Thursday, April 26, 2001

Clerics from Athy, Rev. J. Malone, Mons. Boylan

I was sorry to read in last weeks newspaper of the impending departure of the Church of Ireland Rector Canon Leslie Crampton. He will be a great loss, not only to his parishioners but also to the wider community of Athy. Rev. Crampton is a man of extraordinary gentle demeanour and of what, some might describe as old world courtesy. He is an exemplary missionary, not only for his own Church but for the religious life in general. Nowadays, more than ever before, the laity look elsewhere rather than to those ordained for the Church for guidance and example. Canon Crampton is an exception insofar as he epitomises all that is good in a cleric at a time when clerical and indeed Episcopal example and guidance has not been as it should. His departure for the midlands will be a sad loss for St. Michael’s Church and for the town and district of Athy.

Continuing on the clerical theme, for some time now I have been researching the lives of two Catholic Priests, both of whom by coincidence were born in the Barrowhouse area. Monsignor Patrick Boylan at the time of his death was Parish Priest of Dun Laoghaire and a former Professor of Theology (I think) in Clonliffe College. He was the author of a number of books on religious topics. His father was principal teacher in Barrowhouse National School but I have little or no other information about the Boylan family.

The other priest was Rev. James Malone who was born in 1863 in Dunbrin and who following his ordination went to Australia in 1892. He served in a number of Australian parishes, eventually becoming Parish Priest of Geelong in 1919 where he remained until he died in 1948. Fr. Malone was the author of three books, including a book of poetry called “Wild Briar and Wattle Blossom” published in Melbourne in 1914. He also wrote a book published in 1915 and entitled “Talks about Poets and Poetry” and a book on his travels between Australia and the Middle East which he called “Purple East”. His writings earned him the praise of that famous Irishman, Cardinal Mannix, who referred to the Dunbrin-born Malone as the John Henry Newman of Australia.

Fr. Malone returned to Ireland in 1907 and the local newspaper of the day reported on the 1st of June that year that he was at home from Australia on a visit to his family at Barrowhouse. I believe he may also have visited Ireland in 1928, although I have no confirmation of this as yet.

His book of poetry “Wild Briar and Wattle Blossom” produced 22 years after he landed in Australia included such nostalgic pieces as “The Old Whitewashed Schoolhouse of Shanganamore” which opens with the following lines.

“Through the bogs of Dunbrin, leaping pool after pool,
‘Up and follow the leader’ ‘s the law of the school;
A plunge at the stile with the risk of a spill,
For the best bunch of cowslips on green Cowsey’s hill -
A race for the rath through the long meadow grass,
Though the boldest heart quakes at the dread ‘fairy pass’ -
A leap for the hazel, a rustling of boughs -
Hush ! it’s only the gadfly that’s driving the cows.
A gallop for life to the wild brake of briar,
For the fairies will kidnap the laggards who tire.
A fox breaks his cover beneath the furze-thorn,
And our hearts leap again at the sound of the horn;
A dive through the hedges - away o’er the bogs -
Ho ! the whipper-in holds us as well as his dogs.
On, on to the river, he’s foiled them at last;
So we halt in the furze, but the school-hour is past.
And that’s how the boy took his pathway of yore
To the old whitewashed schoolhouse of Shanganamore.”

I would like to hear from anyone who can give me background information on the families of Monsignor Boylan or Fr. James Malone or indeed the clerics themselves.

I had a number of phone calls in response to the recent reference to “The River Plate Fresh Meat Company Limited” sign exposed on the wall of Hacketts Bookmakers in Duke Street. One such caller wondered if the sign was of pre-Irish Free State vintage. In those days the British Colonial lifestyle saw American bacon imported into Ireland and sold at a penny cheaper per pound than home-produced bacon. American wheat was another import at a time when barley was the principal crop on Irish farms. Was it not, my caller wondered, that same era which saw the importation of Argentinean beef for sale in a local shop in Athy? Nobody has yet identified the persons involved in the River Plate Company or for how long it carried on business at the Leinster Street premises which was later occupied by local butcher Barney Day. I would welcome any information which might throw light on the subject.

