The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Athy on 10th October 1852 to take charge of the newly built convent of St. Michael’s. The convent was constructed between 1843 and 1852 on a site adjoining the Parish Church. The foundation stone was laid by the Parish Priest of Castledermot, Fr. Dunne, two years before the start of the Great Famine. Over the years the Sisters of Mercy caused a number of booklets to be published including a series of annual Year Books in the 1950s. The Year Books were supported by local business people with a variety of advertisements and perusing the 1953/’54 year book provides a fascinating insight into the changes in the local business world over the last 63 years.
‘Tosh’ Doyle advertised cars for hire from 15 Patrick’s Avenue, while he undertook cycle repairs at Meeting Lane. O’Rourke Glynns, with the telephone number Athy 45, had a wide range of items for sale from ices and fruits to stationery, toys and dolls. I was intrigued by the claim that O’Rourke Glynn’s bread was ‘often buttered but never bettered’ as I don’t recall O’Rourke Glynns having any bread making facilities. Martin Brophy at 27 Duke Street operated one of the many family grocery businesses in Athy, as well as being a tea, wine and spirit merchant. S. O’Brien of the Square was similarly engaged, as was M. O’Brien of the Nags Head Inn. J.P. Dillons of Barrow Quay proudly claimed to be a ‘shop with a growing reputation’ and in addition to being a green grocer its proprietor was also a poulterer. J. O’Brien of the Railway Bar was another grocer and spirit merchant who also offered trade in ‘coal, corn, linseed meal and general feeding stuffs’.
Something different was offered by Candys of 15 Leinster St. who claimed to stock ‘everything from a needle to an anchor’. At 4 Duke Street pork butcher and sausage maker E. Herterich offered ‘cooked meats and puddings’ guaranteeing ‘fresh daily, finest quality only.’ Another car hire business was operated at 5 Meeting Lane by Peter Fitzsimons, while not too far away at 42 Leinster Street M. O’Connor, M.P.S.I. advertised ‘pure medical, toilet and veterinary preparations and high-class cosmetics.’
An interesting advertisement for M.A. James of 12 Duke Street offered a printing service for wedding invitations, while also acting as an agent for Allied Libraries Limited. J.W. Kehoe at Offaly Street declared his business motto as ‘courtesy, service, value’ while advertising his tea, wine, spirit and coal business. M. Bradley carried on business as a newsagent, stationer and tobacconist at 34 Duke Street, while just up the road at William Street Purcell Bros. were family grocers and butter exporters. The enterprising brothers also carried on a butchering business at Duke Street.
J.J. Stafford of 43 Duke Street had a radio and electrical shop offering sales, service and repairs. For your fresh daily milk you could rely on Floods of Stanhope Street who also traded in meal and bran, as well as hardware goods. One advertiser whom I cannot remember was Cash of 62 Leinster St. who offered sweets, cigarettes, confectionary and minerals. Two doors away at No. 60 was the sweet and confectionery shop advertised under the name ‘Bergin’ without any elaboration on the name.
Two of the biggest employers on the towns main street were Duthie Large Ltd. and Industrial Vehicles (Ireland) Ltd. The former as agricultural and water engineers offered for sale cars, trucks, tractors and cycles. Their business enterprise also extended to offering manures and seeds with hardware and radio repairs. The I.V.I., as it was commonly known, had a Morris car dealership and were also dealers for McCormick International Tractors covering the counties of Kildare and Carlow. No mention was made of its foundry work but in addition to car, truck and tractor repairs it offered ‘a petrol service from 8.30 a.m. in the morning’. Michael Finn advertised his garage at Woodstock offering repairs, sales, battery charging and a ‘filling station’. Who remembers the Vogue Beauty Parlour at 11 William Street, operated by Rose Cullen who offered amongst other services ‘Devon Cold Wave Perms?’ Tullys will be remembered as travel agents, but in 1954 they were general drapers. Another advertiser was Michael Kelly of 17 Leinster Street who in addition to being a tea, wine and spirit merchant was also a merchant in timber, iron and seeds.
The change in the shopping landscape of Athy is evidenced in the disappearance of many of the businesses advertised 63 years ago. Amongst those businesses still with us are Shaws, Doyles of Woodstock St., Clancys, O’Briens of the Nags Head Inn and O’Briens of Emily Square. Even the Sisters of Mercy Convent has been transformed into a hotel (now temporarily vacant), while the town of Athy welcomes new businesses as the old gives way to the new.