Thursday, June 27, 2002

Athy Men Killed in World War I and Buried Abroad

I read in the local newspapers this week of the decision of Kildare County Council to compile a list of those men from the county of Kildare who died while soldiering during the first World War. I use the word “soldiering” rather than “serving” or “fighting” as it perhaps serves better to encompass anyone, either male or female, who died in any uniform during the 1914 - 1918 conflict. It is right that Kildare County Council should undertake this task now for a similar decision taken by Athy Urban District Council during the course of the War does not appear to have been acted upon. At least the results of whatever research, if any, which might have been carried out at that time has not come down to us today.

I have always been interested in the effect that the slaughter on the battlefields of France, Flanders and elsewhere had on post-war life in Ireland and especially in Athy and south Kildare. It is now generally accepted that for whatever reason Athy and district gave a disproportionate number of young men to the war effort at a time when the first evidence of Irish nationalism was becoming apparent. The history of military enlistment in south Kildare so far as native Irishmen are concerned goes back to the closing decades of the 18th century. Even during and after the 1798 period when rebellious activity was never far away, young Athy men were enlisting in the British Army. What was the motivation for doing that? Was it a desperate attempt to get away from the poverty and misery which was to be found everywhere in provincial Ireland of that time? If it was what benefit, if any, resulted for those who stayed at home?

The same question asked in relation to enlistment in the British Army during World War I seems easier to answer. This was the war where a separated women’s allowance of 12/6 per week was paid to the wives of men who enlisted and to dependent mothers. An allowance of 12/6 per week was paid for each dependent child. Given the poor living conditions which were then to be found in Athy as elsewhere in Ireland, surely these financial inducements offered sufficient encouragement in themselves for any young man to take the “Kings Shilling”. The Irish War Memorials published a few years after the November 1918 Armistices give the names and details of 49435 men believed to be Irish who died in the war. Research carried out in more recent years indicates that the true mortality figure for Irishmen is somewhere nearer to 36,000. What is certain however is that Athy and District suffered a loss of upwards of 180 men in the 1914 - 1918 war. Very few of those who died were ever found and their names for the most part are recorded in memorials and monuments. Of those who were identified and buried in graves which recorded names, very few lie in their own country. In St. Michael’s cemetery in Athy we have the graves of six soldiers, each from Athy, who died while at home on leave from the war. They were :-

James Dwyer, Thomas Flynn, Martin Hyland, Michael O’Brien, Michael Byrne and John Lawler. They ranged in age from 27 to 37 and two of them, John Lawler and Martin Hyland, were married men.

In Geraldine Cemetery lies another Athy soldier, Martin Maloney who was 33 years old when he died on 13th March 1917. He was survived by his widow Ellen Maloney of Castlemitchell. Alfred Coyle who was a private in the South Irish Horse died on 27th August 1917 and his is the only military grave in Nicholastown Cemetery. Further out at Crookstown Cemetery is buried Andrew Delaney who died on 31st May 1915 in Netley Hospital in England from gas poisoning. His remains were brought home from hospital for burial in his own village cemetery.

World War I soldiers from Athy are to be found buried in many parts of the world. The English mainland provides the last resting place of Laurence Dooley who at 43 years died on 12 May 1915 leaving his widow Brigid Dooley, then living in Meeting Lane. He is buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Lincolnshire and he probably died at the 4th Northern General Hospital which during the war was located in the Grammar School Lincoln.

John Kelly, son of John and Mary Kelly of Chapel Lane, Athy died on 23 May 1915 aged 20 years and was buried at Netley Hospital, England. His brother Owen who died just over two months later is buried at Brewery Orchard Cemetery in Nord, France, while his other brother Denis who was 20 years old when he was killed on 30 September 1918 is buried in a Military Cemetery in Belgium. A Levitstown man, John Reilly, son of James and Brigid Reilly found a resting place in Ripon Cemetery in Yorkshire. He was 21 years old when he died on 6th May 1918. The Hollybrook Memorial in Southampton records the name of Michael Ryan, an Athy man who was drowned at sea on 17 November 1915. He was on the hospital ship Anglia when it sank off Dover and his body was never recovered. Grenwich Cemetery in England is the last resting place of Athy man William Nolan, a driver in the Royal Army services who died on 18 September 1915. It is possible that he may have died in the nearby Herbert Hospital, one of the permanent military hospitals in England during the first World War.


