Thursday, December 27, 2012

Photographs - IVI Workers Show 1962, Wallboard Factory Staff Christmas Dinner

The two photographs shown this week were taken in the 1960s.  The first is of a group of I.V.I. workers who took part in a show in the Social Club in St. John’s Lane in 1962.  Both the I.V.I. and the Social Club are now long gone.

The second photograph is of workers from the Wallboard Factory taken at their annual Christmas dinner.  The date is unknown but believed to be in the 1960s. 

Can anyone put names on those photographed?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Zoltan Zinn Collis

‘I can forgive but I can never forget’.  The words spoken with emphasis and simplicity by the survivor of the Belsen concentration camp came back to me when I heard of the death of Zoltan Zinn-Collis.  I was privileged to meet and interview Zoltan some years ago in preparation for an Eye on the man who survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp in the 1940s.  Zoltan with his sister Edith were the only survivors of the Zinn family members arrested and imprisoned during the Second World War.  Zoltan’s story was one of loss – not only the loss of family but also the loss of identity.   He lost both his parents, a baby sister and an older brother, as well as his own childhood.  His mother, whose name he could not recall, died in the arms of Zoltan’s sister Edith on the very day that Belsen camp was liberated by the British Army.

He was one of several children taken from the Germany concentration camp to Ireland by Dr. Robert Collis and lived out his life in a country far removed and far different than the country of his birth.  He never forgot his past – a past inhabited by a mother he remembered but did not grow to know.  Zoltan could never shut out the memories of childhood years spent in Belsen camp.  He could not and would not forget.  He campaigned for many years to bring the atrocities of the Holocaust to a wider audience.  ‘Always remembering’ were the words he inscribed in my copy of Mary Rose Doorley’s book on the survivors of the Holocaust who came to live in Ireland. 

His courage demonstrated itself again and again when he addressed school children in this parish and further afield on the evils of war and the history of the Holocaust.  He spoke movingly of his family and of the thousands who died in Belsen.  His was a personal story, not just of death and suffering, but also of a determination to remind the world of the truth of what happened in Germany during the war.  His message was a simple one – we should never forget, we should never allow the truth to be suppressed. 

Zoltan never gave up on his self chosen responsibility to remind the world of what happened in Belsen and other Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s.  He was a survivor and as a child of the Holocaust he championed the cause of the six million Jews exterminated by Nazi Germany.  To Zoltan the lessons of history could only be learned if the survivors spoke out in testimony to the horrors they experienced. 

Zoltan carried with him throughout his life the visible signs of childhood illnesses which the inhumane conditions in Belsen had developed and nurtured.  Nevertheless he lived a full life in his adopted country where he had arrived as a 4½ year old. 

Zoltan was a brave man whose life was shaped and changed by the awful events of his childhood years.  That he survived and lived the life he did was a mark of his courage and of his inner strength.  He is survived by his wife Joan and daughters Caroline, Nicola, Siobhan and Emma to whom we extend our sympathy.

Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Maxwells Garage

Porters Directory and Guide published in or around 1909 carried an alphabetical list of names of Athy businesses associated with the manufacture and sale of Irish products.  The listing included Athy Brick Works owned by Telfords, manufacturers of machine made bricks, as well as Stephen Hayden’s handmade brick works in  Churchtown.  The only other survivor of the local brick industry which at one time had upwards of twelve competing firms was the Coursetown firm of Mr. Hosie who like his near neighbour Stephen Hayden was also engaged in the manufacture of handmade bricks. 

One of the three local advertisements which appeared in the directory was for S.J. Maxwell, Cycle Agent, ‘successor to A. Duncan, Son & Co. Ltd.’  Duncans were also listed as woollen and general drapers, boot merchants, house furnishers and stationers. 

