Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Moat of Ardscull

I turned to Byrne’s ‘Dictionary of Irish Local History’ for a definition of the word ‘moat’ as found in the in the Moate of Ardscull.  It’s a word missing from Byrnes authorative reference book but he does deal with the word ‘motte’, a word championed by archaeologists when writing of fortified earthworks constructed by the Anglo Normans during the late 12th century.  The Ardscull earthworks is generally accepted to have its origins in the late 12th or early 13th century when the Anglo Normans controlled this part of the island of Ireland.  Byrne’s definition of ‘motte’ as a ‘truncated conical mound of earth often motted, palisaded and surmounted by a wooden tower, together with a lower adjoining mound or courtyard known as a bailey’ is less engaging than that included in ‘The Companions to British History’, an epic tome of thousands of definitions, facts and origins compiled by its author the late Charles Arnold Baker.  This amateur historian who died last year aged 90 years defined ‘motte’ as ‘a steep sided mound covered with turf and surrounded by a ditch.  The motte was topped with palisade, occasionally broken by towers, and it contained the owners house.  Below there was commonly an enclosure (bailey) which might, but in early days seldom did, surround the motte.  It was fortified by ditch and bank with a palisade or thorn edge.  This accommodated the garrison and their animals.’

Remarkably, despite general acceptance that the Motte of Ardscull is a 12th or 13th century manmade fortification of Anglo Norman origins, no reference to this enormous structure can be found in medieval documents.  It was only in Cromwellian times that a reference was found to the Ardscull Motte.  In 1654 the Book of General Orders noted a request from the inhabitants of south Kildare for the State to contribute towards the cost of finishing a fort, the building of which had commenced at the Motte of Ardscull.

The motte was mentioned in the Kildare Archaeological Society Journal of 1897 as standing ‘on the summit of the high ground which rises 140 feet above and 3 miles to the north east of the town of Athy.’  It rises to a height of 55 feet above ground level and as such is one of the more substantial mottes in Ireland.

If, as we believe, it was an early example of an Anglo Norman fortification then as the 13th century unfolded it led to the development of the Borough of Ardscull on a nearby site.  The borough was a settlement with a right to self government and entitled its burgess holders to a burgage which was a medieval holding recognisable by a narrow street frontage and a long narrow garden behind the burgess’s house.  Medieval Athy also enjoyed borough status, as did Moone village and recognisable remains of burgage holdings can still be seen at the rear of shops and houses on the southern side of Leinster Street in Athy.  Unfortunately, while there were 160 burgages in the medieval borough of Ardscull, no trace of the borough remains, largely due to deep ploughing over the years which has effectively removed all evidence of the medieval settlement.  Undoubtedly there are underground remains of the settlement which may in time yield up their secrets if an archaeological dig is ever undertaken in the area. 

The borough would of course have had a church and reference is indeed found in the Dublin Diocesan records at the latter part of the 13th century to the Church in Ardscull which was linked with St. Patricks Cathedral in Dublin.  The Church was approximately 1 km. south east of the Motte and while no feature of the Church building survives above ground there is a raised area within the graveyard which is believed to have been the Church site.

While Ardscull would appear to have formed part of the demesnes of the Lordship of Leinster it passed to the de Mohan family through the marriage of Reginald de Mohan to Isabel, the granddaughter and heiress of William Marshall who had succeeded Strongbow as Lord of Leinster.  It was Marshall who founded the borough of Moone and he is also likely to have done the same at Ardscull.

The borough of Ardscull was burned in 1286 and at the same time the nearby village of Narraghmore was also destroyed.  This may have prompted John de Mohan to surrender all the lands he held in the area to the English Crown in 1299.  Soon thereafter the King granted Mohan’s land, which included Ardscull, to John Wogan.  The Wogan family were later believed by some writers to have played a part in bringing the Dominican Order to Athy.  That claim however remains unproven.  Ardscull, as distinct from the Motte, figured prominently in the events of the day and in 1309, on Candlemas Day, Lord John Bonneville was killed at Ardscull by Lord Arnold Powre and his accomplices.  Bonneville was buried in the Dominican Friary in Athy, as were some of those killed six years later at what we now call the Battle of Ardscull, although it took place in nearby Skerries.  Murder always seemed to catch the attention of the record keepers of the day as we have an account of Thomas Wogan and Walter Lenfalt killing thirty of the O’Dempseys of Laois at Ardscull on the Feast of St. Clement in 1346.  The borough of Ardscull was to disappear almost without trace and certainly without any record of its passing, while the neighbouring village of Athy retained its position as the most important Anglo Norman settlement in south Kildare. 

William Beaufort who lived in Athy in the latter part of the 18th century wrote articles, not always favourably received, on matters of archaeological and historical interest.  He prepared a drawing of the Moate of Ardscull and produced a detailed description of the ancient fortification which was included in a revised edition of ‘Camden’s Brittania’, published in 1789.  It referred to two apartments in which Beaufort discovered nearly 2 feet beneath the surface a fire hearth and the foundations of other buildings which unfortunately have all since been removed.  They may have been linked with the  Cromwellian fort work which were the subject of a petition in 1654.

Even the name ‘Ardscull’ provides unanswered questions for there is no general agreement as to its meaning.  John O’Donovan in his Ordnance Survey Letters written in 1837 described the large fort at Ardscull as nothing remarkable except for its size and commanding situation, an opinion which would not be shared by many historians today.  ‘Ard Scol’ he translated as ‘Hill of the Shouts’ or ‘Hill of the Heroes’ as the site of a battle between the Leinster men and the Munster men in the 2nd century which was mentioned in the Book of Lecan.

On Easter Sunday the local churches came together at sunrise on the Moate of Ardscull to celebrate Christian unity.  The last time the Moate had witnessed such numbers was in more warlike days.  Briefly and for a short time only early on that Sunday morning the site of the ancient medieval settlement was once again the centre of community activity as it had been many centuries before.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Eye on the Past 714

Last week the Carlton Abbey Hotel was the venue for a pleasant event organised by the local troop of the Order of Malta. Reference to them as troops conjures up military images but historically the reference is not too far off the mark. Founded as a military order prior to the Crusades as the Knights of Malta to shelter and protect pilgrims travelling on the continent the Knights of Malta have long discarded any pretentions to militarism and now enjoy a well earned reputation as a voluntary medical organisation under the name of Order of Malta.

The Order of Malta came to Athy in the early 1950’s. I heard a reference last week to 1950 as the foundation date but what I do know is that the late Eamon McCauley was the prime mover in setting up the Order of Malta in Athy. Reference to Knights brings to mind images of secret religious organisations which of course the Knights of Malta are not. There are no connections between the Knights of Malta and the Knights of Columbanus, or indeed any other Knights for that matter.

The gathering in the hotel was primarily to make a presentation to the current leader of the local Order of Malta on the completion of thirty years service. The recipient of the presentation and of the kind words expressed by several senior members of the organisation at national and regional level was George Robinson or to give him his rank in the Order of Malta, First Lieutenant George Robinson. He is known by everyone as “Bargy”, but from where that nick-name came or what it means is a mystery to most of us.

Master of Ceremonies on the night was Bargy’s son George who did a first class job. I am always in admiration of the ability of young people today who unlike my generation are extremely confident public speakers. I can recall the fear and dread with which I once faced the prospect of making a speech in public. I now realise it was an unnatural response which was born out of a lack of confidence which seemed to be part of the makeup of those of us who lived through the discouraging decade of the 1950’s. Compared to the confident able young people of later generations, we were not at the races as the expression goes.

Bargy’s record of service with the Order of Malta required a degree of commitment and dedication of enormous proportions which were outlined by the various speakers, one of whom was Pat O’Rourke, another Order of Malta member who will himself in the not too distant future also have thirty years service in the organisation.

The local community is all the better for having the commitment of persons like Bargy Robinson and Pat O’Rourke at its disposal. Congratulations to Bargy on the recognition afforded to him.

