Griffin Hawes occupy an important and historic building on Athy’s main street but perhaps more importantly the now familiar trading name is part of our local vocabulary. It was 45 years ago when three young men, none of them natives of Athy, set up a hardware shop in what was previously Mansfield’s Drapery shop. Brothers Mervyn and Dermot Griffin joined forces with Wesley Hawe to open their hardware shop on 9th May 1969. The Griffin brothers were from Tinahely, Co. Wicklow and Dermot was working in Duthie Larges Athy, as was Monaghan man Wesley Hawe before they embarked on a lifetime commitment of developing their own business. Mervyn Griffin who had previously worked in Duthie Larges returned to Athy to join Dermot and Wesley in the venture.
They were not to know when they acquired the building from Mick Mansfield that the Crown House, as the building was called, had figured prominently in the history of Athy. Was it, as was once claimed, the site of Athy’s first courthouse which was later the location of Rowneys pawn shop. W.P. St. John, jeweller and watchmaker, was later to acquire the building from Rowneys and it was he who had the old building demolished and replaced by the imposing building we know today. When the antiquarian, John O’Donovan, was carrying out his place name enquiries in the 1860s he noted that the Crown House was reputed to have been the lodging house for judges and barristers while attending the assizes in Athy.
If this was not enough a hexagonal stone building standing within the precincts of the Crown House was later identified by the late Niall Meagher as the town’s former cockpit. It’s strange to acknowledge that cockfighting was once a popular sport in Ireland and would remain popular well into the 20th century. The Athy cockpit which now forms an integral part of the Griffin Hawe hardware shop was shown on the 1827 estate map prepared for the Duke of Leinster. Interestingly the 1838 Ordnance Survey map of Ballitore village also records the site of a cockpit just off Cockpit Lane halfway between the Friends meeting house and the Quaker school. The presence of a cockpit in a Quaker village confirms the widespread appeal of cockfighting as a popular sport in Irish communities of several generations ago.
It is to the great credit of Griffin Hawes that the three directors agreed to co-operate with Kildare County Council on a restructuring scheme which involved the tedious restoration of the cockpit roof structures as well as the walls of the old building. The result was a superb restoration job which rescued the one time cockpit which at various times, following the outlawing of cock fighting, was used for housing cattle and stabling horses.
When Mervyn and Dermot Griffin with their colleague Wesley Hawe opened up for business on 9th May 1969 they aimed to have a store geared to supplying under one roof every possible need in the hardware and builders providers trade. It was an objective which by dint of hard work they have achieved. Business recessions have seen the once busy market town lose not one but at least two hardware store competitors. Duthie Larges and Telfords have departed the local commercial scene, leaving Griffin Hawes alone to celebrate 45 years in business.
Mervyn Griffin and Wesley Hawe have retired from the business to be replaced as Directors by George and Stuart Griffin, sons of Dermot who still retains an interest and an enthusiasm for the business founded with his brother Mervyn and friend Wesley 45 years ago. Dermot is justifiably proud of the company’s achievement in staying to the forefront of commercial life in Athy. As a founder member of Athy’s Credit Union he is the proud holder of Credit Union membership card no. two, having at an early stage accepted the invitation of the late Tadgh Brennan to help in the formation of the local branch.
The staff in Griffin Hawes have made a major contribution to the success of the firm over the years and many of those staff members have lengthy service records. Anne Prendergast was office manager for 34 years retiring in 2007, while her colleague for over 30 years, Mary Dunne, is still working in the office. Staff past and present include Carmel Bergin, Anne Nolan, Catherine Kehoe, Joe Brophy (since ordained to the priesthood), Eamon Bambrick, John Butler, Pat Kenna, Eoin Fennell, Martina Myles, Maurice Flinter, Michael Donnelly, Jim Prendergast, Maureen Frazer, Rhona O’Connor, Anthony Nolan, Tony Martin, Peter McEvoy, Bertie Watchorn, Robert Sullivan, Eileen and Katie Ashbolt, Michael Shannon, Bob Lalor and Gary O’Brien and the late deceased employees John Joe Murphy, John Summers, John Prendergast, Tommy Walsh and Andy Smith. I am conscious that other names may be overlooked but whether mentioned or not Dermot Griffin generously acknowledges the contribution that staff past and present have made to the continuing success of Griffin Hawes.