Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Athy Board of Guardians (3)

As the construction work on Athy Workhouse neared completion the Board of Guardians advertised for the supply of Whitehaven coal, oatmeal, best cup potatoes ‘free from clay or hazards’, buttermilk, straw, beef and mutton.  What I wonder was meant by the description ‘potatoes free from hazards’?  Three months before the Workhouse opened the clerk announced his intention to resign.  At a subsequent meeting Jeremiah Dunne was appointed clerk, defeating Mr. Goodwin for the position by one vote.  The suppliers to the Workhouse appointed in November 1843 included family names well known in the business life of Athy up to recent years.  Mr. Cross supplied Whitehaven coal at nineteen shillings a ton, Mr. Dillon beef at 3¾ pence a pound and Mr. Keating straw at one pound five shillings a ton.  In November the medical officer was instructed to fit up the Workhouse surgery and to procure the necessary appliances and drugs at a cost not to exceed £25.

In December 1843 work on the Workhouse was completed.  The Board approved payments to the following craftsmen and traders.  Samuel Sherlock, painter - three pounds.  Thomas Blanc, carpenter - twenty pounds (I assume his full name was Blanchfield).  Patrick O’Neill, basket maker - six pound two shillings.  James Doyle, shoemaker - fifteen pounds.  John Ryan, furniture maker - thirty pounds, with small amounts paid to Daniel Twomey, slater and Patrick English, smith worker.  It was decided to open the Workhouse ‘for the reception of paupers’ on 20th December 1843, with posters advertising this fact to be got at the Leinster Express office.  At the same time the Rev. J. Lawler was authorised ‘to provide requisites for celebration of Roman Catholic worship at an expense not exceeding ten pounds.’  At its meeting of 19th December the Board of Guardians postponed the planned opening of the Workhouse because the small amount of lodgements made by poor rate collectors left the Guardians without adequate funds. 

On 9th January 1844 the Board agreed on the diet for the Workhouse inmates.  For adults of both sexes above 15 years of age breakfast would consist of 7 oz. of oatmeal made into stirabout and one pint of mixed milk.  Dinner would consist of 3½ lbs. of potatoes and one pint of buttermilk.

Young persons from 3 to 15 years of age were to be provided with a breakfast of 4 oz. of oatmeal made into stirabout and half a pint of sweet milk.  Dinner would consist of 2 lbs. of potatoes with half a pint of buttermilk. For supper they received a quarter of a pound of bread and a half pint of buttermilk.

Infants from 1 – 3 years of age received 4 ozs. of oatmeal made into stirabout at breakfast together with half a pound of bread and one pint of sweet milk.  Women nursing infants were to receive one pint of sweet milk every night in addition to their ordinary diet.  Infants having no mothers in the Workhouse were to receive half a pound of bread and one quarter of sweet milk until they were one year old. 

Adults were to have their breakfast at half past nine and dinner at four o’clock.  Children got their breakfast at 9 o’clock, dinner at 2 o’clock and supper at 7 o’clock.  The final decision of the Board of Guardians before the Workhouse was opened that day was to appoint Thomas Prendergast as contractor to build the boundary wall and gate piers in front of the Workhouse. 

On the first day of admission five men, four women, ten boys, five girls and one infant were formally categorised as paupers on their admission to the newly opened Workhouse.  A week later a further six men, fifteen women, thirteen boys, five girls and two infants were admitted to the Workhouse.

Just six years previously a letter in the Athy Literary Magazine of March 1838 referred to Athy as ‘completely neglected’.  The unidentified letter writer notes how ‘during the late and present inclement weather ….. sickness and starvation visited alike the able bodied and the aged poor’ of the South Kildare town.  No surprise therefore to find that within ten months of its opening the Workhouse was home to 297 paupers.  The failure of the potato crop first noticed in the Athy area in October 1845 was to lead to widespread hardship in the local area.  The construction of the railway line from Dublin to Carlow provided much needed employment for local men ‘who had never (previously) handled a pike or a shovel, never wheeled a barrow and never made a nearer approach to work than to turn over a potato field with a clumsy hoe’.  That work ceased when the Dublin Carlow railway line opened on 4th August 1846 and many local families had no option but to enter the Workhouse.  At one time towards the end of the famine period the Athy Workhouse system was home to 1528 starving family members, who were accommodated in the original Workhouse and two auxiliary Workhouses in the town. 

