Thursday, May 27, 1999

1849 Athy Manuscript

An unfinished manuscript compiled by a resident of Athy in 1849 provides an interesting, if somewhat inaccurate account, of the monastic foundations in the town during the 13th century. The following extracts from the 150 year old manuscript, which is now in the National Library, will be of interest to readers of Eye on the Past.

“In a remote period, an Ecclesiastical House was established quite close to the ford, and on the east side of the river. The building appears to have occupied the ground immediately in the rere of the present Courthouse and its boundary walls can be pretty accurately traced from their recent remains assisted by an Inquisition taken in 1152 for Cardinal Paparo’s Synod. The outer wall joined the Barrow at the rere of the now Abbey Garden and ran in nearly a straight line to the southern or Preston’s Gate from thence to the Methodist Meeting House in Meeting House Lane and on to St Michael’s Gate that stood near to the place now called Fogarty’s corner. From this the wall continued to St Mary’s Chapel the ruins of which were lately to be seen about halfway on the west side of Chapel Lane, thence to the black castle on the side of which Stanhope House is now erected, thence to Tubber Muiland Gate and joined the Barrow where the Muiland or Moneen River discharged itself.

The inner court wall was brought from the east side of Preston’s Gate in a curved direction round the present Court House, through the Market Square and joined the river at the rere of the Shambles.

From the arrangement just described the outer Court should be entered before the Ford could be passed from the east side. Travellers were supplied with refreshments and if overtaken by night or by an enemy, or if the Ford was at the time impassible, the protection and hospitality of the Brethern were never begrudgingly bestowed, until those who peaceably claimed either, could safely proceed on their journey, leaving behind them whatever offerings their gratitude and means afforded.

In the outer Court, a Cross was erected and a market established which formed the nucleus of the town. The establishment of the Cross apart from strictly religious considerations, always secured very good privileges to the locality. Neither the King or Lord of the soil could exact taxes fines or services. These great advantages induced the erection of Crosses without lawful authority to prevent which the 13th Edward 1st Chap. 33 enacted “that lands were crosses be put with purpose that the Tenants thereof should defend themselves against the chief lord or lords by the privilege of Templars and Hospitallers shall be forfeited as lands alienated in mortmain”.

Having described the ancient boundary of the Abbey on the eastern bank of the river, it may be mentioned that another Ecclesiastical House was subsequently founded on the opposite side. The success of the one encouraged the establishment of the other, for the same opportunities of hospitality and charity which existed on the east side, should be available in a like proportion on the west. Although the two houses were founded for the one great object, it does appear they regarded each other as rivals and there is evidence that for centuries this feeling was in existence, not only amongst the members of the communities more immediately interested, but amongst the inhabitants on either side of the river.

The graveyard of St. John’s now marks the site of the Priory of St. John’s or St. Thomas as it was indifferently styled; and its precints extended from the river at the southern margin of the Ford, to the old brewery and from thence to Miss Helen’s gateway and by the northern boundary of the graveyard along the rere of Mr John Butler’s premises on the river. The Shrewleen stream ran between the outer and inner courts and fell into the Barrow at St. John’s slip. The cross stood in the open space now at the rere of Mr Henry Hannon’s mill. All the other arrangements were similar to the Abbey on the east side of the river but the latter was always considered the superior and took precedence accordingly.

It has been erroneously stated “That the Priory of St. Thomas on the west bank of the Berba, or Barrow at Ath-righ was founded in 1241 by my Lord Richard de Saint Michael of Righbane for Crouched Friars, and that the Abbey on the east side was founded by the Boswells and Wogans for Dominicans the year before”. From this it would appear that those institutions were then founded, whereas they undoubtedly existed for centuries.

Paparo’s Inquisition found “that the Abbey was encompassed with two substantial walls, that of the base court being 600 paces about. That is had the dignity of a Bishopric and that its domains included the islands of the Barrow and 6 messuages in Le More the present town, with 12 acres of the adjoining land, also 2 fishing weirs on the Barrow, The mill of Tullamore or Tulloghmorra and a piece of heath land at Ardree, that it received annually from the Prior of St. John’s 5 marks for an eel weir. The upper island in the Barrow with a wood on the west margin of the river as far as Biddy’s Ford” (Barrowford).

