Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Rev. Frederick Trench and the Oxford Movement

Preparing to conduct a tour through some parts of the history of Athy for Heritage Week I re-read some of the notes I wrote over the years to remind myself of people and events which have long gone from memory.  When reading those notes I was reminded of the impact that the Oxford Movement of the 1830s had on the Established Church in Ireland.  Here in Athy the local rector was Rev. Frederick Trench, whose wife was Lady Helena Perceval, daughter of the first Lord Arden, an older brother of Spencer Perceval, the British Prime Minister who was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812. 


The Trench’s lived in Kilmoroney House from 1834.  Rev. Frederick was described in H. Montgomery’s biography of George Alfred Lefroy, Bishop of Calcutta, as one of the old fashioned evangelical clergy deeply versed in bible and prayer book.  A frequent visitor to Kilmoroney House was Sir William Heathcote who was married to Lady Caroline Perceval, sister of Helena Trench.  Sir William was a friend and a patron of clergyman and poet John Keble, one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement and through him Rev. Trench met John Keble and later Edward Pusey, the clergyman and Oxford professor who with John Henry Newman, later a cardinal of the Catholic church, were the acknowledged leaders of that high church movement.  Rev. Trench’s high church practices as a supporter of the Oxford Movement was not to the liking of at least one of his parishioners.  Michael Carey wrote in October 1851:  ‘The Rev. Trench has taken down all the emblems from his popish window and made an apology to his congregation ….. he stated to the congregation that he had not the slightest notion of Puseyism or popery’.


Rev. Trench died tragically in 1860 after his carriage careered down Offaly Street, struck the medieval gate known as Preston’s Gate, turned over and tossed both himself and his driver to the ground.  The rector died of his injuries on 23rd November aged 74 years.  The medieval gate which had been the scene of many previous accidents was immediately removed by the Town Commissioners workmen.  Rev. Trench’s parishioners subsequently donated a fine marble pulpit in memory of their rector which is to be found in St. Michael’s Church of Ireland at the top of Offaly Street.


Crom a Boo bridge, built in 1796, provides with nearby Whites Castle the iconic image of our town which is recognised far and wide.  Over its arched pathways passed the prisoners who in 1798 were hanged in the ‘croppy acre’ alongside the Grand Canal basin.  It was in June 1798 that seven young local men were tried by Court martial, convicted and hanged for alleged involvement in the killing of John Jeffries of Narraghmore.  Jeffries who with his family had fled to Athy for safety later returned to his burnt-out home in Narraghmore to retrieve some personal belongings.  While there he was killed.  The seven young men convicted of his murder were marched from the prison cells in Whites Castle over Crom a Boo bridge, accompanied by members of the Waterford Militia.  We are told in Patrick O’Kelly’s account of the 1798 Rebellion that two of the seven were beheaded and their heads placed on Whites Castle as a deterrent to would be insurgents.  As you pass Whites Castle look at the Geraldine family coat of arms embedded in the Castle wall which in 1798 was deliberately damaged by a yeoman in revenge for Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s participation in the Rising.


St. Michael’s Catholic Church, consecrated in 1964, replaced an earlier church built in 1808.  The site for that church described as ‘marshy ground’ was donated by the Duke of Leinster.  It replaced an earlier thatched church located in Chapel Lane which was torched and burned to the ground on 7th March 1800 in the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion. 


Rev. James Hall, an English cleric who travelled through what he described as the ‘interior and least known parts’ of Ireland published his book of travels in 1813.  He visited the Roman Catholic Church in Athy where near the door on the right hand as he entered there was written in large capitals, ‘COME UNTO ME, ALL YE THAT LABOUR AND ARE HEAVILY LADEN, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST’.  On the other ‘BLESSED IS HE THAT HEARETH, AND WATCHETH AT THE POST OF WISDOM’S GATES’.  When he entered the church he found both men and women lying flat on their faces on the floor repeating certain prayers and now and then with fervent ejaculations turning up their eyes.  ‘I observed one man walk, on his bare knees, from the door up to the altar, though the floor was extremely rough, the chapel being new, and not quite finished.’  Rev. Hall noted that Roman Catholic chapels in Ireland ‘like the churches in Russia have neither seats nor pews of any kind’.                                        


