Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas memories

On Monday 10th December we witnessed one of the largest attendances at a funeral service held in Athy. John Perry a native of Bunclody but an adopted son of Athy had died three days previously. His passing was not unexpected but when it came it occasioned genuine regret for the man who was universally regarded for his courtesy and kindness.

The name Perry is synonymous in so far as townsfolk are concerned with the motor dealership and garage while for country folk the name is more associated with the farm machinery business. Both were developed from the start up business commenced forty five years ago by John Perry who came to Athy six years previously to work with Duthie Larges of Leinster Street. When he arrived in the South Kildare town he was just twenty years of age and within one week of his arrival he had made his first move in the upward transition which would eventually lead to the opening of his own business. That move, just a short distance up Leinster Street brought him to Jacksons, a firm well known and long established in the town of Athy. He later moved to Smiths Garage next to the I.V.I. foundry before branching out on his own just six years after he first arrived in Athy.

The friendly man who was John Perry was a highly respected business man who according to the many stories I have heard this week treated his customers with remarkable kindness and courtesy. Legion are the accounts that have come to my notice confirming that a happy customer was very important to the Bunclody man whose dealings were always fair and equitable.

As a committee member of the Church of Ireland John was a member of the local Select Vestry for almost forty years and for the last three decades fulfilled the role of treasurer of the Athy Parish. His involvement with the Athy Lions Club was perhaps less well know given that organisation’s work is by the most part carried out discreetly and without undue fanfare. As a past president of the Lions Club and a member of many years standing his contribution to local charities and good causes generally was exemplary. Above all he was an honourable man whose courtesy and innate kindness marked him as a man apart. The huge gathering at his funeral service at the Parish Church of St. Michaels was an indication of the esteem in which John and his family are held both locally and much further afield. To his wife Olive, his sons Stephen, Roger and Niall and his extended family go our sympathies.

Christmas time in Athy has been marked for many years passed with the performance of “While Shepherds Watched” in the local Dominican Church. A Yule time entertainment it’s always a very enjoyable festive offering guaranteed to bring good cheer and set the stage for the celebration of Christmas. This Thursday the 2007 performance takes place just days after Paul Stafford was laid to rest in St. Michaels Cemetery. It was Paul who fifteen years ago produced the very first “While Shepherds Watched”. His involvement in theatrical productions made him an ideal person to organise that first show and the audience reaction ensured it would become an annual event thereafter.

I recall Paul’s involvement in another event, an Oratoria written by John MacKenna and Mairead O’Flynn which he produced for Remembrance Sunday approximately 14 years ago in the Presbyterian Church on the Dublin Road. I had the performance captured on film but unfortunately the film has been missing for a number of years, no doubt lying on someone’s shelf, overlooked and forgotten. I can still remember the evocative scene created by Paul towards the end of the Oratorio when in darkness and with background commentary he gave the names of the Athy men who died in the 1914-1918 war, a candle was lit for every one of those men until finally 125 candles were flickering at the front of the Church. It was a very emotional scene created by a talented producer who worked on several theatrical offerings by John MacKenna and the Mend and Makedo Theatre Company. It was in fact the first public acknowledgment of the contribution made by Athy men during the 1914-18 war and thankfully in the intervening years we have witnessed the reclaiming of their memory as an integral part of our community’s proud history. Paul died after a long illness and our sympathies go to his mother Connie and his sisters Imelda, Celine and Anne.

A recent commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the death of Monaghan poet Patrick Kavanagh saw the planting of a tree at the Canal Harbour. It was a symbolic gesture for the Inniskeen man who wrote.

O commemorate me where there is water,
Canal water preferably
So stilly greeny at the heart of Summer. Brother
Commemorate me thus beautifully.

Later that evening in the nearby Gargoyles restaurant which was once the Grand Canal Hotel an evening of Poetry, Drama and Music brought to my attention for the first time the talented musicianship of octogenarian Seamus Farrell of Ballylinan. The tin whistle is his forte but somewhere along the way Seamus kissed the Blarney stone and luckily for social historians he is blessed with a good memory and a deep knowledge of this part of the country. Talking to Seamus that night and since then has brought a wealth of information from which I hope to piece together a few interesting articles in the new year.

In the meantime may I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a contented New year.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


The last day of November took from us two men, who for many were intrinsically linked with Athy. Tony Bracken was just 63 years old when he succumbed to an illness which first became apparent in March of this year. He knew Br. John Flaherty, indeed Tony was taught in 6th class in the local Christian Brothers School by the tall genial Kerry man who will be remembered by many onetime scholars of the St. John’s Lane school. Both died on the same day this November, Tony who had given a lifetime of service to the G.A.A. and John Flaherty whose life was dedicated as a Christian Brother to educating Irish youths. Flaherty died in advanced old age in St. Patrick’s, Baldoyle, Tony in his own home at Woodstock Street surrounded by his family.

I last met Tony at the Aontas Ogra 50th anniversary celebration in Dreamland Ballroom. He was then very ill but facing into the future, uncertain as it was, with determination and courage. It was that same determination which saw him through a successful career as a handballer, winning softball titles while playing with the Moone club, and becoming the first, if not the only Moone club player ever to be selected on the Kildare County handball team.

Athy in the early decades of the last century was one of the principal centres for handball in this country and produced many champions over the years. When Tony was growing up in Woodstock Street the handball court in Barrack Lane was still in use, even if not as often or as effectively as it had been decades previously. Nevertheless the handball court provided a readymade arena for local youngsters who were willing and able to practice what is after all one of our national games. Tony was one such youngster and he became a handball player of ability, who in later years joined the Moone handball club where he was assured of competitive games with some top class players.

Tony was also a Gaelic footballer. I can’t vouch for his playing prowess or point to any great success of his on the playing field. However, it was as a club official that he is best remembered in terms of his involvement with the G.A.A. A fervent supporter of the game whose membership of the local Geraldine Club went back almost 50 years, Tony always seemed actively involved at local club level. He was a team selector, committee member, team manager and above all, as Club Chairman Marty McEvoy said at his funeral mass, ‘his love of G.A.A. was based on passion, commitment and total dedication’.

He was a selector for the Kildare County Minor team for three years and it was Tony who first spotted the future county footballing star Christy Byrne on the day 14 year old Christy was asked to stand in goal for a Castlemitchell team which found itself a man short one Sunday afternoon. Tony noted the young boy’s excellent performance that day and two years later was instrumental in having him selected for the County Minor team. Christy would later go on to win Leinster Championship and Railway Cup medals as the province’s outstanding goalkeeper. Tony managed the County Minor team in 1991, the year when local players such as Christy Byrne, Glen McLoughlin and John Wall helped secure the Leinster Minor Championship for Kildare to make up for the disappointment of losing the previous year’s final.

The huge funeral cortege which passed through Leinster Street on the way to St. Michael’s cemetery on Monday was a fitting testimony to the popularity of Tony and the esteem in which the Brackens are held. The moving tributes paid to a man whose popularity was unquestionable were well deserved. Athy G.A.A. Club provided a guard of honour for the removal of the remains to the church and the next day to St. Michael’s Cemetery. On both days the coffin bore the red jersey of Tony’s club and the famous Lilywhite of Kildare County in recognition of Tony’s attachment to club and county. He epitomised the well described, if sometimes little recognised, grass roots member of the G.A.A., a great national organisation which is the sum total of the countrywide clubs of which it is comprised.

There are hundreds like him throughout this island, each dedicated to the well being of clubs or organisations which provide outlets for sportsmen and sportswomen and without whose energy and commitment such clubs would falter and perhaps even disappear. Athy Gaelic Football Club will greatly miss Tony Bracken whose work over the years contributed enormously to the continued success of Athy’s premier sporting club.

The moving ceremony in St. Michael’s Parish Church on the morning of the funeral was presided over by Fr. Philip Dennehy, assisted by two other priests. The choir was in good voice and Jacinta O’Donnell gave a moving rendition of the Curragh of Kildare which she reprised at the graveside. Tony’s nephew, Brian Hughes, played on the tin whistle at the end of the Mass, his musical interpretation of ‘Danny Boy’ and the applause which greeted his musical tribute to his uncle spoke volumes for how well the piece was received by the congregation.

Tony’s daughter Glenda paid a moving tribute to her father and her delivery and presentation in the emotional atmosphere of a funeral mass was extraordinarily good. In fact I felt that hers was the most beautiful tribute I have heard paid to a parent at any of the many funeral masses I have attended in recent times. It was a most compelling and sensitive tribute to a father, the sentiments expressed finding an echo in the thoughts of her listeners who had known her father Tony.

Tony is survived by his wife Lily, his son Anthony and daughters Glenda and Olive. Lily I have known since both of us were attending, in her case St. Mary’s, in my case the Christian Brothers School where Tony was also a pupil. The years have passed with startling speed but friendships shaped in youthful times persist and the sorrow felt at the passing of Tony Bracken is palpable and real. He will be sadly missed by his family and friends, while Geraldine Gaelic Football Club and the Lilywhites have lost a lifelong supporter.

Brother John Flaherty and Tony Bracken were part of a shared past dating back almost 50 years ago. Their passing on the same day in November was a strange and a sad coincidence.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Sisters of Mercy: at the heart of the town

On 24 October 1873, the Sisters of Mercy took charge of what was then known as the Union Hospital here in Athy. It was part of the work-house opened almost 30 years previously and was more proper-ly called the Infirmary. The small infirmary had been provided within the workhouse by the board of guardians to comply with their statutory obligation to equip hospitals and dispensaries for the sick poor. The Sisters of Mercy worked in the Infirmary during daylight hours only and a trained night nurse would not be employed by the board of guardians until 1897 when upwards of 80 patients were in the infirmary.

