Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Duthies - Jewellers

The jeweller’s shop at No. 30 Leinster Street holds youthful memories for many locals.  It was there in the shop window next to the L&N Stores that Albert Duthie signalled the approach of Christmas by placing a nodding Santa Claus on the top shelf.  As youngsters, my friends and I approached the window in the darkening gloom of winter evenings to bask in the simple belief that anything we asked for would somehow magically appear on Christmas morning.  As we grew older and innocent beliefs disappeared, the nodding Santa Claus still attracted our attention but now as a forerunner of Christmas festivities and the school holidays to which we looked forward with eager anticipation.

Albert Duthie sadly died at a relatively young age in 1979 and the business, which had been started in No. 30 Leinster Street by W. O’Connor sometime in the 1800s, passed to Albert’s widow Anna.  Mrs. Duthie has recently retired and what was once a watch and clockmaker and jewellers business, closed its doors for the last time on 31st July, 2013.

It is believed that W. O’Connor started the business in Athy, exactly when it’s not known, at a time when other watch and clockmakers were or had been practising in Duke Street.  William Plewman was an Athy watch and clock maker listed in a trade directory of 1824 and was still in business 32 years later as evidenced by a William Plewman watch hallmarked 1856.  Another watchmaker of the 19th century was Thomas Plewman whom I suspect was a son of William who was responsible for repairing the Canal Company clock in Monasterevin.  C.H. St. John had his shop where Shane Gillen’s business recently opened and further up Duke Street was the shop of W.P. St. John.  I don’t know the connection, if any, between the two St. John’s but with such an unusual surname I can reasonably assume that they were related.  W.P. St. John carried on business in the Crown House, now occupied by Griffin Hawes.

Albert Duthie’s father, William Thomas Duthie, who came from a farming background, worked for W. O’Connor from sometime around the late 1880s.  When the veteran watch and clockmaker Mr. O’Connor died in 1903, his wife having predeceased him, and leaving no family, the business was left to William Thomas Duthie and to O’Connors two spinster sisters, the Miss O’Neills.  The O’Neill sisters were family members of the O’Neill half of O’Neill and Telford whose foundry and machinery works in Leinster Street were later taken over by Duthie Larges.  The family links were extended into the new firm as James Duthie, who set up the partnership with Harry Large of Rheban, was a brother of William Thomas Duthie and an uncle of Albert Duthie.  William Thomas Duthie bought out the interest of the Miss O’Neills and the Duthie name went over the door of No. 30 Leinster Street just over 100 years ago.

Albert Duthie after a five year apprenticeship in Dublin returned to Athy to work with his father a few years before William Thomas passed away in 1949.  Just a year earlier Ann Breakey from Ballybay in Co. Monaghan came to work as a chargehand in Shaws.  In 1953 Albert and Anna married.

Duthie’s jewellery shop was always an important part of the business streetscape of Athy and Albert Duthie a passionate promoter of the town.  I can recall how he had tea spoons, key rings and cups embossed with the Athy crest for sale in his shop.  He was proud of Athy and proud of the Duthie family association with the town.  It was an association which saw his uncle James Duthie acting as secretary of Athy’s volunteer Fire Brigade in 1907.  The local Town Commissioners had first organised a voluntary Fire Brigade for the town in 1881 when public funds were used to purchase ‘12 zinc buckets and a barrel or a tub for the better working of the engine.’  James Duthie wrote to the Town Clerk on the 15th of April 1907 advising that the Fire Brigade had 27 volunteers but hoped to increase the number to 37.  The Council for its part approved the use of the fire engine by the newly formed voluntary group.

Albert Duthie died in 1979 aged 54 years, leaving his wife Anna and their two children Heather and Alastair.  For the next 34 years Mrs. Duthie carried on the business first started by W. O’Connor and continued through two generations of the Duthies to become Athy’s oldest watch and clock repair and jewellery business. 

