Thursday, October 30, 2003

Thomas Reynolds - 1798 Informer

One of the more interesting, if hateful characters, to emerge from the 1798 Rebellion in this part of South Kildare was Thomas Reynolds who came to live in Kilkea Castle in December 1797.  A distant relation of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and a nephew of Thomas Fitzgerald of Geraldine House, Athy, Reynolds was a Catholic whose father Andrew Reynolds, a silk merchant in Dublin, had married Rose Fitzgerald of Kilmead.  Thomas Reynolds spent the first eight years of his life at the Kilmead home of his maternal grandfather Thomas Fitzgerald.  Educated at a school in Chiswick, England and later at Liege in Flanders, he returned to Dublin in 1788 just a few weeks before the death of his father Andrew.

Mr. Reynolds Senior had been a delegate to the Catholic Committee and at the age of 17 years his son Thomas was elected in his place.  Thus was Thomas Reynolds “without any kind of restraint pushed forward in a career of politics and family business for neither of which he possessed the requisite knowledge or experience”.  So wrote his own son in “The Life of Thomas Reynolds” published in 1838. 

Reynolds’ biographer claimed that his father was inveigled into becoming a member of the United Irishmen in January or February 1797 through the efforts of a Richard Dillon, a Catholic and Oliver Bond, a Presbyterian.  He was sworn in as a member of the organisation by Oliver Bond at his home at Bridge Street in Dublin.  Oliver Bond’s house was later to be inextricably linked with Thomas Reynolds’ name because of events which occurred there in March 1798.  Some time previously Reynolds had agreed to take a lease of Kilkea Castle from the Duke of Leinster on the death of the then lessee, a Mr. Dixon, an elderly man who passed away at the beginning of 1797.  Under the terms agreed, Reynolds employed the Duke’s builder, a Mr. Shannon, to provide new roofing, flooring and ceiling for the castle and generally to put the building into repair.  When the work was completed Reynolds and his family moved into Kilkea in December 1797, his mother, the former Rose Fitzgerald of Kilmead having died in Dublin on 6th November.  Reynolds was soon admitted into the Athy Cavalry Corps and as a frequent visitor to Athy befriended many of the local townspeople.

Having accepted Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s invitation to take over from him as Colonel of the United Irishmen in the Barony of Kilkea and Moone, Reynolds was soon visited by Matthew Kenna, one of the mainstays of the organisation in South Kildare.  Kenna informed Reynolds of the strength of the United Irishmen in that part of Kildare and arranged a vote of the Athy based captains of the organisation to confirm his appointment as their Colonel.  At the same time Reynolds was appointed as County Treasurer of the illegal organisation, thereby entitling him to attend meetings of the Provincial Council of the United Irishmen.  Reynolds, whose name was later to become synonymous with the terms “traitor” and “informer” passed on information to Dublin Castle regarding a planned meeting of the Provincial Council.  As a result twelve high ranking members of the Leinster Directory of the United Irishmen were arrested on 12th March, 1798 at the home of Oliver Bond in Bridge Street, Dublin.  Amongst those arrested were Lawrence Kelly from the Queens County, now Laois, George Cummins from Kildare and Peter Bannon from Portarlington.

Two days later Reynolds met Lord Edward Fitzgerald at the home of Dr. Kennedy in Aungier Street in Dublin and again the following day by appointment when Lord Edward gave him a letter for the County Kildare Committee.  On 17th March Reynolds left Dublin for Kilkea and stopped overnight in Naas.  There he was met, apparently to Reynolds surprise, by Matthew Kenna, the man who was Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s principal contact person in South Kildare.  Kenna told Reynolds of a meeting arranged for March 18th at the house of Reilly, a publican near the Curragh, of the County Committee members of the United Irishmen.  Reynolds attended the meeting, although he was somewhat concerned lest he should be suspected by his colleagues of involvement in the arrests which occurred six days previously.  Nothing untoward happened to Reynolds at that meeting and he proceeded to arrange a meeting in Athy on 20th March of six of the local captains of the United Irishmen.  The meeting was held in a room at the back of Peter Kelly’s shop in the main street and to allay suspicion was arranged to coincide with the holding of the town fair.  Reynolds showed the Athy men Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s letter and then proceeded to burn it in their presence.

