Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bray House and Its Owners and Photograph of Dunne Family

Driving out of Athy on the road to Castledermot I have passed on many occasions on the left hand side what appears to be the remains of an extensive walled garden.  The 18th century saw the emergence of the walled garden as an essential part of the great country house.  My enquiries as to the history of the estate to which the walled garden belonged went unanswered until quite recently when part of the story behind the walled remains from another age were related to me.  It turns out that Bray House which is the name given to the imposing residence on the right hand side of the Castledermot Road was built sometime in the middle of the 19th century.  Before that however Bray House was a substantial mansion with a walled garden on the opposite side of the road.  It was owned I am told by the Gibbons family and I am led to believe that Bray House and the lands adjoining were in the ownership of the same family for many many years.

How or why the present Bray House came to be built I cannot say, nor can I throw any light on when the original Bray House was built.  I can only assume on the basis of the existing remains of the walled garden that the original house was a very substantial one, possibly meriting the description of a country mansion. 

The Census Returns for 1911 show Kate Gibbons, a widow, as the householder of Bray House.  She was succeeded by a bachelor son who folk memory relates emigrated to London after falling for an English lady.  Another son, a vet by profession, took over the running of the farm and when he died the extensive lands were sold.  Bray farm was purchased by the father of the late Tim Dunne, while the Keating family purchased Bray House and the 80 acre farm which they subsequently sold to Thomas Dunne in 1960. 

Thomas Dunne was one of five children of William Dunne from County Carlow and Mary Ann Cullen from Castledermot who married in 1910.  William was born on a small farm in Coolmanagh, Hacketstown in 1885 and was just 18 years of age when he took charge of a 38 acre farm owned by an elderly uncle.  His marriage to Mary Ann Cullen of Castledermot was blessed with five children, but tragically Mary Ann died on the birth of her last daughter Cathy in 1918. 

The grieving widower sold the County Carlow farm and purchased another farm at Belan, Moone.  Five years later he married Mary Ann Dowling from the Castledermot area but sadly he died just two years after marrying.  His third child Thomas worked the family farm with his older brother Ger for many years and six years after marrying Sheila Doyle of Baltinglass, Thomas Dunne purchased Bray House and the adjoining farm land.  The Dunne family moved into Bray House in March 1961 where Thomas Dunne died in 2003. 

Last weekend Liam and Marian Dunne who are the current owners of Bray House held a family reunion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dunne family residency in Bray.  Over 40 members of the extended Dunne family with links back to William Dunne and beyond visited family gravesites in Athy, Nurney, Moone, Levitstown and Hacketstown, finishing with a family gathering in the Carlton Abbey Hotel.  This venue too had links with the Dunne family as Thomas Dunne’s sister May entered the Convent of Mercy, Athy in 1931 and died there 49 years later as Sister Imelda. 

The photograph shows the family of William Dunne at back from left Ger, Tom, Luke and Cathy and to front Mrs. Mary Dunne and Sr. Imelda.

Last week saw the passing of Eddie Dempsey of Townspark.  Eddie enjoyed a youthful appearance and outlook on life which belied his years and possessed an enthusiasm and a community spirit which benefitted his community and his neighbours for whom he worked tirelessly over many years.  He will be sadly missed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Irish Wheelchair Association and Peadar Doogue

One of the great success stories to come out of Athy in recent decades was that of the Irish Wheelchair Association Branch founded in 1969.  Its later development necessitated the involvement of many locals, all of whom willingly gave of their time and expertise to Athy’s branch of this fine organisation.  One such person was Peadar Doogue whose name over the years has become synonymous with that of the Irish Wheelchair Association.  The genial banjo player from Avondale Drive first came to prominence locally after he picked up the rudiments of banjo playing from the late Percy McEvoy of Carlow.  As a young lad while working in Perry’s, Peadar was a guest player on the Asbestos Factory Show put on in St. John’s Hall in the early 1960s.  Fr. Joe Corbett, the local curate, organised annual Shop and Factory Variety Shows as a fundraiser for the new St. Michael’s Church and by all accounts these shows were enjoyable and important cultural events in which there was huge involvement by locals, young and old alike.