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Athy Heritage Centre and Heritage Week 2017

It was in 1983 that Athy Museum Society was formed with the stated objective of developing a local museum here in Athy.  Since then the Society’s volunteers, with the financial support and good will of the former Town Council and currently Kildare County Council, together with several private benefactors have made a huge contribution to the cultural heritage of our historic town.  The local Heritage Centre which has been developed over the years since 1983 has provided a focal point for people’s growing interest in the town’s past. 


Our local history is something that all of us have become more aware of in the last 30 years or more.  Recalling my school days in the local Christian Brothers School in the 1950s the only mention I ever heard or read of Athy related to it being the place where the River Barrow and the Grand Canal met.  History lessons touching on the 1798 Rebellion, the Great Famine or any of the many Irish or overseas wars in which so many young Athy men were involved, never disclosed any Athy links or connections.  We now know that Athy was connected in so many ways with many of the great events in the nation’s history.  Athy’s history represents in miniature the history of Ireland and the story of the town is bound up with our nation’s history. 


Athy Museum Society has done much to highlight the hidden stories and the forgotten people of Athy’s past. This was particularly important given that the contribution made by so many local men and women to the fabric of life in the past was overlooked and lost to succeeding generations.  The Eye on the Past series which has been appearing each week in your local newspaper for almost 25 years has sought to create an interest in and an understanding of the events and the people of Athy and the part they played in the town’s history.  The interest generated in our local history as evidenced by the queries I receive and the information shared with me each week confirms that the people of Athy are proud of their town.  Pride of place is understandably something normally attributable to one’s place of birth, but Athy, the Anglo Norman town, later the settler’s town, is today home to a lot of people who like myself are not natives of Athy.  Our interest in the history of Athy is not in any way diminished by being born elsewhere, which in my case happened 19 miles down the road in Castlecomer. 


Several people having expressed an interest in coming together to further their interest in local history, arrangements have been made for a meeting to be held in the Heritage Centre on Tuesday, 5th September at 7.30 p.m.  Its purpose is to consider setting up a local history society, which if formed will give interested persons an opportunity to learn more of the town’s history, to encourage research and arrange lectures and field trips.  The setting up of a local history society can been seen as a further contribution to the town’s regeneration plan which was initiated by a group originally established two years ago by Athy Lion’s Club.  The contribution which a local history society can make to the cultural heritage of the area and thus to the well being of the town’s people is something readily recognised in the regeneration plan. 


Heritage ‘Week’ started on Saturday last and ends on Sunday 27th.  Here in Athy there are a number of events including a walking tour through Athy’s history on today, 22nd.  Starting at 7.00 p.m. from in front of the Town Hall the walk will present an overview of some of the more extraordinary individuals and events associated with the town’s history.  The guide will be yours truly.


The Heritage Centre has organised a Museum treasure hunt and further details of this free event can be obtained from the Heritage Centre.  On Sunday 27th August at 3.00 p.m. there will be a talk in the Heritage Centre on the incredible voyage of the James Caird.  This voyage was one of the greatest seafaring feats of all time led by the Kilkea-born Ernest Shackleton, accompanied by crew members, half of whom were Irish.  On the same day at 7.00 p.m. there will be a guided walking tour of medieval Athy starting from the Heritage Centre at 2.00 p.m.


All of the events during Heritage ‘Week’ are free and they give a unique opportunity for anyone interested to savour elements of our town’s history. 


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Municipal Reform and Anti Tithe activities

Under the headline “Athy Anti Tithe Meeting”, the Leinster Express of the 20th May 1836 reported. “For several days in the town of Athy and surrounding country, unusual exertions were made to assemble the people for the double purpose of extinguished the tithe and obtaining corporate reform.   Every little politician might be seen running about looking brim-full of something important while the following proclamation looked down from every wall and signpost in the town”.