Anxious lest his double dealing with Dublin Castle should become known, Reynolds at that same Athy meeting made some initial moves to resign his position within the illegal organisation.  Still not suspecting his involvement with Dublin Castle, the Athy men decided that Reynolds should share his position as Colonel of the United Irishmen with Dan Caulfield of Levitstown.  Reynolds never again involved himself in the affairs of the United Irishmen and he shortly thereafter left Ireland and took up a number of differed appointments for the British Government, eventually settling in Paris where he died in 1836.  Reynold’s infamy as an informer was matched in equal measure by another local man, Thomas Rawson of Glassealy House whose participation in the events of 1798 was recorded by several contemporary writers.

I was delighted to receive from Eddie Wall of Luton during the week a letter in which he set out some of his interesting experiences as barman in Anderson’s over 40 years ago.  I hope to return to Eddie’s story at another time, but in the meantime my thanks to Eddie for his kind remarks and the comment in which he referred to the “Eye on the Past” as “engendering kinship amongst the people of Athy at home and abroad”.

My thanks also to Michael Linsley who responding to the recent articles on the Athy 75 and donated to the Heritage Centre a medal won by W.K. Hosie for 5th place in the Athy 75 Race of 12th May, 1928. I’m sure there are many more such mementos out there which might usefully be presented to the Heritage Centre.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Thumbing Lifts

When I worked in the County Council Offices in Naas in the early 1960’s I stayed in digs there returning to Athy at the weekends.  Few people had cars in those days and there was no question of a clerical officer’s salary extending so far as to pay for a car.  I spent a lot of my time thumbing a lift on the road between Naas and Athy.  In those days, thumbing a lift was an accepted part of life for young people and even those who had long passed their middle age.  I got lifts from all kinds of people over the years I was passing back and forth to Naas.  All of them shared in the gratitude I felt for the kindness they displayed in stopping to give me a lift, even if sometimes the well of kindness was drained somewhat at the end of a journey shared with someone who sat throughout in silence.  What could a young fellow do, if the driver sat there without exchanging a word.  After all, you had already imposed yourself on them (as it seldom was a her) and to start a conversation where none was offered seemed an unwelcome intrusion.

The silent ones often seemed to drive the oldest and slowest cars on the road while the more flamboyant drivers were in cars which seemed to mirror their owners extravagant character.  I well remember Fr. Eamon Casey giving me a lift.  This was long before he became a Bishop but he was readily recognisable to me either from his appearance on TV or perhaps from some report or other in the newspapers.  He was gushingly friendly, if you know what I mean, and drove his car with a speed which as even a young man I felt somewhat apprehensive about.  This was in the pre seat belt days but the good man prepared me and presumably himself for what lay ahead by sprinkling some holy water in my direction after I had got into the car and before he resumed his journey.

John B. Keane was another with whom I shared a journey, this time as I was thumbing a lift from Dublin to Naas.  John B. was the front seat passenger in the car and apparently both he and his companion were returning home after a meeting the night before about compulsory Irish in Irish Schools.  John B. was in a talkative mood as he passed back to me in the back seat a religious card for some Novena or other which stated that if the prayers were said in Irish, some additional indulgences could be obtained.  That and the earning of additional marks for failing the Leaving Certificate or Inter Certificate Examinations in Irish were to John B. incidental (and it must be said to me also) examples of the rank stupidity of an Irish policy which served no useful purpose.

Frank Keely who lived in Duke Street and travelled each day to his work with Bord na Mona in Newbridge was always very obliging in giving me a lift on Monday mornings as I made the journey back to Naas.  The walk out to the Dublin Road early on a Monday morning after spending the earlier hours in Dreamland did not always find me at my best.  How one got on in Dreamland determined one’s mood for the following 48 hours or so.  An enjoyable night meant that the tiredness of a shortened sleep could be submerged in the feel good factor, while an unsatisfactory night attracted the opposite feeling.  One way or the other, the Monday morning ritual of getting out on the road to thumb a lift back to work had to be faced.