Peadar, who now admits to having been able to play only three tunes on his banjo at that time, sufficiently impressed the late Denis O’Donovan, Pat Hannigan and Maurice Shortt and he was asked to take part in a K.A.R.E. concert which they were putting on in the Grove Cinema.  He protests that his performances had nothing to do with the subsequent demolition of St. John’s Hall and the Grove Cinema!

Peadar’s musical talents were soon thereafter harnessed for the benefit of the local Wheelchair Association branch members and from then onwards he was forever to be linked with the Wheelchair Association.  As a volunteer worker he joined the numerous other local volunteers who helped Sr. Carmel Fallon in her pioneering work for wheel chaired persons.  Fundraising was Peadar’s major contribution to the Association and he recalls with justifiable pride his involvement in the Árd Rí campaign of 1984 when he was elected to represent his native county of Kildare in the National competition.  Sponsored walks held a particular interest for Peadar and he organised local groups throughout Leinster and beyond to meet the ever increasing financial needs of the Association.  These very successful events in which radio personality Donncha O’Dulaing participated were later extended to include an annual international sponsored walk.  The first trip abroad was in 1986 and Peadar participated in the following year’s event and in every subsequent annual overseas walk.  The list of countries in which he has participated in sponsored walks over the last 24 years is highly impressive and ranges from Brazil to China and almost every country in between.

The charity fundraiser extraordinaire worked for 29 years in John Perry’s Garage and in September 1992 took up full time work with the Irish Wheelchair Association.  As a fulltime fundraiser his abilities were thereafter to be wholly devoted to the cause of the Association to which he had committed as a volunteer for the previous 20 years or so.

Peadar was initially responsible for fundraising in counties Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford and Waterford but over time his remit extended to all the South Eastern counties, as well as the Midland counties as far north as County Longford.  Organising local groups and supporting them in their work was a key element of Peadar’s role and his marked success in that regard was a major contribution to the growth of the Irish Wheelchair Association.  The local branch opened its Day Centre, Teach Emmanuel, in April 1988 and its ability to cater for upwards of 20 wheelchair members each day owes much to the work of its wonderful staff and the many volunteers who help the Irish Wheelchair Association in so many ways.

Peadar has played a major part in the continued success of the Irish Wheelchair Association and especially its Athy branch.  The very first fund raiser, a draw held at Christmas 1969, brought in the sum of £190 for Sr. Carmel’s dedicated team of workers.  Today the annual turnover of the Irish Wheelchair Association which operates 65 centres throughout Ireland is in the region of €60 million.  The drive, initiative and pleasant persuasiveness of Peadar Doogue and his colleagues have made the difference to an organisation which provides such important facilities for wheelchair bound persons.

Peadar Doogue, now aged 65 years, has reached retirement age and will now be reverting to the voluntary role within the local Wheelchair Association which has been so much part of his life for the last 40 years or so.  To mark his contribution to this great organisation the members and staff of the Irish Wheelchair Association have organised a retirement party for Peadar which will be held in Athy Golf Club on Friday, 1st April.  Contact Catherine Conlon at Teach Emmanuel if you would like to attend what will surely be an enjoyable night.  Peadar promises to bring his banjo and assures me that he has extended his musical repertoire which however will always include his all time favourite - “The Sash”.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I journeyed to Kilmallock in the County of Limerick last weekend in the company of a number of local historians, anxious like myself to visit a town often described as one of the finest medieval towns in Ireland.  Located on the crossroads to Munster it was once a settlement to rival Kilkenny city for importance.

Like Athy, Kilmallock was founded after the Norman invasion of 1169 and both towns still bear evidence of the early Norman influence with long main streets so typical of the linear layout favoured in Norman times.  The medieval streets of Kilmallock are still in use today and like Athy trying to cope with modern day traffic.

