Thursday, June 28, 2001

Missing Friends 1856-1876

In Eye on the Past No. 234 I gave an account of advertisements seeking to trace missing family members which were inserted by Athy folk in the American Newspaper “The Pilot” between 1831 and 1856. As Boston city’s most important Irish-American Newspaper “The Pilot” published the first such advertisements under the heading “Missing Friends” in 1831 and continued with similar advertisements over the following 85 years. The New England Historic Genealogical Society in co-operation with The Irish Studies Programme and The Department of History at Northeastern University started a project during the summer of 1983 to collate, index and publish in book form the many thousands of “Missing Friends” advertisements which appeared in “The Pilot” from 1831 to 1916. The first three published volumes formed the basis of my previous Eye on the Past and I have now obtained copies of four further volumes in the series which bring the work up to 1876.

On 31st January 1857 his sister Matilda sought information on the whereabouts of Charles O’Neil, described as a boot and shoe maker of Athy who was last heard of in New York nine years previously. Two weeks later Michael and John Dunne of Crookstown, who together with their mother and their sister Mary Dunne went to America in May 1847, were the subject of an advertisement inserted by their brother-in-law Felix Byrne. Proof that the emigrants from Ireland did not confine themselves to the Eastern seaboard of America was borne out by an advertisement of 25th October 1857 with reference to Thomas McAvoy [sic], a native of Athy who was last heard of in Aurora, Illinois.

Those of you who have seen copies of the Laurence photographs of Athy at the turn of the 20th century will know of Noud’s Corner, now Winkles which figured prominently in a photograph of Emily Square of approximately 100 years ago. I was interested to read the name Noud in the Missing Friends column of August 1858 where Michael and Andrew Noud of Athy were mentioned as having landed in New York on 3rd June 1848 from where they subsequently went to St. Louis.

For some unexplained reason Crookstown always figured prominently in queries printed in “The Pilot”. Persistent enquirers were Mary Walsh and her brother Edward who after a lengthy period sought information on their brother Denis Walsh of Crookstown who emigrated to America in 1846. Unusually for the Missing Friends column Mary Walsh after failing to get a response to previous advertisements offered a $30 reward for information on her missing brother. A sad tale lay behind the notice inserted by Margaret Nolan who on 2nd February 1861 advised the Pilot readership that her husband James Nolan of Athy, aged 28 years, 6ft. 1in. high, black hair, fair complexion, ears pierced, had deserted her and his child in Providence, Rhode Island over five years previously. Even then one could not trust a man who pierced his ears!

Of interest to me was a June 1864 reference to Thomas Bealin, a native of Athy who died in New Orleans in the summer of 1859 leaving a wife and children who were being sought by a Miss Darcy of New York. Bealin is a name no longer to be found in Athy but sometime ago while perusing the Annals of the local Christian Brothers I came across a reference to John J. Bealin of New York City who in 1926 left a substantial amount of money to the local Christian Brothers. He was a son of Mark Bealin and Margaret Brewster and was born on 28th December 1854 in the cornerhouse at Stanhope Street where Mrs. Lehane lived until recently. Bealin’s father had a flourishing bakery business at No. 2 William Street and he had five children, including William, Mark, Margaret, Mary and the earlier-mentioned John. Mr. Bealin Snr. played an active part in community affairs in Athy and died in 1866. When his widow subsequently remarried the three Bealin sons emigrated to America and John Bealin who was only 14 years of age at that time subsequently became a very successful businessman in New York. It is quite possible that Thomas Bealin who died in New Orleans in 1857 was related to Mark Bealin of Athy who died in 1866.

Keeping up the Crookstown connection was Denis Kennedy of that parish who emigrated to America in 1854 and who was being sought by his brother John Kennedy of Athy. Another advertisement placed by a South Kildare resident was that of Mary Langton of Castle Rheban who on 7th May 1864 describing herself as “their poor mother” desired to hear of her children Patrick, Maria and Thomas Langton who were last heard of in Lockport, New York. Mrs. Langton’s heartfelt plea for news of her three children was re-echoed in many of the advertisements placed in the Missing Friends column over the 85 years of its existence. Few of those who emigrated ever returned to Ireland. Despite loneliness and home sickness they stayed in their adopted country, realising that in America, unlike Ireland, they could find work. Eoin Finn of Bert, Athy, living in New York when last heard of some years prior to 1867 and Hugh Tierney of Geraldine who emigrated to America in 1850 were perhaps typical of their time. They were remembered by their own folk back home in Ireland, even if they had lost contact with family and friends. Sometimes those who had emigrated in the years immediately following the Great Famine were followed on the emigrant trail by younger members of their families as happened in the case of the Brennan family of Athy. Michael Brennan left for America in 1852 to be followed two years later by his brother John and in August 1870 their younger brother Denis, who had lately arrived in America, was seeking information as to their whereabouts.