This past week I have been immersed in the history of Athy Golf Club, so much so that the stuff is threatening to pour out of my ears. You will understand then why it is that I devote the rest of this Eye on the Past to a man who for many years was an important part of the golfing story which is Athy’s Golf Club. Sean O’Connor was from Labasheeda in County Clare, a place name unknown to me. He came to live in Athy in or around 1950, soon after marrying his wife Mary who was a chemist in the town. He was a young Lieutenant in the Irish Army based on the Curragh Camp. Soon after joining Athy Golf Club he figured amongst the prizewinners when he came second in the competition with a handicap of 22. Winner of a prize put up by some clerical members of the club later in the summer of 1950, Sean O’Connor was described in the local press as “one of the most promising beginners in the club”.

The following year Lieutenant O’Connor, partnering a Captain Lavelle, won an army fourball played in the Curragh Links, by which time his handicap had been reduced to 18. He again hit the headlines a month later when coming second with a score of 67 net in the Collins Cup which was a Curragh Camp competition open to members of the Irish Army and “associates of General Michael Collins”. The latter reference is an interesting one and prompts the question as to how and why associates of the late Michael Collins were identified for inclusion in an Army competition. O’Connor’s score was reported as “the best of any Army competitor, and all the more noteworthy when it was considered that he is only a short time playing golf.”

By 1953 O’Connor, now promoted to Captain, had reduced his handicap to 12 and was a consistent tournament winner on his home course in Athy. He practiced golf a lot, taking his game very seriously and always trying to lower his golf handicap as much as possible. He was a 7 handicapper the following year and by 1956 had become a 4 handicap golfer. Sean O’Connor’s ability at the game of golf allowed him to feature high up in all the golf competitions in which he competed. In August 1957 he went around the 9 hole course in Athy in 38 shots to equal the feat of local golf professional Phil Lawlor achieved just two weeks previously.

His greatest golfing achievements came first in 1964 when he was runner-up in the Irish Army Golf Championship, finishing one shot behind the winner, and thirteen years later when he won the Irish Senior Championship. A two day event played over 36 holes for golfers over 55 years of age Sean O’Connor, by now promoted to Commandant, lead by two strokes after the first days play with a round of 75. He carded a 77 on the second day to finish three strokes ahead of the second place player and so became the only Athy Golf Club member ever to win a national golf title.

Sean, who for several years was treasurer of Athy Golf Club, was elected club captain in 1958 and four years later with a 3 handicap was described in the local press as “Athy’s No. 1 golf player”. He served as president of Athy Golf Club in 1963 and 1964, but perhaps his most important role within the club was that of course manager. It was a job he took very seriously. I can remember sometime in the mid 1960’s at a time when I liked to potter around the course on my own hitting a number of golf balls (which one could do in those days) I came to the 9th hole and stayed there for a while chipping balls onto the green. I was oblivious (or so I still claim) to the notice facing the clubhouse which informed all and sundry that practice was forbidden on the 9th hole. As I chipped away Sean strode from the clubhouse and in the direct manner for which he was well known let me know in no uncertain terms that what I was doing was wrong and not, I can assure you, in terms of my golf swing. Shell shocked, for that was the effect the military man had on any luckless chap who had the misfortune to cross his path, I slunk away, never forgetting the tongue lashing I got from the Commandant.

Sean O’Connor devoted a lot of his spare time to Athy Golf Club. It was a voluntary commitment, much the same as the commitment of men such as George Robinson and Pat O’Rourke to the Order of Malta.

We, in the local community, are all the better for that commitment.

Eye on the Past 715

This week I am showing three photographs which will bring back memories for readers of Eye on the Past. The first photograph is of a group of L.S.F. Members from Athy taken in October 1942 on the occasion of the presentation of First Aid Certificates. Some, but not all of the men have been identified to me, and I would still like to hear from readers who can help to identify anyone in the photograph.

The second photograph was taken in the Showgrounds, Athy in July 1969 during the Athy Agricultural Show. No doubt many of you will readily recognise Anna May McHugh, Tommy Yates, Jim Doherty, Paddy Kehoe and Tom McDonnell, but can you put names on the others in the picture?

What about the third photograph of ladies in a show put on in Athy by the Musical and Dramatic Society? But what was the name of the show, when and where was it performed and more importantly, who are the four ladies behind Diane Donnelly who is sitting in the front?

Eye on the Past 716

I was in London last week and availed of the opportunity to revisit the War Museum on Lambeth Road. A new exhibition on “The Battle of the Somme” which opened on 1st June prompted my journey across the city. Sadly it proved to be a disappointment. Opened to mark the 90th anniversary of the battle in which the French and British forces suffered 600,000 casualties for little or no gain against German losses of 300,000, it did nothing to awaken the horror or the inhumanity of that four month long battle. On the first day of the Somme the Anglo French suffered no less than 57,000 casualties and amongst them was an Athy man Robert Hacket.

The exhibition was largely given over to the works of the war artists including our own William Orpen and a few personal artifacts on display including the last letter of a 22 year old soldier who was killed in the first hour of the battle and the football kicked by a British officer across no mans land as he encouraged his men to advance against the German lines. I left the Museum extremely disappointed and headed back to the city centre, stopping on the way to visit the Methodist Central Hall in Parliament Square.

Described as an imposing square block in the Renaissance style it was built on the site of a Music Hall called the Royal Aquarium and fittingly the Central Hall still continues occasionally to be used for concerts and exhibitions. I am told that many of the larger British cities have Methodist Central Halls, all intended to be places where Methodist visitors and indeed anyone else can visit for services and as a point of contact. The Parliament Square building was opened in 1912 after a fund raising campaign launched fourteen years earlier in Britain and in Ireland which became known as the “Million Guinea Fund”. It was officially called the “Wesleyan Methodist 20th Century Fund” and was intended to raise a guinea from a million contributors to finance the building of the Central Hall in London as a monument to mark the centenary of John Wesley's death.

Wesley was the great evangelical preacher of his day who once passed through Athy while journeying from Portlaoise to Carlow but unusually for him he did not preach in the South Kildare town. The date was Saturday, 25th April 1789. Nevertheless a small Methodist community developed in Athy around the beginning of the 19th century and has retained a constant presence in the town for over 200 years. I was interested to find on visiting the Westminster Central Hall that it holds 50 bound volumes containing the names of those who contributed a guinea towards the “20th Century Fund”. The volumes are cataloged geographically and the pages record not only the donor's names but also his or her signature as individual pages were sent to each participating Methodist community before being returned to London for binding. The pages relating to the Irish contributors were however not to be found, even though the Irish members of John Wesley's Church contributed over £50,000 to the fund. However, Richard Rathcliffe whom I met on my visit and who is the archivist in the Central Hall told me that the monies collected in Ireland were retained to help develop the church's work in the various Irish Methodist circuits. The written records of the Irish donors were not forwarded to London and there is uncertainty as to whether they are still in existence. If they are, Westminster Central Hall and especially Richard Rathcliffe who has written a booklet on “The Wesleyan Methodist Historic Roll” would like to hear of their whereabouts.

The Great Hall located at the top of the grand staircase in the Central Hall was built to accommodate 2,350 persons in a space covered by a dome which is the third largest in London, being exceeded only by that of St. Paul's Cathedral and what was the reading room of the British Museum. The impression created is that of a vast open space, recreating the open air meeting style of John Wesley's ministry of the 18th century.

It was in the Methodist Central Hall that the general assembly of the United Nations held it's inaugural meeting in 1946 and another notable first was the premier of Lloyd Webber's first musical, “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” held in the same hall in 1968. Webber's father was incidentally musical director of the Central Hall at that time.

