Thursday, May 30, 2002

South Kildare Unionist Meeting - 17 April 1893

On the evening of Friday, April 7th 1893 Sir Anthony Weldon travelled by horse and carriage from his home at Kilmoroney House. He was accompanied by his son Captain A. Weldon. Sometime earlier, Lord Mayo had set off from Naas while Canon Bagot journeyed from his home at the Rectory in Fontstown. Their destination was the Town Hall in Athy where they were to meet up with many of the local landed gentry, several Minister’s of the Church of Ireland and a couple of local shop keepers. The Dean of Kildare was there as well as Rev. Mr. Brendar, Rev. Dean Meeke, Rev. R. Meredith, Rev. S. P. Smithwick and Rev. Mr. Follis. They were joined by J. H. Dunne, W. McCulloch, R. McCulloch, Sir. Erasmus Borrowes, R. Anderson, F. Farrell, R. Lumley, W.P. St. John, G. Patterson, W. Dunne, W. Pender, George Gilmore, W. Webber, F.M. Carroll, Captain E. Dease, T. Anderson, T. Greer, A. Harvey, A. Lowes, G. Carroll, R. McMahon, W. A. Cooper and F. Scott amongst others.

The occasion was a meeting of the South Kildare Unionists who came together to protest against the Home Rule Bill which had been introduced in the House of Commons by W. E. Gladstone just three months previously. This was the second time that a Home Rule Bill was brought before the English Parliament. Seven years previously a Bill which proposed a measure of self Government for the Irish was also introduced in the House of Commons by Gladstone where it was defeated. Undaunted, the Liberal Leader re-introduced his second Home Rule Bill in January 1893 with the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The Bill proposed that Ireland would have a two tier Legislature with restricted powers to make laws and control of its own taxes, other than Customs and Excise. Strongly resisted in the House of Commons, the proposals caused alarm amongst the Unionist population and the meeting held in the Town Hall, Athy was but one of several meetings throughout the country convened in opposition to Home Rule for Ireland.

The Chairman of the Athy meeting was Sir Anthony Weldon while his son Captain Weldon acted as secretary. At the start of the meeting two letters of support received from Arthur Balfour and Lord Randolf Churchill were read aloud by the meeting’s secretary. Balfour who had been Chief Secretary for Ireland for four years up to 1891 and would later be a Conservative Prime Minister of Britain was known as “Bloody Balfour” after the Mitchelstown massacre of 1887 where Policemen fired on a local meeting. In his letter written from Newtownards on the 5th April 1893, Balfour expressed gratification on hearing of the Unionists meeting in Athy. He continued, “I feel assured that the more the effects of this Bill are realised throughout Ireland, the more clearly it will seen by men of every shade of political and religious conviction that Home Rule in this shape will bring with it nothing but financial and agricultural disaster to every class in Ireland”.(Twenty years later as an elderly member of the British cabinet, Balfour would support Lloyd George’s abortive Home Rule proposals, and in 1921 Balfour supported the Anglo Irish Treaty)

Lord Randolf Churchill who was to die the following year wrote from 40 Grosvenor Square, London apologising for his inability to accept Anthony Weldon’s invitation to the meeting and conveyed his best wishes in bringing home to the agricultural community the importance of “the present crisis”. Churchill who was leader of a radical group within the Tory party was strongly opposed to Irish Home Rule and during the debate on the first Home Rule Bill in 1886 he had encouraged Orange extremists in Ulster with the catch phrase “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right”. Letters of apology for non attendance were received from the Duke of Leinster, Lord Walter Fitzgerald, Major R. H. Moore, Laurence Dunne, Lord Seaton, the Rector of Athy Rev. E. H. Waller, Major Blacken and William Young.

Captain Dease proposed a Motion “that we desire to express our continued and unswerving loyalty to the throne and thereby pledge ourselves to maintain by every means in our power the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland”. In support of this motion, Dease said “Home Rule meant Home ruin …., the men who would govern the country if Home Rule were in operation were not men whom they could trust to administer the finances of the country…... The so called patriots have put a check on Irish prosperity. They have set class against class. They have banished forever the old feeling that had existed between Landlord and Tenant….. They have increased ten fold that religious bitterness which had been fast dying out…The Irish Unionists should endeavour by all means to frustrate this Bill which must be dangerous to the interests of religion… and would bring misery to hundreds of happy homes and ruin and disaster to our beloved country”.