Turkey holds the remains of John Farrell who died aged 31 years on 30th April 1915. He was the son of Thomas and Mary Farrell of Janeville Lane and he is buried in the V Beach Cemetery. In the same cemetery is Laurence Kelly of Chapel Hill, Athy who was 23 years old when he died five days before John Farrell, as well as Christopher Hanlon who was killed on the same day as John Farrell. Another Athy man buried in Turkish soil is Frank Fanning from Chapel Lane whose grave is in the Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery. He was killed on 12 July 1915. His brother John also enlisted in the British Army as a drummer boy at the age of 16 years. However, he survived the war and died in 1956. The body of William Moran who died in Gallipoli on 9 August 1915 was never found and his name is recorded on the Helles Memorial in Turkey with that of another Athy man, Daniel Delaney who died on 12 July 1915.

Two of the loneliest grave sites are those of Christopher Whelan and Martin Hurley who were both from Athy. Christopher Whelan was 19 years old when killed at Gallipoli on 10 October 1916. He is buried in Salonika Military Cemetery in Greece. Martin Hurley died in India on 22 August 1916 and he is buried at Karachi which is now part of Pakistan.

Three local men whose graves are in a cemetery approximately ten kilometers south of Kassel in Germany are Michael Bowden, Martin Maher and John Byrne. All three were members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and on being captured by the Germans spent the remainder of their short lives as Prisoners of War. Martin Maher, son of Martin and Ellen Maher of the town was 30 years old when he died on 5 March 1915. His fellow townsmen John Byrne and Michael Bowden died in 1918.

Many more Athy men died during the war but their bodies were never found or identified. Listed as missing, these men were eventually commemorated on one of the many war memorials erected after the Armistices. The Thiepval Memorial which is a memorial to the missing of the Somme bears the names of 72,000 officers and men of the British Expeditionary Force who died during the Battle of the Somme. Many of those names are those of men who a few short years before walked the streets of our town. Their names, or some of them at least, will be familiar even down to the present generation. Robert McWilliam, Edward Dowling, Richard Daly, Joseph Murphy, Johnny Mulhall, Thomas Connell, Robert Hackett and John Delaney. Two men from Offaly Street are also listed on the Thiepval Memorial. James Dunne from No. 3 Offaly Street was 20 years old when he died on 13 November 1916 while Thomas Stafford was 24 years old when he died on 6 September of the same year. He was one of two brothers to die in World War I.

The Menin Gate is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which covers the area known as the Ypres Salient. The Salient was formed during the first battle of Ypres in October and November 1914 when a small British force pushed the Germans back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The second battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans used gas for the first time which they released into the British lines. The British Army suffered many casualties as a result and significantly at least six Athy men died during that April battle. The first to die was Moses Doyle who passed away on Sunday, 25 April 1915 and on the following day he was joined in death by four Athy men who were all members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Patrick Tierney, a young man of 22 years was son of Jack and Julia Tierney of Foxhill. Christopher Power was also 22 years old and was survived by his parents Thomas and Sarah Power of Canal Side. The other two Athy men to die on 26 April 1915 were Joseph Byrne and James Dillon, both again members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Patrick Leonard of the same regiment and of the same town died three days later. Their bodies were never found.

Another five men were to die in the same locality. Edward Lawler of 6 Meeting Lane, aged 21 years was killed on 21st May, while Henry Hannon, formerly of Ardreigh House, Athy died on 9 June 1916. He was 23 years of age. Michael Devoy, a married man and 43 years old, died on 30 July 1915. The final two Athy victims were Andrew Reilly and Patrick Flynn. Flynn of Leinster Street and his companion were killed on 11 August 1917. The names of these eleven Athy men whose bodies were never recovered are listed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium.

Of the 188 men from Athy and district who died during World War I a considerable number would never have their deaths dignified by having their remains recovered, identified and committed to the ground in a marked grave. The call which emanated last week from Kildare County Council to record the names of all those from the County who died during World War I is a timely acknowledgment that we should never forget the terrible price our townspeople had to pay in terms of lost fathers, husbands and brothers. Truly can it be said that Athy in the second decade of the last century lost a generation whose remains are locked in the soil of countries as far apart as Turkey, Greece, Pakistan, Belgium, France and England.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Pat Henshaw

I would not have described Pat Henshaw as a veteran protester. But truth to tell she was one of the Greenham Common women. A military air base in the south of England, Greenham Common was the scene of one of the most famous anti nuclear protests of our generation. It started when the British Government agreed to keep USA nuclear missiles there and a large group of women protesting against that decision set up a camp on the Common. They remained there until the nuclear weapons were eventually removed in 1991. Pat Henshaw spent some time in the Women’s protest Camp, thereby earning the right, indeed the privilege, to be called a veteran campaigner.

