Thursday, January 31, 2008

The crisis facing the Catholic Church, as numbers fall

Bishop Eamon Walsh, when addressing the customary small attendance at 12 noon Mass last Sunday in St Michael’s Parish Church, spoke of parochial priests of the Dublin Diocese being reduced by one third of their current number in nine years’ time. Even more alarming was his claim that the already-elderly priests in Ireland’s largest diocese will be less than half their present numbers in 12 years’ time.

Adding to the difficulties facing the Irish Catholic Church into the future is the certainty that those priests who remain at the helm of local parishes in 2020 will almost entirely consist of elderly men. Bishop Walsh spoke of the possible amalgamation of parishes and the employment of lay people in roles unspecified, but presumably roles that are presently occupied by Catholic clergy.

Unquestionably, the Catholic Church in Ireland is facing into an evolving crisis and one which will not easily be resolved. The fall-off in Sunday church attendances has been noticeable for some years past, coinciding with a fall-off in vocations for the priesthood and religious orders.

We have seen the departure of the Christian Brothers from Athy and the closure of the local Convent of Mercy, all due to the failure to secure new entrants for those religious orders.

The possibility is that missionary countries to which Irish priests, nuns and brothers once brought the message of the Gospel may in the future be required to provide religious personnel for the Irish Church.

There is as much need today for missionary work among the Irish people as there was in darkest Africa a few generations ago. One gets the impression that the role of the Catholic Church in Ireland has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

An obedient people born and reared in the Catholic faith had in the past little need for the work of missionaries. The Church marshalled and directed, while the people obeyed, and the nature of the Church’s role remained the same for generations. The unquestioning obedience that once marked the Irish people’s attitude to religion is now gone, yet the Church appears not to have adapted to the change in society.

In our parish, more and more parishioners fail to attend Sunday Mass in the parish church which was built just over 40 years ago with the hard-earned pounds, shillings and pence of once loyal local families. The children of those families are now by and large staying away from the church, the building of which their parents and grandparents worked so hard to finance.

The answer in the short term will undoubtedly give us amalgamated parishes, repeating the experiences of the Church of Ireland in the years following the founding of the Irish Free State. The long-term solution lies with the likes of the relatively youthful Fr Joe McDonald and his peers. The ability to reach out beyond the dwindling congregation at Sunday Masses is the challenge.

Fr Joe’s Sunday sermons have brought a new dimension to church attendances in St Michael’s. In the week following the Christmas holidays, I listened to him give a homily at 12 o’clock Mass which perhaps was the most stimulating and thought-provoking sermon I had ever heard delivered in the parish church. It was a wonderful occasion and many who were at that Mass have commented to me since in similar terms. Our new curate deserves a bigger audience and the hope is that he will get it in St Michael’s rather than elsewhere. After all, the parish church of St Michael’s in Athy holds the unique distinction of having hosted over 160 years ago the first mission held in an Irish parish. Maybe the resurgence of the Irish Catholic Church will start in the town where the Order of the Black Friars have had a presence for the past 750 years.

One man who, like those of his generation, always remained faithful to the church of his birth was Freddie Farrell. He passed away last week aged 78 years. Freddie was a daily Mass-goer who served Mass in the Dominican Church on the very morning that he suffered a stroke from which he would die days later.

A Laois man, Freddie was proud of his county of birth and despite having lived all of his adult life in Athy never lost affection for the O’Moore county. In his younger days Freddie, with his sister Mona, was a champion Irish dancer. Friends of the legendary Rory O’Connor, Freddie and his sister won innumerable feisanna in the 1940s and for a time he taught Irish dancing in the town hall. After attending the Christian Brothers School in Athy, he worked with his father John who had a haulage business and when his father retired in 1961 Freddie took over the business. Ten years previously, Freddie married Betty Blanchfield of St Patrick’s Avenue and they celebrated 55 years of married life in May of last year.

