Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Michael Conry, Carlow Author

The 2019 edition of Carloviana, the journal of the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society, has been published. It is a fine publication, with a range of well researched articles relating to County Carlow and persons from that county which even non Carlovians will find of interest. The society which started life as the Old Carlow Society in 1946 published its first journal in January of the following year. This year’s Carloviana brings to 67 the number of journals produced in the intervening years. Carlow has seen a number of excellent publications in recent years, from the pens of writers as diverse as Alan Stanley, Gerard Murphy and Dr. Michael Conry. The latter’s published output is extremely impressive, having first reached out to the general public with his book ‘Culm Crushers’ in 1999. Since then Michael Conry has written seven other books, all of them dealing with different aspects of Ireland’s rural folk life. A native of County Roscommon Michael, who is now retired, spent many years working for An Foras Taluntais in Oakpark, Carlow. He was awarded a Ph D by Trinity College where he studied under the guidance of the legendary George Mitchell, one of Ireland’s foremost environmentalists. No doubt influenced by Professor Mitchell, Michael set about the study of various aspects of Ireland’s cultural heritage. Over a period of 17 years ending with his last book in 2016 Michael Conry has published a veritable library unique in its scope and subject range. His first book published was ‘Culm Crushers’. It describes the history and folklore of an almost forgotten aspect of Ireland’s industrial archaeology – that of grinding stones for tempering culm, as well as grinding corn, bones, chalk, mortar and rendering. As Michael explained in the book’s foreword: ‘in times when money was scarce ….. culm (anthracite slack) provided an excellent and cheap source of fuel ….. dancing the culm and yellow clay with a pair of brogues was an laborious and time consuming task ….. its not surprising that man developed the simple technology of tempering the culm and yellow clay with culm crushers’. That first small paperback was followed the next year by ‘The Carlow Fence’, a book devoted to a unique feature of the County Carlow landscape. County Carlow, two thirds of which is underlain by granite bedrock, had stone masons who over the years learned to use the natural granite to create granite slab fences and the two-tiered granite fences unique to the county. It was a book which awakened interest in what was a forgotten feature of the Carlow landscape. Michael Conry’s third book in three years was a masterful account of culm as a domestic and industrial fuel in Ireland. Under the title ‘Dancing the Culm’ Michael traced the history of burning the culm as a domestic fuel, the techniques used to make the culm balls and the various methods of cooking on the culm fire in different parts of the country. Dr. William Nolan in the books foreword described how the culm was mixed with dry yellow clay in the ratio of 7:1, with some water on the flagstones before the mixture was worked by tramping the bed of culm with a pair of old boots. It was, he noted, a monotonous hard ‘dance’, but a necessary one for so many households for whom coal was an expensive commodity. How right William Nolan was when he declared that in ‘Dancing the Culm’ Michael Conry ‘had struck a rich vein that shone with the lustre of peacock coal.’ Next up after a lapse of three years was the book ‘Cornstacks on Stilts’ which dealt with the use of building stacks of corn stands, a practice which died out long before the author began to research the topic. Two years later ‘Carlow Granite – years of history written in stone’ appeared in the bookshops. This latest tome drew attention to the importance of granite stone in the lives of Irish people and in the economy of the country. It detailed how Carlow people learned to use granite so extensively that it today forms an integral part of the architectural heritage of the county. Michael Conry’s research and publications on various aspects of rural life gave us two other remarkable publications ‘Picking Bilberries, Fraochans and Whorts in Ireland’ published in 2011 and five years later ‘The Rabbit Industry in Ireland’. Both books unveil for its readers a view of Irish life of the recent past. Both are important studies recording in print a way of life which was once quite common but is today unknown to a people for whom the country life is viewed, if at all, as a cultural wasteland. Michael Conry through his books has shown that the store of cultural heritage to be found in the Irish countryside provides a richness of history and folklife which tells the story of a now largely disappeared rural life.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

St. Michael's Medieval Church

‘St. Michael’s is one of the most ancient of the many ruined churches in the parish of Athy’, so wrote a former Athy curate, Rev. James Carroll, with reference to the church in St. Michael’s cemetery in an article in the second issue of the Kildare Archaeological journal published in 1893. He claimed that the church was built in the 14th century but the Urban Archaeology Survey led by the late John Bradley in the mid-1980s noted ‘the Church of St. Michael’s was in existence by 1297’. Athy was one of many Anglo-Norman settlements in this area and by the mid-13th century had developed into a sizeable settlement as evidenced by the presence of two religious houses. The Crutched Friars, the name commonly given to the Canon Regulars of the Holy Cross, were invited to come to Athy by Richard de St. Michael, Baron of Rheban and Lord of the Manor of Woodstock. They were followed some years later by the Dominicans who chose a site for their priory on the east bank of the river Barrow. The late Dominican historian, Fr. Hugh Fleming, was unable to determine who invited the Dominicans to this part of the country. The most likely candidate he thought was either a member of the St. Michael family or Maurice Fitzgerald who was owner of Kilkea from 1244. The Crutched Friars, unlike the Dominicans, had parish responsibilities for St. Johns. The Dominicans, as was usual for that religious order, built their priory outside the village settlement. What is perhaps even stranger is that the parish church of St. Michaels was built so far away from the Anglo Norman settlement which had developed around a castle at Woodstock. The Anglo Norman settlers, like the native Irish, shared the same catholic faith and while separated by status and nationality they were also separated by language. French was the language of the settlers, Irish the language of the natives. The small church of St. Michaels was, I believe, built for use by the native Irish inhabitants of this area, while the Crutched Friars and the Dominicans, in the early years at least, catered exclusively for the French speaking settlers. Fr. Carroll, who had transferred from Athy to Baldoyle by the time his article appeared in the archaeological journal, noted that ‘the church’s west gable is nearly perfect and the small “light” above with its oaken lintel yet remains ….. some years ago a portion of the side walls disappeared, as did the eastern end and the vestry on the south.’ Unfortunately in the intervening years further damage has occurred to the ancient structure and for safety reasons it has been closed off with metal barriers for the last 3 or 4 years. I have in previous articles noted that the town’s distinctive heritage comprising historical buildings such as St. Michael’s Church, the Town Hall, Woodstock Castle and Whites Castle, to mention just a few, are key resources in promoting our town. As a community we need to take care of these resources for they give Athy with its other historical assets the town’s unique character. The elevated ground in front of St. Michael’s Church is evidence of its use for burials over many centuries. Some years ago the volunteers who comprised Athy’s cemetery committee while cleaning up St. Michael’s cemetery, attempted to recover grave slabs which over the years had disappeared underground. One grave slab recovered was that of the Daker family which records deaths which occurred from 1739 onwards. The Daker family were proprietors of the large tanyard recorded as operating in Athy in the latter half of the 18th century. The town boasted several tanyards, but Daker’s tanyard at the end of Tanyard Lane which later led to the Dominican Church (now Athy’s library), was by far the largest in the area. Unfortunately the volunteers were unable to locate the grave slab of Robert Pearson which was once recorded with the following inscription: ‘In hope of the happy resurrection here lyeth the body of Robert Pearson Esq. Captain of the 10th Regiment of Foot of Ireland who served under the brave Duke of Marlborough’. The damage to the old Church of St. Michael’s was compounded by the even more regrettable removal of what was once described as a fine old arch which was located between the church and Bothar Bui, now the Dublin Road. Its removal some time during the mid 1800s deprived us of an important medieval structure. There is an urgent need to preserve and maintain St. Michael’s Church, which every native of Athy knows as ‘The Crickeen’. Kildare County Council’s Historic Monuments Committee, in cooperation with Athy’s Cemetery’s Committee should, undertake the necessary work to protect St. Michael’s Medieval Church.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dolores Nolan and Niamh Hegarty

I was reminded of long lost youth when, during the week, I had an unexpected visit from two friends of my late brother Seamus. Fifty-three years have passed since his tragic death in a road traffic accident on the Dublin road, but memories were quickly revived when ‘walks down the line’ as part of teenage life in Athy of the early 1960s was mentioned by my visitors. Dolores Nolan and Niamh Hegarty have been friends since school days. Both attended the local St. Mary’s Secondary School, Dolores making the morning journey from Duke Street, while Niamh made her way from the Hegarty home at Geraldine Road. Dolores’s parents were Tom and Molly Nolan, her father having come to Athy in 1943 to open a shop at 42 Duke Street. Tom was a native of Newbridge and after his early behind the counter work experience in shops in Castledermot and Carlow came to what was then the thriving market town of Athy to open his own shop. His wife was the former Molly Moore, whose brothers Michael, Eddie and Charlie were already part of the commercial life of the town. Tom Nolan carried on business in Athy until 1971 when he retired to live in Dublin. Dolores who had spent most of her adult life abroad returned to live in Ireland last year. Three years earlier Niamh Hegarty made the return journey to Ireland after spending 35 years in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was there that the school friends from Athy, both living in Johannesburg, were able to renew their friendship. Niamh was the youngest child of Joseph and Teresa Hegarty who came to Athy in 1949 when Joseph took up a position with the Wallboard factory at Tomard. Dolores and Niamh were part of a young group of friends and students from St. Marys and the local Christian Brothers School, many of whom would leave Athy as school years ended. Both remembered with fondness many of their classmates, Carmel Brophy, Katherine Clancy, Noelle O’Connor, Olga Rowan, Stacia Miller, Fidelma Blanchfield, Eilish O’Donnell, Eithne Hughes, Enda McNulty and Finola Moriarty. Between the Christian Brothers School boys and the girls of St. Marys friendships were forged and memories created with never to be forgotten walks ‘down the line’. I well remember my own classmates’ appreciation of the welcoming countryside around Sunnyside and how we all enjoyed meeting there for after school activities, free from the questioning gaze of parents and teachers. Dolores and Niamh were part of school class group which included not only their friends in St. Marys, but also CBS students such as Ger Moriarty, Seamus Taaffe, Kevin McNulty, Terry Dooley, Denis O’Sullivan, Liam Kane, Niall Hegarty and many many more, too numerous to mention. Athy in the late 1950s and early 1960s was in many ways so very different than it is today. This year we have a population in excess of 10,000 persons, whereas 50/60 years ago the busy town pubs catered for a population of a little more than 4,000. It was a small town full of independent shops where men such as Tom Nolan could run a successful business at a time when not a single empty shop premises was to be found in Athy. It was a time when Joe Hegarty could look forward with confidence, as did many other men and women as employment opportunities in the town improved after the economic downturn of post war years. Dolores and Niamh recalled with nostalgia their school days which were spent in the primary school and secondary school of the local Sisters of Mercy. They remembered with fondness Sr. Raphael and Sr. Alphonsus, two of their primary school teachers and their secondary school teachers, Sr. Paul, Sr. Oliver, Sr. Rose, Sr. Zavier and Mother Therése. Having spent a greater part of their lives abroad Dolores and Niamh enjoyed sharing with me their memories of Athy, of friends and of friendships of almost 60 years ago. Those memories were underpinned by a youthful happiness shared with classmates and families, many of whom are now gone from us. Dolores’s mother Molly died in 1977, to be followed months later with the passing of her father Tom in January 1978. Niamh’s parents continued to live in Athy where her father Joseph died in 1984 and her mother Teresa 13 years later. Both are buried in St. Michael’s cemetery. The extended Nolan/Hegarty families are no longer part of the current Athy community but for the one-time Convent of Mercy school girls Athy will always hold a special place in their memories.