This was the era of the so-called ‘pauper nursing’, when female inmates of the workhouse were locked into the Infirmary with the patients at night time in order to look after them as best they could. The Sisters of Mercy undertook the work in the Infirmary as an extension of their mission in Athy and 11 years later they would embark on another local social service which was noted in the Convent Annals on 4 September 1884 as follows:

‘On the Feast of our Lady of Mercy 1884, the House of Mercy was opened. Sister Margaret Hayden was placed in charge and two young girls were admitted.’ During the previous year, a new building was erected at Stanhope Place to house on the first floor what was described as the Pension School (secondary school) and on the ground floor the House of Mercy. This latter facility was intended to offer domestic training for young girls with a view to them taking up employment after a year or two. A report prepared in 1932 on the occasion of the centenary of the Mercy Order claimed that approximately 480 young girls had been trained up to that time in Athy’s House of Mercy, all of whom had obtained work ‘according to their abilities’. Indeed several of the former House of Mercy trainees went on to become valued members of religious orders throughout Ireland.

The Sisters of Mercy’s Convent in Athy closed a few years ago but, before it did, the House of Mercy had ceased to operate and the last Sister of Mercy in charge of the facility was Sister Rita Cranny, a native of Rosebran. Sister Rita, who will celebrate her 90th birthday this month, entered the convent in 1938. She made her triennial vows as a Sister of Mercy on 11 February 1941 and two years later made her final vows in a ceremony presided over by Canon McDonnell, the local parish priest.

Canon McDonnell, who died on 1 March 1956, is remembered today in the estate name McDonnell Drive, which was opened by the minister for local government on 24 September

1953. The urban district council later agreed to name McDonnell Drive in memory of the late canon, who had served as parish priest of St Michael’s Parish for 28 years. The late canon was a generous benefactor to the local Convent of Mercy and especially so to the House of Mercy, which benefited over the years by way of many cash donations made by him.

Sister Rita, who was one of four brothers and four sisters, the children of Tom and Margaret Cranny, was in time put in charge of the House of Mercy and remained in that position until it closed down just a few years before the Convent of Mercy itself. She taught domestic science to generations of Athy girls and in September 1992 celebrated her Golden Jubilee as a Sister of Mercy, 12 months later than intended due to a family bereavement. On that wonderful occasion, she was joined by her sisters, Teresa Kealy and Bridie Whelan from England, her twin sister Nancy and two cousins from Brisbane, Australia, Peter and Pam Cranny.

Sister Rita has been for 69 years a member of the Sisters of Mercy Order and during that time she has witnessed some extraordinary changes in Irish society. These changes have to some extent been mirrored in the followers of Mother Catherine McAuley, whose early mission of educating the poor has been replaced by social involvement with the community at large.

Sister Rita is not the oldest member of the present local community of nuns, an indication perhaps of the age profile of the dedicated missionaries in our midst who for so long were taken for granted by the people they served.

In 1952, the Athy-based Sisters of Mercy celebrated the centenary of the local convent’s foundation, an event that was celebrated in the poem composed by Sister Declan Cullen of St Leo’s Convent in Carlow, a few verses of which read: O’er the graves the trees are sighing Where the ancient sisters lie What think you their bones are crying Through the hundred years gone by.

Daughters, walk as we did, lowly Convents are not built with stones But with humble hearts and holy This the message of our bones.

The legacy of Sister Rita and her sisters in religion is one that in time will be measured by a generation which will have no personal experience of their work within the local community. Six years ago, I spoke at a function to mark the last days of the Sisters of Mercy’s involvement with primary education in Athy following the retirement of Sister Teresa Ann Nagle. I remarked how indebted we all are for the sacrifices made by the Sisters of Mercy in furthering education in our town. For them, cultural and intellectual stimulation were the bedrocks upon which educational standards were to be set and maintained. Their work in education is now finished, but there remains a courageous group of now elderly nuns who are the proud successors of generations of young Irish women who dedicated their lives to the people of this country. We salute Sister Rita and her companions in the Sisters of Mercy and extend good wishes to Sister Rita on her 90th birthday.

An anthology of Athy in song and verse has been produced in CD form by the Cultural Sub-Committee of Athy Town Council. Featuring some of the well-known musicians in Athy, it offers a unique collection of local songs and stories that will appeal to anyone with links to our historic town. Costing €15, it comes highly recommended.

Another launch, this time a book launch, will take place tomorrow night, Thursday 6 December in Athy Library at 8pm. The third volume in the series, being a compilation of edited versions of my articles which appeared in the Kildare Nationalist between 1997 and 1999, will be launched by the Laois Nationalist editor, Barbara Sheridan. I hope you can come along.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The courthouse and the Duke of Leinster

I was at the last sitting of the District Court in Tullow last week. The town which was the place of execution of Fr John Murphy of Boolavogue in 1798 has lost out in the drive to centralise services, which appears to be motivated by cost cutting than by any desire to better serve the communities of rural Ireland. The courtroom, admittedly Dickensian in appearance and in the facilities it provides, was crowded with litigants, gardaí and others. Not an unusual occurrence ,I was told, confirming (if such confirmation was needed) that there is a need for a local court in the area which from now on will be served by a court sitting in Carlow.

I was reminded of the furore that built up in Athy when plans were put in place to close the jail on the Carlow Road and move the prisoners to Naas. This happened in 1859 and, like many other occasions, when the public are stirred to anger by bureaucracy, the opposition came too late to make any difference to the decision already taken and even then in part implemented. The closure of Athy town jail came one year after the transfer of the summer assizes from Athy to Naas and precisely 29 years after the gaol had been constructed to replace what was regarded as the inhuman conditions of the previous lock-up located in White’s Castle. These conditions were so bad that an inspector of jails was moved to report:

“Athy Gaol is without exception the worst county gaol I have met with, in terms of accommodation, having neither yards, pumps, hospital, Chapel or property day rooms”.

When the jail on the Carlow Road was opened in 1830, it consisted of 30 cells built in a semi-circular form, with five yards and a governor’s house. Subsequent prison reports showed that an average of 48 prisoners, male and female, were detained there, most of them serving prison terms of seven years. This was the period of imprisonment applicable to most crimes of that time, even for what we would now regard as minor offences. The alternative to a seven-year prison term was deportation to Van Diemen’s land, then the principal place of overseas confinement for Irish rebels and those convicted of criminal offences.

The mood of the Athy people in 1859, following the announcement of the closure of the town jail and the earlier loss of the summer assizes, showed a frisson of resistance which had last manifested itself during the 1798 period. The leaders in the local community, by and large local shopkeepers, were to the forefront in lamenting the failure of the Duke of Leinster in pushing the claim of Athy town to retain its own jail and the summer assizes. Whether or not the Duke had any significant say in the matter is debatable but, as the patron of the town and the man who prior to the abolition of the borough council in 1840 held the reins of local power, it was to be expected that he would bear the brunt of local frustration.

Even as the local businessmen criticised the duke for his alleged inaction on the two issues, the town fathers in their role as town commissioners were still operating under a well-established system whereby they acted only if and when the duke had been consulted by them and consented to what they proposed. The previous borough council for Athy had been abolished in 1840, as were many other similar boroughs at that time because they were regarded as ‘rotten’ boroughs whose power was exercised at the behest of their patrons and not the people of the towns which they were presumed to serve.

The Duke of Leinster appointed the members of the borough council and exercised the right, prior to the passing of the Act of Union, to nominate two members of parliament to represent the borough council in the Irish House of Parliament. Despite the appointment of town commissioners in 1842, the Duke of Leinster continued to exercise control over the affairs of the town, but the events of 1859 represented the first ripple of opposition to the man whose family for so long were undisputed lords of Athy.

Reading the minutes of the meetings of the town commissioners in the decades following the closure of the town jail and the loss of the summer assizes, one can see the council gradually moving away from the control hitherto exercised by the Duke of Leinster over the town’s affairs. The break for freedom was finally copper-fastened with the passing of the Local Government Act of 1899, which lead to the setting up of Athy Urban District Council. Control of the town’s affairs now rests, as it has for the last 100 years or more, with local men and women elected by their own townspeople.

The loss of a courthouse, as has now happened in Tullow, is the loss of a vital element of community infrastructure which bodes ill for the future vitality of the local community.

An open invitation to readers

Next Thursday, 6 December, the third volume in the Eye on Athy’s Past series of books, being edited versions of my articles which appeared in the Kildare Nationalist, will be launched in the Town Hall Library at 8pm. The book of 200 pages deals with a wide range of Athy folk and events and documents life in Athy as some of us may have known it, but which is probably unfamiliar, if not unknown, to many. The launch of the book will be performed by Barbara Sheridan, Editor of the Laois Nationalist, who first approached me more than 15 years ago with a request to write a weekly article on local history. Barbara was then the local correspondent for Athy and South Kildare and quite frankly when I was first approached I turned her down. However, she renewed her request and with some reluctance and indeed uncertainty as to what I could pen on a regular basis, I wrote that first article 15 years ago.

Over the years I have met and talked to many locals, both about themselves and local events of the past. It has been a most rewarding, and I may say, at times, a humbling experience, to listen to men and women who have contributed during their lifetime to the well-being of our local community. The interviews have on many occasions complemented my own ongoing research into Athy’s history and helped to give a human touch to the everyday happenings that make up the social history of our place.

I have been helped over the years by many persons who have either given generously of their time for interviews or else directed me to events or people which were later the subject of an Eye on the Past article. Many others have written to me over the years and I especially appreciate those men and women now living in England who put pen to paper to share their knowledge of Athy with me. The history of emigration from Athy remains to be told in detail, but I am pleased that so many of those living abroad have had the opportunity of learning more of their hometown through the medium of the weekly Eye on the Past.

An invitation is extended to all of you to come along to the book launch on Thursday, 6 December at 8pm in the Town Library.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Literary launches and a week filled with memories

An eventful few days during the past week saw me attending two book launches and meeting the family of a pioneer trade union activist on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his death. It was also the week when I learned of the shooting dead of a young Athy man while wearing the uniform of the RIC during the War of Independence.

But firstly to the book launches which I believe to be unique, given that they were of books independently penned by a father and his young son and both of which were launched within days of each other. For John MacKenna, the launching of one of his books is by now a common enough event, but nevertheless his latest literary offering brought together a great gathering in the local Heritage Centre. Launched by Joe Taylor, the man of many voices on our national radio station, MacKenna’s continuing literary insight into the landscapes of South Kildare, and in particular Castledermot, proves yet again his mastery of the written word.