“That the prior of St. John was indifferently walled, that its domain consisted of certain messuages held from the Abbey and the fields as far as Woodstock together with the Tubberara Well and common, that its wood cutter or park keeper received an allowance of a house - hold loaf, a flaggon of the second best ale and a dish of meat from the Abbey kitchen for every day he sent down the river a sufficiency of firewood and he was also to have half a mark annually for axes. That the prior was to receive from the Abbot on every feast day of St. John a corrody or entertainment for himself one Armiger a Chamberlain, another servant, three boys and three horses. The said Prior to sit on the right hand of the Abbot at his own table thereby to be more conveniently served as well in eating and drinking”.

Few facts therefore can be better established than that those institutions were founded, and held important positions, long before the time of the English settlers, Boswell, Wogan and St. Michael”.

The manuscript from which the above extract is taken has made more intriguing theories in relation to Athy’s medieval history including a claim that the town was once a Bishopric. More about that at a future date.

Thursday, May 20, 1999

Badminton Club Success, St. Michaels Boxing Club and Local Elections

I met Frank Boyce of McDonnell Drive in Galway recently and learned to my disappointment that I had missed our town’s badminton team’s success in the All-Ireland championship the night before. Played in the Galway Tennis Club the championship featured the four provincial champions and the Athy team came out on top under the Captaincy of James Kilbride. Congratulations to all involved. The team consisted of Liz O Rourke, Mary Doogue, Mary Campbell, Jessica Lennon, Frank Boyce, Tony Campbell, Brendan Sourke and James Kilbride.

Further sporting success has been recently achieved by St. Michael’s Boxing Club under the guidance of Dom O’Rourke. During the past year young boxers from the local club have won 17 Kildare titles, 9 Leinster titles, and a plethora of other titles at provincial and club level. Its record of achievement has earned for St. Michael’s the Joe McTiernan Cup as best boxing club in County Kildare and it has also won the provincial award for best club in Leinster in the 11-14 age group and the 14-16 age group. These are wonderful achievements which have largely gone unnoticed up to now.

Individual boxers in the club who achieved major success this year include David and John Joe Joyce, Eric Donovan, Roy Sheehan, John Clancy and Alan Foley. Each of them are All-Ireland title holders at different levels ranging from 11 years up to youth level. Alan Foley, son of John & Marie, of Townspark has also qualified for the European Youth Championships which will take place in Russia next August. Another European Championship boxer is Tommy Sheehan who was recently beaten in the final of the All-Ireland Senior Championship in Dublin. Tommy will represent Ireland in the European Senior Championship which will take place next October. Two other young men who did remarkably well in the Club’s first involvement in the All-Ireland Senior Championships are James Phillips and Hugh Joyce both of whom reached the Semi-Finals.

These successes carved out of the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in St. Michael’s Boxing Club like the All-Ireland success of Athy’s badminton confirms our home town’s position as one of the centres of sporting excellence in the county. Maybe the footballers of Athy, whether they pursue the round or oval-shaped leather, will take heart from the success of their neighbours and give us something to cheer about next year.

From local sporting achievements to the political ambitions of other locals is a change of direction requiring a mental adjustment of a schizophrenic. However I have heard on good authority that an election for the town council is in the offering, so the adjustment must be made. Have you heard the patter of feet on the drive-way yet as the eager candidates bear down on your front door bearing gifts of paper suitably embellished with promises and commitments for the future and boasts of alleged achievements in the past ? For printing firms a local election is their equivalent of a building boom. Brochures are required, not just by the political parties, but by each individual candidate who zealously guards and protects his or her share of the voter’s allegiance.

