Thursday, November 28, 2002

Christmas Shopping in Athy - 1900

I was going through some old papers during the past week and came across the following article which appeared in the Nationalist just before Christmas 1900. How many of the shopkeepers mentioned have you previously heard of or can you pinpoint where their businesses were located.

The question that has often been asked, whether the old customs, so closely associated with Christmastide, are visibly declining receives a forcible illustration in the affirmative by the want of decoration of the shop windows at the present time. Years ago it was considered an act almost of infidelity to neglect to tastefully arrange the windows of your business establishment, but with modern shopkeepers the question has resolved itself into the eminently practical one whether it pays or not to go to the trouble of giving a cheerful look to the establishment over which he presides. We have much to be thankful for in Athy that this vandalism has made so little progress, and that a good many of our business men have this Christmas given an appearance to their shop windows in consonance with the spirit of the joyful season. We propose to give a short account of the Christmas shopping in Athy which, though meagre in details, may not yet prove uninteresting as regards the capability of our local merchants to provide for their numerous clientele. First on the list comes the great furnishing and general drapery house of Messrs Duncan & Co. which maintains the position it has long upheld of being one of the finest provincial houses in the trade. Here can be seen a splendid display of stock of all kinds suitable for this season. The windows of the large establishments of this well-known firm are artistically decorated, one with all kinds of furniture necessary for modern comfort, another with every class of drapery, and a third with a splendid stock of foot gear. They would well repay a visit. Every class of person is adequately catered for, and the children particularly will be delighted with the splendid stock of Christmas toys, etc. Mr. Michael Murphy’s extensive and well managed establishment as usual makes a successful bid for the patronage it so highly deserves. Turning to the general grocery business, it is unnecessary to do anything further than to refer to such well known establishments as those of Messrs S.J. Glynn, J.P. Whelan, Myles Whelan, William Kealy, T.J. Whelan, Stephen O’Brien, etc., which are all well stocked with a splendid selection of suitable Christmas goods. Mr. Tom Hickey, as usual, caters for an extensive circle of customers. Messrs Duthie, Large, and Co., who are and have been doing a big business in the foundry and iron works trade, have on stock a great variety of every class of agricultural implements. We commend our readers to the advertisement which appears in this issue. Mr. J.J. Byrne has also on hands all classes of machinery and agricultural implements which would well repay inspection by the farming community. Mr. T. Murphy is showing a splendid selection of Christmas goods, and Mr. Coote’s establishment would also well be worthy of a visit from all who desire to purchase the best articles at the most economical cost. Mr. W.W. Baldwin has in stock a very fine selection, and maintains the high standard he has always reached for the supply of the best articles in the drapery line. Turning to the stationery, we notice that the following establishments are well stocked with Christmas goods: Mrs. Noud, Miss James, Miss Stafford, and Mrs. Watts. Mr. T. Murphy, who has recently opened, is doing an excellent business in the grocery line; and the same may be prospectively affirmed of Mr. E.T. Mulhall when he gets the fine old premises belonging to the late Mr. Michael Lawler into working order. Mr. T.J. Brennan’s establishment is also well stocked and would well repay a visit as customers may rely on getting good value from the enterprising proprietor.”

Insofar as I can see the only business mentioned which is still trading is that of O’Brien’s of Emily Square. The present proprietor Frank O’Brien carries on a long family tradition and his is now the oldest continuously operated business house in the town of Athy.

I am intrigued and have been for some time about the possible connections between E.T. Mulhall and the man of the same name who established a Solicitors practice in Athy during the 19th century. Was the Solicitor I wonder the same man who with his brother Michael George Mulhall founded “The Standard” which was South America’s first daily newspaper in English. The year was 1861 and the Mulhall brothers had recently arrived in Argentina from Ireland. Edward had been a professor of English in Carlow College and Edward Thomas was I believe the man who had previously set up a legal practice in Athy. What connection had they with E.T. Mulhall who according to the Nationalist of 1900 was getting “the fine old premises belonging to the late Mr. Michael Lawler into working order.”