It was that same unconforming pioneering spirit which caused the National Front to target Pat and her husband Dave in the late 1970’s. The extreme right wing movement formed in England in the mid-1960’s was active in violently campaigning against the African and Asian people living in England. The Northumberland Arms in Kings Cross, London, the first pub leased by Pat and Dave Henshaw was the meeting place for a number of London based radical groups. Nothing would discourage the proprietors of the Northumberland Arms from providing meeting rooms from such disparate groups as Troops out of Ireland Movement, Chilean Freedom Fighters Association and the Communist Party of England. Almost inevitably, the National Front took exception to the Henshaws facilitating these groups and showed their distaste for freedom of association and freedom of speech by torching the Northumberland Arms. It was a frightening experience for Dave and Pat Henshaw, but one which more than anything else reinforced their lifelong committment to community based activities.

Born in Malta, Pat Henshaw had worked as a journalist and as a marketing executive when as a young widow she met the Athlone-born Dave Henshaw in 1966. Dave who had worked abroad as a building contractor’s manager married the onetime London Evening News journalist in 1972 and their first joint venture was the leasing of the Kings Cross pub. Located in an area of central London where there are two large mainline stations, Kings Cross and St. Pancreas it was also an area with perhaps the most extensive colony of “night workers” in the City of London. Before long the once run down pub had become one of the busiest hostelries in that part of central London due to the acumen and hard work of the licensees, Pat and Dave Henshaw. So successful were they that within six years they bought their own pub called the Miller’s Arms in Pershaw in Worcester. It had been closed for the previous four years and was bought for £17,000. Within a year the Henshaw’s were able to sell on their interest for almost three and a half times the original purchase price, providing the capital to enable them to purchase another pub, The Summers Arms located in Leigh Sinton. It was during the twelve months they operated the Miller’s Arms as well as the Northumberland Arms that the latter pub was torched by the National Front. Seven years of their working life had gone into improving and expanding the pub business in Kings Cross and a similar length of time was to be spent in developing the Summers Arms in Leigh Sinton.

In 1986 the Henshaw’s retired to Dave’s home town of Athlone where in retirement the incorrigable optimist Dave spent three years fitting out a boat with the intention of travelling through the canals on the Continent. Retirement was planned perhaps too early in his life for in 1989 the Henshaw’s travelled to Athy to buy “Joe’s Place” in Duke Street. An old style public house it was once owned by the Townsend family and had changed hands a few times before being acquired by the Henshaws. But what I wondered would bring an Athlone man to Athy. “I remembered Athy as a magic place” was the reply, explaining that the South Kildare town was first visited in conjunction with a boat rally organised by George Spiers and Rexy Rowan in the early 1960’s. “Athy was a magic place then and still is today” claims Dave who on arrival in the town as proprietor of his latest pub quickly moved to change the name to “Smugglers”. Within a few short years “Smugglers” became the most successful pub in Athy and following many extensions by Dave, the one time builder’s manager, it soon because one of the biggest pubs in the town. “Smugglers” was in time to win an award as one of the best public houses in Leinster.

The energy and initiative displayed by Dave and Pat in running their pub business was in time extended to community activity in the town. Pat who in her younger days attended Art College in Leeds became an active member of the Athy Art Group and eventually Chairperson of that group. As founder of the first Fringe Festival linked with the Athlone Drama Festival it was inevitable that Pat would become involved with the Urban Council’s Cultural and Recreational Committee. Athy had, uniquely among Town Council’s, established the first such committee in 1986, an initiative in which I am proud to have played a part. The first Chairman of Athy’s Cultural Committee was the writer and broadcaster John MacKenna who accepted my invitation to front the committee and he later initiated the Cecil Day Lewis Literary Awards. Pat Henshaw has chaired the Cultural Committee in recent years and during that time the Cecil Day Lewis Awards have grown in stature and status.