The love of Irish dancing was passed on to his daughter Marie, who currently operates the Farrell Caffrey School of Dancing. Marie was brought to Dublin each week by her father to take lessons from Ireland’s premier Irish dance master, Rory O’Connor.

Freddie also provided transport in the 1960s for the variety group of which Marie was a member and which toured extensively throughout Ireland for almost ten years. Included in that group were the legendary Casey Dempsey and Tom Farrell.

I recall Freddie operating what was previously Dowling’s and later Kehoe’s public house in Offaly Street for a few years in the late 1960s. He operated the haulage business at the same time, extending his business interests into minibus hire and I believe that he may have been the first minibus operator in this area.

A very likeable man, Freddie continued working up to two years ago. Fr Ross McCauley of the Dominican Friary spoke of Freddie when receiving his remains in the parish church as “a man who was always willing to go that extra mile”.

Those who knew Freddie recognised only too well how appropriate it was to describe him in that way. He went out of his way on so many occasions to help others that it could truly be said of him that he was generous to a fault.

Freddie Farrell, champion hornpipe dancer in his younger days, was a very honourable and likeable man and on his passing we extend sympathy to his wife Betty and his family.

On Wednesday 6 February, the Water to Wine Theatre Company will take to the stage in the Civic Theatre, Tallaght for four nights with a production of John MacKenna’s new play Corner Boys. The play is a tragic/comic story of three corner boys and two women set in a small Irish village in 1963 during President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland and his subsequent assassination. The play has a cast of five, including the playwright himself, and the director is Marian Brophy of Carlow.

Corner Boys will go on tour following the run in Tallaght, taking in 20 provincial theatres including three nights in the town hall, Athy, on 3, 4 and 5 March. John MacKenna is one of our most prolific writers, bringing his writing talents to novels, short stories and plays and proving adept at each of these literary genres.

The play Corner Boys will bring back memories for those of us over 50 years of age who will remember Carolan’s corner and O’Rourke Glynn’s corner as the local ‘seats of wisdom’.

A list of theatres across the country where Corner Boys will play can be obtained by e-mailing watertowinetheatre@hotm

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Boom town runs risk of losing community spirit

With a population of 8,256 or thereabouts, the highest figure attained in its 800-year history, Athy has extended its boundaries into countryside which not so many years ago was farmed, ploughed and grazed. The once-compact market town - compact despite its medieval linear-type road pattern, which gave us a long, narrow high street extending from one side of the town to its furthest point - has been extended and reshaped almost beyond recognition. Housing estates have gone up, some with names that have no resonance with the ancient place names of South Kildare, making many of us strangers in our own place. I was embarrassingly made aware of this when, just before Christmas, a visitor to the town asked me for directions to a hitherto-unknown housing estate. I did not know where it was, whether east or west of the Barrow, that permanent watermark which once informed our sense of direction in a locality which we had grown to know so well. Not anymore. The Barrow, translated as ‘the dumb water’, meanders (or more correctly, given last week’s floods, rushes) between river banks that no longer have a close connection with every part of the township of Athy. Like ourselves, the river has lost contact with the newly-developed parts of the town and you know, as a community, we are all the poorer for that.

As the influx of new residents brings the town population figure to heights never before reached, many old and not-so-old bearers of family names which graced community life in Athy for decades have passed on. A month ago, Jack Brogan, whose father Bill came to Athy many years ago to work in his uncle’s forge, died at a relatively young age. John, who had retired as a prison officer, was a nephew of Tom Brogan, who is still remembered by the older generation and whose name is frequently referred to when people reminisce of Athy of 50 years ago and more. Brogan’s forge was an important part of the community life of Athy until it disappeared, as did all the other local forges, with the advent of the motor car.

Jack Brogan was a member of the Athy Photographic Society and the 2007 Calendar produced by the society had a very evocative photograph of Offaly Street by him.

MP Kelly of Booleigh House died last week at 88 years of age. His very active involvement in the local golf club saw him fill various officerships of the club which celebrated its centenary last year. MP was club president in 1978 and 1979 and two years later was elected captain of Athy Golf Club.

