Thursday, December 25, 2008

Athy's town wall

This week and next week I intend to devote the Eye on the Past to reviewing all the available evidence regarding the existence or otherwise of a town wall surrounding the town of Athy in medieval times. Town walls functioned not merely as defensive measures but also served to both define developing villages, later urban settlements, while acting as a symbol of civic pride, power and authority. Avril Thomas in her two volume publication on ‘The Walled Towns of Ireland’, made reference to 56 Irish locations where it is certain that town walls were once in place and a further 35 settlements where there is some evidence of the existence of town walls. Such evidence generally consists of a reference to a murage grant, which was a right granted by charter to citizens of a town to levy customs on persons selling goods in their town to finance the construction of town walls or defences.

The quality of the evidence available for the walling of Irish towns varies enormously from Kilkenny with an impressive array of medieval documentation to Derry city, with its famous walls still intact in part to this day. What I want to do in this and the next article is to look at the evidence for town walling in Athy. The town does not possess a wealth of evidence, documentary or structural, and indeed the evidence for town walling in Athy is unremarkable. However, it is sometimes more informative to study the unexceptional as it gives a greater insight into the more common problems and difficulties encountered in typical Irish walled town sites.

The town of Athy developed on a fording point on the River Barrow which had been in use since prehistoric times, as indicated by the recovery of a variety of prehistoric objects during the Barrow Drainage Scheme in the 1920s. The town’s initial foundation came soon after the arrival of the Normans with the construction of Woodstock Castle and the establishment of monasteries on the west bank by the Crouched Friars and on the east bank by the Dominicans. Around these three main sites the village and later the town of Athy developed into the linear-type settlement it is today, straddling both banks of the River Barrow.

Athy suffers from a dearth of information with regard to the structure and extent of the medieval town wall in that the modern town possesses no fragments of the wall above ground. Furthermore the lack of archaeological investigation within the town’s medieval core has meant that the general layout of the wall is unclear. The possibility of such an investigation is a consideration for the future as the Urban Survey conducted in Athy in the mid-1980s indicated the possible existence of archaeological remains relating to town walling. There are at present two suggestions as to how the walls may have been laid out, both of which concur at a number of points and their difference predominantly lies in the sources they use for the reconstruction. The layout as suggested in the Urban Survey is based primarily on the course of the walls recorded by local man with the surname Henry who wrote, but never had published, a somewhat fanciful history of Athy in 1849, while that proposed by Avril Thomas in her 1992 publication relies on a study of the layout of the towns streets and burgage plots to be found behind the buildings on the south side of Leinster Street.

Before commenting on the historical background and references to the medieval town wall it is necessary to consider any existing pictorial representation of the town’s defences. The town of Athy only began to appear consistently in topographical prints in the late 18th century where journals such as the Anthologica Hibernica published views, primarily of the castles in the Athy area, or more commonly, views of Whites Castle and the Bridge of Athy. By this time the walls were no longer a feature in the town itself and this is confirmed by a study of Rocques maps of the town which he prepared in 1756 and 1768. There exists only one depiction of one part of the town wall. In 1837 George Victor DeNoyer while employed on the Ordnance Survey recorded in water colour what was believed to be the last remaining section of the old town wall known locally as Preston’s Gate. The importance of this drawing is fundamental, not only to the acceptance of the definite existence of a town wall, but also allows a certain degree of supposition as to the extent and orientation of that wall. Preston’s Gate itself was removed in 1860 following a fatal accident involving the local Church of Ireland Rector Rev. Frederick Trench. The local historian, Mr. Henry, writing sometime towards the end of 1849, described the gateway as follows: ‘On examining the gateway in question it will be evident that the centre part was built long previous to the outer and inner jambs. The centre was originally constructed in a superior manner and of a different description of stone to the outer portions and the foundations of it were not laid so deep as those of the more recent additions.’ This description, coupled with DeNoyer’s watercolour, seems to suggest a rectangular gatehouse of a 15th/16th century type with a segmented arch.

The town of Athy first appeared in detailed cartographic form in Rocques survey of 1756. By this period the town wall excluding Prestons gate had disappeared. The only other representation of Athy and its wall appears on Mercators map of the Leix/Offaly plantation of 1568 where Athy featured with a wall surrounding the settlement on the East bank. So we can tentatively conclude that walling existed before 1568 and had been virtually removed by 1756. The only other definite representation of the town with walling appears in a pamphlet published in London in 1641 at the behest of Mr. Hierome ‘Minister of Gods word at Athigh in Ireland”. This publication titled ‘Treason in Ireland’ detailed a variety of atrocities committed by the Irish rebels against the English Protestants
‘.....killing them, ravishing the women, cutting them to pieces, hanging them by the haire of the head, scalding them, cutting off their heads, and firing their townes and houses.’

The pamphlet concludes with the rebel defeat at Athy and also an illustration titled ‘description of Athigh.’ Unfortunately, although the illustration contains some components of the town, notably the river, a church and the town wall it may be otherwise deemed an inaccurate portrayal of Athy of that period. The drawing is highly stylised showing the town to be surrounded by water on three sides while the moat-like river is bounded by a star-shaped earthwork. It is quite regrettable that the illustration must be regarded as inaccurate but equally the inclusion of features such as the walling may lend further credence to the existence of town walls in Athy in the 1640s.

Historical evidence may provide more compelling evidence whether through direct or indirect references. The predominant interest in studying Athy is that until the plantation it functioned as a frontier town, a point at which the settlers and native Irish frequently clashed. It was only in the 16th century that it evolved from a military stronghold into an important urban centre. Next week I will deal with the historical references to Athy insofar as they help us to settle the question of Athy’s medieval town wall.

Happy Christmas to you all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

‘We are coming back one by one’

‘We are coming back one by one’. The words of a grieving wife and mother who has spent almost 40 years away from her home town as she stood in the local cemetery following the burial of her husband. St. Michael’s new cemetery had already received 14 years ago her son George. As she looked over towards the Peoples Park where she played as a young girl from Offaly Street, Josie Aldridge’s words encapsulated a lifetime spent between two countries. Josie was a child of the street where I spent my formative years amongst friends and neighbours. It was then a community of young families whose friendships forged in youth endured through to adulthood, even as those friendships were marked by a gradual exodus from the street.

The Murphy family lived on the far side of the entrance to Kehoes Coal Yard and Josie worked in Bowaters on the Monasterevin Road until she married Patrick Aldridge. Patrick’s parents, George Aldridge and Winnie Mullery, were from Athy and like so many of their peers they emigrated to England. Patrick was born 68 years ago in the Mullery family home at William Street, Athy, while his father was on service overseas. The Aldridge and Mullery families were some of the oldest families in Athy and the ties which went back generations would almost inevitably draw their son Patrick back to the town of his ancestors and of his own birth. He joined the British Naval Service and on meeting Josie romance flourished and on marrying they made their home in England. But if they did Athy was never far from their thoughts. Regular visits to the town, especially to Josie’s cousin and good friend Lily Bracken, helped reinforce the couple’s affinity with the town.

Sadly their eldest son George, who had qualified as a Solicitor a short time previously, died 14 years ago and his remains were brought back to Athy for burial in St. Michael’s new cemetery. Two weeks ago his father Patrick died suddenly and for the second time the same sad journey was made by Josie and the members of her family.

The ties of friendship were in evidence as the Offaly Street residents of yesteryear came out in force to join with Josie in mourning the passing of her beloved husband. Fr. Tommy Tuohy celebrated the funeral mass as he has done ever since his ordination for those connected with his old home street. Neighbouring families of old were represented at the funeral, the majority of whom no longer have a presence in Offaly Street. Tuohy, Kehoe, Kelly, Breen, Moore, Murphy and Taaffe family members all turned out to pay their respects to a neighbour’s husband and for a brief period that morning memories were relived of ‘our street’ of 50 or so years ago.

On Sunday morning the remains of Tyreake Keane, just 8 years old, were received in St. Michael’s Church for 12 o’clock Mass prior to his funeral to St. Michaels cemetery. The small white coffin in front of the altar was a heartbreaking sight, especially so at this time of the year when children’s thoughts are concentrated on the great annual festival of Christmas. Tyreake’s photograph was standing in front of his coffin as Fr. Joe McDonald spoke eloquently of the young boy whose short life was marked by illness. The poignancy of the occasion was deeply moving and no doubt prompted many attending Mass that morning to reflect on the joy that children bring to their lives. Our sympathies go to the Aldridge and Keane families.

In last week’s article I made reference to Rev. J.J. Malone’s Ballad on ‘The Bullock’s Revenge’ and asked for the readers help in identifying the Misses Malones identified in the ballad. A regular correspondent, Tom Hendy of Kilmeague, sent me the following rhyme.

‘Malone of the Hill
Malone of the Hollow
Malone of Dunbrin
Malone of the Barrow
Mick of the Hill
Mick of the Hollow
Red Mick and Mick of Clogorro.’

I had come across something similar many years ago but cannot say whether the wording was exactly the same or not. Its source is not recalled, but hopefully some of my readers can fill me in on the origin of this local rhyme.

In the meantime I want to mention a book which was published quite recently written by Hermann Geissel, who has been a stalwart of local history research in County Kildare for many years past. Born in Germany, he came to live in Ireland in 1966 and since retiring from teaching he has devoted his free time to historical research and writing. His previous book, ‘A Road on the Long Ridge’ was an account of his attempt to trace and map out the ancient highway on the Esker Riada. The results of his research were first presented as An Slí Mór, a six part television documentation on TG4 which was later expanded into the book published in 2006.