“NOTICE – There will be a meeting held in this town on Tuesday, 24th May in the market square at two o’clock to petition parliament for corporate reform and the speedy and total extinction of the tithe”. 


Tithe was a payment due to the church, nominally one tenth of ones earnings, which after the Reformation proved unpopular with Catholic’s as the tithe was paid solely for the benefit of the Anglican church.  Daniel O’Connell supported by the catholic clergy campaigned for its abolition.  O’Connell’s successful campaign for Catholic Emancipation encouraged the local people to seek changes in the tithe system while municipal reform and the appointment of Catholics to public office was another long term complaint of the catholic population.  Under the Reform Act of 1793, membership of local authorities such as Athy Borough Council were nominally open to Catholics but none of the many borough councils in Ireland had chosen to enlarge the franchise. 


The push for reform with regard to tithe’s and municipal corporations started with what is called the tithe war which erupted in Graiguenamanagh in County Kilkenny in November 1830.  There the Tithe Proctor distrained the cattle of the local priest who with the approval of his bishop organised a resistance movement which soon spread throughout the midlands.  There were several violent incidents involving tithe protestors and British soldiers which resulted in deaths and injuries.   The most infamous incident occurred in Rathcormack when the Archdeacon of Cloyne attempted to collect a £2 tithe from a local widow.  The Archdeacon accompanied by soldiers entered the widow’s cottage by a back window and in the resulting conflict 19 locals were killed and 35 injured.


Events in Athy by all accounts were less troublesome.  The Leinster Express Report continued “Tuesday, 24th was market day – and the first indication of the great meeting  was Mr. Holmes Biggam accompanied by a dozen urchins ……labouring hard to roll together some logs to form a rostrum in the potato and pig market …….on the logs was placed a solitary chair….. behind rolled the river barrow and before stood the church.  Although it was announced, the people should meet at 2 o’clock, 3 came on and no appearance except Pat Doran of Castlemitchell House….  At last the committee issued from the Inn and took possession of the platform.  On it we noticed Rev. John Lawler Parish Priest, Messrs. Biggam, G. Evans, James Perrin, S. Eves Miller, T. Dunne farmer, T. Peppard, T. Connors shop keeper, Mr. Keating publican, M. Commons corn buyer, J. Kelly Nicholastown horse dealer and Matthew Lawler with a few others.  Mr. Eves took the chair and referring to a previous meeting regretted that nothing had been done for them since.  They would now he claimed teach the Lords  a lesson and that the abominable tithe should be totally abolished”.


The widespread opposition to tithes eventually secured the passage of the Tithe Rentcharge of 1838 which satisfied those opposed to tithes as it became a charge on rent payable by the head landlord.


Municipal Reform was already in hand when the Athy meeting took place in March 1838.  The previous year a Bill was introduced in the House of Commons and enacted five years later following an enquiry into the conduct of municipal corporations in Ireland. It found, as in Athy, that the existing Borough Councils were corrupt bastions of Protestantism and so fifty eight of those boroughs including Athy’s Borough Council, were abolished in 1840. The enquiry reported in relation to Athy that while the town charter provided for all the inhabitants of the town to be the commonality of the borough, the local people were excluded from the corporation and that no evidence could be found of any application for the freedom of the corporation to which every person born in the town was entitled.  It also reported “there is not or has been in modern times any Roman Catholic a freeman except Colonel Fitzgerald who was admitted to his freedom in 1831”.


The Parish Priest who joined the anti tithe platform in May 1936 would later stand for election to the Town Commissioners which replaced the Borough Council in 1842.  Elected with the Parish Priest at that first ever Council election was the local Rector Rev. Frederick Trench.  Neither clergymen stood for election after their initial foray into local politics.  