Another old Athy family to suffer a bereavement within the last week or so was the Bergin family. The late Agnes Bergin was the daughter of Joe Bergin, formerly of Greenhills House, which, as the name indicates, once stood in the middle of farmland that is now given over to the Woodstock Housing Estates. Joe was land steward for the Sisters of Mercy and the lands at Greenhills had passed to the Sisters on the death of their owner in the mid-19th century. Part of the lands were subsequently donated to the Christian Brothers for the building of the Brothers’ monastery and school in 1862. A further land donation provided the site for St Patrick’s Primary School built in the late 1960s, while Athy UDC and Kildare County Council purchased more of the land for the building of the vast housing estates which emerged from 1969 onwards. These estates included 28 houses in Townparks, completed in 1971, a further 32 houses built in the same area the following year, to be followed by 72 houses now known as Castle Park in 1973 and two years later 50 houses in Greenhills built by the National Building Agency.

The Blanchfield family are another old Athy family, one of whose members passed away last week. Réiltín, who was married to the late Cecil Treacy of Fontstown, a marriage blessed with 12 children, was herself the sixth member of the Blanchfield family which totalled 15 in all. Her funeral to Kilmeade Church on Monday night was attended by a huge number of sympathisers. St Ita’s Church, reputed to have been built in the year of the Rebellion of 1798, could not cater for all those attending, but the arrangements put in place by the local church members were extraordinarily good. Traffic was admirably marshalled by the local men and one could not but be highly impressed by the organisational input of the lay members of the Kilmeade Church.

I noticed a plaque to the side of the main door of the church unveiled during the bicentenary of the church in 1998. I wonder, however, how accurate it is to put the building of the church at 1798, a time when Catholic churches were more likely to be burned to the ground as happened in Castledermot and Athy. It would represent an unusual and perhaps a unique contribution to Irish Catholic Church history to find a church built in the South Kildare area in 1798, which at that time was regarded by civil authorities as a hot bed of rebellious activity.

The site for the church was given by the Kenna family of Kilmeade, who were connected by marriage with Paul Cullen, the first Cardinal of the Irish Catholic Church. The Kennas were substantial land owners in the Kilmeade area, holding over 234 acres of land around the time Catholic Emancipation was granted in 1829.

When I was about 13 or 14 years of age, along with a number of school mates including Frank English, Pat Flinter and Brendan Webb, I travelled to Kildare Town in Tosh Doyle’s hackney car for two or maybe three days to sit examinations for a Kildare County Council scholarship. With us on those trips were Teresa Delaney and Réiltín Blanchfield. I was reminded of this by Frank English an hour or so after Réiltín’s remains were removed to St Ita’s Church and recalled with a jolt that both Teresa and Réiltín from that small group are now dead.

Just over two weeks ago, Réiltín called to give me some much appreciated historical background information. It was not her first time to do so, as Réiltín shared with me an interest in the history of the locality and was always willing to share her knowledge in that regard.

I was in Dublin on Thursday morning when I got word of the death of Josh Hendy whose funeral to Ballintubbert took place that same morning. Josh, like Réiltín, had a great interest in the people and places of South Kildare and indeed Josh featured in a previous Eye on the Past (Eye no 706). He was a wonderfully friendly man who throughout his life participated fully in the sporting and social affairs of his locality. He played Gaelic football with Castlemitchell in his younger days and in later years assisted in the development of the Castlemitchell Hall. Josh was a great friend of Eye on Athy and I was indebted to him for the many occasions on which he shared his knowledge and reminiscences of times past in Athy and Castlemitchell. I extend my sympathies to the families of all the above deceased members of our community.