The Great Famine witnessed the death of 1205 inmates of Athy’s Workhouse.  They lie buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery where in recent years on National Famine Commemoration Day, services are held to honour the memory of those unfortunate men, women and children, all of whom were neighbours in Athy town and the wider Poor Law Union Area of Athy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Athy Board of Guardians (2)

The story of Athy’s Workhouse is revealed in the minutiae of administrative details written into the minute books of the Board of Guardians, which I had the opportunity of studying before their recent transfer to the County Library in Newbridge.  In the months preceding the opening of the Workhouse the Board of Guardians were engaged in making arrangements for furnishing the building and entering into contracts for the supply of provisions.  The clerk was directed to advertise ‘for the different articles of clothing used by Gorey Workhouse paupers’ patterns for which had earlier been received and examined by the Athy Guardians.  The members of the Board, while dissatisfied with the quality of the clothing, were nevertheless impressed with the clothing design or what the minute books describes as the ‘kind of clothing’.

Tenders for bed clothing for the Workhouse comprising blankets, sheets, coverlets, bolsters and bed ticks were approved by the Board and contracts awarded to Miss Kenny Scott, Mr. Potter and a Mr. Patrick Cosgrove.  Kenny Scott was also the successful tender for 75 frieze jackets for men in three sizes at an average cost of 9 shillings and 11 pence each.  Local shopkeeper, Mr. Duncan, successfully contracted for the supply of 50 suits in three sizes for boys at an average cost of 3 shillings and 6 pence.  Shirts, petticoats, bed gowns, frocks, men’s caps and men’s and women’s shoes were just a few of the assortment of wearing apparel purchased by the Board of Guardians.   For local shopkeepers, the opening of the Workhouse in Athy must have provided business opportunities never before experienced. 

The list of utensils acquired for the Workhouse makes interesting reading.  Heading that list were 100 chamber utensils for which the Board of Guardians paid 3 shillings and 6 pence per dozen.  12 lamps and burners, 4 one quart ladles for stirabout, with two larger ladles with one pint capacity were also required.  A stirabout scraper was purchased for 5 shillings and for 2½ pence each 100 quart tins were purchased with a similar number of pint tins for which 2¼  pence each was paid.  Indicative of the work which the male inmates were expected to face was the purchase of 24 stone hammers. 

At its meeting on 2nd May 1843 in anticipation of what the minute book noted as a ‘collision between the ratepayers and the collectors’ it was resolved that the landlords should be made primarily responsible for the Workhouse rates, while giving them power to recover from the occupiers, their proportion of the rates, as was the case with the rent charge.  Later in the month of May the Board directed the newly appointed master and porter to take up residence in the Workhouse, although the workhouse mistress was not yet required to do so.

On 4th June the Board of Guardians accepted tenders for furniture for their boardroom.  John Ryan of Carlow supplied the boardroom table with 36 chairs, one armchair ‘with brackets’ and a metal fender and fire irons.  At the same time furniture was required for the clerk’s room, the master’s apartment, the porter’s room and the hall.  The earlier mentioned John Ryan was also commissioned to build an altar for the Workhouse.  Interestingly the clerk and the porter got deal furniture for their rooms, while the master of the Workhouse got American birch chairs for his apartment, as well as a mahogany table and other pieces of furniture. 

On 12th September Miss Goold’s tender to supply ‘sweet milk at the rate of 7 pence per gallon’ was accepted.  Miss Goold later emerged as one of the principal organisers of the movement to bring the Sisters of Mercy to Athy.  The Mercy Sisters came to the town 8 years after her opening of the local Workhouse.  She was also a generous benefactor to the Parish of St. Michaels, leaving some property to the parish on her death.

The eight ex officio members of the Board of Guardians were elected annually by local magistrates.  On 29th September 1843 with Captain Lefroy in the chair, local magistrates Lord Downes, Sir Anthony Weldon and W.D. Frazier elected the ex officio Poor Law Guardians.  Not surprisingly those elected included the aforementioned gentlemen in addition to John Butler, Edward Bagot, B.A. Yates and E.H. Cole.  The remaining 24 guardians were elected each year by the ratepayers of the union area.

