Mealys Auctioneers recently sold at auction a ceremonial key which had been presented to Sean T. O’Ceallaigh in 1934 when opening the housing scheme at Dooley’s Terrace. The silver key, inscribed with the words ‘Presented to Sean T. O’Ceallaigh Esq., Minister for Local Government, on the occasion of the opening of the Athy Housing Scheme April, 1934’ was the gift of local building contractors D. & J. Carbery of St. John’s, Athy.
In May 1932 Dr. John Kilbride, whose father Dr. James Kilbride had played a major part in improving conditions in the town in the early part of the 20th century, submitted a report to the elected members of Athy Urban District Council. The report noted that 1292 persons were living in 323 houses in Athy, none of which contained more than two rooms. All were devoid of sanitary accommodation and nearly all of them were in a poor state of repair, with many located in sun starved courts and alleyways. Dr. Kilbride questioned how could children be brought up properly in those conditions. He pointed out that in Barrack Street there were 11 persons, including married couples, living in two rooms, while on the Canal Side there were four houses with no yards and in one lived 10 people and in another 6 people. In New Row 10 people lived in a two roomed house, while a similar house in the same row housed 9 people and in each of two other houses 8 persons lived. The local medical officer concerned at the appalling housing conditions to be found in the town called on the Council to build houses and for every house built to level an unfit house before it was re-let.
Councillor Brigid Darby of Leinster Street, a National School teacher in Churchtown, proposed that the Council make arrangements to build 100 houses ‘for the working classes’ and that the houses ‘be divided between east and west Athy in proportion to the need determined by Dr. Kilbride.’ The Council took advantage of the 1932 Housing Act which the newly elected Fianna Fail Government had passed as part of the Government’s Slum Clearance Programme. By October 1932 the Department of Local Government had approved plans for 17 houses in Carbery’s field at Rathstewart, 20 houses in the Sisters of Mercy field, also at Rathstewart, and 56 houses in Doyle’s field adjoining the County Home.
Local building contractors D. & J. Carbery Ltd. submitted the lowest tender of £14,122 for the 56 houses and for the 17 house scheme they were also the successful contractor with a tender of £4,403. The Urban District Council directed that ‘all houses are to be roofed with tiles that are made locally and the external walls are to be built of Athy brick.’ Building work commenced at the end of 1932, but it soon became apparent that Athy brick was in short supply. As a result permission was given to utilise Dolphins Barn brick until Athy brick was available in sufficient quantities.
On 18th December 1933 the Urban District Council at a meeting chaired by Patrick Dooley agreed to name the 56 house scheme ‘Michael Dooley Terrace’ in memory of the Chairman’s brother who had died unexpectedly the previous October. The Minutes of the Council meeting noted in relation to Michael Dooley ‘he was always a staunch and steady supporter of the national cause from the old Sinn Fein days up to the last. He fought and suffered in the cause of Ireland when there was real fighting to be done and when he had everything to lose in the cause of fidelity to his country.’
The tenants of the Michael Dooley houses were appointed in February 1934. All of the tenants were re-housed from areas included in Slum Clearance Orders made by the Council which included Barrack Street, Shrewleen Lane and Higginsons Lane.
The Minister for Local Government Sean T. O’Ceallaigh opened the Michael Dooley Terrace houses on Thursday, 5th April 1934. The National Press reported that ‘a huge crowd accorded Mr. Kelly a great welcome at the Railway Station from where he was paraded through the town preceded by Churchtown Pipe Band, Bert Pipe Band and Athy’s Pipe Band.’ The Minister received a brief address of welcome read by a young boy on behalf of the tenants before the official opening. Does anyone know who that boy was?
The key presented to the Minister by the contractors D. & J. Carbery 82 years ago following the official opening of Michael Dooley Terrace has now been purchased by Kildare County Council and hopefully it will return soon to Athy to be exhibited in the local Heritage Centre.