The passing of so many with names familiar to the older generation at a time when the town’s population is increasing at a rate never before witnessed is a sober reminder to us of the everchanging face of our town. Athy will witness even greater physical changes over the next few years with the construction of an outer relief road and the building of town centre shopping malls. The 800-year-old town, which developed around the second-century river crossing, will be hugely reshaped and changed by these new developments. It is hoped that the community spirit which was always a feature of life in the smaller compact town of Athy of yesteryear will continue to be a noticeable part of provincial life in the expanded and still expanding town of the future.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Athy’s links to the premier’s office in Australia

Athy can lay claim to many important and historical figures from the past, some by birth, many more by association or links stretching back through the generations. One such connection, tenuous as it may seem, linked the Anglo-Norman town with the only British prime minister ever to be assassinated. The luckless individual was Sydney Perceval, who was fatally wounded in the House of Commons by an embittered failed businessman in 1812. The prime minister’s niece, Maria, was the wife of Reverend Frederick Trench, then curate of St Michael’s Parish Church but later to become its rector. Trench was the last elected Sovereign of Athy Borough, which was abolished in 1840 and he was to die 20 years later when his carriage, travelling from his home at Kilmoroney House, collided with the medieval town gate at the bottom of Offaly Street. Following the accident, Preston’s Gate, as it was known, was demolished. Another prime minister with links to Athy was Joseph Aloysius Lyons, who held the premier political post in Australia for seven years from 1932. The Australian prime minister, born in Stanley, Tasmania in 1879, was the fourth child of Ellen Carroll, formerly of Forest, Athy. Ellen was the daughter of John Carroll of Forest and she emigrated to Australia in or about

1850. Clearly, she was a very young girl when she left Athy so perhaps she emigrated with her parents and the other members of the Carroll family. This was the post-famine period when Athy and South Kildare generally experienced a very large reduction in population due to emigration, which was generally centered on Britain and America.

To travel to Australia in the 1850s was the prerogative of convicts, who did so courtesy of the state, or reasonably well-off families who could afford to pay for their own passage to the Southern hemisphere. We know that Ellen Carroll’s sisters Hetty and Mary were also in Australia, for when the future prime minister was 12 years of age he lived with his two aunts in Stanley. The presence of three Carroll sisters in Tasmania would tend to support the belief that the Carroll’s had emigrated to Australia as a family.

Interestingly, I find that upwards of 37 young girls from the Athy area travelled to Australia between 1849 and 1850 as part of an Orphan Emigration Scheme. They were girls sent out from the local workhouse and included in their numbers was Ann Carroll who arrived in Sydney on the ship Lady Peel on 3 July 1849. However, there is nothing to connect her to the Carroll family of Forest.

Joseph Aloysius Lyons’ parents were Michael Lyons and Ellen Carroll, both of whom had Irish backgrounds. Michael was actually born in Tasmania of Irish parents just ten days after they had arrived as Irish immigrants in Tasmania. Joseph’s father initially ran a small farm, but dabbling in business ventures he lost his savings and continuing ill health brought the Lyons family into financial difficulties. This forced his nine-year-old son Joseph to leave the Catholic school at Ulverstone and take up odd jobs to help the family situation. Three years later his mother’s sisters, Hetty and Mary, took him in hand and he was able to return to school. He qualified as a teacher in 1901 and taught for a number of years in various country schools. Allegedly influenced by the Irish radicalism of his mother and his sisters, he became actively involved with the Australian Labour Party in Tasmania. This brought him into conflict with his employers, the Tasmanian Education Department, and resigning from his teaching post in 1909 he stood as a candidate for the Tasmanian assembly. Elected to the assembly, he later became president of the state’s Labour Party and in time minister for education for Tasmania. He was responsible for the building of the first high schools in Hobart and Launceston, two Tasmanian towns with high numbers of Irish immigrants.

Following the Easter Rebellion of 1916, he became vice-president of the Hobart United Irish League and during the conscription controversy which raged throughout 1917, not only in Ireland but also in Australia, he consistently campaigned against the British government’s attempts to increase the intake of troops for the war in France and Flanders.

He became leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party in November 1916 and four years later premier of Tasmania. In May 1928, Lyons resigned from the Tasmanian parliament to contest elections for the Australian federal government. He was duly elected and would be reelected at three further national government elections in the 1930s.

