I happened to be in the Town Council Chamber last week when my attention was drawn to a number of boards on which the names of past Chairmen of that august body and its predecessor, Athy Urban District Council, were displayed. The first Chairman in 1900 was Matthew J. Minch who had served for several years previously as a member of Athy Town Commissioners. That body was the first elected municipal authority for the town of Athy and had been established in 1842 following the abolition of Athy Borough Council two years previously. The Borough Council, which could trace its history back to 1515 when Henry VIII granted a charter to the village of Athy, was comprised of eleven individuals who owed their position as members of the corporation to the town’s landlord, the Duke of Leinster.
On 16th February 1842 a meeting was held in Athy before two Commissioners appointed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at which 21 local men were elected as Athy’s first Town Commissioners. It is interesting to note that amongst those elected were the Parish Priest, Fr. John Lawler and Reverend Frederick Trench, the local Anglican rector. The Town Commissioners first Chairman was Dr. Thomas Kynsey, one of Athy’s local general practitioners.
With the election of Councillor Mark Wall as the current Chairman of Athy Town Council, one of the local newspapers speculated that he was one of only two father/son combinations who ever held that position. Mark’s father Jack held the Chairmanship prior to his election to the Dáil, while Kieran Dooley and his father Paddy were in their time Chairmen of Athy Urban District Council.
I had to go back over the Council records to see if any other local family could emulate the records of the Wall and Dooley families in terms of chairmanship of the local authority. A cursory search of the 20th century records showed that Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill was Chairman between 1912 and 1914, while his son Paddy, a local Solicitor, held that position in 1954.
Going back over the records of the previous century I found that Matthew Minch was Chairman of Athy’s Town Commissioners in 1866 and 1880, while eight years later his son M.J. Minch occupied the same position. Indeed M.J. was Chairman of the Town Commissioners in 1899 and 1900 and of the newly established Urban District Council in 1900 and again in 1905.
Another family record was established by the Mahon family when current Town Councillor James Mahon was elected Chairman of the Council in recent years. His grandfather William Mahon had been Chairman of the Urban District Council in 1938 and 1939.
For some unexplained reason one of the earlier mentioned name boards on the wall of the Council Chamber had omitted to show any details for the years 1933 to 1936. The man in possession of the chair during all of those years was Patrick Dooley who held the position of Chairman of Athy Urban District Council continuously from 1929 to 1936 inclusive. He was a member of the extended Dooley family and was an uncle of the earlier mentioned Paddy Dooley.
One particular record which I thought I had secured for myself was mercifully shown by the records to be one I shared with a Martin Kavanagh. Was he, I wonder, the man of the same name who was proprietor of the Leinster Arms Hotel? In any event Martin, for reasons not recorded, resigned as Chairman of Athy Town Commissioners in 1857. Only one other person has ever stood down from Chairmanship of the Urban District Council. That was myself in 1991. At least both Martin Kavanagh and myself escaped the fate of one previous corporation member, Graham Bradford who in 1738 was put in the local pillory and was subsequently transported to America for committing ‘corrupt perjury’ in connection with corporation business.
Trawling through the incomplete records of Athy’s Town Provost and Town Sovereigns (who were the equivalent of today’s Council Chairman but with much wider powers) one comes across many family names which over the years had several members appointed to head up the local municipal authority.
Arthur Weldon, Rev. Anthony Weldon and Rev. Arthur Weldon were Sovereigns of Athy at different times between 1738 and 1822. The Burgh family vied with the Butlers for the honour of providing most family members for chairmanship of the Borough Council at a time when the ‘rotten borough’ of Athy was comprised solely of individuals appointed by the Duke of Leinster. It was in those days not just a useless body, but also an undemocratic one. Nowadays the needs of democracy are fully satisfied with five yearly elections to the Town Council.