Another query this week centers around a disturbance at a Fine Gael meeting at Athy on 24th June 1934. This was during the Blueshirt period of Irish politics and I am anxious to get some information about what happened in Athy on that June day. The Blueshirts originated with the founding of the Army Comrades Association in February 1932 and within five months it was transformed into the National Guard with Eoin O’Duffy, the recently sacked Commissioner of the Garda Siochana, at its head. Within a month the De Valera led government had banned the National Guard and it was replaced by the Young Ireland Association, again led by Eoin O’Duffy. The new association was also banned but in its place was formed the League of Youth which continued under O’Duffy’s leadership until he was replaced by E.J. Cronin. These organisations were formed ostensibly to ensure free speech at political rallies throughout the country, although as events proved it was only at the Cumann na nGaedhall meetings that they assembled uniformed in blue shirts and in military style. It was an interesting period in our history and I have been researching for some time the activity of the Blueshirts in South Kildare. I would like to hear from anyone who can give me any information or who can share with me any photographs or documents relating to that period.

Finally I got a phone call during the week from a man who asked me if I had ever heard of a place in Athy called “the asses gallop”. As it so happens I had and was able to tell him where it was. It strikes me that not many people will have heard of “the asses gallop” and so I pose the question - where is it and how did it get its name?

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Athy Newsletter 1988-1997

On Friday next at 8.00pm the official launch of a community newsletter for Athy will take place in the Leinster Arms Hotel. It will no doubt be a useful publication for a community which has been growing in recent years, largely due to an influx of people who have had no previous links with the town. Their presence gives a welcome boost to the local economy and the newsletter will help to keep them and everyone else in Athy up to date with what is happening in this area.

Over the years Athy has seen many new publications which originated in the south Kildare town. “The Athy Literary Magazine” was published by Thomas French from his printing offices in Market Square, now Emily Square, between 1837 and 1838. Each issue of the magazine consisted of eight pages and was published weekly with an unvarying mixture of articles of local interest, together with extracts from published literary works. Another eleven years was to pass before Athy experienced its next literary bonanza with the publishing and printing of two local newspapers. “The Irish Eastern Counties Herald” appeared on the streets of Athy for the first time on 13th February 1849. Within days it was followed by “The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle”, another weekly newspaper which like its competitor was also printed in Athy. Unfortunately neither paper survived beyond March 1849. Within three years the first and only issue of “The Press”, a monthly magazine devoted to literature and the arts was published by Samuel Talbot of Athy. Intended as a monthly magazine it did not appear the following month.

The last in a long line of local publications was “Athy Newsletter”, the first issue of which was launched on an unsuspecting public on 2nd April 1988. Its Editor was Noreen Kelleher of Chanterlands. Noreen had been involved in community activities for many years previously and the newsletter which she was to edit and produce over the following nine years was a task undertaken as part of her involvement with the local Community Council. Comprising on average 28 pages per issue the newsletter was a kaleidoscope of news and information but without any comment pieces other than the weekly Editorial.

In that first issue the Editor found space to give an account of the activities of several clubs and associations, some of which are no longer functioning. Included in that category were Athy Junior Chamber, Athy Pitch and Putt Club and the Athy RFC Squash Club. The one page of advertisements for local shops included two that are now closed, Martin’s Newsagents of Duke Street and The Shamrock Stores of Geraldine Road. Other shops have changed hands including T. & B. Jacob’s of Leinster Street and T. & D. Cannings. All of the schools provided material for the monthly newsletter and in that first issue of April 1988 the Scoil Eoin report noted :-

“On March 19th many old friends of the late Liam Ryan gathered in Scoil Eoin to honour a man who taught for 47 years in the school. Mr. Ryan’s widow Noreen and her four sons attended. When Liam Ryan retired his past pupils raised a fund to commemorate in a fitting way his long years of dedicated service. This took the form of a small library of books and other educational material.”

I see in the third issue which came out on 3rd July 1988 a new feature called “Window on the Past”. Was that I wonder where “Eye on the Past” originated? The Parish Priest, Fr. Philip Dennehy, in a letter printed in the newsletter for August took the opportunity of thanking Tegral for providing free of charge slates to re-roof not only St. Michael’s Catholic Church but also the Church of Ireland Parish Church of St. Michael’s. At the same time the Editor wrote in her Editorial of the high level of participation in the publican’s fancy dress ‘Egg and Spoon Race’ which was run as part of the water funanza that summer.

Letters soon started to appear in the Athy Newsletter and in October 1988 one correspondent was vigorously defending the right to have slot machine arcades in Athy. Another letter writer questioned as to “why can’t we have a decent walk along the Barrow River from the town to Ardreigh” for a start. The following month the Editor in her editorial saluted the towns minor hurlers who not only won the County Championship but also the Minor Hurling League. Their success she wrote “is one we should strike to emulate no matter in what sporting, commercial or cultural field we seek success”. The Harvest Ball for December 1988 got a mention, while the newly formed Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the town traders gave notice of a Christmas Bonanza with a £1,500.00 shopping giveaway.

