Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Athy Quiz (1)

This week and next week I am devoting the ‘Eye on the Past’ to a series of questions relating to Athy, its people, its buildings and events of the past. I am offering copies of my recent book to the first five persons to provide the highest number of correct answers to the questions. Let me have your answers before Friday 3rd January, either by email at frank@taaffe.ie or if, like me, you are unable to master the intricacies of computers and mobile phones, feel free to send your answers to me care of the Kildare Nationalist. NO. QUESTIONS ANSWERS 1. Athy’s corn exchange was opened a few years after the Great Famine. Where was that corn exchange? 2. How many arrow loops and gun loops can you find in the walls of White’s Castle? 3. Where can you find jostle stones in Athy – give the location of three such pairs? 4. What streets in Athy are named after family members of the Duke of Leinster ? 5. Which street in Athy retains the name it was given in medieval times? 6. Where was ‘Dirty Row’ which was referred to in a letter to the press in 1863? 7. When did the first train arrive in Athy and what was the next station it reached after Athy? 8. If you attended a cock fight in Athy prior to the abolition of the sport in 1849, where did you go to? 9. What was the previous name of the street renamed Woodstock St. in 1884? 10. In the Shackleton Museum you will find a large keystone taken from Augustus Bridge in the 1890s during the rebuilding of that bridge – where is Augustus Bridge and who does it commemorate? 11. How many All Ireland finals were played in Geraldine Park? 12. Who was the first and only Athy man to win an All Ireland football medal? 13. Who was the first Athy man to win an international rugby cap playing for Ireland? 14. Who was the man, now buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery, who played international soccer for Scotland and won six Scottish cup medals with Queens Park Rangers 15. Another man, not a native Irish man, buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery had an involvement in two revolutions, one in his native country, the other in Dublin in April 1916. Who was he? 16. Edmund Rice Square recalls the Christian Brothers School established in Athy in 1861. Who were the last two Christian Brothers to serve in Athy? 17. Famous people born in South Kildare include polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and the first Irish Cardinal, Paul Cullen. Where were they born? 18. What was Jane Austen’s connection with Athy? 19. Where in Athy will you find a drinking trough presented by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association? 20. At the start of the 19th century Athy had two handball alleys. Where were they located? 21. Who was the young teacher who founded the Athy Farmers Club in 1944 which later led to the formation of Macra na Feirme 22. The Town Hall, erected in or around 1725, was originally intended to be used for what purposes? 23. St. Michael’s Catholic Parish Church was burned following an arson attack on 7th March 1800. Where was that church located? 24. Why is the lane off Emily Square now known as Meeting Lane and what is its full name? 25. Who was the Athy resident whose experiences in Belsen Prison of War Camp were recounted in the book, ‘Hidden Memories’? 26. Name the Athy resident whose potions and lotions got him into trouble with the law and whose story prompted local author Niamh Boyce to write ‘The Herbalist’? 27. Athy’s Fever Hospital was built in 1836. Where was the Hospital located? 28. What was the name of the book published in 1958 which gave a semi fictional account of life in Athy and South Kildare? 29. What was the surname and occupation of the brothers known to everyone as ‘Smiler, Hocker and Gus’? 30. The façade of the seven small houses built in 1872 in Connolly’s Lane still stand. Where was Connolly’s Lane? 31. Who was the legendary uilleann piper who died in St. Vincent’s Hospital on 19th January 1950? 32. What is the connection between Bert House, Trinity College Library and Dr. Steeven’s Hospital, Dublin? 33. Name the Athy footballer who was sensationally deprived of playing for Kildare in the 1935 All Ireland football final? 34. What major event took place in or around Athy on Wed. 2nd July 1903? 35. Name the two Athy Gaelic Football Club players who won four Kildare senior championship medals playing for Athy? 36. What brought the liberator, Daniel O’Connell, to Athy on 1st October 1843? 37. Name the Athy man who was the first British Army officer killed in the Boer War? 38. Name the two priests who served in Athy, one the Parish Priest whose two brothers were bishops, the other a curate whose brother was a cardinal? 39. Where are the 1205 inmates of the Athy Workhouse who died during the Great Famine buried? 40. It was known as ‘Sydney Terrace’ for many years by older members of the community. What is the correct name of that terrace? 41. Who was the Athy girl who at different times was secretary to Piaras Beaslai, General J.J. O’Connell and Oscar Traynor, all senior members of the I.R.A. during the War of Independence? 42. Where was Athy Picture Palace located? 43. Athy ’75 – what was that? 44. Name the two young members of the I.R.A. who were killed during the Barrowhouse ambush on 16th May 1921? 45. Where was Tynan’s Row? 46. What Athy Club is part of the world’s largest charitable organisation? 47. Around Athy you will find benchmarks. Can you identify where benchmarks are located in the town? 48. Turnpike or toll roads were financed by private individuals in expectation that tolls collected would return a profit after road maintenance costs were met. How many turnpike gates were in Athy at the end of the 18th century? 49. Who was the former chairman of Athy Town Commissioners who is remembered in a memorial tablet erected in the Methodist Church? 50. Can you describe the exact location of the medieval Preston’s Gate which was demolished in 1860? (don’t be misled by misplaced signage).

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Industry in Athy

The industrial landscape of Athy and south Kildare has seen many changes over the years. Full time employment was largely dependent on Minch Nortons and farm work, with a modest amount of employment attributable to brick making and local foundries. That was to change with the opening of the I.V.I. Foundry in the 1920s and the Asbestos factory in the 1930s. Local employment was further enhanced with the opening of the Irish Wallboard Mills factory at Tomard. This gave an enormous boost to industrial employment not only in south Kildare but also in the rural areas of north Carlow and Laois. The Wallboard company was formed in February 1939 but due to the outbreak of World War II the machinery and equipment on order from Sweden prior to the start of the war did not arrive in Ireland until some time after 1945. Shortly after that the directors of Irish Wallboard Mills Ltd. approached Bowaters, the largest user of native timber in the UK and as a result the Athy Mill company became part of the worldwide Bowater organisation. In 1973 twelve employees of Bowaters Irish Wallboard who joined the factory when it started received awards for 25 years’ service. They were Matthew Nolan, Sean Keaveney, Thomas Fingleton, Thomas Murphy, John Howe, Andy Coughlan, John Hynes, Chris McKenna, Patrick Doogue, James Murphy, Michael Webster and William Delahunt. That same year two new factories were set up in Athy. Thirty jobs were created at Athy’s industrial estate when Oxford Laboratories opened a medical equipment manufacturing plant. The American company based in California opened the plant to service European and African markets for medical diagnostic dispensing equipment and medical kits for use in hospitals and medical laboratories. At the official opening of the factory by the Minister for Industry and Commerce Justin Keating, the Industrial Development Authority indicated that Oxford Laboratories had a manufacturing job target of 700 jobs in the following five years. A few months later the Peerless Rug Company opened its factory in the local industrial estate for the manufacture of scatter rugs and bath sets. Located in the 52,000 sq. ft. factory in the local I.D.A. industrial estate the factory was initially expected to give employment to 80 persons, “60% of our workforce will be men” declared the managing director of Peerless Rugs when he announced the planned opening of the factory. The plant was expected to provide employment for about 200 workers when in full production. An earlier addition to industrial employment in Athy resulted from the announcement in April 1967 by the Board of Kingswear Ltd. of Naas of the setting up of Kildare Sportswear in Athy. The company had acquired a 4½ acre site fronting the junction of the Athy Castledermot road from Kildare County Council for £2,100.00. Pending the erection of the factory the company rented the first floor of the Town Hall as a temporary manufacturing base. The credit for securing that new factory for Athy was largely due to the efforts of Athy’s Development Association headed up by its chairman Dr. Bryan Maguire and its secretary William Fenelon. The first chairman of the association which was established some years earlier to encourage industrial development in Athy was the local solicitor R.A. Osborne. The 1966 census return showed that 1,299 persons were employed locally, of whom 367 were females. Employment was mainly in manufacturing and commerce, with just 99 persons classified as unemployed. Employment remained relatively static between 1961 and 1966, but the opening of the sportswear factory helped to boost employment. The 1973 opening of the Oxford Laboratories factory and that of Peerless Rugs added considerably to the town’s industrial employment and even more to the inflow of workers from the surrounding rural areas. The town’s population in 1966 was 4,069 and that population was well serviced by various local industries. The four factories mentioned in this article are now closed. The town population has grown enormously in the interim period and is now about 11,000. Industrial employment has decreased and the job losses resulting from the factory closures are reflected in the lessening commercial activity in the town’s high street. The town’s Development Association is long gone but the foresight of those involved in its setting up including Bob Osborne, Trevor Shaw, Bill Fenelon, Dr. Maguire and Johnny Watchorn is needed now more than ever to help Athy regain its status as a first class market town supported by a strong industrial base. Athy is a major educational centre, with two post primary schools and several primary schools with a catchment area extending into Laois and large parts of south Kildare. We must give those leaving school the opportunity of employment in their hometown and for this Athy needs to improve its industrial base. I wonder if given the absence of a local Chamber of Commerce there is a need to revive Athy’s Development Association?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Athy's Burial Committee of 1925 and St. Michael's Cemetery