I have always regarded Pat and Dave Henshaw as a team, each in their own way complimenting the others efforts with regard to community activities. I still remember the great occasion created by the River of Light Project, when hundreds of candles in aid of the Northern Ireland Peace Process were lit and sent floating down the River Barrow at nighttime. It was an exceptionally moving event which drew praise and admiration from far and wide for its organisers, Pat and Dave Henshaw. Their involvement in establishing a Traders Association in Athy in the early 1960’s, with substantial support from the local businesses, is well documented. The Association organised a hugely successful Santa Village and the St. Patrick’s Day Parades before it in time because subsumed into the Chamber of Commerce.

I have always enjoyed Dave Henshaw’s company and greatly admire his proactive involvement in so many community related projects. The self confessed socialist who once fell foul of the English National Front is today enjoying his second retirement. This does not restrict his involvement in politics and the Labour Party are fortunate to have such an energetic and innovative man as Dave available to them.

Pat’s work within the community, especially her involvement through the Cultural Committee of the Town Council with Kildare County Library Services, was highlighted when she was the recipient of an award at the Riverbank Theatre Newbridge on Tuesday, 11th June. The occasion was this year’s Cecil Day Lewis Awards Ceremony and the tributes to Pat’s work on the Cultural Committee were led by the Chairman of Athy Town Council, Sean Cunnane. The recognition given to Pat Henshaw is in a sense an acknowledgement of the many public spirited local people working within their own communities, not all of whom receive the recognition for the honours to which they are rightly entitled. So it was fitting that Pat Henshaw who personifies so much that is good in community life, was so honoured last Tuesday.

My thanks to Nora Bracken who contacted me following last weeks article with a lot of information on Ellen Cobbledick who died in 1956. It would appear that Ellen’s father was a malster in Minch Norton’s and the Deegan family lived in the house next door to where Dr. Herlihy subsequently lived in Woodstock Street. Ellen who was a good friend of Nora’s mother, the former Minnie O’Hara, spent her adult life as a music teacher in Dublin and later married a widower. When her husband died she returned to Athy and lived in lodgings with Mrs. Murphy at 4 Offaly Street. Her stepson Jack Cobbledick lived with his wife Olive and family in Whittingdon, Manchester in or about 1957. Mrs. Cobbledick is remembered as a woman of small stature with glasses who in the fashion of the day always wore dark clothes.

Thursday, June 6, 2002

Ernest Shackleton Photograph / O'Briens Emily Square

The latest addition to the artefacts on display in the local Heritage Centre is a signed photograph of Ernest Shackleton, the Antartic explorer presented by the O’Brien family of Emily Square. Their donation of the photograph is the second time it was gifted. On the previous occasion the photograph was presented by Ernest Shackleton to his daughter Cecily with an inscription dated 30th of April 1918 which reads:- “To Cecily from Micky”.

“Micky” was Shackleton’s nickname in Dulwich College, London being the second choice Irish nickname chosen by students who had already allocated the name “Paddy” to another Irish student a year ahead of Shackleton. Ernest Shackleton who was born in Kilkea, just outside Athy in 1874 used that same nickname throughout the rest of his life when corresponding with his family and close friends. The signed photograph now exhibited in the heritage centre, like many of the other Shackleton artefacts already there, is a significant link with one of South Kildare’s most famous sons.

The O’Brien family made the presentation to the Heritage Centre to commemorate the 80th birthday of Frank O’Brien who is the third generation of the O’Brien’s to run the grocery and pub business from 23 Emily Square. It was Frank’s grandfather, Stephen O’Brien, a Kilkenny man, who first came to Athy in 1874 after purchasing the business from James Leahy. Leahy, who was also a farmer with lands at Ardscull, was later a Member of Parliament under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell. He was nominated to stand for Parliament at a meeting held in the Town Hall, Athy which was attended by Parnell. Following that meeting Parnell confided in his colleague, Andrew Kettle that Leahy was “too fat and will fall asleep in the House of Commons”.

Last week the Town Hall was again the venue as connections were made with James Leahy, Stephen O’Brien and Ernest Shackleton. For Shackleton the explorer was born on the 15th of February 1874 the same year as Stephen O’Brien moved from Dublin to take over the business at Emily Square from James Leahy. Stephen managed the Ann Devin tea shops in Dublin and in the process became a tea expert. For health reasons he was advised to live in the country and so chose to come to Athy which was even then was highly regarded as a most suitable provincial town for the rearing of a young family. He continued to deal in tea as part of the grocery trade carried on at number 23 Emily Square and it was as a tea merchant that he became acquainted with Mr. Shackleton a company representative for Twinings and Crossfields. Shackleton was a member of the extended Shackleton family from Ballytore and as such a relation of the Antartic explorer, Ernest Shackleton.

