Thursday, August 16, 2001

Public Houses in Ballylinan

I received quite a few phone calls following last weeks article concerning the whereabouts of “the Hand”. I had not heard of the locality referred to by that name until the previous week. The first person to phone me was Dom Brennan of Barrowhouse who told me that “the Hand” was well known by the older people in the Barrowhouse area. It was the junction of the Bleach and the main Kilkenny road. He first heard the expression from his late mother, and told me that Barrowhouse folk still refer to “the Hand” when speaking of that locality. Interestingly enough Dom, on reading my article, asked a couple of his workmates in Tegral, including some who live in the Bleach where “the Hand” was and more of them had never heard of the local placename.

There is obviously a good explanation as to how or why that name came to be given to the locality, but neither I nor any of my contacts know what it is. Is there anyone who can say why the junction at the Bleach cottages came to be known as “the Hand?”

While I’m on the Kilkenny road, I’ve decided this week to press out a little further and enter into the borderlands of what the Land Registry in Dublin still refer to as the “Queen’s County”. Ballylinan, although in county Laois, is rightly regarded as part and parcel of Athy’s hinterland and over the years many links have been forged between the town and village. Some weeks ago I wrote of the public houses in Athy in 1924 and I thought it might bring back a few memories if I tried to trace back the history of some local public houses in the Ballylinan area.

In 1899 there were eleven licenced premises in and around Ballylinan, taking in Killabban, Ballylehane Upper and Lower and Crossard. The village itself had five public houses 102 years ago, one of which was a thatched house owned by Patrick Lacey. It had an ordinary 7 day licence as did the other four public houses in the village. Patrick Lacey’s continued in business until 1910 when the licence was transferred to Elizabeth Murphy and transferred in turn six years later to John Murphy. The latter was still running the public house in 1926.

The other village pubs were in 1899 owned by Johanna Delaney, William Fleming, James Quigley and Michael Shortall. Delaney’s changed hands on several occasions, firstly to John Cleary in 1904, to John Troy in 1914 and to John O’Byrne in Timahoe in 1918 before Michael Nolan took over in 1923.

William Fleming died in 1903 after which his widow Anne took over the business and she was still operating the pub in 1926. James Quigley’s public house was licensed to himself until 1917 when Anne Quigley took over and she later transferred the business to Elizabeth Lacey who was still in charge in 1926.

Michael Shortall’s public house business in Ballylinan was augmented when he took over Anne Nolan’s pub in Ballylehane Lower in 1903. This latter pub was a thatched house and both pubs passed to Kate Shortall in 1915 and she was still proprietress eleven years later. However in 1927 the Ballylehane Lower pub was taken over by Edward Hogan.

In Ballylehane Upper there were two pubs. Jeremiah Keeffe had a six day licence which in 1920 was taken over by Mary Keeffe, before she in turn transferred it to her daughter Mary in 1923. James Hughes had a 7 day licence for his pub also in Ballylehane Upper which passed on to John Hughes in 1902 and to James Hughes in 1916. Ten years later James Hughes who was perhaps a grandson of the first named James Hughes was still running the business.

Crossard, Ballylinan also boasted two licensing premises in 1899, although only one of them was a public house in the strict sense of the word. The pub was owned by Elizabeth McGrath and in 1915 by William Byrne. Three years later the proprietor was Michael Leech and he was still running the business in 1926. The second licensed premises in Crossard was owned by Michael Knowles who had a Spirit Grocers Licence only. He was entitled to sell spirits for consumption off the premises and could not sell beer or porter. On his death the business went to his son Michael (Jnr.) and he was still in charge of the premises in 1926.

Killabban was the location of a thatched public house owned in 1899 by Thomas Deegan which passed to Margaret Dooley in 1907 and two years later to Michael Ryan. He was still in business in 1926.

I wonder how many of these public houses can you identify, and how many of the businesses are still in the same family ownership as 75 years ago.

I had intended last week to pass on good wishes to a former class mate of mine who retired recently. Pat Flinter, originally from just around the corner from “the Hand” was a brilliant student in the C.B.S. who went on to achieve remarkable success in his working life. He worked locally, after leaving secondary school and became in time a Director of Tegral Metal Forming Ltd. As far as I know, he is the only local man ever to be promoted to the Board of a company within the Tegral Group of companies. Its never easy for anyone to attain success in their home town but Pat Flinter’s achievements in fashioning Tegral Metal Forming into one of the most soundly-based manufacturing companies in Athy is a remarkable achievement.

Enjoy your retirement Pat and while I’m at it may I extend good wishes to another school mate of mine, Seamus Ryan, who last week tied the knot, yet again, this time in Beijing, China. It must be something in the Chinese air, which encourages our class mate to go on the merry-go-around a second time when Pat Flinter, Ted Kelly, myself and the rest of the class of 1960 can hardly muster up the energy to stand up straight.