The Nationalist and Leinster Times of 12th September 1925 carried a report submitted to the meeting of Athy Urban District Council by the Athy Burial Committee. The report provided under Michael Malone’s name mentioned Peter Hyland as the cemetery caretaker who ‘had the place in as good order as could reasonably be expected’. Reference was made to monuments in the cemetery erected by public subscription to Dr. Ferris, Fr. Mark Doyle, Fr. James Doyle and Canon Germaine. Dr. Edward Ferris who died on 25th March 1877, aged 65 years, was a medical practitioner in the town. He was also one of the 21 Town Commissioners elected by the ratepayers in the first public democratic election held on 5th July 1847 just a few years after the Athy Borough Council was abolished. Interestingly the local Parish Priest, Rev. John Lawler, topped the poll that day with 105 votes, sharing that position with local miller, Henry Hannon. Dr. Ferris obtained 104 votes. The crickeen holds the last remains of Dr. Ferris and his grave memorial reads, ‘Erected to the late Edward Ferris Athy by his numerous admirers to pay a last tribute of respect to his memory. The profession has lost an able physician and the poor a king and a generous friend.’ Rev. James Doyle who died on 10 November 1892, aged 64 years, was a curate in Athy for 17 years and Parish Priest of the parish St. Michael’s for 13 years. Rev. Mark Doyle died 16th January 1900, aged 31 years, seven years after his ordination. He was curate in Moone for 3 years and died in the fourth year of his curacy in St. Michael’s, Athy. Both their grave memorials were erected by the people of Athy and neighbourhood. Canon James Germaine’s memorial shows that he was Parish Priest of St. Michael’s Athy for 12 years prior to his death at 78 year of age on 18th April 1905. Again, his memorial was erected by ‘parishioners and friends’. The burial committee’s report of 1925 noted that ‘the north eastern portion of Old St. Michael’s Chapel had fallen’. The report claimed that the building was built in the 13th century by a member of the St. Michael family. An earlier member of the same family, Richard de St. Michael, who was Lord Rheban is believed to have built Woodstock Castle and Rheban Castle. Mr. Malone in his report to the Urban Council claimed that Sir William Prendergast and Raymond de Grace who fell at the Battle of Ardscull in 1315 were buried near the ruined chapel in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Other writers have claimed that those warriors with Edward Bruce’s men, Sir Fergus Anderson and Sir Walter Murray, were in fact buried in the grounds of the Dominican Abbey located on the east bank of the River Barrow. I mentioned two weeks ago the dangerous condition of the old chapel which we call ‘the crickeen’. The report of 1925 included the following reference ‘owing to the antiquity of this building and its associations we recommend the fallen portion to be rebuilt as far as the building materials present will allow and that a cement capping be placed on all the walls to prevent the further disintegration of the masonry.’ It is not clear if any of this remedial work was done, but work is now urgently required to ensure that an important part of Athy’s built heritage is preserved. Hopefully Kildare County Council who have charge of St. Michael’s Cemetery, will divert some small portion of its huge budget to finance remedial work on ‘the crickeen’. I came across an interesting piece of information in the report of the Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the State of the Fairs and Markets in Ireland. The commissioners held public sessions in various market towns throughout Ireland and convened their enquiry in Athy on 16th December 1852. The Town Clerk, Henry Sheil, when questioned as to the town’s market days replied that the markets were held on Tuesday and Saturday every week ‘as provided for in the town’s charter’. The claim of a second weekly market on a Saturday is something of which I was not previously aware. Can anyone recall any reference to a market held on a Saturday in Athy? The launch of Vol. 4 of Eye on Athy’s Past was well supported on Tuesday night last. My thanks to all who attended and a special thank you to John MacKenna who acted as Master of Ceremonies and to Liam Kenny who launched the book with a most eloquent address. The contributions of both John and Liam drew much praise from those in attendance. Copies of the book are on sale in the Gem, Duke Street and Winkles of Emily Square.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Launch of Vol. 4 Eye on Athy's Past

This evening the 4th volume of ‘Eye on Athy’s Past’ will be launched in the Shackleton Museum, Town Hall, Athy at 8.00 p.m. Liam Kenny, Naas historian and writer, will launch the book which consists of articles written for the Kildare Nationalist between June 1999 and December 2000. Liam’s early working career mirrored my own as like myself he started his working life as a clerical officer in Kildare County Council. My entry into the Council services was in January 1961 and it was much later when Kevin joined. I had begun the next stage of my career as a Town Clerk before Liam appeared in St. Mary’s, Naas. Both of us would leave the local government service to pursue entirely different careers. Liam joined the Leinster Leader as a journalist and later still another change of career sees him today as Director of the Association of Irish Local Government. Liam and I have immersed ourselves in the local histories of our respective towns. He, as the founder member of Naas Local History Society has written and lectured extensively on the history of Nás na Ríogh. The Naas history group has done marvellous work in highlighting the little-known aspects of their town’s history in lectures and several publications over the years. Congratulations are due to Siobhan McNulty, daughter of Gretta and Frank, who last week was elected President of the Kildare Archaeological Society. The society, founded in 1891 by Lord Walter Fitzgerald, is one of the most prestigious societies in the country and Siobhan is the first Athy person to head up the society.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Local History - Once an overlooked part of the nation's history

Athy towns story and that of the people who have walked its streets in the past comprise an ever ending and compelling narrative. It’s a story which was largely overlooked and ignored for many years. Understandably perhaps, given the difficulties and hardships facing the local people at times when work opportunities were limited and financial hardship was the common currency of many families in Athy. I went through my entire school life in the Christian Brothers here in Athy where Irish history was my favourite subject. However, the school history lessons concentrated on wars and the rule of English kings, with no reference whatsoever to social history, local events or local personalities of the past. What we now identify as local history was then an unrecognised element of Ireland’s history. When, as schoolboys, we learned of the Great Famine and of the 1798 Rebellion it was to hear of the suffering of people on the western seashore and places as far apart as such as Belmullet, Co. Mayo and Skibbereen, Co. Cork, while the study of rebel activity in ’98 was concentrated on Wexford and Wicklow. There was no mention ever of the impact of the Great Famine on the people of Athy and no mention of Athy Workhouse where so many died during the Famine. The early social history of this area and elsewhere was overlooked, understandably perhaps, for by and large it was not documented until local newspapers came on the scene. The role of the provincial press in recording the life and times of previous generations was not always appreciated or understood. However, it is within the pages of past issues of the local press that the events and personalities of past times are recorded awaiting to be retrieved and placed in their proper context when relating the story of our home town. I wrote my first Eye on the Past in 1992 and over the last 27 years I have attempted to unravel the hidden history of Athy and its people by unfolding forgotten stories such as that of John Vincent Holland’s Victoria Cross, Kilkea born Ernest Shackleton, ’98 rebel leader Nicholas Gray and Rev. Thomas Kelly and the Kellyites. It was extraordinary to find that these men and events such as the Great Famine and the Great War, both of which had huge impact on Athy families, were for so long not an identifiable part of the town’s story. Athy’s history is still unfolding, but at least we now have a deeper and better understanding of our past history. Last week’s war memorial unveiling was a late acknowledgement that a part of our history which had been deliberately ignored for many decades was as important to our shared understanding of the past as for example local I.R.A. activity during the War of Independence. The war memorial in St. Michael’s Old Cemetery is a fine tribute to the young men and the one woman who died while in service during the 1914-1918 war. While standing at the memorial last week during the unveiling ceremony I looked across at the medieval church, known to us all as ‘the crickeen’. It’s badly in need of urgent conservation and if that work is not carried out very soon we could witness the loss of perhaps the oldest building in the town of Athy. Older perhaps than the ruined Woodstock Castle which was built to replace an earlier wooden structure erected by the Anglo Normans who first settled in this area. Our local history is enriched not just by the events and personalities of the past, but also by the buildings left to us by our predecessors. Woodstock Castle, Whites Castle and ‘the crickeen’ are important reminders of our medieval past and it would be a shame if we do not take positive steps to ensure their protection and preservation for future generations. To paraphrase Tip O’Neill, ‘all history is local history’. Knowing that so much of our nation’s history is reflected in events which occurred in south Kildare I have attempted in this weekly column to demonstrate how Athy men and women helped shape the town we know today. Some of those early articles have appeared in the first three volumes of ‘Eye on Athy’s Past’. The fourth volume will be launched on Tuesday 3rd December at 8.00p.m. by Liam Kenny, writer and historian. The launch will take place in the Shackleton Museum, Town Hall, Athy and an invitation is extended to anyone interested in local history to attend. I am somewhat taken back to notice that Vol. 3 was launched way back in 2007 and Vol. 4 brings the articles included in the book up to December 2000. There is a lot of catching up to do and a lot more books to be published!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The unveiling of Athy's War Memorial

More than 100 years after the end of the war in which 131 young persons from Athy died the people of south Kildare witnessed the unveiling of a war memorial in their memory. The memorial unveiled on Sunday last by the Chairman of Athy Municipal Council, Mark Wall, recalls the names of the 130 men and that of Nurse Eleanor Orford. Their story and that of the men and women who served in the war were for too long written out of our history. This, despite the fact that the young men who enlisted to fight overseas did so with the active encouragement of church and civic leaders of the time. Here in Athy Canon Mackey, the local parish priest, was a fervent supporter of army recruitment and with the then Chairman of Athy Urban District Council often spoke at recruitment meetings held in Emily Square. While those young men were fighting and dying overseas attitudes in their hometown changed following the execution of the 1916 leaders. It resulted in the young men who survived the war being ostracised on their return home while their dead comrades were written out of our local history. Twenty years or so ago John MacKenna, David Walsh and myself got together to honour on Remembrance Sunday each year the men from Athy who died in war. That annual ceremony has continued and some years ago Athy Urban District Council had a plaque erected on the Town Hall to honour the men from Athy who died in World War 1. More recently a small committee, led by Clem Roche, decided to erect a war memorial listing the Athy dead of World War I in St. Michael’s cemetery. That committee included some members of the group which had honoured the local 1798 activists by having the 1798 monument erected in Emily Square. That act of remembering the Irish republicans of ’98 and more recently organising the War of Independence Exhibition in the Town Hall, coupled with the unveiling of the World War I memorial in St. Michael’s Cemetery, should encourage us all to ‘embrace our history and learn from it’. I was honoured to address the following words to those attending the memorial unveiling. ‘For decades the subject of remembering and honouring the Athy men who fought in World War 1 was taboo. Athy suffered the loss of 130 men and 1 woman, Eleanor Orford, in the Great War. Men who were young, men who were single, men who had wives and children and a young woman who was survived by her parents. Their deaths scarred the local community for decades afterwards. They enlisted with the active encouragement of church and civic leaders and in doing so felt they were doing what was right and honourable. Athy men like many other Irish men from a nationalist background enlisted because the British Army offered opportunities not available in civilian life. The majority of those men who left Athy to join regiments in Naas and elsewhere were members of the Catholic church. A small minority were of the Anglican and Presbyterian faiths and their contribution to the Great War is memorialised in our local churches. There is no memorial remembering the local Catholic men in our Parish Church as unlike the other faith churches there was no tradition of having such memorials in Catholic churches in Ireland. Some of those men were members of the local GAA club, but not even one-time team allegiances were sufficient to allow those who remained at home to embrace the deaths of their former teammates as a community loss. The deaths of 131 young persons from Athy left an emotional community wound that was not healed even as the new independent State rose from the ashes of Ireland’s Civil War. For while the men were fighting and too often dying the country they left behind and the town they called home had changed forever. After the 1916 Rising those soldiers of the Great War found themselves ostracised. They were on the wrong side of Irish history. For many years Irish life was characterised by a failure to pay tribute to the fallen of the Great War even though we must accept that those who enlisted were motivated by the highest purpose. Kevin O’Higgins, Minister in the first Free State government, whose father served as Medical Officer in nearby Stradbally and whose brother Michael was killed in action in France, said of the men who enlisted “no-one denies the patriotic motives which induced the vast majority of those men to join the British Army to take part in the Great War.” We remember the idealism, the valour and the courage of these men and Eleanor Orford remember their sacrifices with gratitude and humility. Our commemoration today of those locals who died in the Great War focuses on reconciliation and a shared memory of the loss of a young generation. The unveiling of this memorial is confirmation that the people of Athy are now remembering with dignity the soldiers and the nurse of the Great War who for far too long were consigned to the unwritten pages of our local history.’ The people of Athy now share a memory which transcends political visions and recalls our common humanity.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The names on Athy's War Memorial

