Thursday, January 31, 2002

Athy Way - Magazine June 1974

“Athy Way - News, View, Features” produced by Junior Chamber, Athy bears the price 12p on its front cover under the oft photographed view of Athy’s most famous landmark, the Barrow Bridge. The twenty eight page magazine does not have a date of issue but it apparently appeared shortly before the local elections of June 1974. The editorial staff was headed by Fr. R. Mitchell with John Jennings as Production Manager, Ann O’Mara as Assistant editor and Publicity and Sales under the control of Eileen Connolly and Angela Jennings.

Junior Chamber Athy was founded 1973 with membership open to everyone between the ages of 18 and 40 years. The magazine “Athy Way” was the Junior Chambers contribution to the Community Week Festival which I believe was held in Athy in the Spring of 1974. The first Chairman of the Junior Chamber was John Jennings with Raymond Pelin and Michael O’Gorman as Vice-Presidents. Ann O’Mara was the Honorary Secretary while the purse strings were in the capable hands of Barry Spring. Members of the Executive Committee of the Chamber were Charles Chambers, Pat Carroll, Eileen Reen, Moira Finnegan and Nicholas Walsh.

The magazine, which I had never previously seen, was recently sent to me from New Zealand. It consists of an interesting series of articles on Clubs and Associations in and about the South Kildare Town. Martina Dunne gave an account of “Fanfare For Youth” an organisation founded in September 1973 following a meeting between members of Aontas Ogra and Paul Stafford. Sponsored by the Bleach and District Community Association, “Fanfare for Youth” was specifically for young adults, with the objective of fostering cooperation between different art groups and improving the public image of young people. It was not a club as such, rather a youth service. The first officers were Paul Stafford, Chairman, J.O’Neill, Treasurer and Denis Whelan P.R.O.

Kathleen Dooley wrote of Ballyroe twenty six years ago in a piece headed “Ballyroe - a lively spot”. In it she dealt with the Community Centre created a year previously out of the vacant old National School, where several clubs in the area met on a regular basis. The Gaelic Football Club, the I.C.A. as well as the local dance group and a youth committee where just some of those whose activities were boosted by the newly opened centre.

Sheila Gleeson wrote a brief account of Aontas Ogra, the organisation founded eighteen years previously, of which she was then the Chairman. Colette Doran was secretary with Peter Murphy as Treasurer while Teresa McFadden, Stephanie O’Toole, Peter Kehoe, Michael Aldridge, Denis Whelan and Danny McEvoy comprised the Aontas Ogra Committee. Its members were encouraged to take an active part in community activity and indeed had taken on the responsibility of maintaining the fountain in Emily Square and cutting the grass along the banks of the Canal and River Barrow. I wonder for how long that lasted?

Scattered throughout the “Athy Way” magazine, was details of the various candidates standing in the Urban Council elections for 1974. Enda Kinsella was an independent candidate who wanted to have ground rents abolished and medical cards assessed on basic wages rather than taking overtime into account. The magazine editor wrote “he says that South Kildare will not be like the lad that fell out of the plane concerning footpaths, roads and general improvements”. I wonder what was intended by that claim?

Angela Jennings wrote a tongue and cheek piece which she called “In Defense of Housewives” where she explored ways and means of cutting down on the housewives working hours. It all boiled down to doing less as for example with the washing up, where the housewife was encouraged to “keeping dumping everything into the sink until no more will fit and then do a complete wash up, thereby saving your time and saving money on detergents”. It occurs to me that this labour saving method was discovered by the men folk many years ago!

Mary Grufferty gave a short contribution headed “Kilmead has its Queen” but managed to sign off before telling us who that was, while Mary Lacey wrote of community action in Barrowhouse. The Barrowhouse Community Committee was set up in September 1973 following the closure of the local National School. The teachers were transferred to Ballyroe School and plans were made to bus the pupils to the same school. However, under the Chairmanship of William Malone, the Community Committee employed substitute teachers and kept the Barrowhouse School open. Following a meeting with the Minister for Education, Richard Burke T.D., it was agreed that the School could be re-opened provided the two teachers already transferred to Ballyroe were prepared to return to Barrowhouse and the local Committee carried out repairs to the existing school building at their own expense and without the aid of State funding. The action group set about decorating the old School building and installed heaters and toilet facilities before Barrowhouse School then re-opened with 43 pupils on the rolls. Isn’t it quite extraordinary to think that a generation ago, a Government Minister expected a local group to fund the installation of toilets and other facilities in a National School. Times certainly have changed!