His current publication ‘Bumps in the Fields and Crumbling Walls’ is described as a companion for the local enthusiast engaged in archaeological investigation on Sunday afternoons. In other words the book is for the amateur archaeologist or local historian and gives a step by step guide to our archaeological landscape. Bearing in mind that it is intended for persons with little or no knowledge of the subject it gives a comprehensive list of questions to help the readers discover the field monuments of Ireland of which we probably have more per square mile than any other European country. The book cost €10.00 and can be highly recommended for anyone with an interest in archaeology and would be a welcome and useful Christmas present for any secondary school student.
Finally, another photograph this week of an event which once took place every year through the streets of Athy. The annual Corpus Christie procession is no longer held and the photo sent to me some months ago by the former Sheila Carbery of St. Johns Athy shows a Corpus Christie procession going up St. John’s Lane. No doubt we will be able to identify the approximate year of the procession by reference to the two young mass servers, Patrick Hayden and Dominic Timpson who were probably 15 or 16 when this photograph was taken.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sr. Dominics envelope

Sometime before she passed away the well loved former Matron of St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sr. Dominic, gave me an envelope of papers which included a few photographs, a newspaper cutting and some notes. Amongst those notes was an unsigned typewritten poem, ‘The Little Wayside Chapel in a Green Old Irish Lane’ which I recognised as a poem by Rev. J.J. Malone, the Dunbrin-born Catholic clergyman who spent his adult life ministering in Australia.

The poem was included in Fr. Malone’s book of poetry, ‘Wild Briar and Wattle Blossom’ published in Melbourne in 1914. Included in that collection also were two other poems with echoes of his childhood in Dunbrin, ‘The Old Whitewashed Schoolhouse of Shanganamore’ and ‘By the Banks of the Barrow’.

More interesting for me however was the manuscript of a ballad entitled ‘The Bullock’s Revenge’, the writer of which had written after the title ‘By John J. Malone, Dunbrin, Athy’ and dated the manuscript ‘20th of November ‘87’. Was this I wonder the handwriting of J.J. Malone himself who had a number of books published while he was in Australia. Born in 1863 and ordained 26 years later J.J. Malone was just two years away from ordination when ‘The Bullock’s Revenge’ was written out on the sheet of paper now in front of me and dated just a few months before the Pope condemned the Plan of Campaign and Boycotting as practiced by the Irish Land League. I am not at all satisfied that the manuscript is in Fr. Malone’s own hand as his name was James Joseph and so was unlikely to sign any document ‘John J’. However, I am reasonably satisfied that he wrote ‘The Bullock’s Revenge’ which records the misfortune that befell Larry Curtis when he was attacked by bullocks on the Misses Malones lands. Does anyone know anything of the Misses Malones or Larry Curtis, all of whom feature in the ballad?
In the meantime the photographs in the envelope given to me by Sr. Dominic, of which there were three, two of which are reproduced here, are of interest because they show a house, a garden and a well known curate of this parish, all now no more. The house, or more correctly the cottage, was the thatched residence of the local curate and was located at Woodstock Street, approximately where the Malone Place houses are to be found. Incidentally, Malone Place is named after Edward Malone, a local I.R.A. leader during the War of Independence who was a nephew of Reverend J.J. Malone. Fr. Kinnane is the curate in the photograph and he is shown standing in his garden which was a particularly famous feature of the cottage. I believe that Fr. Kinnane served in St. Michael’s Parish in the 1930s and perhaps later. No doubt he will be remembered by many of his former parishioners.
The other photograph comes from a national newspaper cutting dated 13th January 1969 and shows a man I well recall as a regular in the C.Y.M.S. when it was in Stanhope Street and later still when it was located in the former Social Club premises in St. John’s Lane. Martin Hayden was 82 years old, according to the details given in the newspaper. He died three years later on 13th January 1972 and is buried in Old St. Michael’s Cemetery with his brother Patrick who died 18 years previously. I would like to hear from anyone who remembers Martin and indeed his neighbours who lived in Meeting Lane.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Carberys

The River Liffey Reservoir Scheme, popularly known as the Poulaphouca Scheme, saw the E.S.B. and Dublin Corporation coming together in 1937 in a venture which would give the Electricity Board an enormous new source of power generation and the Corporation a fresh source of water for the city of Dublin. Work on the scheme commenced in November of that year and before the civil engineering work was completed some years later two young men from Athy had died in tragic accidents on the site. Both men were carpenters. Jim Lawler of the well known Lawler family of Woodstock Street was only a short time married when tragedy struck, leaving a young widow who was expecting their first child. He was just 29 years of age when he died in 1940. By an extraordinary but tragic coincidence his brother John would die in similar circumstances 13 years later while working for the same employer on the Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal Hydro Electric Scheme.

Bill Carbery was 41 years old when he fell from a crane on the Poulaphouca site and died from his injuries on 14th June 1941. He was the son of Joe and Brigid Carbery who once lived in Ballintubbert but who later farmed land at Ballyadams before opening a small shop at the Bleach, Athy. Another son was Tom Carbery, the legendary local politician who had a remarkable long career as a member of Athy Urban District Council and Kildare County Council and who has given his name to a housing estate in the Woodstock Castle area.

Bill Carbery emigrated to America at 22 years of age, as had so many of his generation. He worked in the construction industry in New York and like many other hundreds of his fellow Irishmen he was employed on the building of the Empire State building. Built during the American Depression it was to be the highest building in the world. Construction work commenced on St. Patrick’s Day 1930 with at times upwards of 3000 men employed and in quite an extraordinary feat of engineering the 103 storey building was completed and opened by President Hoover on 1st May 1931.

Four years after he had arrived in New York Bill met and married Anna Hegarty whom I understand came from Co. Kerry. They had two children, Eileen and Joe, who were born in New York. Like so many Irishmen and women who had emigrated to America during and in the immediate aftermath of the Irish Civil War, the young Carbery family found the American depression years very difficult. The hope and optimism of the early years of America’s laissez faire economy turned sour with the Wall Street crash of 1929. It would take almost another 10 years before the American economy recovered. In the meantime many of the young Irish emigrants of the 1920s returned to their home country and amongst them was Bill and Anna Carbery with their two American born children.

In time the Carbery family settled at No. 20 St. Patrick’s Avenue where three more Carbery children, Liam, Anna and David were to be born. The children grew up in the small housing estate which had been opened by Athy Urban District Council in March 1931, having been built on land acquired from Miss Kilbride and Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill. The Council documents relating to the St. Patrick’s Avenue Housing Scheme referred to the “Jail Field” as it formed part of the local penitentiary complex opened up on the Carlow Road in 1830.

Youthful friends remembered by Joe Carbery, his brothers Liam and David and his sister Anna from the 1940s include Alfie Rafferty who tragically died in a road traffic accident in London, Brian O’Hara, Cecil Carroll, Mary Keogh, Mary Noonan, Vinnie and Paul Smith, Andy and Peter Smith. The Carbery boys and girls attended the Christian Brothers School and the local Convent and Joe also attended Athy’s Technical School where T.C. Walsh was headmaster. They all have fond memories of their school days and of St. Patrick’s Avenue and of Athy town. Indeed Anna who now lives in America has corresponded for many years with one of her teachers, Sr. Carmel.

In 1948 the Carbery family moved to Co. Kerry when their mother married widower Roger O’Donoghue who was a hotelier based in Killarney town. Joe, like his father before him, emigrated to America a year later and it was Joe I first contacted when with other family members he attended a Carbery clan re-union in Athy Golf Club earlier this year. Now 77 years of age he lives in Pomona New York. Located in Rockland County, New York, Ponoma is one of New York State’s newest urban settlements, having been established in February 1967. Joe served as the fourth Mayor of Ponoma following municipal elections in 1980 and he held that position for the following six years.

His brother Liam who now lives in retirement in North Wembley, London was a member of the Kerry football squad in the days when the legendary John Culloty and Tadghie Lyne were players. He was a sub on the Kerry senior team in 1957 and also played minor county hurling. In London he featured on the Round Towers team, where a playing colleague was the future Kildare County Board Secretary, Seamus Aldridge. Employed by British Rail, he was chief steward on the Royal Train for 7 years. His son Peter is Deputy Editor of the UK National newspaper, the Daily Star on Sunday.

The youngest member of the Carbery family, David, is also retired, but unlike his siblings he still lives in the country of his birth. North County Kildare and more specifically Donadea is home to David who retired some time ago as Director of Catering in Maynooth College.

Their sister Eileen is married and living in America and she recalled for me when we met earlier this year friends from her school days. They included Mary Smith, now also living in America, and former neighbours Noreen Dooley and Pauline Rowan, both of whom sadly have since passed on but who were remembered with fondness.
Eileen, the eldest member of the Carbery family, died some years ago in America. During the 1940s she was a member of the local musical society and participated in many of the shows which were put on in the Town Hall. The photograph reproduced with this article comes from the Carbery family album and shows young locals dressed as fairy tale characters for a Town Hall show. They have been identified as Una McHugh, Mrs. Crampton, Vera Cross in the front row, Mona Farrell, Eileen Carbery, May Fenlon in the middle row and at the back Maura Blanchfield and Frank Prendergast. I have not been able to identify the show or when it was put on but no doubt many of you can help me in that regard.

The extended Carbery family has had at least two reunions in Athy in recent years, organised by amongst others Jerry Carbery, formerly of St. Johns and now of Farmhill. The members of Bill and Anna Carberys family travelled from America, England and nearby Donadea to attend the most recent gathering held in Athy Golf Club and I was privileged to meet them and hear of their high regard for the town where they spent many happy years in the 1940s and 50s.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Declan Wall & Paddy Eaton

For the second week in succession I have had to put off the article I had intended to write about the Carbery family of St. Patrick’s Avenue. The passing of two men of my acquaintance, one in relatively old age, the other at the far end of the age spectrum, both dying within 12 hours of each other, prompts the article this week.

Declan Wall was just 33 years of age when he died in tragic circumstances shortly after returning from the Circuit Court in Naas where he had shared some time with my son Seamus. Indeed both had lunch together that same day and Seamus returned to the office in the late afternoon, little realising the awful tragedy that would later overtake his companion.

