Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Advertisers in the Sisters of Mercy Year Book 1953/'54


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.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Athy's Commercial Life of the 1920s

Coming out of the recent recession its instructive to look back at times past and see how previous generations were affected by business closures.  At the turn of the last century employment opportunities in Athy and South Kildare were largely to be found in the agricultural sector and during the summer months in the local brick making factories.  The tied farm labourer, provided with a cottage by his farmer employer, worked six days a week. The temporary or part time farm worker, usually from the town of Athy was employed, if at all, during the sowing and harvesting seasons.  For many, however, there was little opportunity of earning an honest shilling.  The call to arms in August 1914 represented a welcome opportunity for many unemployed young men to travel abroad and more importantly to earn a regular wage with quite substantial weekly separation allowances payable to wives and children left at home. 


Carriage makers and blacksmiths were an important part of the average Irish provincial towns employment before, during, and for a short time after World War I.  Here in Athy Duke Street was the location of John Glespen’s carriage works, while Hannon’s Mills at Ardreigh and at  Crom a Boo bridge were substantial employers in what was a long-established milling business.  The malting of barley has a long tradition in Athy with many small malting houses once to be found throughout the town.  The old cinema in Offaly Street was the location of one of those malting houses when, unlike today’s operation, malting was very labour intensive.


Duthie Larges was the most successful business in Athy in the 1920s.  At the height of the Irish War of Independence, the firm had to let off 40 men because of a military imposed motor restriction order.  That same month, March 1921, saw the imposition of a curfew in Athy.  It followed the execution of six Irishmen in Mountjoy Jail on the 14th of March.  Those executed included Frank Flood, whose brother Tom would later carry on business in the Railway Hotel in Leinster Street and Patrick Moran who had worked for a time as a barman in Athy.


Duthie Large’s would recover in the years following the Civil War, while the long-established malting business of Minch Norton’s which at one time had malting houses at Stanhope Street as well as at the Grand Canal, would survive and prosper in peacetime. 


In the early years of the newly established Irish Free State, Urban Council workers were obliged to take a 2 shilling and 6 pence reduction in their weekly wage of 40 shillings.  Around the same time, the Hannon milling business first established by the Haughton family closed.  The workers who lost their jobs looked to the Barrow Drainage Scheme for work while others, encouraged by the local Council’s support for the project, placed their employment hopes on the possibility of a sugar beet factory opening in Athy.  The Council workers who had already seen a reduction in their weekly wage packet in May 1925 found themselves losing another 2 and 6 pence per week five months later. Their reduced wage was 35 shillings per week but even that was not enough to balance the Council’s budget and two workmen, John Ryan and Thomas Donohoe, were let go. 


The 1920s was also the start of Henry Hosie’s involvement in the regeneration of Athy’s economic fortunes.  He was the prime mover in the opening up of the Picture Palace in Offaly Street in or around 1925.  I have found a reference to a Cinema Hall in Duke Street in April 1922 but I don’t know if Henry Hosie was involved.  Hosie was also responsible for establishing Industrial Vehicles Ireland Limited, better known as the I.V.I.  He first wrote to the Urban District Council in May 1929 requesting an interview with the members regarding his proposed purchase of part of the Pound Field.  The Council agreed the sale to ‘Captain Hosie as the town is in much need of employment’.   The I.V.I. foundry was the first major factory in Athy and would be followed in 1936 by the Asbestos factory and in 1946 by the Wallboard factory.  All three factories made a huge contribution to the industrialisation of Athy and for a time made industry the main source of employment for the majority of local workers.


I’m reminded of the contribution that Hosie made to the improvements of the town’s fortunes every day as I pass down Offaly Street.  That street was home to a vibrant community in the 1950s and is now a pale shadow of its past.  Kitty Webster’s shop is empty and almost derelict, while the adjoining public house is closed with broken front windows protected by timber planks.  The conversion of Guard Tuohy’s house into a shop premises is unfinished, and the unfinished work adds to the miserable state of the once proud street, which misery is compounded by the nearby vacant former cinema premises.