Joanne Evans wrote an account of “Athy Girls Friendly Society” which was organised by the local rector’s wife. Girls from three different age groups ranging from four to twelve years met on Saturday afternoons in the local parochial hall, to be taught dancing, skipping and action songs as well as undertaking bible study.

Moyra Troute gave details of the St. Vincent de Paul Junior Conference which met every Friday night at No. 81 Leinster Street while Athy’s first Community Week Festival was put under the microscope by Charles Chambers. More than twenty local clubs took part in the festival which was regarded as reasonably successful even if some felt it lacked variety. Michael Reen was the author of an essay on the duty an responsibility of “Youths and Adults in Society”. Robin Greene wrote of “Farming in South Kildare”, Jim McEvoy of the “Urban Council in Athy” and John Jennings wrote a piece on “The White Paper on Wealth Tax”. There were brief details of two other independent candidates in the local elections, one of whom, Jack MacKenna was a past pupil of the C.B.S. with fourteen years membership of Kildare County Council and seven years as an Urban Councillor. A member of Fianna Eireann before 1921, he was an adjutant in the Local Defence Forces in 1937. The other candidate, Gearoid May had lived in Athy for twenty years and was employed locally. He was active in Aontas Ogra, Fanfare for Youth, Knights of Malta and Athy and District Schoolboys Soccer League.

“Athy Way” was sponsored by Byrne’s Supermarket, DKL Limited and the Cock Robin Cabaret Rooms both of Leinster Street. Neither are in business in Athy today and the Junior Chamber has long disappeared from the Community Agenda. How many issues of “Athy Way” were published I cannot say, but perhaps someone out there can answer that question as well as identifying those responsible for producing the magazine and the various contributors to that first issue of twenty six years ago.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Ballylinan Carnival 1937

A gift received recently from Mary Donohue of programmes sold in connection with the 1937 and 1939 Carnivals held in Ballylinan prompts this article. I have previously written of the local businesses which advertised in the 1937 Carnival Programme but today I want to deal with the background to the Carnivals and those who participated in them.

The condemnation of the old school building in Ballylinan in the early 1930’s necessitated the building of a new school for the 240 or so youngsters who each day attended classes in the village. That earlier school building had been erected in 1842 to replace a small thatched one room school building which in its time catered for 100 youngsters. The Parish Priest in the early 1930’s was Reverend J. Killian whose brother was the Archbishop of Adelaide. With the willing help of the local Parishioners Fr. Killian set about the task of raising over £2,000.00 which with the Department of Education Grant of £3,600.00 was required to fund the building cost of the new school. But first a suitable site had to be got and John Hovenden’s field on the Athy side of the village was secured. It required a considerable amount of preliminary work including leveling and many of the local men with either horses and carts or lorries gave freely of their time to draw material to the site. Building work started in the Autumn of 1933 with Carbery Building Contractors of Athy, a firm involved with many, if not, most of the major building contracts in South Kildare during the 20th Century. Work continued apace and in July 1934 the foundation stone of the new St. Patrick’s School was laid by the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr. M. Cullen.

Raising the local contribution of £2,000.00 which was the shortfall in the school building costs was a daunting task, but one to which the Parishioners of Arles, wherein lies the village of Ballylinan, committed themselves. I have been able to confirm that the Carnivals started in 1935 and were held every second year up to and including 1939. Looking through the programme for the 1937 programme, one is struck by the variety and quality of the artists hired for the two weeks of the event. The Carnival ran from the 15th to the 29th August and assigned to itself the claim of being “Ireland’s Greatest Inland Carnival”.

