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.