by a timber castle. The Normans built these mounds of earth all over the country in the initial years of their conquest of Ireland. There are no direct references to the motte itself which is unusual given it’s size which makes it one of the largest mottes in Ireland. It was first referred to in 1654 when the inhabitants of Kildare requested the state to contribute thirty pounds ‘towards the finishing of a fort that they have built at the Mote of Ardscull so that same may be a garrison’. These buildings were still evident on the summit of the motte in 1789 but have since disappeared.
At some point in the early 13th century a small town was established close to the motte. In 1282 it was noted as having one hundred and sixty burgesses which indicates it was a town of some size, similar to Castledermot at the same date. It possessed the normal elements of a town of that period with a church, mill and market place. The town was burned in 1286 and after this date nothing is known of the town.
As the native Irish fortunes revived in the fourteenth century many of the smaller boroughs vanished. So while a town like Athy built on a important fording point flourished towns such as Ardscull were abandoned. Ardscull was not the only settlement in this area to disappear.
Just one mile south of Athy the borough of Ardreigh was established in the late 12th century. The land had belonged to ‘Thomas of Flanders’ for whom Hugh de Lacy built a castle in at Ardreigh in 1182. This was probably a timber castle which sat on a motte somewhat similar to Ardscull. Around the castle the town developed. The town appeared to flourish in its early years. Hugh Dullard a landowner in the area granted part of his property in Ardreigh to the Prior of St Thomas’s Abbey in Dublin and it seems likely that the prior had a church built on the site. The church did not remain in the hands of the prior long as in the early 13th century the Diocese of Dublin was noted as having two clergy and a number of Chapels at the site which suggests that it was a relatively important ecclesiastical site.
As with many small towns of the time individuals were appointed to govern the settlement. In the fourteenth century Nicholas Fitzaustin was the Provost while William FitzElye was his deputy. The duty of these men was to collect the tolls on market day. A weekly market was granted in 1318to Milo le Poer who then held the town
Another duty of the provost and his deputy was to maintain law and order. It must have been at times a difficult task. In 1297 Gilbert de Stanton appeared before the court in Athy charged with stealing 60 cows from the town of ‘Ardry’.
The most prominent member of the local community was William de Athy of whom I wrote last week. William owned substantial property in the town which included a large timber house which had its own orchard which was probably prey to the boys of the locality as the orchards of Athy were in my own childhood. At some point in the late 14th century the town of Ardreigh went into decline, presumably it was overshadowed by its larger and more prosperous neighbour Athy. Settlement at Ardreigh did not die out entirely. Sir Piers FitzJames Fitzgerald had a little castle there ‘thatched with straw and sedge in his town of Ardree’ which was burnt down in 1593 by the sons of Fiach Mac Hugh O’Byrne. The family of Sir Piers perished in the fire. The population at Ardreigh never died out completely as the census of 1659 noted that there was twenty four inhabitants. Today as the town of Athy expands out to meet Ardreigh we can only marvel at the past which has seen the earliest settlement founder in the 14th century only to be revitalised by the resurgence of the Celtic Tiger at the close of the twentieth century.

Thursday, February 12, 1998

Medieval Crime in Athy

Athy over the years has suffered the reputation of being a town with particular social problems and a very high rate of criminal offences. It was therefore heartening to read in the local Press just after Christmas that there had been a considerable drop in the crime rate during that period. It is not unusual when considering the social ills of our day to look back to a time when we were not so burdened with the worries of modern day life. We are at our most reflective when considering the impact of crime in our community. A common refrain which is often heard on such occasions is that the traditional practice of leaving a key in the front door is no longer possible. However, these memories can be misleading. We should always remember that in the past history of the town there were periods when it appeared to be almost over run by those with criminal leanings. The year 1297 was once such year when the Court records which survive recall a wide variety of crimes from murder to arson. At the beginning of the year the unfortunate Walter Le Wylde was killed outside the town by a number of men who included an individual called Lucas who was son of “Joseph the Chaplain”. The perpetrators of this crime were successful in evading the reach of justice but were outlawed for their act, which at the time was akin to a death sentence. Sometimes, however, detention at the behest of the Court was deemed to be sufficient punishment as in the case of David Fitz Le Feure who was ordered to be held in the ward of Athy by the town Sergeant, for what offence the records are silent. A more serious offence in the eyes of the Court was the theft of 60 cows from the town of Ardreigh by a Richard Manellan and others for which they were outlawed. It seems that criminal acts were not the sole preserve of men. The wife of John Le Lowe while she was staying in the town directed her husband’s servants to steal from a farm of Thomas Moynath, hay, to use for her horses. Having accomplished this act they fled from the town and were later outlawed by the Court. It was a time when anything capable of theft would and could be taken, the Court described Simon Le Monaer as a common thief of salts and corn after he broke into a container which held salts on a merchant’s premises in the town. William De Athy one of the more prosperous and prominent merchants, was a particularly attractive target for the villains of the day and in the course of the year had taken from him everything from corn and iron from his household to the very apples from his trees at Ardreigh. His appearances in Court were almost as frequent as those of the wrongdoers.