His son, Ewan, at just 23 years of age, had his first venture in the book production launched in Dublin just a few days afterwards. Ewan, who is a sports reporter with the Sunday Tribune, has written the story of Armagh footballer Oisin McConville’s addiction to gambling. The launch of a first book is always a memorable event and while Ewan MacKenna will no doubt pen many more publications, this, his first book, will always hold special memories for him. ‘The Gambler --Oisin McConville’s Story’ is published by Mainstream and is available in all good bookshops.

On Thursday 15 November I met the family of the late Christy Supple who died 40 years ago in London and whose remains were brought back to his native town for burial in St. Michael’s Cemetery. His widow, Kathleen, who is 86 years old travelled from Harrow in London with her son Tom to be at her husband’s graveside on the 40th anniversary of his death and with them was her son Joe who travelled from British Columbia in Canada.

Christy Supple was for me, and I’m sure for many locals, an overlooked figure from Athy’s past who in the 1920’s and later played a leading part in developing the trade union movement in South Kildare. I have written previously of Christy’s involvement in the Farm Workers Strike of 1919 and of his attempts to extend membership of the Transport Union in South Kildare before and after that time. It was a difficult period for everyone, the War of Independence brought with it murder and mayhem and in it’s wake followed the lawlessness which was inevitably created by those who took advantage of the situation. Christy Supple’s task in organising the farm labourers of South Kildare at an age when he was just a few years out of his teens and in the midst of civil unrest was an unenviable one. The truce between the British Authorities and the I.R.A. which came into effect on 11th July 1921 did little to ease the burden of the lowly paid Irish farm labourers and towards the end of 1922, even as the Civil War raged, they went on strike. Christy Supple was to the forefront of the dispute, which was extended in January 1923 to parts of County Waterford.

Athy Urban District Council tried to arbitrate between the union and the local farmers, but to no avail. The Minister for Industry and Commerce next took the initiative to bring the parties together but before he could do so the Ministry authorities arrested Christy Supple on 29th January 1923. His arrest came about as a result of a letter he had sent to a worker on Melrose’s farm in Grangenolvin. In that letter Supple, as Branch Secretary of the Transport Union, called upon the workman to strike and continued, ‘failing to do so we will be compelled to take drastic action against you and the employer’. The workman by name Melville apparently ignored the call to strike and was subsequently attacked by a person or persons unknown and shot in the hand. This at a time when the Civil War was at its most intense was a relatively unremarkable criminal act for which no-one was ever subsequently convicted. However, suspicion attached to the Trade Union Branch Secretary who had written to Melville and so Christy Supple was arrested and lodged in Carlow jail. While he was incarcerated the situation in South Kildare worsened and a number of farmers haggards were burned. Claim and counterclaim came from the workers and from the Farmers Union, each blaming the other for what happened. Some workmen who broke the strike had their houses attacked and a threshing machine and a straw elevator were destroyed on lands at Bennettsbridge. A number of farm labourers who were picketing in the Bennettsbridge area were arrested and held in military custody for three months. The situation in South Kildare was so bad that a troop of Free State soldiers took over the Town Hall in the centre of Athy on 9th March 1923 where they remained billeted for over eight months.

In the meantime Christy Supple continued to be detained in Carlow Jail and during the period of his imprisonment his mother took suddenly ill while travelling from Athy to Carlow to visit her son and died soon afterwards. Christy’s request for leave to attend his mother’s funeral was refused. This would rankle with him for the rest of his life and would later prompt his dying wish to be brought back to Athy to be buried alongside his mother.

Christy Supple was eventually released from prison late in 1923 and as to his sub-sequent career I have but sketchy details. He was elected to Athy Urban District Council in June 1925 at a time when he was living at the Bleach. I believe he may have been living with his married sister, Mrs. Margaret Corcoran. Like so many others from the town of Athy he emigrated to England sometime in the 1930’s where he married Kathleen Walsh of Clon-bern, Tuam in 1944. Their eldest son, Tom, was born in 1948 and three years later the Supple family returned to Athy where their second son Joe was born in 1953. They lived for a while in the Bleach with Mrs. Corcoran before renting a house at 2/6 a week opposite Plewman’s Terrace. Christy was by now working in the Asbestos factory but in 1955 the Supple family returned to England. Christy died in London on 15th November 1967, aged 69 years, and his remains were brought back to his native place to be buried alongside his mother. In addition to his immediate family he was survived by his brother Tom from Foxhill and his sisters Mrs. Corcoran and Molly Dalton. His other brother Joe had died in Dublin in 1953.

Christy Supple’s story can only be told in part as there is still much to learn of the young man, who encouraged by William O’Brien of the Dublin Transport Union set out as early as 1918 to unionise the work-ers of South Kildare. His story is one of courage and enduring hardship and meeting his family in Athy on the 40th anniversary of his death was a great privilege.

Earlier in the week as a small group of local men gathered to commemorate the men from Athy who died in World War One I learned of the killing of another Athy man. Unlike his townsmen who were killed in war by members of an opposing army, young Edward Doran was shot and killed by a fellow Irishman on 17th May 1921 as he went about his duties as a member of the R.I.C. I was told he was shot as he attempted to take down a tricolour from a pole but the official records disclose that he and his colleague John Dunne, who was also killed, were serving jurors summonses in the village of Kinnity when they were fired on. Dunne, aged 22 years, was from Kilconly in Tuam, while 24 year old Edward Doran was from Athy. Prior to joining the R.I.C. less than three years previously Doran had worked as a gardener for Minch’s of Rockfield. I understand his sister was a secretary in Minch Nortons, although my informant claims that she worked for local Solicitors Malcomson & Law. Was he I wonder a brother of Frank Doran who lived for many years in County Cork and whom I believe occasionally wrote on G.A.A. matters? If anyone has any information on the family of Edward Doran I would be delighted to hear from them.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Three funerals and a happy surprise

During the past week, I attended the funerals of two men, who in their different ways and at different times were prominent in our community here in Athy. George Hayden I first came to know when, on returning to Athy, I joined the local badminton section of the Rugby Club, where he was the steward. A courteous gentleman, George Hayden was liked by everyone who was privileged to know him. An unassuming man he was, as described by Mark Bergin, president of the Rugby Club in his brief eulogy at the funeral mass, “a man of integrity”. In the local Heritage Centre, there is a unique memorial made from World War I bullets and pieces of marble which were sent to Mrs Hayden of Churchtown in memory of her two sons Aloysius and Patrick who were killed in the Great War. It was through George Hayden’s generosity and thoughtfulness that this important commemorative artefact of war was donated to the Heritage Centre some years ago. It will always remain a memorial, not only to the Hayden brothers, but for me also a reminder of the quiet gracious gentleman who extended courtesy and assistance to everybody who came in contact with him.

Brian Maguire also passed away last week, less than two years after his beloved Megan went to her maker. Both Megan and Brian were for many years actively involved in the community amongst whom they came to live in July 1957.

As a dispensary doctor, Dr Brian saw the raw underbelly of poverty and deprivation at close quarters. For Athy, in the 1950s and for a long time afterwards, was unlike the bustling, traffic clogged town of today. Job opportunities were few and far between and the emigration boat provided the only respite from the numbing effects of enforced idleness.

The young doctor on arrival in Athy was to spend the rest of his life working among the people who came to appreciate the thoughtfulness which he brought to the care of his patients, especially the elderly. His involvement with the Committee for the Care of the Elderly is well known and was documented by me some years ago in a previous Eye on the Past. His passing and that of George Hayden, both in advanced years, removes from the local community two men of integrity whose lives were an example to all of us.

Of their generation also was the late Ivan Bergin, who died a few weeks ago. I was away at the time and regretfully failed to note his passing. Ivan Bergin was a quiet modest man whose father, the legendary JJ Bergin, was an important figure both nationally and locally in the Ireland of 50 years ago.

Ivan was perhaps best known for submitting the winning design for the Macra na Feirme badge in a competition 60 years ago.

Members of the newly-formed organisation were invited to submit proposals and the winning design was forwarded by the young farmer from Athy, which featured ears of wheat, oats and barley framing a ploughman and a pair of horses ploughing a field. The design prepared by Ivan Bergin continues today as the Macra na Feirme logo.

Some months ago I wrote of Christy Supple, trade union activist who led the South Kildare Farm Workers Strike in the early 1920s. Christy was also an urban councillor for Athy and, if memory serves me right, was a member of Kildare County Council. He died in England on 15 November 1967 to where he had emigrated some years previously. His remains were returned to his native Athy for burial in St Michael’s Cemetery.

Following my article on this forgotten leader of the working man’s move-ment in this area, I was fortunate to make contact with his son Joe, who lives in America. I found to my delight that Christy Supple’s wife was still alive and living in London and that he was also survived by two sons. The Supple family members are travelling to Athy for the 40th anniversary of Christy’s death and I hope to meet them and to learn more of the story of the man who was harshly imprisoned for his trade union activities during the course of the Farm Labourers’ Strike in 1923.

Christy Supple was the kind of man who made things happen. He was an activist who worked hard to better the lives of the workmen he represented and in so doing he suffered hugely. His is a story I hope to deal with in greater detail at some time in the near future.

In the meantime I finish off this week’s article with a photograph taken seven years ago on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of Athy Urban District Council. Sadly, two of the former councillors in that photograph, Megan Maguire and George ‘Mossy’ Reilly are no longer with us.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Remembering the fallen in the First World War

Remembrance Sunday, 11 November, will this year fall on the 89th anniversary of the day that the First World War ended. At 11 o’clock on the morning of 11 November 1918 the guns fell silent across the battlefields where almost 10 million men and women had lost their lives during the previous 52 months. The carnage of war was unfortunately to be replaced by an even more relentless destroyer of human life as the great flu epidemic which marked the final months of the Great War took its toll throughout the world. More people worldwide were to die during the few months of the influenza outbreak than were killed in the 1914-18 war.
The killing of approximately 35,000 Irish men in the World War and the maiming of even more men and women must have had a depressing effect on the national psyche at a time when the Irish people were about to embark on the final push for independence. 129 Athy men were killed in the war, the vast majority of whom were blown to bits or submerged in the mud of Flanders, never again to be found. Few bodies were recovered from where they fell and so the families of these dead men never had a graveside at which they could grieve. Perhaps even more tragic however, insofar as the fathers, mothers, widows and children of these men were concerned, was the change in attitudes back home in Ireland brought about by the emergence of Sinn Fein and the drive for Irish independence. Men who paraded to the railway station in Athy, accompanied by the Leinster Street Fife and Drum Band to the cheers of the townspeople, found on their return from war that they were at best ignored, but often times regarded as an embarrassment in an Ireland where Republican nationalism had gripped the public’s imagination and set the course for the island’s political future.