The promise of an election rouses some of us to action, presenting as it does an opportunity to unburden ourselves of every complaint which has gone unheeded in the previous 5 years. Like everyone else I have a wants list and on top of that list is the engineering dinosaur which is known locally as the Inner Relief Road. This marvel of in-grown toe nail type ingenuity is scheduled, or so we are told, to give us a new traffic route through the centre of Athy so as to accommodate the articulated trucks and juggernauts which might perhaps find a by-pass route too taxing. Athy Urban Development Group made up, I am pleased to say, of men and women interested in the future of their native town, has recently asked the candidates in the local election to indicate their views on the Inner Relief Road. The candidates were also asked to indicate their support or otherwise for a plebiscite which would give the local people of Athy the right to vote on the issue. The intention, I understand, is to make sure that everyone in Athy knows, before the local election, where the various candidates stand on these two important points.

Of more immediate interest are the arrangements being made by that group for an old-style public meeting in Emily Square on Saturday 29th May at 7.30pm to whip up support for the plebiscite. I gather that the members of the European Parliament (MEPs to you and me) and TDs and Senators who support the call for plebiscite will speak at that meeting.

The election on the 11th June comes at quite an important time in terms of the existing council’s push and rush to close the lid on the debate concerning the Inner Relief Road. The Town Development Plan, which includes the Inner Relief Road, is again on public display and will be up to 31st of May to enable local people to make submissions. The Urban Council’s office in Rathstewart is where you may call to inspect the plan during office hours and where your submissions and any objections or comments can be made. You should get down there as soon as possible to make sure that your views are known to the Council officials.

Back to sport again. I got a telephone call within hours of last week’s paper arriving in the shops to point out that I had omitted Mick Coughlan from the list of local players who had played with Mick Carolan. Coughlan lived in McDonnell Drive at the time and was a fine footballer as well as a worthwhile athlete specialising in the high jump. His father John, who died not too long ago, was one of the leading lights in the GAA in Athy for many years, before leaving to live in Raheny in Dublin. Incidentally the gremlins had me referring to Mick O’Shea as another local player on the Kildare team where it was of course Liam O’Shea.

Thursday, May 13, 1999

Mick Carolan Footballer

Sporting heroes are so often far away faces on TV screens, people whose achievements we admire but whom we will never meet. And, often, they’re people whose lives appear to be one dimensional, whose deeds in the sporting arena seem to be the beginning and the ends of their lives. It’s pleasant, then, to be able to write this week about a local sporting hero whose life and achievements on and off the pitch were recently honoured by more than seven hundred people in his adopted hometown of Clondalkin.

The occasion was the retirement function for Mick Carolan, local man to us and local man to the people of Clondalkin, Tallaght, Ballymun and surrounding areas who flocked to the event. It was obvious that those who came to honour the retiring Chief Superintendent of the Garda Siochana were there because of the high esteem in which they hold him.

Mick is everything that so many of the televised heroes of today are not. He’s a man who has poured his talents and time back into the community of which he is a part –both as a Garda and as an individual. His community police work, his phenomenal fund-raising for charity, his position of respect and affection among such a cross-section of people from all over the country was very evident at that event.

But my own earliest recollection of Mick goes back a long way further. To an afternoon in Geraldine Park in Athy when he lined out with the Lily Whites. One of three Athy men on the team, the other two being Brendan Kehoe of Offaly St. and Mick O Shea of Duke St.

Mick Carolan, of course, was imported to Athy from Levitstown but he was a local to us. From his early days playing in juvenile competitions in Castledermot he showed a flair that outshone those about him. He has recollected the pride he felt in marching from the Square in Castledermot to the football field to play in local competitions. And that was a pride he brought with him onto the senior field when, as a teenager, he first appeared for Kildare.

To the best of my knowledge, Mick’s first appearance for the senior team was in the 1958 NFL Divisional final, played in Carlow, against Tipperary when the Lily Whites had a comprehensive victory by double scores , 2-16 to 1-8. On that afternoon Mick lined out at corner back. A week later he appeared in the number 6 shirt (A position he was to make his own) in Newbridge , against Wicklow in the O Byrne Cup . This time Kildare got home by a single point. Seven days later Mick was on the Kildare team that beat Tyrone in the league semi-final in Croke Park He lined out with men whose names that still carry weight – men like Pa Connolly, Toss McCarthy and Kieran O Malley. That team went on to be narrowly beaten by Dublin in the league final of that year. Quite a start to the career of the tall young Levitstown man.