The continual harassment suffered by William De Athy was at its peak in June 1306 when he complained that William De Poer pulled up all the apple trees in his garden at Ardreigh, pulled down his house, carried the timber from his house back to De Poer’s home at Dunlost and burned it. When De Poer appeared before the Court he admitted his guilt and was sentenced to jail and ordered to pay damages of six marks.

The criminals of the day had few if any moral scruples and were as content to steal from the Church as from the laity. Thomas Moynagh was charged on July 21st with stealing a millstone from the Prior of Athy. The same luckless Prior was again robbed on April 14th. While later in 1298 Thomas Brennan was convicted of a robbery of jewellery and other valuables from chests kept in the Church of St. Michael on the Dublin Road. However, it would seem at the time that the clergy themselves were not immune from lawless acts. In 1347 a dispute arose between the Dominicans (whose Abbey lay on the East side of the River Barrow) and the Crouched Friars whose Abbey lay on the West side of the River Barrow when several members of the Crouched Friars were indicted for the theft of nets with fish by force or arms from a fishing weir belonging to the Dominicans. The law at the time as today extended not only to those who committed outright criminal acts and dispossessed their fellows of property but also to civil matters. Merchants also found themselves on the wrong side of the law when failing to obey the edicts of the Court. John son of Richard De Athy was reprimanded for selling wine in the town of Lea Co. Laois contrary to the law. While the frequency of civil litigation is often remarked upon today our ancestors could be equally litigious.

In July 1308 a case appeared before the Court in Castledermot with regard to an injury received when playing football in the main street at Castledermot. A participant had been wearing his dagger at the time and in tackling a fellow player he fell and the point of his dagger pierced the leg of his opponent. The opponent appeared before the Court seeking damages presumably on the basis of the affect that it would have on his future football career.

The majority of these references are taken from the Calender of Judiciary Rolls of Ireland which survive for the years 1297 to 1314. Unfortunately the vast majority of the judicial records were destroyed in the Custom House fire of 1921. What does survive gives us some insight into the day to day lives of the medieval community of Athy some 700 years ago. Though we are separated by so many centuries the concerns and worries of the townspeople today are similar to those of the townspeople of the past.

Thursday, February 5, 1998

Funerals in Cork and Athy

I attended a funeral in Doneraile, Co. Cork quite recently and came away marvelling at the dignity and respect with which the entire local community remembered one of their own. In many ways a Cork funeral and a Kildare funeral are much the same. The differences are minimal but it was those differences which served to heighten my awareness of how well the dead are remembered in the rebel county.

The removal to the local Church was at 8.30pm in the evening, a time best suited to the needs of local farmers and factory workers alike. The turnout was quite staggering and everyone in attendance was there for the duration of the ceremony. Contrast that with the arrangements in our own town when funerals are timed to pass down our main street at any time between 6.00pm and 6.30pm.

Workers from shops, factories and offices are coming out of their workplace just before our local funerals start. There is no time to touch base with home. The slow paced journey to the Church impedes traffic coming from both directions at a period which must be regarded as bordering on peak traffic time. The entire proceedings are unsatisfactory in terms of timing and the lesson of the County Cork funeral confirmed for me the benefits of a later evening removal to the Church.