Sarah Brennan of St. Joseph’s Terrace passed away recently. I knew Sarah as a very kind and considerate person who went out of her way to help many, who for one reason or another found themselves facing difficult times or seemingly insurmountable problems. She was a good friend to many and I was fortunate to have shared a friendship with her which extended back to the early 1980’s after I returned to Athy following twenty years of wandering. May she rest in peace.

Finally, I must mention, although I’ll return to the subject at a later date, the Pattern Day which takes place in Tubberara on Sunday, June 17th.

Thursday, April 19, 2001

Pubs in Athy 1924 and Billy/Skurt Doyle

Two weeks ago I listed the forty Publicans who in 1924 traded amongst the 4,000 or so, souls whom made up population of the former garrisoned town of Athy. Just imagine, one pub for every 100 persons whether man, woman or child. There was little or no full time employment in Athy in the early years of the Irish Free State and the local brick yards and Minch Nortons were what passed for industry in those days. Clearly there was little spare money for drinking which makes me believe that to be a Publican in Athy 77 years ago was not an occupation guaranteed to lead to wealth and fortune.

I made a passing reference in that same article to an industrial dispute in what I believed was Sylvester’s Public House at the corner of Emily Square. I had identified the right premises but apparently by the time the dispute broke out, it housed a Pork Butchers shop operated by a Mr. Conlan. He purchased the premises from Henry Sylvester, who had operated a Public House there in 1924. Details of the Industrial dispute which dragged on for several years are still unclear. Two workers employed by Conlan’s Pork Butchers have been identified as Hopkins and Kavanagh but I have no knowledge of whether or not they were involved in what is claimed to be one of the longest industrial disputes in this country. I would like to hear from anyone who can fill me in on any part of the Conlan’s strike.

Des McHugh tells me with reference to queries I raised in the same article that Stan Glynn’s Public House was subsequently purchased by Townsends and was later known as Smugglers while Thomas Bergin’s is now Barney Dunne’s premises. Matthew Cunningham’s Public House in Duke Street burnt down one Christmas night resulting in the tragic death of a woman whom I have not yet identified. The premises was later rebuilt but not as a public house and it is now incorporated in the front portion of the Super Value Supermarket. Can anyone recall the year of the Christmas night fire in Duke Street which resulted in a tragic loss of life and the destruction of one of Athy’s oldest public houses.

May Lalor phoned me in relation to the same article and was able to identify the location of the various public houses in Athy in 1924. She remembered Stan Glynn and his wife as a kindly elderly couple whose only son died at a young age. Was this I wonder Joseph William Glynn who died in December 1916 when 22 years of age and whose grandfather William Glynn died 20 years earlier aged 85? May also pinpointed Thomas O’Gorman’s Public House in Duke Street as the premises located between what is now Kane’s shop and the vacant Goalpost Public House.

Hackett’s Bookmakers were repainting the front of their premises in Leinster Street during the past week. Did you notice the unusual sign underneath the shop window which came to light when years of accumulated paint had been removed. “The River Plate Fresh Meat Company Limited” was an unusual name for an Irish Firm. Clearly the reference is the Argentinian area which was and still remains one of the foremost beef production areas in the world. But who were the promoters of the Company who so proudly advertised their wares in this way on the main street of an Irish provincial town. Was it the late Andy Finn, a farmer of Milltown, Athy who had a butcher’s shop in the same premises in the 1940’s and 1950’s?