Captain Deases contribution was received with loud applause and Captain Weldon who followed him in seconding the motion claimed that “a grave crisis in the history and fortunes of this beloved country are imminent…. Mr. Gladstone claims that if the Bill passes, there will be a plethora of money in Ireland… No doubt there would be a plethora in the pockets of some gentlemen who some time ago had nothing but their wits to depend upon until they were raised metaphorically and literally out of the gutter by the man whom they afterwards hounded to death”. [The reference here was to Parnell and it drew a loud and sustained “here here”].

Mr. T. Anderson, Justice of the Peace moved a second motion “that the financial arrangements proposed in the Bill would lead to commercial insecurity and general withdrawal of capital from Ireland.”. Speaking as a tenant farmer, he felt that the Home Rule Bill if passed would have disastrous consequences for the tenant farmers of Ireland. William Dunne, also a Justice of the Peace seconded Anderson’s motion and claimed that under Home Rule, they would lose all the assistance which England gave to Ireland for Education, for improving the breed of horses and cattle and for the purchase of land etc.

The Earl of Mayo in supporting the motion asked how could “the future Nationalist Demagogue Parliament match the financial assistance which the Imperial Government now gave to farmers in Ireland…. How could they allow the country to be administered by men who had everything to gain and nothing to lose by becoming the Directors of Irish Finances except the coats and breeches that covered their skins”. [This last comment drew loud applause and laughter from his audience].

Canon Bagot moved a third motion “that we cordially approve the action which has been taken by the Irish Unionist Alliance in awakening the country to the gravity of the present crisis…. and we agree to form a branch of the Unionists Alliance in South Kildare”. This motion was seconded by Mr. R. Farrell and supported by Mr. T. W. Carroll and like the previous motions was unanimously passed.

Sir Anthony Weldon was then elected Chairman of the local committee of the South Kildare Unionists Alliance and Mr. Carroll from Moone was elected its secretary. It was agreed that a petition from the Unionists of South Kildare protesting against the Home Rule Bill be presented to the Parliament in London.

The second Home Rule Bill was strongly resisted in the House of Commons and was only forced through after many difficulties. In September, 1893 it came before the House of Lords where it was rejected. A third Home Rule Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by Mr. Asquith in 1912. It again met with strong opposition from the Unionists but eventually got through the Commons in January 1913. It was later defeated in the House of Lords but due to legislative changes made two years previously, the House of Lords could only delay its implementation. The Home Rule Bill was signed into law on the 18th September 1914 but by agreement with the Irish Parliamentary Party, it was suspended for the duration of World War 1. It was later superceded by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920.

The Athy meeting of the 7th April 1893 was attended by a typical cross section of members of Southern Irish Unionism. Farmers and Anglicans formed a majority element of Irish Unionism and while numerically small, nevertheless claimed to represent the majority of the Irish people when putting forward its opposition to Home Rule. The decline in the finances and influence of the landed gentry in Southern Ireland coupled with the development of militant unionism in Northern Ireland led to a decline in the influence and strength of Southern Unionists. The Town Hall in Athy accommodated many protest meetings in its time but the meeting held on Friday, 7th April 1893 was one of the last occasions when the Southern Unionists cause was highlighted locally.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

St. Dominic's Death

In last weeks Eye on the Past I wrote of the contribution of the Sisters of Mercy to the development of St. Vincent’s Hospital and its earlier transition from Workhouse to County Home. After I had penned that piece I travelled overseas to spend a few days between bookshops and the various research libraries which are almost always guaranteed to provide long sought answers to so many questions concerning our history and particularly the Irish Diaspora. On my return I learned of the death of that great lady, Sr. Dominic McHugh, former Matron of St. Vincent’s Hospital whose funeral to St. Michael’s Cemetery took place on Monday, 20th May.

I had the privilege of interviewing Sr. Dominic on several occasions, each time coming away with a better appreciation and understanding of the wonderful contribution made over the years by the Sisters of Mercy for the benefit of Athy and its people. Sr. Dominic spent most of her adult life amongst the patients and inmates of the County Home. In so describing them I am drawing a distinction between those ill people for whom St. Vincent’s provided a happy refuge at the end of their days and the able-bodied but improvident who had occasional recourse to the County Home for shelter and a bite to eat. It was the latter who provided Sr. Dominic with the opportunity to practice the mercy and charity with which lay people come to expect from the order of nuns established by Blessed Catherine McAuley.