On next Sunday, 17th November at 2.45pm Athy’s war memorial commemorating the men from Athy who died in the Great War will be unveiled in St. Michael’s Cemetery. The memorial will record the names of the following 133 Athy men who died in that war and whose names were for so long written out of our shared history. Alcock Frank Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Alcock Thomas Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers ArmstrongDCM Joseph WO2 Army Service Corps Bowden Michael Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Bloomer Robert Sapper Royal Engineers Byrne Anthony Private Leinster Regiment Byrne James Private Leinster Regiment Byrne John Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Byrne Joseph Sergeant Royal Dublin Fusiliers Byrne Patrick Sergeant Royal Dublin Fusiliers Byrne MM Thomas Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Campion Michael Private L.N. Lancashire Regt Carberry Chatfield MM Peter George Patrick Private Sergeant Royal Dublin Fusiliers Royal West Surrey Regt Connell Thomas Corporal Royal Dublin Fusiliers Connolly Thomas Rifleman London Regiment Corcoran William Lance Corporal Irish Guards Corrigan William Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Coyle Alfred Private South Irish Horse Cullen Maurice Private Irish Guards Curtis John Bombardier Royal Field Artillery Curtis Laurence Private 5th Lancers Curtis Davis Patrick Michael Private Private Irish Guards Leinster Regt Delaney Daniel Private Scottish Borders Delaney John Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Devoy Michael Sergeant Kings Royal Rifle Corps Dillon James Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Dooley Laurence Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Donohue Patrick Private Royal Irish Regiment Dowling Edward Private Irish Guards Dowling John Private Leinster Regt Doyle Moses Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Doyle Patrick Lance Corporal Royal Dublin Fusiliers Dunn Laurence Gunner Royal Garrison Artillery Dunne James Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Dunne James Private Leinster Regiment Dunne Michael Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Dunne Patrick Lance Sergeant Irish Guards Dwyer James Private Army Service Corps Ellard Thomas Private Leinster Regt Fanning Frank Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Farrell John Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Farrell Louis/Lewis Private Kings Liverpool Regiment Farrell Michael Lance Sergeant Irish Guards Fennelly Fennelly John Patrick Private Private Leinster Regt Royal Dublin Fusiliers Fenlon Fleming Hugh Frederick Private Corporal Royal Dublin Fusiliers 69th NY NG Regiment Flynn Christopher Private Irish Guards Flynn Patrick Lance Corporal Irish Guards Flynn Patrick Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Flynn Thomas Private Connaught Rangers Fox Thomas Private Leinster Regt Gleeson Christopher Rifleman Royal Irish Rifles Hanlon Christopher Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Hannon Henry Private Manitoba Regt-Canada Hannon John 2nd Lieutenant The Kings Liverpool Regt Hannon Norman Lieutenant The Kings Liverpool Regt Hannon Thomas 2nd Lieutenant Shropshire Light Infantry Hanphy Peter Lance Corporal Royal Dublin Fusiliers Haydon Thomas Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Heydon Aloysius Private Irish Guards Heydon Patrick Private Irish Guards Holohan James Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Hickey Joseph Corporal Royal Dublin Fusiliers Hughes Thomas Henry Sergeant Recruiting Sergeant Hurley Martin Private Duke of Wellington Regt Hurley William Rifleman Royal Irish Rifles Hyland Martin Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Johnston John Private Leinster Regt Keefe Christopher Lance Sergeant South Lancashire Regt Kelly Christopher Corporal Royal Dublin Fusiliers Kelly Dennis Private Leinster Regt Kelly John Private Leinster Regt Kelly Lawrence Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Kelly Owen Private Leinster Regt Lawler John Lance Corporal Royal Dublin Fusiliers Lawler Thomas Sapper Royal Engineers Lawlor Edward Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Lawlor Leonard Michael Michael Private Corporal Leinster Regt 69th NY NG Regiment Leonard Patrick Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Lindsay Robert Sergeant Royal Engineers Maher Martin Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Maher Thomas Private Gordon Highlanders Maloney Martin Private Leinster Regt McWilliams Robert Private Leinster Regt Mooney Edward Private Royal Irish Regiment Moran William Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Monks William Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Mulhall John Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Mulhall Mulhall Patrick Richard Private Private Machine Gun Corps Royal Munster Fusiliers Mullen Albert Private Irish Guards Murphy John Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy Murphy Joseph Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Murphy Martin Private Irish Guards Nolan William Driver Royal Army Service Corps O'Brien Michael Private Irish Guards O'Brien Thomas Private Irish Guards O'Connell James Private Royal Warwickshire Regt O'Keefe Michael Private Irish Guards Orford Eleanor Frances Nurse Voluntary Aid Division O'Shea Laurence Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Packenham William Lance Corporal Connaught Rangers Payne Henry Drill Sergeant Irish Guards Plewman MC Charles Lieutenant The Kings Liverpool Regt Power Christopher Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Power Christopher Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Price James Sergeant Royal Dublin Fusiliers Reilly Andrew Corporal Royal Dublin Fusiliers Reilly John Driver Royal Field Artillery Reilly Patrick Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Roach James Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Roache DCM James CSM Royal Dublin Fusiliers Rochford John Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Ryan Michael Private Leinster Regt Ryan Thomas Rifleman Royal Irish Rifles Shirley Jeremiah Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Shor/t/hall Michael Private Leinster Regt St. John Henry Corporal Gloucestershire Regt Stafford Edward Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Stafford Thomas Lance Corporal Royal Dublin Fusiliers Supple William Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Telford Alfred Sergeant Royal Field Artillery Territt Michael Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Tierney Patrick Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers Wall William Private Leinster Regt Ward Samuel Private Leinster Regt Weldon DSO Anthony Arthur Lt Col Leinster Regt

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Remembrance Sunday and the Athy men who died in World War 1

In recent weeks Athy remembered and honoured the local men and women who participated in the fight for Irish independence. The War of Independence exhibition in the Town Hall which has just concluded was a fitting reminder of the debt which the present generation owes to those brave men and women of an earlier generation. Next Sunday on a day designated as Remembrance Sunday we will have the opportunity to remember and honour a generation of local men who responded to the call of Church and civic leaders by enlisting in the fight against Germany in the 1914-1918 war. Athy, the town founded by the Anglo Normans at the end of the 12th century, and located on the Marches of Kildare was garrisoned from an early age to provide a first line of defence for the settlers living within the English Pale. That continuous long-term military presence had a beneficial effect on the growth of the town of Athy and also helped create a tradition of military service amongst the local men. Even as the 1798 Kildare rebels planned their uprising many of their neighbour’s sons had already enlisted to serve overseas in the British army and navy. Local recruitment increased during the Crimean war and the Boer war and reached a peak during the First World War. That latter war occurred at a time when local men were largely dependent on seasonal employment on local farms and in the local brickyards. They responded positively and in large numbers to the call of their parish priest Canon Mackey, encouraged by the chairman of Athy Urban District Council, to enlist for the duration of the war which everybody confidently expected would be concluded by Christmas 1914. Those who enlisted were cheered as they paraded behind the Leinster Street Fife and Drum Band en route to the regimental depots in Naas and Dublin. The prospect of serving overseas for men who had never previously left their hometown, coupled with the prospect of an apparently exciting life in uniform, appealed to young men whose largely unemployed lives had been lived out in the poverty-stricken back streets of Athy. Sadly, upwards of 133 young Athy men never survived the 1914-1918 war. For many of those who died there are no known graves, their bodies even if recovered were never identified. Other men including Athy natives Michael Bowden, his brother-in-law John Byrne, Martin Maher and Jack ‘Skurt’ Doyle were captured following the Battle of Mons and spent years in captivity in the prison of war camp at Limburg. ‘Skurt’ Doyle was the only soldier of the four named who survived the war. Bowden, Byrne and Maher died in the prison of war camp and are today buried in German soil. Of the 133 Athy men whose lives were lost during the 1914/’18 war six are buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Martin Hyland of Offaly Street died in Cambridge Hospital, aged 29 years and at the request of his young widow his remains were brought back to Athy. Michael O’Brien of Meeting Lane was killed at Carlow Railway Station while at home on leave. He was 27 years of age. John Lawler of Ardreigh, aged 37 years, had served in South Africa during the Boer War. He was survived by his widow Elizabeth. Michael Byrne was 27 years of age when he died 10 days after the war ended, a casualty of the influenza epidemic. James Dwyer, aged 39 years, died on 31st March 1918, while Thomas Flynn from Whitebog, one of four brothers who had enlisted, died on 26th February 1915 aged 28 years. The soldiers who survived the war and who returned to Athy, lived out their lives in a country where politics and allegiances had changed radically since the start of the war. The rise of Sinn Fein prompted by the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising saw Irish support for the 1914-1918 war decline rapidly. The 1,600 men from Athy and district who had enlisted in the first nine months of the war were cut adrift by a political movement which was fast growing back in their hometown. The community wide support they received when enlisting had gone and on their return to Ireland they were the forgotten soldiers of a conflict which had engulfed the world. The present generation fully accept that those men are an important part of our shared history and as such deserve to be remembered and honoured with dignity. At 3 p.m. on Remembrance Sunday the people of Athy as they have done for the last 20 years or so will gather in St. Michael’s Cemetery to remember and show respect for an earlier generation of local men whose lives and ambitions were cut short by a savage war.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A vision for the Shackleton Museum