The appointment of a rate collector for the various districts in the Poor Law Union of Athy occupied almost every meeting of the Board of Guardians.  Reasons were seldom given for the frequent changes in the rate collectors, although it might well have been prompted by the reluctance of the rate payers to pay for the operation of the Workhouse which in 1843 was still in the course of construction.  The contract price for the building of the Workhouse was exceeded during the year, resulting in the assistant Poor Law Commissioner laying before the Board the accounts of the building contractor which indicated that a further £150 was required to defray extra costs incurred and an additional £150 to build boundary fences around the Workhouse.  ……………….TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK………………..

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The early history of Athy's Workhouse (2)

The first meeting of the Board of Guardians of the Athy Union was held in the Courthouse, Athy on Thursday, 29th April 1841 (the Court room at that time was located in the Town Hall).  Present at that meeting were Lord Downes of Bert House, Sir E.H. Walsh of Ballykilcavan, Sir Anthony Weldon of Rahinderry, W.H. Cole of Moore Abbey, Monasterevin, Benjamin Lefroy of Cardenton and Edward Bagot of Kildoon.  They were ex officio members of the Board, as was B.A. Yates of Moone Abbey and George Evans of Farmhill who were not present at that meeting. 

Those attending also included the following guardians who had been elected to the position.  Patrick Cummins, Athy; Gerald Dunne, Snugboro; P.C. Doran, Castlemitchell; John Butler, Athy; Thomas Fitzgerald, Kilberry; Robert Cassidy, Monasterevin; Edward Conlan, Monasterevin; John Hyland, Ballitore; Patrick Maher, Kilrush; William Pelan, Ballindrum; James Caulfield, Pilsworth, Castledermot; Joseph Lyons, Moyanna, Stradbally; Thomas Budd, Timogue, Stradbally; Michael Dowling, Inch, Stradbally; Francis Roberts, Stradbally; Thomas Kilbride, Luggacurran; John Hovenden, Modubeagh and John Kehoe of Ballylinan.  Elected guardians who were absent included Daniel Browne, Ashgrove, Monasterevin; John Dowling, Kildangan; Andrew Dunne, Dollardstown; William Caulfield, Levitstown; Major E.H. Pope, Carlow and William Tarleton, Stradbally [the last two representing Ballyadams].

At that first meeting of the Board George Evans was elected Chairman, William Caulfield Vice Chairman while Patrick Dunne was elected Clerk to the Board at a salary of €40 per year.  Arrangements were made for the Union area to be surveyed and valued for the purpose of fixing rates to finance the running of the Workhouse which would open in Athy in January 1844. 

At its next meeting on 27th May it was agreed to admit the press to board meetings and to divide the union area into eight vaccination districts, with vaccination stations located at Athy, Castledermot, Monasterevin, Stradbally, Luggacurran, Nurney, Ballylinan and Moone. 

On 20th July 1841 the Board received an order from the Poor Law Commissioners directing it to raise or borrow the sum of £6,700 for the building and fitting out of a workhouse in Athy. 

On 10th March 1842 the Board met to decide applications from persons claiming the right to vote at the annual election for members of Athy Board of Guardians scheduled for 26th March.  The only change following that election was the replacement of John Butler by John Peppard.  The outgoing chairman, George Evans, retained his position following the first meeting of the newly elected Board when defeating Sir Anthony Weldon by one vote.  However, his name is absent from the record of all subsequent meetings and on 11th October 1842 the Board unanimously agreed to elect Sir Anthony Weldon as Chairman of the Board of Guardians on the proposal of Lord Downes, seconded by Captain Lefroy. 

In July 1842 the salaries for the various officers of the workhouse were fixed by the Board.  The Workhouse Master was to be paid £40 per year with furnished apartments, fuel and candles and a limited quantity of house provisions.  The Matron was to receive £20 a year, with similar allowances, while the workhouse porter was granted £10 a year and allowances.  The workhouse schoolmaster and mistress were to be paid £20 and £15 respectively in addition to the earlier mentioned allowances.  Their duties were to include ‘assisting the master in the management of the workhouse.’  The medical attendant’s salary was fixed at £50 a year and his duties included the ‘compounding of all necessary medicines.’  A ‘nurse teacher’ was to receive £10 a year with the agreed allowances.  However, the Poor Law Commissioners took issue with the Board of Guardians decisions and directed that the fixing of salaries was premature and consequently refused to sanction any appointments. 