It was November 1937 when the young Kathleen McHugh from Ballycorman in Ballylinan entered the Convent of Mercy in Athy. The 1930’s was one of the great periods for recruitment for religious orders in Ireland and the young Ballylinan girl was joined other young Irish girls, some from as far away as County Mayo, when she became a member of the local Convent. She made her first profession in May of the following year, receiving the name Sr. Mary Dominic. After four years training as a Nurse in the Mater Hospital Dublin Sr. Mary Dominic or Sr. Dominic as she was generally known, returned to Athy to work in the local hospital. January 14th, 1940 was the date she took up duties in St. Vincent’s as assistant to the Matron Sr. Angela. When Dr. Joe O’Neill replaced his father Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill as Medical Officer to the County Home in 1952 the day nursing staff was comprised solely of Sisters of Mercy from the local Convent. Those were, Sr. Vincent who was the Matron, Sr. Dominic, Sr. Brigid, Sr. Paschal, Sr. Ignatius, Sr. Patrick and Sr. Finbar. The night nursing staff comprised Mrs. Flanagan and Miss McDonagh.

Sr. Dominic succeeded Sr. Vincent as Matron in 1957 and remained in that position for the following 24 years. Health services were then organised on a county basis and Kildare County Council allowed the big-hearted nun a free hand in the running of the County Home. Sr. Dominic was an extremely kind person with a soft spot for the under privileged. Knights of the road and persons temporarily down on their luck always found comfort and solace within the confines of St. Vincent’s Hospital. Legion are the stories recounted over the years concerning Sr. Dominic’s many acts of kindness. A breakfast reception provided for a traveler’s wedding, furniture handed out to those in need and jobs found for unemployed young people were just some of the many instances of Sr. Dominic’s charity. She had an engaging manner and despite her busy schedule found the time to exchange kind works with everyone she met. As one local said to me today, “Sr. Dominic had a place in her heart for everyone”. This was perhaps best exemplified in the support she gave Sr. Consilio when the young County Cork born nun established the first Cuan Mhuire in Athy. Her support for Sr. Consilio never wavered over the years.

The eldest of six children of James and Margaret McHugh of Ballycorman, Ballylinan, Co. Laois Sr. Dominic took pride in her families links with Luggacurran and its historic past. She often spoke of the Luggacurran evictions when her forbearers, the McHughs, like so many other Irish families, were evicted from their farm holdings.

On retiring from St. Vincent’s Hospital in 1981 Sr. Dominic continued to live in the Convent located within the grounds of the Hospital. This allowed her to maintain her daily routine of visiting the patients as well as serving as the sacristan in the hospital Chapel. Each year she undertook fundraising activities each year to assist in sending handicapped children to Lourdes and many local children had the benefit and experience of a pilgrimage to that sacred place due to Sr. Dominic’s untiring charitable work.

She had three sisters of which one, Mary Ann McHugh who lived in 98 Woodstock Street died 11 years ago. Her surviving sisters are Brigid who lives in Woodstock Street and Sr. Eileen, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph’s who has lived in Australia for over 60 years. Sr. Eileen returned to Ireland for a short visit towards the end of last year to meet her sisters and her brothers, Rich McHugh who lives at Luggacurran and John McHugh of Fallaghmore.

Sr. Dominic was a larger-than-life figure whose achievements were publicly recognised when she was the recipient of a Person of the Year Award in 1990. It was an honour she fully deserved. I’m told that during the homily at the funeral Mass on Monday, two women walked across the transept of St. Michael’s Church and placed a hand-written poem on Sr. Dominic’s coffin. It was a touching and original tribute to a Sister of Mercy who during her long life exemplified the virtues and graces which many of us long to possess. Sr. Dominic was a shining example of all that is good in life and those of us who were privileged to know her will always cherish her memory.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