It was the funeral the following day which brought home to me the closeness of community life in rural County Cork. There the priest spoke in eloquent and moving terms of the deceased, touching on his involvement in the community and particularly the local GAA Club. The ancient graveyard was over two miles away as the hired hearse moved slowly ahead of the mourners. It was empty and before it walked a solitary piper who struck up “The Flowers of the Forest” as he commenced the slow trek from the Churchyard. Relays of broad shouldered men took it in turns to carry their coffined neighbour towards his final resting place. It was late in the afternoon when the funeral reached the gate of the cemetery, just as the piper was playing the last notes of “When the Battles’ Over”. Neighbours and friends stood around the opened grave encircling the deceased’s family and relatives, almost as in a friendly protective cocoon. Prayers were said and blessed waters scattered before the proceedings were brought to an end. The crowd stood around talking, sharing thoughts, remembering experiences and enlivening a sad day with the shared words with which a community honours a departed friend.

What a lovely gesture it was to carry the coffin of their neighbour all the way from the Church to his grave. The gesture spoke volumes for the intensity of the community feeling in rural Cork and the honour which is paid to the dead of that County.

I had intended to start this week by mentioning a number of queries which I had received in recent times and which remain unanswered. The first is from George O’Gorman writing from Drogheda whose father, a local Bank Manager, was mentioned by me in a recent article on the local library. George is trying to get information on Cobham’s Flying Circus which visited Athy sometime in the 1930’s. Alan Cobham brought a plane to Athy in which he gave joyrides to those brave or foolish enough to take to the air in his flying machine. George went aloft that day and now boasts that he was the first of the O’Gorman Clan to do so. I have a copy of a photograph taken in or around 1937 which shows a number of local men standing against the backdrop of an aeroplane which was in Athy, for what reason I do not know. Those in the photograph included Paddy O’Rourke, saddler of Stanhope Street, Frank O’Brien of Emily Square, Jimmy Bennett of Janeville, Joe Reynolds of Leinster Street and Pearl and Jim May. I have also come across a reference in the local Christian Brothers’ annals to October 4th, 1931 when a sports and drill display was held in the Showgrounds to which 250 school boys paraded from the school. An aeroplane from Iona National Airways was hired for the day to give joyrides over Athy and this may possibly have been the first occasion on which an aeroplane was seen in Athy. I wonder was it also the occasion George O’Gorman first took to the air.

George mentioned a wonderful story concerning Fr. Kinnane, a local curate who lived in a beautiful thatched house, now demolished, which stood opposite St. Martin’s Terrace. George’s father helped Fr. Kinnane to count the “takings” after the annual mission in the Church and usually did so at the curate’s kitchen table over which hung an old fashioned fly paper, festooned with flies and bluebottles. Fr. Kinnane who wore a wig, but thought nobody was aware of the fact, stood up from the table, brushed against the fly paper, and walked away leaving his wig suspended from the ceiling. The Bank Manager was too embarrassed to draw attention to what had happened and contrived to leave the room before the curate returned.

Returning to George’s query if anyone knows the month and year when Cobham’s Flying Circus came to Athy I would like to hear from them.

Another query, this time centering on Tony Ross who sailed into Halifax, Nova Scotia on 19th January, 1957 and who declares to the world on the Internet that he is a native of Athy of “Johnny I Hardly Knew You” fame. Does anybody know anything of Tony Ross - if so, please contact me.

The final query comes from Steve Allen writing from Australia who wants to trace his Great Grandmother’s people. Her name was Mary Ann Prendergast whose sisters were Catherine Prendergast and Ellen Mary Prendergast. Apparently Mary Ann married Patrick Lambert in 1882 and shortly afterwards they emigrated to Australia. Her parents were Patrick Prendergast and Catherine Rickard. Does anyone know anything of the families involved. If so, perhaps you would contact me so that all the appropriate information can be forwarded to Steve Allen in Australia.

Thursday, January 29, 1998

Tennis - Helen Wills Moody and Athy

Lawn tennis is a popular game and one which has a history in Athy stretching back into the last century. I have yet to pin-point the exact date when the aficionados of the sport came together to form a lawn tennis club in the town but it has been suggested to me that the relevant date was 1885. If this is true then it was only eight years after a lawn tennis championship was first staged at the Wimbledon Club in London. That tennis had a strong following in Ireland in the latter part of the 19th century is borne out by the success of Irish players in the Wimbledon All-English Championships during the period 1890 - 1896. In 1890 the Mens Single Championship was won by the Monasterevin born Willoby Hamilton who was then twenty-six years old. A keen sportsman, Hamilton had won Irish tennis championships in each of the preceding four years and in addition was an Irish/Soccer International.

In the same year as Hamilton’s single title win the mens double winners were also Irish, as was the lady singles winner. Indeed Irish players figured in many of the Wimbledon finals in the 1890’s with Dr. Joshua Pim emerging as singles champion in 1892 and 1894. Another Irishman Harold Mahony won the mens singles in 1896. He was the last of the Irish winners at Wimbledon.

A second Lawn Tennis Club was started in Athy in 1934. Called the “Geraldine Tennis Club” it acquired grounds in Chanterlands on the Carlow Road. Some of the Members of the Clubs first committee included Joe Hickey, James Tierney, Edward Dooley, Philip Gunn, Tommy Mulhall and William Keyes. From this Tennis Club there was later to develop the Social Club which occupied the former legion hall in St. John’s Lane.

I was reminded of all this when reading of the death of Helen Wills Moody, an American player and eight times winner of Wimbledon who passed away recently in California at the age of ninety-two years. Her lists of successes as a singles player on the tennis circuits of the world were considerable. Seven American Championships between 1923 and 1931, eight English titles between 1927 and 1938 and four successive French titles from 1927 onwards.

Described as a player of unerring accuracy and control she always remained composed on the tennis court. As a baseline player she could drive the tennis ball with more pace and depth off the ground than any of her rivals. As her recent obituary stated “she dominated her matches with both power and precision, cutting down her opponents by directing the ball rhythmically and relentlessly from corner to corner forcing her opponents into mistakes by virtue of her extraordinary command of the court”.

Married in 1929 to American stockbroker Frederick Moody she divorced him in 1937 and two years later married Aidan Roark, an International polo player from Co. Wexford. Aidan was one of two brothers of Violet Roark who was married to David Telford of Barrowford, Athy. David’s father was Stephen Telford who on marrying an Anderson purchased Barrowford House. He was the proprietor of the Athy Tile and Brick Company which operated at Barrowford.

Private lawn tennis parties were an important part of the social scene at the big houses in rural Ireland in the earlier part of the century. This was a tradition which continued until more recent years, and indeed is becoming fashionable yet again. Helen Wills Moody, the most famous tennis player of her day and regarded by many as the best woman player of all time, visited her sister-in-law in Barrowford House in the early 1940’s with her second husband Aidan Roark. Just a few years following her last success in the Wimbledon Finals of 1938 she played on the tennis court at Barrowford in what was her one and only visit to Ireland.

The American tennis star was feted wherever she went, but I have not yet come across any references to her visit to Athy. She was a lady to whom all doors were open. On the continent she partnered the King of Norway in a tennis match, while in England she was presented at Buckingham Palace. She sat for the artist Augustus John, while George Bernard Shaw presented her with a signed copy of
“St. Joan”. She was herself an artist of some merit and in 1929 held an exhibition in London of her own still life’s with sketches of her contemporaries while a similar exhibition in New York was a sell-out.

When Reggie Hannon, now of Dublin whose family has strong ties with Ardreigh, first drew my attention to Helen Wills Moody’s visit to Athy, I knew nothing of the former tennis star. Within weeks I came across a copy of her 1928 book on Tennis which the authoress and Tennis Champion had illustrated herself. Her recent death deprives Athy of its tenuous connection with the world of first class tennis. The heady days of Willoughby Hamilton and his peers are long gone but nevertheless, Lawn Tennis remains a popular club sport in Athy more than 100 years after the first club was started in the town.

Thursday, January 22, 1998

The Gaelicisation of Athy - Success in Glor na nGael Competition

The one time garrison town of Athy has achieved success in the Glor Na nGgael competition for 1997 the results of which have just been announced. The winners of “An Bord Trachtala” prize for the promotion of Irish in Athy joins an illustrious group of past winners.