The Adelaide Melody Band, reputed to be the “largest resident dance band in Ireland”, played at the opening Carnival Dance in the new school under the baton of its leader Vincent Rogers. The Ballylinan Ceile Band played in what was referred to as the “Ballylinan Club” and like the Adelaide Melody Band had a six hour stint until three o’clock each morning. I wonder who were the members of the Ceile Band on that occasion? Earlier on the opening Sunday, the Number 3 Army Band played a selection of music before leading a parade to the Carnival grounds where McDonald’s Amusements were in full swing. A fireworks display was held on Sunday night and throughout the entire period of the Carnival, “the wonderful and weird exploits of Yuga” were demonstrated to an audience who obviously knew more than I do about his power of necromrancy. A visit to the Oxford Dictionary was necessary to confirm that his exploits were in the Art of Prediction by supposed communication with the dead.

Ballroom and Ceile dancing took place every night and must have brought an enormous number of revellers to Ballylinan by hackney car, bike and foot during that Summer fortnight of 65 years ago. The musical tastes of all and sundry were well catered for by the many bands which performed during the Carnival. These included Castlecomers Brass and Reed Band, Doonanes Pipers Band, Churchtowns Pipers Band and the Arles Brass and Reed Band. Add to all that activity, a gymnastics display, a whist drive, a boxing tournament, a tug of war competition and a mini golf competition and you have a fortnight of fun which must be given huge enjoyment during those gloomy days of the Economic War.

The third and last Ballylinan Carnival was held from the 4th to the 18th June 1939, just a short time before the outbreak of World War Two. The 1939 Carnival Programme was priced at three pence whereas one paid four times that sum for the programme produced two years earlier. That earlier programme had one hundred and twelve pages while the pre-war edition was a slim volume of forty eight pages. The events organised for the two weeks of June 1939 consisted of Ballroom dancing each night in what the programme called “The Ballroom” where Mantovani and his London sextet provided the music. Was the Ballroom again in St. Patrick’s School? The Ceiles were held on Sunday and Thursday evenings only, unlike the previous Carrnival when the Ballylinan Ceile Band was on call every night of the two weeks. The Carnival Amusements were again the main stay of the Carnival grounds with the added attraction of “The Great Morell” who entertained the crowd from atop his one hundred and twenty foot high perch. If you did not have a head for heights, you could always make an appointment to see Princess Owonga of the Cherokee Tribe who would tell your fortune or if you preferred your horoscope for the rather princely sum of two and six. During the second week of the Carnival, “Risko the greatest and most daring trapeze artist of the age” was engaged to entertain the Carnival revellers as were an Indian troop from the Pleasure Beach of Blackpool, England.

A Boxing Tournament and what was billed as “The Match of the Year” between Leix and Offaly was the highlight of the last Sunday’s activities. I was intrigued to find amongst the list of boxers at featherweight “J. O’Neill of the C.B.S. Boxing Club”. Assuming this was our local Christain Brothers School who was J. O’Neill?

Organising a Carnival of such magnitude every second year was a particularly difficult task for a village committee but looking through the list of Steward and Committee Members for 1937 and 1939, I am struck by the consistency of the commitment given over those years. With few exceptions, the same names are found in both programmes working under the chairmanship of John Murphy and Treasurers, Thomas Roche and Mary Bambrick. The secretary in 1937 was Laurence Dunne whom I believe was a teacher in the local school and two years later the local curate, Reverend W. Dowling had the job.

The Ballylinan Carnivals of the 1930’s are still recalled by a generation of Athy elders who as young men and women travelled by Hackney car, bicycle or indeed on foot to the village three miles away to enjoy themselves. On many occasions, Mantovani’s name has been mentioned to me as a highlight of those Carnivals, which became part of the folklore of our time as the memories of those enjoyable days and nights in Ballylinan were again and again revisited.

Thursday, January 17, 2002

Pig Fair - Woodstock Street

“When are you going to write about us here on this side of the Barrow Bridge?” The questioner, a good friend of mine, looked quizzically at me with a smile, slowly breaking into a bout of laughter. “It’s a throw back to his young days” offered the third member of the company as we stood in the amber sunlight of a Saturday morning in what was once the L.D.F. Yard [to you and me it’s now part of the car park re-named some years ago to honour Edmund Rice, the founder of the Irish Christian Brothers]. “You know how the young fellows from Offaly Street were always afraid of crossing the bridge - it’s hard to beat old habits, even after 50 years.” It was my time to laugh, remembering the daily journey I made across that same bridge and up St. John’s Lane for 12 or 13 years while I was a less than willing student in the Christian Brothers Primary and Secondary Schools.