Declan was a young barrister whose advocacy skill and commanding Court presence marked him out as a rising star amongst his colleagues on the Eastern circuit. His early years at the Bar, like those of his bewigged junior colleagues were spent building up contacts, amassing knowledge and know-how, all in preparation for a legal career which held out much promise for the future. It was not to be and Declan’s death caused great sorrow amongst his colleagues and friends. Our sympathies go to his wife Fiona, his mother and the Wall family.

Within hours of Declan’s death I heard the not unexpected news that my good friend Paddy Eaton had passed away. Paddy had been unwell for some time but yet when I last visited him, only a week or so ago, he was bearing up well and was as cheerful as ever. I knew Paddy ever since he returned to his hometown of Athy after many years in Birmingham. A master painter, who like his father before him acquired and the skill and good taste of a craftsman, Paddy took pride in his work.

Verschoyles old house in Ardreigh was perhaps one of the last place to benefit from his craft work. I know he took great pleasure in restoring the doors and woodwork of that old house which had suffered greatly after years of subletting and apartment living. The internal walls of the house built for Samuel Haughton, the Quaker miller of Ardreigh Mills, immediately after the Great Famine were also to benefit from Paddy’s attention to detail. Almost 20 years after he had devoted so much time and skill to re-decorating Ardreigh House his workmanship is still as fresh and appealing as it was two decades ago.

Paddy was the second generation of the Eaton family to take up the painting trade. His father Martin worked for Newcombe Empey Sign and Ornamental Painter and Gilder of Leinster Street and Paddy who was born in 1934 began his apprenticeship with the same firm in 1948. He was just 14 years of age and earned 7 shillings and 6 pence per week which is the modern equivalent of 37½ cent. Despite his youth it was his second job, Paddy having spent the previous year working in Tom McHughs foundry in Janeville Lane. The youngster of 13 years of age had started working in the foundry when his father fell ill and Paddy as the oldest in the family took on the responsibility of earning a wage to help his parents and siblings through what were very difficult times.

Paddy talked to me some years ago of his time working for Tom McHugh and mentioned the names of some of his fellow workers such as Mannix Thompson, Frankie Aldridge, Des Donaldson and Robbie Lynch of Shrewleen Lane. Tom McHugh was one of two brothers who operated foundries in Athy – the other foundry being based in Meeting Lane. Paddy described Tom as the ‘best floor moulder’ in the country who worked the sandboxes with an artistry which belied his down-to-earth appearance, tracing intimate designs in the red sand which came from Dan Neill’s field on the Carlow Road.

Working in the Foundry at such a young age was contrary to the law relating to school attendance but in the harsh economic climate of the post War years, the local Garda Sergeant, who happened to be my own father, took a benign attitude to the youngsters school absence. At 14 years of age Paddy was free to take up an apprenticeship with Newcombe Empey and for four years served his time, the latter part of which was as an ‘improver’.

The economic difficulties currently facing the country will no doubt disimprove before they get better and those of us not acquainted with the economic stagnation and the unemployment of the 1950s will come to appreciate what young men like Paddy Eaton faced during those dark days. The emigrants boat held out the only hope for many at a time when jobs were scarce and where those lucky to be in employment earned little more than enough to keep body and soul together. Paddy Eaton was one of the many hundreds men and women who had no alternative but to leave their hometown in search of work in the 1950s. Sally Oak, Birmingham would in time be home to Paddy and many more of Irish descent who found work in car manufacturing and in the huge engineering works of that city. Having trained as a painter Paddy continued to work at this craft, even while employed full time in a Birmingham factory. Working on his own account at the weekends added long hours to the working week and Paddy continued to do this for many years until a heart attack prompted him to cut back on his work schedule.

He returned to Ireland and to Athy following his early retirement and it was then that I first got to know Paddy. The craft skills acquired almost 50 years previously were never to leave him. His training in mixing paints, in the preparation of surfaces for painting and in the other detail which marked him out as a craftsman required a patience and an attention to detail which suited his temperament. A courteous even-tempered man, he enjoyed most of all his pint and ruefully admitted to over indulging on some occasions. However, Paddy was always courteous, always pleasant and ever good natured. The hard times he had experienced as a youngster of 13 years working in the adult world were never allowed to colour his attitude to those he met. He was immeasurably proud of his son Patrick and his daughter Shirley who in recent years returned to live and work in Birmingham City where they were born. He is survived by his wife Mary, his two children and two grandchildren.

Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a nanamacha.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Church’s role in bringing community together

It’s just a few short miles out of Athy, yet on last Sunday it seemed a place apart. To Kilmead, formerly in the holding of the Fitzgerald family of Earldom and Dukedom fame, came neighbours and friends of the Conlan family to pay their respects to their 29 year old daughter Niamh who tragically died while on vacation in Australia. St. Ita’s Church, where I sat in the transept facing the choir gallery, had the ambience of what in my minds eye was a rural church in 19th century Ireland. The pews, polished by generations of use, to the ancient walls painted and maintained over the years with careful attention spoke of a community’s pride. Everywhere one looked there was evidence of community involvement. From the stewards outside the church gate marshalling cars as they arrived, to the choir which was in position a long time before the appointed hour. The choir’s choice of hymns was so different than anything I have heard before. The thundering evangelical-like hymns favoured a generation or more ago gave way to the more gentle strains of hymns I had never before heard. ‘I watched the Sunrise’ was one of those hymns sung to the accompaniment of a young local man, Stuart Lawler, whose sensitive playing of the organ provided a pleasing musical backdrop to the mass voices of the mixed choir of St. Ita’s Church.

‘I watched the sunrise lighting the sky,
Casting his shadows near
And on this morning bright though it be,
I feel those shadows near me.’

The choir leader was Joan O’Connor who played a beautiful instrumental piece on the tin whistle during the mass.

I remarked afterwards what a strong community involvement there seemed to be in the area and it made me realise how important is a church (any church for that matter) in maintaining a vibrant community spirit in its area. The church where the local community come together at least once a week to share in a common activity helps to develop and maintain a strong community spirit. We generally tend to overlook the importance of church based services or activities and the role they have played over the years in developing and maintaining the sense of community. Kilmead is a fine example of a church exercising its influence on community relationship and in this way seemed a place apart from my own town of Athy where the influence of the church has diminished alarmingly. Mass going is now a minority activity in Athy, the numbers who attended mass a generation or so ago have disappeared and I suspect that presently perhaps less than one third of those who once attended mass are now doing so. The fall off must have had an effect on the cohesiveness of the local community. If we no longer meet on a regular basis in the church where else are we likely to meet? For many the answer is nowhere.

St. Ita’s Church, according to a plaque on its front wall, was opened in 1798. If the date is correct it represents a unique event in Irish history. ’98 was a time of conflict, a time of terror and regrettably also it must be acknowledged, a time of sectarian barbarism. Several churches throughout the country were destroyed, and in that regard south Kildare suffered as much as many other areas. Our own Parish Church in Chapel Lane was burned to the ground on 7th March 1800 in an attack allegedly involving some members of the South Cork militia. The church in Castledermot had been torched on 20th March 1799 and nearby Stradbally Church suffered a similar fate on 24th June 1798. Indeed a total of 35 churches were destroyed in the five counties of Wexford, Wicklow, Kildare, Laois and Carlow during and in the immediate aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion. The opening of a Catholic church in Kilmead in the midst of such tumult seems improbable. However, despite the questions which must hang over the claim to be a ’98 church, St. Ita’s is unquestionably home to a vibrant and caring congregation and community which came out in great numbers last Sunday to pay tribute to one of its own.

I mentioned last week when I inserted a photograph of youngsters from the Avenue taken 65 years ago that I would write of the Carbery family of St. Patrick’s Avenue this week. Unfortunately and inexplicably while I mentioned the Carberys I gave the wrong names of those photographed, referring to the Carbery boys as Carrolls. Fortunately Denis Smyth has once again come to my rescue and courtesy of his letter I can confirm that Joe Carbery is photographed between Vinny Smith and Mary Kehoe and his brother Liam Carbery is in the front row.

Denis, who in his younger days lived at No. 2 Offaly Street, was able to identify the men in the second of last weeks photographs which was taken outside John W. Kehoe’s premises. The men from left to right were Bob Webster, J.W. Kehoe, Tim Scally, Tom McHugh and another. Bob and his brother Jack Webster were painters and Bob later became manager of the cinema in Offaly Street. Tim Scally worked in Kehoes and indeed I understood he also worked for Tom Dowling who was the previous owner of the premises. Tim later emigrated to England and is now living back in Athy. Tom McHugh lived at No. 8 Offaly Street and he operated his own foundry in Janeville Lane. The unidentified man standing next to Tom is believed to have been one of his workmen.

Another photograph from the Carbery collection in America is shown this week. It was taken on 22nd August 1948 and shows three young local lads sitting on a canal boat which I understood was captained by Mr. Wall of St. Patrick’s Avenue. Does anyone know anything about him? The boys are from left Alfie Rafferty, Des Noonan and Joe Carbery. Rafferty and Carbery lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue, while Des Noonan lived in Stanhope Street. The Carbery story is postponed to next week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Images of times past

Thanks to everyone who took part in the recent photographic survey of Athy. Cataloguing of the photos handed in will commence shortly but in the meantime there is an opportunity for anyone who still has photos to give them into the Heritage Centre.