I had a welcome visit recently from Billy Doyle whom I last met at a Kildare Association Function in Manchester a few years ago. Billy, now 64 years of age is a son of the late James “Barracks” Doyle and his wife Elizabeth MacMahon who was originally from Levitstown. Like many of his peers “Barracks” served in the British Army during World War 1 and on returning home joined the Irish Army. The Doyle Family lived in a thatched house at Moneen at a time when it was the only house on what was once the town’s commonage. Moneen or Clonmullin as it is now known is unrecognisable today from the time when Paddy Doyle and his siblings walked the short distance through Moneen lane and Convent View to the nearby school. “Barracks” Doyle who was one of Athy’s enduring characters died on the 20th March 1958 at 65 years of age. Billy went to England ten years later to work in the Lairds Shipyard in Birkinhead having earlier served his time as an apprentice mechanic with Joe Brophy and Jim Kenny in Duthie Larges of Leinster Street. He was able to fill in for me another part of the local jigsaw when he recounted a conversation he had with Jack McKenna some years ago. Jack in an interview with me some time before he passed away spoke of the day he stole a gun from a black and tan who has been pushed through Jackson’s Shop window. Jack told Billy that it was his father “Barracks” Doyle who had sent the Black and Tan flying through the plate glass window following which the youthful Jack McKenna relieved him of his weapon which he quickly passed on to a member the local republican army.

Talking to Billy brought to mind snippets of stories heard and remembered over the years concerning his father “Barracks” and that other great character with World War experience “Skurt” Doyle. “Skurt” who was married to one of the Lawler’s of Ardreigh died in or about 1953 and so far I have been unable to locate his last resting place in St. Michael’s Cemetery. He was one of the most remarkable men of his time and is still remembered by the older people of the Town. I have tried for some considerable time to gather information on “Skurts” involvement in the British Army and his sporting career which spanned many decades. I would like to hear from anyone who can help me piece together the story of the extraordinary “Skurt” Doyle as his is a story which needs to be recorded while his deeds are still part of the folk memory of some of the older people of Athy.

Let me finish off this week by referring to the consultation process which has just begun in connection with the proposed new road linking Dublin and Waterford. The views of the general public are being canvassed as to the best route for this major new road and Athy’s opportunity to meet with the road Engineers was on Monday and Tuesday last. However, information on the different routes being canvassed as possibilities for the major road link will be on display in the Library in the Town Hall until Friday 15th June.

The eventual decision on the chosen route could have a bearing on the ongoing local controversy centered on the Inner versus the Outer Relief Road . If the suggested route nearest to Athy is chosen this would undoubtedly serve as the long awaited Outer Relief Road for the town thereby saving the heart the town from destruction. Might I encourage you to check out the plans for the new Dublin/Waterford roadway at the local Library and make your views known to the National Roads Design Office at Naas telephone (045) 898199.

Thursday, April 12, 2001

Extracts from Minute Books Athy U.D.C.

Minute Books are a wonderful source of information on times past in Athy and in that regard the records of Athy Urban District Council are in the premier class. The very fact that the local authority’s meetings were recorded in minute detail and are retained intact is a glorious exception to the general state of affairs insofar as the records of other organisations are concerned. Particularly so where those organisations are dependent on honorary officers, whose period of office is uncertain and not always marked by a smooth transition from one period to another. As a result valuable records get lost, mislaid or more regrettably destroyed. The problem of lost or destroyed records is not only confined to voluntary organisations, as I found to my dismay some years ago when researching the history of Athy Workhouse. The invaluable Workhouse records had been removed and burned some years previous to my research and the resulting loss is one which can never be recouped.

Athy Urban District Council has a history stretching back to 1900 but the records of its predecessors, Athy Town Commissioners and Athy Borough Councils as far back as the mid 18th century have been preserved and they provide a fruitful source of research for the historian. In the records of Athy Urban District Council successive Town Clerks have recorded not only the decisions made at the Council meetings but also the contributions of individual Councillors. It was while researching the records of the Urban District Council for the purposes of a publication to mark the centenary of the Council that I came across a number of interesting side lights on the town’s history. This week I am dipping into the Council’s Minute Books to bring you a flavour of times past in Athy.

6TH MAY, 1901
The Council adopted by-laws regulating common lodging houses in the town of Athy following a letter received from the local R.I.C. Sergeant regarding the refusal of several lodging houses to accommodate a young girl.