Dissatisfied with some individuals within the Australian Labour Party, Lyons resigned from that party in 1931 and became one of the founders and eventual leader of the United Australia Party, which won the Australian general election some months later. The son of the young girl from Athy became prime minister of Australia on 6 January 1932.

Australia, like every other country in the world, suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, Lyons’ management of the country’s affairs in the years leading up to the Second World War prompted fellow parliamentarian Robert Menzies, himself to be a future prime minister of Australia, to describe Lyons as “the best parliamentarian I have ever known”.

Joseph Lyons travelled to London in 1935 as representative of the Australian government to attend the king’s jubilee celebrations. I have been unable to find out if he took the opportunity to visit Ireland that year, or indeed if he ever visited his moth-er’s homeland. I have also drawn a blank in my attempts to trace the Carroll family of Forest and particularly John Carroll, father of Ellen, Hetty and Mary, the Carroll sisters whom I believe emigrated to Australia in the 1850s.

The Australian prime minister of Irish extraction, and more important-ly from our point of view with a family background centered in South Kildare, died while holding the highest political office in Australia in

1939. He had been in failing health from the previous year and passed away following a heart attack on 7 April 1939. He was buried in Devonport, Tasmania after a memorial service in Sydney and the Australian capital of Canberra.

Joseph Lyons was survived by his wife Enid, whom he had married in 1915 and by 11 of the 12 children of their marriage. Four years after her husband’s death Enid Lyons stood as a candidate for Darwin in the federal general elections and became the first female member of the Australian House of Representatives. She successfully contested three further general elections and on the election of Robert Menzies’ government in 1949 she became the first female cabinet member in Australia. She resigned from parliament two years later and died in 1981.

I would be interested in hearing from anyone who may know anything of the Carroll family of Forest, Athy. Perhaps some members of the prime minister’s family have visited the South Kildare area in the past, or alternatively made enquiries about their ancestors from Forest. If anyone can throw light on the Carroll family, I would welcome hearing from them.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

You take the high road, I’ll take the low road

WHEN 2007 finally ran out, two men long associated with the town of Athy had also reached the end of their life spans. Frank Anderson, the bearer of a noble clan name from Scotland, was indeed a descendant of a Scottish immigrant family from Perthshire.

The Andersons, with the Frasers, Duthies, Duncans, Campbells, Hosies, Neills, Pennycooks and nine other Scottish families, came to Ireland in or around 1851 on the invitation of the Duke of Leinster to take up vacant farms in South Kildare. An interesting tradition associated with the Duncans, Campbells, Hosies and the Andersons related to me some years ago by Frank Anderson, had the four families drawing lots to decide on which side of the River Barrow they would settle. The Duncans and Campbells remained on the East Side, their fellow Scotsmen
crossed the River Barrow.

Frank Anderson was for many years a member and an officer of Athy’s Rugby Club and carried on an Anderson family tradition when he became club captain in 1949/50. The club was founded in the 1880s and among the founding members was R Anderson, who I believe was Robert Anderson of Castlemitchell, an ancestor of the late Frank. Indeed, the Anderson family has figured large in the annals of Athy Rugby Club, with Frank’s father Robert H Anderson as club captain from 1929 to 1931 and Frank as club president in 1967/68.

His brother Leslie occupied the same presidential position on several occasions from 1972
onwards. The Anderson family connection with the club was cemented with the presentation of the Anderson Cup in 1970 for competition between provincial third teams. Frank Anderson, who played junior inter-provincial rugby with Leinster, helped compile with the late Des McHugh, the centenary history of Athy Rugby Club, which for reasons not yet made clear was celebrated in 1980. Frank, who was a member of the dwindling Presbyterian community in Athy, will be sadly missed by all who knew him.