Photographic images provide an exciting and accurate record of moments in time! As old photographs become available they give a rare insight into often long forgotten times. Images of Athy in the past can be expected to be found in almost every corner of the world, in any place where Athy men and women have settled. Such a place is America, from where a number of photographs of Athy and Athy folk in the 1940s and early 1950s came back to the town, courtesy of Joseph Carbery. Now living in Stoneypoint, New York, Joe, whose family lived at No. 20 St. Patrick’s Avenue, emigrated to America in 1949. This week I am reproducing two of these photographs. One shows John W. Kehoe’s public house in Offaly Street with five men standing outside. Second from left is the proprietor John W. himself who during the 1950s was chairman of the Geraldine Park Committee. He spearheaded many of the improvements which were made to Athy’s Gaelic football venue during his chairmanship of that committee. I cannot identify the other men in the photograph but perhaps readers of this weeks Eye will be able to do so.The other photograph was taken in 1943 and shows a number of youngsters who were then living in St. Patrick’s Avenue. From left at the back are Vinny Smyth, Joe Carroll, M. Keogh, Paddy Kelly, Vera Rafferty and Niall Smyth. In front are Joe Carroll, Liam Carroll, Mary Noonan, Frank McCarthy and C. Carroll.

In next weeks Eye on the Past I will tell the story of the Carroll family who once lived in St. Patricks Avenue.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Remembering Athy’s war dead

‘The remains of men who fought in the war are still unearthed from time to time.’ That simple sentence, culled from a newspaper article some months ago reminds us that so many of those killed during the course of the 1914-18 war never had the dignity of a Christian burial. How many lie in unrecognised and unmarked graves is not known. The fatality figures for Athy men which I have been compiling from different sources has increased to 121, with the addition of Robert Bloomer, a local postman from St. Michael’s Terrace. Bloomer, who left a young wife and family, died in India and is buried in Poona.

Looking through the list of names of the men who left Athy to enlist for the duration of the war it is obvious that few local families were not represented on the battle fields of France and Flanders. Many families such as that of Mrs. M. Mulhall of William Street had several family members involved. I have no information on the Mulhall family other than that extracted from a report in the Nationalist newspaper of 19th January 1918 which mentions Mrs. Mulhall’s three enlisted sons and the award of a Parchment Certificate of the Irish Brigade to one of them, Lance Corporal P. Mulhall. Was he, I wonder, a brother of John Mulhall, a 20 year old Private in the Dublin Fusiliers who was killed in France on 23rd October 1916?

Athy man, Frank Redmond, who is now living in London, has been researching for some time past the World War I dead from Athy and County Kildare and he recently sent me part of his findings. He has found that at least 39 of the Athy men killed during the war have no known graves and their names are recorded on war memorials at Thiepval, Arras, Helles, Tyne Cot, the Menin Gate in Ypres and other similar memorial sites. Sadly their mangled remains sank into the ground, never to be found and even if found in later years were never identified.

Fellow soldiers and townsmen who died in battle and were buried in known graves include Denis Kelly who was only 20 years old when he was laid to rest in his grave at Poperinge in Belgium in October 1918. His brother John had also reached his 20th birthday when he died in Netley Hospital, Hampshire in England three years previously. He is buried in Netley Cemetery. Another brother Owen, who had enlisted at the same time as John, was also killed in the second year of the war and he is buried in Le Treport Military Cemetery. Their parents, John and Mary Kelly, lived in 4 Chapel Lane. I have been trying for some time to get some information on the Kelly family and I have found two memorials in St. Michael’s Cemetery to Mary Kelly who died on 6th May 1964, aged 86 years and John Kelly who died on 4th May 1940, aged 66 years. His memorial was erected by ‘his wife and sons’. Were they the parents of the three young Kellys from Chapel Lane who were killed during the 1914-18 War?

The slaughter of the 1914-18 battlefields resulted in the death of almost ten million soldiers, which with the civilian losses of life during the same war give a total of over 19 million war fatalities. The death of 219 men from Athy and the neighbouring hinterland seems little in comparison. However, within the small close-knit community of Athy the loss of so many in such a short period most certainly had serious repercussions for the social fabric of the local community. Those difficulties were exacerbated by the advent of other wars which this time was fought on Irish soil. The War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War effectively kept the Irish countryside in a continuing state of emergency for almost 9 years. Frank Aiken’s call in May 1923 for anti-treaty forces to dump their arms brought an end to the Civil War and to years of armed conflict which started with the outbreak of hostilities on the Continent in August 1914.

The soldiers, demobbed after the ceasefire on 11th November 1918, returned home to Athy where for a decade or so they felt able each year to come together to remember their fallen comrades. The election of De Valera’s Fianna Fáil government in 1932 coincided with a growing public disenchantment with the annual old comrades parade on Remembrance Sundays in provincial towns such as Athy. The parades ceased to be held from the early 1930s and thereafter the events of 1914-18 and the men who had participated in them were largely ignored. For many local families however, especially those who had lost family members in the Great War, the 11th of November held a special meaning. It was a day set aside to remember and grieve for the young men who had died in the war but for decades that remembrance was held behind closed doors within close-knit family circles. There was no public acknowledgement and no public recognition of what a generation of Athy folk had suffered.

In recent years attitudes have changed. We can now pay a well deserved public tribute to our neighbour’s children knowing that their participation in a foreign war, irrespective of the uniform they wore, is a valued part of our shared Irish history.

This year the usual Remembrance Sunday ceremony in St. Michael’s Cemetery will not take place. This is due solely to the absence on the day of a number of people who have organised it in the past. Instead on Tuesday evening, 11th November at 8.00 p.m., the Heritage Centre will host a short talk with poetry reading, music and the showing of a short video as part of the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day. The performance under the title ‘In Some Faithful Heart’ will be Athy’s contribution to that anniversary and admission to the event is free.

Commemorating past events and remembering those people involved in them is one of the ways in which we can pay tribute to past generations of locals who once walked the same streets as we do today. It is particularly gratifying to acknowledge the part played by Athy Town Council in putting up a plaque on the Town Hall to the local men involved in the First World War. Less pleasing however is the failure of the same Council to erect in Emily Square a memorial to the Athy men and women who suffered during the 1798 Rebellion. I am at a loss to understand the Council’s neglect in this regard and fail to see why the Memorial designed and sculpted by Brid Ni Rinn cannot be erected. Ten years have passed since Brid Ni Rinn completed the commission given to her by the Council and her finished work still languishes in the Council yard. Is there a possibility it might be put in position before the local election next June?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Minor victory welcomed

The centenary history of Kildare G.A.A., compiled and written by Eoghan Corry and published in 1984, has up to now proved to be a comprehensive and invaluable source of information relating to our native games. I’m less sure now of its accuracy when following Athy Gaelic Football Club’s success in the minor final last Saturday I went looking for details of past victories only to find several errors in the book.

Sunday’s victory was hailed as the first in 35 years, yet the centenary book claims Raheens won the minor final of 1973. I also have a copy photograph before me showing the Athy minor winning team of 1966. However, Sarsfields are recorded by Eoghan as the minor title winners that year. Confusion reigns upon confusion so I am unsure as to the local club’s past record in the Kildare Minor Championship.

The only certainty is that Athy Minors triumphed in 1966 and again in 1973. The team of 42 years ago captained by Peter Dunne included Jimmy Byrne, Fran Bolger, Eddie Kelly, Pat Kinahan, Stephen Bolger, Dominic Timpson, Dick Reid, David Craig, Joe O’Sullivan, John Goulding, Martin Quinn, Albert Dunne, Tom Whelan and Paddy Byrne. Pat Kinahan played left corner back on the 1966 team and last Sunday his son Brian captained the Athy minor team.

The victorious Athy team of 1973 was captained by Shay Ryan, who sadly passed away only weeks ago. His team mates were Adrian Dunne, Tony Gibbons, Tom Cooney, Brian Redmond, Ger Clancy, Barry Ryan, Mick Fennelly, Kieran O’Doherty, Donie Lambe, Pat Rowan, Paul O’Flaherty, Andy McConville, John Robinson and Eamon Delahunt. One of the stars of that team was Brendan Whelan who due to injury could not line out at the start of the final and his place was taken by Donie Lambe. However, with 10 minutes to go Brendan went onto the field to replace Mick Fennelly and another sub used that day was John Murphy. John Robinson played an outstanding role in Athy’s victory in 1973, scoring no less than 3 goals and 3 points, while Andy McConville kicked over 5 points.

Last Sunday’s team was not expected to win against the more fancied Sarsfields side, but the red and white led by their Captain Brian Kinahan proved the best team on the day. The headlines in the local newspapers told the story; ‘Brilliant Athy blow away Sash’ and ‘Historic Day for Athy as Minors cause untold delight’.

Memories of the golden days of the Athy Club’s supremacy on the football field were revived when the final whistle was blown. Will the youngsters of 2008 turn out to be as good as the players of the past. Players such as Tommy Mulhall, George Comerford and ‘Sapper’ O’Neill, and in more recent years Mick Carolan, Denis Wynne and Danny Flood who brought glory to the Athy Club.

Sunday’s victory has given a tremendous boost to the local club which has not enjoyed a lot of success in recent years. 1987 witnessed the Club’s last previous major success when the team, captained by Mick Fennelly, captured the senior championship title.

Interestingly the minor winning team of 1973 was to provide several players for the senior winning team panel 14 years later. These dual players included Adrian Dunne, Ger Clancy, Mick Fennelly, Brendan Whelan, Shay Ryan, Kieran O’Doherty and Tony Gibbons.

This year’s winning minor team was managed by Mark Brophy, son of the late Tommy who for many years championed the cause of hurling in Athy. The players on the team were Paul Clynch, Alan Bowden, Joseph Kinahan, Tony Gibbons, Shane O’Brien, Conor Ronan, T.J. Clare, Danny O’Keeffe, David McGovern, Brian Kinahan, Cian Reynolds, Corey Moore, Liam McGovern, James Eaton and Daroch Mulhall. Shane Brophy came on as a sub during the game. The man of the match award went to Athy’s young full forward James Eaton whose 3 point tally coupled with what the papers described as his superb ‘showing for the ball’ won him the game’s highest award on the day.