Anna Duthie, like her late husband Albert, has always exhibited a great interest in and appreciation of all things Athy.  She has been a wonderful help to me in relation to the history of the Presbyterian Church in Athy and has always shown a willingness to share with me information on aspects of Athy’s story, a story in which generations of the Duthie family once played a prominent part.

Good wishes are extended to Mrs. Duthie on her retirement and with it goes the thanks of many hundreds of local youngsters of yesteryear who remember with fondness the Santa Claus which graced the shop window of Athy’s oldest jewellery shop over many Christmases.

Monday, October 28, 2013

2013 Shackleton School and Joseph Lyons Australian Prime Minister

The Shackleton School has become a fixture in Athy's October bank holiday weekend and brings a cosmopolitan feel to the town with different nationalities both attending and lecturing. This year we will welcome to our town visitors from the USA, Norway, France, Spain, Australia, Italy, the UK, Germany and of course from all over Ireland. Among the lecturers is a man who has been to the Antarctic in each of the last eight decades. This extraordinary record is held by Charles Swithinbank who, after service in the Royal Navy at the end of World War 2, joined the 1948 Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition as a glaciologist. Now in his 87th year he will lecture at the Shackleton School on his life as a scientist in the polar regions.  Another interesting talk on the subject of explorers’ food and their diet will be given by the American author Jason Anthony.

The School will be opened by the Australian Ambassador Dr Ruth Adler who will also launch the exhibition 'Mawson's men'.  This is on loan from the Australian Antarctic Division which is responsible for Australian scientific research in the Antarctic.

The exhibition focuses on the Australian explorer Douglas Mawson and his 1911-1914 expedition to the Antarctic. Mawson first went there in 1907 with Shackleton and his companions on that trip including Frank Wild who would later serve with Shackleton on the Endurance expedition.

Interestingly the exhibition was previously on show in the Australian Parliament buildings in Canberra where the Australian Parliament was once presided over by Joseph Lyons, the son of an Athy woman.  Joseph Aloysius Lyons was born in 1879 in Stanley, Tasmania to Michael Lyons, son of a Galway emigrant and Ellen Carroll from Forest, Athy, Co. Kildare.  Ellen was the youngest daughter of John and Catherine Carroll and she had two sisters, Letitia and Mary and a half brother John, all of whom were born in Ireland.  Her father John Carroll emigrated to North America in December 1848 and was last heard of in St. Louis from where he wrote a letter to his wife on 3rd June 1849.  Catherine, encouraged by her brother-in-law Denis Carroll, who with his wife and three children had arrived in New South Wales in 1842, sailed to Tasmania with her three daughters and arrived in Hobart on the ‘Sir W.F. Williams’ on 18th August, 1857.  Ellen, the mother of the future Prime Minister, was 11 years of age, her sister Mary 14 years, Letitia 17 years of age.  Ellen Carroll married Michael Henry Lyons on 7th September, 1870 and had 8 children including Joseph, their 4th child, who was born in Stanley, Tasmania.  Joseph’s parents had a small farm but when he was 9 years of age his father’s ill health forced the family to move to Ulverstone.  Young Joseph had to leave school and take odd jobs to support the Lyons family.  After three years one of his spinster aunts came to the family’s aid and Joe returned to Stanley to live with his mother’s two sisters.  There he completed his education and at 17 years of age Joseph Lyons qualified as a teacher. 

His membership of the Worker’s Political League, the forerunner of the Australian Labour party, was not approved of by the Department of Education and Joseph Lyons resigned his teaching position and stood for election to the Tasmanian Parliament.  At 30 years of age he began a 19 year membership of the Tasmanian Parliament, five years of which he was State Premier.  In 1915 at 36 years of age he married 18 year old Enid Burnell who was to play a very significant part in his political life, as well as being mother to their 12 children.  Always conscious of his Irish background, Joseph Lyons became Vice President of the Hobart United Irish League following the Easter Rising of 1916.