My eye was caught by a piece in the April 1989 Newsletter which carried a report of the speech made by Jim Ryan, the outgoing chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce. “It is the aim of the Chamber of Commerce to improve the town’s image and to make a significant impact on the commercial and social life of Athy”. The Editor in her following months Editorial could not have envisaged, no more than could the outgoing chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, how little changes have occurred in the following 13 years. Then she wrote, “it is sad but true that the Garda of today does not commend the same respect as did his colleague a generation ago ….. it is claimed that there is an unspoken yet perceptible bias against those who are without influence, without property or without jobs”. Harsh words which however might find an echo in the proceedings presently ongoing in Donegal.

The Athy newsletter continued on for 96 issues, ending in July 1997, with an editorial which carried a sharp rebuke for the local men folk. “Despite the fact that not a single woman sits on the nine member local Council it is women who are spearheading the drive to protect the built heritage and the environment of Athy. It is the women of Athy who have been circulating a petition around Athy to stop the ghastly Inner Relief Road and it is women who have formed a committee for the same purpose …… the Inner Relief Road controversy has brought to the fore those local people whose views for so long were ignored. It is no wonder then that the voice of the people is now been heard through the women folk who for so long played a secondary role in community life.”

The Athy Newsletter produced every month from April 1998 to July 1997 through the dedicated work and energy of Noreen Kelleher was a very important link with the local community. It fulfilled an extremely important function for the people of Athy, disseminating information and news which might not otherwise be found in the pages of local newspapers. It is fascinating to read the back numbers of what was one woman’s unique contribution to our local community. Here’s wishing well to its successor which I understand will appear for the first time this weekend.

On Saturday 7th December the Town Hall will be the venue for a day long seminar by Kildare County Library and Geography Publication to publicise the following publication of a book on County Kildare. The lectures commence at 10.00 a.m. and from then until 4.00 p.m., a total of nine lectures will talk on a variety of topics of County Kildare interest. Admission is free, but because seating is limited to 80 places anyone wishing to attend should contact Mario Corrigan at 045/432690 to book a place.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Extracts from Kildare Observer 1886

Reading newspaper accounts of life in Athy in years gone by can be both informative and interesting. For instance the following extract from the Kildare Observer of Saturday, 20th February 1886 paints a different picture of Irish provincial life than that which we normally associate with the Land League years of the time.

“Athy Borough Court was held on Saturday by Mr. Michael Lawler J.P., the town magistrate. The cases on the books numbered 39 and were composed principally of charges involving drunkenness, amateur public musicians and snowballers. The courthouse was thronged by a select audience who seemed deeply impressed by the words of wisdom which poured from his worships lips. Sergeant Breslin charged Michael Keogh of snowballing on the public streets on the 25th of February, he was fined 1 penny and costs and Charlie Roberts was charged with snowballing on the 26th, he was also fined 1 penny and costs. Thomas Coleman was charged of being disorderly in the public street. It appeared that he with others followed another young man on the same day who was playing a melodeon through the streets between 9 and 10 on the night of the 7th varying the music by occasional shouting. He was fined 3 pence and costs. Michael Dandy was charged with snowballing throwing but the case against him was struck out when it was mentioned that his mother was seriously ill.”

The same newspaper carried a report of a difference of opinion at a meeting of Athy National League regarding an application for admission to the branch. Michael Kelly was proposed for membership but he was objected to on the grounds that he was a “land grabber”. Apparently Kelly had taken lands from the Duke of Leinster under the terms of the much disputed Leinster Lease and so upset his neighbours who were in dispute with the Duke. What is of perhaps the greater interest is that the land in question had up to 1878 been in the possession of Miss Goold. She was the lady who with Patrick Maher of Kilrush proved to be the most generous benefactors of the Catholic Church in Athy. I have tried for some considerable time to get some background information on Miss Goold or Gould as her name was sometimes spelt but so far without any success. Does anyone have any information on her?

During the year I had occasion to visit the remains of Kilmoroney House and passed on the way up to the former home of the Weldon family a large field which I was informed was “the race course”. Was this I wonder the site of the Dunbrin Races which were held for a number of years towards the latter end of the 19th century. The following report in the Kildare Observer of Saturday, 20th March 1886 gives an account of what I believe was the Dunbrin Races.

