Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hotels in Athy

The Clanard Court Hotel’s recent celebration of its 10th anniversary reminded me of the changes in Athy over the years.  For as long as the older generation can remember the local hostelry where all the important local functions took place was the Leinster Arms Hotel.  It was there that President Sean T. O’Ceallaigh attended the formal dinner to celebrate the opening of the Macra na Feirme offices in Athy.  It was also in the Leinster Arms Hotel that Eamon de Valera and Dan Breen were guests of honour at a Fianna Fáil dinner on 20th October 1954. 

The name ‘Leinster Arms’ clearly reflected the Duke of Leinster’s all embracing influence on the South Kildare town where the Duke’s family names and antecedents are remembered in the principal street names.  The Leinster Arms occupied a prime location in the centre of Athy and opposite it on Leinster Street was the hotel yard.  It was there in the old days that the hotel clientele stabled their horses and carriages.  Later the yard provided secure garage space for the new fangled motor cars, several of which passed hurriedly through the streets of Athy in 1902 during the Gordon Bennett Race.

While the Leinster Arms was described as the head inn in 1824, it was not the only local premises offering accommodation to the traveller.  In 1846 Robert Kennedy was proprietor of the Leinster Arms, while the Coach Hotel, also in Leinster Street, was under the ownership of Thomas Shiel.  Thirty five years later the two hotels were still operating, with the Leinster Arms under the ownership of Michael J. Kavanagh, while the former Coach Hotel, then called ‘Shiel’s Hotel’, had Henry Shiel in control.  I have not been able to positively identify the location of Shiel’s Hotel but it was possibly what was later known as Hamilton’s Hotel in the premises now occupied by Bradburys.

In the Post Office Directory for 1911 no less than three local hotels are identified, all located in Leinster Street, with another premises offering ‘good bed and attendance at an extremely moderate charge’ without claiming it to be a hotel.  It was operated by Margaret Byrne and described as ‘dining, boarding and refreshment rooms, railway restaurant’.  This I believe was what was known locally as The Railway Hotel, later purchased by Tom Flood and now owned by Margaret Kane.

Apart from the Leinster Arms Hotel the two other hotels noted in the 1911 directory were the Hibernian Hotel located at the corner of Leinster Street and Meeting Lane and Hamilton’s Hotel.  The Hibernian was owned by Michael Lawler and the premises in more recent years housed the Oasis Public House, while Hamilton’s Hotel, which is now Bradburys, was advertised as ‘a family, commercial and tourist hotel.’

Over 25 years ago a lady in Wales wrote to me of family memories of Hamilton’s Hotel which was once operated by her family.  Her story was a strange one, somewhat typical in one sense of a time when religious differences kept Catholic and Protestants apart. The hotel owner, my correspondent’s mother, was a Protestant widow who married one of the hotel workers.  This was a cause of apparent social scandal, further aggravated by the fact that the hotel worker was a working class Catholic.  The couple felt they had to leave Athy and sold the hotel which had operated under the name Hamiltons for several years. 

Sixty five years ago a Sergeant W. Duggan, then stationed in Charleville, Co. Cork, wrote an account of the first Garda force to take up duty in Athy.  He recounted how the first draft arrived in Athy on 15th August 1922 and were accommodated in the Town Hall.  The same party consisting of 16 men had previously been stationed at a protection post in Bert.  Having spent some months in the Town Hall the Garda took over the former RIC Barracks in Barrack Street after it had been evacuated by the National Army.  When the Barracks was subsequently burned the Gardai moved to the Leinster Arms Hotel.

Today the Clanard Court Hotel is the only hotel in Athy.  Opened 10 years ago, for its first few years it had a competitor in the Carlton Abbey Hotel which was opened in the former Convent of the Sisters of Mercy.  The closure of the Carlton Abbey added to the changing building landscape of the town which will be further changed if and when the former hotel re-opens as a nursing home.