The present minor team has links with the 1966 and the 1973 team. As mentioned earlier the Kinahan family was represented on both teams, while cousin Joseph Kinahan adds further Kinahan family interest to the present team. Tony Gibbons who played in the full back line in the 1973 minor final had the privilege of seeing his son and namesake Tony play in the full back line for this year’s minor champions. The current committee club members, Colm Reynolds and Con Ronan, were represented on the minor team by their sons Cian and Conor, while T.J. Clare who played in the half back line is himself a member of the Club’s management committee. Brothers Liam and David McGovern, sons of former Senior County player Sean McGovern, were also members of the winning minor team. Clearly traditional family involvement with the local club and with G.A.A. games in particular have been continued into the present generation.

Congratulations to everyone involved in the minor team’s success and hopefully it may lead to further honours in the not-too-distant future. To round off this article I append some of the lines composed by Tim Clarke, the onetime long serving secretary of Kildare County Board who wrote a ballad to honour the Athy Club’s senior winning team of 1942. His words for the opening stanza could well apply to the minors of 2008.

‘The Athy men, always stylish
Since the days of Tom Mulhall.
Were a joy to all spectators
For the way they played the ball.’

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Special events to remind us of Athy’s history

The celebrations which marked the 50th anniversary of Scoil Mhichil Naofa went off with wonderful aplomb last weekend. Great credit is due to all concerned, teachers, pupils and parents alike. The emphasis on the 50th anniversary of what was essentially the opening of the school building probably obscured for many parents the longer history of national schooling in Athy. Scoil Mhichil Naofa, opened in 1958, merely reflected a name change. Where before its predecessor went under the name St. Michael’s School, the new building, blessed and opened by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin on 23rd October of that year was to be home to Scoil Mhichil Naofa. The use of the Irish version of the school name did not mean that its previous history stretching back to 1852 was to be disregarded, or thereafter to be ignored. There is a danger that in celebrating the 50th anniversary the previous 106 years would be submerged and overlooked. How nice therefore to see that the Sisters of Mercy, now retired, participated in the celebrations. Their involvement was a reminder, if same was ever needed, that the legacy of the followers of Catherine McCauley is one which adorns the history of education in Athy. The Sisters of Mercy share with the now absent Christian Brothers our town’s gratitude for their magnificent contribution to the education of several generations of young Athy folk. If nothing else the Scoil Mhichil Naofa celebrations remind us yet again of our debt to both the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers.

The last weekend in October has for the last eight years occupied a special place in the cultural life of our town. For some, the SHACKLETON AUTUMN SCHOOL holds little or no interest, but for others, thankfully, the October bank holiday weekend offers a unique opportunity to see some of the world’s best polar experts take to the podium in the local Town Hall. That same room which in the past echoed to the sound of dance bands or provided theatrical space for touring fit up companies will this year host speakers from America, England and Ireland.

This year the 8th Autumn School is hosting a major exhibition of photographic portraits being part of an exhibition coming to Athy from the Museum of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England. After Athy, the exhibition will travel to the Exployers Club in New York and later to the Royal Geographical Society in London. The South Kildare town will be the only Irish venue to feature this important exhibition. In addition to the portraits the exhibition will also include unique polar photographic equipment. This exhibition is a not to be missed and the fact that Athy has been able to secure it is an indication of the high standing of Athy Heritage Centre in the world of polar exploration.

The Autumn School opens on Friday, 24th October with the launch of the second volume of ‘Nimrod’, the Journal of the ERNEST SHACKLETON AUTUMN SCHOOL. This will be followed by the opening of the Polar Portraits Exhibition, during which Dr. Huw Lewis-Jones, Curator of Art at the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge and editor of ‘Face to Face’, an account of pioneering photography, will give a talk on the exhibition. Events on Friday commence at 7.30 p.m. and an invitation is extended to all to come along to the Heritage Centre. There is no cover charge on Friday night.

Saturday sees the first of four lectures starting at 10.30 a.m. The lecturers that day include Dr. Jim McAdam of Queens University in Belfast whose chosen topic is ‘Shackleton and Chile’. From England comes Kari Herbert, daughter of the distinguished polar explorer, Sir Wally Herbert who at 12 noon will speak on ‘The Hero’s Heart – the women behind Polar Exploration’. Saturday afternoon is given over to E.C. Coleman who has published two volumes on polar exploration and whose lecture at 2.30 p.m. will deal with ‘The Royal Navy and Polar Exploration’. He will be followed at 4.00 p.m. by Dr. Stephanie Barczewski, currently a professor of history in America and the author of several books including ‘Titanic – Night Remembered’. Her topic, ‘Antarctic Destinies – Scott, Shackleton and the Changing Face of Heroism’ will no doubt attract a lot of interest.

The Autumn School dinner will take place on Saturday night in the Clanard Court Hotel at 8.00 p.m. It promises to be an enjoyable evening as one of Ireland’s foremost traditional musicians Brian Hughes will be making an appearance and playing at the end of the meal.

Sunday morning will be graced with the final two lectures, the first starting at 10.30 a.m. when Huw Lewis-Jones will give an illustrated talk entitled ‘Freeze Frame – Historic Polar Photography’, followed at 12 noon by Mike Tarver. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Vice President of the Captain Scott Society, Tarver’s subject is ‘The SS Terra Nova (1884-1943) and Other Polar Exploration Ships of the Heroic age!’. The afternoon is given over to two films, ‘Foothold on Antarctica’ and ‘Antarctic Crossing’ which will be introduced by Peter Fuchs, son of Sir Vivian Fuchs who with Sir Edmund Hillary led the successful transantarctic expedition of 1958.

On Sunday evening at 9.00 p.m. Cliff Wedgebury, the Cork born musician and balladeer will present his one man show in music and in words on the life of Ernest Shackleton. This promises to be a musical evening which should appeal not only to polar enthusiasts but to a wider audience also.

All events take place in the Town Hall and further information as regards tickets, times and admission prices can be obtained at the Heritage Centre, Tel: (059) 8633075, Email:

The twelve page programme produced by the organizers of the weekend, which programme is freely available, is in itself a first class production with several superb photographs. It will probably be a collectors item at some time in the future. Make sure to pick up your free copy in the Heritage Centre while supplies are still available.

I forgot to mention the bus trip on Monday morning at 10.00 a.m., guided by John MacKenna whose biographical study of Shackleton published a few years ago in conjunction with Jonathan Shackleton, is regarded as one of the best books in recent years on the South Kildare born explorer. As in previous years this trip promises to be an enjoyable experience.

Finally a book appeared on the shelves of Dublin book shops during the week. Titled, ‘Ireland through the Looking Glass – Flann O’Brien, Myles na gCopaleen and Irish Cultural Debate’, the hardback published by Cork University Press was written by my daughter Carol. It was the result of several years of in depth research conducted into the writing of Flann O’Brien, alias Myles na gCopaleen, who during the 1950s wrote for the Nationalist and Leinster Times under the pseudonym George Nowall. It’s a wonderful achievement to see one’s work in print and Carol’s book prompted a family member to claim that it was ‘the first real book written by a Taaffe since the volumes produced by Fr. Denis Taaffe over 150 years ago’. So much for the ‘Eye on Athy’s Past’ volumes! However, congratulations to Carol Taaffe on a wonderful achievement which I can only aspire to emulate at some time in the future.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Passing of a gracious lady

Noreen Ryan passed away on Friday last in her 92nd year. She had outlived her generation by several years, that same generation which had lit up the drabness and monotony of life in Athy in the 1940s and ‘50s.

A native of Athy, Noreen’s parents William Doyle from Sillagh, near Punchestown and Mary Butterfield of Ballitore, had married in New York in 1902 where their first two children were born. William Doyle who came from a farming background worked in a variety of jobs in America before opening up Doyle’s public house in Brooklyn, New York. The Doyle family returned to Ireland in 1905 and settled in Athy where William took over a pub and grocery shop in Woodstock Street owned by Minchs which up to then had been leased to the widow McHugh.

Doyles pub is still operating, the current proprietor also named William being the third generation of the Doyle family to have charge of one of Athy’s oldest public houses. Noreen, who was one of six boys and six girls, attended the local convent school before transferring as a secondary school boarder to St. Leo’s in Carlow. She matriculated in 1933, one year after her mother’s death, her father having passed away in 1923. In December 1935 Noreen went to Spain to take up a position as an English teacher in a convent school. On her arrival however and before the school Christmas holidays had finished she impulsively (as she herself described her decision) took a job as a governess. The family she worked for were rich Spanish Cubans living in Madrid and she was in that city when the Popular Front coalition of central and left wing parties won the Spanish General Election and formed a Republican government. Within five months there was a right wing military uprising against the Republican government which resulted in the Spanish Civil War.

Noreen’s memories of the early days following the General Election victory by the Republicans was of religious restrictions where religion was not allowed to be taught in schools and nuns were not allowed to wear their habits in public. Right wing politicians she recalled were taken from their homes and executed. It was, she remembered, a time of great fear and her employers moved to neighbouring Portugal for their own safety. During her time in Lisbon and later Estoril Noreen met a middle aged Irish woman who turned out to be the famous Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen. The young Athy girl subsequently returned to Spain with her Spanish employers, who soon however left for Switzerland, following which Noreen became governess to another Spanish family. She was based in Seville for three months, living not far from the magnificent Cathedral and recalls climbing the sloping pathway to the top of the world famous Giralda. She left Seville after three months to take up an appointment as the governess to the family of the President of the Bank of Spain. Summers were spent in San Sebastian and winters in Seville, both of which were under the control of Franco’s monarchists for the duration of the Spanish Civil War.