I remember old folk in Athy, in the 1950's and later, referring to the Methodist Church in Woodstock Street as the Wesleyan Methodist Church. I wasn't aware of any particular significance in the name and indeed some years ago a member of the church assured me that the name Wesleyan Methodist was not correct. He was right as I found out when I read John Rathcliffe's booklet in which he outlined some basic facts about the “20th Century Fund” and the 50 leather bound volumes recording the names of the donors to that fund. In addition in the booklet he gave a succinct history of John Wesley's Church which was founded in 1729 as an Evangelical movement within the Church of England. After Wesley's death in 1791 his followers broke away from the Church of England and formed the Wesleyan Church. Disagreement among the Wesleyans lead to the formation of the Methodist New Connexions in 1797, the Primitive Methodists in 1807, the Bible Christians in 1815, the Wesleyan Protestant Methodists in 1827, the Wesleyan Methodists in 1834 and the United Methodist Free Church in 1837. The last three groups amalgamated in 1857 to form the United Methodist Free Church. In 1907 the Methodist New Connexions, the Bible Christians and the United Methodist Free Church came together to form the United Methodist Church. Eventually the Wesleyans, the Primitive Methodists and the United Methodists came together in 1932 to form the Methodist Church. So it would seem that the old folk in Athy were correct in referring to the Wesleyan Methodist Church which it was up to 1932 but which thereafter was more properly called the Methodist Church.
Another interesting meeting on the day of my visit to the Central Hall was with Mervyn Appleby who gave a delightfully interesting tour of the complex and later spoke to me of the Burslem Sunday School. A pottery town, now part of Stoke-on-Trent, Burslem was visited by John Wesley on several occasions from 1760 onwards and became a great centre of Wesleyan Methodism. The Burslem Sunday School founded in 1787 broke with the Wesleyan Methodists in 1836 in a dispute over teaching on the Sabbath. That is until 1971 when Mervyn Appleby as a young minister had the task of telling the “elders” of the Sunday School of the personal financial liability they would all have to shoulder while they continued to remain outside the mainstream Methodist Church. The Sunday School was closed and the nearby Methodist Church congregation swelled with the intake of the Sunday School adherents who en masse walked on the following Sunday into church to rejoin again the Methodist Church community their ancestors had left almost 150 years previously. It was a wonderful story and one which I hope Mervyn Appleby who played such a central role in the events of 35 years ago will record in writing while his recall of those days is still fresh in his memory.

One man who did record in his own way the life of the people of the Potteries was Arnold Bennett who as a young Methodist attended the Burslem Sunday School. His second novel, “Anna of the Five Towns” published in 1901 dealt with the provincial life of the Potteries and of his experiences there during the first 22 years of his life. Indeed he returned to the Potteries for the background to many of his novels and short stories and in time became the most famous author to come from the pottery town of Stoke-on-Trent.

The Methodist Church in Athy which now forms part of the Portlaoise circuit has recently seen the departure of its Minister Rev. Noel Fallows to Strabane to be replaced by Rev. Louise Donald who is taking up her first appointment. We wish her well in her ministry and also extend good wishes to Monsignor John Wilson who has replaced Fr. Philip Dennehy as Parish Priest of St. Michael's. We have had a number of Canons of the church as Parish Priests in the past but to my knowledge never a Monsignor. Is this I wonder a first for this ancient parish of ours?

Eye on the Past 717

Jimmy Bolger, like myself, is not a native son of Athy. Nevertheless his links with the town go back so far, over 70 years in fact, to justify the abandonment of any claim to being “a blow in”. Jimmy was born in Graiguenamanagh in 1929, the son of Peter Bolger and his wife Kathleen Codd, both of whom worked as gardener and housekeeper respectively for one of the big houses which had survived the scorched earth policy of the Republican Movement in the aftermath of the War of Independence. The Bolger family came to Athy in 1933 to work for Ainsley Verschoyle who had sometime before bought Ardreigh House from local Solicitor Bob Osborne. For the next twelve years or so the Bolgers lived in the gate lodge of Ardreigh House before moving to a number of different addresses in and around Athy after Peter Bolger left Verschoyle's employment to take up gardening work with the Hosie and Shaw families. I was intrigued to hear Jimmy recall his family living in Stanhope Street in the residence attached to the public house owned by Scanlons. They were there for five or six years until Scanlons sold the public house to Noonans and from where Michael Noonan himself recently retired after many years in the business which had been first started by his father who had previously been a member of the Garda Siochana.

Jimmy attended the school in the local Christian Brothers where he recalls the diminutive Br. Nelson who was universally known as “Breezy”, Brothers Egan and Farrell and the two lay teachers, Paddy Spillane and Liam Ryan. Fellow pupils included Tommy O'Rourke, Jimmy Connell, Kevin Walsh, all of whom co-incidentally lived in Stanhope Street, Michael Egan of Leinster Street, Fergus Hayden, Des Noonan and Frank Duffy.

In the late 1940's Jimmy left school to take up an apprenticeship in the hardware and grocery business of Thompson's of Castledermot. One of the commonly sought after positions for young men and women of the day, shop apprenticeships had only then witnessed a change in the age old system where those wishing to be apprenticed to the retail trade paid what were relatively speaking large sums for the privilege of taking up such apprenticeships. It seems rather strange to us in this day and age that a young man or woman availing of the opportunity to train as an assistant in a grocery or hardware shop had to pay a lump sum to the shopkeeper and to work without pay for perhaps the first year of a five or six year apprenticeship. The system had changed during the Second World War and by the time Jimmy Bolger got his first job apprentices received in addition to free board the princely sum of five shillings a week in wages payable monthly in arrears. Five and a half years in the grocery and hardware business in the village of Castledermot provided a good grounding in retailing but more importantly made Jimmy aware of the problems which were part and parcel of Irish provincial life in the early 1950's and of the generosity of spirit which prevailed amongst the sometimes tough commercial patrons of Irish shopkeeping. Nowadays accustomed as we are to the supermarket where everything is checked out and paid for on the spot it is hard to imagine a time when giving and taking credit was almost an essential part of retailing, necessitating the keeping of “the book” into which purchases were noted on a daily basis.

Monday mornings in the grocery business of the late 1940's were spent in weighing out and packing the tea, sugar, flour and butter which in the war years and for some time afterwards were in short supply. Jimmy particularly remembers a time when rationing of some food stuffs was still in vogue and when bread tasted as he described it, “like sawdust”.

In the early 1950's Jimmy left Thompsons and went to work for Floods of Leinster Street. Tom Flood was a Dublin man who had bought what was the Railway Hotel in the 1920's. He carried on a very successful business and became a member of the local Urban District Council, being first elected to that body in June 1934. He died in October 1950 and his son Frank ran the business for a number of years and it was while Frank Flood was in charge that Jimmy Bolger worked in the Leinster Street premises. He was there for about three years when he emigrated to England to be with his girlfriend, local girl Moira Walsh, whose father was porter in the Provincial Bank in Duke Street. He got work in the co-op in Harleden, London and following promotion to Assistant Manager he and Moira got married in Athy in August 1955. Irish workers, despite having made valuable contributions to the industrial life of Britain during and after the war, were still badly treated on the English mainland. “No Irish need apply” was still a common feature of advertisements, whether for jobs or accommodation and Jimmy and his new bride were only too well aware of the discrimination against the Irish when they went looking for a flat. They eventually succeeded but the arrival of their first child prompted the return of mother and child to Athy as English landlords added children to their list of unwanted tenants which for so long had included “Irish and blacks”.

Moira, who was born at Geraldine Road, went back to Athy and within a few months Jimmy who returned for summer holidays got a holiday job in M.P. O'Briens of Edenderry which lasted for six months and effectively decided him against returning to England.

His sister Brigid had started with the I.V.I. Foundry in Athy in 1936 as a secretary to its founder Harry Hosie and twenty years later Jimmy joined the firm as a store man and later took on the role of sales representative on the retirement of Jim Tierney of Emily Row. He was to remain with the I.V.I. until 1973 when he purchased the Pipe Shop from Mrs. Mahon. Three years later he sold the business and when Jim McEvoy acquired what was formerly the Railway Bar at the top of Leinster Street Jimmy went to help him out for a few weeks but he remained there for ten years.