Sam Maxwell was a native of Dundrum in Co. Tipperary and came to Athy to work for Duncans.  When he took over the bicycle business is uncertain but the advertisement in Porter’s Guide indicates a date prior to 1909.  Interestingly the advertisement apart from listing the cycle manufacturers for whom S.J. Maxwell was  agent also described the firm as ‘Maker of the Maxwell Cycles’.  I wonder if there is any example of the Maxwell bicycle still in the area.  Motor repairs, spare parts and a garage were also part of the Maxwell business, but apparently in those early years as a minor adjunct to the cycle business.

Sam Maxwell later emigrated to Canada and the business of S.J. Maxwell was taken over by his brother James, better known as J.S. who developed the motor business with which Maxwell’s Garage has been synonymous for decades past.  A younger brother Charles also worked in the business and his daughter Doris recalls her father recounting how he drove a party to Fairyhouse Races over Easter 1916.  On the return journey, unaware of the seizure of the G.P.O. by Pearse and Connolly, he encountered a dead horse on the city tramlines and was stopped and questioned by military and police. 
When J.S. Maxwell died suddenly the business was taken over and for a while was run by his sister Isobel, a widow who had previously operated a small shop in Thurles.  Charles Maxwell would in time take over the running of the Maxwell business and expanded it with the acquisition of a Volkswagen dealership in 1952.  Joining Charles Maxwell first as a salesman and later as a director of the business was Johnny Watchorn who had previously worked as a law clerk to Henry Grattan Donnelly, the founder of the firm which still bears his name.  Henry Donnelly was a former Barrister who lost his sight and opened a Solicitors practice in offices rented from Maxwells at Duke Street. 

The Maxwell garage business prospered and one of the scenes remembered by me of Athy in the 1950s was the petrol pumps located on the footpath outside No. 50 Duke Street, directly opposite the Garda Barracks.  It’s an indication of how little vehicular traffic passed down the main street of the town in those days and how much life has changed in the last 60 years.

Charles Maxwell died in 1972 and was replaced as a director of the firm by his daughter Doris.  In 1985 Maxwells acquired the premises formerly occupied by Smiths Garage next to the I.V.I. Foundry.  The underground petrol tanks at Duke Street were filled with sand, the petrol pumps removed as was the Maxwell sign which had graced the premises at 50 Duke Street for almost 75 years of business.

When Doris Maxwell retired in 2005 her interest in the firm first established by her Uncle Sam was acquired by local man Louis Wynne.  Maxwells Garage still under the directorship of Johnny Watchorn and Louis Wynne continues to be an important part of the commercial life of Athy. 

Over the years many people have worked for Maxwells Garage including the fondly remembered Tosh Doyle who drove hackney cars for J.S. Maxwell for many years. Still with the firm after 50 years as a motor mechanic is Jim Archbold and the business which was started as a cycle shop by Alexander Duncan in the last decade of the 19th century continues today as the oldest garage business in the town of Athy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cholera Outbreak 1832 and Michael Carey's Diary Entries

Cholera reached Ireland for the first time in February 1832.  A cooper, living in a Belfast lodging house by the name of Bernard Murtagh, was the first Irish person to die from the disease.  By the following month Dublin had recorded its first cholera death.

In Athy Michael Carey, a member of the local Church of Ireland, kept a journal in which he recorded local and sometimes national events during the cholera outbreak.  To Carey we are indebted for learning that in November 1833 a collection was started for a new church which was consecrated on the 15th of September 1841.  The church was St. Michael’s Church of Ireland at the top of Offaly Street and Carey’s carefully compiled records show that the church steeple was in the course of construction in August 1856.  A bell housed in the newly constructed steeple was first rung for divine service on 22nd March of the following year.

Michael Carey’s journal entries in connection with the outbreak of cholera in Athy are regrettably incomplete.  The disease appears to have reached the south Kildare town in May 1832, just a month or so after it had been confirmed in Dublin.  Only a few of the local deaths were noted by Carey and the first recorded was that of Thomas Proctor who died on 22nd May, followed by Christy Barrington who died on the 27th of the same month.  Carey would later write, ‘cholera raging in Athy from May to November 1832’.