The last Sister of Mercy in St. Vincents Hospital

A piece of history played out a few weeks ago passed unnoticed so far as most of us were concerned. St. Vincent’s Hospital, once known as the County Home and even before that as the Workhouse or the Poorhouse, was the venue as Sr. Catherine of the Sisters of Mercy retired after many years of personal service to the patients of that institution. Her retirement was a noteworthy event in its own right, but made all the more so when we realised that with her departure the last link between St. Vincent’s Hospital and the Sisters of Mercy was relinquished. It was in 1880 that the religious order founded by Mother Catherine McAuley some years previously were invited by the Board of Guardians to take over the running of the infirmary attached to the Workhouse. The nuns who had arrived in Athy in 1851 had been regular visitors to the Workhouse and were to be found there most Sundays ministering to the needs of the unfortunate inmates. Their good work soon came to the attention of the Board of Guardians who had been running the Workhouse since it opened in 1844. The Workhouse regime was harsh, separating husbands from wives and parents from children. At night-time the inmates were locked in their wards and responsibility for their care passed to long-term female inmates who without training or nursing experience had to look after their fellow inmates. Nursing then was of the most rudimentary type and it was not until the end of the 19th century that a properly trained nursing staff began to be available to Irish workhouses.

In the meantime the Sisters of Mercy had developed their own programme of weekly visits to the workhouse which eventually culminated in the invitation extended to them in 1873 to provide nursing sisters for the dark Victorian building which was Athy’s workhouse infirmary. With the foundation of the Irish Free State the Workhouse was designated as a county home and the Sisters of Mercy were by then in charge of the one time workhouse which provided care facilities for the elderly of County Kildare.

Sr. Catherine who retired on 31st March was the last of a long line of Sisters of Mercy who over a period of 130 years or so served the long-term and short-term patients who lived out their years in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Athy. She was born Mary Ann McGee to County Wexford parents and entered the Convent of Mercy in September 1955. Professed three years later she trained as a nurse in the Mater Hospital and did her maternity nursing in St. Finbar’s Hospital, Cork. Sr. Catherine spent the next 18 years working in St. Vincent’s Hospital until 1981 when she left for the Missions in Kenya. She was to remain in Kenya for ten years working as a nursing sister in the Machakos Diocese and in the Mata Hospital, Nairobi. On completion of her ten years abroad she returned to St. Vincent’s Hospital where she remained until her recent retirement.

As I write this article I do not have a list of all the Sisters of Mercy who served in St. Vincent’s from the time it was a Workhouse until the recent retirement of Sr. Catherine. I hope such a list can be compiled and indeed a similar listing of all the lay people who served in that institution should also be prepared. In any event we have the names of most of the doctors and the matrons who over 160 years ministered to the needs of the patients and inmates.

In relation to the medical staff the name O’Neill crops up with quite extraordinary regularity. The present holder of the title of medical officer to St. Vincent’s Hospital is Dr. Giles O’Neill who succeeded his father, Dr. Joe O’Neill in that post. The O’Neill family connections with what is now St. Vincent’s Hospital go back long before Dr. Joe’s time. It was his grandfather, Dr. P.L. O’Neill who was the first member of the family to be appointed Medical Officer to the then Workhouse. It was a position to which he was appointed in 1874 following the death of Dr. Thomas Kynsey who had been Medical Officer for the previous 31 years. Dr. P.L. O’Neill was replaced by his own son Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill in 1897. Four consecutive generations of the O’Neill family have held the position of Medical Officer and their combined service to date amounts to over 126 years.

During that time several members of the Sisters of Mercy were matrons of St. Vincent’s. The last religious to occupy that position was Sr. Peig Rice who retired a few years ago. Her time as matron was marked by an improvement in the patient care facilities, due in part to better financing of the health services and in part to generous voluntary contributions to the Patient Comfort Fund. Sr. Peig replaced the legendary Sr. Dominic who retired in 1981 after 41 years service in St. Vincent’s Hospital. She was in charge during the latter years of the institution’s life as a County Home and in the early years of its re-birth as St. Vincent’s Hospital. Legion are the stories told and retold of the mighty Sr. Dominic whose 24 years as matron of St. Vincent’s was marked by good natured generosity and charity extended to many down-and-outs who sought refuge and comfort within the hospital. A McHugh from Ballycorman, Ballylinan whose forebearers lost their lands during the Luggacurran Evictions of the 1880’s, Sr. Dominic joined the Sisters of Mercy in Athy in 1933. After her profession and on completion of her training as a nurse she returned in 1940 to St. Vincent’s Hospital where she was appointed Matron in 1957 in succession to Sr. Angela. The Sisters of Mercy who were matrons in the earlier decades of the 20th century cannot as yet be identified with certainty. Little is known of Sr. Angela or of Sr. Vincent, another matron drawn from the ranks of the Sisters of Mercy.