Mary Tuohy and Clement Kehoe, both of whom were part of the Offaly Street background of my young days, recently passed away.  Mary, who married and lived in England for many years, was a daughter of Garda Mick Tuohy who came to serve in Athy in 1933.  She worked for several years in Minch Nortons and participated in many of the company shows put on in the 1960s in the Town Hall.  Clement, a son of the legendary John W. Kehoe, was one of several Kehoe brothers who featured on Athy Gaelic football teams during the 1950s.  Clement operated a public house in nearby Stradbally for many years.  My sympathies are extended to both families on the deaths of acquaintances who were an integral part of the memory mosaic of my young days.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Luggacurran Evictions

The Luggacurran evictions started on Tuesday, 22nd March 1887 when the Sheriff came to Denis Kilbride’s residence, Wood Home, Luggacurran.  Denis Kilbride and his sister Mary were the first to be evicted.  Kilbride went to stay with his brother Dr. James Kilbride in Athy.  As one of the leaders of the local Plan of Campaign Kilbride had addressed the first Land League meeting in Luggacurran in late 1886.  His involvement in the campaign may have been due to the Kilbride family’s financial difficulties rather than any allegiance with their tenants.  Middle class families of that time were generally loyal subjects of the Crown and in keeping with that tradition Kilbride’s brother Joe was a Resident Magistrate in County Galway.

The evictions continued throughout 1887 and a total of 31 tenants of Lord Lansdowne were removed from their homes and lands in that year.  These included John William Dunne of Raheenahone, who was the tenant of more than 1,300 acres of land which compared with the 860 acres tenanted by the Kilbrides.  However, for the remainder of Lansdowne’s tenants their holdings ranged from 25 acres to 80 acres with just three other tenants having more than 180 acres each. 

It is believed that the Lansdowne tenants were capable of paying the landlord’s rent.  While several tenants were undoubtedly happy to join the Plan of Campaign, evidence of clerical intimidation resulting in some tenants joining the Campaign with reluctance was recalled in later years.  Fr. John Maher, ordained in Carlow College in 1880 and who came as a curate to Luggacurran in May 1886, was an uncritical supporter of the Plan of Campaign.  His Parish Priest was the elderly Fr. Thomas Kehoe.  Fr. Maher’s brother, also a priest, had been involved with some success with the Plan of Campaign in his parish and this undoubtedly encouraged the youthful curate to promote the campaign in Luggacurran.  Fr. Maher is alleged to have intimidated his parishioners and many of them were forced by him to join the Plan of Campaign.  They witnessed how the Kavanagh brothers who had refused to join were shunned by Fr. Maher and boycotted by some of their neighbours.

Fr. Maher was undoubtedly the driving force behind the Plan of Campaign in Luggacurran and I recall the late Fr. William Prendergast, P.P. of Kelleigh, whom I invited in the mid 1980s to give a talk on the Luggacurran evictions in the Leinster Arms Hotel, tell how Fr. Maher refused to baptise a child of William Brennan when the parent refused to join the Plan of Campaign.  The Brennans eventually gave in to the cleric’s pressure and the child (later Fr. Owen Brennan) was baptised and the Brennan family were in time evicted.

Andrew Dunlop, a Scottish journalist who worked for over 50 years in Ireland, wrote an account of a Land League meeting in Luggacurran at which Fr. Maher and William O’Brien spoke.  Fr. Maher’s opening words as reported by Dunlop were ‘three groans for the Kavanaghs’.  O’Brien, when he finished his speech, realising that Dunlop was reporting for the Irish Times sought, by threatening Dunlop, to have Maher’s remarks excluded from the Press Report.  When the reporter refused to comply O’Brien publically called him a spy, following which some men menaced Dunlop.  His account read ‘the crowd was shouting and yelling, down with him’. 

Dunlop was escorted to the nearest crossroads by two policemen from where he walked alone to Athy.  His report continued:-  ‘several cars conveying to Athy people who had been at the meeting passed me on the way and some of them evidently gave the word to the roughs of the town.  As I entered Athy a couple of corner boys were gathered at the canal bridge ..... I was followed by a howling mob and a man whom from his appearance I should take to be a butchers assistant struck me a couple of blows. I turned into a public house but the same fellow followed me and called on the owner to put me out ..... compelled to take refuge in another public house the same ruffian again followed me and when I refused to leave caught me by the throat, struck me several times on the head, dragged me out of the place to the middle of the road ..... causing me to fall heavily to the ground.  I got up and walked on followed by the mob until I reached the Post Office which I entered.  Shortly after this a Police Sergeant came and offered me protection ..... I walked with him to the Railway Station.’

