Past editions of local newspapers contain a wealth of interesting material, sometimes useful to a local historian, but more often than not of general interest to the casual reader.
1932 was of course the year of the Eucharistic Congress and the national and local newspapers carried many reports on the preparations for the Congress as the month of June approached. Amongst the non Congress reports which caught my eye in June 1932 was the following. ‘The news that there is a possibility of the Ardreigh Flour Mills being opened at an early date has given great satisfaction generally to the people of Athy and district. So far there is nothing definite, but negotiations are going on between the Chairman and members of the Urban Council and the representatives of the Mills with the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Those Mills, when in full working swing a few years ago, gave employment to over 50 hands, but trade adverses forced the firm to close to the great loss of the general community. Mr. Hannon parted with the Athy branch then to the Board of Works who took it over as Headquarters for the Barrow Drainage.’
The former Hannon Flour Mills were never to reopen. Indeed, soon after the completion of the Barrow Drainage Scheme the five storey stone building at Ardreigh was pulled down. The Athy Mill at Duke Street was in time vacated by the Board of Works and was still lying vacant and unused when I finished my secondary education in the St. John’s Lane Christian Brothers School in 1960.
Politics raised its head at meetings of Athy UDC on at least two occasions during 1932. Early in the year some members of the Council at a specially convened meeting passed a resolution congratulating Eamon De Valera or President De Valera, as he was called, on winning the general election. Dev’s subsequent letter of thanks was read at the following Council meeting, leading to a protest by Mr. Minch at ‘a letter of a political nature being read’ at that meeting. He was supported by Mr. Tierney who further complained that he had not been notified of the special meeting at which the resolution was passed.
Churchtown School Principal and Leinster Street resident Brigid Darby who was an ardent Fianna Fail Councillor, contested Mr. Minch’s claim that De Valera’s letter should not be read at the Council’s meeting. Mr. Minch, although supported by Mr. Tierney, was in a minority, with even Mr. Jackson maintaining that ‘these letters come through in the ordinary course’. Mr. Minch had the last word however, indicating that while he was in the minority, nevertheless he was not going to let the matter pass without protest. It’s noteworthy that on 27th February the same newspaper reported the election of Mr. Minch’s brother Sydney as a T.D. for Kildare.
Brigid Darby who was a personal friend of Eamon De Valera was not a lady to be crossed if reports in the January edition of the Nationalist and Leinster Times were to be believed. During a discussion at a meeting of the Kildare Board of Health on the Relief Scheme operated by the Board to give employment to those out of work, reference was made to Ms. Darby’s claim that the authorities were in favour of giving the unemployed four days rather than two days work each week. One of the members referred to Mr. Darby and William Doyle another member following which George Henderson jokingly said ‘he might have let his courting to some other day.’ The remark caused laughter in the Chamber but prompted a response from Athy U.D.C. and Miss Darby which was probably unexpected.
The Urban Council held a special meeting to pass a resolution ‘protesting in the strongest possible manner against the vile insult offered to Miss Darby as reported in the Nationalist and Leinster Times.’ The lengthy resolution ended with the claim, ‘we might add that when some of those members have returned to the oblivion of which they so lately emerged Miss Darby will still adorn public bodies in Kildare.’ The good lady herself wrote to the Nationalist referring to the ‘inane vulgarities which caused laughter amongst men whose intelligence should at least reach an ordinary standard.’ Explaining her background in public life she ended her letter as follows:- ‘It is quite evident that certain members of Kildare public bodies are prepared to descend to any depths to discredit their political opponents in their absence. Their tactics are as dishonourable as they are cowardly and only ill-bred persons would allow their names to be associated with such meanness. The people who elected such men have little reason to be proud of their choice.’
Miss Darby was a formidable lady whose involvement with various public bodies in the county, including the County Council and the Urban Council, was marked with tremendous strides in the provision of housing and other services in South Kildare during the 1930s.