The I.V.I. was the first local industry to start up in Athy in the wake of the decline and ultimate demise of the indigenous brick making industry. For decades brick making provided the only constant, if irregular employment, in and around Athy, apart from farm work and work on the Canals. Captain Hosie as I believe he then was, started Industrial Vehicles Ireland Ltd. in or around 1926 and the business developed and prospered so much that in the 1950's more than 150 men were employed in addition to sales and office staff. It was a substantial element in the early industrial life of Athy and the story of the I.V.I. and its founder who after the Second World War returned as Colonel Hosie, having lost his only son Terry in that war, is a story which I hope to return to at another time.

During his years in the I.V.I. Jimmy also worked part-time for a number of local publicans including John O'Brien of the Railway Bar, his sister Molly O'Brien of the Nags Head and Jim Nelson of Leinster Street. His time with Nelsons coincided with the annual holidays of Paddy Cole, the Carbery man who spent almost twenty five years with Jim Nelson and who after Jim died emigrated to England. I wonder if any of my readers know what ever happened Paddy Cole.

My first memories of Jimmy Bolger centered on the C.Y.M.S., then located at the corner of Stanhope Street. I was reminded of the importance of that club in the life of the young and not so young men of Athy in the 1960's and when in Youghal last week I came across a very vibrant and active C.Y.M.S. operating out of quayside building which on a Sunday afternoon was as busy as I can remember our C.Y.M.S. was forty years ago. Sadly the C.Y.M.S. in Athy disappeared without trace some years after it moved from its original location in Stanhope Street to facilitate the building of St. Michael's Parish Church.

Fundraising for that church commenced in the 1950's under the guidance of senior curate Fr. McLaughlin and continued in the early 1960's under Fr. Corbett, who organised variety shows put on in St. John's Hall. Jimmy Bolger was very active in those shows, helping to organise them and acting as Master of Ceremonies. Some of the local businesses which took part in the variety shows which ran over a period of four years from about 1959 onwards included the Asbestos factory, Bachelor's factory, Bord na Mona factory, I.V.I. Foundry and “the shops”, the last being the combined efforts of the local shop workers and their friends, many of whom from a programme I have of one of their shows never worked in a shop in their life. It was all good fun which gave plenty of enjoyment to the locals and gathered together some funds for the church which opened in 1964.

The man from Graiguenamanagh, like myself, came to Athy when he was a few years old. Our paths crossed, even if decades apart, when I came to live in the house where Ainsley Verschoyle once lived and where probably the young Jimmy Bolger played amongst the gun dogs which I believe once roamed freely around the grounds of Ardreigh House. His story is part of the social patchwork of a town which in recent years has seen an unprecedented influx of newcomers who like Jimmy and myself will hopefully in time become an integral part of our town and its people.

Eye on the Past 900

On Thursday last the Athy branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the first branch of the National organisation. Teach Emmanuel was ‘en fete’ for the occasion as volunteers, past and present, returned to acknowledge the wonderful work undertaken by that most underrated of organisations.

The I.W.A. was founded in 1960 by a small group of wheelchair users who had participated in the first Paralympics Games held in Rome. In September of that year the inaugural meeting of the I.W.A. took place on 10th November 1960 in the Pillar Room of the Mater Hospital Dublin, attended by several members of the Irish Paralympics Games team, as well as a number of civic minded individuals. Given the later history of the Athy branch of the Association it is, I feel, significant that the founding meeting was held in the Dublin hospital established by Mother Mary Vincent Whitty. This was the same Sister of Mercy who came to Athy in 1852 to take charge of the new Convent of Mercy and the nearby Convent Schools.

The Irish Wheelchair Association was founded primarily to improve the lives of people with physical disabilities and today the organisation has a network of 20,000 members with over 2,000 staff and many dedicated voluntary workers supporting and encouraging independence for all. The I.W.A. seeks to improve equality and access for wheelchair users as well as providing employment and housing, while encouraging social interaction. A quarterly magazine ‘Spokeout’ is published and made available to members of the Association.

Pride of place at the 50th celebrations went to Sr. Carmel Fallon and Sr. Alphonsus Meagher, both Sisters of Mercy who were part of the small group who in 1968 established the local branch of the I.W.A. It was these two Mercy nuns who with their colleague, the late Sr. Dolores, formed a girls club in Athy in 1968. The young club members were encouraged to visit wheelchair users in their homes and very soon the possibility of establishing a branch of the I.W.A. in Athy became a reality.

The driving force in setting up the branch was the Co. Galway born Sr. Carmel Fallon who entered the convent in Athy in August 1935. The year was 1969 and very soon the local branch developed as socials for wheelchair users were held in Mount St. Mary’s, annual Christmas dinners were arranged and summer holidays were spent in boarding schools operated by the Sisters of Mercy. None of this could have been done without the help of volunteers, both male and female, who from the very start devoted their spare time and energies to helping Sr. Carmel in her determined effort to provide services for the disabled, while integrating them fully into the local community.

Amongst the early volunteers (and apologies if anyone has been overlooked) were Leo Byrne, Lily Murphy, Mary Malone, Mary Prior, Michael Kelly, Bridget Brennan, John Morrin, Tommy Page, Paddy Timoney, Dinny Donoghue, Phoebe Murphy, Caroline Webb, Peadar Doogue, Fr. Lorcan O’Brien and Fr. Denis Lavery.

The Athy branch was in time to provide a fulltime activity service for the disabled and the first Day Centre outside of the association’s facility in Clontarf, Dublin was opened in Athy. Teach Emmanuel was developed on a site in the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital and represented a partnership between the Health Board and the Irish Wheelchair Association. It also confirmed, if confirmation was needed, that the diminutive nun from the West of Ireland had an admirable record of achievement since arriving in the South Kildare town at the height of the economic war of the 1930s.

In 1992 Sr. Carmel was appointed president of the Irish Wheelchair Association National Organisation and held that position for 10 years. She is now retired from active involvement in the day to day work of the local association, but still retains a kindly watching brief over the work of Teach Emmanuel.

The 50th celebration was graced by the presence of many of the volunteers, past and present, without whose work and efforts over the years the local branch of the Wheelchair Association could never have been expected to survive. That it has survived and indeed prospered, despite depending so heavily on voluntary financial donations and voluntary workers, is a measure of the generosity, not only of the volunteers involved, but also of the Irish public who can always be counted upon to help those who need their help the most. The Athy branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association can be justifiably proud of its many achievements in helping the physically disabled to better integrate with the local community. At the same time the people of Athy and district can take pride in the continuing success of a local organisation whose presence is a welcome addition to the medico social facilities of south Kildare.

Last week I wrote of the new Traffic Management Plan for Athy and referred to an alternative plan proposed by a group which I understood was the Irish Farmers Association. In fact I am told the plan in question arises from discussions within the Athy Traffic Action Committee and has the support of a large section of the business community. I gather their plan has not yet received the backing of the Town Council but perhaps that support will come when the Council members sit down with members of Kildare County Council to consider the Traffic Management Plan prepared by the Council’s consultants.

Hugh Bolger of 6 Offaly Street passed away last week. A native of Ballylinan he worked for many years in the Wallboard factory and his funeral was marked by a Guard of Honour of members of Ballylinan Gaelic Football Club and by the attendance of many of his former work colleagues from the now long closed Barrowford complex. Hugh married Loy Hayden, now sadly deceased, whom I fondly remember as part of the Offaly Street family of the 1950s. She and her brother Seamus lived with their aunt Mrs. Kitty Murphy and her husband Joe at No. 3 Offaly Street before moving to No. 6 when the Taaffes vacated that latter address to move next door to No. 5.

I had departed Athy for ‘foreign parts’, i.e. Naas, before Hugh married Loy and moved into No. 6. I got to know him over the years and he became part of the familiar Offaly Street background at a time when several of the older families were still living there. It is now a street much changed from my young days and the community of which I was a member and of which Hugh was later a welcome part of, has disappeared. Hugh was one of the last links with that street community and his passing is much regretted. He is survived by his daughters Sinéad and Áine and his grandchildren to whom our sympathies are extended.