However, freedom for Ireland was a desire also shared by many of the men who fought in the First World War and indeed there were many amongst them who had enlisted in the belief that by doing so they were helping the cause of Home Rule. After all, had not the local Urban District Councillors actively encouraged them to enlist to fight in France and Flanders as soon as war was declared in

1914. The same encouragement was coming from every quarter. Canon Mackey, the Parish Priest of Athy, had often canvassed their support for the war from public platforms in Emily Square, as had many other highly regarded and respected persons in the town. No wonder then that the young men of Athy and the surrounding countryside enlisted in their hundreds and joined the British Army in the fight against Germany.

The shame of it is that those thought lucky or fortunate enough to survive the human carnage which was the First World War returned to a country and a town whose people rejected the overseas war and those who had fought in it. Not only were the survivors of the war rejected, but shamefully those who died were ignored. That is until recent years when a more reasoned response to the events of the 1914-18 period and its aftermath caused us and our Republican government to re-assess the contribution which the World War I soldiers made to the shared history of our country. The Irish Peace Tower at Messines now stands as our Nation’s symbolic remembrance of the Great War dead and in Athy the plaque placed on the Town Hall wall by the Town Council last year is Athy’s acknowledgement of our gratitude to the local men who died and those who survived the 1914-18 war.Local men like the Kelly brothers, Denis, John and Owen, the Curtis brothers, John, Laurence and Patrick, the Hayden brothers, Aloysius and Patrick and the Stafford brothers, Edward and Thomas. I could go on and on until the 219 men from Athy and district who died in the Great War were all listed. Theirs was a lost generation, lost not only to family and friends, but also to the collective memory of a community which should never have forgotten these young men. They were of our town, friends and neighbours and their deaths created a void within families, neighbourhoods and the wider community which took several generations to replace.

Next Sunday, November 11th, there will be an opportunity to remember the memory of all Athy men killed in the 1914-18 War and by so doing acknowledging the debt we owe them and their families for what they suffered. At 3.00 pm in St. Michael’s Old Cemetery a short service of remembrance will take place at the graves of the six Athy men who enlisted and died during the First World War and who are buried in the local cemetery. Later that evening at 8.00 p.m. in the Methodist Church at Woodstock Street a presentation of theatre, music and poetry will take place to remember the men of Athy and district who died in the war. You are encouraged to attend either or both events. After all, one hour or so of your time is little to offer in return for those who lost their lives all those years ago.

It’s a coincidence that on Friday night next, 9 November, John MacKenna who over 15 years ago initiated the Remembrance ceremonies in St. Michael’s Cemetery, will have his new book launched in the Heritage Centre. “The River Field” is a book of short stories, all set in a 12 acre triangular field near Castledermot and covering the period stretching back as far as 1763. John is regarded as one of the most accomplished writers in this country and his talents have been recognised with awards for his fiction and most recently for a radio play which won an international prize in New York. It’s good to see his writings in print because after the last of his first three books which was published in 1998 he waited another 8 years before publishing his most recent book, “Things You Should Know”.

The 55 year old Castledermot man, often regarded as a successor to McGahern’s literary genius, has yet again produced a body of work which shows a masterful literary talent at work. I understand the official launch of the book will be by Joe Taylor of RTE fame and will take place in the Heritage Centre on Friday, 9 November at 8.00 p.m. It will be an opportunity to join in the celebration and to buy a signed copy of a book which I believe will be a best seller. Even better still you might take the opportunity to disagree with something he might have to say on the night and so keep up the tradition which is slowly building up of controversial debate within the confines of the Town Hall!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

This sporting life in the 1930s

A scrapbook kept for over 30 years from the early 1930s provides the material for this week’s article. My attention was drawn to the many references in the book to sporting events involving Athy teams and sportsmen from the South Kildare town.

The first was a press report dated 5 April 1930 which, under the headline
Provincial Towns Cup Final, Athy v Wexford Wanderers, gave an account of the final played at Landsdowne Road in which the Athy team was W Keyes, TK Rossiter, GV Gibson, R McHugh, J Harvey, S McHugh, R Griffin, Jas Griffin, D Carbery, R Anderson, J Carbery, J Doyle, VM Gibson, T Maher and JB Maher.

The Athy team was playing that day in its second successful Provincial Towns Cup Final and at half time was behind by three points to nil. This, despite good play by S McHugh, his brother Des and full back W Keyes. Early in the second half, the Athy players made ground and R McHugh kicked ahead to put his team on the attack. Athy forwards, Griffin, Anderson and Griffin, were noted as ‘often prominent’. Despite good tackling by Keyes, the Wexford forward, Sheridan, went over for a try which remained unconverted. Persistent pressure by the Athy men led to a try by Carbery near the end, but again the kick at goal failed, to leave the final result six points to three in favour of Wexford Wanderers. Unfortunately, the press report does not clarify which of the Carbery brothers/cousins(?) scored the try for Athy.

A press photograph pasted into the scrap book showed the Athy rugby team which played and lost to Bective Rangers in what I believe was the same year, 1930. The names written by hand onto the photograph indicate some changes in personnel from the team which lost for the second year running the Provincial Towns Cup Final. I am interested in getting the full names of those on the rugby team and some background information on the individual players. If you can help, I would like to hear from you.

On Monday 26 May 1930, the Irish Independent carried a report of ‘The Athy 75’, a motor cycle race then in its sixth year, having been inaugurated in 1925. A handicap race, it attracted competitors from England and Ireland, all competing for the Dunlop Trophy, the Duthie Large Trophy and the Jackson and Melrose Trophy on offer for first, second and third placings over the 75-mile long course. The race, run off under the auspices of Athy Motorcycle and Car Club whose president was CW Taylor of Forest, started at Russellstown Cross and followed a roughly rectangular course taking in Fontstown Crossroads, Booleigh Crossroads and Tullagorey Crossroads before returning to Russellstown Cross. Under the headline Great Event with Thrilling Finish, the newspaper gave several column inches to the race, starting its report:“Seldom can there have been a race in which the finish was more in doubt right up to the moment the line was crossed than the motorcycle road race held by the Athy Motorcycle and Car Club Limited on Saturday afternoon last over a 9 _ mile circuit in the neighbourhood
of Athy. Until the winner actually flashed past the timing box, it was impossible to tell which one of at least four riders would secure the honour.

Almost from the first, as soon as the race had got properly going, one of the big handicapped men appeared to have the race well in hand, provided only he could keep going. Towards the middle of the race, he was regarded as a practical certainty. Then, however, it was noticed that he was being threatened from behind by two of the middle markers and then with only one more lap to go he pulled up at his pit with the engine obviously demanding attention.

His two pursuers roared through close together, hot on his now-slowing tracks but right behind them appeared a virtual scratch man travelling at a tremendous speed. One of these four was bound to win, but nobody could say which. It was a marvellous tussle and a wonderful bit of handicapping.”

A short separate piece reported the death of Peter Mooney of 72 Manor Street, Dublin, one of the race competitors who died from injuries received when his motor bike crashed at Fontstown Crossroads. He was the second competitor to die during the course of the Athy 75, as in the previous year Harry Sargeant of Naas, who worked locally in an Athy shop, was killed off his machine at the Moat of Ardscull.

Shortly after the 1930 race concluded, CW Taylor on behalf of the Athy Club indicated that the race would not be held again. I understand that an attempt was made around 1933 to revive the race, but without success and the following year Athy Motorcycle and Car Club ceased to exist. Whatever happened to the records of the club, which was once one of the most prominent car clubs in Ireland in its day?

I’d like to hear from anyone who has any memorabilia relating to the Athy Motorcycle and Car Club or the races, including the Athy 75 which the club organised between 1925 and 1930.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

To market, to market to buy a fat pig - in Athy

EXACTLY 100 years ago, Athy Urban District Council made market bye-laws which were approved by the Local Government Board of Ireland and which, so far as I am aware, are still operative even if they have been redundant for many years past. They give an interesting insight into an important aspect of the commercial life of Athy in the years before the First World War and for that reason are worth reviewing today. The byelaws were printed in the local press on 1 July 1907 in an advertisement which read:
‘THE ATHY URBAN DISTRICT COUNCIL hereby give PUBLIC NOTICE that the Business of the Athy Markets will be conducted subject to the provisions of the Bye-Laws as follows:

MARKET PLACES The Market Place shall consist of Twelve Divisions. The enclosed market for butter and eggs. The Markets for Corn, Fish, Vegetables, Fruit, Cabbage Plants in Carts, Cooperage, Ponies and Kerries in Market Square (front of Town Hall). The Market for Hay, Straw, Coals and Wool, in the Hay Market. The Fowl Market at West and South sides of Court House. The Market for Turnips and Mangolds at Northern end of Court House. The Market for Potatoes in the Potato Market as at present. The Market for Calves in the Calf Market, at the east side of the Court House. The Market for Second-Hand Clothes, Potato Baskets, Earthenware, and all Miscellaneous Articles shall be held between the Barrow Bridge and South end of Chains on Barrow Quay. The Turf Market shall be held opposite Chains on Barrow Quay. The Buttermilk Market in Woodstock Street. The Pig Market shall be held in Woodstock Street and William Street, as far as Canal Bridge and Nelson Street. The Market for Gates, Ladders, etc., shall be held at the Northern side of Leinster Street above the Public Pump.

