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.
17TH NOVEMBER, 1902
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.
16TH NOVEMBER, 1903
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.”
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.
7TH JANUARY, 1908
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.
7TH NOVEMBER, 1910
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.
4TH JANUARY, 1915
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.
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.
4TH DECEMBER, 1916
Michael Johnston, Lamp Lighter was granted a war bonus of two shillings per week.
4TH NOVEMBER, 1917
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.