Another link between the O’Brien’s and the Shackleton’s was made with the second generation of the O’Brien’s. Frank O’Brien’s Mother was Annie Kelly of Ballytore whose family had acquired and owned property in the former Quaker village of Ballytore. The village had originated from an early 18th Century settlement and developed with the founding of the Ballytore Quaker school by Abraham Shackleton. Ernest Shackleton was a direct descendent of Abraham Shackleton and the Shackleton’s owned several properties in the village of Ballytore which subsequently came into the ownership of the Kelly family. When Annie Kelly married Fran O’Brien it forged another link between the O’Brien’s and the Shackleton’s. Today the Kelly name is still over the door of one of the principle public house’s in the village of Ballytore.

The Chairman of the Town Council, Sean Cunnane did the honours in the Heritage Centre when he unveiled the framed photograph of Shackleton presented by O’Brien family. When he spoke afterwards he surprised the audience by telling us that he was a relation of the O’Brien’s of Emily Square. It was surely an evening for making connections and Councillor Cunnane in his witty contribution spoke of his own surprise on finding out some years ago of his relationship with the O’Brien’s. Apparently Frank O’Brien’s son was a pupil of Sean Cunnane’s in the local school and undertook a class essay on his Summer holidays. The essay dealt with an enjoyable time spent in County Mayo with his grandfather and of trips to Pontoon and the surrounding countryside. Something in the essay prompted the young teacher to ask his pupil for the name of the grandfather mentioned in the essay only to find that it was Michael Carney of Kiltimagh. For Michael Carney who was a relation of Sean Cunnane’s own father, and so the connection between the young teacher from County Mayo and the O’Brien’s of Emily Square, Athy.

It was a connection which quite surprised the audience when it was mentioned by the Town Council Chairman after he unveiled the Shackleton photograph last week. Given the links made earlier between the O’Brien’s and the Shackleton’s it was perhaps fitting that yet another link was made, on the evening that the birthday of the doyen of Athy’s publicans was remembered. For the Shackleton photograph was the gift of the O’Brien family to commemorate the 80th birthday of Frank O’Brien whose interest in and support for the Heritage Centre has been whole hearted ever since the centre opened. In recalling the generosity of the O’Brien’s in making the gift, the Chairman of the Town Council expressed the hope that more businesses and families in Athy would recognise the benefit of donating materials suitable for exhibiting in the Heritage Centre. Such support is vital to the future success of the centre and even if suitable artefacts cannot be donated there is always the need for financial donations which can be used to purchase items illustrative of the history of Athy and its people. The generous initiative taken by Frank O’Brien and his family in relation to the Shackleton photograph can be repeated by many more people, and if so, the future success of the Heritage Centre would be assured.

Last week this paper carried details of a weekend trip planned for County Kerry locations connected with Tom Crean who accompanied Ernest Shackleton on many of his Antartic Expeditions. Originally planned for later this month the trip has been re-arranged for July the 12th - July the 14th. It will take in Annascaul the hometown of Tom Crean as well as the South Pole Inn which Crean owned and operated for some years prior to his death. A visit to the recently opened Crean exhibition in the Kerry County Museum in Tralee is also planned. Further details about this trip can be obtained from Margaret O’Riordan in the Athy Heritage Centre at telephone number:- 0507-33075.
Last week I was contacted by an interested enquirer from England seeking information on Ellen Cobbledick who lived in Offaly Street in the early 1950’s. I lived in Offaly Street but cannot recall her but my good friend Denis Smyth who is a mine of information on everything relating to Athy, remembers her as a lodger in Murphy’s of 4 Offaly Street. Can anyone help me with further information on Ellen Cobbledick so that I can pass on details to my enquirer in England.

Another phone call followed by a letter this week sought details of men from South Kildare who enlisted in the British Army during World War II. A television production company is making a TV programme on the topic of Irish mens involvement in World War II and would be interested in talking to former soldiers about their experiences in the British Army. If there is anybody out there who knows of anyone who served in World War II would they contact me so that I can add to the list of names already prepared of men from this area who fought in that war.