In the championship of that year Kildare exited in the first round – to Offaly and by one point, let’s hope history does not repeat itself this year.

In the league campaign of 1959, Kildare were away to Kerry and Mick Carolan was berthed at number 6. On that afternoon, my brother Tony made his debut between the posts for the Kildare senior team. I remember the excitement of that day – of months of trials and preparation and training coming to fruition. Not only did I have heroic figures to admire but one of them was living in the same house in Offaly St. Of such stuff are dreams made !

But to return to Mick’s life and times. While football was his passion, the Gardai were his work. Having completed his training, he embarked on a career that saw him rise through the ranks and move between the uniformed and detective branches.

At his retirement celebrations, the stories of his escapades on and off the field were recounted by colleagues and friends. A sitting judge, a former Minister for Justice, the Commisioner of the Garda Siochana, men who had served with him in the ranks, people whose lives he had touched, members of his family were among those who contributed to a fascinating “This is your life”, illustrated with old photographs and new.

And Mick himself, in a passionate and highly-articulate speech at the end of the evening had his own memories to share. He looked back over a life of work as a policeman and spoke with care and compassion about the people he had dealt with. It was evident that the thing that most drove his life and still drives it was his compassion for humanity. Time and again speakers referred to his ability to meet and treat with all on one level and in his own words he spelled out a philosophy that eschewed back-biting and character-assassination. He went so far as to say that he thought these were the most harmful and dangerous characteristics in a society.

It was obvious that Mick is a man who has thought out his beliefs very strongly, who has a philosophy which hasn’t just been picked off the shelf but which has been forged in the cauldron of a life spent dealing with people’s problems and troubles.

As the Chief Commissioner, Pat Byrne, said on the night , Mick Carolan is an example of what a good policeman should be.

And football wasn’t forgotten. Many who attended that retirement function were there because of their admiration for the sportsman – indeed Mick continues to be involved with the Ballymore-Eustace under-age team. He referred to his times playing for Kildare but, again, his memories were coloured by a philosophy.

“We played many games and we lost some that we might have won but, looking back, would it have made any difference to our lives if we had won them ?” he asked. This was a man who had learned to get his priorities in an order, a man who played sport at a time when it was played for its own enjoyment, a man who gave his all at county and club level but who could distinguish between the essential and the enjoyable.

Perhaps that is the most important and heroic thing a person can do in their life, find a set of beliefs and follow them.

Mick Carolan was always a committed footballer and an honest and clean player and the lessons he learned on those wet afternoons in Geraldine Park and Tralee and Croke Park ran much deeper than those of us who watched in admiration might ever have imagined. It’s a pleasure to know that one of our own, a local hero, has gone on to make such a hugely positive impact on so many communities, and a pleasure to write an Eye on the Past about someone whose life continues to have such positive consequence.

Long may it continue.

Thursday, May 6, 1999

May Day in Athy and Athy's link with Aran Islands

On May Day long regarded in history and folklore as the first day of summer I travelled to the West of Ireland. It was a gloriously warm day and I fell to thinking of past May Days in Offaly Street when it was a street of young families. It was the day when Paddy Doody ably assisted by his numerous brothers and sisters put up a May bush on the pole at the entrance to Janeville Lane just off Offaly Street. Paddy was observing an old Irish tradition in which the summer was welcomed in a simple yet symbolic way with the hanging of an whitethorn bush decorated by ribbons and egg shells. The May bush with its colourful appendages hung at the top of Janeville Lane throughout the first day of the month to disappear just as mysteriously as it appeared as night descended.

My thoughts of Paddy Doody and the street happenings of over 40 years ago were prompted by the flowers and small furze bushes I saw carefully laid on the doorsteps of houses as I passed through Ballinasloe. Here again was a centuries old Irish tradition which required the man of the house bring a twig of furze or sometimes hawthorn into the house on May Day to welcome in the summer. In some areas the furze was placed over the front door or hung in the roof rafter but last week in Ballinasloe the furze and sometimes little bunches of colourful flowers were placed on the doorstep. Those who follow the old tradition believe that the custom brings good luck and I have no doubt but the simple belief brings with it contentment and a fair measure of luck for everyone involved.