The dispute between the Board and the Commissioners was eventually resolved and on 7th February 1843 the Board proceeded with appointments of various officials to Athy Workhouse.  William Bryan was appointed Workhouse master, with Elizabeth Quinn as Workhouse mistress and James Butler as the porter.  The appointment of the Workhouse medical attendant appears to have been the only appointment which necessitated a vote, even though there were several applicants for each position.  Dr. Ferris, Dr. Kynsey and Dr. Clayton submitted their applications and the position went to Dr. Kynsey who received 16 votes to 13 votes cast for Dr. Clayton.  The hapless Dr. Ferris received no votes. 

A rate of five pence in the pound was levied on all rateable properties in the Athy Poor Law Union area to fund the operation of the local Workhouse and John Mulhall was appointed to collect the poor rate in the Athy and Kilberry districts.  Collectors were also appointed to the other areas of the union.    As the opening of the Workhouse in January 1844 approached the preceding months were taken up with arrangements to purchase equipment, clothing and food products for which local businesses were asked to tender. 

……………………………………….TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK………………..

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The early history of Athy's Workhouse (1)

Whenever I travel abroad I am invariably attracted to local markets. They are generally of interest to visitors as well as being part of the long established local commercial activity of their areas.

Here in Athy we have a market every Tuesday which is held in the town centre square.  It’s a market with a lot of history extending back to the time of Henry VIII.  The authority for holding the market is contained in the charter granted to the town of Athy by King Henry in 1515.  The charter written in Latin specified that the market was to be held on a Tuesday each week in a place chosen by Gerald, Earl of Kildare at whose request the charter was granted. 

The primary purpose of the charter was to fund the erection of walls around the town and so provide greater safety and security for the people of the town which the charter stated ‘lies on the frontiers of our Irish enemy.’  The year was 1515 and the settlers’ town had been subject to attack on many occasions by the ‘wild Irish’ living on the western side of the river Barrow.  The building of town walls was hugely expensive and so the Provost of the newly incorporated Borough Council of Athy was granted the right to impose and collect customs or tolls on goods and animals sold in the market of Athy.  The money so raised was to be used not only for the building and repair of the town walls, but also to pave the streets of Athy.

A question arose many years ago as to whether the Town Commissioners, who replaced the Borough Councillors soon after the Great Famine, were entitled to collect and utilise the market fees.  As regulation of the market under the charter was granted to the town Provost (the equivalent of the modern-day town mayor) the Town Commissioners and now Kildare County Council, as successors in title to the Provost and the Borough Councillors, were deemed entitled to exercise all the rights previously held by the Provost.

It was the sole decision of the Earl of Kildare to decide where the market was held and consequently the local authority, now Kildare County Council, would not appear to have the discretionary right which in 1515 was granted solely to Gerald, Earl of Kildare.

That issue was of importance some years ago when the then Urban District Council considered regulating the market.  It was an issue which was not then resolved.  However, now that we are at the start of implementing a regeneration plan for the town it is perhaps opportune for the question of regulating the market to be considered again. 

Town markets on the Continent and on the British mainland are all well-regulated.  They generally present an attractive appearance for locals and visitors alike and help to bring activity and vibrancy to a town centre.  Our town market is an unattractive shambles. 

Recently I was in Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex on a day when the local market was taking place.  On making some enquiries I discovered that the market stands and canopies were owned by the local Council which set them out on market day and rented them out to the various stallholders.  They presented a colourful sight and the attractiveness of the market was added to by an interesting variety of second hand goods, food and crafts offered for sale.

With the planned reordering of Emily Square surely it is time for Kildare County Council to look again at the need to regulate the Tuesday market and by doing so help to make it an attractive element in the commercial regeneration of the town.

Last week saw the passing of a number of local people.  Nicola Keogh Kenny was a legal secretary in the offices of a local colleague and her sudden unexpected passing was a great shock to all of us.  Another young person to leave us in sad circumstances after a long illness was Brian Barr.  Kate Mitchell who was a near neighbour of mine in Coneyboro died and was buried a few days before Pat O’Gorman of Gallowshill, formerly of Prospect House on the Carlow Road.  Leslie Anderson died at an advanced age and his passing, like those of Nicola, Brian, Kate and Pat brought sadness to the people of Athy and south Kildare. 

Our sympathies are extended to their families, friends and relatives.