Congratulations were extended to Patrick Brien of Canal Side for saving three children from drowning in the River Barrow at the Horse Bridge on 15th November, 1902.

The Council reported to the L.G. Board in Dublin that the Moneen River was a source of domestic water supply for the townspeople.

6TH JUNE, 1904
For some reason the Council felt it necessary to pass a resolution permitting all persons “to use the seats and the space that they enclosed which are now erected around Woodstock Street pump.”

JULY 1904
The Post Master applied to the Council for permission to erect letter boxes at Offaly Street and Leinster Street and to move the letter box from the Pleasure Grounds wall to the inside of the Railway Station. There were three other letter boxes in the town, with four collections each day and one collection on Sunday.

6TH MARCH, 1905
The Council appealed to all traders in the town to honour St. Patrick’s Day as a general holiday and to close their premises on the day. Posters to that effect were posted throughout the town.

4TH MARCH, 1907
Thomas Plewman raised the issue of unemployment in Athy and following a special meeting two days later the Council agreed to hire extra men for street cleaning for a couple of weeks.

15TH APRIL, 1907
James Duthie, Secretary, Athy Volunteer Fire Brigade confirmed a membership of 27 following which the Council agreed to allow the recently formed volunteer group to have use of the Fire Brigade Engine.

The Council adopted new market bye laws providing for payment of tolls once goods were exposed for sale in the Market Square irrespective of whether or not, they were subsequently sold.

18TH MAY, 1908
It was agreed that that Council workmen would be allowed to finish work early at 4.00pm on Saturdays for a month trial period.

2ND MAY, 1910
The Irish Automobile Club were requested to have warning posts erected at the main entrances to Athy cautioning motorists to drive through the town at a speed not exceeding 7 miles per hour.

There were 21 cow keepers in the town of Athy and two retailers of milk.

1ST MAY, 1912
Athy shopkeepers agreed by ballot for a ½ day holiday for shop assistants on Thursdays with shops closing at 2.00p.m. This followed the passing of the Shop Acts of 1911 which gave shop assistants a legal entitlement to a weekly ½ day holiday.

20TH MARCH, 1913
The first Council house tenants were appointed by the elected members of the Council. This was a function the members continued to exercise until 1953 when tenancies were thereafter allocated on the recommendations of the Council Medical Officers.

28TH MAY, 1914
Council Workman James Chanders of Rathstewart, a store breaker employed at the Gallowshill Gravel Pit was killed when the gravel bank collapsed on him.

The Council was told that about 60 children attending National School in Athy were unable by reason of lack of food to take full advantage of the education provided. The Sisters of Mercy provided 36 school children with breakfast each morning before school started. Four years later the Sisters of Mercy were providing 96 children with breakfast.

JULY 1915
As part of its War economy measures, the Council decided to employ one lamp light instead of two as in previous years. It was also agreed to light every second lamp and no lamps to be lit during the summer months.

Michael Johnston, Lamp Lighter was granted a war bonus of two shillings per week.

The Council presented an address of welcome to Eamon de Valera on his first visit to Athy.

The Council workmen were unionised after World War I and on the application of the Transport Workers Union their wages were increased from 27/6 to 33/= per week for which they worked 52 hours a week in summer and 47 hours a week in winter.

These snippets from the town’s past give only a flavour of life as it was lived at the beginning of the 20th century. The importance of the Council’s records and indeed records of other organisations in the town for the study of our local history cannot be over emphasised. Hopefully more organisations in Athy will take extra care to ensure that their records are preserved and maintained, otherwise we run the risk of losing what may be important elements of the story of the town and its people.

