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.