In 1929 he left the Tasmanian State Parliament for Federal politics and won a seat in the Labour government as Acting Treasurer.  In 1931 he broke away from the Labour party and formed the United Australian party which won a clear majority in the December 1931 General Election. 

Joseph Lyons came to power as Prime Minister of Australia during the years of the Great Depression.  He was described by Robert Menzies who was later Prime Minister as ‘the best parliamentarian I have ever known’.  Joseph Lyons’s chief success as Prime Minister was to restore stability to the government following the Great Depression.  Indeed President Roosevelt expressed desire to meet Lyons whom he described as ‘the man who brought a Western country out of depression quicker than anyone else.’ 

He had considerable popular appeal but by 1938 began to lose control of the United Australian party.  His health began to fail and he died of a heart attack in Sydney on 7th April, 1939.  He was buried in Davenport, Tasmania.  Joseph Aloysius Lyons was the only Tasmanian to have been Prime Minister of Australia and the only Australian to have been both premier of his home state and Prime Minister of Australia. 

With the arrival of the Mawson Exhibition from Australia the link between Athy and the land down under brings to mind the man whose mother in the middle of the 19th century set out from Forest to make the long journey to Tasmania.  Everyone is welcome to attend the opening of the Shackleton Autumn School in the Heritage Centre on Friday 25th October at 7.30 p.m.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


For someone like myself who grew up in Athy in the 1950s the names Bradburys and Shaws are names which feature in treasured memories of 60 years ago.  I have previously written of Tom Bradbury and the extraordinary impact he had, not only locally but also regionally on the world of baking.  Shaws is a name synonymous with shopping in Athy. Yet strangely the Shaw story is one which had its origins across the county border in the Laois town of Mountmellick.  The County Laois town drained by the Oweness River, a tributary of the River Barrow, was founded in the early part of the 17th century and owed its early development to the Loftus family.  Before the settlement had reached its first century it had already established itself as a major centre for members of the Society of Friends.  The Quakers, as they were commonly known, arrived in Mountmellick with William Edmundson in 1659, just five years after the first Irish Quaker meeting had opened in Lurgan.  The Penal laws restricted Quakers, Roman Catholics and Dissenters alike to involvement in industry and commerce and it was largely due to the enterprise of the local Quakers that Mountmellick became known as the ‘Manchester of Ireland’. 

It was the marriage of Henry Samuel Shaw and Annie Smith which saw the establishment of the Shaw business which next year celebrates it sesquicentennial.  It was just fifteen years after the Great Famine when the newly married couple opened up their business as drapers in the County Laois town.  Henry Shaw, a native of West Cork, had earlier worked for the Quaker family of Pims, while his wife Annie who was originally from Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, had worked for the local firm of Smiths as a dressmaker. 

The small drapery business benefitted from the strong work ethic championed by John Wesley on his many visits to Ireland.  John Shaw and his wife were believed to be members of the local Methodist community, which in its early years was still part of the Established Church.  Their business prospered and in 1890 the Shaws purchased a boot and shoe shop in what was then Maryborough.  Called ‘The Boot Mart’, it dealt exclusively in footwear but as part of the developing Shaw enterprise it extended the business into drapery.  Within two years however Henry Samuel Shaw died and his eldest son William then became a driving force in the business with his mother Anne.  There were two other sons, Henry and Samuel, and it was the latter who in his time would drive the Shaw enterprise forward to become one of the largest family drapery businesses in Ireland. 

In 1904 the Shaws purchased four thatched houses on the main street of Maryborough and this was the location until some weeks ago of Shaws Department Store in Portlaoise.  It was there that the Shaws specialised in the early years in hand tailored garments. 