Dolores Nolan and Niamh Hegarty

I was reminded of long lost youth when, during the week, I had an unexpected visit from two friends of my late brother Seamus. Fifty-three years have passed since his tragic death in a road traffic accident on the Dublin road, but memories were quickly revived when ‘walks down the line’ as part of teenage life in Athy of the early 1960s was mentioned by my visitors. Dolores Nolan and Niamh Hegarty have been friends since school days. Both attended the local St. Mary’s Secondary School, Dolores making the morning journey from Duke Street, while Niamh made her way from the Hegarty home at Geraldine Road. Dolores’s parents were Tom and Molly Nolan, her father having come to Athy in 1943 to open a shop at 42 Duke Street. Tom was a native of Newbridge and after his early behind the counter work experience in shops in Castledermot and Carlow came to what was then the thriving market town of Athy to open his own shop. His wife was the former Molly Moore, whose brothers Michael, Eddie and Charlie were already part of the commercial life of the town. Tom Nolan carried on business in Athy until 1971 when he retired to live in Dublin. Dolores who had spent most of her adult life abroad returned to live in Ireland last year. Three years earlier Niamh Hegarty made the return journey to Ireland after spending 35 years in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was there that the school friends from Athy, both living in Johannesburg, were able to renew their friendship. Niamh was the youngest child of Joseph and Teresa Hegarty who came to Athy in 1949 when Joseph took up a position with the Wallboard factory at Tomard. Dolores and Niamh were part of a young group of friends and students from St. Marys and the local Christian Brothers School, many of whom would leave Athy as school years ended. Both remembered with fondness many of their classmates, Carmel Brophy, Katherine Clancy, Noelle O’Connor, Olga Rowan, Stacia Miller, Fidelma Blanchfield, Eilish O’Donnell, Eithne Hughes, Enda McNulty and Finola Moriarty. Between the Christian Brothers School boys and the girls of St. Marys friendships were forged and memories created with never to be forgotten walks ‘down the line’. I well remember my own classmates’ appreciation of the welcoming countryside around Sunnyside and how we all enjoyed meeting there for after school activities, free from the questioning gaze of parents and teachers. Dolores and Niamh were part of school class group which included not only their friends in St. Marys, but also CBS students such as Ger Moriarty, Seamus Taaffe, Kevin McNulty, Terry Dooley, Denis O’Sullivan, Liam Kane, Niall Hegarty and many many more, too numerous to mention. Athy in the late 1950s and early 1960s was in many ways so very different than it is today. This year we have a population in excess of 10,000 persons, whereas 50/60 years ago the busy town pubs catered for a population of a little more than 4,000. It was a small town full of independent shops where men such as Tom Nolan could run a successful business at a time when not a single empty shop premises was to be found in Athy. It was a time when Joe Hegarty could look forward with confidence, as did many other men and women as employment opportunities in the town improved after the economic downturn of post war years. Dolores and Niamh recalled with nostalgia their school days which were spent in the primary school and secondary school of the local Sisters of Mercy. They remembered with fondness Sr. Raphael and Sr. Alphonsus, two of their primary school teachers and their secondary school teachers, Sr. Paul, Sr. Oliver, Sr. Rose, Sr. Zavier and Mother Therése. Having spent a greater part of their lives abroad Dolores and Niamh enjoyed sharing with me their memories of Athy, of friends and of friendships of almost 60 years ago. Those memories were underpinned by a youthful happiness shared with classmates and families, many of whom are now gone from us. Dolores’s mother Molly died in 1977, to be followed months later with the passing of her father Tom in January 1978. Niamh’s parents continued to live in Athy where her father Joseph died in 1984 and her mother Teresa 13 years later. Both are buried in St. Michael’s cemetery. The extended Nolan/Hegarty families are no longer part of the current Athy community but for the one-time Convent of Mercy school girls Athy will always hold a special place in their memories.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Driving recently towards Castledermot I passed along a road which in medieval days and earlier was possibly a trackway through thickly wooded countryside. I was prompted to reflect on how the fortunes of the town I had just left and the town I was approaching had changed over the centuries. John MacKenna in what I believe was his first published work ‘Castledermot and Kilkea – a social history’ in the final paragraph wrote ‘The present village of Castledermot is very old …..before Diarmuid established his hermitage on the Lir bank there were people in the area.’ The late Tadgh Hayden, who wrote and prepared the souvenir brochure for Castledermot’s An Tostal in 1953, claimed that Diarmuid, the hermit, came to the area in or about 500 A.D. and built a beehive shaped cell and a small church in the neighbourhood of the present round tower. The book of the Four Masters on the other hand had Diarmuid’s grandfather killed about the year 800 A.D. which prompted John MacKenna to believe that the religious collective which was later to become the Norman town of Tristledermot and finally Castledermot was founded in 823. Whether it is 500 A.D. or 300 years later Diarmuid’s monastery was part of Ireland’s golden age of religious foundations. It’s importance as a religious settlement can be surmised from the fact that the Vikings who normally travelled by water attacked the monastery and in doing so moved so far inland. A hog backed Viking gravestone decorated with crosses, the only such one in Ireland, is all that remains to remind us of the Viking attack on the monastery nearly 1200 years ago. The importance of Diarmuid’s monastery was further affirmed as the place of burial of Cormac O’Cuilleanain, King of Munster and bishop of Cashel, who was killed during the battle of Ballaghmoone in 907. The Anglo Normans who arrived in Ireland in 1169 recognised the importance of the religious settlement in the rural area, which by then included a round tower built for defensive purposes following the earlier Viking raid. Strongbow gave the area around the present Castledermot to de Ridellesford and the area around Kilkea to de Lacy. The subsequent building of Kilkea Castle and the Castle of Tristledermot strengthened the Norman influence in this area and for a time the village of Tristledermot was one of the most important rural settlements in the Norman’s Irish world. It was in Tristledermot, later corrupted to Castledermot by English speaking settlers that the first Irish parliament was held in 1264. Attended by 26 knights the Irish parliament would be held in Tristledermot on ten further occasions between 1269 and 1404. The Tristledermot settlement, like the neighbouring Norman settlement at the Ford of Ae (Athy), attracted not one but two religious houses. The Crouched Friars came in 1210 and the only physical reminder of their time in the area is the present St. John’s tower. The Franciscans founded a monastery in Tristledermot in or around 1300 and the substantial remains of what is today referred to as ‘The Abbey’ is what remains of that monastery. The village of Tristledermot was surrounded by strong defensive walls, the only portion of which remain today are what are called ‘the Carlow gate’. That gate was one of four gates which were in the Norman village walls and through which Edward Bruce and his Scottish troops marched when they attacked and destroyed much of Castledermot in 1316. The Confederate Wars also saw the Cromwellian army attack and destroy Castledermot for the second time in 1615. The village would never again regain the prominent position it had enjoyed in the social and economic life of south Kildare. The subsequent decline of the once powerful settlement of Tristledermot coincided with the emergence of neighbouring Athy as the most prominent urban settlement in south Kildare. The latter’s position on the navigable River Barrow gave it a huge advantage over its near neighbour at a time when travel by road was well nigh impossible. It was an advantage which in the 17th and 18th centuries saw Athy emerge as a developing market town. The opening of the Grand Canal to Athy in 1792 and the extension of the railway line to Carlow through Athy in 1846 copper fastened Athy’s claim to be the leading town in the south of the county. Unlike Athy Castledermot has been the subject of several publications over the years, including those earlier mentioned by Tadgh Hayden and John MacKenna. Reverend Warburton wrote a guide to St. James’s Church in 1968, while Eamon Kane’s book ‘Diseart Diarmada’ published in 2015 deals extensively with the early history of the village of Castledermot. One other interesting book was that published in 1919 under the title of ‘Dysert Diarmada; or Irish place-names’, it’s author being described as ‘an Irish CC’. Can anyone help me to identify the author in question.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Athy Association Football Club

‘Irish soccer is in crisis’. So pronounced the TV newsreader earlier today as news of the resignation of the Irish international team management was made public. The previous day I read in the Kildare Nationalist of Athy Association Football Club’s celebration of its 70th anniversary in the Clanard Court Hotel. The loss of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane and the recent lack of success of the Irish international team was unlikely, I felt, to diminish the enthusiasm of Athy’s club chairman, Stephen Bolger, and his colleagues in managing one of the most successful sporting clubs in south Kildare. Athy AFC has a proud history which stretches even further back than the 70 years which were recently celebrated. The first note I came across of soccer played in Athy was in the mid-1920s at a time when the Barrow Drainage Scheme headquarters was based in the town. An employee of the Barrow Drainage Company, whose first name is regrettably lost in time, a Mr. Sanford, organised a soccer team in the town. Called the ‘Barrow Rovers’, the team included locals such as Chevit and John Doyle, Ned Ward, Jim Eaton and Cuddy Chanders. Cuddy will be recalled as the man who would feature in later years as goalkeeper for the Kildare County Senior GAA team. ‘Barrow Rovers’ apparently disbanded when the Barrow Drainage Scheme ended. It wasn’t until 1948 when Athy’s hockey club went out of existence that a former hockey club member, Matt Tynan, called a public meeting to set up a soccer club. Matt was manager of the local L&N shop at the corner of Emily Square and Leinster Street and he recognised that the former hockey pitch in the Showgrounds would be an ideal soccer playing pitch. Other local men involved with Matt Tynan in setting up Athy AFC in 1948 included Jimmy O’Donnell and Harry Prole. The emergence of the new club encouraged several locals who up to then played soccer with a Carlow team to transfer to the Athy club. They included Gerry Sullivan, ‘Oney’ Walsh and Tom Kealy. To encourage the development of the game amongst local youngsters Matt Tynan presented a cup in 1952 for a street league competition. Youth teams from Barrack Street, Pairc Bhride, Offaly/Leinster Street and St. Joseph’s Terrace were some of the streets/estates involved in the Tynan Cup competitions. Matt Tynan’s role in the early years of the soccer club was extremely important as events were to prove on his departure from Athy in about 1960 when the club went into decline. This prompted some of the older club members to call a public meeting in December 1964 which the local press reported was attended by ‘members of the Barrow Rovers team of the 1920s and the later club which flourished from 1948-1960.’ Amongst those who took a leading part in reviving Athy’s soccer club were Brendan O’Flaherty, Denis Smyth and Mick McEvoy. I remember some of the players of the 1950s whom I enjoyed watching in those ‘GAA foreign games ban days’ from the other side of the fence as I attended GAA matches in Geraldine Park. Brian O’Hara, Joe Aldridge, Frankie Aldridge, Denis Smyth, Brendan O’Flaherty, Alo Gallagher, Mick Godfrey, Tommy O’Rourke and George Lammon are just a few of the names which come to mind. Athy AFC under the chairmanship of Stephen Bolger has gone from strength to strength and now fields men’s and women’s adult teams as well as a large number of underage teams. A soccer academy and an underage league promotes the game amongst the very young, while the indoor astra park opened in March 2012 gives the club a wonderful facility to help grow the sport. The Athy AFC grounds named Aldridge Park after the late Frankie Aldridge, is located in the Showgrounds alongside the GAA pitch, the rugby pitches and the tennis club. The playing fields of the three major Irish field sports located together in Athy’s showgrounds represent a unique facility and one which owes much to the initiative and foresight of past Athy folk who were involved in acquiring the land for agricultural show purposes at the start of the last century. Athy AFC has a membership in excess of 350 and the club trustees, Joe Foley Snr., Morgan Gray, Frank Whelan, Finbarr Bride and Tom Kearney have all been involved as players and administrators in the club over many years. The continuing growth of the game in Athy is evident in the emergence of soccer teams and soccer pitches in Clonmullin and Woodstock. Whatever about the lack of success at international level soccer is a popular sport here in Athy, due in large measure to the commitment and enthusiasm of the officers and committee members of Athy’s AFC both past and present.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

World War 1 Commemorations November 2018

The First World War figured prominently in events held over the last week or so here in Athy and in the county town of Naas. The centenary of the last day of the war which accounted for the loss of almost 10 million lives was marked with a variety of events all of which well attended, attesting to the now widely held belief that the men who enlisted in the British Army during 1914-’18 are a valued part of our Irish history. The commemorations here in Athy started with the Athy Dramatic Society’s presentation of David Walsh’s ‘The Bravest Little Town in the World’. The exaggerated claim in the title did not detract from the very moving tribute in words and song to the men from south Kildare who died in the war. Remembering that those young men, while answering the call to arms of Athy’s parish priest and the chairman of the Urban Council, did so despite the opposition of the local Sinn Fein club, I was pleasantly surprised to see two members of the Dooley family on stage. Michael Dooley was chairman of Athy’s Sinn Fein Club in 1917 and like all non-Redmondite republicans opposed enlistment during the 1914-’18 war. The participation of his great grandson, Brian Dooley, and Brian’s daughter Sara in the show to remember the war sacrifices of south Kildare, was confirmation, if such was needed, that our history extends far beyond our national boundaries. On Saturday 10th November Kildare Archaeological Society organised a seminar to mark the end of the Great War. Held in Kilashee Hotel, it attracted a large audience to hear talks on a variety of war related topics given by eminent academics and historians. The keynote address of the seminar was given by Professor Diarmuid Ferriter of U.C.D. on ‘The Triumphant Sinn Fein in 1918’. The next day Kildare County Council commemorated the County Kildare soldiers of World War I with a ceremony in the grounds of the Council offices which at one time formed part of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers depot. It was from there that those Athy men who joined the Dublin Fusiliers were billeted before they moved overseas. The ceremony brought together many from around the county and on leaving all of us received a copy of the specially printed booklet listing the County Kildare men who died during the 1914-’18 war. ‘Remembrance – the Eleventh Hour 1914-1918’ is an advance publication in anticipation of a more detailed and complete book on County Kildare’s World War 1 dead which the County Council will publish next year. At Athy that Sunday afternoon I was part of the attendance at the largest World War I commemoration event in County Kildare that day. I was quite surprised to see such a big turnout, the largest ever seen at this Remembrance Sunday event which started almost 20 years ago. I remember that very first Remembrance Sunday event in St. Michael’s cemetery. The small group which came together that first occasion largely comprised family members of the organisers, John MacKenna, David Walsh and my own family. The numbers attending increased each year the event was held and it has been an annual event which in this centenary year drew the largest audience ever. In fact, I believe the numbers in St. Michael’s Cemetery on Sunday afternoon exceeded the numbers attending the morning event in Naas and that large attendance demonstrated that Athy ‘the bravest little town in the world’ is justifiably proud of its past. The final tribute to the Athy soldiers of World War I will be held on Sunday (18th November) when Kevin Morrin and his band play at the Clanard Court Hotel. Band member Vincent Crowley penned his song ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes’ which grew out of stories which he heard of times past in Athy and of the men who fought in and returned from the war. ‘Down along through Leinster Street | In the Autumn Rain Come tomorrows heroes | marching to the train October nineteen fourteen | and the “Great” War has begun. “They’ll be home by Christmas | and all the battles won” With pride the army’s gathering our sons New uniforms new boots and shiny Guns’. The singer, Kevin Morrin, will launch the song during the Clanard Court concert on Sunday. The Irish people’s changed attitude to commemorating the dead of World War I is due more than anything else to the writings over many years of Kevin Myers. It is a great shame that the Kildare based writer was not a speaker at the Archaeological Society event or a participant in the County Council commemoration in Naas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Athy - a Settlers town found3ed by the Anglo Normans

John Dymmor in his treatise on Ireland referred to Athy in May 1599 as ‘a great market town, but brought by these late wars into the state of a poor village’. The wars referred to were those waged by the O’Mores and O’Connors of the Midland septs and the O’Byrnes of west Wicklow against the English settlers. Athy, as a settler’s town inhabited from its foundation by French speaking Anglo Normans, had by the end of the 16th century a population comprised of English settlers and unfree Irish who were descendants of the former Betaghs of the feudal manor of Woodstock. The O’Brynes attacked Ardreigh Castle in 1593 and killed its occupants including Sir Piers Fitzjames, his wife and five others. Ardreigh served as an easy target for the Irish rebels as nearby Athy, then used as a staging post for supplies destined for the English settlers in nearby Laois and Offaly, was heavily garrisoned. However, emboldened by the rise of O’Neill in Ulster and his alliance with O’Donnell the waring Irish in the midlands again attacked the settlers town of Athy. Athy, perhaps better described as a village, had endured numerous attacks by the Irish over the centuries. It was attacked and torched no less than six times between 1308 and 1375. Further misfortune was to befall the settlers when the Black Death claimed many local victims during the three years from 1348. Athy as a frontier town was not a peaceful place in which to live in later medieval times, but despite whatever difficulties it faced the town survived when other Anglo Norman settlements such as Ardreigh, Rheban, Mullaghmast, Ardscull and Moone went into decline and eventually vanished. The defeat of the Irish and the Spanish at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 brought peace for a time to the midlands. Athy, which had been granted a charter by Henry VIII in 1515, was the beneficiary of a more extensive charter by James I in 1313 which would form the basis of the town’s local government for the next two centuries or more. Little is known of the town’s history during the following 30 years but in 1641 Athy was heavily involved in the Confederate wars. For a period of eight years Athy was the focus of attention involving armies from the Confederates, the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. At different times during that war the town was home of the Confederate leader, Owen Roe O’Neill and Gen. Thomas Preston of the Parliamentary army. It was the arrival of Oliver Cromwell in Ireland in 1649 which marked the end of the Confederate War and the killing in Drogheda of the sub Prior of the Athy Dominicans, Fr. Richard Overton. A few years later his superior, Fr. Raymond Moore, prior of Athy, died in jail. At the end of the war a number of local landowners had their lands forfeited, including Nicholas Wolfe of Oldcourt, Christopher Archbold of Timolin, Gerald Fitzgerald of Castleroe and John Pilsworth of Bert. The Cromwellian plantation, although not as successful as planned, nevertheless brought great changes among the landlord classes in south Kildare. One local property owner who is recorded as surviving the upheaval which followed the Confederate war was Daniel Hutchinson, a prominent follower of Cromwell, who established a cloth manufacturing enterprise in Athy. In 1669 the restored King of England was petitioned by the people of Athy for leave to have two additional fairs in the town. The petition claimed that Athy was ‘an ancient and loyal corporation and seated in the heart of a plentiful country both for corn and cattle.’ It also stressed that many of the town’s inhabitants were English tradesmen and that they had suffered much, ‘both by the recent wars and by two fires which lately destroyed most of their houses.’ Athy in the 1670s was apparently a distressful place in which to live as the Corporation of Drogheda was moved to appoint two alderman ‘to receive the benevolence of the inhabitants of the town for the relief of those of Athy who have suffered greatly in the late wars.’ History tells us that Athy during its 800 year existence experienced several extremely difficult and troubling times. It has always recovered, some past recoveries being identified with the coming of the canal in 1792 and again in 1846 with the opening of the railway line between Dublin and Carlow. Athy is today at a low ebb commercially and industrially, but on the horizon is the promise of an outer relief road which holds out the prospect of facilitating the revitalisation of the historic inner core of our ancient town.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Francis Ledwidge