The similarities between Kilmallock and Athy are many.  Both were fortress towns walled to repel invaders and both were granted charters at an early period.  The Munster branch of the Geraldine family held sway in Kilmallock, while it was their Leinster cousins who controlled the town of Athy and indeed the County of Kildare. 

No trace of the town walls remain to be seen in Athy, the Town Commissioners having removed their last remnants in 1860 following an accident at Preston’s Gate when the Rev. Frederick Trench, the local Rector, was killed.  In Kilmallock the line of the town’s medieval wall is preserved for almost its entire circuit of the town.  The best preserved stretch comprises about 600 metres of the west wall.  There were in medieval times five entrances to the walled town and today two of the medieval gates are still standing. 

There are many fine buildings to be seen in Kilmallock, including the two story remains of what was a medieval mansion.  Town buildings of a later vintage indicated prosperity which has apparently long left Kilmallock, leaving behind remnants of a faded grandeur.  However, the most interesting and impressive buildings in the town are the Dominican Priory and the Collegiate Church of S.S. Peter and Paul. 

The latter church predates the Dominican Priory and the substantial ruins incorporates additions made by Maurice Fitzgerald in 1420.  The church’s nave is 80 by 65 ft. with the chancel measuring 49 by 25 ft.  A round tower is incorporated in the church which was raised to the rank of Collegiate Church by papal decree in the 16th century.  Similar churches with Canons attached to them were found in Galway, Kilkenny and Kildare and interestingly during the Reformation the entire college of Canons in Kilmallock accepted Protestant Rule.  Not so the Dominicans whose impressively large priory stands roofless today. 

The Dominicans established their priory in Kilmallock in 1291, approximately 34 years after the Athy priory was founded.  The remains of the 13th century priory are very impressive and include a very fine five light window in the chancel which is quite magnificent.  Indeed the Kilmallock Priory is generally accepted to be the best preserved of all the larger pre Reformation religious houses in Ireland.  Kilmallock, the chief town of the Geraldines of Munster in the 14th century is well worth a visit if for nothing else but to see the magnificent remains of the Dominican Priory. 

Athy and Kilmallock share links not only through their Norman foundation, their Geraldine family connections and their Dominican Priories but also by reference to the famous ‘Kilmallock Chalice’.  Presented to the Kilmallock Priory in 1639 by one of the Geraldine family it was taken to the Dominican Priory Athy in 1812 by Fr. Kenneally who was then Prior of Athy, although nominally attached to Kilmallock.  The Kilmallock Priory had been dissolved during the Reformation, but like their Athy brethren the Kilmallock Friars later returned to the town only to suffer again at the hand of the Cromwellians in 1648.  Two of the local Dominican Friars were killed during the attack by Cromwell’s troops on the walled town of Kilmallock and thereafter the Dominican Priory remained unoccupied.  Fr. Kenneally concluded in 1812 that the Kilmallock Priory was unlikely to be restored and so took the famous Kilmallock Chalice to Athy where it remained until it was sent to the Limerick Dominican Priory in 1864. 

The 1798 Rebellion is commemorated in Kilmallock with several streets named after ’98 martyrs including Sheares Street, Orr Street, Emmet Street, Wolfe Tone Street and Lord Edward Street.  Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the one time Member of Parliament for Athy, visited Kilmallock in the spring of 1798 to organise the local United Irishmen. 

The medieval town of Kilmallock has managed to clear its streets of ESB poles and overhead wires which is something we would all like to see happen in Athy.  The survival of Kilmallock and Athy as urban centres came about as other Norman settlements flourished briefly only to wither and die.  One such settlement was the village of Ardreigh which was the subject of an extensive archaeological investigation.  On Thursday 24th March Marc Guernon who was a member of the Ardreigh archaeological team will give what promises to be an interesting lecture on ‘Ardreigh – the lost village’.  It will take place in the Heritage Centre at 8.00 p.m. and all are welcome.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Larry Griffin - The Missing Postman (2)