In 1994 the sesquicentennial of the hospital was celebrated. Just eight years later St. Vincent’s Hospital no longer has a member of the Sisters of Mercy on its staff. The proud achievement of the religious order in tending to the sick and poor of our area is now a matter of history. With the retirement of Sr. Catherine, the curtain has finally come down on another aspect of the work of the Sisters of Mercy in Athy. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude and to Sr. Catherine goes our best wishes for a happy retirement.

Thursday, May 9, 2002

Death of Willie Carroll / Christy Myles / Walter Hurley / Ann Kelly / Jim Moran

Last week I attended the launch of the Kildare Tourism Task Force Report which was headlined as A Framework For Action. The Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy T.D. did the honours by way of a video link which brought together Maynooth in the north of the county and Athy, its most southerly county town. The Chairman for the afternoon was the newly appointed Town Manager for Athy, Willie Carroll. He did his task with aplomb and commendable style as he had done for several years while Director of Community and Enterprise Services with Kildare County Council. We talked before and after the formal part of the afternoons activities, discussing our community’s need to regenerate and reactivate itself in the pursuit of what may euphemistically be called the community good.

Coming as he did with background experience of community development it wasn’t difficult to realise that Willie Carroll as the newly appointed Town Manager saw his new posting as one offering an exceptional opportunity to influence the future of Athy and its hinterland. I had met him on several occasions in the past but last week was the first time we had talked since his appointment as Town Manager for Athy. I was deeply impressed by his openness, his commitment and the ease with which he brought together the different strands of his experiences as he identified the issues which needed to be tackled to guarantee Athy’s future prosperity.

You will then understand my dismay when on reaching my office this morning I received a phone call to tell me that Willie Carroll, at 47 years of age died suddenly during the night. I was dumbfounded by the news and immensely saddened to think that such a promising career was cut short so abruptly. Willie Carroll’s passing is a huge set-back for Athy and our sympathies go to his wife and family.

The past week has been a week of funerals. Christy Myles, at 80 years of age, passed away and his passing brought to mind his relation Paddy Myles, now long dead but who in his young days played football before graduating to refereeing. He wasn’t the best referee around, but did his best, so I always felt, until one Sunday afternoon when he refereed a match between Athy and its near neighbour Castlemitchell. In the ’50’s and ‘60’s when these two teams met they always did so with great hostility and their competitive encounters gave a new meaning to the term “grudge match”. Anyway, Paddy Myles was refereeing an Athy/Castlemitchell game one Sunday afternoon in Geraldine Park and yours truly was playing centerfield for Athy. For once I was doing a reasonably good job, and when half time came my opposite number was taken off and replaced by another whose footballing skills were less prominent than his talent at throwing the odd off the ball punch. I was duly treated to an avalanche [well maybe I exaggerate] of elbows, straight lefts and thumps, sufficient to draw the anger of the saintliest pacifist. Of course they were always aimed to land when Paddy Myles’ back was turned. The smouldering fuse eventually gave way but instead of retaliating I marched up to Paddy the referee, and verbally lambasted him for his failure to see what was happening and then proceeded to walk off the pitch. Whether intentionally or otherwise I cannot say, my exit coincided with the last few minutes of the game and as victory was already secured my departure had no effect on the final outcome. Such were the memories I recalled of Paddy Myles when I learned of the death of his relation Christy Myles last week.

Walter Hurley also passed away last week after a long life lived at Rathstewart where his family had resided since 1920. The Hurley name has been synonymous with Athy ever since the early years of the last century when Walter’s father Hugh Hurley served as an engineer with the Urban District Council.

