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.