Eye on the Past 901

This morning I started to write the Eye, intending to relate my experiences of the ‘Open Night’ arranged by the local Toastmasters to which I had been kindly invited. However, just after 7.30 a.m. I got a phone call from a friend advising of the destruction of the Model School and commenting ‘that’s your Eye for next week’. Indeed he was right. The destruction of a local building of architectural importance, being one of several such buildings which formed Athy’s historical character, is a great loss. The relatively slow pace of development in Athy over the years had ensured a good survival rate for the most important elements of the town’s building heritage. The Town Hall, the Courthouse and White’s Castle are just some of the more important urban buildings which have survived and by doing so added an important dimension to the urban fabric of the town.

The destruction of the fine Model School is a terrible loss as the 19th century tudor gothic style building was a fine example of the work of that great architect Frederick Darley. There are other fine examples of his work in Athy, all due no doubt to the patronage of the Duke of Leinster. St. Michael’s Church at the top of Offaly Street, the Presbyterian Church and Manse and the Courthouse were all buildings designed by Frederick Darley. Indeed if one looks at some of the other noteworthy buildings in the town designed by Deane and Woodward and George Wilkinson among others, it can be seen that Athy is well endowed with buildings of architectural merit designed by many of the leading architects of their time.

Model Schools were part of a countrywide scheme proposed by the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland in its report for 1835 which stated: ‘32 District Model Schools should be established, being a number equal to that of the counties of Ireland, that those Model Schools should be under the direction of teachers chosen for superior attainments, and receiving superior remuneration to those charged with the general or primary school.’

Little appears to have been done about the Model School proposal until 1846 when the Commissioners in that year’s report gave further details of the proposed new schools.

‘That in Model Schools, established in the smaller county towns, a male and a female school and an agricultural school should be established – that from all the national schools in the neighbourhood, a certain number of the most deserving pupils be selected and be admitted as free scholars into the District Model School to act as monitors therein and to receive for their services small weekly payments.’

Athy was chosen in 1848 as a site for a District Model School, no doubt due to the influence of the Marquis of Kildare who replaced his father, the Duke of Leinster, on the Board of Commissioners for National Education in 1841. The Duke offered to lease a site for the school on the outskirts of Athy and the Commissioners on accepting the offer allowed the Duke to decide whether to have an agricultural college in the town or a District Model School with an agricultural department. He chose the latter and the building designed by Frederick Darley was erected. It was considered by the Education Commission as ‘very ambitious and needlessly expansive’ but undoubtedly it added enormously to the building heritage of the town which otherwise had very little else to boast of at that time.

The school was officially opened on 12th August 1852 and the first report of the school Inspector Edward Butler described the Head Master’s house as follows:-

‘The house contains on the ground floor a good-sized hall, large dining room, store-room, kitchen, with larder and servants’ room, etc; and two apartments, one for the Head Master, the other for the use of the resident pupil teachers during study hours. The second story, which is reached from the hall by a large flight of stairs, consists of an infirmary, two bed-rooms for the use of the Head Master, a wash-room and a dormitory for the four pupil teachers and four agricultural boarders, who reside on the premises, under the superintendence of the Head Master’.

There were two playgrounds, one for boys, the other for girls. On the first day the school attendance was 13 boys and 1 girl and in school to greet them was John Walsh, the Headmaster and Agnes Reilly, Mistress of the girl’s school. Both were Catholics and indeed in the early years of the Model School the teaching staff comprised Catholics as well as members of the Established Church and Presbyterians. The school attendance increased rapidly so that by 1858 there were upwards of 582 on the school rolls.

The Irish Catholic hierarchy objected to the Model School system and Archbishop Cullen of Dublin encouraged the Sisters of Mercy to open a school in Athy. The Sisters of Mercy arrived here in 1852, although it must be acknowledged that as early as 1844 the local clergy had spearheaded a weekly collection in the town to finance the building of a convent and school for the Sisters of Mercy. The Ballitore-born Archbishop was also instrumental in inviting the Christian Brothers to set up a school for boys in Athy and their arrival in 1861, combined with the earlier established Convent school, soon resulted in the non denominational education system in the Model School giving way to a system catering almost exclusively for members of the non-Catholic community. It was a situation which in more recent years had begun to be reversed as the intake of pupils to the Model School came from many different religious backgrounds.

An infant school was added to the District Model School in 1860 and a Miss Craig was appointed mistress of that section. The agricultural department which catered for young trainees who boarded in the adjoining house ran into financial difficulties after what was a promising start which had seen the farm attached to the school extended to 64 acres in 1855. The agricultural department closed in 1880 and the land was sold at auction.

The loss of the Model School is a terrible blow for the local Church of Ireland community and the school’s pupils and I hope that the fine building which has stood at one of the principal entrances to Athy for more than 150 years will be fully restored at some time in the not too distant future.

Michael Foot, the veteran British labour politician, died during the week aged 96 years. He was a remarkable man of great literary ability, a bibliophile, an erudite socialist and a most honourable politician. I first came across Michael Foot, the writer, when I read his biography of Dean Swift, ‘The Pen and the Sword’ which was published in 1957. He later wrote many more books including the two volume biography of another great British politician and socialist, Aneurin Bevan which confirmed his standing as a writer of exceptional ability. Michael Foot was harshly treated by the British electorate when he lead the Labour party in the 1970 General Election, but that most honest of politicians never deviated from the high principles for which he was noted. How I wish we had a few Michael Foots within the Irish political scene.

Eye on the Past 902

With a name conjuring up images of a breakfast toast maker I was somewhat surprised to find that Toastmasters is a convivial gathering of people, young and not so young, all eager to improve their communications and interpersonal skills. The occasion for my enlightenment was an open night two weeks ago at the local Toastmasters meeting in the Carlton Abbey Hotel. My invitation came courtesy of my youngest son’s paramour Amanda, whom I jokingly refer to as ‘the Essex girl’. I was just one of several invitees that night and no doubt like me they all enjoyed the experience of sharing in the delightful atmosphere which prevailed that night in what was once the refractory of the Sisters of Mercy convent.

The welcome greeting which met each of the visitors that night was just the start of a genuinely friendly encounter with a group of enthusiasts which more than anything else made for a memorable night. The formality of the meeting belied the friendly and cheerful atmosphere. The handing over of the gavel signifying the passing of control of the meeting was just one of the formalities of the night, while reference to the Sergeant at Arms conjured up images of military rather than verbal engagements.

I could see how the well organised Toastmasters meeting can and does help the members to build confidence and skill in public speaking and the overall impression I came away with is of a group engaged in a worthwhile project aimed at helping the individual within the community.

Another open invitation extended to the general public last week was to view the new Community College building just beyond St. Joseph’s Terrace. Constructed over a relatively short period of time the new college building is a wonderful facility containing in addition to the usual classrooms a quite enormous sports hall and a raked auditorium suitable for use for many community related purposes. We have been most fortunate in Athy to have so many new schools provided over the last few years, the Community College being the third such facility to be located at the Tomard side of town in the space of just two years. The Gael Scoil is going strong in its new building, while St. Patrick’s Boys School is soon expected to have, in addition to its recently opened school, a further building extension which will permit all its pupils to be brought together on the one site.

With the opening of the Community College I am reminded that the town got its first sports hall following the demolition of St. John’s Hall when the former Dreamland Ballroom was purchased by the Lions Club and the Parish of St. Michaels in the late 1970s. Since then the local Gaelic Football Club opened its own sports hall in the mid 1980s, while Ardscoil na Tríonóide had a sports hall provided a few years ago. The young people of the area are now literally spoiled for choice when it comes to indoor sports facilities. Hopefully those in charge of these halls can agree on a user plan which will help maximise the benefits to the local people while ensuring that each sports hall is used to the best advantage of students, members and the local community at large.