This report which appeared in the following days Freeman’s Journal and in the Irish Times was also published in the Toronto Daily Mail a few days before William O’Brien and Denise Kilbride arrived in Canada to highlight the Luggacurran Evictions in the country where Lord Lansdowne was the Governor General.  Reports of the attack on the respected journalist Andrew Dunlop in the town of Athy doomed to failure the Land leaguers campaign in Canada and prompted several physical attacks on O’Brien and Kilbride who were fortunate to leave Canada with their lives.   

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Athy's charters

One of the greatest links with our historic past was lost when Athy Town Council was abolished two years ago.  As successor to Athy Urban District Council and the earlier Town Commissioners it was in direct line to the Corporation established by Henry VIII’s Charter of 1515. 

That first regal Charter incorporated the inhabitants of Athy as a body corporate and provided for the election of a Provost with wide ranging powers which he was free to exercise without interference from ‘sheriff or other minister’.  Amongst the many powers granted to the Provost was ‘cognisance and pleas of infangthief and outfangthief’.  Infangthief meant literally the right to seize and prosecute a thief caught within the town’s boundaries, while outfangthief extended those powers to pursue thieves outside the town’s jurisdiction and if caught, the right to try the thief before the Provost.  Perhaps the most important provision of that Charter when viewed in 2015 was the right of the Provost and his successors to hold a weekly market in Athy.  That Charter was granted by King Henry VIII at the express request of Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare.

Fast forward almost 100 years to 1611 when King James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots at the request of Sir Robert Digby, a member of the Irish Privy Council, granted a further Charter to the ‘village of Athy’, the area of which was to measured one half mile in each direction from ‘the White Castle’ in the village.  Rigby was a Member of Parliament for Athy in 1613 and had married Lettice, daughter of Gerald Fitzgerald.  His fellow M.P. was Walter Weldon of St. Johns. 

The importance of James’ Charter lay in the provision for the Borough of Athy to be governed by burgesses elected to the Council and the election of two burgesses of Athy as Members of Parliament.  The first citizen heretofore known as the Provost of Athy was thereafter to be called the Sovereign of Athy.  His duties and responsibilities largely coincided with that of his predecessor, the Provost, and successive Sovereigns would control the affairs of the Borough Council until the abolition of that body in 1840. 

Interestingly I have come across another and later Charter apparently granted by the Catholic king, James II, in 1689.  The grant recites that Athy was of old a borough but that by judgment of the Court Exchequer in Ireland its privileges had been seized by the King.  The Charter appointed Robert Fitzgerald as Sovereign of the Borough, James Fitzgerald and John Hoey as bailiffs as well as twenty Burgesses, amongst whom were Sir Maurice Eustace and Sir Gregory Byrne.   However, in the report of the Commission of Municipal Corporations on the Borough of Athy dated October 1833 it is stated that the 1689 Charter ‘was founded on a supposed forfeiture by a Judgment of the Exchequer and had not been acted upon at least within the memory of any living person and accordingly the Charter of 1613 is the governing Charter for Athy.’

Kildare County Council are now the successors to the old Borough of Athy and in turn successors to those bodies which came after the abolition of the borough in 1840.  The line of succession thus comes directly from the Borough of Athy, extending through the Town Commission, the Urban District Council and the Town Council. 

I have only been able to identify two of the Athy Provosts elected before that office was replaced by the Sovereign in 1613.  Richard Cossen was elected in 1575 (this date recorded on a sculptured stone inset into the wall of White’s Castle) and in 1598 a Mr. Smith was identified in the Statute of Ireland 1598 as the Provost for that year.  The first Sovereign elected under the 1613 Charter was Richard Walker and the last to hold that position on the abolition of the office in 1840 was Reverend Frederick Trench, the local Church of England Minister.  When Athy Town Commissioners were established in 1842 its first chairman was local general practitioner, Dr. Thomas Kynsey.  Its last chairman at the time the Town Commissioners were replaced by the Urban District Council was Matthew J. Minch of Rockfield House.  He went on to become first chairman of Athy Urban District Council established in 1900.  The last chairman of Athy Council, abolished in 2013, was Thomas Redmond.