Athy needs a modern-day Henry Hosie to advance the regeneration plan announced with much enthusiasm two years ago, if our town is to retain its former position as a vibrant business town.


A happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year to all readers of the Eye.




Tuesday, December 12, 2017

'While Shepherds Watch' and Athy's Musical Heritage

‘While Shepherds Watched’, a musical extravaganza for Christmas, will take place in St. Michael’s Parish Church on Tuesday, 19th December starting at 8p.m.  This year’s performance will be the 25th year of this annual Christmas celebration which was first staged in the Dominican Church in December 1992.  The late Paul Stafford directed that first ‘While Shepherds Watched’, with Ann Marie Heskins as musical director and Eileen Doyle as choir conductor.  For the following 22 years the show was put on in the Dominican Church and it was only in 2015 that the Christmas show transferred to the east bank of the Barrow and St. Michael’s Parish Church. 


Athy has a long tradition of music making.  When next you visit the Carlow County Museum you can see a poster from the early part of the last century advertising a concert in Carlow town which featured members of Athy’s musical society.  Many of the locals involved were no doubt members of the Moonbeam Entertainment Group which put on shows in Athy during the first World War years.  Hanging on the wall of my office is a large poster for a ‘Grand Concert in aid of the Red Cross Fund’ which took place in the Town Hall on Thursday, 18th January 1918.  The entertainers included the Misses Cranwell, Ashmore, Fennell, Nolan, Mr. R. Evans, Rev. P. Kellett, Rev. A.C. Lockett and Mr. Wilson Kelly humourist.  The Moonbeam entertainers put on shows throughout 1921 and 1922 in the local Town Hall and in 1923 in the Comrades Hall.  Those taking part in those latter shows included Mr. and Mrs. Painting, Miss Hosie, Mr. McElwee, Miss Cecil, Miss Toomey and Mr. R. Youell. 


Several other musical societies have brightened up the local cultural scene here in Athy over the last 100 years or so.  The Athy Musical Society, founded in the last year of the Second World War, was particularly active during the latter part of the 1940s.  The annual show put on in the Town Hall brought together a wide range of talents supported by a large cast of local men and women.  The participants in those early shows were captured in black and white photographs which today are a reminder of the great musical performances of the 1940s.  The older readers of this column would remember the musicals ‘White Bread and Apple Sauce’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Dick Whittington’, ‘Easter Parade’ and ‘Orchards and Onions’.  Names associated with those great shows include May Ward, May Fenelon, Paddy Timpson, Tom Whyte, Peggy Glynn, Dan Meany, Veronica Keane, Betty May, Barney Davis and Jim Dargan.  There were so many other Athy locals who appeared on the Town Hall stage as members of the Athy Musical Society but space does not allow me to add their names to this list.


1963 saw the emergence of another musical society in Athy, the South Kildare Choral Society.  Under the direction of Captain Denis Mellerick of the Army School of Music, that society staged several musicals in the Grove Cinema including ‘The Mikado’ and ‘The Arcadian’.  In 1984 the Athy Musical and Dramatic Society was formed and its first stage show was ‘Happy Days are here again’.  This was followed by ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ in 1987, ‘Carousel’ the following year, ‘Oklahoma’ in 1989 and ‘My Fair Lady’ in 1990.  Later still the Society featured ‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘Brigadoon’, in addition to a number of dramas including ‘Juno and the Paycock’ and ‘The Year of the Hiker’.  Now 33 years after its foundation Athy’s Musical and Dramatic Society will stage ‘While Shepherds Watched’ on Tuesday 19th December.  It promises to be an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, with the net proceeds from the evenings show going to Pieta House charity.


The musical tradition of the South Kildare Region also found a champion in Brian Lawler who was sadly laid to rest in his native Kilmead last weekend.  As founder and leader of the Ardellis Ceili band his contribution to Irish traditional music was widely recognised and the band’s popularity during the late 1950s matched that of the legendary Gallowglass Ceili band.  Indeed both bands featured many times on Radio Eireann.  The South Kildare townland of Ardellis will be forever associated with Irish traditional music thanks to the late Brian Lawler.