One man with whom I remember getting a lift home from Naas on several occasions was the late Paddy Dooley who was then a T.D. for Kildare.  Of course in those days, a man of his years was addressed as Mr. Dooley, a convention which seems to have disappeared in today’s egalitarian society.  Paddy Dooley was an extraordinary man.  Quiet and gentlemanly to the point of shyness almost, nevertheless he was a politician at local level for decades and at National level for 9 years or so.  Son of Michael Dooley of Duke Street who is remembered in the 1930’s Housing Scheme, Michael Dooley’s Terrace, Paddy was educated at the Christian Brothers School, Athy and St. Enda’s College in Dublin.  Qualifying as a National School teacher, he taught at Skerries National School before becoming Principal of Kilberry National School.  His late father was a founder member of the Athy branches of Sinn Fein and the Gaelic League and Paddy himself continued the family link with republican politics.  At an early age he joined the Fianna Fail party and was elected a member of Athy U.D.C. for the first time in 1945.  Elected with him on that occasion was M.G. Nolan, Eddie Purcell, Mick McHugh, Tom Dowling, J.C. Reynolds, Tom Carbery and John Lawler who resigned the following year to be replaced by Bill Ryan.  Paddy Dooley was re-elected as an Urban Councillor in five subsequent local elections up to and including 1974 and by then he was longest serving member of the Council.  He served as Chairman of the Council in 1953/’54, 1966/’67, 1972/’73, 1974/’75 and again in 1978/’79.

Paddy was elected a T.D. for the Kildare constituency in 1957 and served in that capacity continuously until 1965.  In 1957 I was a pupil in the Christian Brothers Secondary School and one of my classmates was Enda Dooley, a son of Paddy’s.  Obviously the fact that a local man was standing for the Dáil must have been a matter of considerable interest in the town.  However, quite clearly it did not hold my attention at the time because I recall my first initial awareness of the 1957 election was the Superior of the Christian Brother, Brother J. Brett at the start of morning class extending congratulations to Enda Dooley on his father’s election to the Dáil  following the previous nights count.

Unusually for a politician, Paddy Dooley was a sincere mild mannered man who was never aggressive and who tried as best he could to represent the interests of his native town and County.  I can recall many occasions when he stopped on the road outside Naas on his way home from the Dáil to give me a lift to Athy.

Isn’t it wonderful how, even after the passing of 40 years or so, some small acts of generosity are still remembered and recalled when perhaps more important matters have left the memory forever.

I was contacted recently by a reader who mentioned a “Reminiscence Night” which was held some years ago in the Leinster Arms Hotel.  “When are we going to have another such night?” was the question, the answer to which is “maybe soon”.  You may remember the previous occasion when people interested in their own locality came together for a social evening consisting of chat, stories and reflections on times past.  If there is sufficient interest it might be possible to have a “Reminiscence Night” maybe once a month over the winter.  What better way of passing away the time than an evening spent in congenial company.

More about this again.  

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Ernest Shackleton Autumn School 2003

The intrepid Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton will be remembered and commemorated during the 3rd Shackleton Autumn School scheduled to take place in the Town Hall, Athy over the October Bank Holiday weekend.  Shackleton was, without doubt, one of the great heroes of the 20th century which he amply demonstrated by his leadership qualities and his ability to motivate and inspire confidence in the men whom he led on his various Antarctic expeditions.

He was born in Kilkea House a few miles outside Athy where he lived during his formative early years before the Shackleton family moved to Dublin and then to London.  Shackleton lived through the great age of exploration and his involvement in four Antarctic expeditions starting with the British National Antarctic Expedition of 1901 and ending with his final and fatal expedition of 1921 demonstrated the depth of his ambition to conquer the remote and inhospitable Antarctic.  Of course his most famous expedition was the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition which set out on 8th August 1914 just days after the start of World War I.  The expedition ended in May 1917 and despite the fact that it was a failure, following the early icing in and subsequent break up of Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” the trials and tribulations endured by Shackleton and his men ensured that this expedition would be remembered for all time. 

Shackleton’s courage in bringing his entire expedition team to safety against all the odds was, and still is an inspiring story and one which was recently translated into film by Kenneth Brannagh.  Indeed the showing of Brannagh’s film will be one of the many events to take place during the Shackleton October weekend.  Another film on show will be Frank Hurley’s documentary film of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to the Antarctic which Hurley, as a member of the Shackleton team, shot while on that expedition.  It is an 80 minute long film which was recently restored by the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute and is one of the most remarkable exploration films ever made.  It will be introduced by Luke McKernan, Film Historian and head of information at the British Film and Video Council.

Lecturers this year include Frank Nugent, Mountaineer and Explorer, whose subject will be “Irish Arctic Exploration”.  Hurley was one of the team of Irish men who unsuccessfully tried to replicate Shackleton’s awe inspiring 800 mile boat trip across the Weddell Sea from Elephant Island to South Georgia.  Shackleton was accompanied by five men including County Kerry born Tom Crean on that trip, with Frank Worsley navigating the small rowing boat which they called “James Caird”.  They reached their destination after 16 days and after a further overland trip arrived at an occupied whaling station from where they were able to make arrangements to rescue the 22 men who had been left behind on Elephant Island.  The Antarctic sea trip in a small boat was a most extraordinary achievement and one which adventurers with modern day aids were not able to emulate nearly 100 years later.