During the week a Christian Brothers school colleague of mine died.  Martin Townsend, formerly of Duke Street, died tragically and regrettably I was away from Athy and unable to attend his funeral.  I remember with fondness the Martin of my school going days and extend my sympathy to his sisters on his passing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Nationalist activity in Athy from 1914

Seamus Cullen, farmer, historian and writer, travelled to Athy on Tuesday night to give a wonderful exposition during a lecture in the Heritage Centre of the part played by County Kildare menfolk and womenfolk in the Easter Rising of 1916.  His assessment of Kildare’s involvement in the Rising prompted me to look afresh at those men and women, small in numbers, who took part in the Rising and those who were involved in the Nationalist movement before and after 1916.

Athy, a garrison town, so called because of its long historical association with the English army, was surprisingly the first place in County Kildare where the Irish Volunteers were formed.  The Volunteers were established following a meeting in Dublin in November 1913 and within six months Athy had its own Volunteer corps.  A second company was formed on 13th June 1914 and this may have been a cavalry corps which was one of the few such companies in Ireland at that time.  Athy also holds the distinction of having the first Cumann na mBan branch in County Kildare.  It was formed in July 1914 just three months after the ‘League of Women’ was founded as a woman’s auxiliary corps to the Irish Volunteers.

Athy can also claim to have formed the first County Kildare branch of Fianna Eireann when on 23rd August 1914 young boys from the town became part of the youth organisation founded some years earlier by Bulmer Hobson and Countess Markievicz.  All of this suggests that nationalist feelings amongst the townspeople of Athy which had been submerged in a deluge of military harassment and punishment during the 1798 Rebellion was again coming to the forefront. 

The funeral of the Fenian O’Donovan Rossa in Dublin on 1st August 1915 was effectively a public showcasing of those Irish Volunteers who had refused to follow John Redmond’s  call for men to enlist in the English army at the start of World War I.  St. Michael’s Fife and Drum band, known locally as the ‘Leinster Street Band’ travelled from Athy by train to attend Rossa’s funeral where because of their ability to play Irish tunes were allocated a prominent position in the funeral parade.  Frank O’Brien, father of the current holder of the name, trained the band which was an integral part of the Volunteer movement in Athy. 

I have previously written of Athy man Mark Wilson’s involvement in the Easter Rising but it was the aftermath of the executions of the rebel leaders and the imprisonment of volunteers such as Wilson which saw the emergence of the Republican movement in Athy.

Sinn Fein as a radical nationalist party founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith and Bulmer Hobson was not involved in the 1916 Rising but because of its opposition to the British authorities it was widely, but wrongly, held responsible for the Rising.  As a result the post Rising Nationalist Movement which emerged in 1917 in Athy and elsewhere soon began to replace the Irish Parliamentary Party.  The election of Eamon de Valera as President of Sinn Fein in 1917 when Arthur Griffith stood aside cemented the link to the Easter Rebellion. 

Local Sinn Fein sympathisers held a concert in the Town Hall to raise funds for the families of prisoners released from English jails in December 1916.  The concert held on 18th January 1917 was followed a month later by the Athy Hibernian players in the play ‘The O’Carolans’, the cast of which stood to attention at the end of the performance for the singing of ‘A Nation Once Again’.  The men involved, who would later figure prominently in the local Sinn Fein club which was formed in June 1917 included John Coleman, Joseph Murphy, J.B. Maher, Michael May, Joseph May, Joseph Walsh, W.G. Doyle, T. Corcoran, Robert Webster, J. Webster and C. Walsh.

Differences of opinion led to the local Ancient Order of Hibernians withdrawing use of its rooms by a local pipe band which had been started by J.J. Bergin of Maybrook just before the start of World War I.  Bergin declared for Sinn Fein, and Peter P. Timmons, Secretary of AOH, annoyed that the pipers had paraded with local Sinn Feiners, declared that the band could no longer practice in the AOH premises ‘as the AOH  refused to be identified with Republican lunacy.’

The Sinn Fein Club organised another concert in the Town Hall for Thursday 19th July 1917 to raise funds for the families of those killed during the Easter Rising.  Arthur Griffith attended that concert and addressed the audience.  De Valera, accompanied by Arthur Griffith, visited Athy on Sunday 4th November 1917 when de Valera was presented with an address of welcome by Athy Board of Guardians and Athy U.D.C.  It was the same Board of Guardians which in May 1916 condemned the revolution in Dublin. 

Attitudes had changed in the meantime and people of the onetime garrison town of Athy would play their part in the Irish War of Independence which lay not too far ahead.