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Athy Dragon Boat Club

Athy’s Heritage Centre was the venue for a crowded gathering of dragon boaters and friends on Friday evening last when ‘The Big Barrow Splash Family Day’ was announced. Hosted by Athy Dragon Boat Club, the reception in the Centre was perhaps the liveliest event ever to be held in what was the town’s former butter market.  It was a joyful occasion which allowed the Dragon Boat Club to celebrate its growing success after six years in being.


It was in June 2011 that Aiden McHugh, then leader of Barrow Line Canoe Club, which he founded in the mid 1980’s, read a feature in a local newspaper of a dragon boat race scheduled for Carlow. He encouraged Rosemary O’Sullivan, a member of the Canoe Club, to bring together seventeen of her female friends, whether canoe members or not, to make up Athy’s first dragon boat team.  Sufficient numbers having come forward, the team trained for two weeks in Canadian canoes as a dragon boat was not available.  That first female team called the ‘Barrowline Babes’ just missed the final of the Carlow event by 0.06 of a second but full of determination decided to enter for another dragon boat race in Dublin City Docks.  By then the team was a mix of female and male rowers and the team name was changed to ‘Barrowline Bandits’.  Success was achieved at the Dublin race with the young Athy team winning the first of what would be many gold cups.


The newcomers to the sport attracted the attention of the Irish Dragon Boat Association and officials of the association, having inspected the facilities in Athy, held the first dragon boat regatta here in May 2012.  That year and the following year another Athy team ‘Crom a Boo’ won the first prize at the Athy Regatta and followed up with wins also in Carlow and Dublin.    Just three years after the founding of Athy Dragon Boat Club and two years after the town’s first regatta, the annual event was attracting fifteen teams each comprising of eighteen members.


The next big development in local dragon boat racing came with the arrival of a team from Kendra Civil Engineering. That team, consisting of local men employed by Dan Curtis’s company, won a number of dragon boat races in 2014 and the following three years.  Indeed, the Kendra team is today regarded as perhaps one of the most successful dragon boat racing teams in Ireland.


Hundreds of young people have been introduced to their local River Barrow through the Dragon Boat Club and the Athy Canoe Club which is still going strong.  Both clubs owe their existence to Aiden McHugh whose dynamic leadership has not only given us two of the most vibrant river based clubs in Athy but also a Gymnastics Club and a local sign language Association.  Aiden has stepped down from the Canoe Club and the Gymnastics Club but is still very much involved in sign language development and the local Dragon Boat Club. 


The first dragon boat purchased by the Athy club was facilitated by Aiden McHugh and the local canoe club and is now housed in a temporary facility near the former Dominican Church.  Hopefully Kildare County Council will ensure that both the Canoe Club and the Dragon Boat Club will have suitable permanent facilities so that local people, young and old alike, can make maximum of a tremendous river facility which unfortunately those of my age failed to enjoy in years gone by.


Returning to the reception in the Heritage Centre, the involvement of so many, young and not so young, speaks volumes for the continuing future success of water sport activities in the town.  Particular congratulations must go to the various parties who have sponsored the Dragon Boat Club’s activities in the last six years and in that the regard the outstanding contributor is Dan Curtis of Kendra Civil Engineering. His contribution to the sport earned special mention at the reception as did the contribution of Aiden McHugh who was the recipient of a special presentation.


A great night was enjoyed by the many who attended with a promise that ‘The Big Barrow Splash Family Day’ on Sunday, 13th August starting at 11.00 a.m. will be a fun day for all the family.

Athy’s 1916 Remembrance Committee will shortly publish a booklet concerning the 1916 Centenary events held in the Town during March and April last year.  It was felt that the opportunity should also be taken to include in the booklet photographs of the 50th Anniversary commemoration which was held in Emily Square in 1966.  If you know of the existence of any photographs of that event, I would welcome hearing from you.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Kilkea Castle and some of its occupants

A few weeks ago I wrote of my visit with a west of Ireland friend to places in and around south Kildare which I claimed could make an interesting trip as part of Ireland’s Ancient East.  The recent announcement of the proposed re-opening of Kilkea Castle provides another reason to visit this area.  With Whites Castle and Woodstock Castle the Castle at Kilkea forms a unique trio of medieval buildings which at different times were in the ownership of the FitzGerald family, Earls of Kildare and Dukes of Leinster.