Paud O’Connor, whose photographic shop in what used to be Granny Evans house in Offaly Street, continues to display an ever changing array of interesting old photographs. One such photograph is that of a Kildoon Gaelic Football team of the 1940s. Five of the players have been identified and as numbered are:- (1) Jack Nolan, (2) Mike Carroll, (3) Patsy Farrell, (4) Matty McCormack and (5) Jim Deering. Patsy Farrell who died over 20 years ago was a grand uncle of Dessie Farrell, the former Dublin footballer who now leads the Gaelic Players Association. Can anyone name the other members of the Kildoon team of 65 years or so ago?

Eye on the Past 903

A few ‘Eyes’ ago (No. 896 to be exact) I wrote of the newly published Dictionary of Irish Biography and drew attention to some of those included in the multi volume publication who had links with the town of Athy. I propose today to delve a bit more into the nine volumes of this indispensible reference work to tell the stories behind some of those who once walked the streets of our town.

Thomas Grattan Colley, previously featured in this column and in the Irish Biographical Dictionary he receives extensive coverage as befitting a man who was a diplomat and a noted writer. Colley, who was born in Dublin in 1781, came to live in Athy with his parents and other family members when the Grattan Colley family home was destroyed during the Rebellion of 1798. They were part of the great influx of Loyalists, who fearful for their safety, descended on the garrison town of Loyalist Athy in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of rebellion. He was educated, we are told, by a clergyman in Athy whom I imagine was Reverend Nicholas Ashe, a local Presbyterian minister. Ashe was also Sovereign of Athy during the early part of 1798 and as such presided over the local Borough Council. To his credit he did what he could to keep the local Loyalist militia from harassing the Roman Catholic population. His efforts, as evidenced in his letters to the Duke of Leinster, left him ostracised by the militant Protestants led by Thomas Rawson of Glassealy, particularly so when he refused to sign a memorial from what was described as ‘The Loyal Protestant Corporation of Athy’, calling on the Dublin Castle authorities to authorise the establishment of an infantry militia in the town which Ashe felt ‘would exclude our Catholic neighbours’.

Grattan Colley studied for a career in law but gave it up to enlist in the Louth militia. His military career was not successful and having married and settled in France he took to writing for a living and for a time acted as a correspondent for the London Times. He was later appointed as the British Counsel to Boston and played an important role in settling the border dispute between America and Canada. After returning to London Grattan Colley according to ‘The Longman Companion to Victorian Literature’ spent many years ‘churning out volumes of commentary on Anglo American affairs and a number of inferior volumes.’ His best known works included ‘Legends of the Rhine’ and his book of reminiscences ‘Beaten Paths and Those who Trod Them’. He died in London in 1864.

Nearer to our time was Dr. Juan Nassau Greene, a farmer and medical doctor who was born in 1918 in Argentina. His parents were natives of Kilkea, his father John being the third generation of the Greene’s to live in Kilkea House. The family returned to Ireland when Juan was a child and the future president of the N.F.A. attended school at Kilkea before going on to St. Columba’s College and later Trinity College. After graduating as a medical doctor in 1941 he enlisted in the R.A.F. and served for the duration of the Second World War in Britain, Burma and India. After the war he worked in St. Patrick Duns Hospital, but retired in 1948 to concentrate on farming.

The Dictionary of Irish Biography gives to Juan Greene the honour of being president of the first Macra na Feirme club in Athy in 1944. However it was, I believe, his father John Nassau Greene who held that position but Dr. Juan did become the inaugural president of the National Farmers Association in 1955.

Soon after his return to south Kildare in 1948 Dr. Juan became active in the Beet Growers Association and that Association in conjunction with Macra na Feirme held a number of meetings which eventually led to the setting up of the National Farmers Association. It was Dr. Juan Greene who at a meeting in the Four Provinces Ballroom Dublin on 6th January 1955 formally proposed the setting up of the N.F.A. He was to be the association’s first president, a position he held from 1955 to 1962.

The Biographical Dictionary states that ‘the subsequent flourishing of the N.F.A. and its successor, the Irish Farmers Association, as powerful representative organisations, owed much to Greene’s idealism, energy and organising sagacity through the formative years. Modest and unassuming he pursued a low key self effacing leadership style, preferring quiet behind-the-scenes negotiation to public posturing and earned wide respect for reasonableness and integrity. His position being full time and unpaid and involving considerable personal expense and extensive travel throughout the country he worked tirelessly to the ultimate detriment of his health.’ Dr. Juan Nassau Greene died in the Richmond Hospital Dublin on 9th November 1979 and was buried in Kilkea cemetery. His premature death deprived this country and especially the Irish farming community of one of the most influential men of his generation.

Another local man, but one I must confess I had not previously known of his Athy connection, was John Semple Jackson, born in 1920, the fifth child of Francis Jackson and his wife Annie of Farmhill, Athy. He was educated in the local Model School which sadly was consumed by flames within the last few weeks. After attending St. Columba’s, Rathfarnham, he returned to Athy to work for a while in his father’s business at Leinster Street. He joined the R.A.F. in 1943 and it is said that flight training over North America stirred a lifelong interest in geology following which he enrolled in Trinity College Dublin from where he graduated with a B.A. in geology and zoology. Appointed to the staff of U.C.D. in 1951 he continued his geological investigations and studies, resulting in the award of a Ph.D. and in 1957 he was appointed keeper in Dublin’s Natural History Museum. Eleven years later he commenced practice as a geological consultant and before long was a member of a number of government working parties for the preparation of inventories of outstanding landscapes and sites of scientific interest in Ireland. He was at various times between 1964 and 1977 the secretary, chairman and national president of An Taisce. He lectured on environmental conservation to architectural students and contributed to radio and T.V. debates on conservation and mining issues. He donated his extensive library to the Department of Geology, University College Cork in 1982 where it is now housed in the John S. Jackson Library. He died suddenly in November 1991 and is buried in County Cork.

I will return to the Dictionary of Irish Biography over the coming months.

I had a query during the week concerning the Athy Social Club Players who performed Mary Mullans’ play, ‘The Turn of the Wheel’ on the last night of the Kildare Drama Festival in 1959. Fortunately I have a programme for that play when it was put on in St. John’s Hall in February 1959. The three act play featured Christine O’Donohue, Jim Gardner, Len Hayden, Jo Lawler, Florrie Lawler, Dermot Mullan, Ger Moriarty and Patsy O’Neill. It was produced by Tadhg Brennan and the Athy performance was followed by a one act Irish adaptation of a celebrated French play.

Do any of the readers remember the performances in St. John’s Hall of ‘The Turn of the Wheel’ and more particularly does anyone have a photograph of the cast of that play? I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help me.

Eye on the Past 904

“McAleese recalls Irish war dead on Turkey visit”, read the headline on the story in last week’s Irish Independent filed from Ankara by Fergus Black. A high point of the Irish President’s three day visit to Turkey was the ceremony at Gallipoli to honour almost 3,500 Irish men who died during the six months of the ill-fated campaign in the Dardanelles in 1915. Some of those men were from the town of Athy and the surrounding countryside.

The Gallipoli Peninsula became a military target following Winston Churchill’s decision to take Turkey out of the war, while at the same time opening up another warfront against Germany. It would take a heavy toll of regular soldiers and of the reservists and volunteers who enlisted following the outbreak of war.

The regular 1st battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers which had been based in Madras India at the outbreak of the war sailed from Bombay and arrived back in Plymouth on 21st December 1914. On 9th April 1915 the 1st battalion was deployed for duty in Gallipoli and on Sunday 25th April 1915 took part in a large amphibious assault on Helles beach intended to land at five small coves at or near the southern tip of the peninsula. The landing at what was designated “V” beach was to be made by boats containing three companies of the 1st battalion Dublin Fusiliers followed by an old collier “River Clyde”, carrying the rest of the Dublin Fusiliers and members of the Munster Fusiliers. The ‘River Clyde’ had holes cut into her sides from which the soldiers were to emerge once the boat had been beached. However, the Turks had anticipated the landing and were in place in well protected defensive positions before the Irish, Scots, Welsh and English soldiers attempted to walk onto the beach. They were met with a continuous and deadly gunfire which gave the Dublin Fusiliers little or no chance. Among the casualties that first day was Lawrence Kelly of Chapel Hill, Athy, son of James Kelly and the former Kate Lawlor. He was just 23 years of age.