Michael Smith of London who wrote the well received biographies of Tom Crean and Captain Oates will give a talk on “The Story of Captain Oates”.  Oates was the army captain, a member of the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers, who when returning injured from the Antarctic with Robert Scott in 1913 walked out to die in a blizzard so as not to hold back his colleagues, having told them as he left the snow bound tent, “I am going outside ….. I may be a little while”.

Myles Dungan of RTE will give a talk on Frank Shackleton, brother of the explorer, whose claim to fame rests solely on his alleged involvement in the stealing of the Irish crown jewels.  Dungan who has previously written a book on the Irish in World War I will shortly have a book on Frank Shackleton and the Irish crown jewels in the book shops.

Sara Wheeler, another author, will speak on “The Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard”.  She is the author of best sellers, “Terra Incognito”, the story of her travels in the Antarctic as well as a book of her travels in Chile, “Travels in a Thin Country”.  Apsley Cherry-Garrard was a member of Captain Robert Scott’s Antarctic team and Sara Wheeler has written the definitive biography of Gerrard.

Ann Savours, who is one of Britain’s leading experts on polar exploration and history, has written a number of books including “The Voyages of the Discovery” and “The Search for the North West Passage”.  During the Shackleton weekend she will give a talk on “The History of Scott’s Ship Discovery”.  Jonathan Shackleton, a cousin of the explorer and co-author of the recently published “Shackleton - an Irishman in Antarctica” will speak on “The Importance of Being Ernest in a Changing Antarctic - an illustrated review of places that Shackleton visited”.

The weekend will include two drama presentations.  Aidan Dooley comes from the New York International Fringe Festival with his one man play “Endurance” while the Meeting Lane Theatre Company puts on the premier of John Mac Kenna’s play, “The Woman at the Window”.  Featuring Paula Dempsey, Mac Kenna’s new play is based on the life of the Ballitore writer Mary Leadbeater who is best known for her “Annals of Ballitore”.

On the Bank Holiday Monday two field trips are planned and full details are given in the Programme, copies of which can be picked up in the Heritage Centre.  In addition to the lectures, drama and films there will also be two exhibitions.  As you might expect an exhibition recalling the life and adventures of Ernest Shackleton will be held in the Heritage Centre and in addition Vincent Sheridan, Artist will also have an exhibition of prints in the centre.  The prints inspired by Sheridan’s travel in the Antarctic will be for sale. 

The Shackleton weekend runs from Thursday, 23rd October until Monday, 27th October and starts with readings from a series of creative writing workshops which are to be held in libraries throughout County Kildare facilitated by writers Mary O’Donnell, Ann Egan and Martin Malone.  The official opening of the weekend will take place in the Heritage Centre on Friday evening, 24th October at 7.00pm.  This promises to be a wonderful weekend and the hope is that the visitors who attended in great numbers last year will be joined this year by local people.

Thursday, October 9, 2003

Athy 75

I got a huge response to the recent article on the Athy 75 motor cycle races which were organised by the Athy Motor Cycle and Car Club between 1925 and 1930.  Some of the cups presented to winners of the various races have been located, while one reader knew of the whereabouts of the helmet worn by the unfortunate Harry Sargeant who was killed while participating in the 1929 race.  I have also been told that Harry who worked as a shop assistant in the town lodged in a house opposite Whelan’s pub in Offaly Street.  This was either No. 4 Offaly Street where Murphy’s lived or next door where I lived in the 1950’s.  Harry who was from Naas was a member of the Athy Club and I am informed was also assistant secretary of the Club at one time.  He entered the 1929 race using the nom-de-plume “Sonny Boy” but wasn’t the only one of the 48 who started that day to conceal his real name.  Another motor cyclist described as being from Dublin hid his true identity under the name “B. Smith”.

Harry Sargeant was driving a 249 Dunlet which he had borrowed for the occasion and as well was wearing gloves which were too big for him.  Unaccustomed to bike racing and to the machine he was riding he crashed at the Moate of Ardscull, less than a quarter of a mile from the starting point.  He was the first fatality of the Athy 75 Race which had been run each year since 1925.  Incidentally the 500cc class race that year was run by the legendary Stanley Woods who set a course record of 70.60mph and completed the race in the record time of 1hr. 5mins and 50 seconds.