Just outside Mons in Belgium a stone monument records the date when a squadron from the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards fired the opening British shots of the first World War. The date was 22nd August 1914, the time 7.00 in the morning. By the time the ceasefire occurred on 11th November 1918 almost 10 million men, women and children had died in the war. Amongst the 10 million were approximately 35,000 Irish men and women and amongst those Irish men were two whose names will be forever remembered whenever and wherever the poets of World War I are recalled. Francis Ledwidge, a native of Slane, Co. Meath, left school at 14 years of age to work as a farm labourer and six years later took up employment as a roadworker with Meath County Council. In October 1914 he enlisted in the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers where his mentor, Lord Dunsany, served as a captain. Ledwidge was a Lance Corporal when his battalion landed at Suvla Bay in August 1915. Within two months the British army lost more than 10,000 men and amongst those killed were Athy men Daniel Delaney, John Farrell, Christopher Hanlon, William Moran and Christopher Whelan. Edward Higgins and Henry Price, both of Ballitore and Michael Kinsella of Castledermot joined their Athy comrades in death on the beaches of the Dardanelles. After some time in Salonika where the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers were encamped on the Greco-Serbian border, Ledwidge with his regiment were forced to retreat. Ledwidge was subsequently hospitalised in Cairo and from there sent back to a hospital in Manchester, just as the 1916 Rising was taking place in Dublin. The subsequent execution of the leaders of the Rising may have contributed to Ledwidge’s subsequent Court marshalling for overstaying his leave following which he was reduced in rank. He subsequently re-joined his regiment and on the opening day of the third battle of Ypres he was killed when a German shell exploded near him on 31st July 1917. Ledwidge, who was 29 years of age, is buried in Artillery Wood cemetery, Boesinghe, Belgium. His own poem ‘At a Poet’s Grave’ is a poignant reminder of Irish literature’s loss when Ledwidge died. ‘And here where the sweet poet sleeps I hear the songs he left unsung, When winds are fluttering the flowers And summer bells are rung.’ Tom Kettle’s father was a founder member of the Land League and a friend of Charles Stewart Parnell. Tom qualified as a barrister in 1906 and that same year he was elected as an M.P. to Westminster where he proved to be an orator of exceptional ability. Three years later he married Mary Sheehy, whose sister Hannah was married to Francis Skeffington and soon afterwards he was appointed Professor of Economics at Dublin University. He resigned his parliamentary seat in 1910 but continued to be politically active, becoming one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913. When war was declared in August 1914 Kettle was abroad buying arms for the Volunteers. On his return to Ireland he enlisted but was not sent overseas until July 1916. Towards the end of August 1916 the Irish Brigade was sent to the Somme and it was there on 9th September Thomas Kettle was killed near the village of Ginchy. Aged 36 years his body was never recovered and he is today remembered on the ‘Thiepval Memorial to the Missing’ near Albert in France. The day Kettle died also saw the death of Maurice Cullen of Foxhill. Six days earlier John Vincent Holland of Model Farm Athy, as part of the Somme offensive, led his men in capturing the village of Guillemont located just a few miles south of Ginchy, an action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Thomas Kettle will always be remembered for the memorable poem which included the lines:- ‘So here, while the mad guns curse overhead, And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor, Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead, Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor, But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed, And for the secret scripture of the poor.’ Many of the young men who left Athy with the cheers and good wishes of local townspeople ringing in their ears were never to return. Many thousands of other Irish men including Francis Ledwidge and Tom Kettle believed they were fighting for Ireland, a claim which Ledwidge made in his poem. ‘For am I not of those who reared The banner of old Ireland high From Dublin town to Turkey’s shore’. On Thursday the Arts Centre hosts a show devised and directed by David Walsh remembering the men from Athy and district who died during the First World War. The following Sunday, November 11th, on the centenary of the ending of the war which witnessed the death of more than 120 young Athy men, those men and their colleagues who survived will be remembered at a commemoration ceremony at St. Michael’s cemetery commencing at 3pm.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Colm Walshe's music trail - Made of Athy

There is a growing realisation that our urban heritage is a key resource in helping to promote the development of Athy. There is no doubt our ancient town is badly in need of regeneration and the news of impending job losses in nearby Kilberry reinforces the need for even greater effort on all our parts to help that process. Heritage is a word once largely misunderstood and loudly condemned for allegedly holding back Athy’s drive for more and better jobs. That misunderstanding goes back a decade or two but has now been corrected as many of us have begun to appreciate the importance that attaches to familiar streetscapes and buildings in our town. Athy’s urban heritage comprises not only what we refer to as the built heritage, but also the intangible heritage created by literary and musical associations involving Athy, it’s writers and musicians, living or dead. I was reminded of this when approached some time ago by Colm Walsh with his plans for the creation of a music trail through and around Athy. His is a unique idea which draws on some distinctive aspects of the town’s musical heritage. Last week the first of the planned music trail plaques was unveiled by the grandson of Johnny Cash at the former Dreamland ballroom. It will be followed by the unveiling of a number of other plaques based around the town honouring musicians associated with Athy, whether directly or indirectly by way of family connections. I was particularly pleased to learn that Joe O’Neill and Padence Murphy, two Athy stalwarts who in the 1940s and beyond graced many local dancehalls with their orchestras The Stardust and The Sorrento, were honoured with a plaque unveiled by the Ceann Chomhairle Sean O’Fearghail T.D. at the district council offices at Rathstewart last Saturday. On Friday, November 2nd Emily Square can expect to be crowded by popular music followers when Johnny Marr, founder with Morrissey of The Smiths, unveils the third plaque in the Athy music trail series. Johnny’s parents were natives of Athy who emigrated to England in the early 1960s and Johnny Maher, as he was then known, later changed his surname to Marr. He is recognised as one of the most influential guitar players in British rock music history and has been the recipient of a number of awards. These include the Inspiration Award presented at the Ivor Novello awards in London and an award by NME for ‘Rewriting the history of music with one of the worlds greatest ever bands – The Smiths’. Johnny as a young fellow spent many summer holidays in Athy and his links with the town will be recalled on the plaque which he will unveil on 2nd November. Later in the year and into the new year further plaques will be unveiled to give Athy a unique music trail emphasising a key part of Athy’s cultural heritage. Another element of our heritage was evident during the Bank Holiday weekend when the 18th Ernest Shackleton Autumn School was held in the Town Hall. Never before had the 300-year-old building played host to so many visitors from abroad. Amongst those visitors were 27 Norwegians, many of them associated with the famous Fram Museum in Oslo who came to Athy recognising the important role that the south Kildare town has secured for itself in the world of polar studies. Here in Athy we have developed over the last 18 years a unique position as providers of the world’s only permanent exhibition to Kilkea born polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. The foresight of Kildare County Council in commissioning the wonderfully artistic Shackleton sculpture now standing in Emily Square was commendable and confirms the importance which must be attached to investment in our own distinctive heritage. Athy needs more investment, especially with regard to the built heritage of the town and here the County Council’s plans for the much-anticipated improvement of the town square are vital to help encourage local business confidence. On Thursday 8th November the Arts Centre in Woodstock Street will be the venue for a unique show devised by David Walsh with the title ‘The Bravest Little Town in the World’. The performance will form part of the local centenary commemorations for the ending of World War I. Athy is the bravest little town referred to in the show’s title and recognises the high number of young men from the locality who enlisted during the 1914-’18 war. Clem Roche published in the last year or so a book giving details of those young Athy men who died during the Great War. The book is on sale in the local Heritage Centre.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Irish Presidency and the Presidents who came to Athy

The Irish Constitution of 1937 which established the office of President was adopted by referendum rather than by the Dáil of that year. As a consequence it can be rightly considered as a people’s constitution and not one allied to any one political party. The role of the President is that of Head of State, but his or her functions are largely symbolic and ceremonial. Real political power rests with the Houses of the Oireachtas, while the President, irrespective of his or her background, is required to be above politics. The first President of Ireland was County Roscommon born Douglas Hyde, who prior to taking up office had already played an important part in the Gaelic cultural revival of the late 19th century. He was the first President of the Gaelic League and when elected President in 1938 was 78 years of age. He was succeeded by Seán T. Ó’Ceallaigh who, so far as I can ascertain, was the first Irish President to visit Athy in an official capacity. Sean T. had been in Athy, first as Minister for Local Government when officially opening in 1932 the Michael Dooley’s Terrace Housing Scheme. He would return at least twice to Athy as President of Ireland. One visit was to the County Show in the Showgrounds and the second occasion was to join a formal dinner in the Leinster Arms Hotel, organised I believe, by Macra na Feirme. Éamon de Valera was President from 1959 to 1973 and while he passed through Athy on several occasions, he did not make a formal visit to the south Kildare town. As Sinn Fein leader and later as leader of the Fianna Fáil party, he attended a number of meetings in Athy over the years. The first such visit was in the company of Arthur Griffith when he spoke from a platform in front of the Town Hall in 1919. His one-time political colleague, Erskine Childers, succeeded Eamonn de Valera as President in June 1973. Erskine Childers, whose father was executed during the Civil War, died suddenly in November 1974. The fifth Irish President was the former Chief Justice Cearbhall O’Dalaigh. He was the first President to resign from the position which he did towards the end of his second year in office. He did so, he claimed, to protect the dignity of the office following disparaging remarks by the then Minister of Defence, Paddy Donegan, after President O’Dalaigh referred an Emergency Powers Bill to the Supreme Court. Next in line was Patrick Hillary, a former government minister and EEC commissioner who held the presidency from 1976 to 1990. Like his predecessors, Cearbhall O’Dalaigh and Erskine Childers, President Hillary did not come to Athy on official business during his 14 years in office. President Mary Robinson’s visit to Athy in 1994 to unveil the monument commemorating the founding of Macra na Feirme marked the first occasion in several decades that an Irish President came to Athy. Hers was a presidency which showed greater relevance than ever before and as she claimed in her inaugural address the Ireland she represented was a new Ireland, open, tolerant and inclusive. Her resignation from the highest office in the land to take up the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was a disappointing and surprising end to an inspiring period as our President. Our first female President was succeeded by Mary McAleese, who like her predecessor brought a sense of energy to the position which was lacking during the time of the elderly male former politicians who had gone before them. The 9th President of Ireland is Michael D. Higgins, a man who has been a good friend to Athy as a government minister and as President of Ireland. Michael D. came to Athy when as Minister for Arts and Culture he opened the Aiseiri boat project in Nelson Street. The Aiseiri was an old canal boat recovered from the canal in Tullamore and brought to Athy where it was to undergo restoration over several years. The participants in that community project were young unemployed boys and girls and Michael D. approved funding for what was a very important community project. He returned a few years later as the Aiseiri project neared completion to open a Jim Flack exhibition in the local Heritage Centre. The canal boat when fully restored operated as a short trip touring vessel on the Barrow and the Grand Canal and was the precursor of the current boat hire project which has proved very successful. Michael D. Higgins’s visit to Athy as President of Ireland occurred when he opened the SHACKLETON AUTUMN SCHOOL in October 2012. His attendance that Friday evening in the Town Hall created enormous interest and the venue was full to capacity for what was a memorable occasion. President Michael D. Higgins has done our country proud, particularly so during the early years of the Decade of Commemoration. We can be justifiably proud of his cultured contribution to Irish public life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shackleton Autumn School 2018

In late October 1908 the Kildare-born explorer, Ernest Shackleton, was about to commence a long journey from his base camp to the South Pole. As it turned out he would not achieve his objective of being the first man to the South Pole. He would come within 90 miles of it after three months of unrelenting slog in extraordinary challenging conditions. In writing to his wife, Emily Shackleton, afterwards of his decision to turn back from the Pole because the supplies he had were insufficient to feed his men to get them back safely, he reckoned that she would prefer ‘to have a live donkey than a dead lion’. This decision would propel him to worldwide fame and his subsequent heroics in the Antarctic with the loss of his ship ‘Endurance’ in 1915 would ensure a place for him in the pantheon of polar explorers. His is a life we have celebrated in Athy every October over the last 18 years and the measure of the success of the event is that this year Athy will play host to a party of 29 Norwegian visitors from Oslo. Some of these visitors have come to Athy before, but for the vast majority of them this will be their first experience of our town and no doubt they will get a warm and vibrant welcome from the people of Athy. Their primary focus of course will be on the events around the Shackleton Autumn School over the weekend of 26th-29th October, which promises to be as diverse, entertaining and educational as it always is. The day to day events will commence with a master class with sculptor Mark Richards who sculpted the magnificent statue of Shackleton which adorns the back square. Mark will be taking students of Ardscoil na Tríonóide and Athy Community College through the steps in creating a sculpture. Later that evening, in the Athy Heritage-Centre Museum, the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland will open an exhibition called ‘Exploring Shackleton’ which tells the story of Shackleton’s life from cradle to grave. The Exhibition will be on loan to Athy Museum from the Norwegian Polar Museum, the Fram Museum, in Oslo. Across the weekend there will be a full range of lectures covering a wide variety of topics. For those who have a particular interest in the sea and the environment, Dr. Kelly Hogan of the British Antarctic Survey will talk about the knowledge that people can gain from the study of the sea floor on the polar regions. The American shipwreck hunter David Mearns will be talking about his extraordinary career in locating some of the most iconic ships lost at sea over the last number of centuries, while Dr. Jim McAdam from Queens University Belfast, will speak about the Irish patriot sailor and adventurer, Conor O’Brien, whose boat the Ilen is currently being restored in Baltimore, County Cork. For anybody with an interest in the future development of the Shackleton Museum they can hear more details about this in the Icebreakers segment on Saturday afternoon. Entry to that particular part of the weekend is free. Local interest will also centre on Dr. Sharon Greene, from Kilkea, who will talk about Kathleen Shackleton, Ernest’s younger sister, who had as rich and varied life as an artist all over the world. The German explorer, Arved Fuchs who was the first person to reach both the North and South Pole on foot in the same year, will also be lecturing on the morning of Sunday, 28th October. He has had quite an extraordinary adventuring life and his is a lecture not to be missed. One of the highlights of the weekend will be undoubtedly the performance of the play, ‘Shackleton’s carpenter’ written by the playwright Gail Louw, being performed in Athy’s Arts Centre. This one man show, performed by the English actor Malcolm Rennie, tells the story of Harry McNish, the carpenter and shipwright whose work on the lifeboat the James Caird was fundamental to the survival of Shackleton’s men after their ship Endurance was lost. Reviews of the play from the UK have been extraordinarily positive and it is particularly pleasing that the Arts Centre has an opportunity to host such a prestigious production. While it is very welcome to see so many visitors from abroad coming to our town over the October Bank Holiday weekend, it is also important that people of the town take the opportunity of participating in some of the events over the four days.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Kathleen Coburn

During the week we buried Kathleen Coburn, who like myself was a child born during the war who grew up in Athy of the 1950s. We Offaly Street lads, two Kellys, two Moores, two Whites, two Cashs, one Webster and two Taaffes at different times were readily identifiable with the vibrant street where we lived and played. A short distance separated us from the fellows in Leinster Street, but we were poles apart insofar as our afterschool hours were concerned. The girls from either street were invisible to us, at least until we gradually recognised that football and stone throwing battles were not the only enjoyable youthful pastimes. For that reason, Kathleen Coburn and her friends, Maura Hyland, Reiltin Blanchfield, Lily McHugh and Maura Dooley, all of whom lived in close proximity to each other, either at the top of Leinster Street or in St. Michael’s Terrace, did not cross our human radar screens. The Blanchfield’s timber yard was the girl’s usual playground, with an occasional foray into the railway station end of the People’s Park. We Offaly Streeters played in the Sunderland side of the same park and seldom, if ever, ventured beyond the invisible boundary line which separated the two sections. It was much later that I first came across Kathleen who by then was working in the offices of that wonderful Athy man, Tadgh Brennan. Kathleen’s father Tommy Stynes died at a relatively young age. I remember his shop at 10 Leinster Street from where he carried on business as an undertaker and a hackney service man. Am I imagining things when I visualise petrol pumps outside his Leinster Street shop? And what is that I hear of a juke box in his shop, something which we Offaly Street lads, accustomed to Kitty Websters and Sylvesters, could never imagine. Kathleen’s parents, I am told, after marrying first lived in the Emily Row house where Tos Quinn now has his offices. That premises would later house the Solicitors practice of Tadgh Brennan, son of the old I.R.A. man and local District Court Clerk, Fintan Brennan. It was for Tadgh Brennan that the young Kathleen Stynes went to work. I am told that Kathleen was just passed her 14th birthday when she was given the job of bringing the letters from Tadgh’s office to the Post Office every evening. She was 17 years of age when she joined the secretarial staff and had served 61 years in that practice now owned by Tos Quinn when she sadly died. I first got to know Kathleen when I returned to Athy in 1982 and found her to be a person who was helpful, thoughtful and at all times generous of spirit. Her involvement in the Dominican choir extended back over many years, and her colleagues in the choir, augmented I believe by some of the parish choir members, paid a fitting musical goodbye at St. Michael’s Parish Church on the evening of the reception of her remains in the church and at the next day’s funeral mass. Casting my mind back to the 1950s and the near neighbours of the Stynes family in No. 10 Leinster Street I remember Kitty and Bridie McLoughlin. Their father James and his wife Agnes had a pub next to the Stynes’ and further on was located Ms. Blanchfields, then Ger and Lottie Moriarty. Next door to the Moriartys were Mattie and Kathy Murray and finally Tom Hyland and his wife Margaret. Across what was once the open space were Jim and Brigid Blanchfield, with a large family of 15 children. Sad to think all has now changed. The parents have passed away, as indeed have some of the children and those that remain are to be found in many cases far from their home town of Athy. Kathleen Coburn, who was predeceased by her husband Paddy, was one of six children of Tommy and Sheila Stynes and she is survived by her daughter Sandra, her son Padraig, her granddaughters Anna, Grace, Orlaith and her siblings Phil, Anthony, Kenneth, Pascal and Finbarr. Our sympathies are extended to the family, friends and colleagues of Kathleen Coburn.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Athy's links with the O'Connell Monument Committee 1862-1888

Canon John O’Hanlon, Parish Priest and secretary of the Daniel O’Connell Monument Committee wrote a report of the committee’s work which resulted in the erection of the O’Connell monument in Dublin. The project had started with an attempt by the people of Clare to erect a column surmounted by a statue of Daniel O’Connell where the courthouse formally stood in Ennis and from where O’Connell was returned as an M.P. in 1828. As work on the column continued the local committee ran out of funds. However, money to complete the Ennis monument was soon collected when the proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal, John Gray, and a number of other persons including the ’98 historian, Dr. Richard Madden, came together to help and that group later decided to raise a national monument in honour of Daniel O’Connell in Dublin city. Canon O’Hanlon’s report on the work of the O’Connell Monument Committee published in 1888 made several references to Athy’s involvement in the project. We learned that on Monday 16th October 1862 a meeting of the townspeople was held in Kavanagh’s hotel in Athy. O’Hanlon recorded that an ‘influential committee was formed and several subscriptions were paid before the meeting separated. Arrangements were made for the reception of other contributions.’ Another interesting link with Athy was provided by Fr. John O’Rourke who was responsible for drafting an appeal addressed to the people of Ireland in support of a national collection planned for St. Patrick’s Day two years after the monument project was first mooted. Apparently the funds raised at that point were less than sufficient and Fr. O’Rourke, who had served as a curate in Athy in 1851/’52, was moved to write: ‘if the O’Connell testimonial be not now made what it ought to be, the mistake can never be retrieved; it will be a monument not to his glory, but of our shame, and our children will look upon it with sorrow and despise us.’ The well-chosen words of the one-time Athy curate who would write in 1874 the earliest published account of the Great Famine under the title ‘History of the Great Famine of 1847’ prompted a ready response throughout the country. This enabled the foundation stone of the O’Connell monument to be laid in Sackville Street by the Dublin Lord Mayor on Monday, 8th August 1864. A sub-committee was appointed to select a suitable design for the monument. Amongst their members was the earlier mentioned Fr. John O’Rourke. The sub-committee decided to hold a competition for the design of the monument and although 60 entries were received, none were successful. A second competition was held but the designs submitted were deemed to be ‘wanting in grandeur and simplicity’. It was eventually decided to give the commission to John Henry Foley, the noted Irish sculptor then based in London. Originally expected to be completed within three years of Foley’s appointment, the subsequent delay caused concern which turned to dismay with Foley’s death in August 1874. The unveiling ceremony initially planned to coincide with the centenary of O’Connell’s birth on 6th August 1875 had to be postponed indefinitely. Fr. O’Rourke and John Gray were sent to London to inspect the substantially completed O’Connell monument, but no further work was possible while the sculptor’s estate was probated in London. Court proceedings concerning Foley’s estate caused further delay, but eventually work on completing the monument recommenced after an interval of nearly three years with Foley’s assistant, Thomas Brock, in charge. Twenty years after the O’Connell monument project was initiated the Liberator’s statue was unveiled on 15th August 1882. Amongst the early subscriptions by Athy folk was the sum of £21-1-6 recorded in January 1863. James Leahy contributed £1-10-0, followed by John Lord, Solicitor, Dr. Thomas Kinsey and R. Stein, each of whom donated £1 to the fund. The local parish priest, Fr. Andrew Quinn, joined his curates Fr. McManus and Fr. Doyle in contributing 10 shillings each. Amongst those contributors also was Thomas Peppard, Town Commissioner, who was a member of the platform party at the Monster Repeal Meeting addressed by Daniel O’Connell at Mullaghmast on Sunday, 1st October 1843. Sixty-eight other locals contributed on that occasion and two weeks later five further contributions were submitted through James Lawler of the Nags Head Hotel, Athy. Athy’s involvement in raising funds for the O’Connell monument continued throughout 1864, with a further £5-5-10 paid in by contributors who included the local Christian Brothers and Dr. Ferris, each contributing ten shillings. The outlining rural areas were also committed to the project and during 1864 the Parish Priest of Castledermot, Archdeacon Laurence Dunne forwarded £6-4-3 from the parishioners of Moone, £4-15-5 from Castledermot and £3-4-9 from Levitstown. The Archdeacon’s personal contribution of £1 was separately noted, as was the ten shillings contributed by each of his curates, Fr. John Fogarty and Fr. James Germaine. The O’Connell monument stands today, a proud reminder of a past generation’s tribute to a great Irish leader.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The building of the Pairc Bhride Housing estate

During the 1930s as part of the Slum Clearance Programmes initiated by de Valera’s Government Athy U.D.C. increased its housing stock from 30 houses to 269 houses. It represented the greatest decade for house building in the town’s history. The next housing scheme planned by the Council was for 94 houses in O’Rourke’s field on the road to Barrowhouse. It was to be named Pairc Bhride after the patron saint of County Kildare. Officially opened in 1949 the tenants appointed were required to pay rents of up to 18 shillings per week in addition to a charge of 4 shillings per week for rates and water rates. Work on the houses commenced after the Department of Local Government approved in July 1948 the tender of local builders D. & J. Carbery in the sum of £134,166-18-8. The houses were completed by March 1950. The workmen employed by Carberys worked a 48 hour week, 8¾ hours a day for five days and 4¼ hours on Saturdays. The general operatives earned £4-8-10 per week, while carpenters earned £7-1-9. The workmen identified 68 years after the housing scheme was completed included Fran Ellard who drove the company’s lorry, Joe Dillon who had charge of the company’s horse and cart and Maurice Doogue who drove a large dumper. The electrician was Stephen Farrell whom I am told had a radio shop in Duke Street and the cleric of works was Godfrey McDonald of Carlow. All of the railings to the front of the houses were made and assembled by Dom Harte who later worked in the carpet department of Shaws. The youngest person on the site, and he was only there occasionally, was 8-year-old Jerry Carbery who was given the task of blowing a whistle to signal the end of the day’s work. Jerry has compiled the following names of the men who worked on the Pairc Bhride houses which I want to put on record. I would like to hear from anyone who can give me the full names of these men. M. Carbery, M. May, J. O`Connor, J. Ryan, M. Forde, M. Mullery, J. Dobbins, P. Robbins, T. Breen, C. May, J. Carbery, M. Candy, P. Fennelly, T. Knowles, M. Dooley, M. Bradley, J. Finn, J. Murray, J. Murphy, D. Shaughnessy, M. Hanley, T. Sheridan, J. Hanley, S. Dixon, T. Simms, J. Mc Evoy, P. Toomey, K. Reddy, T. Baker, A. Metcalfe, F. Mc Partlin, D. Harte, D. Nolan, J. Dillon, J. Keeffe, N. Lawler, R. Alcock, P. Aldridge, M. Johnson, P. Murphy, P. Roche, J. Sweeney, T. Dunne, J. Lucas, Ed. Pierce, J. Chanders, C. Myles, S. Bolger, P. Ryan, M. Connelly, J. Maher, P. Carbery, P. Casey, E Murray, J. Kavanagh, J. Ryan, D. Carter, J. Doogue, T. Flynn, M. Nolan, M. Prendergast, P. Doyle, J. Sweeney, F. Ellard, T. Maguire, E. Flynn, J. Duffy, T. Lynch, M. Rainsford, A. Lawler, G. Dillon, P. Kiely, , J. O`Sullivan, J. Bolger, J. Maher, J. Dunne. While reading through research notes for information on the Pairc Bhride Housing Scheme I came across the following extract from the minute book of the UDC under the date 6th of February 1950. ‘The town planning consultant submitted a sketch development plan under the Planning Acts complete except for the exact route of the proposed by-pass road. He is to consult with the County Engineer re same’. Who would have ever thought that the outer relief project goes back 67 years. Two entries in the Council minute books revived two very youthful memories of mine. One related to the drowning of young James Bracken who was lost in the River Barrow directly opposite to where the Bracken family lived in Emily Square. I remember the shock of that day as I can remember two years later the sudden death of Councillor Thomas Flood whose passing was noted in the minutes of the Council meeting of the 6th of December 1950 with the entry ‘Francis Flood, 11 Leinster Street co-opted to the Council to fill the vacancy caused by his father’s death’.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ernest O'Rourke Glynn

When the Taaffe family moved from Castlecomer to Athy in 1945 the World War was nearing its end, while food restrictions and many other restrictions were still in place. Paper shortage gave us newspapers with lesser pages per issue than those available even during the economic war years of the 1930s. The war issue newspapers were also in short supply and the Athy newcomers found it extremely difficult to find a local newsagent able to fulfil the daily order for a national newspaper. This was a time when the sale of newspapers was strictly controlled, not only by the newspaper companies but also by the local newsagents. My father was fortunate to be favoured with Ernest O’Rourke Glynn’s willingness to sell him a daily Irish Independent. As I grew up, the Indo gave me my daily diet of Curly Wee, which was my favourite reading before I graduated in later years to the John D. Sheridan Saturday essay. I remember well the imposing figure of Ernest O’Rourke Glynn. The Glynn family which had an interesting theatrical background came to Athy at the start of 1916 with their travelling show ‘Peppers Ghost’. Ernest’s father, Nicholas, was an actor, writer and theatrical producer who married Florence, the daughter of the travelling show’s previous owners, the Reid Metcalfs. The intention was to put on the show during the lenten season in the local Town Hall. However, the Dublin insurrection and unrest throughout the rest of the country prompted Nicholas and Florence O’Rourke Glynn to settle in Athy. They acquired the Corner House at the junction of Duke Street and Woodstock Street and from then on the same corner premises became known as O’Rourke Glynn’s corner. The O’Rourke Glynns opened a theatrical store and scenic studio, as well as a photographic studio. Ernest, the eldest son, was joined by sisters Florence and Peggy and a younger brother, Nicholas. Ernest’s grandfather, also called Nicholas, had established a theatrical store in Dublin in 1868 and his company was responsible for bringing the brilliant violinist, Irene Vanburgh, to Ireland that same year. His son Nicholas, now living in Athy, became very involved in the local dramatic scene. He produced many shows in the Town Hall and organised Gaelic League concerts in Athy every St. Patrick’s night for many years. One of the pioneers of cinematography in Ireland, he put on magic lantern shows in the Town Hall and later films long before Athy’s first cinema opened in Offaly Street in 1926. A press report of the play ‘Robert O’Neill’ and a supporting variety programme put on in the Town Hall (year uncertain but maybe late 1930s or early 1940s) claimed that it was ‘one of the best ever produced in the town’. Locals involved included P.J. Kelly, Miss M. Ward, Ernest O’Rourke Glynn and three young Raffertys (Master A. and Misses V. and E. Can anyone identify the Raffertys?). The title roles in the play were taken by Ernest’s brother Nicholas and Miss J. Paisley. The Glynn and Paisley families were involved in the Paisley Glynn Cine-Variety Company which toured in the 1930s. The company show put on in Kildare cinema in 1936 was a typical Glynn Paisley event and included acrobats from Germany, a tenor late of the Turners opera company in England, a contortionist and Nicholas O’Rourke Senior reviving his leading role in George Du Maurier’s play ‘Trilby’. Ernest O’Rourke Glynn was also involved in some of the Athy Musical Society shows of the 1940s and from the late 1930s was the lead singer in the Ernie Glynn’s Cabaret Band. Bookings for the band were made through his father’s theatrical store in Athy. A press report of the time described the band as having made a name for itself far and wide and ‘is becoming more popular every day, it contains rhythm pep and swing’. The band members were described as ‘beautifully dressed in yellow tunics faced in red with pants to match’. Does anyone remember Ernie’s cabaret band? I came across some years ago reference to a record made by Ernest in the 1930s, but have never been able to source a copy. The Glynn theatrical stores operated not only out of Athy but also from an address at 126 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Advertisements indicate that costumes were available on hire for all plays, pantomines, grand opera and Gilbert & Sullivan, while scenery was built and painted to order. Ernest’s father Nicholas died in 1938 aged 73 years, while Ernest himself passed away in 1976. Several generations of the O’Rourke Glynn family made much valued contributions in their time to the cultural life of the town of Athy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Davy Loughman - Seamus Hayden and the changing patterns of urban commercial life

The recent death of Davy Loughman and that of Seamus Hayden in the last few days have revived memories of a time past filled with youthful memories and of faces and characters no longer with us. The passing years bring with them changes which help sharpen our appreciation of times spent in the company of friends and neighbours of old. Those lost years also compel us to recognise the many changes in the way in which we live our lives and how those changes impact on the familiar streets of our ancient town. I spent the last week travelling in the Marches of Wales and England driving south to north through towns and cities which like Athy are being reshaped commercially and socially in a changing world. Everywhere I went, whether in the large urban settlements or the smaller picturesque villages, I came across evidence of the changing patterns of today’s commercial life. The local independent shopkeepers of yesteryear have lost out to the multiple stores, now catering not just for locals but for the motorised shoppers of a wider region. The out of town shopping complex brings together under one roof a range of goods and services which in times past were spread throughout the centre of every town. The result is the depopulation of the once busy town centres where shops are closed and many more house charity shops. Charity shops admittedly fulfil a need in society making use of volunteerism and the justifiable need to recycle goods, while at the same time allowing less fortunate families to benefit from the generosity of others. I am a regular visitor to Hay-on-Wye, the first book town established by the legendary Richard Booth over 40 years ago. Hay is a town of approximately 1,700 or so, yet in the 1990s it had over 34 second hand book shops, including the Cinema Bookshop which was once the largest book shop in the world. Like everywhere else the book trade in Hay-on-Wye has suffered due to the growth of internet trading and the opening of charity shops, especially the Oxfam book shops. The change in trading patterns has resulted in a reduction in the number of Hay-on-Wye book shops to just under 20, still an impressive array of book sellers in what is a small Welsh town. Elsewhere the book trade once carried on in the main streets and side streets of provincial towns has effectively shut down. The result mirrors what is happening in other areas of provincial town shopping. Butcher shops have by and large disappeared, while other independent traders have closed their doors, creating in every provincial town centre scenes of commercial gloom. How much different it was in the 1950s when the main streets were busy with local shops open to serve the needs of the local people. The changing times ushered in by the widespread use of the motor car and the technological advances which allow us to buy and sell on the internet means that towns like Athy must refocus to survive. The outer relief road project now in the early stages of its completion gives us here in Athy a recognisable timescale in which to plan for the revival of our town centre. It is an opportunity to consider improvements which can be made to make the town more attractive in which to live and work and by doing so encourage more visitors to share with us those attractions and help revive the town’s fortunes. It might seem strange to claim that the town centre has an excess of shop premises but I believe the town planners must encourage town centre living in an attempt to revitalise our town centre which needs a mixture of sustainable independent shops interspersed with residential homes. The outer relief road project is potentially the greatest ‘influencer’ of the future commercial life of Athy and now is the time to plan for that future. The Regeneration Plan announced two years ago has been a slow burner, but I understand moves are afoot to quicken the pace of its implementation so that the town can take maximum advantage of the new bypass road which will divert a huge volume of slow moving traffic from our town centre. Both Davy Loughman and Seamus Hayden knew Athy of the 1950s and saw the deterioration in the town over the decades. Seamus lived in Offaly Street at a time when the street was alive with young families and Kitty Websters and Sylvesters, with Kehoes public house providing an active commercial backdrop which was replicated in other parts of the town. Offaly Street today is a quiet street with the once busy shops closed and shuttered. The death of Davy and Seamus is a sad reminder of good times past. My condolences are extended to both families on the passing of two fine gentlemen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

St. Michael's Boxing Club Athy

Boxing has for many years featured as a favoured sporting activity here in Athy. In the 1930s Sydney Minch and others founded a boxing club, which in the tough economic times of the day offered a sporting outlet to young boys whose lives were dominated by widespread unemployment and lack of opportunities. It is one of the regretful aspects of local history of years past that insufficient attention was given to recording local events and the people involved. For that reason there is little or no information available today on the boxing club of the 1930s, other than a few slight references in local newspapers. I remember interviewing Bill Hayes some years ago when he recalled the annual boxing tournaments between the Athy club and Sydney Minch’s old school, Clongowes Woods College. The boxing club went out of existence, when exactly I cannot say, but in 1966 Fr. Denis Laverty, then a curate in Athy, founded the town’s second boxing club. It was based in St. John’s Hall which had been built in 1926 as the British Legion Hall. The club’s membership included Dom O’Rourke, one of four O’Rourke brothers of Geraldine Road who were all involved and Noel O’Meara of Greenhills. The club faded away in the early 1970s, but Dom O’Rourke and Noel O’Meara would later bring alive the Athy boxing story with the foundation of the current St. Michael’s Boxing Club in 1993. Noel O’Meara was one of a small group of people who came together in the early 1990s to seek ways of arresting the social decline of the town. The group would eventually disband, having succeeded in setting up a community council, two play schools and a boxing club. Noel it was who was charged with the task of setting up the boxing club and he often claims that he was told ‘get it up and running again’. Noel sought Dom O’Rourke’s assistance and it was Dom with Jimmy Walsh, Pat Nolan and Mary O’Rourke as club treasurer who resurrected the boxing club which soon thereafter became one of the most successful clubs in Ireland. I have written previously of the club’s early successes achieved by the Sheahan brothers, Tommy, Gary and Roy by Patrick Phelan, David Oliver Joyce, John Joe Joyce and Eric Donovan. The early successes of Athy boxing club were achieved at a time when the club premise was a disused malthouse in Nelson Street. The facilities may have been primitive, but the hard work of all those involved in the club ensured that the youngsters availing of the facilities were well prepared to represent Athy at championship and subsequently international level. Indeed, the club was also represented in the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 by John Joe Joyce and in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics of 2016 by David Oliver Joyce. To date St. Michael’s Boxing Club has amassed in excess of 180 Irish championships ranging from boys to senior championships and all grades in between including youth, cadet, junior, under 21, under 23 and intermediate. It is a very impressive record for a young club. The success of St. Michael’s Boxing Club led to the Irish boxing authorities approving the holding of a senior international boxing match in Athy between Ireland and Canada. This was, I understand, the first senior international boxing match held outside Dublin and on that day those boxing for Ireland in the Grove Cinema Athy included Athy club members James Phillips, Tommy Sheahan, John Donovan and Vivian Carroll. The club was later granted a civic reception by Athy Town Council in honour of its achievements, both at local and international level. It was fitting, given the club’s success and the part played in that success by Dom O’Rourke, that Dom should later be elected president of the I.A.B.A. It is not often that Athy men or women head up Irish national sporting organisations and on his appointment Dom joined another Athy man in those top ranks, George O’Toole, who was then president of the Irish Community Games Association. Another Athy connection with the I.A.B.A. was Fr. J. McLaughlin, a curate in Athy in the 1950s, who in his time spearheaded the fundraising campaign for the Parish Church opened in 1964. Fr. McLaughlin in his younger days was chaplain to the defence forces and during time he was also national treasurer of the I.A.B.A. In that capacity he was responsible for raising the finances for the building of the National Boxing Stadium in Dublin which opened in March 1939. St. Michael’s Boxing Club is Athy’s most successful sports club with wonderful facilities in it’s new premises at Dooley’s Terrace, Athy. I visited the club last week and was pleasantly surprised to find so many young people using the club’s facilities and training diligently in the hope of becoming sporting stars of tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Athy's Architectural and Social Heritage as seen on a walking trip from Barrow Quay to Ardreigh Lock

Heritage Week prompted me to review some elements of the town’s story insofar as it related to buildings and structures along the Barrow trackway between the harbour at Emily Square and Ardreigh lock. I was pressed into service during Heritage Week to walk the route with which I was very familiar since my young days in Offaly Street. However, like many of those who walked with me on Saturday morning, as a youngster I had no knowledge of the history behind the bricks and the stones which have stood in some cases for centuries past. Theirs was a past which we have only begun to unravel in recent years and in doing so we are beginning to understand how the local townspeople of the past shaped our local history and the history of our country. St. Michael’s Church at the top of Offaly Street which presents a handsome architectural backdrop when viewed from Church Road can also be viewed from the Barrow trackway. It was consecrated on 15th September 1841 to replace an earlier church located in Market Square between the Town Hall and what in the 18th century was known as Rotten Row. It was claimed by a 19th century local historian that stone used in the building of the 13th century Dominican Friary was used in the building of that the first post reformation church in Athy. If so it’s quite possible that the same stone was used in the building of the present St. Michael’s, thus providing a link to the medieval village of 800 years ago. St. Michael’s was designed by the architect, Frederick Darley whose contribution to Irish architecture includes inter alia, the Royal Dublin Society building and the Kings Inns, Dublin. He was retained by the Duke of Leinster in connection with the refurbishment of Kilkea Castle and presumably because of his relationship with the Duke, Darley is represented by considerable architectural heritage here in Athy. In addition to St. Michael’s Church, Darley who was one of the founder members of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland was also the architect for the Presbyterian Church and Manse, the Model School, and it is believed, the Courthouse which was originally built as the towns corn exchange. The Rector of St. Michael’s Athy when St. Michael’s was built was Rev. Frederick Trench, whose wife Helena was a niece of Spencer Perceval, the British Prime Minister assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812. Rev. Frederick had his own problem with some of his parishioners for as a High Church cleric and friend of John Keble of the Oxford Movement, his celebration of feast days did not find favour with some of his parishioners. Michael Carey, a local man whose diaries are in the National Library wrote of Trench in February 1851: ‘The Rev. Mr. Trench has taken down all the emblems from his popish windows and made an apology to his congregation. The Duke and the Bishop condemned them at once. He stated to the congregation that he had not the slightest notion of Puseyism or Popery. My publicly denouncing the pictures and windows before the congregation on that Sunday set them all going….. Other buildings mentioned in the walk to Ardreigh included Mount Offaly House, once the home of the Disney family, the town jail on the Carlow Road and Dukes Lodge. However, before reaching the last-mentioned house, the walkers passed under the One Horse Bridge. Built in 1791 or thereabouts, the bridge allowed the horse drawn canal barges to exit the Grand Canal and enter the Barrow navigation. Just ahead was the railway bridge built in 1918 as one of the earliest pre-stressed concrete bridges in Ireland. It was built to carry the railway line from Athy to the Wolfhill coalmine which was re-opened at the end of World War 1. The work on the railway line was carried out by local men and by a large number of workmen from Belfast. It was those same Belfast men who are believed to have brought to Athy the Spanish Flu which would kill untold millions worldwide. Belfast had the first recorded incident of the 1918 flu in Ireland and Athy was the first County Kildare town where the flu epidemic took hold. The Saturday morning heritage walk ended at Ardreigh Lock near to where Ardreigh mill once stood. All that is left today of the substantial mill building are the stumps of the outer walls and the millrace which once powered the mill wheel. The story of the Haughton’s and the Hannon families, the proprietors of the Ardreigh mill and the mill at Duke Street concluded the walk

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The sinking of RMS Leinster and Athy man William Keegan