Reflecting on the town’s success brought home to me its uniqueness especially given the largely un-Irish history of our town. We have become accustomed to hearing of our Anglo-Norman foundation and the subsequent fortification of the town which was located on the “Marches of Kildare”. Indeed the English had a military presence in our town from as early as 1417 right up to 1878. The last regiment stationed in the army barracks in Barrack Street was Prince Charlottes’ 5th Dragoon Guards which itself had an association with Athy going back to 1716. It was that same regiment which last occupied the Army barracks in 1878. It is no wonder then that over time our town became known far and wide as a garrison town.

The Glor Na nGael success has been a long time in the making. While the Black and Tans were still controlling our streets a meeting was called in the local Technical School in Stanhope Place to revive the Gaelic League. Amongst those involved in calling that meeting was Bridget Darby, John Bradley, John Gibbons, Michael Dooley, James Kealy, Tadgh O’Shea, and Misses O’Loughlin, Kealy and Timmons. The meeting elected Michael Dooley of Duke Street as President, Ms. Darby as Treasurer and James Kealy as secretary. Within a short time Irish classes were being held in the town with Jim Tierney of Woodstock Street as the Irish teacher.

This was at a time when a local Justice of the Peace had imposed a fine at the petty sessions in Athy on a teacher in the local technical school who had insisted on signing his name in Irish. The action of the local JP was understandably condemned by the Urban District Council. The local branch of the Gaelic League in its efforts to spread the use of Irish urged the local Council to print its headed notepaper in the Irish language. They also requested that the names of the streets in the town be displayed in Gaelic but all to no avail. No that it was any lack of interest in the native language amongst members of the Council but in all probability a lack of finance dictated their response.

The Athy branch of the Gaelic League continued to hold meetings in the town and for a time used the premises of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Duke Street for that purpose. It organised a Feis in July 1919 which was scheduled to be held in the Gaelic football pitch on the Dublin Road. The efforts of the Gaelic leaguers did not find favour with some of the local men who had served during the 1914/18 war and who had been de-mobbed at the end of hostilities. Without provocation some of these men went on a drunken rampage on the night of the feis destroying bunting and decoration which had been erected in the town. The premises of Ms. Darby in Leinster Street now Conroy’s shop was especially targeted apparently because of her involvement in the Gaelic League. Bridget Darby was a formidable lady who was later to become a Fianna Fail member of Athy Urban District Council and Kildare County Council and who stood on three occasions as a candidate for Dail Eireann.

The advent of the Civil War appears to have brought the work of the Gaelic League in Athy to an end. It was not again to be revived until the late 1940’s when Kevin Meaney and others came together to reform the Irish language organisation. For how long it continued I cannot yet say but no doubt their efforts played some part in fostering the language amongst local men such as Seamus Glespin and John Birmingham. Both men were later to be better known by their Irish names. Seamus Mac Giolla Easpaig wrote the first full length biography of the 1798 Patriot Thomas Russell which was published in Irish in 1957 as “Tomas Ruiseil”. Sean MacFheoreis otherwise John Birmingham published books of poetry in Irish from 1954 onwards. Both these men lovers of their native language and fine writers in Irish are now dead. Their writings remain on as evidence that the work of the Gaelic League in Athy was not without success.
In 1956 Michael O’Neill a young school boy and a native speaker from Co. Kerry who had arrived in Athy a year or two earlier founded Cara an Irish language organisation for young people. As a member of that organisation I remember how enthusiastically we grappled with the finer elements of Irish as we practised the cupla focla with the girls from St. Mary’s. Ceilis organised to help us find our feet in a cultural pursuit which was distinctly Irish were attended with regularity and a joy without the solemnity normally associated with such events.

Paddy Walsh a gaelic speaker from Ring in Co. Waterford who came to Athy in 1950 was one of several people who in the 1960’s and later came together each week in a further revival of the Gaelic League. Others involved with him were Kevin Meaney, Mick Kelleher, Maisie Candy, Dorothy Mullin and Peader O’Mhurchú. Their efforts in keeping the Irish language alive in Athy helped to obtain sixth place in a Glor na nGael competition for the town in the 1960’s.