Another Athy man [and it always seemed to be men who were the subject of enquiries in the Missing Friends column] was mentioned in 1872. Joseph Carroll who emigrated from Athy in 1853 was at one time a Superintendent of a sawmill in St. Louis but had moved from there and like John Foran also of Athy, but laterally of Charleston, left no forwarding address.

Three young men who left Athy in 1845 were being sought 27 years later. There is no record of what happened to brothers William, Thomas and Michael O’Dowd, all of Athy who escaped the worst effects of the Potato Famine when they emigrated to America just a few months after the local Workhouse had opened its doors for the first time. One of the last advertisements in the Boston Pilot of 1873 was placed by Julia Kerrigan of Dracutt Post Office, Massachusetts and formerly of Athy who wanted information on her two sisters - Ann who left the South Kildare town 20 years previously and Margaret who had emigrated 25 years previously.

The advertisements in the Boston Pilot newspaper show that while many family and community ties were shattered by mass emigration from Ireland during the 19th century, efforts continued to be made to rebuild those connections. How successful those attempts to reunite families were we cannot say, but the advertisements placed by the friends and families of Irish emigrants give a fascinating insight into Irish emigration in the 19th century.

Thursday, June 21, 2001

Thom's Directory - Athy 1848/1948

Thom’s Directory, produced each year, is an important record of the commercial life of any town represented within its pages. This was brought home to me as I perused the 1948 edition and for comparison purposes delved also into the edition produced exactly 100 years previously.

The latter gave an account of a world which today we would not recognise. Two Members of Parliament were returned by the County of Kildare to the Parliament in Westminster, while the County Gaol at Athy received 130 persons committed during 1845. Its counterpart in Naas received 77 new prisoners during the same year. The Governor of Athy Gaol was Patrick Dill who operated under the supervision of the Board of Superintendence which included Edward Bagot of Nurney, William Caulfield of Levitstown, Benedict Yates of Moone Abbey, Thomas Fitzgerald and Daniel Browne.

The Fever Hospital was still functioning in 1848 with Dr. William Clayton as Medical Officer, a duty which he performed in addition to acting as Dispensary Doctor for the town of Athy. What was referred to as the Union Workhouse had opened just a few years before but a much older addition to the South Kildare landscape was the Military Barracks at the end of Barrack Lane. The Constabulary were based in Whites Castles, one of 45 Constabulary Stations throughout the County of Kildare. The local officer in charge was Inspector A.G. Judge. The local Magistrates were John Butler of St. John’s, Lord Downes of Bert House, George Evans of Farmhill and B. Lefroy of Cardenton, while the Petty Sessions Clerk for Athy was John D. Waters. The Petty Sessions were held on Tuesdays, the traditional court sitting day still retained by our own District Court.

The 1948 Thom’s Directory has no mention of Members of Parliament, no reference to the town Gaol or Magistrates or Petty Session Clerks. The entries for 43 years ago reflected the more democratic times which then prevailed compared to 100 years previously. Local Government as we know it today was less than 50 years old and on Kildare County Council the Athy electoral area was represented by Thomas Carbery of Woodstock Street, Joseph Greene of Barnhill West, Castledermot, George Henderson of Ardmore and William Mahon of Prusselstown. The one-time Union Workhouse was called the County Home where Sr. Mary Vincent Lalor was Matron. The Medical Officer was Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill, while Dr. John L. Kilbride held the position of Medical Officer of Health for the town of Athy. The local Town Council comprised Michael G. Nolan, Chairman, Patrick Dooley, Tom L. Flood, Joseph C. Reynolds, Liam Ryan, Thomas Carbery, Thomas Dowling, Michael McHugh and Edward Purcell. The Town Clerk was James O’Higgins who had continued to fill that position on and off for another 40 years or so. The District Court which had replaced the Petty Sessions still continued to sit on Tuesdays which was also the market day in the town. The Court Clerk who had his offices in the local Courthouse was Fintan Brennan, whose address in 1948 was given as Offaly Street. As with the Magistrates of 1848 the Peace Commissioners of 100 years later appear to have been drawn from the well-to-do classes and included J.J. Bergin of Maybrook, Edward Doyle of Kilrush House, Reggie Hannon of Ardreigh, M.P. Minch of Rockfield House, Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill of Mount Offaly and Joseph C. Reynolds of 21 Leinster Street. Fortunately for them they did not have to sit in on the District Court proceedings as had the local Magistrates of 1848.

