Monday, May 24, 2010

Eye 907

The Kildare County Show offices will be opened at Leinster Street, Athy in premises which in recent years was home to Gerry O’Sullivan’s video business. Courtesy of the present owners Raggett Builders and the County Show Committee the premises will also be shared on Saturdays with Athy Lions Club. This voluntary charitable organisation has been operating in Athy since 1971 and will hold its second hand book sale on the premises each Saturday from 12noon until 5pm commencing on 8th May.

The Lions Club Book Sale has in the past been an annual event held over a weekend and has always been welcomed by many local people who enjoy reading. For a few Saturdays commencing on Saturday 8th May the Lions Book Sale will be held in the Leinster Street premises and as in the past Club members would welcome donations of paperbacks or hardback books of any description.

Over the weekdays the County Show Offices will be open in the same premises to provide information and help for anyone willing to book exhibition space or enter any of the events scheduled for the County Agriculture Show on 20th June. The Kildare County Show is fast approaching its centenary and it has gone from strength to strength since its recent revival following a lapse of some years. The colourful event has enjoyed a great following, not only by the rural communities but also by the people of Athy town who take immense pride in what is one of rural Ireland’s finest agricultural shows.

The co-operation between the Agricultural Show Committee and the local Lions Club is a fine example of community action and the addition, albeit for a temporary period, of a second hand book shop amongst the shopping experiences on the main street of the town will be most welcome.

Amongst the recent donations of books to the Lions Club was a signed copy of John Minihan’s photographic essay on Athy and its people which was published in 1996. ‘Shadows from the Pale’ with an introduction by Irish writer Eugene McCabe is a book of photographs taken by John Minihan in Athy over a 35 year period. The photographs of local people and buildings were exhibited throughout the world and evoked a highly positive response, including a claim by Harold Hobson, the noted critic, that Minihan’s photos were ‘sublime’.

‘Shadows from the Pale’ is a most important photographic record of our town and the book signed by John Minihan will be available for sale with all proceeds going to local charities. Since the publication of the book 14 years ago I have never come across a copy of the book for sale in any book shop in Ireland or England and so this copy presents a unique opportunity to acquire an extremely rare publication. The book is offered for sale to the highest bidder and given that a local charity will benefit from the sale proceeds I hope that there will be a generous response. Anyone willing to put a bid on this unique book can contact me or else call to the book sales office on Leinster Street on any Saturday from 12 noon until 5.00 p.m. commencing 8th May. The book will be sold to the person making the highest bid and bids will be received up to 5.00 p.m. on Saturday 15th May next.

There will be lots of other interesting books on sale at very reasonable prices at the Lions book shop. One book which however will not be on the shelves is one which I purchased in a second hand book shop in Charing Cross Road, London a few weeks ago. ‘Maces, Swords and Other Insignia of Offices of Irish Corporations’ was published in 1898 by the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland in a limited run of 50 copies for presentation by the author. It was a reprint with additions and corrections from the journal of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland Volume 1 No. 2 and dealt chiefly with maces, swords and office insignia exhibited in the Society’s exhibition held in Dublin in 1895.

My interest in the book stemmed from the extensive coverage given to the Athy mace which was described as ‘one of the handsomest maces in Ireland’. I have previously written of the Athy mace in Eye No. 749 but much of the detailed information in the recently acquired book was not then available to me. The author is generous in his praise of the 18th century mace which in 1898 was to be found in Carton House, then the residence of the Duke of Leinster. He described it as ‘a magnificent specimen of Irish works in the middle of the last century and will probably be regarded as the finest of its kind.’

The mace had several Dublin hallmarks, including a small ‘w’ being the mark of Dublin silversmith John Williamson who made the mace. It was presented by James Earl of Kildare on 29th September 1746 to the Borough of Athy. He had succeeded to the Kildare Earldom following the death of his father in 1744 having served as a Member of Parliament for Athy for three years previously. He was later created the first Duke of Leinster. Interestingly he was father to Lord Edward Fitzgerald and to William the Second Duke of Leinster whose name is recalled in the main streets of Athy, William, Duke and Leinster.

On the rim around the head of the mace is engraved, ‘This Mace presented to John Butler Esq. by the Corporation of Athy – Nov. 1841’. Butler was admitted as one of the twelve burgesses of Athy in 1822 and served as Town Sovereign in 1833 and again in 1841 when Athy Corporation was dissolved. From his son Thomas the Athy mace was purchased by the Duke of Leinster in January 1876. I had always believed that Rev. F. Trench, the local rector, was the last Sovereign of Athy Borough but the presentation of the mace to Butler would tend to cast doubt on this. The Athy mace was sold by Sothebys in London in 1982 and a London silversmith outbid the then County Librarian Sean O’Conchubhair who had been authorised by the then County Manager Gerry Ward to bid up to 10,000 pounds for the unique artefact of local history. It was later sold to an American collector who presented it to the Museum of Art in San Antonio in Texas where it is now on permanent exhibition.

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