On Friday I addressed those gathered in the Town Hall for the opening of this year’s Shackleton Autumn School. Part of my speech follows, being my thoughts on one aspect of the town’s future development potential. Athy historically developed as a market town, providing services and retailing outlets for the wider hinterland of south Kildare, west Wicklow and eastern part of Laois. The industrial development of the 1930s saw Athy benefitting ahead of other towns possibly because of the debacle surrounding the loss of the sugar factory to Carlow in the 1920s. Industrial employment in Athy was at its highest in the late 1950s and 1960s, but the closure of two large factories and job reductions in Athy’s oldest industry saw the beginning of the decline in the commercial life of the town. That decline accelerated in recent years prompting the local Lions Club to commission the production of a regeneration plan for the town. That plan recognising the strength of the area’s natural and man built heritage and the strength of it’s cultural and historical links pointed to tourism as the often neglected element of the area’s economic revival strategy. The development of the Shackleton Museum offers an opportunity to improve the town’s tourism take, which if coupled with an appropriately themed development of Whites Castle could prove invaluable in the revival of the town’s fortunes. This was the point I was making when I made the following remarks:- ‘The people of Athy were slow to recognise Ernest Shackleton as someone who was born within the towns hinterland. It was a failure initially born out of a lack of awareness and a mindset stultified by war weariness. For in the years following Shackleton’s death, the Irish people were pre-occupied with shoring up a nation shattered by war and civil conflict. The polar adventures of the Kilkea born Shackleton were understandably overlooked by the Irish people. Whenever they were reported, the National press invariably claimed Shackleton to be a native of Kilkee, Co. Clare. Research in connection with Athy’s application for Heritage town status in the late 1980s correctly identified the south Kildare place of his birth and from that emerged the initial Shackleton themed Exhibition in Athy’s Heritage Centre. A giant step was taken with the opening of the first Shackleton Autumn School in 2001. This was a recognition of Shackleton’s greatness as a Polar Explorer and appropriately commemorated the Explorer in the County of his birth. The celebration of Shackleton’s remarkable gift for leadership found further expression in the commissioning of the wonderfully executed statue of Shackleton by Mark Richards which now stands proudly outside this building. The re-naming of the Heritage Centre as a Shackleton Museum and the planned re-ordering and re-fitting of the extended museum to occupy the entire former Town Hall, marks a new phase in Athy’s continuing effort to reclaim the Polar Explorer as its own. Our vision for the Shackleton Museum is to build a museum which can be a National and International reference point for polar enthusiasts as well as International and Irish visitors alike. It will, I believe, be the only Museum in the world dedicated to Shackleton and will tell his story through words, images and innovative interpretations as well as displaying our own unique collection of artefacts. The Museum development signals a change in the economic model on which the Town of Athy has developed over the years. The Town’s regeneration plan commissioned by Athy Lions Club recognises the importance of tourism as an element in the future growth strategy for this area. The Shackleton Museum will be an important part of the town’s tourism infrastructure which will allow Athy to reposition itself as a tourist destination.’ Athy is at a crossroads in terms of its transition from market town status to that of a thriving urban centre hoping to benefit from a mix of industry, main street commercial activity and an improving tourism sector. The tourism element can hopefully be fashioned out of the planned Blueway development and the Shackleton Museum experience, complemented by an appropriate museum development in Whites Castle. It is vitally important that the castle sited in such a prominent position in the heart of the town is secured for the public and adopted for use in attracting visitors to Athy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Athy's Shackleton Autumn School

The 19th annual Shackleton School opens on Friday evening, 25th October in the aptly named Shackleton Museum Athy. The museum originally opened in 1983 in a school room in Mount St. Marys and known as Athy Museum was later rebranded as Athy’s Heritage Centre. This name change came about when Bord Failte granted heritage town status to our town and partially funded the design and refitting of the ground floor of the early 18th century Town Hall, part of which had previously been used as a fire station. The latest name change is in recognition of the Centre’s development over the years as the only permanent exhibition space anywhere in the world devoted to the polar explorer who was born in nearby Kilkea. An important part of that development was the first Shackleton Autumn School which opened in October 2001 with a number of lectures dealing with various aspects of Shackleton’s life and his polar explorations. That first autumn school attracted visitors to Athy over the October bank holiday weekend who might not otherwise have had an opportunity or indeed a reason to come to Athy. In the intervening years the organisers of the autumn school have built up a valuable working relationship with polar experts throughout the world including the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, the Fram Museum in Oslo and the South Australian Museum, Melbourne. The relationships with these institutions have encouraged and promoted contacts with polar experts and scholars throughout the world. As a result the small county Kildare town has become known over the last 19 years as the centre of the world’s most important annual polar seminar. Since the first autumn school we have welcomed as lecturers, polar experts and explorers from Australia, Norway, America, Great Britain, Canada, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium and New Zealand. While our October audiences have included visitors not only from those countries but also Japan, India, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy. This year the autumn school will be officially opened on Friday 25th October at 7.30p.m., followed by the launch of the book ‘Shackleton and his stowaway’ published by Methuen and written by Andy Dickinson. Earlier in the day the internationally acclaimed sculptor, Mark Richards, who created the Shackleton statue located in Emily Square will conduct a workshop for Leaving Certificate students from schools in the south of the county. Throughout the weekend the museum will host an exhibition on Shackleton’s last expedition aboard the ‘Quest’. It was while on that expedition that Shackleton died and the ship’s cabin in which he drew his last breadth was acquired by the museum some time ago and will be one of the many Shackleton related exhibits on display when the planned re-design and re-fitting of the Shackleton Museum is completed. The lectures start at 10.00am on Saturday morning with a lecture from the well-known ornithologist Jim Bransfield from Cobh, County Cork who will talk about the discovery of Antarctica 200 years ago by the Cork born sailor, Edward Bransfield. Thereafter Paul Davies of the Devon Cornwall Polar Society will lecture on the diverse range of books published about the Polar regions. A significant lecture that same morning will be from Dr. Dirk Notz in relation to climate change, an issue which is to the forefront of most news reports these days. As a climate researcher Dirk has led numerous expeditions to the Antarctic and focusses on understanding the past and future evolution of sea ice in the Polar regions. Former BBC science correspondent, David Whitehouse will lecture about the Apollo 11 Moon Landings in this the 50th anniversary year of that landing. This will be followed by perhaps one of the highlights of the weekend, the ‘Endurance diary inquiry’. For those fans of the Antiques Roadshow they will recall a broadcast from Belfast last Summer where a diary belonging to one of the members of Shackleton’s Endurance crew was unearthed. The authenticity of this diary will be scrutinised by a panel of experts with the support of Nicky Jeffreys, the owner of the diary. The diary itself will be on display in the Shackleton Museum over the weekend for those anxious to see this unique document. The lectures will continue into Sunday where a variety of different topics will be explored including the life and voyages of the Dundalk born explorer, Sir Leopold McClintock and the rescue of Shackleton’s men from Elephant Island after the Endurance expedition. The Sunday afternoons sessions will end with the showing of the ‘Flight of the Eagle’, an Oscar nominated film telling the story of a doomed balloon expedition to the North Pole in 1897. The events over the weekend will include what we believe to be the premiere in Ireland of the two man play ‘Shackleton and his Stowaway’, which will be performed in Athy’s Arts Centre on Sunday the 27th October 8pm. The play played to packed audiences in London and it will be well worth seeing. The Autumn School would not be possible without the continuing sponsorship of Kildare County Council, Athy International Concentrates, Athy Lions Club and Bradburys restaurant.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Forgotten Place Names of Athy

Looking through the place names and street names recorded for Athy in the census of 1901 and that of 1911 I was surprised to find how many of those names mentioned are no longer remembered. The earlier census shows for that part of the town on the east side of the river Barrow several names no longer in use and in all probability long forgotten. Where were Back Lane, Carroll’s Court, Chapel Hill, Garden Lane, Kellys Lane and Kyles Row? Matthews Lane, New Row and Porters Row complete the list of long lost local place names of 118 years ago. Chapel Hill had disappeared from the 1911 census records, while Emily Square, so named after the Duke of Leinster’s wife and Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s mother, was noted as Market Square in both the 1901 and 1911 census. For Athy west of the river Barrow place names now no longer used include Canal Lane, Higginsons Lane, James Place and Keatings Lane. Other names long since forgotten include New Gardens, Newmans Row, Tanyard Lane and Tay Lane. Names still remembered and occasionally used today include Dry Docks, Shrewleen Lane, Barrack Lane and Street and Blackparks. The lost named places accounted for many of the lanes, courts and alleyways which were demolished during the slum clearance programme of the mid-1930s. That programme was an initiative of the government of the day which allowed Athy Urban District Council to demolish the small unsanitary dwelling houses of which there were many to be found throughout the town of Athy. Generally two roomed single storied houses built in the previous century without proper sanitary facilities and lacking running water were all privately owned by local landlords. The tenants from those houses were accommodated in public authority housing newly built at Dooley’s Terrace and St. Joseph’s Terrace, as the houses they vacated were demolished. The last of those house types were to be found in more recent years in Blackparks where the landlord was Mr. Plewman who lived nearby in the house which is now the offices of Minch Malt. The two roomed houses, all with small rear yards, were served by a single water pump outside on the public footpath. I had the pleasure of interviewing 85 year old Sarah Davis some months ago when she shared with me her memories of growing up in Blackparks. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sarah could recall with astonishing accuracy the names of the families and the various family members who lived in Blackparks. There is a photograph in the local Heritage Centre of a car passing through Blackparks during the Gordon Bennett Race of 1903. Many will recall the row of small houses known as Blackparks facing onto the Kilkenny Road but the 1903 photograph shows not only that row of houses opposite Plewman’s Terrace, but also three other houses facing onto what is now The Bleach cottages. Those first three houses I am told by Sarah were demolished during the 1930s. With the housing developments of the recent pre-recession years many new housing estates came into existence in Athy. So many in fact that I have difficulty in recognising their names or where many of them are located. If the new estate names are unfamiliar to many of us, the old place names once readily identifiable and part of everyday conversation in and around Athy are unlikely ever to be resurrected. Like the laneways they once identified their names have now disappeared, seldom if ever again to be recalled in conversation. Following on the recent article which accompanied the photograph of an Athy Gaelic Football team of the 1930s I received a lot of background information on ‘old man’ Mulhall. His football medals are now held by Lily Bracken and thanks to Lily I hope soon to revisit ‘old man’ Mulhall’s story. In the meantime I am looking for information on ‘Tarman’ Cunningham who was on the same football team with Martin Cunningham in 1937. If you can help me I would like to hear from you. The War of Independence Exhibition currently running in the Heritage Centre and which was to finish on Friday 11th October will now continue until Monday 21st October. The exhibition which tells a story of South Kildare’s involvement in that war has generated a lot of interest. It’s an exhibition which will not be revisited for many years so this week presents a not to be missed opportunity to see it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Sr. Eileen Ryan of Athy's Sisters of Mercy

With the recent death of Sr. Eileen Ryan our local community has lost another link in a history stretching back 167 years to the post famine year when the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Athy. A native of County Limerick Sr. Eileen was one of five daughters of John and Margaret Ryan, three of whom joined religious orders. She entered the Athy Convent in July 1959 when vocations to religious life were plentiful as evidenced by an entry in the convent annals which recorded 55 nuns from Athy Convent attending a retreat given by the local Dominican friar, Fr. Pollack a few years later. She took the name Sr. Loreta the following July and made her first profession in June 1962. That September Sr. Loreta joined the staff of St. Michael’s school and made her final profession in June 1965. Within four months she began her Bachelor of Arts study in UCD and her replacement in St. Michael’s school was Miss T. McGrath who was the first lay teacher to join the teaching staff of the convent primary school. There are presently 52 lay teachers in the primary school and no Sisters of Mercy. Sr. Loreta graduated with a B.A. in 1968 and a year later received a diploma in education. She then joined the staff of St. Mary’s Secondary school where she was to remain teaching for many years. The first Mercy sisters who arrived in Athy on 10th October 1852 travelled from Dublin by rail and on arrival at the local railway station they were brought by horse and carriage with closed window blinds to the newly built convent. 118 years were to pass before the Athy Sisters of Mercy acquired a motor car. Four young nuns were chosen to take driving lessons and one of the those chosen was the former Eileen Ryan from County Limerick. Twelve years after Sister Loreta joined the staff of St. Mary’s secondary school she was appointed to a teaching post in Makuni, Kenya. On 31st August 1981 together with Sr. Catherine, who had previously worked in St. Vincents Hospital, Sr. Loreta travelled to Kenya where she was to remain for three years. The work of the Sisters of Mercy from the Athy Convent was not just limited to educating local girls, but included service in hospitals and schools as far apart as Kenya, Nairobi and Brazil. An unusual extension of their missionary work saw Sr. Cecilia travelling to Germany to give catechetical instruction to USA army families. Sr. Loreta celebrated the Silver Jubilee of her profession in 1987, the same year the adjoining schools of Scoil Eoin and Scoil Mhuire, built at a cost of £1.7million, were officially opened. In September 1996 Sr. Eileen took a year’s sabbatical from teaching in Scoil Mhuire to do voluntary work in the Mercy International Centre, Baggot Street, Dublin. During her teaching career Sr. Eileen proved to be very popular with fellow teachers and pupils alike. Her life as a Sister of Mercy mirrored in so many ways the lives of the many Sisters of Mercy who were part of the religious community in the Athy Convent following its foundation in 1852. From the time the first convent school was opened in Athy an unbroken succession of Sisters of Mercy devoted their lives to improving through education the lives of the young people of Athy and district. Their generosity of spirit in visiting and providing for the poorer families of Athy at a time when there were limited social services available is also worthy of mention. The local Wheelchair Association and Cuan Mhuire, together with the House of Galilee, are important legacies of Athy’s Sisters of Mercy. No less important were the Youth Clubs and the still active Travellers Club set up by Sisters of Mercy who for decades from the 1870s provided nursing care in the former workhouse, now St. Vincent’s Hospital. Sister Loreta who adopted the name Sr. Eileen in later years was but one of the many generously spirited women who worked in communities throughout Ireland and the world as members of a religious order which had its first Sister of Mercy professed in Dublin in December 1831. With her passing the curtain has further closed on our memories of those wonderful women of the cloth. The War of Independence Exhibition presently running in the Shackleton Museum, Town Hall, Athy will end on Friday, 11th October. This is a very important exhibition which recalls and honours the men and women from South Kildare who participated in Ireland’s struggle for independence. It’s an exhibition not to be missed. It will be followed by an exhibition on Ernest Shackleton’s last polar expedition which will open on Friday 25th October as part of the 19th Annual Shackleton Autumn School.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Athy Gaelic Football teams of the past

During the week Con Ronan gave me a photograph of an Athy Gaelic Football team which had a note on it indicating that the photograph was taken “about 1937”. The photograph had the following names reading from left to right at the back, Jack Dunne, Michael Ryan, an unnamed spectator, Patsy Ryan, Dick Loughman, Matt Murray, “the Great Tarman” Cunningham, Jack Lawler, ? Wall and J. Mahon. Middle row “old man” Mulhall, Billy Chanders, Patrick Mahon and Michael Mullery. Front row John Campbell, M. Higgins, “Skurt” Doyle, “Bunny” Chanders, Lar Murray and S. Kelly. Amongst my own GAA papers I found a photocopy of the same photograph with a note indicating it was of an Athy junior football team, winners of the County Kildare league. Athy teams won the Senior Championship in 1937 and in the same year the 1934 Junior Football League. The final of the 1934 league was played in Kildare town on the 21st of March 1937. The names typed on the photocopy by and large confirmed the names as they appeared on the back of the photograph I received this week. However the names of the first four men at the back from the left are given as J. Dunne, M. Ryan, R. Ryan and M. Birney. The man second from the right at the back is named as P. Coogan. The photograph is definitely not of the senior team which won the County Final in 1937. Was it then the junior team which won the 1934 league final that same year? I had doubts as to whether the photograph is of a 1937 team. A newspaper report following Athy’s success in the senior championship final in 1942 referred to “youths played a big part in Sunday’s triumph. Seven members of the Athy team are under 22 years and one under 18 --- such youngsters as D. Shaughnessy, T. Fox and L. Murray are notable newcomers to this year’s team”. Why Lar Murray was described as a youngster in 1942 I do not understand as he was a member of the successful senior team of 1937. Can anyone help me determine when the team photograph was taken and at what level the team played. In the very front of the photograph is pictured the team trainer “Skurt” Doyle. The origin of his nickname is unknown to me but Jack Doyle was a unique character. Born in 1883 he joined the Dublin Fusiliers and served in India and Egypt. He played rugby for his regiment and also ran in marathons with some success. Jack was captured with many of his army comrades following the battle of Mons and was imprisoned in Limburg for the duration of the war. He was one of the first Athy players to be selected for the County Kildare senior team. He was the County senior goalkeeper between May 1921 and April 1922. Looking through the team records for the 1930’s I find Jim Cunningham who played centre half back for Athy and who won senior championship medals with the club in 1933 and 1934. He was not a member of the successful 1937 senior team. Was he I wonder the player referred to in the photograph as “the Great Tarman Cunningham”. On the left of the middle row is pictured a player described as “old man” Mulhall whom I believe may have been Martin Mulhall who featured on Athy’s intermediate team of 1931. While going through the notes of an interview I had with the late Ned Cranny many years ago I noticed for the first time that one of the players on the Athy teams of 1922 and 1923 was Paddy Hayden. Was he I wonder Paddy Hayden of Offaly Street who was imprisoned during the War of Independence. That war and the subsequent Civil War had a detrimental effect on the town’s Gaelic Football Club which in its early years was known as the Geraldine’s. It was a junior club then and won its first junior championship in 1907 but went into decline soon after losing the 1913 junior final. Enlistments during the 1914 – 18 war caused the club to lose many members. The local Christian Brothers started a new club for minor footballs which was called the Young Emmets and it was during that club’s existence that a playing field was secured from the South Kildare Agricultural Society. The football players of the distant past are understandably unremembered today but it would be a great pity if we did not try to revive their names, their images and details of their playing careers as members of Athy Gaelic Football Club.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Castledermot men of World War One

The village of Castledermot in medieval times was a relatively peaceful settlement compared to its near neighbour, Athy, which as a fortress village was garrisoned to protect its inhabitants and those living within the Pale. It was in Castledermot that the first gathering of Norman overlords came together in what is now accepted as the first Parliamentary type gathering on the island of Ireland. Parliamentary sessions were subsequently held in Castledermot on many occasions, confirming the village as a relatively safe place for visiting overlords and village citizens alike. I was reminded of the continuing importance of Castledermot which extended long beyond the medieval stage of its development when learning of a lecture to be given by Ger Whelan this Tuesday, 24th Sept. at 8.00p.m. in Teach Diarmada, Castledermot. I had previously done some limited research on the Castledermot men who served in the war, but my efforts in that regard pale into insignificance compared to the wide-ranging research undertaken by Ger Whelan. He has discovered an enormous amount of detail relating not only to the Castledermot, Moone, Kilkea and Dunmanogue men who served, but also the one female native of the village who served overseas as a nurse in the U.S.A. army. I have always believed that the majority of the Irish men who enlisted during 1914-18 did so because of lack of employment. However, men who were members of the National Volunteers also enlisted following John Redmond’s call to arms during a rally in Woodenbridge. Would this explain why many from Athy and Castledermot went overseas to fight the Germans. What I wonder would explain why four Lawler brothers and three Byrne brothers, all from Castledermot, enlisted during the war. Their story and that of many more Castledermot men will be told by Ger Whelan at his lecture tonight. Of the four Lawler brothers, three, Daniel, Joseph and Patrick survived. Their brother John (Military Medal Winner) died not in battle but as a result of injuries sustained in a train crash near Blargies on 5th March 1919. Two train collided, resulting in the deaths of 14 British army soldiers including John Lawler and one French soldier. In the Roll of men from Castledermot and district published in 1916 who were described as ‘serving his majesty’s forces’ the Lawlers named were John, Patrick and Peter, with another Patrick Lawler listed as another enlistee. Another local family with several family members who joined up were the Byrne family of Barnhill, Castledermot. Cornelius Byrne and his brother Thomas were killed in action, while their brother Robert survived and later went on to serve in the Second World War. Their father, I understand, was himself a soldier and I believe was known locally as ‘soldier’ Byrne. All of this information comes courtesy of Ger Whelan whom I spoke with briefly a few days ago and whose knowledge of Castledermot locals’ involvement in the war is prodigious. His research to date shows that 82 men from Castledermot served in the war, of whom 38 died. The first man to be killed was William Whelan who although born in Rathoe, Co. Carlow to Castledermot parents lived in the south Kildare village. He enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and arrived in France just four days before he was killed on 27th August 1914. He was the first man from the county of Kildare to die in that war and today he lies buried in a mass grave in Clary, France. Both Clem Roche and I following research some years ago could only identify 23 Castledermot men who were killed in the war but Ger Whelan has made a huge contribution to Castledermot’s history by identifying 38 local men who died. Even then my figure of 23 included the two Hannon brothers, John and Ian, who although born in the parish of Castledermot were living for many years before they enlisted in Ardreigh House, Athy where I am now writing this article. Another interesting discovery by Ger was the one Castledermot born female who served during the 1914/’18 war. Mary Timmons had emigrated to America and served as a nurse in the U.S.A. army. Her story and that of the other Castledermot enlistees will be the subject of Ger Whelan’s lecture in Castledermot tonight at 8.00 p.m. It should not be missed. Another unmissable event is the War of Independence exhibition currently ongoing in Athy’s Heritage Centre. The exhibition which runs until early October shows another side of the fighting Irish. Irish men in the British Army at a time when the Irish Volunteers were preparing to fight the British would presents a unique picture of a country divided. However, it was the terms of the 1922 Treaty which separated one-time comrades and plunged the country into civil war. If anyone has any information of any relations who fought in the war, Ger Whelan would be pleased to hear from you and he can be contacted via email on gjjwhelan@gmail.com or alternatively you can bring the information with you to the lecture tonight.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Athy's entries in 'The Birthday of Ireland' by Dr. Andrew Tierney