The commercial life of Athy in 1948 as listed in Thom’s Directory is littered with names of enterprises and businesses which are no longer in existence. Under Agricultural Implement Manufacturers there are five names, none of which are represented in Athy today - The IVI, Duthie Larges, Michael Kelly [Leinster Street], Matt McHugh and Tom McHugh. Of all the hardware shops of 53 years ago only one, Shaws & Son Limited, has survived to today. The Co-Op Stores, Duthie Larges, Jacksons, Michael Kellys, E.T. Mulhall, M. Nolan, David Walsh and G. Willis have gone the way of the foundries. As one might expect the tailors and saddlers of those post-war years have not survived the competing demands of 20th century technology and so their names read as of a litany of times past. Murt Hayden, Meeting Lane, Dan Lynam, Duke Street and Pat O’Rourke of Stanhope Street were the saddlers, while the tailors were Michael Egan of Leinster Street, Tom Moran of Butlers Row and Joseph Walsh of St. Joseph’s Terrace.

But surely I hear you say the restaurants and Inns of that year must have survived. But no, they too have gone, including Athy Tea Rooms and Miss Dooleys, both of Leinster Street, O’Rourke-Glynns and The Gem in Duke Street. The Inns, so called to distinguish them from the town’s only hotel, were The Central, Floods, Hibernian and Railway, all located in Leinster Street. The buildings they occupied still remain as public houses, although they no longer provide travellers with meals and accommodation as they had done since the 19th century.

I was intrigued to see that in 1948 cycle agents were more numerous than motor garages. Pedal power was then supreme and John Stafford of Maxwells of Duke Street vied with Jacksons and Duthie Larges of Leinster Street for the business of the town and country folk. Maxwells are the only surviving business from that period and today operate as a motor garage in Leinster Street. It is interesting to note that in 1948 no less than five shops were regarded as booksellers. B.J. Carolans, M.A. James, Mary Lalors, O’Rourke-Glynns and the Pipe Shop. Carroll’s Shop at the corner of Stanhope Street is now Winkles, while James has disappeared completely, demolished many years ago to widen the Convent Lane approach to St. Dominic’s Church. O’Rourke-Glynns and the Pipe Shop continue today under different ownership and in different business, while Mary Lalors of William Street is now the St. Vincent de Paul shop. Mary Lalor was the author of a book published in England in 1926 under the title “The Red Menace” and during the 1940’s she operated a small lending library from her premises in William Street.

One profession given in prominence in Thom’s Directory of 1948 and to be found in every town in Ireland at that time was that of Pawnbroking. Doyle & Son carried on business at Duke Street and P.P. Doyle who lived in Woodstock Street was the last proprietor of what was once the best attended establishment in Athy every Monday morning. No less than 7 butchers were listed that year, all of whom have long since closed for business. Their names were John Farrell, P. Fingleton, Andy & B. Finn, J. Hickey, Matt Hughes, Martin Purcell and Ned Ward who had two butcher shops.

Looking through a directory which is younger than myself brings a sharp reminder of the changes which time brings in its wake. With a few exceptions the names of 53 years ago are no longer over the shop doors of today. Businesses come and go and no doubt the Town Directory for 2001 will in 50 years time read like a history book of a bygone age.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Kildare v. Sligo / Michael 'Crutch' Malone / Seamus Malone

I was in the company of two Sligo men last Saturday as the sun finally set on Kildare’s race for the current years football championship. We were not in Croke Park but rather part of a family group gathered together to celebrate not one but two weddings which had taken place 40 years ago. Despite my best efforts to combine the celebrations with what I promised would be a quick visit to Croke Park, “sure I’ll be back in plenty of time”, the better half thought otherwise and mapped out my programme for Saturday afternoon. It was not to include a visit to Jones’ Road so I was dependent on the less than dulcet tones of local radio to follow the progress, or rather the lack of it, of Kildare’s footballing heroes.