Noreen Ryan left Spain to return to Athy in December 1938 having lived through one of the most horrific Civil Wars ever fought on European soil. The Nationalists led by Franco declared victory four months later, bringing to an end three years of fighting in which almost half a million people died, mostly in mass executions on both sides. Unlike George Orwell, the chronicler of the International Brigade, Noreen Ryan had for the most part good memories of Spain during the Civil War. This was understandable as she was shielded from the worst excesses of the conflict, living as she did with families in cities controlled by Franco’s monarchists.

Liam Ryan from Garranmore, Newtown in County Tipperary arrived in Athy in 1936 to take up his first teaching job in the local Christian Brothers Secondary School. He would remain a much loved member of the teaching staff of the same school until he retired in 1975. The young Tipperary man and Noreen Doyle were married in August 1940. Both were members of the local Social Club which during the late 1930s and onwards was the premier social outlet for young people in the town.

I was a pupil in the Christian Brothers School at a time when Liam Ryan was already a staff member of 20 years standing. He was the most influential teacher during my long educational life which extended over many years and many institutions. An avid supporter of De Valera’s Fianna Fáil he instilled in his pupils a respect for work well done, no matter how lowly it might appear in the scheme of things. I always remember his assertion that education was a valuable tool in life. ‘It helps even the road sweeper to do his job better’. Noreen, as was the wont of housewives in those days, was in the background, supporting her husband Bill, as he was affectionately known to all his pupils, and the Ryan children, Seamus, Brendan, Kevin and Frank.

I came to know Noreen well when Athy Museum Society was founded in 1983. Her brother William who ran the family pub in Woodstock Street was treasurer of the Society and Noreen was its secretary. It was a similar position she occupied with the Old Folks Committee which was founded in 1965. Many years ago she told me that it had been arranged that my father John P. Taaffe, then still serving as the local Garda Station Sergeant, was to be secretary to the Committee. However, the tragic death of my younger brother Seamus in a road traffic accident the night before the scheduled meeting necessitated a change of plan and Noreen was elected secretary. It was her first time to take on such a position and admirably she continued in that role for 13 years, stepping down shortly after her husband Liam died in 1977.

Liam Ryan retired in 1975 and sadly did not enjoy the prolonged and healthy retirement which his exceptional service to education in his adopted town of Athy so fully deserved. His death was a tragic loss to the town which had benefitted so much from his involvement with the Social Club players and whose interest in the development of Athy would undoubtedly have inspired a more positive attitude in the 1980s and beyond.

In addition to her involvement with the Old Folks Committee and later the Museum Society Noreen was also a director of Athy Heritage Company and for seven years acted as a bénévole in Lourdes. She first went to Lourdes as a helper in 1983 and each year spent three weeks working voluntarily in the Cite San Pierre which provided hostel facilities for less well off pilgrims.

She is survived by her sons Seamus, a doctor based in Australia, Brendan, a former Senator who is a lecturer in Cork, Kevin who is Vice-President of Limerick University and Frank who recently retired as a secondary school teacher in Celbridge. She is also survived by the only remaining sibling of the Doyle family, her brother Fr. Conleth Doyle who is a Carmelite priest in the Aylesford Friary in Kent. Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A snapshot of life in Ireland before the famine

Over 30 years ago, I purchased Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, first published in two volumes in 1837. They were in a rather tattered condition but bound in with the second volume was Lewis’s Atlas of the County of Kildare, which had issued as a separate volume in 1839. I subsequently had the volumes re-bound by Kennys of Galway and see that 24 years ago I paid £20 for their craftwork, which restored Lewis’s magnum opus to something of its original state. I was reminded of my earlier purchase when I received last week a copy of the recently published Topographical Dictionary of County Kildare in 1837. Compiled and edited by Mario Corrigan, Niamh McCabe and Michael Kavanagh, the dictionary is published by the Local Studies Department of the County Library Services. It comprises all the entries to be found in Lewis’s two-volume work relating to County Kildare, compiled in a slim paperback which should find a place on every bookcase in the Shortgrass County.The original publisher of the topographical dictionary carried on business in London under the style S Lewis & Co and produced similar dictionaries for England in 1831 and for Wales in 1833. Scotland appears to have escaped his attention but perhaps the 1837 volumes relating to Ireland which were severely criticised on first publication may have tempered his enthusiasm for further publications of this kind. The early 19th century was a fruitful time for publishing topographical dictionaries. John Gorton, assisted by GN Wright, professor of antiquities to the Royal Hibernian Academy, published in three volumes in 1833 a Topographical Dictionary of Great Britain and Ireland. Thirteen years later, the Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland was published again in three volumes. It came just four years after John Lawson had published his one volume Gazetteer of Ireland in what the preface to the book described as “a convenient and portable form”. It was not, however, as portable as an earlier and much slimmer gazetteer titled The Hibernian Gazetteer and produced by William Seward in Dublin in 1789. The interest in all of these publications lies in how they treat the various towns and places of interest in Ireland. The 1789 publication gives limited information, confining itself in describing Athy as “a borough, market and post town in County Kildare ... governed by a sovereign, two bailiffs and a recorder and is alternately with Naas the assizes town for that county. “It has fairs on 17 March, 25 April, 9 June, 2 July, 10 October, 11 December. It sends two members to parliament. Patron, the Duke of Leinster.” Gorton’s Topographical Dictionary gives some interesting details regarding the town, claiming that upwards of 270 local children receive education, while also indicating that the “ancient castle has been converted into a prison”. Lawson’s Gazetteer, published three years before the start of the Great Famine, gives even more information on Athy. By then the Grand Canal had been extended to Athy making it “the chief place of traffic between Dublin and Carlow”. It had a “county courthouse, commodious infantry barracks, six annual fairs, several schools, a Roman Catholic free school, a Roman Catholic chapel and some dissenting meeting houses ... population in 1831 4494”. Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary gives more details than the previous publications in relation to the principal town in south Kildare. One interesting extract refers to the several remains of antiquity in the town, one being a gateway of the original Dominican Monastery. “When seen in connection with the plantation intervening between it and the river forms a picturesque and interesting feature in the landscape”. The reference here is presumably to Prestons Gate, which, if correct, would indicate that the houses in Offaly Street and Emily Row had not been built in 1839.It is the Parliamentary Gazetteer published in 1846 which gives the most comprehensive account of Athy and the surrounding townlands. It includes the following interesting entry.“A decided improvement has been made within the last 12 or 15 years in the town’s appearance. New houses have been built, several old ones have been renovated and raised, many inferior ones have been erased and supplanted by new erections and the narrow and bad street has been widened and much improved. The streets are well paved and kept in good order and for a number of years past they have, during the dark nights of winter, been lighted.”Part of the civic improvement of the town obviously resulted from the replacement of the gaol originally housed in White’s Castle by the newly-built gaol on the Carlow Road in 1830. The Gazetteer, referring to the new gaol, noted that it was built on the “semicircular plan and contains 32 cells, 3 solitary cells, 6 day rooms, 2 work rooms, 6 yards, 2 hospital rooms, a Chapel and a kitchen ... the criminals confined on average 26 daily, are employed at weaving, shoe-making, tailoring, picking oakum and stone breaking for the roads”.Referring back to Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary and the recent publication of its County Kildare entries in one volume, it is praiseworthy to note that the editors have prepared an index for the work as well as a glossary of terms found in the dictionary, together with a list of place names showing the various alternative spellings which they sometimes attracted. Altogether it’s an excellent production by those connected with the County Library Services and, as Mario Corrigan in his introduction claims, the dictionary gives a snapshot of life in Ireland before the famine.It can be highly recommended for anybody researching the rich and varied history of any part of County Kildare. The dictionary is published in association with Kildare Town Heritage Centre and sells at €15.99. All profits from the publication will go to the Heritage Centre in Kildare. I have just finished reading a book called The Humours of Planxty by a young man with the unusual name of Leagues O’Toole. It’s a biography of the musical group Planxty, which was formed in 1972 when Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Liam O’Flynn got together. This is O’Toole’s first book and is an insightful look back at the cultural re-awakening with which the members of Planxty and other traditional musicians were involved during what can be described as the post Clancy Brothers period of traditional Irish music. It’s a wonderful read and can be highly recommended for anybody who is interested in Irish traditional music.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Eucharistic Congress of 1932

Last week I attended Mass in St. Michael’s new cemetery and in a scene reminiscent of the rock masses of penal days stood with hundreds more around the temporary altar. Thankfully the rain held off and everywhere I looked I saw familiar faces and some I had not seen for quite some time. This was a gathering of local people, many of whom had a family member or friends lying in the cemetery which in my young days was a lime tree lined field where youngsters played. The new cemetery was opened in 1964 or thereabouts and since then has been extended southwards into an adjoining field. The names on the gravestones are familiar ones and everywhere you look you find reminders of people once part of the wider community of south Kildare.

In the same week it was announced that the Eucharistic Congress would be held in Ireland in 2012. The previous Congress held here was in 1932 at a time when the new Irish State was experiencing tough economic times. The difficulties of that time would be further exacerbated by the economic war which would follow Fianna Fáil’s victory in the General Election that same year. At the end of 1931 the local Urban District Council were lobbying the Minister for Local Government for a special grant for the relief of unemployment in the Athy area. The Councillors claimed that there was ‘no part of the county suffering so much on account of the grave unemployment due to the beet collapse year and a serious agricultural depression prevailing.’ Figures were cited which showed that at least 200 men were unemployed. The unemployment situation would not show any improvement until the end of the decade.’

Local plans for celebrating the Eucharistic Congress scheduled to take place from 22nd to 26th June were overshadowed by a tragic fire which took place in Athy on St. Stephens Day. The first local newspaper of the Eucharistic year carried the headline ‘Woman trapped in burning house – charred remains found in debris.’ Mrs. M. Cunningham, a widow who lived alone in her licensed premises in Duke Street died tragically in the blazing inferno which destroyed the entire premises. Her remains were brought to the house of her daughter in Leinster Street.