The Cattle Market shall be held on the First WEDNESDAY in every month and the Pig Market on the next PRECEDING Day, and in other cases, the Market Day shall be TUESDAY of every week unless when Christmas Day, St. Patrick’s Day or St. Stephen’s Day falls on Monday or Tuesday, when the Market shall be held on the preceding Saturday. Provided, notwithstanding, that a Market for the Sale of Pigs, by live weight may be held on every Tuesday.

The Market Places shall be open as fol-Fowl Market not earlier than Seven o’clock a.m. Butter, Calf and Egg Market at Nine o’clock a.m. Hay and Turnip Market at Ten o’clock a.m. Corn and Potato Market at Eleven o’clock a.m. Fruit, Vegetables, and Fish at Eight o’clock a.m. Fat Pig Market not earlier than Seven o’clock a.m., no person shall bring any car into the Pig Market before Ten o’clock a.m. except while loading or unloading. Small Pig Market at Ten o’clock a.m. Second Hand Clothes, Earthenware etc., Turf, Horses, Creels, Carts and Donkeys, Jennets at Ten o’clock a.m.

A person in charge of any wagon, cart, car, truck, barrow or other vehicle, with or without a horse or other animals attached thereto, shall not, at any time while the Market is being held, cause or allow such vehicle to remain in any Market Place, or in any street or passage leading thereto, so as to cause an obstruction any longer time than shall be necessary for the sale of, or for the loading or unloading of, Provisions, Goods or other commodities.

A person in charge of any wagon, cart, car, truck, barrow or other vehicle shall not, at any time, while the Market is being held, cause or allow such vehicle to stand or remain in any Market Place, or in any street or passage leading thereto in such manner as to cause obstruction or inconvenience to the public in such Market Place or street, or passages. A person, resorting to a Market Place for the Sale of any Marketable Commodities or Articles, shall not cause or allow such Commodities or Articles to be brought or conveyed into such Market Place, or to be placed , or be exposed for Sale, in such a manner as to cause obstruction or inconvenience to the public in such Market Place, or in any of the approaches leading thereto.

A Tenant or Occupier of any Building, Stall or Standing in a Market Place, shall not cause or allow any Goods, Produce, or other Marketable commodities, to be deposited or exposed for Sale in or upon such Building , Stall, or Standing, so that such Goods, Produce, Provisions, or Commodities, or any part thereof, shall project beyond the line, or limits of such Building, Stall or Standing.

A person shall not smoke or spit in the Butter Market.

Every person who shall offend against any of the foregoing Bye-Laws shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding Five Pounds for every such offence, provided, nevertheless, that the Justices or Court before whom any complaint may be made, or any proceedings may be taken in respect of any such offence, may, if they think fit, adjudge the payment as a penalty of any sum less than the full amount of the penalty imposed by this Bye-Law.’

The market tolls levied on goods sold at Athy Market were also the subject of an order made by the Urban Council. The tolls collected by the Council were-Every Sack of Corn - One Penny. Every Sack of Potatoes - One Penny. Every Basket or Box of Fish - Two Pence. Every Churnof Buttermilk- One Penny. Every Cart of Cabbage, Plants or Fruit-Three Pence. Every Cart of Fish - Six Pence. Every Calf, Pony, Donkey, Kerry, or other Animal - Two Pence. Every Basket of Fowl - One Penny. Every Car or Cart of Fowl - Three Pence. Every Creel of Bonhams - Three Pence. Every Fat Pig - One Penny. Every Basket or Box of Eggs - One Penny. Car or Cart of Second-Hand Clothes - One Shilling. Every Car or Cart of Churns, etc, - Six Pence. Every Gate, Wheel, Barrow, Ladder, Car - One Penny. Every lump of Butter, not exceeding 7lbs - One halfpenny (weighed free). Every Lump of Butter, not exceeding 14lbs- One penny(weighed free). Lump of Butter over 28 lbs - Three Pence(weighed free)’.

In addition to the tolls, the farmers who brought produce to the market were required to use the Council’s ouncel or weighing scales to guarantee the weight of goods offered for sale. The scale of fees for using the weighing scales located at the back of the Town Hall were: ‘Every Sack of Corn - One penny. Every Sack of Potatoes - One Penny. Every Pack of Wool - One Shilling. Every Load of Turnips, Mangolds, Potatoes - Three Pence. Every Load of Coal - Six Pence. Every Load of Hay or Straw - One Farthing per Cwt. (Gross Weight). Every Load of Metal, Iron and Timber- Six Pence. Every Load of Stones or Gravel - One Penny. Every Pig - One Penny. Every Sheep - One Penny. Every Beast - Two Pence.’

The public notice of the Market Bye-Laws was signed by JP Whelan, chairman of the Urban District Council and by JA Lawler, the Town Clerk. Presumably, the market tolls and weighing tolls were the equivalent of modern day disc parking affording as they did, a useful source of income for the town council. The townspeople of 1907 were probably as much in the dark about the amounts collected in tolls and the use to which they were put as we are today in relation to the parking fees which are collected by today’s town council.

Some things never change.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The great handball challenge of 1920

When writing recently of Athy’s White Cross Committee, I came across the name Frank J Geary. I had not previously encountered Mr Geary’s name, but some days after writing that article I was researching the minutes of meetings of Athy Handball Club in the 1920s and found Geary’s name again mentioned. He was described as a journalist and on 16 June 1920 he attended a special meeting of Athy Handball Club “to make arrangements for the coming season” as well as arranging 2 matches between George Robinson, Athy and Terry O’Reilly, Dublin.

The meeting was chaired by PP Doyle of Woodstock Street, a farmer and proprietor of a pawn shop located in Duke Street. Others present at the meeting were ME Doyle, clerk of the union [now St Vincent’s, John Blanchfield, a sawmiller from Leinster Street, Joseph Lawler, the town clerk, Patrick Dooley, an urban councillor of The Bleach, the earlier mentioned Geary and George Robinson, handball player. The meeting was described as a special meeting and the first business was the election of officers. Peter P Doyle was elected club president, with Joseph Lawler as honorary secretary and Patrick Kelly of Leinster Street as honorary treasurer.

Following the elections, those in attendance discussed the possibility of promoting handball matches involving the club’s best player, George Robinson. It was agreed to issue a challenge to senior play-ers in Leinster on behalf of Robinson. A press report later appeared in the Nationalist and Leinster Times: “Challenge to Leinster players - George Robinson of Athy is open to play any man in Leinster on a home to home rubber of 15 games, 21 aces each for £20 a side, regulation balls to be used throughout the matches. Replies to The Hon Secretary, Athy Handball Club will be sufficient”.

Joseph Lawler later reported to the Handball Committee that he had received a response to the challenge from James Murphy of 12 Henrietta Street, Dublin, who was the manager of handball player Terry O’Reilly of Dublin. Following this, the local committee drew up the conditions and terms for the O’Reilly-Robinson match, which required £25 to be put up as stake money by each side. At the same time, a match was arranged between William Aldridge of Athy and Frank Collins, junior champion of Ireland, who had recently advertised his willingness to defend his title against all challengers. Subscriptions were taken up from 11 local men who contributed sums ranging from £4 to £1 to make up the £25 side stake for Robinson. This money was entrusted to John Blanchfield, pending its deposit with the editor of the Dublin magazine Sport.

The contest between Robinson and O’Reilly was to take place on what was referred to as a home-to-home basis, with the first seven matches to be played in the Athy ballcourt and the remainder of the matches in O’Reilly’s home court of Ballymun, Dublin. The Athy home game was arranged for Sunday 25 July but had to be postponed because of bad weather. It was refixed for the same venue on 1 August at 12.30pm sharp "to avoid clashing with the sports to be held in the Showgrounds that same day".

Immediately following the postponement, O’Reilly’s manager suggested that the entire 15 games be played in the Ballymun court, but the local handball committee refused to do this as posters had already been distributed throughout Athy advertising the contest and it was felt to be unfair on the local followers of the game to move the match in its entirety to Dublin. Joseph Lawler, secretary of the club, placed an advertisement dated 26 July 1920 in the local newspaper giving notice of the refixed match between G Robinson, Athy and TJ O’Reilly of Dublin for the ‘championship of Leinster and a stake of £50 to take place on Sunday next, 1 August, in Athy ball court commencing at 12.30pm sharp’.

A subsequent report appeared in the Nationalist and Leinster Times under the byline of ‘FJG’, whom I believe to be the earlier mentioned Frank J Geary, a member of the local handball committee. Claiming ‘Robinson v O’Reilly - Athy man wins five of the first seven games’, the report noted that ‘Athy has been one of the few places in Ireland to popularise the game of handball. However, handball does not get the support that it deserves. Some time there is a wave of enthusiasm but at the first sign of the ebb, the supporters quickly fall away. Nevertheless the prospects for the game in Athy are promising. Here in Athy, at all events, handball is in the ascendant. Every gable end and dead wall is a miniature ball court and it is to be sincerely hoped that this interest will be sustained. The Handball Club in Athy is pretty strong too.’ The report went on to give an account of a dispute which had arisen prior to the playing of the challenge between Robinson and O’Reilly. The Dublin man wanted a ball which, when dropped from a height of 8 ft, gave a rebound of 3 ft 6 ins. The Athy men wanted what had become known as the Athy standard ball, that is, a ball which when dropped from a height of 8 feet gives a rebound of not less than 2 ft 6 ins. Negotiations between the parties had almost broken down prior to the first game in Athy, but fortunately the dispute was amicably settled and with both sides compromising it was agreed to play with a ball giving a maximum rebound of 3 ft.

The match which was played for a stake of £50 and for the championship of Leinster came off before a huge crowd, with followers of the game coming from counties Carlow, Kildare, Dublin, Laois and Wicklow. Scheduled to start at

12.30pm, it had to be delayed due to bad weather, and the players did not arrive on court until 1.25pm, when the opening game, lasting 19 minutes, was won by Robinson with a score of 21-19. The next game went to the Dublin man on a score of 21-19 and lasted for 22 minutes, the longest game of the seven which was played that day in Athy.