The purpose of my journey to Galway was to visit a part of the county I have never before set foot on and the omission was corrected when I alighted from the boat onto the pier of Inishmore, the larger of the Aran Islands. My first encounter with the Aran Islanders saw me eyeing up a line of touring vans drawn up on the pier each with its driver sitting behind the steering wheel with his head and shoulders leaning out of the side window. The uniform pose of perhaps fourteen or fifteen drivers neatly lined up one after the other each canvassing for the day trippers custom reminded me of a carefully choreographed line-up from a song and dance film of the 1950’s.

The only true way to see the island on a day the sun was reaching out to warm bone and stone alike was by bicycle or so I was told. Despite not having sat on one for some considerable time I nevertheless pushed caution aside and set out to discover Inishmore on two wheels. It was a very pleasant experience well worth the disproportionate effort needed to propel my bulking frame up and down the hills which made up the roadway system on the island.

As always I had to ferret out an Athy connection and for a long while I thought I would do no better than a County Kildare connection which I found when I stopped off at a cottage built in 1932 Robert O’Flaherty’s film “The Man of Aran”. It is now a restaurant and guest house with a fine herb garden overlooking the sea which is carefully tended by its owner Ballymore Eustace born Joe Mulvey. The Athy connection made itself known later on in the day after I had visited the famous site of Dun Aonghus. The final half mile to the prehistoric fort is travelled on foot. As I solely wound my way up the incline between the stone wall I could see ahead of me my final destination. It was above me at the end of a winding twisting stone enclosed walkway and what I saw put me in mind of the Great Wall of China as one views it from one of its awesome parapets.

Dun Aonghus is an extensive cliff top fort perched at the edge of sheer sea-cliffs on the south-west side of Inishmore. Roughly D-shaped it is enclosed by two semi-circular dry stone ramparts of massive proportions. The featureless interior of the fort is the most visited site on the Aran Islands and while there I was in the company of Americans and an extraordinary large number of oriental visitors from China and Japan.

As for the Athy connection with the Aran Islands, same was revealed on reading of Queen Elizabeth’s grant of the Island in 1587 to an Englishman on condition that he kept foot soldiers garrisoned there. The garrison was to remain for another 350 years but the original grantee was in time replaced by the Digby family of County Kildare who were absentee landlords for the Aran Islands up to the last century.

The Digby family were descendants of Sir Robert Digby originally from Coleshill, Warwickshire, who came to Ireland as a young man. He was knighted in Dublin in 1596 and soon after the accession of James I to the English throne was called to the Privy Council of Ireland. He married Lettice, daughter and heiress of Gerald, Lord Offaly the eldest son of the 11th Earl of Kildare. Lord Offaly died before his father the 11th Earl and William the 13th Earl was lost at sea in 1599. Lettice was the senior living female representative of her grandfather. She laid claim to the Barony of Offaly and other estates belonging to the Fitzgeralds and her husband Sir Robert Digby claimed the Manors of Athy and Woodstock which his mother in law Lady Offaly had been granted on marriage. During the early part of the 17th century there was much litigation between the Fitzgeralds and the Digbys concerning the manors of Athy and Woodstock which James I finally resolved. He created Lady Digby as Baroness of Offaly for her lifetime thereby allowing Sir Robert Digby to retain possession of the Athy and Woodstock manors.

In 1613 Sir Robert Digby was Member of Parliament for Athy and he is credited with obtaining the new charter for the town of Athy granted by King James in that year. Under the charter which replaced an earlier charter granted to the town by King Henry VIII, Athy was established as a borough governed by an annually elected town sovereign with the right to send members of parliament to the House of Commons. Athy remained a borough until 1840. Sir Robert Digby died in 1618 and soon after we find references to Walter Weldon as a tenant of the manor of Woodstock.

This then was a man whose descendants in centuries following were the landlords of the Aran Islands.