The following week initial arrangements for the Eucharistic Congress were announced in the local Parish Church. The Mens Sodality would travel as a unit by train to Dublin on Thursday for the mens’ mass. The following day would see the Womens Sodality members make the same journey, leaving Saturday free for the childrens mass in the Phoenix Park. The Papal Legates Mass with which the Congress would end would take place on Sunday.

Early in January the Parish Priest, Fr. P. McDonnell, unveiled the banner which was to be used by the Womens Sodality members as they took part in the Eucharistic Congress parade. The same day the banner to be carried at the front of the mens fraternity as they marched was shown to the local members of the Fraternity of the Sacred Heart by Fr. John O’Sullivan in the Dominican Church. Rather sadly the same edition of the newspaper carried a report of the sudden death of Fr. O’Sullivan while celebrating 11 o’clock mass on the feast of the Epiphany. He had ministered for almost 40 years in Athy and his memory would be commemorated a year later with the opening of a shrine in the grounds of the Dominican Priory.

Election fever was rampant throughout the country from January 1932 onwards and the three main political parties, Cumann na nGael, Fianna Fáil and Labour chose candidates to contest the General Election. Local man Sydney Minch who had fought with the 16th Irish Division in France during the 1914-18 war was chosen as one of the outgoing Government’s candidates and would succeed in taking a Dáil seat for Cumann na nGael.

Eamon de Valera campaigned in Athy in early February and the Leinster Leader reported:- ‘Little Kevin Maher, son of Mr. J.B. Maher of Sawyerswood and nephew of Kevin Barry was presented to De Valera by W. Mahon U.D.C. at the Fianna Fáil meeting on Wednesday. De Valera kindly took the little boy by the hand and chatted to him.’ Some of Kevin’s schoolmates were also making the newspaper that week with a report of a musical concert in the Christian Brothers School. Tommy Fox aged 8 conducted the boys choir ‘with all the aplomb and ease of a professional’ while Ivan Bergin, aged 9, who played the piano was described as ‘a cool collected kid.’ Boy soprano Paddy Breen of Offaly Street was credited with a beautiful voice, while another highly praised singer was Joe Reynolds, son of J.C. Reynolds, ‘himself a singer of no mean order.’

Notices appeared in newspapers in February of examinations to be held before Holy Week in local secondary schools for choir members wishing to be part of the special Congress choir. Only those subject to favourable reports by the examiner would be allowed to participate in the Dublin event. Tickets for the garden party to be held in Blackrock College Dublin as part of the Eucharistic celebrations were on sale at 5 shillings each. This incidentally represented a full days pay for a man working on the Kildare County Council scheme to relieve unemployment.

On the Sunday before the General Election all three parties held meetings in Emily Square. A torch lit procession preceded by six bands marked the Fianna Fáil meeting, while the Cumann na nGael meeting was remarkable for the use of ‘electric bulbs’ for its night-time meeting. No doubt Betty Brown of Meeting Lane who at 97 years of age was the oldest local voter would have been impressed by the electric light seeing as she claimed to have seen the first ‘railway train to come to Athy.’ She cast her vote in the Town Hall, telling all and sundry that she favoured the Fianna Fáil candidate ‘Tommy Harris’. Harris was elected at the head of the poll with Bill Norton and local man Sidney Minch.

Preparations for the Eucharistic Congress continued once the election was finished and by mid May Nurney National School was the first to erect a Congress flag. Mr. Loughman, the local carrier, was reported as the first lorry owner to have the Congress flag on his vehicle, but before long similar flags were everywhere to be seen. ‘Congress and Papal flags very much in evidence this week’ reported the Leinster Leader on 14th June, ‘motor lorries and push bikes were flying them.’

Business houses and shops in Athy were cleaned up and many were painted in preparation of the Congress. Athy Urban District Council decided to paint all the Council houses and also to decorate the Town Hall. By the 18th of June flags, banners and bunting spanned every street in the town. All the local churches, schools, the Parish Priest’s house, the Dominican Priory, Town Hall, Courthouse, Post Office, Garda Station and the C.Y.M.S. premises were decorated. Soon thereafter it was reported that decorations were also put up by the local banks, the hotels, Shaws and the Railway Station. Drapers were sold out of flags as every house and what the local newspaper described as the ‘smaller streets’ of the town were decorated to make Athy ‘a riot of colour.’ The opening of the Congress on 23rd June led the Urban District Council to request local shopkeepers to close that day and the newspapers reported ‘a generous response’ to that request. By now most of the streets had decorative added arches, or notably Emily Square, but as the local newspapers reported ‘it is in the bye streets and the lanes and suburban areas of Athy that the real decorations are shown, the men, women and girls of Athy may feel proud, they are a credit to the old town, to their land and to their race.’

Visitors to Athy for the Congress included well known handballer Bill Aldridge who had returned home with a Congress party from America. Michael Mahon, Athy and Paddy Stynes, Kildare, both well known County Kildare footballers also returned from America prior to the Congress and it was reported that Stynes was expected to give an exhibition in Athy of the ‘American style of football’.

At the conclusion of the Eucharistic Congress the Nationalist was to claim:- ‘Everybody gave of his best, and the weather was a record for June. The celebrations were far from anything we had dreamed they might be. It was evident everywhere that Catholicity is as great in Ireland today as it was five hundred years ago, and that the man in the street cherishes his Faith in his secret heart just as zealously as any of his saintly forefathers.’

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Anybody remember Athy’s An Tostal festival?

I recently came across a rather tattered copy of the souvenir brochure and programme produced for the Castledermot An Tostal Festival of 55 years ago. An Tostal was an initiative of the Tourist Board in which towns and villages throughout Ireland organised cultural events over a three week period in April 1953. I was intrigued because I have never seen a similar publication for Athy, although some years ago I had discovered a somewhat moth eaten An Tostal flag which I under-stood had been used during the festival in the town. Indeed I had never heard or read any local references to Athy’s Tostal Festival of 1953 and so I visited the local history reference room in the County Library headquarters in Newbridge to read back issues of the Nationalistnewspaper for 1953.

Reading newspapers to cull material relating to a particular topic brings its own problems. It’s a pleasant, if somewhat time consuming task, delays being inevitably caused by the many interesting, sometimes quirky references one comes across, none of which are related to the subject in hand. Such was my dilemma when in the few hours available to me I ransacked the newspaper files for the first five months of 1953 in my search for An Tostal material.

The first mention of the impending festival appeared in the Nationalist of 10 January 1953 which noted:- ‘An Tostal was ushered in at Carlow Town Hall on Saturday night last. Courier John Kehoe, cold and numb after his days 170 mile drive handed a Bord Failte greeting to Tostal Council Chairman Mr. Paddy Governey and wished Carlow the success of real achievement in its April projects.’

A week later the Nationalist reported that the Athy Tostal Committee ‘met on Friday night and again on Monday night to arrange the programme.’ The events planned for Athy during the three week festival included a massed parade, field day, drama, concert, football matches, musical review, clay pigeon shooting, industrial exhibition, Irish open air step dancing, ballroom dancing and organised tours of local industries. The Tostal Committee arranging these events was not named but a sub committee elected to decorate the town included JJ Bergin, JJ Usher, PJ Kavanagh, T McCarthy, J Dolan and J Karrigan. The same edition of the Nationalist reported that VEC chairman Fr PJ Doyle, PP Athy claimed that ‘attendances at Athy Technical School is very weak’. On a more cheerful note the award of pre Truce old IRA medals was reported, the recipients, all former members of B Coy 5th Battalion Carlow Brigade, being Patrick Bolton and Joseph Kenny of Dunbrinn and Patrick Maher of Dooley’s Terrace.

Major General Hugo MacNeill who had marched into Baltinglass at the head of Free State soldiers in August 1922, returned to the west Wicklow village in January 1953 as National Director of An Tostal. He explained that the festival was being promoted by the Tourist Board in order to extend the tourist season from 3 to 5 months and to demonstrate that ‘we are proud of our past, our culture and traditions.’

By 24 January the Athy Tostal Committee had added further events to those already planned. Acquatic sports with boat races, a pageant, horse jumping, a play by the Social Club players and a GAA game between a county selection and a London Irish selection were just some of the extra activities expected to form part of Athy’s An Tostal Festival.

Two weeks later local curate Fr. John McLoughlin MC grabbed the headlines with his call to the members of Athy’s Macra na Feirme Club when addressing their annual dinner in the Leinster Arms Hotel ‘to accept the social responsibility of encouraging farmers to marry.’ The senior curate of St Michael’s Parish who was leading the drive for funds for a new parish church for Athy was concerned that ‘here where half the population lives in rural areas, only one fifth of marriages were between persons in rural areas and practically all the bride grooms were farm labourers.’ His passionate appeal would be taken up a few weeks later by Fr P Fitzpatrick of Castledermot who claimed ‘in the past five years not a single farmer in the parish of Castledermot married ..... the only hope now for a healthier marriage rate depends on the enlightened education of young farmers clubs.’

In the first week of February another Catholic curate Fr S O’Sullivan was elected president of the newly appointed Tostal Committee in Castledermot. Secretary of the committee was Tadgh Hayden and both himself and the curate were to carry out research for what was described as a historical brochure to be produced in connection with An Tostal. Frank McDonald, Mr G Hennessy and Seamus Byrne of Ballyhade were part of the Castledermot committee and their responsibility was a collection of traditions ‘still extant amongst the locals’for inclusion in the brochure.

Portlaoise broke rather late into the Tostal spirit setting up its committee in early March, while Monasterevin decided to hold its Tostal festival from 17-25 May long after the countrywide festival had concluded. Perhaps the most intriguing local Tostal reference I came across emanated from Abbeyleix where the local committee planned to have a frog derby as the centre-piece of the towns festival. Their spokesperson in announcing the derby claimed ‘we have the fastest and longest jumping frogs in Ireland’.