Thinking back on that conversation I was amazed to recall that my memories of Athy beyond O’Rourke-Glynn’s Corner [now the Corner Newstand] are few and far between. Understandably so because I can seldom recall venturing as a young lad far beyond that same corner into what was then known as Barrack Street. Do we still have Barrack Street as a street name in Athy? It was to my knowledge that part of the street lying past Woodstock Street and extending beyond Barrack Lane. The lane and street were so called because both lead to the British Army Barracks which was located close to Woodstock Castle. The lane still exists and now leads to the Greenhills Estate.

If as a young lad I rarely ventured into Woodstock Street and its near neighbour Barrack St., therein lies the explanation for my own lack of personal memories of the Pig Fair which was held in Woodstock Street on the first Tuesday of every month up to the early 1960’s. The fair extended on both sides of the street from O’Rourke-Glynn’s Corner to the Methodist Church on the east side and from Crawley’s to Doyle’s Pub on the opposite side. Pigs on the hoof were to be found on Doyle’s side of the street where the local farmers corralled their charges awaiting the pig dealers. The bonhams sold on for the most part to other farmers were kept in creeled carts on the Methodist Church side of the street where from early morning the farmers congregated.

The dealers arrived during the morning and the firms of Brennans of Carlow, Denehys of Waterford and Bowe Brothers of that same city were regularly represented at what was at one time one of the largest pig fairs in the Irish Midlands.

The business generated in the town on Pig Fair Day was not confined to the buying and selling of pigs, nor indeed the local public houses which, as might be expected, did a busy bar trade. The farmers and dealers had to eat as well as drink and apart from Dunnes, Lawlers and Doyles, three publicans in Woodstock Street providing food on Fair Day there was also Mrs. Davis who from No. 2 Woodstock Street, supplied meals to farmers and dealers. Her little house, later occupied by Bachelors, still retains the old style half door, the only example of its kind in the town of Athy. It was from here that her husband Joe Davis operated a secondhand clothes shop or “cast clothes” as the locals still call them, and like the other businesses he was particularly busy when the farmers came to town.

Next door to the Davis’ at No. 1 Woodstock Street was Tom May, boot and shoe maker and repairer who also benefited from the activity which took place on the street outside his shop on the first Tuesday of every month. Boots and shoes had to be repaired for the farmers who left them in to be collected on Fair Day the following month. Across the street, Delaney’s of Wolfhill set up their lime cart, offering for sale the lime which farmers and townspeople alike needed to whitewash their houses. Just beyond them and nearer to Doyle’s Pub could be found Barney Sheridan who lived in digs with Lizzie Maher and who in later years was to take over Tom Brogan’s Blacksmiths Forge in Green Alley. On Pig Fair Day, Barney could often be seen carrying out running repairs on the animals which had come into town earlier that morning pulling the cart loads of pigs and bonhams for the local Pig Fair.

In the 1940’s and into the 1950’s the street entertainers could occasionally be seen at the corner of Woodstock Street and Shrewleen Lane, energetically practising their unusual talents in return for the few pence, sometimes, but not always, collected from those who stood to watch. Balancing a ladder on one’s chin or alternatively a bicycle vied with lying on a bed of broken glass as the principal attraction of the street entertainers who travelled around from provincial fair to town market throughout the length and breath of Ireland.

The local Pig Fair also attracted the tinsmiths who practised their skills while sitting on the pavement repairing the pots, pans and kettles for the locals and the farmers in town for the day. The McInerneys and the Stokes families were the tinsmiths of the day and it was from their occupational abilities with tin that I understand the now politically incorrect name “tinker” first came. The tinsmiths hammer beat a steady rhythm which accompanied the raised voices of farmers and dealers as their talk and their laughter mingled with the squeal of pigs and bonhams to create a symphony of sound which was peculiar to the Pig Fair of yesteryear. Dealing started early in the morning and continued until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon when everyone dispersed, either to the pubs or home.

A menagerie of pigs, bonhams, horses and asses, the first two captives for the day, the latter two enjoying a lazy, leisurely day between morning arrival and an evening trip back to the farm provided its own excitement for the Athy youngsters for whom Woodstock Street on Fair Day was the nearest thing to a local zoo. As the fair closed, the pigs sold to the dealers were brought to the Railway Station to commence the last stage of their journey to the bacon factories in Waterford or Dublin. Each pig was roped by the back leg and paraded on hoof through Duke Street and Leinster Street to reach the Railway Station where they were corralled until the trains arrived.

Do you remember the Pig Fair in Woodstock Street? Were you a young boy or girl who disobeyed your mother’s instructions to stay away from the fair “as you’ll only get your clothes dirty”. I can imagine the warnings given as the youngsters left for school on Pig Fair Day in Woodstock Street. Doesn’t it now seem like another age - all so long ago. Thanks to Leo Byrne for his help with this article. Now that “the man from the Pale” has ventured across the Barrow Bridge (and not for the first time), can I look forward to renewed clerical approval from the Reverend Paddy?

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Athy's Newspapers 1849

Last week I wrote of one half of the newspaper industry which had a short life in Athy in the early part of 1849. The Irish Eastern Counties Herald was printed in Athy and its first issue was brought out on the 13th February 1849 for the sole purpose of undermining a newspaper which was planned to be published and printed in Athy to compete with the Maryboro printed Leinster Express. The Talbot Family were Proprietors of the Leinster Express and they moved quickly to protect their readership from any inroads which might be made by The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle which first appeared on the 17th February 1849. Frederick Kearney of Emily Square, Athy was the proprietor and editor of The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle which he claimed would be the only newspaper printed and published in Athy. The Talbot’s of Portlaoise moved speedily to bring out an Athy edition of the Leinster Express which was restyled as The Irish Eastern Counties Herald.

The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle priced at five pence consisted of four pages and like all local newspapers of the time was a mixture of advertisements, items of local interest with news and parliamentary reports culled from London newspapers. Kearney’s newspapers styled itself as the nationalist newspaper in contrast with the Talbot Family production which had a definite Establishment or Unionist leaning. Interesting then to identify the local businessmen who supported Kearney’s newspaper. These included James Dowling of Leinster Street, T. Fagan of the Tea Warehouse and Fogarty’s of Leinster Street.

Dowling described as “Proprietor of a Grocery, Tea, Wine and Spirit Warehouse” offered for sale five varieties of black tea, four varieties of green tea, five varieties of coffee as well as the usual assortment of Wines, Spirits, Ales and Porter in his advertisement. Not to be outdone, the Tea Warehouse operated by T. Fagan advertised “tea for sale by retail at wholesale prices”. One of the more interesting advertisements was inserted by William Fogarty who advised all and sundry that he had adopted “the Dublin system of baking” and would sell bread at “Dublin weight and Dublin prices”. Obviously there was an advantage in this for the consumer but what it was I have not yet worked out. In any event Fogarty’s was an old established bakery where you could buy a four pound loaf of bread for six and a half pence and a two pound loaf for three and a quarter pence.

That first issue of the Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle reported that Captain Henry was to make a tour through several Poor Law Unions including Athy to select young females for the Workhouse Emigration Scheme to South Australia. The Chairman of the local Union, Caption Lefroy caused some merriment amongst the normally staid members of the Workhouse Board when he claimed “Captain Henry will not restrict himself as to numbers, but will probably take away all the pretty girls”.

The Editor of the Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle in his first editorial referred to the “artful dodge resorted to by issuing nominally for the County of Kildare a reprint of a newspaper produced in Maryboro ….. a subterfuge too palpable, too flagrant, to blindfold the patriotic and enlightened inhabitants of the County”. Quite clearly Frederick Kearney was drawing the battle lines with the Talbots of Maryboro who sought to torpedo his fledging newspaper by rushing through their own plans for what they described as an Athy newspaper. The second issue of the Kildare and Wicklow Chonicle on the 20th February 1849 carried an extract from John Dalton’s “History of County Kildare” which had previously appeared in a number of publications including The Carlow Sentinal.