Thursday, August 9, 2001

Rathstewart and Sleaty's Row

I met an old resident of Athy in the Heritage Centre last Sunday when I dropped in on Jerry Carbery’s woodturning exhibition. Old in the sense that it was many years ago since he lived here, and not in any way a reference to his age. Although, on second thoughts, one must necessarily reflect the other, and so perhaps the word old is not necessarily misplaced. He has lived in England for a long time but recalls as a very young boy, days spent in Sleaty Row. I had never previously heard of Sleaty Row, or if I had, the reference has been quite lost to me. I was intrigued to hear of the place name and got my informant to draw a sketch of the area which I was later able to compare with an Ordnance Survey map of 1872. His memory of the layout of what he called Sleaty Row was excellent, as the map prepared 129 years previously was to prove.

Just beyond Rathstewart Bridge and on the right hand side of the road were six two-storey houses which were knocked down in the early 1980’s. They were then demolished to make way for Athy’s Urban District Council Offices. Immediately beyond and adjoining them were two single storey cabins facing the river Barrow, with an entrance into the courtyard of Sleaty’s Row separating the row of houses from another two cabins on the far side of the entrance. As you entered the courtyard there was a small back lane running at the rere of the two river-facing cabins on your right, and on the far side of that small lane entrance were three two-storey houses making up the right hand side of the courtyard. Facing you as you stood at the entrance to Sleaty Row was a single storey house, which I understand was referred to as the garden house. It formed the back of the courtyard and the fourth side of the complex comprised the rear of four houses which were accessed by another entrance off Rathstewart, just beyond Sleaty Row.

I suspect, although I am open to correction, that the adjoining Sleaty Row cul-de-sac which consisted of eight houses on the right, a house at the end and six houses on the left was called the Gulch. The last mentioned six houses had rear yards, as did the house standing alone at the end of the cul-de-sac, but the other eight houses had no outside facilities.

It was as a young man in the early 1930’s that my friend remembered Sleaty Row, and that must have been before St. Joseph’s Terrace housing scheme was build in 1933/34. Indeed the records show that the new tenants of the houses in Lower St. Joseph’s Terrace and those in numbers 1 to 17 Upper St. Joseph’s Terrace received the keys to their new homes on the 2nd of March 1934. Several of the new tenants were re-housed from addresses in Rathstewart and many, if not all, were presumably tenants of Sleaty Row or the Gulch.

These former tenants of Rathstewart are mentioned in the Urban Council Minute Books as M. Keogh: W. Leonard: T. Alcock: James Neill: Patrick Neill: E. Rainsford: John Rainsford: M. Mulhall: C. Kelly: John Chanders: C. Dunne and Patrick Murphy. I suspect that the Council records may not always accurately record the correct names of the people involved as for instance in the case of James Neill and Patrick Neill who were in fact O’Neill. The others recorded in the Council records were Mick Keogh, Mrs. Leonard, Tommy Alcock (known as “Tut”), James otherwise Jim O’Neill, his son Paddy O’Neill, Eddie Rainsford, his brother Johnny Rainsford, “Hocker” Mulhall, “Messcock” Kelly, John Chanders, Christy Dunne and Patrick Murphy.

After writing the above I re-read an article I which wrote on Lower St. Joseph’s Terrace in the Eye on the Past series some five years ago and appended thereto was a note of a telephone call which I received afterwards from Mrs. Sheila Mulhall of Ballylinan, a daughter of “Hocker” Mulhall. She brought me up to date on some of the old residents of St. Joseph’s Terrace and in the course of that phone call I noted her as saying “Sleaty Row was the name of the area where Lower St. Joseph’s Terrace was built, while the Gulch was where the Urban District Council offices were put up”. So I had heard of Sleaty Row before last Sunday but quite obviously forgot about it. Now that I have identified with the aid of the Ordinance Survey map of 1873 three distinct types of houses at Rathstewart, I wonder to which of them the place-names Sleaty Row and the Gulch applied. Is it the six two-storey houses facing onto the street and adjoining St. Joseph’s boys school, or the courtyard just beyond, or the cul-de-sac beyond that again? Can anyone help me to positively identify the locations of the Gulch and Sleaty Row, as unfortunately the old town map does not give them these place-names.

While I’m at it, can I set another poser for the older generation. If travelling into Athy from a certain direction I would have to turn at “the Hand” to get onto the main road. Where was “the Hand”? I never heard of it until last Sunday when the wife of the good man who brought Sleaty Row to my attention mentioned how her mother always referred to a certain part of the town as “the Hand”. I’d like to hear from anyone who knows where it is.

The Chairman of Athy Urban District Council, Councilor Séan Cunnane, will launch the book “Athy Urban District Council - A brief overview of its first 100 years” in the Council Chamber on Thursday, 20th September at 7.30pm. The book is published as part of the centenary celebration of the Council and is by and large based on material culled from the Minute Books of the Council over the past 100 years. I understand that the Town Clerk, Tommy Maddock, who will shortly be resigning to take up a new position with Kildare County Council, is offering a glass of wine to anyone brave enough to come to the Book Launch. See you there.

Thursday, August 2, 2001

Jim Flood Fontstown

It’s over a year since I had a most pleasant interview with Jim Flood of Fontstown, a man of 87 years of age with an extraordinary memory for the people and events of the past. Jim lives with his daughter Nuala and her family in the house where he was born and into which his parents first moved in 1913 as tenants of Kildare County Council. It was provided by the Council as part of a scheme of isolated cottages then being built for agricultural labourers in the County. Jim’s father was the first tenant of the house and it gave him an independence which he had not enjoyed when he previously lived in tied accommodation provided by farmers for whom he worked.