The next day the surviving soldiers advanced against the Turks and under continuous fire managed to capture a number of trenches and a nearby village. However, a counterattack by the Turks which started on the 28th of April inflicted further heavy casualties on the advancing soldiers.

On Friday 30th April John Farrell, aged 31 years, of Janeville Lane and Christopher Hanlon, aged 27 years, both from Athy and members of the 1st battalion R.D.F. were killed. An Irish officer serving as surgeon on the ‘River Clyde’, Dr. P. Burrowes Kelly wrote a letter to his father Gilbert Kelly at Ballintubbert giving an account of the landing on the Gallipoli beaches, ‘when (we were) about 60 yards from the shore they (the Turks) opened up on us and such a din of pom poms and bullets I never want to be in again ..... our men were simply butchered and the water was red with blood and the air boiling with bullets.’

The first batch of wounded soldiers from the Dardanelles arrived back in Naas in July 1915 and an account in the Kildare Observer of one of those soldier’s experiences read : ‘the landing was something awful, it was like trying to scramble onto a rock with six hands to every one of yours pushing you back. There was no cover and we the Dublins and the Munsters who were with us suffered terribly.’

The next important date in the chronology of death of local men during the Dardanelles Campaign was 12th July 1915. On that fateful day two young men from this area died in Gallipoli. The Turkish trenches before Acai Baba were captured but Frank Fanning of Convent Lane and another local man Daniel Delaney were killed. By a strange coincidence a photograph of Frank Fanning was recently discovered and is reproduced with this article. Frank’s younger brother John had also enlisted as a drummer boy. He survived the war and returned to Athy where he died in 1955.

After the declaration of war in August 1914 the Dublin Fusiliers raised a total of eleven battalions as part of Kitchener’s call for a new army. Both the 6th and 7th battalions were formed at Naas in August and were assigned to the 30th Brigade in the 10th division at the Curragh Camp. These two battalions were to figure prominently and tragically in the Gallipoli campaign. On 11th July 1915 men of the 6th and 7th battalions sailed from Devonport, England to Mitylene and on 7th August 1915 landed at Gallipoli in Suvla Bay. With the extra troops then available the army launched simultaneous attacks on the Turks from the original landing point at Cape Helles, from Suvla Bay and from the area known as Anzac where the Australian and New Zealand troops had landed. However, the difficult terrain and stiff Turkish resistance soon lead to the stalemate of trench warfare. On Saturday 7th August Tommy Grimes of Ballitore was killed. He was a regular soldier and a member of the 1st Battalion.

On Monday 9th August 1915 two members of the 6th battalion, William Moran of Athy and Michael Kinsella, aged 26 years, of Hallahoise, Castledermot, were killed. Six days later Henry Price, aged 45 years of Ballitore, another member of the same battalion was killed in action.

From the end of August 1915 no further serious action took place and the battle lines remained unchanged. Despite this Patrick Byrne of Kilabbin, aged 32 years, was killed on 29th October 1915. He was the last man from this area to die in the Dardanelles from where the British Army began to evacuate in December 1915.

The Helles Memorial which stands at the top of the Gallipoli Peninsula is an obelisk over 30 metres high which records the names of soldiers killed in Gallipoli who have no known graves. Amongst those commemorated on the memorial are William Moran, Michael Kinsella, Henry Price, Daniel Delaney and Thomas Grimes.

At Cape Helles is the “V beach” cemetery where the remains of Lawrence Kelly, Christopher Hanlon and John Farrell are interned. Frank Fanning is buried in the Twelve Acre Copse Cemetery which is in Cape Helles. This cemetery was developed after the Armistice when bodies were brought in from isolated sites and small burial grounds scattered around the battlefields of Gallipoli. There are 3,360 First World War soldiers buried or commemorated in the cemetery but sadly 2,226 of the burials are unidentified. Frank Fanning’s body was identified and he lies in a marked grave. Patrick Byrne, the 32 year old son of Catherine Byrne of Kilabbin, is buried in Azmak Cemetery, Suvla.

The recent visit of President McAleese to Gallipoli is an important acknowledgement of an almost forgotten part of our national and local history. The men from Athy and the surrounding countryside who died in the Gallipoli campaign had long passed from memory but amongst us today are their descendents who can take consolation from the knowledge that names retrieved from the hidden folds of our forgotten history can now once again claim our respect and remembrance.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Eye on the Past 718

A recent enquiry from New Zealand as to the author of a poem “ My home town in Kildare” required some research which failed to answer the authorship question but nevertheless threw up other material, the results of which now forms the basis for this article. But firstly the poem, the first stanza of which read

“Tonight I am sadly thinking, I don't have much more time
For I am almost eighty and my health is in decline
I think of a place that's far away, old friends and neighbours there
I wonder if they remember me, in my home town in Kildare.”

The initial enquiry was made on behalf of a native of Castledermot, now living in New Zealand and naturally enough my thoughts turned to two men from around that area, each of whom published a book of poetry. “Many Moods in Many Metres” by Thomas Greene of Maganey was published postumously in Dublin in 1902. He had died the previous year aged 58 years. However, references in the Kildare poem to “the forty hours procession” and to “benediction after Mass” were unlikely to be the work of a member of the Church of Ireland so Thomas Greene was ruled out. For much the same reason, George Henry Graham, a native of Castledermot was also disregarded. He was a Methodist whose book of poetry “Lest we Forget” was printed by R.T. White of Fleet Street, Dublin, when I cannot say, but sometime after 1894.
George Graham was an interesting man whose ancestors were in charge of the Post Office in Castledermot for upwards of a 100 years or so before finally losing that position after George's father committed suicide in February 1857. George Henry who was born in the year of Catholic Emancipation 1829, for a long time harboured a desire to emigrate to Australia but following his father's death, he thought hard of leaving his mother. He had two sisters, Elizabeth who married Samuel Cope of Castledermot and Sarah who married Richard Giltrap of Elverstown. His mother, Mary Ann died in 1859 but even then, George for some reason or other postponed his plans to emigrate. We know that he married Ann Marie Brown of Plunketstown and the following lines in his poem“That Old Churchyard” indicate that when in November 1866 George and his wife set sail for New Zealand on the ship “Himalaya” , they left behind in the churchyard in Castledermot the remains of their three young children.
“Within that Church, those vows were made.
Which sweetly during life
With Anna's lot bound up my own
And made us man and wife,
Our children, three short gleams of bliss
Shed on our hearts, on high
Their spirits fled, their little forms
Within that churchyard lie”
George and Anna Graham reached New Zealand in February 1867 and they settled in Waimate which is about ten kilometres inland and almost halfway between Christ Church, Dunedain and Queenstown. Nowadays, Waimate is a small town with a population of about 2,700 served by approximately 50 shops but when the Graham's arrived they were amongst the first settlers in the area. George Graham carried on farming and three years later he was appointed Clerk of the Magistrates Court. He had been involved in Court work while in Ireland, exactly in what capacity I have not found out. He appears to have undertaken many different roles while in New Zealand and apart from farming and working as a Court Clerk, he also worked as a Newspaper Reporter and was appointed a Justice of the Peace. However, it is in his role as an advocate of the Temperance Movement that he is best remembered in present day New Zealand.

He is commonly regarded as the father of Temperance work in Waimate where he took a leading role in the first Temperance meeting held in the town at Christmas 1868. His lifelong involvement in the Temperance Movement was an interesting and very commendable change from his young days in Castledermot where, like most young men of his time, he took drink. But even before he embarked on the “Himalaya” George Henry Graham was committed to the Temperance Movement and indeed spent a lot of his time while on board the ship travelling to New Zealand encouraging fellow passengers to sign Temperance pledges. As a Methodist lay preacher and a temperance reform advocate, Graham was an accomplished public speaker and a regular contributor in print for the cause of temperance principles.