The most recent effort to restore interest in the Irish language was initiated by Kathleen Robinson when she was President of the local Chamber of Commerce in 1994. Kathleen who like myself has a great love of the Irish language which is unfortunately not matched by our verbal ability in the native tongue organised the first Seachtain na Gaeilge in Athy. The aim was to encourage local shopkeepers to make use of the Irish language for one week in May during the course of their businesses. Advertising signs in Irish coupled with an effort to speak in Irish was to be the aim of the Chamber of Commerce sponsored Seactain Na Gaeilge over the following few years. Each year a perceptible improvement has been noticed in the use of Irish and in 1997 no less than 70 shopkeepers got involved in the competition. The success of Seachtain na Gaeilge owes much to the efforts of Kathleen Robinson and David Murphy who have both spent much energy in the last three years to secure the success achieved this week.

The settlers town of Athy often referred to as a Garrison town has this week earned the right to be regarded as an Irish town one which is proud of its Irish heritage and language.

Thursday, January 15, 1998

Ardellis Ceili Band

I have recently written of the great tradition of music and music making in South Kildare. We have been witnessing a re-awakening of that tradition in recent times in the music of Brian Hughes, Jack Lukeman and David Bradbury. These are all young men whose musical talents are a refreshing re-affirmation of the present generation’s commitment to quality music making. How delightful it is then to be able to acknowledge the musicianship of another local man of an earlier generation whose music is recalled in a CD issued last year. The Ardellis Ceili Band and special guests are featured on a celebratory CD of forty years of dance music and song issued by Chart Records.

Taking its name from the townland of Ardellis the Ceili band formed in 1957 by Fontstown man Brian Lawler has had an interesting and chequered career stretching back five decades. Although born in Dublin Brian lived in South Kildare since the early 1940’s and in Fontstown since 1943. His father was the farm manager in Lambe’s fruit farm in Fontstown and Brian’s brother Dermot now lives there. While a pupil in Athy’s Christian Brothers school Brian developed a keen interest in the playing of the accordion. He got one lesson on the instrument from “Bridge” Behan of the Moate and two formal lessons from Joe O’Neill before embarking on a regime of practice and playing which gave him proficiency and confidence while still in his teens.

In 1956 Brian took up employment in Dublin and late that same year put an advertisement in the evening newspapers for musicians to join a Ceili band he proposed forming. In those pre showband days the Gallowglass Ceili Band based in Naas was the premier musical group in the country and Brian was undoubtedly encouraged by their success. Before the end of the year the nucleus of the band had come together and while still practising got a number of the engagements in Barrys Hotel, Dublin. “The name Ardellis had a nice ring to it” says Brian explaining why he borrowed the South Kildare townland name for his new group. The 1957 line up included Brian and Johnny Hughes of Tipperary on accordions, Freddie Dean on fiddle, Rita Harte on piano and Paddy Dunne on drums.

One of Radio Eireann’s popular programmes was Roy Croft’s “Beginners Please” and in May 1957 the newly formed band travelled to Kilkenny city in a somewhat overcrowded Ford Anglia to audition for the programme. Recording their contribution for “Beginners Please” the Ardellis Ceili Band went out over the Irish airwaves for the first time later that month. A further radio programme followed in September 1957 when the Ardellis provided Irish dance music broadcast live from The Portobello studios in Rathmines. At the beginning of the following year the Ardellis began to play each Monday night at the Irish Club at Parnell Square. Once the quietest night of the week Monday night with the Ardellis in the Irish club soon became the most popular date for ceili dancing in the city of Dublin. Soon Brian Lawler and his small group were playing in venues all over Dublin city and further afield in the provinces. The growing popularity of the Ardellis Ceili Band was marked by further radio broadcasts in February and May 1958. Their big break however, came when they were approached in October of that year by Padraig O’Neill otherwise Paddy O’Brien producer of “Take the Floor” - the most popular radio programme of its day. The band took part in a number of the Sunday night programmes which featured the legendary “Din Joe” including the programme on Christmas night 1958. By now the Ardellis was a household name and throughout 1959 the band travelled three or four nights a week to fulfil engagements. This at a time when the band members were still working in their “day” jobs. The band’s popularity was similar to that of the showbands a decade later but despite their success Brian Lawler decided in 1964 to leave Dublin for Cork city. The Dublin based Ardellis was disbanded and when it was re-formed it was to have Cork based musicians such as Anthony O’Sullivan, John Bennett and Gabriel Frost. I have particular reason to remember John Bennett who was a member of the Cork Senior hurling team deprived my beloved Kilkenny of an All Ireland Championship in 1966. By the mid 1960’s the Irish showbands had replaced the Gallowglass and Ardellis Ceili Bands in the people’s affections. Nevertheless the Ardellis continued to play their music in and around Cork occasionally travelling to Dublin for an Irish Club engagement. In 1970 the band which was then twenty three years on the road recorded its first long playing record with EMI. “Other Side of the Shamrock” was released not only in Ireland but also in England, USA, Canada and Australia and one of Brian’s compositions “One Tuesday April Evening” was subsequently chosen as the theme music for an RTE television programme. The LP was the band’s second recording as they had recorded a single for Columbia in September 1966 with the hurler John Bennett singing the “Winding Banks of the Lee”.

