Thursday, October 25, 2012

Athy's Hidden Gems and Forgotten People

In last week’s article I mentioned the ‘Hidden Gems & Forgotten People’ project which is shortly to be officially launched by the Federation of Local History Societies of Ireland and the Ulster Federation of Local Studies.  Both bodies operating from different parts of our island are national organisations catering for local history societies.  The Ulster Federation and its sister Federation in the south has in the past cooperated on a number of historical projects, most recently being the digitisation of photographs taken as part of ‘Our Place’ project.  This was a photographic study of modern Ireland using the Lawrence photographs of 100 years ago as the comparative basis to show Ireland then and now.  The results are on the National Library network for all to view.

The ‘Hidden Gems’ project is one which allows local history societies and individuals alike to bring to local and national attention interesting but lesser known places and those forgotten people whose personality and past achievements merit being remembered today.  The almost 150 member societies of the Federation of Local History Societies of Ireland are participating in the Project which has been up and running on a trial basis for the past few months.  The initial results can be viewed on the website  Anyone with an interest in participating in the project is invited to submit suitable material to Larry Breen who is managing the project on behalf of the Federation.  He can be contacted at 8 The Paddocks, Naas, Co. Kildare or by E-mail at  Written submissions should not exceed 500 words and should be accompanied by a photograph or sketch.

Submissions were made for Athy and inevitably they included the man whom I regard as epitomizing much that was best in the world of 19th century Ireland.  Rev. Thomas Kelly of Ballintubbert is a prime example of the‘Forgotten People’ who in their time made a very real contribution to Irish life.  He established his own breakaway group from the Anglican Church and for over 50 years headed up the ‘Kellyites’.  As a native of Ballintubbert it was inevitable that when he opened churches for his followers Athy was chosen as well as Portarlington, Waterford and Dublin.  Kelly is perhaps best known today for his extensive contribution to church hymnology than for his leadership of the Kellyite congregations which faded away soon after his death in 1856.  Thomas Kelly is buried in the churchyard of Ballintubbert Church. 

Another Athy man included in the developing ‘Hidden Gems & Forgotten People’  portfolio is Patrick O’Kelly of Kilcoo whose book ‘1798 Rebellion’ gave us a detailed account of events in this area during the ‘Year of Rebellion’.  Kelly was the author of a number of books, all of which were published in Dublin prior to his death in 1851.  However, he is largely forgotten today and it is principally through his now rare ’98 book that he is remembered by serious students of Irish history.

The former Quaker meeting house built in 1782 was another Athy inclusion in the ‘Hidden Gems’ project.  Bert House, built between 1720 and 1730 for Burgh family was also included as another local hidden gem.  The large mansion on the Monasterevin Road is a residence of some importance which at one time was the home of Lord Downes, the former Chief Justice of Ireland.

Two structures, one of which was long overlooked, the other largely ignored, were included as hidden gems because of their uniqueness.  The cock pit located in the premises of Griffin Hawe in Duke Street is believed to have been a 17th century building, constructed at a time when cock fighting was still the favourite pastime of the gentry.  The building which was restored over 40 years ago by Kildare County Council under the guidance of the then county architect, Niall Meagher, is worthy of inclusion of one of Athy’s hidden gems. 

Often seen, but seldom admired, is the Horsebridge, or more correctly the One Horse Bridge, which spans the River Barrow where it meets the Grand Canal.  The original bridge arches were reduced as part of the Barrow Drainage Scheme of the 1920s in order to alleviate flooding.  The well worn path across the bridge allowed a horse pulling a canal boat to make the transition from canal to river and vice versa.  It is surely a hidden gem of late 18th century stone masons work. 

The ‘Hidden Gems and Forgotten People’ project is one which gives everybody an opportunity to bring before a wider public, interesting or inspiring individuals of the past and interesting or important places which time has conspired to consign to lost memories.

Larry Breen of the Federation of Local History Societies of Ireland will be delighted to receive suitable contributions for inclusion in the ‘Hidden Gems & Forgotten People’ project.

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