During that period he noted the cholera deaths of a number of other local persons.  John Duncan died on 19th November 1832 and is recorded as having been interred the same night.  This was in keeping with the measures put in place to stem the spread of cholera.  The Central Board of Health had sought support from the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Daniel Murray, for a ban on wakes and the immediate burial of cholera victims.  The Archbishop was loud his claims that the cholera outbreak was a sign of God’s displeasure at the sins of the Irish people.  The fact that the epidemic had originated in India before transferring via Russia to the European continent and Ireland did little to quench the Archbishop’s claim of the Lord’s wrath on a sinful people.

On the 10th of October John Higginson and his housekeeper were noted by Carey as succumbing to the cholera outbreak.  Four days later Carey recorded the death of a Ned Smith.  Pat Dunne, a local slater, died of cholera on the 15th of February 1833, just eight days after Carey mentioned in his journal the death of five unnamed people from Barrack Street.  The cholera outbreak spread to Ballylinan where Dr. Kysney, a local doctor from Athy, attended cholera cases in the county Laois village in January 1833. 

How many died in Athy during the 1832/’33 cholera epidemic is not known, as there was no legal requirement to register deaths at that time.  Throughout Ireland over 66,000 cases of the disease were recorded and of these more than 25,000 persons died.  Almost 80 per cent of the deaths were in Irish cities or towns and places like Athy where water supplied from public pumps was contaminated by sewerage were particularly vulnerable to the spread of cholera.  Athy would have to wait until 1907 to get a piped water supply system for the townspeople.  In the meantime cholera would return to Irish towns and cities in the spring of 1849, by which time Athy had a workhouse, but more importantly, a fever hospital. 

Within a year of the ending of the first cholera epidemic the economic life of the market town of Athy witnessed a revival with the arrival of the first load of corn into the newly built Barrow Quay.  The date recorded by Carey was 20th April 1834.  The Quay was built following the filling in of the Mill Race which had separated White’s Castle from the mill in Athy’s High street.

There is an extraordinary amount of interesting detail in Michael Carey’s journal, not least of which is the following puzzling entry: 

‘25th December 1843 - Chapel next Convent opened’

The Dominicans purchased Mansergh’s house at the end of Tanyard Lane in August 1845 and moved to the property which is still the site of their friary.  Did the entry ‘Chapel next Convent opened’ refer to a chapel opened by the Dominicans at what was then their Convent in Leinster Street or Convent Lane (now Kirwan’s Lane)? 

The minutes of Athy Borough Council for 7th November 1830 record the financing of ‘a new pavement and curb(sic) stone upon both sides of the main street from the Rev. Mr. Kennelly’s(sic) convent to the high bridge over the Grand Canal.’  Fr. John Kenneally was the local Dominican Prior from 1824 to 1842 and Carey’s reference to the opening of the chapel would seem to refer to the Dominican Chapel.  The Borough minute book entry confirms for me that the Dominican Convent was at that time located on the main street, now Leinster Street.  But was it in what is now Fingletons or on the site of Jim McEvoy’s pub?

The history of Athy requires the careful unravelling of layers of fact, fiction and folklore and nowhere is that more apparent than in seeking to understand the journal of Michael Carey who died in 1859.

On Friday at 8.00 p.m. in the Community Arts Centre there will be a celebration in music and words of the literary work of John MacKenna, whose latest book of poetry, ‘Where Sadness Begins’ has just been published.  This event showcasing the talents of Castledermot’s award winning writer, John MacKenna, and Athy’s finest musician Brian Hughes promises to be a great night.  Admission is free.  Do come along.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mark Wilson of Athy and the 1916 Rebellion

We are facing into a series of centenary commemorations over the next 10 years or so.  These will include the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and in 2016 the centenary of the Easter Rising.  As a school boy growing up in Athy the Easter Rising was regarded by our Christian Brother teachers as the most important event in Ireland’s long history.  That history stopped so far as the students of the 1950s were concerned with the 1916 Rising and the subsequent execution of Pearse and his colleagues.  As for the First World War it was never mentioned in the Christian Brothers classroom.