“Athy Steeple Chases Thursday - Very disagreeable weather was associated with Athy meeting on Thursday but despite the fact that the adverse atmospherical surroundings must have to some extent interfered with the prospects of the reunion taken on the whole it must be put down as a great success. The special which left the Kingsbridge at 10.30am was fairly well patronised and with country folk turning out in large numbers the attendance was up to a capital average and we must add to this that the sport proved quiet as interesting as the dimensions of the card suggested would be the case, it is unnecessary to say that nothing but fine weather was wanted to make the affair a thorough success. The change in the position of the stand etc. was voted and decided an improvement. Owning to the big field we were somewhat behind at the finish but this was no fault of Mr. Brindley’s who got through a heavy days work with all possible expedition. As usual Mr. James Dunne gave every satisfaction in the starting department so that no hitch tended to mar the pleasure of the sport. The races were a Pony plate of £21, Farmers race of £21, Athy plate of £45 Subscribers plate of £30, The Dunbrin plate of £25, the Railway plate of £21.”

A report in the same newspaper of Saturday, 4th September 1886 may be evidence of the formation of the first GAA Club in Athy. The reference is to an Amateur Athletic Association which could well be an athletic club rather than the football club so further research in the matter will be required. The report read :-

“The Athy Amateur Athletic Association is to be formed and the names of about 30 members were enrolled at a recent meeting, the annual subscription to be 2/6 each. Messrs. Long and Black were appointed honorary secretaries pro temp. Several gentlemen were appointed as a deputation to source subscriptions from the people of the town and neighbourhood in aid of the proposed sport and the meeting adjourned to Thursday night when the matter will be further discussed and the committee and officers appointed. On Thursday evening a further meeting was held at the Town Hall, Athy when it was decided that owing to the lateness of the season the proposed sport will not be held this year.”

There was quite a lot of sporting activity in Athy during the 1880’s. Apart from the Steeplechase Race and the newly formed Amateur Athletic Association the Kildare Observer carried reports of a meeting of Athy Football Club and the local Boat Club. The Football Club was Athy’s Rugby Club whose captain was Anthony Reeves. The Boat Club was a newly constituted Club of which R.T. Lefroy was captain and it had an initial membership of over 50 men. The Athy Rugby Club team which lined out against the Great Southern and Western Railway Team in 1886 was G.F. Black, A. Pennycook, A. Reeves, A. Beveridge, P. Lennon, J. Brown, T. Whelan, M. Whelan, J. Deevy, R. Clandillon, J. Long, H.M. Kan, E. Hinkley, M. Traylor and J. Doyle.

Handball was then a very popular sport in Athy and the Kildare Observer carried a report of a challenge match played at Athy Ballcourt between local player John Delaney and Thomas Cleary of Carlow. Apparently both players were to play games on a home and away basis and Delaney easily won all ten games on his home ground. The proprietor of the Carlow Ballcourt refused to allow Cleary to complete the match in Carlow owing to the heavy beating he got in Athy and consequently Delaney was declared the winner. Such handball matches were played for money and the players were heavily backed by their supporters who were prepared to wager on every aspect of the game. Handball was a gamblers mecca and occupied the part now played in todays society by horseracing.

A letter printed in the local newspapers of 20th November 1886 will strike a chord with those who today still trumpet despair more loudly than they should.

“Dear Sir,

What may I ask has become of the movement to promote Irish manufacture? I fear there is a great agitation for its encouragement about which we heard so much a few years ago has ended in nothing more substantial than smoke. At present you may see in most of the patriotic drapers shops in Athy made up suits of English shoddy which I regret to say is patronised while tailors (second to none) have not enough to do and while excellent tweeds etc. of Irish manufacture may have procured at the very lowest prices. No wonder indeed that this and other towns should be decaying swiftly while local artisans and labourers are thus ignored.”

I finish this week with an account of amateur theatricals in Athy in November 1886 which was reported under the heading “Athy Amateur Negro Minstrels”.

“This troop of amateurs appeared in the Town Hall on Monday and Tuesday last, were very well patronised. The performance on Monday night consisted of a choice selection of music, witty conundrums and Negro sayings in which Mr. Woods as “Tambo” and Roberts as “Bones” proved themselves amateurs of the first water. The performance of Mr. Gibney on the violin and glassettes was capital and received well merited applause, but the stump speech of Mr. John Coleman was the great event of the evening and convults the house with laughter. The dancing of Mr. Kelly was admirable. The performance concluded with the laughable farce of the “Vulcan Van or Black Justice” in which Messrs. McDonald, Woods, Campbell, Heart, Roberts and May acquitted themselves in the manner that evoked loud applause.”

Athy of the 1880’s seemed a very interesting place!