On 10th October 1918 the Royal Mail Steamer Leinster left the harbour at Kingstown, as Dun Laoghaire was then called, for the Welsh port of Holyhead. It was embarking on a dangerous journey as since the previous year German submarines had attacked ships making that same journey. On board the RMS Leinster were civilian passengers, military personnel, post office sorters and the ships crew, totalling all, it is now believed to be almost 780 persons. Shortly after 9.30am a German torpedo struck the ship’s port side. An account of the tragedy given by London civilian Arthur Lewis was published in the Royal National Lifeboats Institute magazine, ‘The Lifeboat’ on 1st November 1918. Lewis reported that the ship began to dip slightly forward when first struck and about 12 minutes later a second torpedo struck causing a tremendous explosion amidship. He described how after the first torpedo struck the ships crew began to lower the life boats, with calls for ‘women and children first’. When the second torpedo struck the ship began to sink quickly. With cries of ‘jump’ and realising there was little prospect of getting into lifeboats the sea was soon full of struggling men and women. When RMS Leinster sank more than 500 persons lost their lives. There is still uncertainty as to the numbers lost in the Irish Seas greatest maritime tragedy as no passenger lists existed and rather strangely the military authorities were aware that 18 soldiers had boarded the Leinster without their names being recorded. Philip Lecane, whose excellent account of the tragedy ‘Torpedoed – The RMS Leinster Disaster’ was published in 2005 claims that for reasons not explained the military authorities did not want the presence on board of the unnamed 18 soldiers to be known. Amongst the passengers may have been Athy man William Keegan. The local paper, The Leinster Leader, reported on 19th October 1918 ‘2nd Lieutenant W. Keegan R.F.A. Ballyroe House travelled on the ill fated Leinster. He is safe.’ However he is not listed in Lecane’s comprehensive list of the 493 military personnel who were on board the ship, 340 of whom perished in the disaster. Was Keegan perhaps one of the 18 unlisted soldiers whose presence on board were known to the authorities, but who for whatever reason were never identified? William Keegan of Ballyroe Lodge was the son of the late Martin Keegan who had died on 31st March 1915. Martin was a farmer and a district councillor for Athy No. 1 rural district. I believe he may also have been the proprietor of Keegans brickworks, but this has yet to be confirmed. His son William attended the Christian Brothers School in Athy, and later Mount St. Joseph’s, Roscrea before graduating from Queens University Galway. He joined the firm of Kaye, Parrys and Ross of Kildare Street, Dublin and later joined the British Army’s Royal Engineers in 1915. The Kildare Observer of 13th May 1916 carried a report of William Keegan of Ballyroe, Athy and his part in the defence of Trinity College. There is some confusion as to whether the reference incorrectly referred to William Keegan rather than to his brother James. The mystery of William Keegan’s involvement in the defence of Trinity College and whether or not he was on board the RMS Leinster may never be resolved. Keegan left the army in 1920 with the rank of Captain and took up an appointment as chief engineer to the public works department in Hong Kong. He died on 14th May 1929, after falling from the veranda of the government civil hospital in Hong Kong. The Nationalist and Leinster Times of 18th May 1929 reported his death and noted ‘Captain Keegan was a general favourite with old and young and was the idol of his home where his death leaves a great shadow of loneliness’. This October the sinking of RMS Leinster will be remembered in Dun Laoghaire with a series of events to commemorate the men, women and children who died in the Irish Sea 100 years ago. The National Maritime Museum located in the former Mariner’s Church in Dun Laoghaire is hosting an exhibition on the RMS Leinster disaster. An official commemoration will take place in Dun Laoghaire on Wednesday 10th October with a wreath laying ceremony and involvement of members of the defence forces. In a fitting tribute to the 21 postal sorters who perished in the Leinster An Post will issue in October a special edition stamp to mark the centenary. Finally, at 8 p.m. on 10th October there will be a one night only performance of ‘Fatal Voyage’ at the Pavilion theatre Dun Laoghaire. The Athy man, William Keegan, may or may not have escaped from the sinking ship RMS Leinster on 10th October 1918, the same day that James Mullen of Kilcock and Richard Mooney of Naas were killed in action in France.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

GAA protests against conscription August 1918

As August 1918 approached, the Athy Show committee completed arrangements for the annual Show scheduled for Thursday, the 15th day of the month. Local newspapers carried advertisements for the Show which indicated an unusual combination of competitive races. The agricultural labourers’ race over jumps was to be followed by a boy’s relay race and a driving and horse jumping competition. Pride of place was reserved for what was described as the ‘horse jumping championship of All Ireland’. An admission fee of one shilling allowed one to enjoy not only those competitions, but also a step dancing competition and what was described as a ‘slack wire performance’. Bands were promised to be in attendance and no doubt Athy Pipers Club and the Leinster Street fife and drum band were expected to take part. That summer, the last summer of the four-year long world war, witnessed labour problems on the Verschoyle estate in Kilberry. The local farm labourers employed by A.R. Verschoyle of Cloney Castle went on strike following their employer’s refusal to entertain a demand for a wage increase of five shillings to bring their weekly wage to 30 shillings per week. The enlistment of local men during the war had created labour shortages and the South Kildare Labour Union had organised the local farm labourers in seeking better terms for its members. A large-scale labour strike threatened for south Kildare was reportedly averted in the last week of August. At the same time the Dublin based Irish Transport Workers Union increased its membership by taking over the South Kildare Labour Union. Unrest in south Kildare was not confined to the tillage fields. Public protests supported by local church and civic leaders had followed the British government’s planned extension of conscription to Ireland. The conscription crisis erupted at the start of April 1918 and in early May more than seventy of the country’s Sinn Fein leaders were arrested and imprisoned. They were allegedly involved in a wartime plot with Germany and in following up that claim the British government issued a proclamation on 4th July requiring ‘all meetings, assemblies or processions in public places’ to require an authorisation from the local R.I.C. The General Secretary of the G.A.A., Luke O’Toole, called a meeting of the G.A.A. Central Council for 22nd July, following which a decision was taken that G.A.A. clubs would not conform to the British government’s Proclamation. The G.A.A. authorities decided to organise a day of protest scheduled for Sunday 4th August 1918 when G.A.A. clubs throughout the country were directed to hold G.A.A. matches at 3 p.m. Designated as Gaelic Sunday it was the G.A.A.’s response to the governments order of 4th July which five days later saw crown forces prevent an Ulster championship match taking place in Coothill. About 1,500 camogie, football and hurling matches were played on Gaelic Sunday without any interference from the R.I.C. or crown forces. The County Kildare list of matches included a football match in Athy between the local team and Bert. Another game was scheduled for Clane between Clane and Mainham. The Leinster Leader of 10th August carried the following report on that match. ‘Clane and Mainham met at Clane on Sunday in a friendly football contest when Mainham attained an easy victory. There was a fair attendance. Mr. W. Merriman had to relinquish the post of referee in order to play the duty of collecting a team to represent Clane devolving upon him. The fact that several prominent players were in the immediate vicinity and yet declined to play is a matter which we consider cause for strict investigation at the next meeting of the County Board. The action of those individuals will hardly commend itself to the general body of the Gaels of Kildare – quite the opposite we consider.’ The country’s response to the British government’s order of 4th July was such that the government was forced to claim that it had never intended to interfere with ordinary meetings, games or sports. The exemption however did not apply to political utterances or Sinn Fein activity. Athy teacher J.J. O’Byrne was arrested for reading the Sinn Fein manifesto in Emily Square on 15th August as part of a nationwide act of defiance by Sinn Fein clubs. O’Byrne who was secretary of Athy Sinn Fein club, was imprisoned while awaiting trial and two months later he received one year’s hard labour for ‘making a statement likely to cause disaffection in contravention of the Defence of the Realm Regulations’. The month of August 1918 ended as had the previous 48 months with the death of many Athy men fighting overseas. The summer month of August was for many Athy families ‘a wicked month’, a headline later enshrined in Irish literary history by the Clare born writer, Edna O’Brien.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The planned reordering of Emily Square

The proposed works to the front of Emily Square have gathered quite a lot of interest and generated much discussion amongst the people of Athy. The works comprise eight elements and include footpath widening and resurfacing, replacement of all existing trees with a single specimen tree and the reconfiguration of traffic to give a one-way system running north to south on the east side of the Town Hall. The design proposals prepared for Kildare County Council by the Paul Hogarth Company of Kilkenny are intended to improve the aesthetic quality of the front Square, while improving it’s functioning for pedestrians, vehicles and events and improving the setting of historic buildings and features within the Square. The views of the public on the present state of the front Square was canvassed during two open public consultations, when the project team shared thoughts and ideas on plans for Athy’s principal public space. Interestingly the majority of the local people made negative comments about the front Square, with ‘dangerous uneven surfaces’ the most comment complaint voiced. Quite a significant number of people felt that the front Square was cluttered with too many signs, lamp posts and trees. The existing tree planting was encouraged by Patrick Shaffrey, a consultant employed by Athy Urban District Council in connection with the Inner Relief Road project. I supported Mr. Shaffrey’s tree planting suggestion, as did all the members of Athy UDC, but unfortunately for reasons not fully understood the trees created damage to the surface of the Square and the uncontrolled tree growth impeded the view of the historic Town Hall. Early photographs of Emily Square show that as originally planned it was an open space in the very heart of the town which provided the focal point of all major community events. It was here that various local markets were held and it was in Emily Square that the Land League meetings of the 1880s took place. Platforms on which civic and church leaders stood to canvas support for the World War 1 effort were placed in front of the Town Hall and it was from similar platforms also that the likes of Arthur Griffith, Eamon De Valera and others spread the message of Irish nationalism in the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Rising. The regeneration of the open public space in the town centre is a laudable proposal, creating as it will a space for cultural outdoor events and activities involving the local community. There are two monuments presently in the front Square, one of which could with advantage be relocated. The fountain donated by the Duke of Leinster is a forgotten and neglected piece of our local history, despite recent claims to the contrary. It could with benefit to the decluttering of the Square be moved to the People’s Park, which was also gifted by the Duke of Leinster to the people of Athy. There it could be sited on one of the several mounds in the park and become an attractive feature in the People’s Park. The 1798 monument should remain in the front Square, even if it is to be moved to another site within the Square. It represents an important reminder of Athy’s troubled past, as does the memorial plaque on the front wall of the Town Hall to the local men who died in the 1914-18 war. The reopening of the Square as a public space justifies the removal of the existing trees which have been allowed to grow uncontrolled since they were planted. The proposal to replace them with a single specimen tree near to the Leinster Street side of the Square needs to be looked at. The view from the front of the Square down to the Town Hall should as far as possible be unimpeded. Would not trees planted on the two outer edges of the Square be better? Any such trees planted could be maintained in the same fashion as the recently planted trees in O’Connell Street Dublin and could prove to be an attractive feature. The proposed removal of parking facilities from the front Square has caused some controversy. The concerns in that regard could be dealt with by Kildare County Council acquiring the nearby Abbey site, to be part developed for parking, with the riverside portion used for apartment/shop development. The traffic re-routing proposals in the improvement plan may present the greatest difficulties. The opening of the outer relief road will take the heavy-duty traffic out of the town centre and I believe the current town road system is capable of dealing with the remainder of the traffic. If I am correct then the proposal to reroute traffic from the Carlow Road down through the back Square and existing at Whites Castle should not be necessary. This part of an otherwise excellent improvement plan is fraught with difficulties, but in the overall scheme of things the improvement plan merits the Athy people’s support.