The band took part in the very last “Take The Floor” programme which went out on Radio Eireann in the early 1970’s and had the honour of playing when “Din Joe” called out for the last time “lift the latch, open the door, step right in and take the floor”. A second LP “Bells of Shandon” was released in 1972 but by then ceili band music was on the wane and the Ardellis drifted into semi-retirement. Brian Lawler, however, continued his accordion playing and for five years from 1975 he was accompanist to the well known Cork singer Sean O’Shea.

The Ardellis Ceili Band last performed in April 1997 but now their recently issued CD of Irish music and song gives us an opportunity of enjoying recordings of the band made at different times over those forty years. Their strict tempo ceili music gives what Brian Lawler describes as “tight music” in the distinctive Scottish style and contrasts nicely with the traditional Irish style of the Tulla and Kilfenora Ceili Band. The Ardellis were unquestionably in the first division of Irish ceili music and Brian Lawler whose musical arrangements have bedrocked the band’s performances down the years, despite his protestations is a talented player on the piano accordion. In latter years Brian has become involved in composing and two of his compositions are featured on the recently issued CD. The Ardellis Ceili Band have enriched our Irish musical heritage and have ensured that the South Kildare townland of the name will forever be linked with the music of the Irish people.

Thursday, January 8, 1998

Lawlers of Athy and the Town Chairmanship of Athy

The Lawler Family of Athy have a remarkable record of public service in the town which is unlikely ever to be repeated. Three brothers served as Town Clerks in the town between 1889 and 1942. They were sons of Andrew Lawler and the former Margaret Prendergast of Park House. Matthew Lawler was first appointed Town Clerk on 4th March, 1889 at the annual salary of £13.00 following the earlier resignation of the previous office holder James Muldowney. Athy Town Commissioners was the name of the local authority in those years and it’s Chairman that year was M.J. Minch of Rockfield House.

On 3rd February, 1890 Joseph A. Lawler was appointed Town Clerk at a salary of £12.00 per year. He oversaw the transition in 1900 from Town Commission to Urban Council status and was to remain as Town Clerk until his death on 4th June, 1927. The members of the Town Commission in 1891 were Matthew J. Minch, M.P., Thomas Plewman, Christopher Timmons, Stephen Telford, W.W. Baldwin, Matthew Minch, Michael Anthony, Joseph P. Whelan, Thomas J. Whelan, Peter J. Murphy, Michael Doyle, Michael Lawler, James Nugent, Mark Heffernan and Francis Minchin. This was the era of gas lit streets and in May each year the town’s 47 gas lamps were taken down and packed away until the following winter. The Town Commissioners still operated the Borough Court, a throwback to the days of the Borough Council of Athy which had been abolished in 1840. The Court survived and operated on market and fair days to adjudicate on disputes between traders and customers.

The Commissioners were also responsible for cleaning what was referred to as the Police Barracks lock-up, then located in Whites Castle. Other duties which fell to the Town Clerk and the staff included the prevention of obstructions at the pig fairs and sheep fairs in the town. The Pig Fair was held in Barrack Street, with the Sheep and Cattle Fairs in the Fair Green. The Horse Fair was held on the first Wednesday of each month at Bothar Bui and the upper part of Leinster Street.

