Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Athy Naturalist Club and Count Thomas O'Loughlin and First Ploughing Match

This week I am looking to my readers to help me with a number of queries which, if answered, will add yet a few more pieces to the patchwork of the history of Athy.  Robert Lloyd Praeger, world famous botanist who died over fifty years ago, is probably best remembered for his delightful book “The Way That I Went”, an account of his travels around Ireland.  Another of his many publications appeared in 1949 under the title “Some Irish Naturalists - A Biographical Notebook”.  It dealt with field work in Ireland within the domains of geology, zoology and botany.  Apart from the brief, yet very useful biographical details of Irish naturalists, he compiled a list of scientific societies and institutions involved in the promotion of natural history research.  Called Naturalist Field Clubs they had their origin in a movement which started in Belfast in 1863.  Amongst the very few clubs listed as existing in this country, Praeger referred to “small field clubs at Athy and Tralee”.  No date is given but it is likely that the Athy Club existed sometime between 1890 and 1910.  I know it is a long shot but perhaps somewhere there exists a minute book or some other record of Athy’s Field club.  If so I will be delighted to hear from anyone who can share with me any information on the subject.

A few weeks ago I purchased a book on the history of Gaelic Culture in the Antrim Glens in which I came across a reference which intrigued me.  Apparently in 1905 a committee under a Fr. McGill of Carey was elected to organise a hurling tournament to be held in Glenarm, the winners of which were to be awarded the Athy Cup.  I am aware that Francis Joseph Bigger who was from Belfast and an avid supporter of Gaelic culture in Antrim presented a banner to Athy Piper’s Club some years later but I wonder who presented the Athy Cup in 1905 and what connection, if any, did it have with our town.  I am following a line of enquiry through some contacts in the Federation of Ulster Studies, but maybe some of my readers can unravel the mystery of the Athy Club for me. 

I am also trying to trace the descendants of Kate Connor and her daughter Mary who lived at Higginsons Lane in the years leading up to the first world war.  Kate was still living there in 1919 but by then her daughter Mary had gone to work in Dublin and I know that she subsequently had a daughter called Josephine.  Can anyone help me trace Josephine who may still be alive?

Do you remember the marble altar rail in St. Michael’s Church which was removed in 1960 when the old parish church was being demolished?  The railing, or at least some of it, now forms part of the fabric of the existing St. Michael’s Parish Church.  The original altar rail was erected and the church sanctuary adorned by Count Thomas J. O’Loughlin of Melbourne in honour of his wife Kathleen who died in 1925.  O’Loughlin was from Castlewarren, Co. Kilkenny and after leaving St. Kieran’s College he emigrated to Australia where some members of his family already lived.  In 1911 he married Kathleen Murphy of Ballybur, Co. Kilkenny and they had five daughters, all of whom were born in Australia.  O’Loughlin, together with Michael and Martin O’Loughlin, were generous benefactors of the Catholic church and the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Kilkenny city was built following a bequest of £50,000 provided in the will of Martin O’Loughlin.  I don’t know whether Martin was father or brother of Thomas O’Loughlin, but when the church was opened in 1908 the O’Loughlin family was represented by Thomas O’Loughlin who was conferred with the freedom of Kilkenny city and with papal honours including the title of Count of the Holy Roman Emperor.  Count Thomas O’Loughlin died in 1929 and as far as I can recall the altar rails of St. Michael’s Church were erected sometime in the mid 1930’s.  This might suggest that O’Loughlin left a bequest in his will to fund the provision of altar rails in the Athy church.  What, I wonder, was his connection with Athy or perhaps what link did his wife, the former Kathleen Murphy, have with the town?  Again I would like to hear from anyone who can help me with this query.

The National Ploughing Association grew out of a challenge ploughing match held in Athy on 16th February 1931.  J.J. Bergin of Maybrook and Denis Allen of Wexford were the men whose friendly challenge was the seed which would lead to the setting up of the Ploughing Association.  Does anyone know where the ploughing contest was held that February day 74 years ago.  I understand the ploughmen representing their respective counties on the day are now not known but hopefully someone somewhere has the information.  The following year a return match was held in Gorey and County Kildare was represented by Thomas Dowling, Christy Heffernan and William Kelly.  Do we know anything about these men and where they came from?  It is very likely given J.J. Bergin’s involvement that these men, and possibly the ploughmen of the previous year, came from the south of the county.  Again I would like to hear from anyone who can help me flesh out the story of the 1931 ploughing match.

Another puzzle which has defeated my efforts to resolve relates to a footballer known as Paddy Fitzpatrick but who was listed in newspaper reports at different times during the 1928 season as P. Fitzpatrick or A. Fitzpatrick.  He played left half back for the Kildare county senior team during 1928 at the same time as Paddy Martin and Paddy Byrne of Castledermot.  I have a note that Paddy Fitzpatrick played for Athy senior team before transferring to Rheban where he became club captain.  The Rheban club was formed in 1929 so presumably Fitzpatrick’s intercounty career started in 1927 at a time when I believe he was a club player for Athy.  I am anxious to know something of Fitzpatrick’s background and to clarify once and for all why he was sometimes listed as A. Fitzpatrick in press reports of county matches during the late 1920’s.

My last query concerns the Cycling Club which I understand was based in Rathstewart in the 1950’s or thereabouts.  Can anyone give me any information about the club or know of anyone who was involved in it.

Lots of queries this week but there are so many unanswered questions arising out of my ongoing research that I have to unload them on to you, my good readers, every so often.  I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help me with any of the questions raised this week.

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