The next game also went to O’Reilly on the score of 21-8, but all the remaining matches were won by the Athy man to give the final result at the close of the days play Robinson five games, O’Reilly two games.

Despite his win, it was reported that Robinson did not play up to the form expected and he failed on several occasions to ‘kill’ balls delivered by O’Reilly. Altogether the match took 122 minutes, or an average of about 17.5 minutes per game. Robinson’s gross score was 128, while O’Reilly registered 120 which was not a very big difference over seven games.

The concluding games of the match were played in Ballymun on 8 August, following which the newpapers reported: “The championship of Leinster went to George Robinson, when he won the first three games played in the Ballymun court”.

The handball committee at its meeting two days later passed a vote of congratulations to Robinson and agreed to give him £5 out of the gate money, in addition to the Athy stake of £25 which had been lodged with the editor of Sport. He was also to be presented with four handballs to be made by local man John Delaney. Billy McCormack, who trained Robinson for the match against O’Reilly, received £2 from the Handball Committee.

The Robinson-O’Reilly match gave rise to a controversy in handballing circles regarding the use of what was referred to as the ‘Athy standard handball’. It was an issue on which the Athy committee sought the assistance of the All-Ireland handball champion JJ Bowles from Limerick and one which I will deal with in a later article. Handball is no longer played in Athy and the handball court or alley, as it was called locally, was demolished in the early 1990s to make way for houses in Malone Court.

Can I remind the readers of the events to take place this coming weekend in Athy to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the Dominicans in Athy. The final event of the weekend is the concert in the Dominican Church on Sunday 7 October at 8pm. It promises to be a great occasion, with local singers and musicians coming together in a tribute to the many Dominican Friars who over the centuries have served the people of Athy and district. Like all the other events to be held over the weekend, admission to the concert is free.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dominicans are a tangible link with medieval Athy

The Nationalist and Leinster Times of 10 August 1957 under the headline The Dominican Athy Foundation read:

“On Sunday, August 11th, the Catholic population of Athy and District will jubilantly join in celebrating the seventh centenary of the coming to Athy of the Dominican Fathers.
At present, a beautiful wrought iron centenary memorial gate is being erected at the main entrance to the Dominican grounds and at either side of it a handsome wall of cut stone is being constructed. The gate will have two plaques, one bearing the crest of the Dominican Order and the other the Irish title Naomh Dominic.” I remember when the cut stone wall was being built by the late John Murphy of St Michael’s Terrace. Working alone over many weeks, he created what was a beautiful monument to the stonemason’s skill.

Reading the newspaper account of 50 years ago, I was struck by the way in which references were made to “the Catholic population of Athy”, highlighting the apparent exclusivity of the celebrations planned for the Dominicans. Now as we approach the celebration of the 750th anniversary of the Dominican connection with Athy, no-one would dream of claiming, or indeed assuming, that the celebrations are not to be shared with and by the members of other churches.

The somewhat unsophisticated attitude of those days was further brought home to me when, on the same page, I read a report which opened with the line “a 64 year old man of the itinerant tribe … appeared at Portarlington Court on Wednesday”.

How about that for political correctness in the 1950s! The following week’s paper carried a front page account of the 1957 celebrations, which began in heat and sunshine but ended in a downpour. One of the highlights of that day was the talk given by Rev JP Cullins, OP of St Mary’s, Tallaght on the history of the Dominican Order. He made the point that while the Dominicans came to Ireland in the wake of the Norman knights in the 12th century, it was not their purpose to enlarge or help consolidate the Anglo-Norman conquest.

Rather, the Dominican Order which had been founded by St Dominic, who died at Bologna in Northern Italy just 30 years previously, came to Ireland to preach the word of God.The Order of Preachers was the name conferred on the Dominicans by the Pope at a time in 1216 when a Council of the Church had already deplored the lack of preaching everywhere. The Dominican Order was commissioned by the Holy See to take the whole world as its mission and help the hard-pressed secular priests, wherever they were to be found.When the Dominicans came to Athy, it was little more than a tiny village on a river crossing, with a newly-built castle at its centre and a nearby Trinitarian monastery. The medieval village developed during the 13th and 14th century around the two religious foundations of the Trinitarians and the Dominicans. This development continued despite the departure of the Trinitarians sometime before the Reformation and the temporary displacement of the Dominicans in the aftermath of Henry VIII’s dispute with the Catholic Church.The continuing Dominican presence in Athy for 750 years gives us the most tangible link with the early medieval years of our town.

It is a link which is historically important and one which we all hope will continue long into the future.

It is interesting to note that the Dominican Priory in Athy is distinguished in being the only one in the Irish Dominican province which is dedicated to the founder of the Order of St Dominic. The celebrations in 1957 were attended by members of Athy Urban District Council, the Knights of Malta and St Michael’s and St Joseph’s bands, all of whom greeted the provincial of the Dominican Order on the Dublin Road entrance to the town. The Dominican graves in St Michael’s Cemetery were visited before a procession wound its way to St Dominic’s Church, where the celebrations were held. At the entrance to the Dominican grounds, an archway depicting on the one side St Dominic and on the other Pope Pius XII had been erected and in the church grounds an outdoor altar had been constructed.Locals involved in the arrangements 50 years ago included Tom Fleming, described in the newspaper account as “an indefatigable Dominican worker”, who led a team of volunteers in erecting the decorated archway and the outdoor altar.
Others involved and named in the newspaper account were Tom Hughes, Michael McHugh, Martin Eaton, Billy Nolan, C Dunne, MG Nolan, Gerard Tully and Frank O’Brien. Miss Mary Keogh, Mrs G Tully and Miss Burley were responsible for decorating the altar.

Another memory I have of a great Dominican occasion was the unveiling of the statue of St Dominic in the grounds of the Dominican Priory in August 1955. The statue located in front of Riversdale House was presented by George Farrell of Spring Lodge.

Made by a French firm, it stood five-and-a-half feet high and was mounted on a pedestal standing on two circular steps.

The unveiling was performed by Fr JE Garde, Dominican Provincial, with honours rendered by a detachment of the FCA under Captain JJ Stafford and Lieutenant P Dooley. The 750th anniversary celebrations of the Dominicans in Athy will commence on Friday 5 October at 7pm, when a civic reception will be given in the municipal offices in Rathstewart for the Dominicans by Athy Town Council.

This will be followed on Saturday by a number of events starting with a music and dance celebration in Emily Square at 3pm. At 6pm, a plaque will be unveiled at Convent Lane to mark the 750th anniversary and this will be followed at 6.15pm by a Mass celebrated by the Dominican community in the Dominican Church. Later on, following the Mass, there will be a reception in the GAA Centre.

On Sunday 7 October at 3pm in the town hall, a lecture will be given by the noted Dominican historian, Fr Hugh Fenning, on the history of the Dominicans and their connection with Athy. Later that evening at 8pm in the Dominican Church, a concert showcasing local singers and musicians will take place in what has been described as a celebratory concert commemorating the link between the Dominican Order and the town of Athy.

Athy Heritage Centre will hold an exhibition on the Friars Preachers in Athy from Thursday 4 to Friday 12 October and the Heritage Centre will be open during the weekend of 5 to 7 October.

All the events listed above are free and everyone is welcome to join in the townspeople’s celebration of the Dominican’s 750th anniversary.

However, if you plan to attend the reception in the GAA Centre on Saturday evening, the Dominicans would like you to pick up a ticket for each person in your party at the Dominican Office. The tickets are free, but the ticketing system is to allow them to make adequate arrangements for the numbers attending.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Irish White Cross and the Black and Tans

The Irish White Cross was founded to bring help The information regarding the family circumstances of Connor and Lacey was supplied to the committee by PJ Walker, who was the national school teacher in Barrowhouse. The central committee of the Irish White Cross subsequently forwarded to Athy’s town clerk a cheque for £50, which was to be divided between Mrs Margaret Connor and James Lacey. It is not clear whether this was the only aid paid to the families of the two young men killed in the Barrowhouse Ambush.

The local committee held a church gate collection in Athy on Sunday 7 August 1921 and those involved, apart from the earlier mentioned committee members, were John A Butler, Peter P Timmons, Michael J Egan, John Bradley and urban councillor Thomas O’Rourke. It is interesting to note the level of support for what was essentially a Sinn Féin organisation (although I wonder if Canon Mackey was aware of this connection). The results of the church gate collection in Athy were: Barrowhouse Church, £14.13.0; Dominican Church, £29.13.4; and Parish Church, £105.2.2.

The three collection points for the Parish Church were designated “Parochial House Gate”, “Fr Nolan’s Gate” and “Front Gate” and £60.15.8, £38.1.6 and £6.5.0 were collected at each during the four Sunday Masses which were held at 7am, 8am, 10am and 12 noon. A total of £149.8.6 was forwarded by the committee secretary Joseph Lawler to the White Cross in Dublin and a further £187 was subsequently collected by way of house to house collections and private donations. The largest donation of £5 was received from the Duke of Leinster and William J Fennell of Burtown House.

An entry in the minute book of the White Cross Committee meeting held in the urban district council offices on 19 September 1921 speaks volumes of the unhealthy religious divisions which were then part of Irish provincial life. “Collectors shall be appointed to collect subscriptions in Athy and District from the non- Catholic portion of the community.” David Walsh, who was one of those appointed to do this, later reported that the sum of £13.18.0 had been collected.

Ellen Lynch, whose brother had already received assistance from the committee, applied on 13 September 1921 for “£50 to purchase clothing for herself, sister and nephew which were lost when her brother’s house was burned on 17 May last by the Crown Forces.”

Her claim was recommended to the central committee in Dublin, following which an engineer, PH McCarthy, was appointed to visit the Lynch’s in Barrowhouse to finalise the family’s claim.

Another beneficiary was Mrs Jane Bradbury of Woodstock Street, who received an allowance of 25/= a week from the Dependents Fund. I have been unable to find out the circumstances which gave rise to this payment, but perhaps some of my readers can help me here.