The fifth book in the series ‘The Buildings of Ireland’ has just been published by Yale University Press under the title ‘Central Leinster – The Counties of Kildare Laois and Offaly’. It follows several years after earlier publications on Dublin, North Leinster, North-West Ulster, South Ulster which were the initial publications in a sister series to those on English, Scottish and Welsh buildings compiled over many years by Nikolaus Pevsner. The author of the Central Leinster book is Dr. Andrew Tierney who has produced what the Times Literary Supplement rightly describes as a ‘great feat of publishing in the best traditions of architectural history.’ The buildings in Athy receive extensive coverage in the book which offers a tremendous amount of detail of which I was not previously aware. St. Michael’s Church of Ireland, designed by Frederick Darley, architect for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the Archdioceses of Dublin, was the architect for the Offaly Street church, also the Model School on the Dublin Road, the church in Kilberry and the former Corn Exchange, now the Courthouse in Emily Square. Darley’s wooden communion rail in St. Michael’s Church was replaced by brass rails in 1893, while the original pulpit entered from a doorway high up in the wall left of the altar was replaced in 1861 by a pulpit erected in memory of Rev. Frederick Trench who was killed following an accident at Preston’s Gate the previous year. Tierney describes the church interior as ‘chaste’, while he refers to the church organ as ‘a large and ungainly imposition in the ritual south transept.’ The nearby rector’s house on Church Road was designed by Deane & Woodward, the contractor being local man Mark Cross who built many houses in and around Athy in the mid-1800s including houses in Janeville Lane and Connolly’s Lane. Hammer dressed limestone blocks taken from the nearby town jail which had closed in 1860 were used in the building of the rector’s house. St. Michael’s Catholic Church opened in 1964 is described as a rehash of O’Connor and Aylward’s design for Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Sean McDermott Street Dublin which was built ten years earlier. The most interesting features of St. Michael’s Church are the furnishings from the earlier church including the pulpit which was erected in 1901 by James Pearse, father of Padraig and William Pearse. The former Dominican Church designed by John Thompson and Partners and opened the year after the Parish Church was the first example in Ireland of the type of roof structure popularised by Felix Candela in Mexico and Sam Scorer in England in the late 1950s. The dramatic hyperbolic paraboloid roof of reinforced concrete was Fr. Pollock’s choice of modern church design which attracted huge interest when the church first opened and continues today to attract much attention as the town’s library. The Presbyterian Church, built in 1857, to David Taylor’s design is described by Tierney as ‘a rather plain early English gothic hall’. The adjoining manse, which was built by a local builder William Crampton in 1866 finds favour with Tierney who sees it as ‘a delightful composition with bargeboards.’ The Methodist Church built in 1874 is mentioned as an early Decorated T-plan building designed by Darley and Holbrook. The Athy churches are indicative of the religious diversity of the south Kildare population and are a valid expression of the developing architectural styles since the 1830s. The Model School and former Agricultural School on the Dublin Road in 1851 was the work of Frederick Darley who was engaged by the Board of National Education in the last year of the Great Famine to design model schools for every county in Ireland. Tierney acknowledges that Darley’s building is ‘eye catching and picturesque in its massing’. Not so impressive in his judgment is the 1858 Convent of Mercy school building at Mount Hawkins which he describes as ‘large and stately if cumbersomely asymmetrical.’ The Town Hall is surprisingly noted in the book as ‘ungainly looking’, while the Courthouse is stated to be an early Irish example of a neo Jacobean public building. St. Vincent’s Hospital, the former Workhouse built to George Wilkinson’s design, has been much changed over the years but in the double gabled wings are to be found the narrow gangways between raised wooden floors on which the inmates once bedded down for the night. White’s Castle, which Tierney describes as an ‘unusually substantial three storey tower at the heart of Athy’ is described by him as a good example of the use of castles as jails in the 19th century given its ‘haggard, decaying exteriors and forbiddingly small post medieval windows.’ Woodstock Castle, built of loosely coarse rubble as was the medieval church at Bothar Bui, are also mentioned but both sadly are now fenced off and have been for some years. There are no plans that I am aware of to carry out any restoration work on these the oldest buildings in Athy, both of which will deteriorate further if nothing is done to protect and preserve them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The shifting sands of Athy's economic life

The large attendance at the Blueway meeting held in the Town Library on Tuesday evening was a heartening reminder that the people of Athy are alive to the huge opportunities which can follow the development of this waterway project. I have seldom witnessed a greater involvement by the general public with any public realm project and the hope is that the project will move ahead without any great delay. The shifting sands of our town’s economic life has seen the once great market town which was largely dependent on its rich agricultural hinterland glide into an unhealthy state where shops and factories have closed. Athy’s fate in that regard is no different than that of many other provincial towns in Ireland and in neighbouring England and Wales. Urban streetscapes throughout all of these countries display an increasing number of vacant premises and charity shops. The loss of business can be attributed to many reasons including internet trading, property charges and the rise of the out of town shopping centres providing free parking for their customers. The traditional town centre which is now slowly but surely losing its primacy as a shopping centre for local needs must now adjust to meet the changing retail world. I was in Hay-on-Wye last week, a small town with a population of approximately 2,000, located on the Marches between England and Wales. In that respect it mirrors Athy’s position in olden times when Athy was positioned on the Marches of Kildare which marked the boundaries between the settlers within and the Pale and the wild Irish occupying the lands on the far side of the river Barrow. Hay-on-Wye was in decline when in 1961 a young Richard Booth opened a second hand book shop there. His first shop soon gave way to a succession of second-hand book shops so that within a few years Hay-on-Wye became the world’s first book town. I first visited Hay in 1983 at a time when there were approximately 29 second-hand book shops including two huge shops, one of which was the town’s former cinema. Booth created the concept of the book town and invigorated Hay’s economy as antique shops and restaurants opened in previously vacant premises to meet the needs of the book lovers who arrived in the town. Hay is still thriving as the world’s first and perhaps best book town of the 20 or so book towns which have since opened up in places as far away as America and Australia. What is of interest is the enormous change brought about in the economic character of the town of Hay by one man’s initiative. Richard Booth was an innovative eccentric, but he had the courage, the tenacity and the brilliance to pursue a dream which brought enormous benefit to his part of Wales. Here in Athy we must look at the revival of the town’s fortunes by taking advantage of the town’s unique waterway features. The Blueway Project offers us a wonderful opportunity to remarket the town as a place to visit and enjoy. Tourism is one way of reviving the town’s fortunes and the success of the Athy boat tours is an example of what can be achieved in that regard. The Blueway Project however is but one element of what needs to be put in place if Athy is to have an impact as a tourism centre. The Shackleton Museum, the planning for which is ongoing, is the second element of the town’s tourism plan which I feel needs to be complemented by an appropriate development and use of White’s Castle. We now need to take bold and imaginative initiatives at this stage, as did Richard Booth so many years ago, if we hope to revitalise the economic life of Athy. We need industry, we need services but in addition we need to broaden the town’s economic life plan to include a drive for a share of the benefits of national and international tourism. The Blueway and the Shackleton Museum lead the way, but we must also see the adoption of White’s Castle into the town’s tourism initiative as a positive and indeed essential part of our future planning. Richard Booth brought prosperity to the small market town at the foot of the Black Mountains in Wales by selling second-hand books. Kildare County Council and the people of Athy can help to revive the withering economy of our market town if both cooperate in pushing ahead with the Blueway Project and the Shackleton Museum. To Kildare County Council falls the opportunity now of taking the bold but worthwhile initiative of acquiring White’s Castle to ensure it can be part of the town’s tourism plan for the future.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A new arrivals view of Athy