Jim went to school in Skerries during the War of Independence and walked four miles to school and back home again each day of the school year. School numbers at primary school level in those days were particularly high due to the large family sizes of the time and the two-roomed school house at Skerries catered for in excess of one hundred children. He recalls his first teacher, Miss Pender, whose father was a coachman in Kildangan Stud and who rode a horse each day from Kildangan to the Skerries School. Even as a very young school boy with a daily round journey of eight miles to walk Jim still found time to work on the local Dobbyn farm, initially doing small odd jobs around the place. He was 13 or 14 years of age when he left school for the last time and took up full time work with Dobbyns, working all hours of the day and night. He recalls the enjoyment of travelling to Athy by ass and cart to collect “messages” for the Dobbyns. This required stop offs at various shops including Brid Lawlers, Scully’s and O’Brien’s and occasionally a visit to the Railway Station to collect goods sent from Dublin. After two years or so Jim got a temporary job working in Blackwood Forest from T.J. Bodley, the local Welfare Officer of Leinster Street and spent some time there before moving on again.

He was soon to find work in his own area when he was taken on by Colonel Barry who lived in the Manor House in Fontstown. Colonel Barry lived in a fine three storey over basement house which was once the home of Canon Bagot, a powerful Church of Ireland Minister whose influence extended far beyond the rural district of Fontstown. The Manor House which is no longer standing was located just beyond Fontstown Church near to the entrance to Mervyn Stanley’s former home. Canon Bagot’s daughters later moved to Athy and lived in Shamrock Lodge on the Kildare Road. Colonel Barry with whom Jim Flood worked for five or six years was a veteran of the Boer War and his sister lived with him in the Manor House.

From the late 1930’s Jim worked for the Barrow Drainage Board on the stretch of the river from Jamestown Monasterevin to Athy. Within a few years he took up employment on the Lambe Brothers fruit farm in Fontstown where he worked in one capacity or another for almost forty years. Lambe’s started up in Fontstown in 1943 and the business was then managed by Alo Lawler, Dermot’s father, until it closed down in 1975. Thereafter the fruit farm was owned and operated by the former manager, and later still, and to this day, by his son Dermot.

One of Jim Flood’s greatest interests throughout his long life was ballroom dancing. He attended dances everywhere, as often as time and his resources allowed. He thought little of cycling to Dublin on the half day he got off each month while working with Colonel Barry, to attend dances in one of the many ballrooms in the city. The Machusla in Amiens Street, the National Ballroom and what he refers to as “The Bakers Place” were some of the favoured venues attended by Jim over the years. After each dance the journey by bicycle was retraced with the tired but happy young man reaching home as the dawn broke. He was invariably just in time to start his days work but as he says “once you had a craze for something you didn’t mind”. And it was a craze he continued after he got married. With his late wife Louie he attended dances in Crookstown, Castledermot, Athy and indeed anywhere the passion for dancing could be fulfilled. He recalls dancing in Dreamland Ballroom when it opened in 1961. Despite his age Jim retains the lightness of step of a dancer and still loves to get out on the dance floor for a quickstep or a foxtrot whenever the opportunity arises.

Jim has a great recall for the history of his native Fontstown and he remembers the Kilmead Fife and Drum Band which Ned Kelly, the tailor of Kilmead, was in charge of for so long. Folk memory has it that the band marched and played a welcome for Colonel Barry when he first arrived to live at Fontstown Manor at the early part of the century. The band practiced in the open air at “The Piers” which Jim explained were the gate piers to Youngstown House on the side road leading from Kilmead to Booleigh. They were known locally as “The Grand Piers” and the road leading down and beyond them was always referred to by the locals of old as “Piers Road”. Kilmead Fife and Drum Band broke up about sixty years ago when a similar band started up in nearby Mullaghmast.

Jim remembers the great political meetings in the Square in Athy where the likes of Eamon de Valera and Mary McSwiney, sister of the martyred Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence McSwiney addressed the crowds. These great gatherings were always preceded by the arrival of one of the local bands parading from the Railway Bridge on the Dublin Road. The interruptions and heckling generated by those opposed to the views of the platform party always provided an interesting aside to the evenings proceedings. Interestingly enough the Fianna Fail gatherings were always met with a phalanx, of what Jim refers to, as “the Minch’s crowd”, who were well-known Cumann na nGael supporters. The period of the Blue Shirt movement was an interesting time for a young onlooker such as Jim and many a story he has to recount of that time. The story of the movement in Athy and the outlining districts of South Kildare is another story for another day.

I leave the final word to Jim who recalls a time over 70 years ago:
“When I was going to school I remember them making the first road, steam rolling it here in the 1920’s. Then there was only one car on the road and when we were kids of a Thursday we would be listening to hear the approach of Captain Hone’s motor car. You would hear it when it was at the Seven Stars, with old Captain Hone driving down to Kilmead with money to pay his workers”.