When the final whistle went not even the two Sligo men felt able to raise a cheer for in truth, although born in Sligo their allegiances were the same as mine. For you see the two Sligo men were my brothers George and Tony, born in Ballymote and Easkey even before the hungry ‘40’s was a spec on the horizon. We were joined by another brother Jack, born in County Mayo and to complete the kaleidoscope of Irish counties wasn’t I myself always proud, especially during the football starvation years, of my Kilkenny heritage. Kildare for the football, Kilkenny for the hurling. Oh shades of ’98 when both my favourite counties inexplicably stumbled at the last hurdle when least expected to do so.

With Kildare’s defeat I am left clutching for reflected glory in my support of the Black and Amber. It is not often the Kilkenny cat in me is disappointed and that County’s wealth of success over the years prompts me to offer the loss of at least five hurling championships if, but only if Kildare could but once take ould Sam Maguire for a stroll down Athy’s main street.

During the week a letter was passed on to me from Kathleen Brodie, the great grand-daughter of Michael Malone, better remembered by the older members of the local community as “Crutch” Malone. “Crutch” because he had a deformed leg which was thrust up behind him, presumably necessitating the use of a crutch to get him around. He was a publican from Woodstock Street, his premises now owned and operated by Pat Dunne. Originally a native of Barrowhouse where he is today buried, he was for many years a member of Athy Urban District Council and a former member of the Town Council. He is perhaps best remembered today as author of “The Annals of Athy” published in 1932 or thereabouts, copies of which can still be found in many of the homes of Athy.

Kathleen Brodie was seeking the family details, photographs or memorabilia for a family album in the course of preparation for the August wedding of another Michael Malone, a great grandson of “Crutch” Malone. I would like to hear from anyone who can help Mrs. Brodie with her quest.

Help is also required, this time by myself, in compiling background information on John Keenan and his brother Tommy, both of whom served in the Irish Defence Forces during World War II. I understand that they served from 1939 with their father who had himself fought during World War II and who returned home from the 1914-1918 War suffering from serious injuries. My enquiries to date have located two Keenan families, one from Meeting Lane, the other and more likely connected with the family of my enquiry from Dooley’s Terrace. There must surely be many readers who can help me with my enquiries concerning John Keenan whom I am told left Athy around 1947. Looking forward to hearing from you.

While I am seeking your help can I put another name before you, that of Seamus Malone, a member of the teaching staff at Athy Christian Brothers School in the early 1920’s and one time Secretary of Athy G.F.C. It was Seamus Malone’s dynamic leadership which saw the local club develop with renewed energy after its earlier collapse during the years immediately following the 1916 Insurrection. Seamus spent some time in Mountjoy Prison during the Troubles and was later involved with socialism, although my information in relation to that aspect of his life is somewhat sketchy. I know he taught for a period in Newtown School in Waterford from 1936 but what happened to him thereafter is a mystery. It’s a long shot I know but maybe someone reading this has some connection with Waterford where I believe he lived out his last years. Perhaps you could pass on my enquiry to anyone living in the Waterford locality who might be able to fill me in on Seamus Malone’s life after he left Athy.

I received an interesting phone call during the past week from a reader who wanted to know if I was aware of an Athy woman who was one of the librarians of the American Irish Historical Society on 5th Avenue in New York. My interest aroused I had to confess that I had no knowledge of the good lady and her name Toomey struck no immediate chord. However, since that phone call I have been trying to recall names long forgotten and unless I am very much mistaken the name Toomey was once associated with the legal profession in Athy many years ago. I wonder is this a connection. Watch this space for updates on my search to find the missing link!

Thursday, June 7, 2001

Archaeological Excavations at Ardreigh

Recent archaeological excavations at Ardreigh have revealed a wealth of material and remains sufficient to give us a unique insight into the forgotten history of this once prosperous borough. Established in the thirteenth century, the settlement with its market place, church and castle rivaled neighbouring Athy in terms of importance and prosperity. Home to a thriving agricultural community and an emerging merchant class, it weathered the vicissitudes of war, disease and famine of medieval Ireland before it was finally abandoned as a settlement in the late seventeenth century.