Athy people have always associated Shaws with the South Kildare town.  It was here that the developing drapery enterprise which in later years had branches ‘almost nationwide’, had its headquarters.  The driving force behind the advancement of the firm was Samuel Shaw or Sam as he was better known.  Sam, the third son of Henry and Annie Shaw, the founders of the firm, was sent to Athy in or around 1902 to serve his apprenticeship with Alexander Duncan of Duke Street.  Four years later he went to London to learn the tailoring business and on his return to Ireland some years later Sam Shaw worked in the Portlaoise shop with his brother William.  In 1914 as war clouds gathered over Europe Duncan’s Department Store in Athy was sold and the purchaser was Annie Shaw who had opened her first shop in Mountmellick exactly 50 years previously.  The tragic death of William Shaw, just weeks after he married in 1929, left Sam Shaw effectively in charge of the Shaw drapery business.  He would continue to be involved until his death in 1980, during which time he skilfully contributed to the growing success of Shaws. 

Shaws stores are now to be found in Athy, Carlow, Portlaoise, Mountmellick, Waterford, Wexford, Roscrea, Fermoy, Limerick, Tralee, Dun Laoghaire, Castlebar, Drogheda and Ballina.  It is a family firm, although now under aegis of a company formed in the 1930s. 

Athy is no longer the headquarters of the Shaw enterprise, the management focus having shifted to Portlaoise some years ago.  However, for Athy people Shaws is still seen as an Athy firm.  It is after all the anchor tenant in ‘shopping Athy’ and many people will have memories of shopping, not only in the Athy branch but in many of the Shaw branches which are to be found in three of the four provinces.

To mark the sesquicentennial of Shaws stores I am gathering material for a written account of the Shaw story.  All of us have memories of shopping in Shaws and of dealing with the staff, many of whom spent a lifetime working behind the counter.  I would like to hear your memories, good or bad, of shopping in Shaws.  Let me have your stories for possible inclusion in a forthcoming publication dealing with the history of one of Ireland’s most famous family drapery stores.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Canal Boat 29B Photograph

This week an interesting photograph was shown to me and the wonders of modern technology allowed me to scan it into my computer in seconds.  The photograph is an interesting shot of the canal boat, 29B, as it approached the Horse Bridge on a summer Sunday afternoon in the mid 1950s.  The exact date is not known but the occasion is one I remember well.  It was during the carnival held in the Dominican field organised, I think, by the Parish Church Development Fund Committee.  The canal boat was made available by its owner Denis Rowan of Pairc Bhride and happy trippers crowded onto the boat for the short journey downstream. 

I can recognise Mick Rowan at the helm with his brother Denis sitting facing the camera and standing behind him is Joe O’Neill playing his piano accordion.  I can remember as a young lad the excitement I felt on travelling on the canal boat during that carnival.  A tune popular at that time always associated in my mind with that trip, ‘How much is that doggy in the window’ was the song sung with gusto by the canal boat passengers to Joe O’Neill’s accompaniment.

Health and safety inspectors were not thought of in those days as evidenced by the many happy trippers sitting at the front of the boat with their legs dangling over the side of the boat.

The 1950s was a time when little or no use was made of the River Barrow or the Grand Canal in terms of boating.  Swimming and fishing were certainly very popular pastimes in those days but an outing on a boat was a unique event.  The carnival boat trips were extremely popular and indeed were regarded by many locals as the highlight of the carnival.

As I walked over the Crom-a-Boo bridge this afternoon I was delighted to see five pleasure boats moored at the old harbour, while two canoes passed under the bridge.  What a contrast to the scene one would have witnessed standing on the same bridge 60 years ago.  Nowadays we have begun to appreciate the value of the water corridors which link Athy with so many other parts of the island of Ireland. 

Canal boats such as the 29B no longer travel the canal or the Barrow navigation as did the canal fleets of the past.  However, a photograph of the same boat almost 60 years ago brings back happy memories of times past.  Many of the faces captured in the photograph are surely recognisable.  If you can put names on any of those pictured I would like to hear from you.