The third and final issue of the newspaper which could truthfully claim to be the only newspaper edited, published and printed in Athy was dated Saturday, 3rd March 1849. It carried a Report of the Narraghmore emigration meeting of the 26th February presided over by W. Pelan P.L.G. which agreed to strike a rate of ten pence in the pound to send sixteen local girls to Australia from the Athy Workhouse.

Frederick Kearney unable to get advertising for The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle from the public institutions of County Kildare or even from the local workhouse, found himself unable to continue his newspaper beyond its third issue. On March 6th, The Irish Eastern Counties Herald under the headline “Sudden death of the Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle” reported
“After a miserable career of three weeks, the above journal has ceased to exist. The melancholy intelligence was communicated to us yesterday by its disconsolate parent. The bantling - a sickly peevish creature from its birth - never exhibited any promise of maturity although very strenuous efforts were made to preserve its existence by a few (but indeed a very few) incompetent-quacks, in the town of Athy, who formed an overweening estimate of their capabilities”.

Only one local newspaper appeared on the streets in Athy that weekend and on March 13th, The Irish Eastern Counties Herald announced to its readers
“The principal object for which this journal was established having being effected, many of our friends very reasonably concluded that upon the demise of the so called “Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle” its publication would cease. We have already explained the immediate occasion of the Herald having been commenced in connection with the Leinster Express - viz for the purposes of meeting upon equal terms a new competitor , which we were led to believe would have engaged considerable talent, great influence and large capital. We anticipate a contest of some duration and from our regard for Kildare and the honour we feel in representing at the Press such a county, we prepared to dispute every inch with any candidate for public favour; but we must confess that if we had known the wretched opponent we would have had to encounter, we would have allowed him to test the power and severity of his friends - as it would not require any obstruction from us, to satisfy the most sanguine that there was not the least possibility of the success of the speculation.”

With its fifth and final issue, the Irish Eastern Counties Herald ended Athy’s short involvement in the Irish Provincial Press Industry.

Thursday, January 3, 2002

Athy's Newspapers 1849

I visited the British Library’s Newspaper in Colindale, London last summer so that I could see for the first time the few printed copies of two local newspapers which were sold on the streets of Athy in 1849. Many years ago I had inspected microfilm of The Irish Eastern Counties Herald and its competitor The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle in the National Library in Dublin, but the trip to Colindale in the outer suburbs of London gave me the opportunity to hold two newspapers which were printed and published in Athy just a few months after the Great Famine had passed its peak.

Every copy of these two newspapers bears a stamp showing that the relevant newspaper tax had been paid and each is signed at the bottom of the last page by its editor. In the case of The Irish Eastern Counties Herald this was J. Leech Talbot, whose paper was first issued on Tuesday, the 13th February 1849 and sold for the yearly subscription of £1.1.8. It consisted of four pages with a mixture of local news and advertisements supplemented by what appears to be material culled from the London newspapers of the day. An advertisement under the name of J.B. Pilsworth, Clerk of the Union, Athy, advised that:

“A Meeting of the rate-payers of the electoral division of Narraghmore will be held at Narraghmore Schoolhouse on the 26th day of February 1849 at the hour of twelve o’clock for the purpose of taking into consideration an application for the raising of a rate to assist emigration.”

This is the earliest reference I have found to the orphan emigration scheme subsequently put into place whereby young female inmates of the Athy workhouse were sent to Australia.

Another advertisement inserted by Capt. Chegwin of Ballylinan was for the sale of coal and culm from Modubeagh and Ballylehane collieries, ‘now fully at work’. There were references to Athy’s Literary and Scientific Institute and to the Ballytore Agricultural Society which was holding its twelfth annual ploughing match in James Kavanagh’s field at Crookstown. An advertisement for ‘Athy Drug Hall and General Seed-Ware House, S. Connelly, Proprietor’ was also in the first issue of the newspaper, alongside the following notice of a concert :

“For one night only, extraordinary musical attraction at the Courthouse, Athy, on Wednesday the 14th of February 1849 … Celebrated cantatrice and pianist Madame Castaglione, assisted by Mr. William Macarthy, national Irish ballads. Doors open 7.30. Concert 8pm. Boxes 2 shillings. Stalls 1 shilling. School and children half price.”