‘Why don’t you write about what’s happening today in the town?’, ‘why are you always writing about history?’, the questions came from a reader who apparently oblivious to the headline on the column, ‘Eye on the Past’ believed I should concentrate less on the past and more on the present. I have always thought that week in week out I give a mix of the past and of the present, at all times highlighting the good things about my adopted town. Another reader has often complained to me that my occasional references to the canal side factory and in particular its old name, no longer used, deters visitors and potential investors from coming near Athy. So this week I cast around for a subject which might satisfy my two unhappy readers and hopefully at the same time strike a chord with locals as well as former residents now living away from their home town in south Kildare. In the last 15 years Athy has received more families, who have come here to live, than at any other time in its 800-year history. The town population for more than 100 years up to 1995 or thereabouts hovered between 3,500 and 4,000. The current population is nearly 11,000, quite an increase for a provincial town and one which might be expected to pose difficulties for the town’s infrastructural and social facilities. Those of us living here for years past are sometimes oblivious to the good and bad issues affecting the town which are all too apparent to newcomers. For that reason I sought the help of a new arrival in Athy, someone who has been here long enough to identify what pleases and what issues, if any, cause displeasure and concern. My informant newly arrived within the last few months and dare I say it, possibly a Brexit refugee from the English mainland, expressed overall satisfaction with Athy and its people. What I asked do you like about Athy? The first answer astonished me, given the traffic issues which have affected the town for so long. ‘Easy to get around by car and on foot’. I wondered if the car movement is as easy as claimed, however the claim that ‘everyone is friendly’ certainly rings true. The town’s urban streetscape with the triple communication corridors of river, canal and rail line cutting across the original Anglo Norman linear type settlement is a feature unique to Athy. It was described by my informant as a place with a sense of history. Surprisingly the architectural merits of the town square with the town hall and the courthouse did not figure among the features liked about Athy. The former Dominican Church, now the town library, figured large as a likeable feature of Athy, not for its architectural qualities but for its excellence as a library. The variety of sporting facilities in the town came in for honourable mention, with particular reference to the current upsurge of interest in water sports. Club activities were praised and the variety of clubs, sporting and non-sporting, catering for young and adult members, spoke of an active and healthy community. For a town which in the 1920s and earlier had over 40 pubs, the current small number of public houses still operating were rated as very good. The People’s Park and the children’s playground earned further bonus points for Athy, while the educational campus on the Monasterevin Road featuring primary schools, secondary schools and the Gaelscoil merited special praise. To my surprise there was no mention of the town’s swimming pool and sports complex at Greenhills whose predecessor in the Peoples Park was built following an energetic community drive in the 1960s and later. It’s a nice town to live in declared my informant, but surely I said there must be something with which you might not be too happy. The expected avalanche of complaints did not materialise. Instead I got a few understated references, hardly complaints, concerning the lack of a local greengrocer and the absence of bicycle racks in the town. The lack of a fence around the children’s playground was another issue which was put in the scales to weigh up the merits of the south Kildare town. No doubt many reading this Eye on the Past could come up with an exhaustive list of good points about Athy. I am always struck by the praise which visitors to Athy have for the town. Looking at the town through visitors’ eyes one can recognise as if for the first time the architectural merits of the public buildings of Athy. The River Barrow and the Grand Canal are unique physical features not enjoyed by any other town in the county and they help shape and provide a wonderful landscape background to the town. Overall visitors would appear to regard Athy as a good town to visit, while new residents regard it as a good place in which to live. Those of us who have lived here during the 1950s remember a vibrant business town where business is now in urgent need of renewal. The outer relief road soon to be built and the work now ongoing in connection with the town’s regeneration plan gives hope that visitors, new family arrivals and old Athy stock will share a common success story insofar as the future of Athy is concerned.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Ban Gardai Len and Eileen Hayden

When the announcement was made in 1958 to appoint a woman’s police force in Dublin it was apparently overlooked by the national press that women police in England and Ireland had been in existence since the first World War. The English policewomen were brought into being to deal with the influx of Belgian refugees during the 1914/’18 war. In Dublin the Royal Irish Constabulary authorities appointed a number of policewomen shortly before the Treaty of 1921 and the last of those appointed retired in 1956. The role of the policewomen who were assumed into the Dublin Metropolitan Police after the Treaty was to watch for pickpockets and shop lifters, escort women prisoners and deal with delinquent children. Two years after the last Dublin based policewoman retired the Garda Siochana authorities decided to recruit Ban Gardai for the first time. It follows almost a decade of attempts by Gardai to improve their working conditions. The improvements which followed included pay increases and the right of serving Gardai to vote in local and general elections for the first time. However, despite the improvements in pay the strength of the force at the end of the 1950s was less than 6,500 as many of the men who had joined the Gardai on the setting up of the State were retiring during the 1950s. Their Garda pensions were inadequate and so many retired Gardai went to work in England. Here in Athy I can recall Sergeant Duggan and Garda Dunne, both taking the emigrant boat after retiring to take up employment in London. The Ban Gardai recruited in 1959 and trained in the Garda depot in Phoenix Park consisted of 12 recruits, amongst whom was Athy girl Len Hayden. Len, otherwise Helen, was the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paddy Hayden of St. Patrick’s Avenue. Len’s father Paddy Hayden and her uncle Sean Hayden were active members of the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence and Sean served time in prison for his involvement. After leaving St. Mary’s Secondary School she taught as a substitute teacher in Arles. Her successful application to join the Ban Gardai saw her joining another Athy recruit, the legendary county footballer Mick Carolan, in the Garda depot for training. Mick would go on to become a Superintendent and is now living in retirement in Dublin. Len was initially posted to Pearse Street Garda Station in Dublin and subsequently to Cork. The newly recruited Ban Gardai did not normally do night duty but instead were on standby duty during night-time. They were generally assigned duties relating to children and female offenders. Pay for the policewomen was less than that payable to their male counterparts. Ban Garda Len, with colleagues Sarah McGuinness and Peggy Tierney, were promoted to the rank of Sergeants within a year. The marriage ban which applied to all State employees was still in force when Len married after four years service in the Garda Siochana. She was required to resign from the force. By the late 1970s Ban Gardai received equal pay and no longer had to retire on marriage. Strange as it may now seem married men or women could not join the Garda Siochana until that restriction was removed in 1979. However, those changes were too late for Len Hayden and many of her colleagues who joined the force in 1959. Thirty-two years after Len Hayden became a Ban Garda the term was officially dropped and today both male and female members of the force are known as Gardai. The story of the Hayden family involvement in the Garda Siochana started with Len, but continued with her younger sister Eileen who at 21 years of age joined the Gardai in 1964. Eileen retired from the service in 1981. Coincidentally both Len and Eileen married members of the Garda Siochana. Another Hayden family link with the Garda Siochana is provided by Garda Laura Hayden, daughter of Len and Eileen’s only brother Patrick who lives in Naas. Much of the family information for this article comes courtesy of the former Rita Hayden who is married and living in Lucan. Rita has generously given in the past and again recently background information on the Hayden family’s involvement in the War of Independence and the Garda Siochana connections. Paddy and Sean Hayden, with their colleagues in the struggle for independence 1919-1921, are remembered in the War of Independence exhibition currently running in the Heritage Centre Athy. Paddy Hayden and his brother Sean served the yet to emerge State in the pre truce days, while Paddy Hayden’s daughters and granddaughter were and are part of a force which as predicted by the first Garda Commissioner Michael Staines succeeded ‘not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people.’

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Athy's War of Independence Exhibition

The War of Independence did not figure at all in the history curriculum of Irish schools until very recent years. For that reason I grew up in Athy like everyone else unaware of the part played in the War of Independence by local men and women whom I knew and whom I met on the streets on a regular basis. Their contribution to the cause of Irish political freedom went unacknowledged by local men and women who were unaware of what they had done, but worst of all was the failure of the Free State government to honour many individuals who subsequently fought on the anti-treaty side during the Civil War. The aftermath of the War of Independence was a difficult time, not only for our country but also for men and women who had experienced hardship and deprivation during the Irish struggle. It was only in more recent years that knowledge of past involvement in the events of 1919/1922 has begun to be known. The opening of the Military History Bureau records and the various other data bases now readily available on the internet provide an invaluable series of platforms to extend our knowledge of the past. Here in Athy, as in most parts of County Kildare which had the largest British military presence of any county in Ireland, the level of War of Independence activity was not comparable to that of Counties Cork or Tipperary. Nevertheless Athy, the garrison town of old, in its post Easter Rising years became a stronghold of Irish nationalism which saw the formation of a Sinn Fein club and branches of Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann. Athy and south Kildare in the early years of the Irish Volunteers had one of the largest Volunteer companies in the county and the only Volunteer cavalry company in County Kildare. This had followed on the earlier opening of Gaelic League classes in the town. Many in the town drew inspiration from the events of 1798, the last time the town of Athy and South Kildare witnessed a resurgence of nationalist fervour. That short lived resurgence was quickly and brutally quenched by several executions carried out near the Grand Canal harbour and floggings at the triangle in the Market Square. Emmett’s Rebellion of 1853 was to have Nicholas Gray, a resident of Rockfield House, Athy leading the men of County Kildare as they advanced on Dublin. It was not to be, as Gray was arrested shortly as he set out from Athy. He was incarcerated in the Whites Castle gaol before being transferred to a Dublin lockup. The later Fenian Rising was similarly ineffective and there appears to have been no involvement at local level here in Athy or the surrounding countryside in either of these unsuccessful attempts at an uprising. Similarly the drive for Home Rule in the latter part of the 19th century saw little involvement by those living in Athy or south Kildare. Alexandra Duncan, a shopkeeper of Duke Street and a member of the local Methodist Church, was a Home Ruler and in the fashion of the largely Presbyterian inspired struggle for civil and religious liberties in the 1790s spoke out in favour of political freedom for the island of Ireland. It was the aftermath of Easter 1916 which fanned the flames of Irish nationalism and here in Athy men such as J.B. Maher, Joe May, Richard Murphy, Paddy Hayden, John Hayden, J.J. O’Byrne, Michael Dooley, the O’Rourke brothers and Eamon Malone, to mention just a few, played their part. The members of Athy Cumann na mBan who were also active at that time included Christina Malone, Julia Dooley, Esther Dooley, Sheila Maher, Julie Whelan, Kathleen McDonnell, Rose McDonnell, Mary Malone, Margaret May, Gypsy O’Neill, Mrs. John Whelan, Miss Murphy, Alice Lambe and Margaret Darcy. These are the names recorded as members of Athy’s Cumann na mBan but regretfully many of those named have not yet been identified. On this Tuesday 20th August at 7.00 p.m. a War of Independence exhibition will be officially opened in Athy’s Heritage Centre. The exhibition presents a unique opportunity to remember a largely overlooked part of our town’s history and to honour those local men and women who participated in the War of Independence, as well as those men who later came to live in Athy. Men such as Tom Flood, Peter McNulty-, James Kelly, Johnny McMahon, Michael Mahon, Robert Hayes, Mick Tuohy and Michael O’Connell. The last six mentioned were Gardai who served in Athy. The exhibition is curated by Clem Roche and marks not only a contribution to Heritage Week but also a welcome addition to our knowledge and understanding of an important period in Irish history and in our own local history. Admission to the exhibition is free of charge and an invitation is extended to one and all to attend the official opening at 7.00 p.m. on Tuesday

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Athy's Big Barrow Splash Day 2019 and past regattas