In the midst of the preparations for An Tostal, Athy hosted it’s largest St. Patricks Day parade for many years. No less than three local bands took part, including St Michael’s Pipe Band and St Josephs Boys Band which had been formed only months previously by the St Josephs Welfare Club under the direction of the legendary band leader Joe O’Neill. Also parading were the local FCA, the Knights of Malta and the National Foresters. Was there, I wonder, a local branch of the Foresters in Athy at that time? Miss Conneran’s dance class joined the girls from the Convent schools and the boys from the CBS as they paraded with an unnamed band, rather strangely described in the newspaper report as ‘Fife and Drum Band from west urban area.’ Does anyone know anything about this band?

The Tostal festival in Athy commenced on Sunday 5 April when the Tostal flag was hoisted at 1.00pm in Emily Square by Fr P Crowe CC who was chairman of the local committee.

Prior to that the three local bands paraded through what was described as ‘the lavishly decorated streets of Athy.’ That afternoon Kildare played Dublin in the final of the Geraldine tournament preceded by a minor match between Kildare and Laois. The Kildare seniors won the match and Fintan Brennan presented the watches won by the players ‘to the County Board.’ That same afternoon Pioneers (Dublin) played a local team in a soccer match and in the evening a dance was held in the Social Club in St John’s Lane while the Town Hall hosted a soccer club dance.

The Golf Club held a local competition on Sunday and Monday, while on Monday afternoon there was an exhibition of Irish dancing ‘along the River Barrow’. The Social Club players put on the play, ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ in the Town Hall on 9, 10 and 12 April. On the second Sunday an industrial and agricultural parade started from the Showgrounds and for the remaining two weeks of the festival the programme included 13-14 April choral and instrumental concert by parish children in the Town Hall, Tostal Ball in St John’s Hall on 14th, Play and Variety Concert in the Town Hall on 15th and 19th, Irish Dancing Exhibition on 16th with Gala on 19th, an exhibition of works in the Technical School on 23 April. An exhibition of historical and local interest was given by O’Rourke Glynns during the festival.

Apart from reporting the opening of the festival little or no coverage was given to the events in Athy over the three weeks. Mention, however, was made of the elaborate decorations in place for An Tostal in St Joseph’s Terrace provided for by the local Welfare Club.

I wonder if any programme of the 1953 Athy An Tostal Festival has survived, or indeed ever existed, or if there are any photographs of the various events which took place that April? It was undoubtedly a major cultural and social event at a time when the country was bedevilled by unemployed and economic stagnation.

I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has memories of An Tostal of 55 years ago and would welcome the opportunity to copy photographs or mementos of the Tostal Festival.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The man who caused havoc among Athy’s rebels

One of the most infamous characters linked with the 1798 Rebellion is Thomas Reynolds, the one time resident of Kilkea Castle. Reynolds was a distant relation of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the Duke of Leinster’s son and one time Member of Parliament for the Borough of Athy. Colonel Thomas Fitzgerald of Geraldine House, Athy was Reynold’s uncle and both, unusually, for members of the gentry in 18th century Ireland, were members of the Catholic Church. Reynolds’ father Andrew was a silk merchant from Dublin and he married Rose Fitzgerald of Kilmead. Their son Thomas spent the first eight years of his life in the Kilmead home of his maternal grandfather Thomas Fitzgerald. Educated at Chiswick in England and later at Liege in Flanders he returned to Dublin in 1788, just a few weeks before the death of his father.

Thomas Reynolds son, in his father’s biography, published in 1838, claimed that his father was inveigled to become a member of the United Irishmen in January or February 1797 through the efforts of Richard Dillon, a Catholic and Oliver Bond, a Presbyterian. Some time previously Reynolds had agreed to take a lease of Kilkea Castle from the Duke of Leinster following the death of the previous tenant, a Mr. Dixon, an elderly man who passed away at the beginning of 1797.

Soon after Reynolds took up residence in Kilkea Castle he accepted Lord Edward’s invitation to take over from him as Colonel of the United Irishmen in the local barony of Kilkea and Moone. At the same time Reynolds was appointed as County Treasurer which entitled him to attend the Provincial Council meetings of the United Irishmen. Reynolds is believed to have passed on information to Dublin Castle regarding a planned meeting of the Provincial Council in Oliver Bond’s house in Bridge Street, Dublin. As a result members of the Leinster Directory including Peter Ivers from Carlow, Laurence Kelly from Laois, George Cummins from Kildare and Peter Bannan from Portarlington were arrested on 12th March.

Two days later Thomas Reynolds met Lord Edward Fitzgerald at the home of Dr. Kennedy in Aungier Street, Dublin when Lord Edward gave him a letter for the County Kildare rebels. On 17th March Reynolds left Dublin for Kilkea and stopped overnight in Naas. There he was met, to Reynolds’ surprise, by Matthew Kenna who told Reynolds of a meeting of the County Committee arranged for March 18th at the house of Reilly, a publican, near the Curragh of Kildare. Reynolds attended the meeting, although he must have been somewhat concerned that his colleagues would suspect his involvement in the Dublin arrests six days previously. However, nothing untoward happened to Reynolds and he afterwards arranged a meeting of local rebel captains in Athy for 20th March. The meeting, held in the back room of Peter Kelly’s shop in the main street of Athy, was arranged to coincide with the town’s monthly fair. Having read Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s letter to the meeting Reynolds then pressed the south Kildare captains to allow him to step down from the organisation, citing the earlier arrest in Oliver Bond’s house as his reason for wanting to do so. However, his unsuspecting colleagues decided that he should continue, but allowed him to share his position as Colonel of the United Irishmen with Dan Caulfield of Levitstown.

On 3rd April 1798 the Commander of the Government troops in Ireland issued a decree requiring all weapons to be handed up within ten days. At the same time Colonel Campbell of the 9th Dragoons stationed in the local barracks in Athy had notices distributed throughout the town, informing all and sundry of the military ultimatum. However, little or no attempt was made to comply with the military directive and so on 20th April soldiers were sent out from Athy’s military barracks to live at free quarters amongst the local people.

Rather surprisingly Colonel Campbell sent a troop of the 9th Dragoons and a company of the Cork Militia to Kilkea Castle, the home of Thomas Reynolds. Commanded by Captain Erskine they arrived on 20th April and used the famous Norman Castle as their base for the next eight days. Reynolds’ biographer was later to recount that ‘the friends and acquaintances of the officers, their wives and children and those of the soldiers came daily from Athy to see the Castle and feast at my father’s expense.’ As well as the free quartering of troops, searches for arms continued and no restrictions appeared to have been imposed on the soldiers. Contemporary accounts graphically recount the military’s plundering of goods which were brought to the Army Barracks in Athy. Erskine and his troops finally left Kilkea Castle on 28th April and moved into the Geraldine residence of Thomas Fitzgerald at Geraldine where they remained for the next thirty days.

On 3rd May Thomas Reynolds set off for Dublin to lodge a claim with the Dublin Castle authorities arising from the military occupation of Kilkea Castle. On the road out of Athy he met up with Wheeler Barrington from Fortbarrington House. Wheeler was the brother of Jonah Barrington who was later to be a judge of the Admiralty in Ireland and whose colourful career is recounted in his book ‘Personal Sketches of his Own Times’.

Just beyond Naas Barrington and Wheeler met Mr. Taylor, an attorney from Athy, who like Reynolds was a member of the Athy Yeomanry Cavalry. Taylor informed them of rumours circulating in Dublin concerning Reynolds’ arrest in Athy. As a consequence Reynolds changed his plans and stayed overnight in McDonnells Inn in Naas. Subsequently the Athy Yeomanry Cavalry of which Reynolds was a member were disbanded for suspected disloyalty to the Crown at a time when their captain Thomas Fitzgerald of Geraldine House was under arrest.

Quite a number of local men were arrested around this time and lodged in Whites Castle jail. Reynolds’ son claimed that the arrested men implicated his father in rebel activities and as a result Colonel Campbell sent a party of Dragoons to Kilkea Castle on Saturday, 5th May to arrest him. Marched back to Athy under escort early that Saturday morning, Reynolds informed on Peter Kelly and pointed out his shop as the place where local United Irishmen held meetings. Kelly was immediately arrested and his shop premises was burnt to the ground but not before the stock and furniture in it had been removed and taken to the local barracks.

Following his arrest Reynolds wrote to William Cope, a Dublin merchant and procurer of informers, informing him that he had been arrested and thrown into what he described as ‘the common jail’ in Athy. He asked Cope to send down an order for his release and in another letter Reynolds indicated that he had revealed to Colonel Campbell, the local army commander, ‘the situation I stand in with regard to our business’ and demanded that the Lord Lieutenant order his immediate release ‘for having done the great and essential services to the government’. Subsequently transferred to Dublin by the order of the Chief Secretary, Thomas Reynolds passed out of the life of Athy and its townspeople where his short-lived presence had created havoc amongst the United Irishmen of the locality.

The part played by Thomas Reynolds during the 1798 period must be contrasted with that of the many locals who, as members of the United Irishmen paid, in some cases, the ultimate penalty for their involvement in the planned Rebellion. Reynolds, despite the defence put up by his son 40 years later, is acknowledged to have been an informer. He was however not the only informer in the south Kildare area but undoubtedly he was the highest ranking member of the United Irishmen from this locality to cooperate with Dublin Castle.

As a community we have never commemorated in any permanent way the spirited bravery of our predecessors of ’98 or acknowledged their suffering in a cause which was intended to benefit the Irish people. I know that Athy Urban District Council ten years ago set about to remedy that omission, but unfortunately the current Council is unable to find amongst its €5.4 million annual budget a few thousand euro to erect in the centre of the town an already commissioned memorial to the people of ’98.

The tragedy of ’98 lives on!