Kilkea Castle is often claimed as the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland and certainly its part in Irish history stretching back to the 12th century brings us face to face with many of the great events of the past.  Silken Thomas’s rebellion following the imprisonment of his father Garret Óg, 9th Earl of Kildare in the tower of London, resulted in the execution of the young man and five of his uncles and the confiscation of the Earl’s lands.  Thomas’s half-brother Gerald had the title and the land restored to him 15 years later and on his return to Ireland from the Continent Gerald took up residence in Kilkea Castle.  Because of his interest in the occult arts he was called the Wizard Earl of Kildare, of whom much has been written in terms of local folklore. 


What is perhaps little known is that a Jesuit community was in occupation of Kilkea Castle for 12 years up to 1646.  The widow of the 14th Earl of Kildare, herself a devout catholic, permitted Fr. Robert Nugent, Superior of the Jesuit Order, to take over the castle and it was here that Cardinal Rinuccini, the papal nuncio, was entertained during the Confederate wars.


After the Confederate wars Kilkea Castle was home to many different families who for the most part were unconnected to the Earls of Kildare.  Perhaps the most interesting of those Kilkea residents was Thomas Reynolds whose wife’s sister was married to Wolfe Tone.  Reynolds, a Dublin silk merchant, was friendly with Lord Edward FitzGerald, the one-time member of parliament for the borough of Athy who was leader of the United Irishmen in County Kildare.  He brought Reynolds into the organisation and indeed Reynolds became a colonel in the Army of the United Irishmen.  Regrettably Reynolds turned out to be an informer, a claim which his son unsuccessful attempted to dispute in his biography of Thomas Reynolds, published in 1838.  Subsequent tenants of Kilkea Castle were the Caulfield family who were also occupiers of extensive lands in the Grangemellon area.  A member of the Caulfield family was one of those involved as trustees of Catholic church property for the parish of St. Michael’s Athy in the early post Catholic emancipation period.


Kilkea castle after almost 200 years without a FitzGerald in residence once again became a family residence for members of the Duke of Leinster’s family.  However, the once extensive Leinster estates passed into the ownership of an English financier, Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley.  During the life of the 6th Duke of Leinster his third son, Lord Edward, while his two older brothers were still alive, disposed of his reversionary rights for a relatively small sum to Mallaby-Deeley.  He did so believing that he had little prospect of succeeding to the title and to the Leinster estates.  However, Desmond FitzGerald, the eldest son of the Duke was killed while serving as an officer in World War 1 and the Duke’s second son Maurice died in February 1920.  When the sixth Duke of Leinster died in 1922 the former bankrupt Edward, described by many as a rakish womaniser, became the 7th Duke of Leinster.  The tenanted lands belonging to the Leinster estates having been sold under the Wyndham Land Act to tenant farmers, the demesne lands at Carton and Kilkea were all that remained and they passed to Mallaby-Deeley.  He allowed members of the FitzGerald family, but not the improvident 7th Duke, to live in Carton House until it was sold in 1948.


The 7th Duke’s uncle, Lord Walter FitzGerald and Walter’s two sisters, lived in Kilkea Castle from 1889.  It was there that Lord Walter, one of the founders of the Kildare Archaeological Society, died in 1923.  The FitzGerald sisters continued living in Kilkea and after World War II the castle was occupied by the Marquess of Kildare.  In the mid-1960s he went to live in England and the castle was sold in 1965 to William Cade.  Edward the 7th Duke who married four times, lived in England on an annual allowance from Mallaby-Deeley.  He died in 1976. 


The re-opening of Kilkea Castle as a hotel is to be applauded, bringing as it does the story of the great house of Leinster to our time.  It offers too a wonderful addition to the story of our neighbourhood, bringing with it the history of a great family, some of whose members are remembered today in the street names of our town.