As youngsters we listened to and heard of the events in Dublin in April 1916, seeing them as events which scarcely touched the town, the streets or the families so familiar to all of us.  After all there was no connection with Athy, or so we believed.  However, when I delved further into the detail of Irish history and the minutiae of local history I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Dublin Rising of 1916 did have an Athy connection.  Amongst the outnumbered and outgunned Irish volunteers and members of the Irish Citizens Army was Mark Wilson from Athy.  This information comes to us from the statement made in May 1953 by Patrick Colgan, formerly of Maynooth but then living in Killarney, whose statement is now in the Bureau of Irish Military History. 

The relevant part of the statement dealt with Colgan’s arrest and that of a number of other volunteers who had taken part in the rebellion.  The prisoners were marched via the North Quays to O’Connell Bridge and the statement continues:-  ‘in the rank in front of me was a volunteer in uniform.  When people shouted out at us to keep our heads up he used answer that they were never down.  He was a source of great encouragement to me who could easily have cried at the thought of being driven out of Ireland.  This volunteer was Mark Wilson, a Kildare man, a native of Athy who was living in Dublin.’

Who then was this man from Athy who took part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin?  I have discovered that Mark Wilson and Patrick Colgan were detained in Richmond Barracks Dublin following their arrest and were transferred on the 8th of May 1916 to Stafford Detention Barracks.  Wilson’s Dublin address was given as 48 North King Georges Street and also 2 North Kings Street which leads me to believe that it was a corner building fronting on to both Georges Street and King Street. 

In St. Michael’s Old Cemetery there is a gravestone dedicated to James Wilson who died in 1925, aged 50 years and his wife Margaret who died in 1985, aged 85 years.  They were survived by their daughter Nanny.  Was there, I wonder, any connection between this family and Mark Wilson, the 1916 volunteer?  I would like to hear from anyone who can help identify Mark Wilson, the only Athy man so far known to have participated in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. 

Another interesting piece of material which I have recently come across is the reference to bomb making in Athy during the period the Irish Volunteers were developing in late 1917, early 1918.  Patrick Burke, an Irish Volunteer Lieutenant in Bagenalstown, made a statement to the Bureau of Military History over 50 years ago in which he detailed bomb making efforts by his volunteer colleagues.  With the help of a De La Salle brother in the local school the volunteers contrived to make a quantity of explosive material which was stored away for future use.  He continued:-  ‘Sometime in the year 1917 a man named Eamon Price came down to us from Dublin on a volunteer organising campaign.  When he heard about the powder we had made he told us of chaps in Athy who could cast bombs similar to mills bombs, but cruder and worked with a fuse in which this explosives of ours could be used.  I told him we might be able to do some casting of the bomb in Bagenalstown if I could see how the lads in Athy did the job.  I went to Athy where in a disused building some men were engaged making bomb casings on the pattern of the mills bomb.  With a lathe I made in wood a copy of the mills bomb casing and sent it to the men in Athy to make a casing in metal of the mills bomb type.’

Obviously even then the age old tradition of foundry making, with which Athy is still linked today, brought an involvement in revolutionary nationalism which predated by a few months the start of the War of Independence.  It is rather a pity that the information now being available through the witness statements made over 50 years ago is unlikely to lead to a full picture of events in Athy in those days.  However, I give the information now available in the faint hope that someone, somewhere, might be able to fill in more details about events of the second decade of the last century.

The story of Athy folk’s involvement in the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War is one which will take a lot of work and some luck to unravel.  If you can help identify Mark Wilson or the places or persons involved in the 1918 bomb making in Athy I would be delighted to hear from you.