Rathstewart last week also witnessed the death of Ann Kelly whose son Edmund was one of the many with whom I attended school so many years ago. I met Edmund at his mother’s funeral and despite the years which have galloped past since we last met he was instantly recognisable. Isn’t it strange how some people never seem to change from decade to decade while others go through mutations every few years. I remember Edmund Kelly so well because he was the envy of everyone in my class when on 13th April 1958 he left school for the last time to take up a job as a trainee telegraph boy with the Post Office in Naas. I can still recall the jab of jealously I felt then, knowing that Edmund was released from the tedium of school into the adult world where he would have his own money with no restrictions on what he did or when he chose to do it. Life seemed so simple then! Edmund emigrated to London in 1966 and joined the Metropolitan Police Force from which he is now retired. He will be back in Athy next September for the class reunion of those who shared their young lives as pupils of the Christian Brothers school in St. John’s Lane.

In September 1995 I had a most welcome visitor from Luton in England. He was Jim Moran, commonly called “the Piper” Moran, whom I now know was on his last visit to his home town of Athy. On that occasion he brought me a photograph of a pipe band, a copy of which I already possessed, but what I did not have then was the names of those captured in the old photograph. The pipe band was St. Brigid’s whose image was captured forever as the band members stood with pride in the field at the rear of the Malt House in Rathstewart in 1919 after winning a Feis competition in Portlaoise. Jim Moran was the youngest member of that pipe band which was active up to 1924 or thereabouts. Willie Hutchinson and Jim Moran were in September 1995 the last survivors of St. Brigid’s Pipe Band and last week Jim passed away, a few years after William Hutchinson had died.

Jim “Piper” Moran who would have been 95 years old on 2nd June next was married with three sons when he travelled to England in 1959 for what was intended as a short holiday. While there he was encouraged to do a few days work in the local factory and found to his amazement that he earned more in those days than he had ever done in Athy. He decided to stay in England and his wife and family soon joined him in the town of Luton where he was to live for the next 43 years. While he was fit and able to do so Jim made a trip home every year to Kilberry and Athy and I know he loved to renew old acquaintances and relive memories of times past. His remains were brought home for burial in Kilberry Cemetery, thus completing the circle of emigration and repatriation with which so many Irish families of the 1940’s and 1950’s were so familiar.

My thanks to the readers who took the trouble to write to me during the week with their memories of the Verschoyle’s of Ardreigh and Kilberry. Apparently no-one knew the first name of the man who lived at Ardreigh House for over 20 years. He was known simply as “Mr. Verschoyle”. I wonder what happened his furniture and effects when he died in 1956. Were they auctioned, and if so can anyone identify any items or artifacts belonged to Verschoyle which are still in the Athy area?

Thursday, May 2, 2002

Verschoyle (Part II)

Verschoyle was a name familiar in the Kilberry area of Athy for 200 years or more up to the middle of the last century. They were Landlords with substantial holdings of land in that area and it would appear that the first of the Verschoyle’s to be associated with South Kildare was James Verschoyle, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He was appointed Dean in 1794 and held that position until he was raised to the Bishopric of Kilalla in 1810. While he was the Dean of St. Patrick’s, he came into possession of lands at Kilberry just outside the town of Athy which formerly belonged to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. How or in what way ownership passed from St. Patrick’s to the Dean I cannot say, but in any event the lands thereafter formed part of the property of successive generations of the Verschoyle family.

The Bishop’s son, Robert Verschoyle lived at Abbeyfarm, Kilberry with his wife Catherine and their six children. He died in London in 1866 and he is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery as is his wife Catherine who died sixteen years later. As a young woman, Catherine was featured in a book published in 1839 entitled “Heaths Book of Beauty”. Of their three sons, only one, Henry William survived to adulthood. Henry, born in 1835 obtained a Commission in the Grenadier Guards and served in the Crimean War of 1854/55 and carried the regimental colours at the Battles of Alma, Balaklava and Inkerman. He was wounded during the siege of Sebastopol in 1855. Henry married in December 1856 and continued to live at Kilberry and at 6 Wilton Crescent in London. He was an accomplished artist and photographer and a large collection of his photographic works are held in the Hulton Collection in London.

On retiring from the Grenadier Guards with the rank of Colonel, Henry Verschoyle became a sailor of note and owned a racing cutter named “Vanguard”, with which he won the Queens Cup at the Cowes Regatta in 1870. Just two days later the Kilberry based yachtsman collapsed and died while participating in another race at the same Regatta. Henry and his wife Clara had three daughters and two sons, the eldest of whom Arthur lived in Kilberry and also at 6 Wilton Place, London. Arthur Verschoyle married twice and had one son Terry, born in 1894 by his first wife who herself died in 1899. His only son died in 1912 and Arthur himself died at Brighton in 1937.