Patrick Keating of Barrowhouse applied for £63.5.0 compensation for clothing and furniture destroyed by crown forces when his house was also burned following the Barrowhouse ambush. The local committee, however, was not satisfied as to the extent of his loss and were unwilling to consider his claim after discovering that he had made a collection in the town for the same purpose, from which he realised £17.

A total of £1.3 million was distributed nationally on behalf of the Irish White Cross to assist Republicans and their families, who suffered financial hardships through involvement in the War of Independence, and also to aid Catholic workers expelled from employment in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland.

The last entry in the minute book maintained by the Athy White Cross Committee was dated 9 December 1921. The central committee issued a report for the period to 31 August 1922 in which it is noted that a total of £125.15.0 was paid out in relief in the Athy area. This was a very small amount and reflects the minimal activity by crown forces and Republican activists in this area during the Irish War of Independence.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Something rotten in the borough of Athy

An enquiry concerning the first Catholic to be appointed town clerk of Athy sent me revisiting material I extracted from the minute books of Athy Borough Council, Athy Town Commissioners and Athy Urban District Council almost 30 years ago. Jimmy O’ Higgins was the acting town clerk who facilitated my research at a time when I was still living in Dublin by permitting me generous access to the council records. I remember trawling through those leather-bound minute books for months on end, deciphering as best I could the handwriting of the many clerks who over the centuries had the duty of keeping the council records. It was an extremely difficult task but nevertheless a rewarding one for the wealth of information obtained which helped to put flesh on the skeleton which up to then made up my knowledge of Athy, its people and their common history.

The lady who called to me during the week had a grandmother whose only brother she claimed was the first Catholic town clerk of Athy. His name was Patrick Hickey. The years he held the position were not known, but perhaps uniquely he subsequently became a Christian Brother.

Patrick Hickey, she said, was later viceprovincial of the Christian Brothers order in Australia and died in Bath, England, where he is buried. By strange coincidence, I had been visiting Bath just two days previously so on a number of fronts my interest was aroused by the enquiry.

The first local authority for the town of Athy was that established under Henry VIII’s charter of 1515 and revamped as Athy Borough Council by virtue of King James’s charter 98 years later. Controlled by successive earls of Kildare and later on their elevation to the dukedom of Leinster by the premier duke in Ireland, Athy Borough Council was what was known as “a rotten borough”. It was so termed because the franchise was vested in 12 burgesses nominated by the head of the Leinster family and seldom, if ever, did any of these burgess office holders reside in the town over which they exercised completed control. The borough council was abolished with many other Irish “rotten boroughs” in 1840.

The first elected Athy local authority was comprised of 21 locals sworn in as town commissioners in July 1847. I never fail to be surprised when reading through the list of the first town commissioners to find the names of the parish priest and the Church of Ireland rector amongst the commission members, as well as no less than three local doctors. The first town clerk appointed was Henry Sheill and the commissioners retained an office in his house at Leinster Street for several years until the Duke of Leinster made available what was the old Record Court as offices for the town commissioners. This he did in 1865 and the room given to the council was located on the south-east wing of the town hall at ground floor level. The commissioners swapped rooms with the Mechanics Institute 22 years later and so ended up in the small room in the south west side of the town hall directly opposite the caretaker’s apartment, where the council offices remained until new offices were provided at Rathstewart.

Reading through the extracts I took from the council minute books, I was pleasantly surprised to find how strong were the elected members when dealing with perceived inefficiencies on the part of council officials. Henry Sheill resigned after 23 years service, as did John Roberts, the town inspector of nuisances, when the commissioners resolved “that in future should the public pumps not be kept in proper order the month’s salary of the town clerk and the inspector of nuisances be stopped”. Following Sheills’s departure, the town clerkship became vacant on three occasions over the following nine years, ending with the appointment of Patrick Hickey as town clerk on the 5 May 1879 at a salary of £20 a year. Given the information I received last week, this is undoubtedly the man described to me as the first Catholic appointed as town clerk of Athy.
Given the text of the following resolution passed by Athy town commissioners in April 1865, it is quite likely that all the previous holders of the offices were non- Catholics. After all, were they likely to be otherwise if the elected members were moved to send this motion to the House of Commons in London:

“We, the town commissioners of the ancient and loyal town of Athy, feeling in common with our fellow countrymen the insulting and degrading tendencies of the obnoxious oaths and declarations which are still required to be taken by Catholics and Protestants in order to qualify them for the acceptance of municipal office, most earnestly pray that your Honourable house will take into consideration that such oaths had their origin in a period of gross bigotry and persecution. In an age of enlightenment like the present and now more than 30 years after Catholic Emancipation, your petitioners earnestly entreat that these obnoxious oaths may be erased from the statute books”.

Patrick Hickey, whom I believe lived in Emily Square, resigned as town clerk in 1882 presumably to enter the Christian Brothers. His subsequent career is not known to me but hopefully some more research will help to complete the story of the man who, it is claimed, was the first catholic to occupy the town clerkship of Athy town.

A number of intriguing entries in the council minute books make interesting reading and gives some flavour of life and conditions in Athy of 150 years ago. In August 1856, two commissioners, Mark Cross and Henry Hannon, were asked to wait on the magistrates “relative to the scandal of public prostitution” in the town. The problems caused by the ladies of the night was still exercising the minds of the town commissioners two years later when they caused to have public notices posted throughout the town with the following warning:

“Caution to persons keeping any place of public resort within the town for the sale of refreshments of any kind who knowingly supplies any common prostitute or resorting therein to assemble and continue in his premises after this notice will be prosecuted according to law”.

Nine months later, Thomas Roberts was appointed assistant to John Roberts for the purpose of prosecuting public prostitutes and street beggars at a salary of four shillings per week with a bounty of two shillings and six pence for each prostitute convicted. I am afraid the unfortunate Mr Roberts was unable to collect many half crowns after the local magistrates stated “that in prosecuting a prostitute, a man should also charge them with an offence to him rather than to summons her alone as it requires his evidence with that of Mr Roberts to ensure a conviction”.

In August 1868, Pat Walker, who had previously worked for the town commissioners as a road sweeper (officially called a “scavenger”), was appointed to a position, the title which was not given but which merited him being provided with a coat and a hat. He was “to remove off the streets, and when necessary bring them before the magistrates, all vagrants, beggars and prostitutes, to ring the bell whenever required, to keep order in the market and to assist the bailiff in hindering forestalling in the purchase of fowl”, all of which he undertook to do for the wage of six shillings a week.

Business obviously was not sufficient to keep him in his new position as within 12 months he was back to his old job as “town scavenger” earning four shillings a week. However, this job merited in addition to the coat and hat already supplied to him a new pair of trousers and a waist coat all courtesy of the Town Commissioners.

From town clerks to Christian Brothers, scavengers, vagrants and prostitutes, it’s amazing what can turn up amongst the dusty records of Irish municipal government.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where is the memorial to the People’s Revolution?

Last year, the town council, and in particular its then chairman, Richard Daly, paid a long overdue tribute to the men of this town who died in the First World War. The council commissioned and erected on the facade of the 18th century town hall a plaque commemorating the 219 or so men from Athy and district who never had the opportunity of returning from service overseas to walk again the streets of their home town. They were a part of our history which remained neglected for decades, but an even more serious omission is the complete absence of anything in the town to recall the local men and women who before, during and after the 1798 Rebellion bore the brunt of the oppressive measures taken to quell what was effectively a people’s revolution. The ‘missing’ Memorial is in fact in safe keeping and has been for the last nine years, for it was commissioned and delivered in 1998 in time for its expected erection as part of the Irish nation’s year-long commemoration of the ’98 Rebellion. Regretfully, the Memorial, which was consigned to the town council’s stores, has languished there for so long that I sometimes wonder if it is being held in readiness for the 300th anniversary.

The late Lena Boylan of Celbridge, a wonderful local historian who was always ready and willing to share her extensive knowledge of Irish history, passed on to me some years before she died copies of some letters received by the Duke of Leinster during the Rebellion period. One such letter which I re-read with interest this week was written by Thomas Rawson on 13 June 1799, apparently in response to the duke’s demand that he step down as a burgess of Athy Borough Council. In the opening lines of the letter, Rawson, who up to the previous year lived in Glassealy House but moved to Cardenton after his home was burned by Irish rebels, referred to the duke’s call on him to resign.

There had been many complaints about Rawson’s behaviour during the ’98 Rebellion and the duke’s cousin, Thomas Fitzgerald of Geraldine House was particularly scathing in his criticism of Rawson, whom he once famously described as ‘a man of the lowest order, the offal of a dung hill’. Fitzgerald had particular reason to dislike Rawson. The cavalry troop of which Fitzgerald was captain was disbanded for alleged dis-loyalty, while Rawson headed up the newly-formed Loyalist Infantry Corps, which was less than gentle in its treatment of locals suspected of having arms or pikes. Rawson was also involved in public floggings, of which William Farrell of Carlow gave the following account.

‘The triangles were set up in the public streets of Athy ... there was no ceremony in choosing victims, the first to hand done well enough ... they were stripped naked, tied to the triangle and their flesh cut without mercy.’

The earlier mentioned Thomas Fitzgerald, writing in December 1802, pinpointed Rawson as the ring leader of the floggings in Athy, claiming that the Glassealy man

‘had every person tortured and stripped as his cannibal will directed. He would seat himself in a chair in the centre of a ring formed around the triangle, the miserable victims kneeling under the triangles until they would be spotted over with the blood of the others.’