The following year the Athy 75 took place on Saturday, 24th May starting at 3.30pm from Russellstown Crossroads.  Riders had practiced runs over the course from 6.00 o’clock each morning for the two weeks prior to the race day but it was noticeable that the number of competitors in the 1930 race was down somewhat from the previous year.  Six Athy men had taken part in the 1929 race, but only one man, Jack Yates of Carlow but a member of the Athy Club raced in 1930.  Was this I wonder a result of the unfortunate accident involving Harry Sargeant the previous year?

The roads over which the course ran were closed from 3.00pm that Saturday and the race commenced at 3.30pm.  The 43 riders set off at intervals, each travelling eight laps of the quadrangular course.  In what would transpire to be the last of the Athy 75 races, the riders competed in four classes, 175cc, 250cc, 350cc and 500cc.

A serious accident occurred on the third lap when Peter Mooney of 72 Manor Street, Dublin was killed near Fontstown Cross.  Thomas Masterson, Road Marshall, told the inquest held the following Monday in Athy that he was responsible for marshalling the area in and around Fontstown Corner.  He saw two competitors, No. 28 Peter Mooney and No. 7 R.W. Kieran approaching Fontstown Cross.  Kieran’s motor bike struck the embankment and Mooney who was travelling behind was shrouded in dust.  Masterson then heard two terrific shrieks and saw a head and shoulder in the air above the dust.  He rushed to the scene with a St. John Ambulance Brigade man.  Kevin McNully of the St. John Ambulance Brigade recounted how Kieran’s bike struck the bank and rebounded and Mooney’s bike travelling immediately behind crashed into it.

A juror at the inquest enquired if there was heavy dust and on it being confirmed that there was said, “then it was a death trap”.  C.W. Taylor of Forest Farm, the President of the Athy Club told the inquest that the Club Committee had done its best to get the dust sprayed prior to the race, but did not succeed.  As clerk of the course he had arranged for stewards, doctors and St. John’s Ambulance men to be in attendance.

At this point Peter Mooney’s father who was in attendance questioned why his son was allowed to race since apparently he stood in at the last moment for another competitor, something which was prohibited under the Club Rules once the handicaps had been decided.  Clearly distressed Mr. Mooney claimed that the Club had broken its own rules and “if the rule had not been broken my son would be alive today.”  Mr. Taylor who had presided over the Athy Motor Cycle and Car Club since at least the inaugural Athy 75 Race in 1925, if not earlier, advised the inquest that the race would never be held again.  So ended the legendary Athy 75, the first road race to be organised in the 26 counties under powers granted to the Minister for Local Government permitting the temporary closure of public roads to facilitate racing. 

The Motor Cycle magazine of 29th May 1930 devoted an entire page to a report of the Athy 75, which included a photograph of J.J. Byrne on his 346 A.J.S. participating in the race.  In the body of the report which was highly complementary of the local Club’s “excellent handicapping” which allowed the race result to be in doubt to the very end was the following.

            “In the meantime most exciting things were happening on the tortuous back road of the course.  While the main stretch was fast and smooth, there was some miles of rutted laneway in which owing to the high hedges dust hung in a thick pall.  It was impossible to see more than a few yards ahead and the rider who kept open the taps and “chanced it” might win the race or go through a hedge.  D. O’Clery and R.W. Mulligan were among those who went through hedges.  E.J. Brady fell and hurt his hands, while J.R. Smith had his knee badly damaged.”

Clearly the conditions were not ideal for such a high powered race and the decision of the Athy Motor Cycle and Car Club members to end their six year old involvement with the race was quite understandable.

The 3rd Ernest Shackleton Autumn School is scheduled to take place in the Town Hall over the October Bank holiday weekend.  In addition to lectures on Saturday and Sunday there will be a showing of the documentary film “Endurance” which was shot by Frank Hurley during Shackleton’s “Endurance” expedition to Antarctica.  Kenneth Brannagh’s recent film “Shackleton” will also be shown over the weekend.  Some interesting drama presentations are promised - John MacKenna’s “The Woman at the Window” and Aidan Dooley’s “Endurance”.  Programmes for the weenend can be obtained at the Heritage Centre, Athy, Tel. [0507] 33075.  E-mail: