Thursday, December 30, 2010

Andrew J. Kettle

It was not the type of book which would normally attract my attention but for whatever reason I picked it off the shelf in a secondhand bookshop.  The name inscribed by a previous owner on the title page immediately caught my eye.  ‘Andrew J. Kettle’ was that name and the book was a book of poetry published in 1876. 

Andrew Joseph Kettle was 43 years old when the book first appeared for sale in the Dublin bookshops.  A prosperous farmer from Swords, Co. Dublin he was a confidant of Isaac Butt and claimed to have encouraged Butt to support tenant rights.  As an advocate of Irish tenants Kettle organised a Tenants Defence Association in north County Dublin in the early 1870s and acted as Secretary for the National Organisation of Tenant Associations throughout the country, including Athy’s group of Tenant activists.  Andrew Kettle became closely associated with Charles S. Parnell following Parnell’s election as Member of Parliament for County Meath in 1875.  In October 1879 Kettle and his colleagues agreed to the merger of the Tenants Defence Associations with the newly established Irish National Land League and Kettle became its General Secretary. 

Kettle, whose memoirs under the title ‘Material for Victory’ was published in 1958 wrote of the political shenanigans which marked the 1880 General Election in the Kildare constituency. 

‘We went to Kildare on a midday train, and had a rare scene with Alderman Harris in the carriage going down.  The Alderman was one of the candidates for Kildare, and he begged and prayed Mr. Parnell to get him adopted with a fanatical fervour I shall never forget.  When we got to Athy, which was the nomination place, we found that Father Farrelly and young Kavanagh had a candidate ready in the person of Mr. James Leahy who represented it for years afterwards.  Mr. Parnell turned to me and said:  “This fat man will be no use.  He will fall asleep in the House.  I must propose you.”  I never meant to go to Parliament if I could help it, and said:  “He will do very well.  You may want me somewhere else.”  He was not half satisfied, and he cross-examined Mr. Leahy as to how he would be able to attend and sit up at night, but the candidate said “Yes” to everything.  So, as his friends were insistent, he had to take him.  Father Nolan of Kildare Town was holding a Harris Meldon meeting at the Market House when we came out, but Mike Boyton moved somebody else to another chair and started a Leahy meeting on the same platform, so after a little Father Nolan said he would not play second fiddle to anyone, so he bid us good-bye and left.’
Kettle was arrested in June 1881 for encouraging the withholding of rents and spent two weeks in Naas Jail before being transferred to Kilmainham where he was detained for almost six months.  He continued to support Parnell after the Parnell split and stood unsuccessfully as a Parnellite in the April 1891 by-election in Carlow.  He died in September 1916, just a little over two weeks after his son Thomas Kettle was killed in France.  

It is Thomas Kettle more so than his father Andrew who is best remembered today.  A Barrister by profession he edited for a time the Irish Parliamentary Party paper ‘The Nationist’.  He also served as a Member of Parliament for four years before securing the professorship of National Economics at Dublin’s National University.  A writer and orator of note, he was described by the essayist Robert Lynd as ‘the most brilliant Irish man of his generation.’

Involved with the Irish Volunteers, as was his brother Laurence, Thomas Kettle travelled to Belgium in July 1914 to procure arms for the Irish cause.  On his return to Dublin he enlisted to fight in France, believing as many others did that by doing so he was helping the Home Rule cause which had dominated Irish political life for decades previously. 

Kettle was killed while commanding a company of Dublin Fusiliers at Ginchy on 9th September 1916.  He was buried while the battle still continued, a most unusual occurrence as it was forbidden by Army regulations.  Subsequent shelling obliterated the burial place and it could never again be found.  Five days before he was killed Thomas Kettle wrote a sonnet to his 3 year old daughter Betty which ranks as one of the finest and most oft quoted poems of the 1914-18 war.

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your mother's prime,
In that desired, delayed, incredible time
You'll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne
To dice with death.  And oh!  they'll give you rhyme
And reason; some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed,
And for the Secret Scripture of the poor.

A bust of the poet and patriot Thomas Kettle can be found in St. Stephen’s Green Dublin.  His niece Josephine Kettle was the mother of our Parish Priest, Fr. Gerry Tanham.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Offaly Street and 1911 Census (2)

In Eye No. 923 I started my examination of the 1911 Census Returns for Offaly Street.  In that article I dealt with the families who lived in the west side of the street, starting with No. 1 Offaly Street and ending with No. 12 next to Janeville Lane.  Today there are 13 houses on that same side of the street.  The extra house I believe may have resulted from the division of a house fronting onto Janeville Lane to give an entrance from Offaly Street.

When I cross to the east side of the street to locate the houses included in the 1911 Census I run into some difficulties.  Houses which extended up beyond what is now O’Connor’s Photo Shop towards the Church of Ireland Hall have long gone.  How many were there, I can’t be sure. 

Also there was a thatched cottage at the back of what is now Beech Grove, separated from the Rectory to its rear by a high wall.  In my young days it was occupied by an elderly woman by the name of Hegarty.   Was she I wonder the Elisabeth Hegarty who in 1911, aged 35 years, occupied with her husband and their children what was the fourth house in the Census Returns for the east side of Offaly Street?  If so, by my calculation there were three other houses between the Church of Ireland Hall and O’Connor’s premises, all of which have long since been removed.  Their demolition, I presume, occurred when the Cinema Company started to build, but never finished, a new cinema in Offaly Street.  Shortage of materials and possibly finance during the 2nd World War left us Offaly Street youngsters with stumps of concrete walls, marked by door openings on which we played during the 1950s.  They remained in place until Beech Grove was built.

In the first house next to the Church of Ireland Hall lived Henry Justin, a railway porter and a member of the local Church of Ireland.  His wife Anne and 5 children ranging in age from 1 year to 8 years lived in the small house with him.  Next door was 34 year old Robert Ivers and his older sister Alice.  He was a slater, while Alice gave her occupation as a dress maker.  Robert would later live in Janeville Lane with his younger sister Fanny.  Bridget Dooley, a widow of 48 years, lived alone in the adjoining house.  The earlier mentioned Hegarty family, headed up by Robert aged 42 years, a clerk and a member of the Church of Ireland, lived in what I believe was the thatched cottage next to the Rectory wall.  His wife Elizabeth was from Tyrone and of their 3 children, two were born in Cairo Egypt and their eldest boy, aged 9 years, in Hampshire England.  It is likely that Robert Hegarty had been a soldier.  Julia Keating, aged 72 years, lived alone next to the Keogh family.  Patrick Keogh, aged 34 years, was a carpenter from Co. Wicklow, married to 26 year old Mary and they had 4 children ranging in age from 4 years to 5 months.

Timothy O’Brien, a 65 year old widower and house painter, lived with his 3 daughters in what I think may now be O’Connor’s premises.  I’m basing this on the fact that the next house in 1911 was occupied by the Keilthy family, headed by 40 year old Post Office cleaner Patrick.  At the time of the Census his wife Mary, aged 32 years, lived there with their 5 children and a boarder, John Phillips, who was caretaker for the Young Men’s Society.  This was the C.Y.M.S. located in Stanhope Street.

There was no return for the malt house which was obviously not occupied, but next door in what I remember as Mattie Brennan’s house lived the Murphy family.  John Murphy, at 41 years, described himself as a Post Office Pensioner.  With his 30 year old wife, Mary Brigid, they had 3 children from 4 years to 1 month.  Their next door neighbours, in what was a much larger house, were Mr. and Mrs. Kealy and their 8 children.  William Kealy was a commercial traveller, aged 56 years and his wife, 17 years younger, had borne him 5 sons and 3 daughters ranging in age from 13 years to 3 years.

In what is now the music shop lived William McDonald, a retired tradesman of 65 years and his wife Bridget.  Another small house next to the public house and grocery and which has since been demolished housed 8 members of the Doyle family and a lodger.  Thirty year old John Doyle was a yardman, married to 40 year old Mary.  Their eldest child, John, was 8 years of age and he was followed by 5 others, the youngest being 5 months old.  Bridget Hall, an old age pensioner, lodged with the family.

What I believe was the pub and grocery was occupied by Denis Kelly from Barrowhouse, aged 39 years, a grocer’s manager.  Andrew Murphy, aged 34 years, a grocer’s assistant and Thomas Byrne, aged 16 years, a grocers apprentice.  This was, I believe, a pub/grocery owned by Thomas Whelan.

What in my day was ‘Kitty’ Webster’s sweet shop was in 1911 occupied by Edward Dowling, a 63 year old baker and his wife Ellen.  I can recall being shown a wall oven in the small yard of Webster’s shop which may well have been used by Edward Dowling.  In the last two houses in Offaly Street lived Patrick Wall, a 51 year old blacksmith, his wife Catherine and their 14 year old son Patrick, while next door were the Murphy family and several lodgers.  Walter Murphy was manager for a wine merchant and with his wife Catherine had 2 children, Cecil and Desmond.

Brigid Moran was their 24 year old domestic servant, while four boarders, James Bourke, Thomas O’Brien, Peter Timmons and Thomas Smith all described themselves as assistants in shop.  The large number in the last house makes one wonder if the Census Returns had accurately listed the houses in the correct order.  The Murphy family, given the father’s occupation and those listed as shop assistants might well have been living in the only public house in Offaly Street.  But if so, in what premises were Denis Kelly and his grocers assistant and apprentice residing on the night of the Census?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Athy Entries in MacDonalds Irish Gazetteer 1913

MacDonald’s Irish Dictionary and Gazetteer for 1913 published in Edinburgh was the 26th edition of the publication and contained a wealth of information about Irish business life as well as population figures from the 1911 Census.  I came across a copy of MacDonald’s recently in a secondhand bookshop and the entries relating to Athy, as you can imagine, were of particular interest to me.  Spread across two pages it lists every business in the town from agricultural implement manufacturers to watchmaker and jewellers and includes one entry under miscellaneous.  That last entry was for J.S. Doyle of William St., a photographer and how I wish he had photographed the town and the people of Athy and that those same photos had survived to this day.

Local bicycle agents were Duthie Larges and Maxwells of Duke St.,  P.J. Corcoran of Emily Square and Doyle & Sons of Leinster Street were the only Auctioneers listed.  Of Bakers there were no less than 7 listed – Kate Bradley of William St., John Dooley of Leinster St., Michael Dooley of Duke St., Edward Darling of Offaly St., N. Fitzgerald, Duke St., A. Stynes, Leinster St., and Myles Whelan of Duke St..  Surprisingly there was only one bootmaker named only as Murphys of Duke St..  Dressmaking was in the hands of Mrs. Keegan of Woodstock St. and M. MacNamara of Leinster Street.  John Patterson of Emily Square seemed to have the butchering business all to himself and carpentry was apparently confined solely to M. Candy of Leinster Street.  Coach building was well catered for in 1911 Athy with J.P. Glespen in Duke St., William Manders of Offaly Street and Robert Brothers of Woodstock Street.

 As you might expect in pre-war Athy, the pawnbroking business was represented with Doyle & Sons having offices in both Leinster Street and Duke Street. 

Matthew Murray was the only plumber listed with an address at Leinster Street and in the main streets were also to be found saddlers J. Campbell in Leinster Street and P. Prendergast in Duke Street.

Mrs. Darby had a restaurant in Leinster Street, while R.C. Matthews premises in the same street was more particularly described as Tea Rooms.

Leinster Street was the location of the town’s three listed hotels.  Hamilton’s Hotel, Leinster Arms Hotel and the Railway Hotel where J.A. Butler was proprietor offered facilities mostly for the commercial travellers who traversed the country every week in search of business.

Tailors were to be found mostly in Duke St., where John Coleman, Felix Kilbride and Thomas G. Lumley had their premises.  The odd man out was J.W. Coote who was a merchant tailor and outfitter in Market Square.

Hannons had mills at the Barrow Bridge and at Ardreigh, while the hairdressing demands of the day were catered for by T. Keane of 29 Duke Street and M. Mara of Emily Square. 

Watchmakers and jewellers included W.P. St. John of Duke Street with his near neighbour E. Higginson and at Emily Square W.T. Duthie.

As you can imagine the greatest single business activity was that of groceries, wine and spirit dealers, with no less than 50 establishments listed.  That list, tedious perhaps to read, is nevertheless important to record.  T. Brennan, Leinster St., Margaret Coleman, William St., Mrs. Collins, Stanhope St., M. Conroy, Woodstock St., Corcoran Brothers, Duke St., C. Crawley, William St., W. Cunningham, Duke St., James B. Deegan & Sons, Railway Bar, Leinster St., Michael Dooley, Duke St., Doyles of Woodstock St., Doyle Brothers, William St., Denis Doyle, William St., James J. Doyle, Duke St., P. Fitzgerald, Duke St., M.J. Foley, Duke St., S.G. Glynn, Duke St., Michael Hughes, William St., Jackson Brothers, Leinster St., John Kelly, Market Square, Luke Kelly, Stanhope St., M. Kelly, Leinster St., John Langton, William St., E. Lawler, Woodstock St., Michael Lawler, Hibernian Hotel, Leinster St., Patrick Lee, Leinster St., Bernard Luttrell, Shamrock Bar, Emily Square, James McEvoy, Leinster St., John Maher, Leinster St., Michael Malone, Woodstock St., M. Mara, Market Square, Miley Brothers, Duke St., E.T. Mulhall, Barrowbridge House.  Mrs. Murphy, Stanhope St., James Nugent, Leinster St., M. O’Brien, Nag’s Head, Stephen O’Brien, Market Square, Edward O’Connor, Stanhope St., Richard Phelan, Duke St., Purcell Brothers, William St., James Reid & Son, Market Square, W.H. Saunders, Duke St., Scully of Leinster St., Stirling & Co., Barrow Quay, J. Tierney, Stanhope St., Patrick Timmons, William St., David Walsh, Leinster St., Joseph P. Whelan, Offaly St., Myles Whelan, Duke St. and T.J. Whelan, William St.

How many of the 1911 businesses can you recognise and how many have survived to this day?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Memories Project - Scoil Mhichil Naofa

The girls from 5th and 6th class of Scoil Mhichil Naofa Athy have just completed a Memories Project in which grandparents were interviewed on camera about times past.  The project is a pilot scheme before its rollout across the country by the Federation of Local History Societies of Ireland. 

Oral history is accepted as an important source of material, especially for the history of localities and the people of those localities.  The choice of grandparents as the material source is understandable given the knowledge and experience gathered by people of advanced years.  Not everyone interviewed would necessarily see themselves as falling within the elderly category.  I was one of those non believers, for even though I initiated the project with the good help of the Principal Mary English I found myself falling within the age category which was deemed likely to yield useful information about life in Athy 50 or 60 years ago.  Despite the fact that I am a grandfather three times over I have never conceded that my chronological age is so advanced of my mental age as to justify my being described as elderly.  It was a gentle shock to the system to be approached by the class teacher to be interviewed as an elderly member of the community.

The subsequent interview by four young school girls, monitored by a teacher who doubled as camera and sound girl, proved to be a rewarding experience.  I was asked questions I should have asked my parents in their time, questions which brought me back decades to a life which was so different to that I enjoy today.  Forgotten memories of youth came tumbling back as each question prised open a bit further that door behind which recollections and memories are stored just like items no longer in use are put away in the attic and then forgotten.  The two hour interview was a mental cleanout of some of my past memories, ranging over many aspects of life in Offaly Street in the 1950s.  I couldn’t but draw comparison with life today and acknowledge how so much has improved, certainly in the material sense. 

The two up two down home life of the 1950s with an outside toilet and a zinc bath on the kitchen floor on a Saturday night is just a memory.  Hand me down clothes were an accepted part of the sartorial life of a boy who followed three older brothers and the corduroy jackets so popular in the mid 1950s are indelibly imprinted on my mind. 

Nowadays almost every family has a car.  I can remember a time when the only car on Offaly Street was that belonging to Bob Webster who was manager of the cinema in the same street.  The only cars I can recall passing up and down Offaly Street where the young Kellys, Websters, Whites, Moores and Taaffes played football belonged to Archdeacon McGinley, the Church of Ireland Rector and the two doctors, John Kilbride and Jeremiah O’Neill.  I can still see Tadgh Brennan’s car parked, as it was all day, outside his offices (now Toss Quinns) in Emily Square where it would be impossible even to park a bicycle today. 

I am sitting at my desk writing this as snow drifts a few feet high can be seen outside my window.  The house is insulated against the cold and warmed by a central heating system, both of which were unknown to house tenants of the 1950s.  I use the term tenants’ as none of the families in Offaly Street were house owners in the 1950s.  The turf burning range in the kitchen was the only source of heat and the kitchen was where daily life was lived.  The visits to Hickeys butcher shop in Emily Square, to Jim Fennins grocery shop in Duke Street and to Dalys of Stanhope Street for milk can no longer be made.  All have gone, replaced by the ubiquitous one stop shop, the supermarket.  We no longer walk or cycle to work.  The car is king and the roads laid down in medieval times and bridges built in the 18th century for horse drawn carriages still do service today for those who benefit from Henry Ford’s inventive mind. 

Perhaps the biggest change in Irish life today compared to life in the 1950s is the change in people’s attitude to authority.  Whether that authority is Church or State the modern Irish man and woman is no longer the same subservient person who once felt cowed by unquestioned church authority and politicians whose every word and action were believed and trusted. 

Times have changed and attitudes have hardened.  Those of us who enjoyed our young days and have more happy than sad memories tend to look back to the old days with rose tinted glasses.  Perhaps it was because we were young that only good memories have persisted.  We were young and carefree and once we had enough to eat we had little or no concerns.  It was not the same for everyone because truly in the 1950s many families experienced very hard times.  Their memories will be mixed but for all of us there is the realisation that life 50 or 60 years ago was so different than today and as such memories of those days will hold interest for today’s younger generation. 

The Memories Project involving the 5th and 6th class of Scoil Mhichil Naofa could not have been completed without the help of the School Principal and the various teachers involved.  My thanks to the young girls, the teachers and the School Principal for helping to record a part of Athy’s most recent history.