Following the disappearance of Stradbally postman Larry Griffin a number of arrests were made.  On 24th January 1930 National school teacher Thomas Cashin and local farmer Edward Morrissey were arrested.  Three days later Patrick Whelan Publican, George Cummins Farmer and Patrick Cunningham were also arrested.  Within days Whelan’s wife Brigid, his daughter Nora and son James were charged and lodged in jail.  Sensationally two Stradbally based Gardai, Edward Delea and William Murphy, were arrested and all made their first Court appearance at Waterford District Court on 7th February 1930.  The Prosecuting Counsel in his opening address claimed that National School teacher Thomas Cashin struck Larry Griffin while local farmer Edward Morrissey pushed him to the ground.  Griffin, he claimed, hit his head off a stove and remained motionless on the ground.  Counsel then made a quite extraordinary claim that Griffin ‘was not beyond medical aid’ and that when he was carried to Cashin’s car ‘he was a live man’.  However, despite six appearances before the District Court no evidence whatsoever was adduced to substantiate these claims.

Only one of the 15 or 23 persons alleged by the State Prosecutor to have been in Whelan’s pub that Christmas night made a statement to the Garda.  James Fitzgerald was called to the witness box on 7th February and immediately claimed to have made his statement under duress and that much of what he had said was false.  In his statement he claimed that Edward Morrissey had pushed Larry Griffin to the ground and that Pat Whelan, the publican coming out from behind the bar cried out ‘you have ruined me, you have killed a man in my house.’  Griffin, he said, was wrapped in a white blanket and put in Cashin’s car which was driven away by Cashin, accompanied by Morrissey.  Larry Griffin was never seen again. 

Near the village of Stradbally were several disused mine shafts, a legacy of the local copper industry which flourished up to the 1870s.  Deep disused shafts were to be found at Tankardstown and nearby Ballinasilla and it was there that the Gardai’s search for Larry Griffin’s body was initially concentrated.  In the meantime the ten Defendants were remanded in custody to appear again at Waterford District Court on 14th February.  At that second Court hearing Dr. John McGrath, a pathologist based in Mercers Hospital Dublin, was unable to give conclusive blood test results on clothing removed from some of the Defendants and items taken from Whelan’s pub.  The Defendants were again remanded in custody for another week and by now busloads of sightseers were descending on Stradbally as national and international newspapers carried the story of the missing postman.

The mine shaft at Tankardstown was inspected by Garda Brazil who was lowered down 130 feet when he encountered a ledge beyond which he could not go.  Further investigation was discontinued and the search moved to the Ballinasilla mine shaft.  The expertise of a Mr. Frank Morgan of Liverpool was now used and Morgan was lowered down the Ballinasilla shaft to a depth of almost 250 feet.  Water was reached at that point with a depth of another 150 feet or so.  However, the Liverpudlian advised that the narrow shaft was in a very dangerous state and so the  part of the shaft underwater could not be inspected.

The District Court sat on 21st and 28th February and on both occasions Prosecuting Counsel sought further remands in custody so that information as to the possible location of Griffin’s body could be followed up.  The ten prisoners made their fifth Court appearance on 7th March when Thomas Finlay asked the Judge for a final remand so that information made available to the Gardai within the previous five days could be checked out.

On 14th March with Griffin’s body still untraced the State formally asked the Court to withdraw all charges.  The case remained open but without Larry Griffin’s body further legal proceedings were unlikely to arise. 

James Fitzgerald, the only person to make a statement to the Gardai about Larry Griffin’s disappearance, left his native village in March 1930 and never returned.  The two Gardai who were in Whelans pub that Christmas evening were dismissed from the Garda Siochana.  I first visited Stradbally village in 1958 in the company of John W. Kehoe and was shown the fireplace in Whelan’s pub against which my informant claimed Larry Griffin fell.  However, I was not told that the fireplace was a later replacement for the stove which the Gardai had taken away for forensic examination in January 1930.

A Judge in a subsequent libel action brought by some of those accused of Larry Griffin’s murder criticised the people of Stradbally whom he claimed ‘closed up like an oyster’ and who with low public spirit ‘declined to help the police’.