Thursday, April 5, 2001

Public Houses in Athy in 1924

Last week the Newspapers featured a claim by a spokesman for the Vintners Association that Athy, described as a typical provincial Irish town, was well provided with Public Houses. It was stated that the town now has 26 Public Houses and at one time in the distant past had 32 Pubs, one for each County in Ireland. Indeed, Athy has always held a somewhat unenviable record in terms of the high number of Public Houses in the town, but today we have considerably less licensed premises than we had in 1924. Would you believe that Athy then boasted no less than 40 local hostelries, all of which were open for business. As you can imagine many changes have taken place in the personnel involved in the Public House business in the intervening 77 years. See how many of the Proprietors of that year you can recall and how many of them are represented today in the same premises by their direct descendants.

Myles Whelan, Duke Street. Joseph Whelan, Offaly Street.
Thomas Whelan, William Street. David Walsh, Leinster Street,
Annie O’Brien, Emily Square. Mary Reid, Leinster Street.
Patrick O’Brien, 78 Leinster Street. John Anderson, Emily Square.
Michael O’Brien, Leinster Street. James McLaughlin, Leinster Street.
Fintan Dowling, 16 William Street. Michael Hughes, William Street.
John Joseph Phelan, Market Square. Mary Doyle, Barrack Street.
Michael O’Meara, 67 Leinster Street. Mary Josephine Timmons, William St.
Eileen Butler, Leinster Street. E.T. Mulhall, Leinster Street.
Michael Malone, 4 Woodstock St. Edward Lawler, 3 Woodstock St.
Jacob Purcell, William St. John P. Dillon, Barrow Quay.
Thomas F. Bergin, Duke St. James McEvoy, Leinster St.
Thomas O’Gorman, Duke St. S. G. Glynn, Duke St.
John Maher, 23 Leinster St. Michael Kavanagh, 18 Duke St.
Matthew Cunningham, Duke St. Patrick Smith, Stanhope St.
Michael McCauley, Leinster St. William Scully, Leinster St.
Patrick Kelly, Leinster St. Michael Crawley, Barrack St.
Martin Brophy, William St. Mary Ann Kelly, William St.
Katherine Conlan, Duke St. Henry Sylvester, The Square.
Myles Whelan, Leinster St. Michael Lawlor, Leinster St.

In those early days of the Irish Free State, Pubs either had a six day or a seven day Licence, the latter Licence entitling its holder to open for a limited number of hours each Sunday. Some of the local Pubs had Special Exemptions allowing them to open between 6.00 a.m. and 9.00 a.m. on the morning of fairs and markets in the town. Only a few of the pubs had names other than the proprietor’s names over their doors. These included the Railway Bar operated by Patrick O’Brien of Leinster Street and the Nag’s Head where Michael O’Brien was the Proprietor. Incidentally, the Nag’s Head was once a Hotel although I can’t say if it operated as such in 1924. The Dublin Bar at 18 Duke Street was owned by Michael Kavanagh while Henry Sylvester operated The Shamrock Bar at Emily Square in what was later Miss Dallon’s Off Licence. Sylvester then had a seven day Licence and his premises was located immediately next to the Leinster Arms Hotel which in 1924 was owned by Myles Whelan. Some years ago I was told of what was claimed to be Ireland’s longest trade dispute which took place in the late 1920’s extending into the 1930’s in Athy and involved employees of Henry Sylvester’s Public House in the Square. Can anyone give me any information concerning this strike which I am led to understand went on for six or seven years.

Eileen Butler’s Public House in Leinster Street was the only Licenced Premises which had a name in Irish over the door. This was the Pub which Tom Flood bought in 1926. Patrick Smith had bought John J. Bailey’s premises in Stanhope Street in 1923 having sold his old premises in Leinster Street to Michael McCauley.

I cannot accurately identify the Pubs owned by Thomas Bergin, Thomas O’Gorman and S.G. Glynn all in Duke Street but I am sure somebody out there will do so for me.
Before 1924 had ended, Mary Ann Kelly who operated a Grocer and Spirits Store in William Street gave up the business and it was the first of the Public Houses listed to close down. Several more have closed in the intervening years but despite this, Athy can still claim to be one of the most “Licenced” towns in Ireland today.