The documentary sources for Ardreigh’s past are few in comparison with Athy and the records which survive are tantalisingly fragmentary. The earliest reference to a settlement in the area referred to a church established in the late 12th Century. By the late 13th Century, Ardreigh borough appears to be in existence and the Justiciar records have frequent references to thefts of cattle and grain from the boroughs inhabitants. Thereafter references to the borough are few and infrequent. One individual of whom quite a bit is known was William d’Athy. A wealthy and prominent merchant, he imported wines and produce from Europe supplying the tables of the rich and famous in Dublin. He frequently had recourse to the local courts in disputes with fellow merchants. One such case that he brought involved a man who robbed his orchard at Ardreigh. The Calender of Justiciary Rolls of Ireland for 1306 has the following entry.

“William de Athy complains of Will. le Poer that he rooted up the apple trees of the garden of W. de Athy at Ardry and pulled down his houses, and carried the timber of them to his house in Dunlost, and burned it, and did other injuries, to his damage, and against the peace.

William comes and cannot deny it. Let him be committed to gaol, As to damage, they agree that W. le Poer acknowledge that he owes to W. de Athy, 6 marks. And W. de Athy remits all action and damages.”

To this small store of knowledge we can now begin to add the results of the labour of the team of archaeologists who have been working at excavations at Ardreigh over the last 12 months. These excavations have been concentrated on the route of the new roadway to be constructed to replace the current dangerous bend on the Athy-Carlow road. Covering a substantial ground area the excavators began their work in the vicinity of the old graveyard at Ardreigh. Their work has shown that the small 19th century cemetery at Ardreigh is now known to form the nucleus of an older and much larger graveyard which extended beyond the present boundary walls. The burials excavated to date, are from the late 13th to the mid 17th century, but it is possible that burials dating to the Early Christian period might yet be found to confirm to an earlier church site in the area. The remains uncovered represent all ages and sexes and would suggest that the cemetery served as the burial ground for the local community with no evidence to date of any social exclusivity.

The care and formality indicated by the excavated grave sites proves that the ancient burial rites were an important ritual in the medieval period. No grave markers have been found but this is not unexpected as only the wealthy and powerful possessed the means to be commemorated in a permanent form. Currently displayed in the Heritage Centre in Athy are two 14th century cross inscribed burial markers found in medieval cemetery of Old St. Michael’s in the town. These are rare and unusual survivals from that period.

A unique discovery in the excavation has been a feature described as a “Plague pit”. This was a grave hurriedly dug with none of the care and attention normally associated with an intended burial. Into this were cast the remains of up to a dozen individuals of all ages. The speed of the burial, the haphazard disposition of the bodies indicate that an event of some suddenness or violence compelled the community to bury their dead quickly and without ceremony. Perhaps the borough of Ardreigh was visited by one of the plagues which were a constant threat during medieval times and that those not struck down but weakened by disease and fearing for their own lives buried their dead speedily as a defence against the plague. Maybe it was the Black Death of 1348 which gave rise to the “plague pit” in Ardreigh as we know it had a devastating impact on nucleated settlements such as Ardreigh. Whatever and whenever the devastation brought upon Ardreigh the settlement continued although it did not seem to thrive as it did before.

Allied to the excavation of the graves the archaeological team has been digging down to the medieval layers where evidence from the farming of the land around Ardreigh has been uncovered. Cultivation ridges formed by the ard and plough of the medieval farmer still survive confirming that tillage farming was obviously important within the community. Another survival on the site of the borough was an impressive stone built corn-drying kiln, consisting of a central chamber served by two equally large flues.

One hopes that in the future, the archaeologists work on the site might uncover domestic structures which could give us a further insight into the world of our ancestors. There have been very few large-scale excavations of medieval rural settlements in Ireland, a point which has been emphasized by Dr. Kieran O’Connor of University College Galway in his recent book on the subject. There are exciting possibilities in the months ahead when hopefully the excavations at Ardreigh will recommence. Kildare County Council is to be congratulated on its commitment to the thorough investigation and excavation at this ancient site. Perhaps when the excavation has been completed the finds from the site will find a home in the local Heritage Centre so that a wider audience can learn and appreciate something of the life of our medieval forebearers.