Abbey Farm, Kilberry appears to have been home at different times, not only to the descendants of Robert Verschoyle but also to those of his first cousin John James Verschoyle who was employed as a land agent. It was John James Verschoyle who is reputed to have planted trees along the roadway from Athy to Kilberry. When John died in 1894, his estate included a farm at Kilberry which he had leased from Arthur Verschoyle.

His eldest son John Stuart Verschoyle was a great favourite of the local people and when he was ordained for the Church of England, he allowed the lands at Kilberry, to which he was entitled on the death of his father, to pass to his younger brother William. John Stuart Verschoyle was an important figure in literary London at the turn of the 19th Century. He edited the “Fortnightly Review” with the better known writer Frank Harris who was one of George Bernard Shaw’s biographers.

William Henry Verschoyle’s occupancy of the Kilberry lands coincided with the Land troubles of the 1880’s and like the Weldon’s of Kilmoroney and Lord Landsdowne of Luggacurran, he was the target of local Land League agitation. Threatening letters were sent to Verschoyle and he was the subject of at least one assassination attempt. The police in Athy wrote to him on the 24th April 1881 advising him of plans to shoot his Bailiff, John Gilmore and to assassinate Verschoyle on his next visit to the town of Athy. Gilmore was given police protection while Verschoyle stayed away from the area for a while. He certainly deemed it prudent to do so after the following notice was fixed to the entrance gates at Abbey Farm. “I am obliged to make this known in public that you are going to be shot dead as sure as a revolver is available and your name is Verschoyle”.

In 1881, Athy not only had a branch of the Land League but also an active branch of the Ladies Land League whose president was Mrs. M. Doyle. Much of the Land League activity in South Kildare centered on opposition to the Leinster Lease which the Duke of Leinster sought to impose on his tenants. Tenants who signed the Leinster Lease found that many of the provisions of the Land Acts which would benefit them were excluded under the terms of the Leinster Lease. Sir Anthony Weldon whose tenants occupied lands in the Ballylinan area and Henry Verschoyle, landlord in the Kilberry area together with the Duke of Leinster bore the brunt of the opposition whipped up by the local Land League. All sections of the local community were involved in the Land League and even young children were encouraged to take part. Mrs. Cantwell, Secretary of the Ladies League in Athy, whose husband John was imprisoned for his involvement in the Land League, reported on the 8th October 1881 that she had “enrolled seventeen children in the juvenile branch of the League”.

No surprise was likely to be expressed by Messrs. Verschoyle or Weldon when placards were posted around Athy and District in September 1881 which read,
“Men of Kildare, be on your guard. No surrender. Sign no new Lease or agreement. Let the Commissioners settle the judicial rents. Have nothing to do with agents, bailiffs, valuers or land agents. Refer them to the Land League”.

However, none of the local landlords came to any harm during the Land League agitation in South Kildare and William Henry Verschoyle was soon able to return to his farm in Kilberry.

He married, firstly, Frances Hamilton by whom he had three sons and a daughter. Two of his sons William and Francis were killed in France during World War 1. Their mother Frances Verschoyle died in 1924 and two years later William Verschoyle married for the second time. His new wife, the novelist, Winnifred Letts wrote the charming book “Knockmaroon” which was illustrated by her step-daughter Kathleen Verschoyle. William Henry Verschoyle died in 1943 and is buried at Rathcoole, Co. Dublin. His widow Winnifred died in 1972. William’s surviving son George was ordained for the Church of Ireland and he served as a curate in a number of Parishes up to 1954 when he died. Following the death of William Verschoyle in 1943, the lands at Kilberry were sold and the Land Commission allocated various parcels of the Verschoyle lands to local farmers. The Abbey Farm residence and the farm of land adjoining it were acquired by Walter Stacey, a Gorey man who had been employed as a land steward by William Verschoyle from 1930 to 1943. The Verschoyle families are no longer represented in the Kilberry area while Abbey Farm is now the home of Mr. & Mrs. Ernie Stacey.