On Christmas Eve, my school friend Noel Scully died after a short illness. Noel, a well-liked figure in the town, was the subject of an Eye in this series early in the year (Eye on the Past no 747). Noel recalled the hardships of the early 1950s and the difficulties he had to overcome to become apprenticed to the butchers’ trade.

He had left school even before the school leaving age of 14 years had been reached and endured hardship and many disappointments before he overcame the disadvantages of economically depressed times to succeed in business. He took great pride in his trade and enjoyment in the pursuit of success on the dogracing track. And success did come his way courtesy of a wonderful greyhound named ‘Dilly don’t Dally’, who gave Noel many important wins as a dog breeder and owner.

I had left the town council before Noel was elected as an urban councillor so had no first-hand experience of dealing with him across the council chamber. However, it was clear from his public utterances that he worked assiduously to promote the town and nowhere was this seen to better effect than in the town twinning ceremony which he presided over during his year as chairman of Athy Town Council. A modest quiet man, Noel was universally liked, not only by his own townspeople but also by those with whom he came in contact, as was evidenced by the impressive attendance of Labour Party national politicians at his funeral. Our sympathies go
to Noel’s widow and family and to the family of the late Frank Anderson.

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving and this year there was a huge Taaffe family surprise with the unexpected arrival home for the holidays of my youngest daughter Carol. She travelled from China to spend a few days in Athy and it was a smashing surprise and undoubtedly the finest gift I could have expected this Christmas.

One other surprise that gave me enormous pleasure was the unexpected gift of papers given to me by Catherine Harrington in the car park of Pettitt’s over the Christmas holidays. It contained a photo of the Athy Social Club Players in April 1958 with the Fr Matthew Cup. The young lady sitting second from the right on the front row was tragically to die in a road traffic accident the following year. Mary Harrington with her friend Breda Kennedy were killed while walking on the Dublin Road near Geraldine Park. Also in that envelope were a number of programmes of the Athy Social Club Players dating from 1953, several of which were signed “Mary Harrington, PO House”.

They were obviously Mary’s own copies of some of the plays in which she took part, the earliest of which was the 1953 production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. This coincidentally was the very first play I saw and it was the 1953 production in the town hall to which my brother Jack brought me over 50 years ago. The next year Mary Harrington featured in The Righteous are Bold, followed in 1955 with a part in Mary Mullan’s play The Clock Ticks Dusk. Later in the same year Mary played Trixie Trevelyn in John McCann’s play Twenty Years A-Wooing.

The final programme for 1956 was for My Wife’s Family, where Mary Harrington again joined on stage a host of Social Club Players, including my secondary school teacher Paddy O’Riordan.

The photograph which was given to me I am reproducing without naming the actors/actresses other than Mary Harrington as there are three persons in the group whom I cannot positively identify. A copy of volume 3 of Eye on Athy’s Past to the first person to give me all the correct names of the Social Club Players of 1958, together with the name of the play which won for them the Fr Matthew Cup that year. A happy New Year to all my readers.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Town was last frontier of Kildare

Athy was quite a new settlement when an Act of Parliament of 1297 noted the various assaults by the Irish on the colonists living within the Marches of Kildare and recognised the need for defensive measures. Certainly the defence of the then village of Athy would have been uppermost in the minds of its inhabitants after the village was burned in 1308. It would be burned four more times in the following 70 years which gives some indication of the vulnerability of the village, located as it was on the dividing line between the Anglo Normans and the native Irish.

The continual harassment of Anglo-Norman settlements had induced a policy of retrenchment by the middle of the 14th century. The policy of withdrawal from more hostile areas to the more easily defended Eastern countryside focused attention on Athy as a settle-ment of strategic importance. Athy consequently became a frontier post in the Marches of Kildare. As a result from the late 14th century onwards the defence of Athy was an important consideration for those who governed it. The frequency of the attacks on the town arising from its geographical location makes it highly likely that Athy was a walled town.