One of the interesting responsibilities taken on by the Town Commissioners was their adoption of the Compulsory Education Act in 1898, almost six years after it had been enacted by Parliament. This required compulsory attendance at school by young boys and girls and the Town Commissioners appointed a School Attendance Committee to monitor compliance with the law. It is interesting to note the multi denominational mix in those nominated to the Committee. Heading the list was Mr. M.J. Minch, M.P. and described as a Catholic, followed by Stephen Telford, Presbyterian and John A. Duncan, Methodist. One of the last acts of the Town Commissioners was to pass a resolution in September 1899 protesting against the “unjustifiable war waged against the Boers” and tendering their moral support to “President Kruger and his race in their stand against intrusion”.

On 1st April, 1900 the former Town Commissioner was re-constituted as an Urban District Council and the new body held it’s first meeting on 2nd April with Joseph A. Lawler continuing as Town Clerk. The range of responsibilities of the Urban Council were substantially greater than those of the old Town Commission and the workload of the Town Clerk increased accordingly. Particular attention was paid to public health and in May 1903 the Town Surveyor John Coleman was able to report that since a new system of scavenging was put in place “we have had scarcely a death in Athy”.

John Coleman’s daughter Bridget was to marry Michael Lawler, a brother of the Town Clerk and proprietor of the Hibernian Hotel in Leinster Street. I am reminded of a query from John Perry some months ago regarding a John Coleman of William Street and wonder whether the Town Surveyor who lived in Upper William Street was the person mentioned by John. Mr. Coleman died in May 1910 and was replaced as Town Surveyor by Michael Bradley of Offaly Street whose son John was a local newspaper reporter up to the 1970’s.

During Joseph A. Lawler’s time as Town Clerk the local Council provided the towns first water supply scheme and constructed the first local authority houses in Athy. In 1921 the Town Clerk was receiving a yearly salary of £100 which it was claimed was the smallest such salary in Ireland. The local Council, not anxious to appear parsimonious immediately increased his salary to £300 a year. A married man Joseph continued to live in Park House in the People’s Park where his parents had originally lived. He died on 4th June, 1927 and his widow continued to live in the Park House until her death in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. I remember “Mrs. Lawler” as she was known to us youngsters in Offaly Street who was always attended by her faithful maid Jenny.

On the death of Joseph A. Lawler his brother James W. was appointed Town Clerk in June 1927. The Minister for Local Government wrote to the Council suggesting that the affairs of Athy could be adequately dealt with by a part-time Town Clerk. In deference to his wishes the Council initially appointed Joseph Lawler as a part-time clerk with a salary of £208.00 per year. By now the position was officially titled Town Clerk, Executive Sanitary Officer and Clerk of the Burial Board. Later appointed to the full-time position Joseph A or “Jimmy” as he was known continued as Town Clerk until November 1942 when he retired. His retirement coincided with the appointment of the first County Manager for Counties Kildare and Carlow under the new County Management Act. Jimmy like his late brother was a great GAA fan and was one of the founders of the Young Emmett’s Gaelic Football Club in the town. This Club for young players was started in a successful attempt to revive gaelic football in Athy when an earlier club in the town had faded after some initial success. Jimmy married Essie Cummings of Naas and lived in a fine newly built two story house named “St. Anne’s” in Church Road. They had no children and when Jimmy retired as Town Clerk in 1942 he took up a position as agent for the Duke of Leinster. As the Duke’s employee he lived in 82 Leinster Street which in most recent years was home to the Old Folks Committee. He died in St. Patrick Dunne’s Hospital in Dublin on 13th April, 1957 at the age of 82 years.

Another brother was Michael Lawler, owner of the Hibernian Hotel, now the Oasis Public House. His son Michael who was later employed in Bradbury’s of Leinster Street married Kathleen Watchorn who continues to live in St. Patrick’s Avenue. A daughter of the Hibernian Hotel proprietor married John Watchorn of Crumlin in Dublin in 1933 and it is their daughter Celia Watchorn McDonald who gave me many of the family details for this article.

Don’t forget the Lecture in the Town Hall on Thursday, 5th February at 8.00 p.m. on “Athy and the 1798 Rebellion”.