It is no wonder then that the Duke of Leinster whose own son, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, was one of the ’98 leaders felt obliged to request Rawson to resign as a member of Athy Borough Council. The grounds for the request seemed to relate to Rawson’s involvement in erecting structures on the bridge of Athy without the permission of the duke, who was landlord of the town. However, the expected resignation did not materialise. Instead, Rawson defended himself with a spirited explanation of his actions which any neutral would find more than reasonable given the circumstances of the time. In doing so, Rawson gave an interesting account of some of the measures taken by the local loyalists in preparing to defend themselves against the Irish rebels. He wrote :

'This history of any and every barrier in the town of Athy is simply this and the truth can be proved by thousands. When Campbell commanded this garrison, he caused barriers of hogs heads, sods and earth to be made on the different approaches and on the centre of the bridge - he was ordered to evacuate the town and it was left for a long time to the sole protection of the yeomanry - weak and threatened as the town then was, a large body of rebels having the next night approached within 100 perches of it, I considered it absolutely necessary to put up temporary gates and a pailing at an expense of upwards of 50 pounds out of my own pocket - the town was protected. In November last, Captain Nicholson and a company of the Cork City Militia were sent here, he saw the sod work going to decay, he applied to General Dundas and by the general’s special directions (the inhabitants at large having subscribed a larger sum) strong walls of lime and stone were added to my gates - two large piers and a strong wall and platform were erected on the centre of the bridge under the direction of Captain Nicholson. In the beginning of May last, General Dundas inspected the Athy Infantry. New-made pikes had been recently found in the back house of a rebel captain of the town, several new schemes of insurrection were discovered for which many have since been convicted by court martial - the large house in the Market Square was occupied by a noted rebel from the County of Carlow and it appearing to the general that the barrier on the bridge could be commanded from the house, he was pleased to approve of the building of a second wall to cover the men ... I had temporary walls ran up, merely doubling the former barrier, and recollecting that for four months last summer we had lain on the flag-way on the bridge in the open air with stones for our pillows - I covered the walls with a temporary skid of boards which are not even nailed on.’

Rawson’s account of the bridge fortifications gave an interesting insight into the measures taken by the loyalists during the rebellion and suggest, as I have previously claimed, that the town of Athy consisted of the English town on the east banks of the Barrow and the Irish town on the opposite side.

The bridge fortifications referred to by Rawson could only provide protection from attack by Irish rebels who lived in and around the Irish town and particularly in the area known to many of the older generation as ‘Beggars End’.

Apart from the floggings on the streets of Athy, 1798 witnessed the public execution in June of seven young local men who had been imprisoned for a while in the lock-up in White’s Castle. Six of these young men were from Narraghmore, the seventh a Curragh man.

Another hitherto forgotten local massacre was referred to by Colonel Campbell, who commanded the 9th Dragoon stationed in the Military Barracks in Athy. In a letter he wrote on 2 June 1798, advising of troop movements against a body of rebels in Cloney Bog, Campbell reported:

‘The troops moved in three columns, the right by the east of the bog, the centre by the Monasterevin Road and the left by Ballintub-bert ... the left column passed the lawn at Bert and meeting with enemy on the way drew it and being closely pursued about 100 of them were killed’.

These accounts of what happened in and around Athy, all contemporary with the events they described, are good and sufficient reason for our present generation to commemorate the men of ’98 with a suitable monument in our town. There must be no further shilly-shallying about the matter. The monument created by Brid ni Rinn should be erected in a prominent position in the centre of Athy without any further delay.

If, as expected, the ’98 Monument is erected in Emily Square in front of the town hall, it will provide a fitting companion for the memorial erected last year to our townsmen who died fighting in France, Flanders, Gallipoli and other distance places during the 1914-18 War.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fr Patrick Doyle and the story of an Irish prison break

Many years ago I came across a book of essays written by Fr. Patrick Doyle, the Parish Priest of Naas. 'Gleanings from Dawn to Dusk' was the title so far as I can remember, but unfortunately I cannot now find the book to confirm the title. It was not however the Naas pastor's only foray into book publishing. At the height of the War of Irish Independence a 36-page booklet was published with the somewhat lengthy title, 'In Maryboro and Mountjoy, the Prison Experience and Prison Breaking of an Irish Volunteer.' The author was not named, the only indication given was that it had been penned by 'an Irish priest'.

The booklet was printed by An t'Oglach, the official periodical of the Volunteers. It was only a few weeks on sale in some Dublin shops when a bookseller was imprisoned for three months for offering what the authorities regarded as seditious material for sale. The remaining copies of the booklet were seized and destroyed, which is why only a few rare copies of 'In Maryboro and Mountjoy' have survived to this day.

A second edition appeared in America sometime afterwards, this time under the title 'The Escape from Mountjoy' with the subtitle 'And Other Prison Experiences of an Irish Volunteer' and the author given as 'The Rector of an Irish College'. The Rector in question was Fr Patrick J Doyle and the college was Knockbeg College Carlow. The American edition, which I have before me, claims to be a first edition but in fact it followed the earlier Dublin edition. Reprinted by The Friends of Irish Freedom Inc. with an address at 280 Broadway, New York, the booklet dealt with the prison experiences of Laois man Padraic Fleming.

Fr Doyle in his statement made to the Bureau of Military History in 1952 explained how he first met Fleming. Knockbeg College was a safe haven for volunteers on the run and following a prison breakout from Mountjoy in March 1919 Fr. Doyle was advised to expect an important visitor. This is how he recalled the visitors arrival.

'About midday on that day I saw a car driving rapidly down the college avenue. I went down to the hall door to meet it and saw a lady stepping from the car. Before this I had not the pleasure of knowing this distinguished lady. While she was introducing herself to me as Mrs. Gavan Duffy I observed another lady in the back of the car attired in a luxurious fur coat, with fashionable toque and struggling desperately with a complication of rugs. Finally the rugs were cast aside and a tall gaunt figure stepped from the car, the upper part of which was wrapped in the fur coat and the rest in male attire and then I was introduced to the man who became one of my greatest friends, Padraic Fleming'.

Fleming was a native of the Swan, that part of Laois, which, during the War of Independence, came under the jurisdiction of the Kilkenny IRA Brigade. His brother Eamon who had been a pupil of Thomas McDonagh, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, was a captain in the Dublin Volunteers. It was Eamon Fleming who came down to Laois on Good Friday 1916 with a dispatch from Padraig Pearse asking the local volunteers to be ready for the Rising and to destroy the railway tracks at Colt so that British troops could not travel from the south to Dublin.

It is claimed that the first shots of the Easter Rebellion were in fact fired at Colt during that particular operation. Padraic Fleming was the commander of the 3rd Battalion of the Kilkenny Brigade which was centred on Castlecomer and included The Swan. Following the Easter Rebellion Fleming was questioned by the RIC and before long he was arrested at Kinsale in County Cork and court martialled. Charged with possession of seditious literature and attempting to procure arms he was convicted and sent to Maryboro Jail Prison for five years.

In September 1917 Irish Republican prisoners initiated a policy of agitating for treatment as political prisoners. Following Thomas Ashe's death on 25 September the prisoners' demands were largely met except in the case of Padraic Fleming and two other prisoners serving sentences of penal servitude in Maryboro Prison. Fleming thereafter refused to submit to the prison authorities and his subsequent degrading treatment was the subject of Fr. Doyle's booklet. After spending some time on hunger strike Fleming was released under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act on 20 November 1917.
He continued his involvement with the Volunteers until he was re-arrested in May 1918, with many other leading Republicans during 'The German Plot' scare.

Imprisoned again in Maryboro Prison, the impasse between himself and the authorities continued, resulting in the Laois man being put into iron manacles and a body belt by which his manacled wrists and upper arms were tightly strapped to his body.

He again went on hunger strike and while he was hospitalised the prison authorities constructed a special cell to confine Fleming who was regarded as a most troublesome prisoner, and who although restrained still required two wardens to constantly monitor him 24 hours a day. Between periods in hospital, the punishment cell and the specially built cell Padraic Fleming spent 7 months in Maryboro Prison on this his second term of imprisonment, having spent 9 months there during his previous incarceration.

On 1 January 1919 Padraic Fleming was transferred to Mountjoy Jail where shortly afterwards he was elected Commandant of the Irish political prisoners. A campaign of non co-operation was again initiated under Fleming's leadership, while at the same time plans were put in place for a mass breakout from Mountjoy Jail. The escape took place on 29 March 1919 when twenty Irish Volunteers including Padraic Fleming and Piaras Beaslai escaped over the prison walls using a rope ladder. Soon thereafter Fleming arrived in Knockbeg College where he remained for several weeks, slowly regaining his health, thanks to Fr Doyle and his brother, Dr L Doyle of Carlow who took care of his medical needs.

Towards the end of the summer 1919 Michael Collins arranged for Padraic Fleming to join Eamon de Valera in America where he would spend almost the next two years organising branches of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic. He travelled to America via Wales where he spent some time with his sister who was married and living in Loyd George's country.

He was not long back in Ireland when the Treaty and the anti-Treaty split took place. He took the anti-Treaty side and was twice imprisoned in Kilkenny Jail, on each occasion managing to escape only to be recaptured and imprisoned in Kilmainham. He was eventually released under the General Amnesty of 1925. Interestingly his brother Eamon took the Treaty side.

In civilian life, Padraic Fleming worked as a director of the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes before setting up Flemings Fireclays at the Swan with his brothers. He married Marguerite Farrelly and was survived by his widow and four children, John Mitchell, Thomas Davis, Mary and Catherine when he died on 5 December 1952. His burial in the family plot at Clough was attended by President Sean T O’Ceallaigh and many leaders of Church and State. The graveside oration was given by Thomas O'Deirg, the Minister for Lands.

Fr Patrick Doyle who wrote of Padraic Fleming's prison exploits did so not only for their propaganda value, but also for their historical value. ' wrote Fr Doyle in 1952. ‘I went to Dublin and had a talk with Michael Collins about the matter. He said the story must be told and sI insisted that it was a national duty to put it on record, but Padraic pleaded his absolute incapacity to commit the story to writing'o the collaboration with Padraic Fleming began.’

Fr Doyle’s booklet is an important piece of historical work, detailing as it does the prison experiences of a man who Judge James Comerford of New York described in his own account of his Kilkenny IRA days published in 1978 as 'a man who left behind him in the annals of the IRA a record of personal courage, by his defiance of British Rule, that belongs to the classic struggle of people in all countries who have fought for their freedom.'

It was Fr Patrick Doyle, the parish priest whom once I regarded as austere and authoritarian, who recorded for posterity the prison exploits of Padraic Fleming. The austerity of old age successfully concealed the courage of the younger priest who did what he could to help the cause of Irish Freedom during the difficult years which ended with the Treaty.