The second issue, dated the 20th of February, gave the following account of the concert, which was:

“Numerously attended. The entertainers were received with great eclat and seemed to give much satisfaction to the audience. Madame Castaglione’s voice is a great contralto over which she has considerable power but we think somewhat more feeling might be infused into her style of singing with effect. Mr. Macarthy’s Irish humour added not a little to the night’s amusements.”

An interesting news item was that relating to John Kelly, described as: ‘an industrious and struggling eccentric who eked out a scanty subsistence through the means of his favourite ass drawing mould and turf from the bog’. Apparently, Kelly left his ass in a field on the Friday and returned on the following Sunday to find it dead with its throat cut. He reported the matter to Bert Police Barracks and Constable Brownlow kept watch over the dead ass, late at night witnessing: ‘Jack Gorman, an Athy ragman … who skinned the ass, put the pelt into his bag … flayed the flesh off the bones, making several piles of it …’ before the constable put an end to his nocturnal activities by arresting him.

The Irish Eastern Counties Herald of the 20th of February reported another animal killing: ‘On Saturday night two sheep, the property of Lewis Perrin, Leinster Lodge, were killed, the entrails left behind and the carcasses taken away’. The Great Famine had not then run its final course and the desperation and sense of helplessness engendered by poverty can be readily understood by anyone who has watched television images of famine in today’s world.

The Athy workhouse statistics for the weekend of the 10th of February 1849 which were published in the local newspaper show that there were 1,334 inmates of the workhouse, with 212 persons confined to the workhouse infirmary and a further twelve in the adjoining fever hospital. Seven deaths were recorded that week in the workhouse, while a total of 951 persons were receiving outdoor relief in the Athy Poor Law Union area. Figures published for the week ending the 7th of January 1849 reported thirteen deaths in the workhouse, of which two were persons over sixty years, one was aged forty-six years, and the remaining ten were children aged between two and six years. Dr. Kynsey of the local workhouse was reported as saying that: ‘Most of the deaths occurred amongst those who came in with smallpox, measles, dysentry, etc. caused by their having remained out [of the workhouse] until they were in a state of starvation’. Another report of the 5th of March hints at the desperation of a hungry people: ‘Michael Butler and Pat Nolan were sent forward to the Assizes charged with breaking open a potato pit, the property of William Caulfield, of Levitstown, and taking potatoes.” Evidence was given that the offence was committed on the night of February the 21st and that on February the 26th a workman found some potatoes concealed in a fox cover, which on examination he knew to be the same as those stolen. He lay in wait and arrested Butler and Nolan as they were carrying the potatoes away.

The third issue of the newspaper, dated the 27th of February 1849, referred briefly to the ‘Athy Readings Rooms’, which may also have been known as ‘Athy Newsrooms’. A report of its doings appeared under the latter title in The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle of the 23rd of February 1849:

“On Monday night last the members of the society had an excellent supper in their rooms in Stanhope Cottage. About thirty gentlemen sat down and evidently with good relish partook of oysters, wild fowl, ham and concomitants. Mark Cross occupied the Chair and A.G. Judge acted as Vice-Chair. The supper things being removed and the ‘sparkling glasses’ introduced, the wit and friendship seemed to reign supreme in the hearts of all present and of course produced the usual happy effects as pleasure beamed from their eyes and humour flowed from their lips. Some comic and other national songs were sung in capital style and the company separated at a late hour, highly delighted with the festivities they enjoyed and determined to uphold the Newsroom and place it on a more permanent and, if possible, better basis than heretofore.”

What a contrast that makes with the reports of deaths in the local workhouse, of animals killed in the fields, with accounts of potato pits raided at night by a hungry and desperate people.

There were only five issues of The Irish Eastern Counties Herald - the first dated the 13th of February 1849 and the last issue appearing on Tuesday, the 13th of March 1849. All were published from the “General Printing Office”, which I now know was located at Market Square, Athy.