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.