On Thursday 14th December the recently formed Athy Historical Society will host a lecture by Dr. Sharon Greene who was recently appointed editor of the Archaeology Ireland Journal.  The topic is ‘Kathleen Shackleton, artist, illustrator, artic traveller and Blackfoot Indian’.  The lecture for which there is no charge starts at 7.30 p.m. in the Heritage Centre.  Anyone interested in becoming a member of Athy’s newly formed historical society can join on the night, or do so by calling into the Heritage Centre.



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Lions Club Christmas Food Appeal and poverty in Athy

This coming weekend the Lions Club Christmas Food Appeal will take place in Athy’s local supermarkets.  Members of the local Lions Club, helped by friends and family members, will man the collection boxes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday next to receive donations so that local families in need can be helped over the festive season.  It is called the Food Appeal as the charitable intervention started many years ago with a call for the donation of non-perishable food items for distribution at Christmas time.  A few years ago, because of the logistical difficulties of handling and distributing donated food stuffs, it was decided to seek cash donations instead.  The net effect is the same as all the monies collected are used entirely and solely for the purchase of necessary food stuffs for local families in need. 


At a time when we have a well-developed welfare system it is regrettably true that many needy families, either in temporary distress or experiencing long term difficulties, can be left isolated and in desperate need.  There are not however, within our community at least, the awful tragedies recorded in the minute book of Athy Urban District Council on 5th January 1931.  The Council at its meeting was compelled to pass a motion in the following terms.  ‘That in view of the statements made and beliefs held by the people of Athy, that two recent deaths in the town were the result of starvation, we beg to point out to the Department of Local Government in the interests of truth and of the poor of the town and in the interests of the Home Help Officer that a sworn enquiry into the deaths of Denis K……of Woodstock Street and Thomas G….. of Meeting Lane, Athy is desirable and generally into the way the Home Help is administered.’


Reading that motion, even 86 years after the death of these two local men, is a chilling reminder of the hardships experienced at that time by some members of the local community.  As far back as March 1907 Thomas Plewman, a member of the Urban District Council, drew his fellow Councillors attention to the ‘want of employment and consequent distress amongst the labouring classes in the town of Athy.’  Following a subsequent Council meeting to consider the matter the Councillors agreed to hire extra men for street cleaning for a couple of weeks.


Seven years later the Council decided to appoint a representative committee for the purpose of dealing with ‘any distress that might arise in the urban district in consequence of the war’.  The 1914-’18 war is generally believed to have resulted in greater financial benefits for the families of men who enlisted but nevertheless the Council in January 1915 felt it necessary to direct the relieving officer to ‘the dire distress at present prevailing amongst the poor people in Rathstewart and to ask her to distribute some coal amongst the families for the purpose of airing their houses’.  The same Council noted that ‘about 60 children attending National Schools in Athy are unable by reason of lack of food to take full advantage of the education provided.’


The difficulties posed for the poor of the town were again referenced in the Council minute book of September 1922 when the Kildare County Board of Health appointed the Council and the local Trade Union organiser Christy Supple to deal with all applications for home help in the Athy urban area.  The poor economic circumstances of those years were surprisingly not helped by the failure of local people to take up the Council’s offers of allotments.  The first time allotments were offered was during the Food Production Programme of 1917.  Council land at Gallowshill was on offer for ‘wage earners to till’ but there were no applications in January.  Readvertised in March there were only two applications and the Town Councillors decided not to proceed with the scheme for workers allotments.


A School Meals Committee was established for Athy in 1929, following which breakfasts were provided for necessitous children attending the local Sisters of Mercy School during the winter months.  This was the same year the Council again agreed to employ extra men in the week before Christmas in what was a distress relief measure.  Twenty men were employed to work on the roads and in the local gravel pit at five shillings per day, with three extra carters employed at seven shillings per day.


Reading of the measures taken by the local Council to relieve stress and hardship amongst the poor of Athy reminds us that poverty is everywhere to be found in every year of our lives.  Despite the measures put in place by State agencies to help those in need there are many families who this Christmas and throughout the year need the help of members of the local community.   The Lions Club Christmas Food Appeal is your opportunity to give that help.