Thursday, September 27, 2001

The Hand / Sleaty's Row

More today about “The Hand” and Sleaty’s Row. Several locals have contacted me during the week to confirm, what we now know, was the location of “The Hand” at the junction of the Bleach and Kilkenny road. Mick Grufferty was one of the callers and he pin-pointed the area by reference to Johnny Fox’s house at the corner of Beggar’s End. He remembers “The Hand” as a well-known land mark, especially for Barrowhouse folk who passed through the junction on their way into Athy. Amongst Mick’s recollections were memories of Mrs. Dan Howe, a widow, later married to Johnny Stynes, who earned for herself the nick-name “Alright from Ballylinan” because of her well-known habit of peering around the corner of “The Hand” from the passenger seat of a neighbours car and informing the driver that it was ‘alright’ to drive on. I gather Mrs. Howe lived in what I believe was the house in which Monsignor Boylan was born. She was for many years the sacristan in Barrowhouse Chapel and I gather her family subsequently emigrated to England.

A few other callers from the other side of the town brought to my attention the existence of a second “hand” located on the Stradbally road. Josie Moran of Churchtown was first with this information which was later confirmed by Esther Mulhall of St. Dominic’s Park. Esther recalls as a young girl walking with her mother on a regular basis to what her mother always referred to as “The Hand” . Again, like “The Hand” at the Bleach it was a road junction formed by the side road to Churchtown off the Stradbally road. The mother and daughter regularly walked from Dooley’s Terrace to “The Hand” and sat on the stone wall just beyond the Canal Bridge. I was intrigued to hear Esther recounting the death on that same stretch of road of a Mrs. Ramsbottom and of the cross which she said in her young days marked the spot where Mrs. Ramsbottom’s horse and cart overturned, resulting in her death. I later passed that way and found to my surprise that the iron cross had been replaced by a small stone cross, apparently erected not too long ago, and as evidenced from flowers at the memorial, the deceased, Fanny Ramsbottom, was still remembered. The surprising thing was that she died 85 years ago on 7th June, 1916.

Returning to Mike Grufferty’s call he brought to my attention something I had never heard of before. The area on which the Plewman Terrace houses were built by the Urban District Council was according to Mick the site of a tannery and known to generations of old people as the Tanners Yard. During the 18th century and into the early decades of the following century Athy, like many other Irish provincial towns, had a tanning industry and the present Church lane leading to the Dominican Church was once called Tanyard Lane. It was so-called because the lane led to George Daker’s tanyard sited in the area where the Council’s pumping station is presently located. That tanyard which was the largest in the area closed down following George Daker’s death, but several smaller tanneries continue to operate in and around Athy well into the 19th century.

As regard the Tanner’s Yard at Beggar’s End [to use the name by which the area was once known] I do recall that behind the Plewman’s Terrace houses some years ago there was a small pond which might have been a left over from the tanning pits of years ago. I had not previously heard of the area being referred to as Tanner’s Yard and wonder if any of my readers did.

Another caller following the recent article was Joss Hendy who also confirmed the existence of “The Hand” at the junction of the Churchtown road. It was while talking to Joss that I realised how the placename “The Hand” came to be used to describe two junctions heading into Athy. The answer lies in the old direction signs which depicted a hand pointing in the direction of the side road. Obviously, locals, when giving directions, could do so by reference to the signpost and hence the expression “turn at the hand”. All the road signs including these finger posts were removed during the Second World War to ensure maximum confusion for any invading army bold enough to ignore our neutrality.

As for Sleaty’s Row and the Gulch which I referred to in recent weeks Eileen Doyle of Castlerheban wrote me a hugely informative letter concerning her young days in the Rathstewart area. She recalls the Gulch as just a nick-name given to the ruins of houses in Sleaty Row thought up by the youngsters as they played Cowboys and Indians after the Sunday matinee in the Picture Palace in Offaly Street. The entrance to Sleaty Row she remembers as just about between the UDC offices and the entrance to the Secondary School. The original tenants, as I mentioned in my Eye on the Past, got first choice of the newly-built houses in Lower St. Joseph’s Terrace and Eileen Doyle was able to recall all of them in her letter.

I was fascinated to read of the number of families from Sleaty’s Row who had family members involved in World War I. Patrick Leonard was killed in the War, as was Tommy Alcock, and …………..I was in error recently when I referred to “Tut” Alcock as Tommy. John Davis and James Kavanagh also fought in the War and Davis was invalided home, suffering from gas poisoning. Patsy Delahunt was another World War Veteran who lived near to Mrs. Ned Keogh, an elderly woman whose son was killed in that War. These are just some of the men from the Sleaty Row area who fought during the Great War and gives some indication of the high rate of enlistment from the town of Athy during that conflict.

If the Gulch was a favoured playing ground for the make-believe Cowboys and Indians from St. Joseph’s Terrace, no doubt the nuns orchard which was nearby was often raided by the same happy warriors.

Incidentally when writing of Sheila Mulhall sometime ago, I mentioned that she was a daughter of “Hocker” Mulhall, one of the three Mulhall brothers who were barbers in Athy a generation or two ago. Sheila was in fact a daughter of Bill Brogan whom many of my readers will remember worked for his uncle Tom Brogan at his blacksmith works. “Hocker’s” daughter was Eileen Doyle who wrote to me last week recounting the wonderful times spent in St. Joseph’s Terrace where the Gulch provided the rough but ready-made playground for the local children of the 1930’s.