In 1431 expenses of 100 sovereigns were granted to the town for its defence. A further murage reference was noted in 1448 when it is stated that tolls were only to be charged on goods sold within the town of Athy and not those carried through. These references demonstrate that some measures existed for the provision of town defences and although no definite evidence can be found as to the nature of these defences the assumption must be that some form of town defences were in place. The vagueness of the information available to us presents problems in ascertaining the extent and nature of the town’s defences prior to the town charter of 1515. This charter granted by King Henry VIII is the clearest record with regard to town walling in Athy. Throughout this document there are frequent references to the walling of the town. Obviously the wall and its construction were integral not only to the defence but to the civic dignity of Athy. Under the charter authority was given to the inhabitants of the town to raise tolls

.....that they may erect construct build and strengthen the same town with fosses and walls of stone and lime; and provision was also made for financing the maintenance of these walls.

The reason for the provisions for the town wall as stated in the charter was opposition to the malice of our Irish enemies.....

The town charter is of utmost importance to any examination of the history of the medieval walls as it constitutes the only definite documentary evidence we have on the matter. However, no further reference can be found to its construction. Neither the subsequent charters of 1613 or of 1688 refer to the walling of Athy. Apart from Mercator’s map of 1568 we are uncertain as to the state of completion it ever reached.

In 1532 Ossory, in a communication with Thomas Cromwell the Lord Privy Seal referred to the

.....gates of the Earls (Kildare) town of Athye.....

There lies a difficulty in interpreting early documents not only in ascertaining the veracity of details but also the degree of bias inherent in them. When a town is described as being burnt and plundered certain doubts must be entertained as to the degree of destruction. What some writers might represent as a raid others may portray as a scene of rapine, plunder and slaughter. Likewise references to the walling are compromised not only by their scarcity but also by their lack of detail.

However, it is clear that whatever defences were built following the 1515 charter they did not afford sufficient protection against the Irish. In 1546 O’More of Laois attacked Athy burning the town and the Dominican Monastery. The plantation of Laois and Offaly in the mid 16th century put renewed emphasis on the importance of Athy as a military stronghold. The defence of Athy was integral to the success of the Plantation as the town on the Barrow became a vital supply link for the beleaguered English settlers of Laois/Offaly.

Although the military importance of the settlement continues into the 17th century it is interesting to note that writers such as John Dymok in his ‘Treatise on Ireland’ in 1600 gives a description of Athy with no reference to walling.

Athie is divided into two partes by the river of Barrow over the which lyeth a stone bridge, and upon it a castle occupied by James Fitzpierce, ...the bridge of the castle... being the onelye waye which leadeth into the Queene’s county.

Dymok further described a town which because of the wars initiated by the rise of the O’Neills had been beggared low. In the advance of Essex’s army of 1599 he mentions Athy as

A great market towne, but brought by these late wars into thestateofapore village.

However in 1598 an anonymous writer referred to Castledermot and Athy as the: ‘only important towns of Kildare, walled and now ruined’ (Hogan 1878).

Perhaps the frequency of attacks on the town may have reduced Athy to an impoverished state and may also account for the town walls never acquiring a completed state rendering them effective for defective purposes. On the other hand medieval walling, no matter how strong, could always fall to a determined and aggressive attacker. One could further conclude that the west bank of the town, as portrayed in Mercators map, may never have been walled. The bridge at Athy acted as the passage into Laois and that bridge could be more easily held and defended if only the eastern bank of the river was walled. A force concentrated on one bank of the river would be more practical than one having to straddle both banks of the River Barrow. The existence of the towerhouse at Woodstock would have functioned to cover the western approach to the town while the castles at Ardreigh and Grangemellon to the south and at Rheban to the north of Woodstock and the town may have formed a loose chain of defence for the frontier town.

The evidence that Athy was a walled town can be regarded as inconclusive and we may have to await the results of an archaeological ‘dig’ before the issue is decided one way or the other. However, the best evidence available to us would indicate that the settlement on the west bank of the River Barrow was enclosed within walls and the gate on Offaly Street removed in 1860 was in all probability the last remaining part of that enclosure.