His wife, Anna Marie died in 1873 leaving him with a son George and a daughter Ann Marie, both of whom were born in New Zealand. The young Ann Marie died aged 21 years while George (Junior) achieved fame as one of a team of three men who were the first to reach the summit of Mount Cook in New Zealand.

George Henry was Mayor of Waimate in 1891 and 1892 and in 1894 he returned for his first and only visit to Ireland. That visit was the subject of a poem which he titled “Once more I have seen thee” in which he wrote of the joy and sadness on reliving scenes from the past
“Once more have I seen thee, old Ireland
And wandered along thy dear shore
My glad feet have trod
The rich verdant sod
Of thy hills, plains and valleys once more.

Graham returned to New Zealand where he was elected Mayor of Waimate for the third time in 1894. In addition to this role, he at various times acted as Secretary of the Public Library Committee and indeed he was the first secretary of that committee when appointed in 1882. He was also secretary to the High School Board of Governors from its inception in 1883 until his death and for 25 years was Treasurer of the local Masonic Lodge.

George Henry Graham died on 25th February 1911 at the age of 82 years. On the day of his death, flags were flown at half mast and business premises in Waimate closed for the funeral. At that funeral, the Masonic Lodge attended in full, regalia and the Masonic Service was performed. He was survived by his second wife Louisa and his son George. His obituary in the New Zealand press noted that“his liberalism was always of the sound, progressive, humanitarian kind. His Irish brogue knew how to flatter whilst it preached and the not displeased subject of his shafts would remain smiling though rebuked. He was a man liked by Catholics and Protestants alike”.

His brother William Graham who remained in Castledermot died in December 1891 unmarried aged 71 years. However, the links between the Grahams and the Cope's which were first forged with the marriage of George's sister Elizabeth to Samuel Cope in the 1860's were renewed when Jeanette Graham, grand-daughter of George Henry Graham, herself a New Zealander married Samuel Cope of Knocknagee, Castledermot in 1934. Sadly within three years of their marrige, 41 year old Samuel Cope died. His widow later returned to live in New Zealand.

Castledermot born, Samuel Henry Graham is today remembered in the New Zealand town of Waimate where Graham Street in the centre of the town is named after him.

Eye on the Past 719

Last weeks article prompted the editor (assuming it is he who composes the headlines to accompany the Eye on the Past) to headline my piece on Samuel Henry Graham as “Waxing Lyrical in Castledermot”. Well this week, if I am to follow his lead, the lyric making trundles across country westward to reach the rural outpost of Rheban. Looking up Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in 1837 I find under the heading “Rheban, County of Kildare - See Churchtown”. Now I have always regarded Rheban as quite a distinct area in its own right and certainly as separated as one could hope for from neighbouring Churchtown. But no, when I turn to the entry for Churchtown I found it described thus - “Churchtown or Rheban, a parish in the Barony of West Narragh and Rheban containing with part of the post town of Athy 2009 inhabitants of which number 706 are in the town. This parish is situated on the River Barrow and contains 7245 statute acres”.

So now you have it, Rheban and Churchtown are interchangeable names for the parish of - well what is it to be – Rheban or Churchtown? If we look to the past for something by which to rate the claims of either Churchtown or Rheban to primacy insofar as the parish name is concerned, then the evidence weighs heavily in favour of Rheban. After all Rheban was believed to be a site of the ancient town of Raiba noticed on Ptolemys map as one of the principal inland towns of second century Ireland. It was also of course the site of Rheban Castle built by the St. Michael family, the original Lords of the Manor or landlords of these parts.

Churchtown on the other hand does not appear to have any great claim in history, except that it's name is obviously an indication of an ancient ecclesiastical settlement in the area. Then there was the musical tradition of Churchtown which gave us the Churchtown Pipe Band. But nearer to our own time the sporting prowess of Rheban, exemplified in the Rheban G.A.A. Club started back in 1929, guarantees for the Parish of Rheban an unqualified acceptance of it's right to be known as such rather than the Parish of Churchtown.

I was put in mind of all of this when following the recent death of Dan Foley, his widow Bernadette passed on to me a copy of a ballad called simply “The Rheban Victory Song”. What, I wondered, gave rise to the ballad, the answer to which was readily to be seen in its lines.

It was apparently composed in 1940 by Pat McEvoy of Rheban whom I am told was one of the famous McEvoy brothers and whose brother Mick was one of the stars of the Rheban football team which brought the first silver cup to the club in the form of the 1940 Junior Championship. The club had been formed eleven years previously in the wake of County Kildare's victories in the All Irelands of 1927 and 1928. Imagine, not just one senior All Ireland but two in succession for the shortgrass county which has suffered a dreadful drought ever since.

The Moore brothers, John and Tom, were the prime movers in setting up the Rheban club and older brother John was the first club chairman, while Tom was elected secretary and treasurer, positions he would hold for over 50 years. The club played junior football and suffered defeat in the Junior Championship Finals of 1937 and 1938. Two years later the club contested the Junior Final for the third time and their opponents, Ardclough, proved so difficult to defeat that the first match ended all square. The replay took place three weeks later when Rheban came out winners by scoring 8 points to Ardclough's 1 goal and 1 point.

The Rheban football panel included Alf Kane, Mick Hickey, Owney Pender, Tony Keogh, Mick McEvoy, Billy Marum, Tom Hickey, Arthur Lynch, Hugh Owens, Pat Fitzpatrick, Paddy Myles, Jack Foley, Willie Moore, Jim Kane, Pat Connolly, John Cardiff, Billy Tierney, Joe Barry and Pat McEvoy. Pat McEvoy composed the Rheban victory song to mark what was a famous occasion in the history of Rheban club.


The fame of old Rheban has spread round Kildare
Of games they have played in towns here and there
In Narraghmore, Ballytore, Newbridge and Naas
But, to tell of the final, I must leave some space
Ardclough are the victors away in the north
They are hopeful of winning the final - but trath
The're forgetting that Rheban have won out the South
But bedad they'll remember, before 'tis played out
The big day is here, it has come to decide
The team that will conquer, the team that must bide,
Our gallant supporters are here in their throngs,
To cheer us to victory and right all our wrongs.
The whistle is sounded, the ball is thrown in
Ardclough, they are up, and, for a win
With a goal and a point up in five minutes play,
Sure they're yelling already that we've lost the day.
But alas for their hopes sure their cheers are in vain,
For our captain has rallied us all to the game,
And now we settle down to good football and fast
For ours is a team that strikes to the last.
From that bad beginning we show them some style
With point after point we wipe out their smile
Too late they discover when we take the lead
That nothing can break down our spirit or speed
The men of the moment are Myles Fitz and Lynch,
With the backs and the goalie not giving an inch
Our forwards are playing like All Ireland men
Sure the likes of that game we will ne're see again.
There goes the whistle, the game it is done
Hurrah for old Rheban, Good men one and all
Undaunted, they've kept on tho' many a fall
Now to conclude with three cheers for the names
of the men who helped us and brought us to fame
Ber Kane ever faithful, Tom Moore for his brains
And Tom Mack for his field where we always could train.”

Following last weeks article I was delighted to get a phone message on the morning the paper reached the local shops giving me the name of the writer of the ballad, “My Home Town in Kildare”. Later in the week I discovered that sadly the Castledermot man who wrote the ballad died last year but his widow gave me the background to the ballad's composition which if you remember from last week found its way to New Zealand from where an enquiry had come as to its origin and composer. Now the story can be told and I hope to do so in the near future.

In the meantime ballads, songs and poems feature large on the horizon for Colm Walsh whom I am told is putting together a CD of the many such works relating to Athy and South Kildare. It promises to be an interesting bringing together of the musical and poetical effusions, ancient and modern, relating to this area and it's people. Keep an eye out for the CD which I am sure will be in the shops in time for the Christmas period.