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.