The recent Big Barrow Splash Day was an enjoyable family day on the local river. Organised by Athy’s Dragon Boat Club it highlighted the huge change in local attitude to utilising what is one of Athy’s greatest natural facilities. It was not so long ago when public comment on the future development of Athy made reference to the regrettable failure to take advantage of the town’s waterways. Athy had effectively turned its back on the River Barrow, but in the last decade or so a revival of interest in water sports and a reawakening in the benefit of environmental awareness has changed how we view and use local waterways. The then Urban District Council’s decision to acquire a jetty for Barrow Quay following suggestions to clean the harbour of the material dumped there during the Barrow Drainage Scheme of the late 1920s was the start of the revival of interest in the local waterways. We will remember the oft repeated advice of the past that boats should not tie up in Athy for fear of being attacked and damaged. It was regrettably a very real possibility some years ago but over time as more and more boat owners used the local river facilities Athy became and remains a safe and enjoyable place for visiting boats to berth overnight. Inland Waterways helped by providing berthing facilities further along the river at Ardreigh. Amongst the locals of Athy there has been an enormous growth of interest in waterways spearheaded by the Dragon Boat Club, the Rowing Club and those young and not so young involved in kayaking. The Sporting Hub located at Rathstewart is a unique and imaginative contribution to the development of water sports in South Kildare. This was an initiative of Kildare County Council and the Council’s continuing support for the Blueway development initiated by Waterways Ireland is a welcome acknowledgement of the importance of our waterways which could bring enormous tourism benefits to this area. Rowing in the early part of the 19th century was a very active sport on the river Barrow. The Athy Regatta had lapsed for a few years and it was not until August 1856 that it was again revived. That year, on Friday 15th August, the regatta took place with six races. The principal event was a two oared boat race for a silver challenge cup. The boats involved had to be owned by a person residing within the town boundary for at least one year while the boats had to be rowed and steered by locals. With an entrance fee of ten shillings per boat it was clearly a rich man’s sport. The regatta continued for several years thereafter and a press report of the 1858 Regatta noted that ‘the embankments presented a thronged and animated appearance.’ Exactly the same words could be used to describe the scene during the recent Big Barrow Splash event in Athy. The revival of the Athy regatta in 1856 coincided with a period of prosperity for the town. This, despite the loss of the summer Assizes, which up to then alternated between Athy and Naas. Around the same time the corn exchange was being built and would open for business on 6th October 1857. That year also steeplechase racing was revived in Athy after a lapse of several years. Four races were held on a course at Bray which attracted a total entry of 19 horses. The local press reported:- ‘The roads leading to the racecourse were speedily thronged with a motley crew of thimble riggers, card setters, trick a loop men, followed by no less accomplished creed of roulette and shooting gallery proprietors, musicians and all those who imbued with a mercantile and enterprising spirit sought the most eligible position for their forthcoming avocations.’ Athy’s Big Barrow Splash Day of 2019 did not have anyone similar to the motley crew which came to the town races 162 years ago. There was however a large crowd of family members who enjoyed a wonderful day out thanks to the Dragon Boat Club led by Aiden McHugh, Dan Curtis ably assisted by several club members. The River Barrow offered a wonderful venue on the day, but I was somewhat disappointed to see the overgrown conditions in the river and on the riverbank next to the Crom a Boo bridge. There is an urgent need for the Barrow Drainage Board to carry out works on the River Barrow to clear the reeds, etc. which have now closed off one of the arches of the town’s historic bridge and threatens to close a second arch.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Financing Athy's Parish Church

Many years ago I wrote an Eye on the Past on that late great man Tom Carbery who lived at No. 2 St. Martin’s Terrace, Athy. Tom was a carpenter and a public representative for many years who served on Athy Urban District Council and also on Kildare County Council. I was reminded this week of Tom who was first elected to Athy U.D.C. in 1928 when St. Michael’s Parish Church bulletin carried a notice advising parishioners of a fee to be charged for the use of the parish church for funerals. The notice read: ‘The Diocese of Dublin and the Irish Association of Funeral Directors have agreed that the standard fee for a funeral through (sic) the Dublin Diocese be €325 from 1st July and will be increased to €400 on 1st January 2020. This fee includes the payment to the church as well as the offering to the priests and to the sacristan’. I was reminded of Tom Carbery because it was Tom who many years ago railed against the practice then common enough throughout Ireland whereby families too poor to pay for the attendance of a clergyman at a funeral had to bury their dead without a clergyman officiating at the graveside. Tom raised the issue initially in the context of the practice relating to St. Vincent’s Hospital where deceased inmates were buried in the absence of a clergyman but with the apparent benefit of previously blessed clay scattered on the coffin remains by a fellow inmate. In the town of Athy those too poor to pay for the attendance of a priest at least had available to them the services of the local sacristan as they brought the deceased from the death bed straight to the local cemetery. It was a shameful time in Irish church history where money or its absence to all intents and purposes played a significant part in church affairs. It was a time when the periodic dues payable by parishioners were read from the altar and when funeral masses involved attendees walking up to a table placed before the altar to contribute money in a century’s old tradition which was originally intended to help the family of the deceased. However, that community help was later diverted for the sole benefit of the clergyman, a practice which thankfully is now no more. However, the diocesan announcement of the €400 fee from January next for the reception of a deceased into the Catholic church is a regrettable throwback to the unforgettable days of yesteryear when money and influence determined whether you got a high mass or a low mass or no mass at all on the day of your funeral. An announcement of church fees for use of the church for funerals sends out the wrong message to parishioners whose families, no more than 60 years ago, spent time and energy over many years collecting funds for the building of St. Michael’s Parish Church. It is our church and while we have a responsibility as a community to maintain the church and the clergymen who serve us, it is utterly wrong to signal a fee for something as personal and non-commercial as a funeral. The diocese should reconsider its decision irrespective of its claim that ‘while this fee for funerals will be asked for in the parishes of Athy, Narraghmore and Moone, discretion will be used in all situations where families are experiencing financial hardship. Also the present practice of the parish not charging for the funerals of babies or children will continue.’ Another recent announcement, this time from Irish Rail, also attracted my attention. It was that Athy Railway Station was in the near future to be a ‘staffless station’. Technological advances have apparently allowed Irish Rail to sell tickets and presumably to deal with whatever other functions a staff member had to undertake during his or her working day. At a time when the railway is being used far more than ever in the past the railway company’s decision seems extraordinary. I can remember a time when there was a multiplicity of staff from the station master downwards including signal box staff and porters. In more recent times the numbers have dwindled to one staff member who sold tickets, dealt with queries, assisted disabled passengers access trains by putting ramps in place. No doubt we can buy our tickets by using a machine or on the train but how are the other duties now performed by a railway staff member to be performed and by whom? The decision to leave Athy railway station unmanned is an extraordinary one and will leave many rail users bewildered and quite helpless.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Athy Candidates in past Dail Elections

Richard Mothill is recorded as representing the borough of Athy as its Member of Parliament in 1559. His is the earliest name I have discovered to have been associated with the borough of Athy from the time of its incorporation under King Henry VIII’s Charter of 1515. That Charter entitled the south Kildare borough was to return two Members of Parliament and it continued to do so until the passing of the Act of Union. During the 285 years of the borough’s right to be represented in parliament, the representative role was exercised by individuals favoured by the Earls of Kildare and later the Duke of Leinster. Perhaps the most noteworthy of the Athy Members of Parliament was the Duke of Leinster’s brother, Lord Edward Fitzgerald who was nominated as M.P. for Athy in 1783. The majority of the those representing Athy borough were non residents of the town and many had little or no connections with the south Kildare town. A very different story was to emerge when elections to Dáil Éireann were held following the Treaty. Looking through the returns for Dáil Éireann elections I found many Athy locals who stood for election, not all of whom however were successful. J.J. Bergin was the first local man to enter the electoral fray after the departure of another local man, Matthew Minch, from the political scene after several years as our MP in the House of Commons. John James Bergin, representing the Farmers Union, stood for election to the 3rd Dáil in June 1922. Five deputies were elected for the Kildare Wicklow constituency, but Bergin came in 6th of ten candidates. Fifteen months later the election to the 4th Dáil saw three deputies returned for the Kildare constituency. J.J. Bergin was not then a candidate, but he stood in the General Election of June 1927, this time as an independent farmer with his party colleague and another Athy man, George Henderson. The next Athy persons to stand for the Dáil were national schoolteacher and Leinster Street resident Bridget Darby and Sydney Minch of Woodstock Street who were candidates in the General Election of January 1933. Darby was a candidate for Fianna Fáil, while Minch stood for Cumann na nGaedheal (later Fine Gael). Kildare was a three-seater and Tom Harris, Sydney Minch and Bill Norton were returned as the constituency TDs. Four years later Bridget Darby again contested the General Election, this time receiving 4,021 votes in what was then the four-seat constituency of Carlow Kildare. Minch retained his seat, although his vote decreased. In the General Election held a year later Sydney Minch lost his Dáil seat. Athy had to wait another ten years before there were local candidates contesting a General Election. This time Michael Nolan, known locally as MG, stood for Fianna Fáil, while Michael Cunningham stood for Fine Gael. Neither succeeded in gaining a Dáil seat, the electorate choosing outgoing TDs Bill Norton, Gerry Sweetman and Tom Harris. Three years later MG Nolan again stood for Fianna Fáil, but while substantially increasing his vote he failed to dislodge any of the three sitting TDs. It was national school-teacher Paddy Dooley of St. Michael’s Terrace, Athy who next took up the challenge in the 1954 election as one of only four candidates in the three-seat constituency. The result was a repeat of the 1951 election, with Norton, Sweetman and Harris retaining their seats. The same four candidates contested the 1957 election, but this time the Athy man, Paddy Dooley, replaced his Fianna Fáil colleague and veteran TD, Tom Harris to join Bill Norton and Gerry Sweetman in the Dáil. The 1961 election saw Paddy Dooley retain his seat, while another local man, Charles Chambers, a Fine Gael candidate failed in his attempt to be elected. Five years later both Paddy Dooley and Charles Chambers were unsuccessful candidates, as was Joe Bermingham of Castlemitchell when he was the only Athy candidate in the election of 1969. Joe succeeded in obtaining a Dáil seat in 1973 in a General Election which saw Jim McEvoy of Leinster Street and Paddy Dooley amongst the unsuccessful candidates. Four years later, to the list of unsuccessful candidates was added Martin Miley who was also unsuccessful in the 1981 General Election. The General Election of 1982 saw Lenore O’Rourke Glynn standing unsuccessfully, while Joe Bermingham retained his seat yet again. A bare nine months later Joe again successfully held his Dáil seat and remained a TD until 1987. Paddy Wright of Clonmullin joined the list of Athy locals who put their name before the public when he stood in the 1987 election. He was unsuccessful and no Athy candidate offered themselves in the election of 1989 until a later election returned Jack Wall of Castlemitchell as a member of Dáil Éireann.