Thursday, June 27, 2019

Historic Links with the Sisters of Mercy

Many generous people have in the past contributed handsomely to the maintenance of the social and religious fabric of our ancient town.  Some are remembered, even if only by dint of research into long forgotten archives and minutiae of the previous century.  Many however, are the acts of generosity which were never recorded, or if so have since languished in the forgotten layers of our local history.

Who for instance was Ann Fitzgerald of Geraldine who played a major part in establishing a Mercy Convent in Athy in 1852?  She was probably a daughter of Colonel Fitzgerald of Geraldine House, who some decades previously had built the first school premises for the poor children of Athy on part of what was commonage of Clonmullin.  Other generous benefactors, particularly of religious institutions in Athy, were Mrs. Goold and her daughter of Leinster Street.  Indeed, if memory serves me right, the present Parish Priest’s house was gifted to the church authorities by Miss Goold.  She also donated sufficient funds in 1877 to guarantee the employment of a fourth teacher in the local Christian Brothers School and to ensure that the classics continued to be taught in the school. 

Patrick Commins is recorded as having given significant financial help to the Catholic Church in Athy in the middle of the 19th century.  He was originally a clerk in Minch’s and in 1841 he married Mary Moran of Leighlinbridge, Carlow.  She was a sister of Patrick Francis Moran who was created a Cardinal of the Catholic Church in 1885. 

Commins had a farm out the Ballylinan road and is noted as having a connection with the canal company, but in what capacity I cannot say.  His relationship with Cardinal Moran is of interest because Moran was in turn the nephew of Cardinal Paul Cullen who was from Ballitore.  Commins father Hugh was married twice.  The first time to Elizabeth Murphy and they had one daughter, Alicia, who was to be the mother of a future Cardinal, Patrick Moran.  Commins second wife was Mary Maher of Donore and Paul Cullen, the first Cardinal in the Irish Church, was one of their 15 children.

Mary Maher was the brother of Patrick Maher of Kilrush and William Maher of Burtown, or Birtown as it was known in the 19th century.  The Kilrush farmer, Patrick Maher, was perhaps Athy’s greatest ever benefactor insofar as he made many donations over many years to the local Catholic Church as well as to the Sisters of Mercy Convent and the Christian Brothers School in Athy.  One of his daughters was Sister Teresa Maher who was appointed first Superior of the Athy Convent in 1855.  Patrick Maher’s wife was Louise Dillon, whose sister Mary Dillon was married to Pat Lalor of Tenakill.  Pat and Mary Lalor had 11 children, the eldest of which was James Fintan Lalor.  Pat Lalor was elected as an M.P. for Queens county, as Laois was then called, in 1832 and he supported Daniel O’Connell during the repeal of the Union Campaign.  However, Pat Lalor’s fame was eclipsed by that of his eldest son James Fintan Lalor and a younger son, Peter Lalor, both of whom achieved national recognition which has endured to this day.

James Fintan Lalor who died in 1849, aged 42 years, is remembered in Irish history as a land agitator who was much influenced by William Conner of Inch, Athy.  Both were deeply involved in seeking land reform and Lalor’s influence in particular had a profound effect on the Young Ireland movement and later still on Michael Davitt and the Land League Movement.  His brother Peter Lalor emigrated to Australia and there he lead the insurgent miners at the Eureka stockade in December 1854 which precipitated the Victorian Constitutional Reforms of the following year.

The ties between the Lalors of Tenakill and the Mahers of Kilrush extended beyond the Dillon sisters who had married into both households.  Pat Lalor, M.P. for Queens County and Daniel O’Connell’s faithful supporter shared with Patrick Maher an unswerving refusal to pay tithes for the support of the established church.  On several occasions the Maher’s cattle were seized from his Kilrush fields and driven to markets where they were sold to satisfy the unpaid tithes.  We are told that on one such occasion when 25 of Lalor’s sheep were seized, bailiffs drove them all the way to Dublin as no one would deal with them in Laois or Kildare.  In Dublin they fared little better and the sheep were eventually shipped to Liverpool.  There one of the leading livestock firms was Vendon and Cullen, the Cullen being a nephew of Patrick Maher of Kilrush so that the bailiff’s plans to sell the sheep were again thwarted. 

Patrick Maher was a man with great personal connections, not only in terms of Irish national politics but also as regards the 19th century Catholic church.  His nephew was the Archbishop of Dublin and Irelands’ first Cardinal, while another relation was Cardinal Moran of Sydney.  Three of his daughters were members of the Sisters of Mercy, while his brother in law was the famous Fr. James Maher, Parish Priest of Carlow Graigue. 

Patrick Maher, Miss Goold, Ann Fitzgerald and Patrick Commins are just some of those who in the 19th century proved themselves generous benefactors of Athy and many of its Catholic institutions.  One would like to know more of these men and women who for the most part are forgotten by those who live in Athy today.

Paddy Wright

Paddy Wright has always been something of an agitator.  The playing field, sometimes his work environment and nowadays the public forum of local politics have provided Paddy with readily accessible venues on which to engage the “enemy” in battle.  Now recently retired as caretaker of St. Michael’s Cemetery, Athy, a job which he held for 28 years, Paddy talked to me recently about the ups and downs of his very interesting life.

Born in Moone in 1938, Paddy was the eldest son of Mary O’Shaughnessy of Broomfield House, Moone and Johnny Wright of Bawn, Churchtown.  The young family moved to 3 Geraldine Road, Athy two years later and it was there that Paddy’s siblings, Annie, Noel and John were born. 

Johnny Wright was a member of St. Patrick’s Pipe Band, Churchtown and served as Pipe Major for the Band over many years.  Many are the stories I’ve heard over the years of the part played by the Churchtown Pipe Band and its Pipe Major Johnny Wright, unwittingly perhaps, in local political rivalry between the Wars.  Apparently many of the Churchtown Band Members were avid supporters of de Valera and as such piped him into Athy on his arrival at the Railway Bridge for an open air meeting in the Square.  However, when the supporters of Willie Cosgrave sought the same facilities for their man, the Churchtown Band declined to co-operate, a decision which is recalled with some mirth, even after the elapse of over 70 years. 

The Wright family moved to the Town Hall in 1949 when Johnny Wright replaced “Sixty” Kelly as caretaker of the complex which was then still owned by the Duke of Leinster.  The Town Hall was the social centre of Athy in those days where dances, plays, musicals and variety shows took place in the ballroom on the first floor, which now houses the town’s library.  The youngest member of the Wright family, Brendan, was born in the family quarters in the Town Hall.

Paddy on his own admission left school at 13½ years of age, unable to read or write, and for a few years found himself on the periphery of  delinquency.  Sport played a very important part in his subsequent youthful development and the local sporting scene provided him with his first public platform.  He was a member of the 1956 Athy minor team which won that year’s minor championship, defeating Clane by 12 points to no score.  The only other time a defeated minor team failed to score was in the 1936 final, played just one year before the start of World War II when Athy defeated Kill on the score of 3-8 to no score.  Paddy declares the 1956 minor team as “the best team ever” and right enough several of the team, including Paddy, subsequently played senior football on the County team.  These included Mick Carolan, Mick Coughlan, Jimmy Dooley and Liam O’Shea. 

It wasn’t long before Paddy was in the wars and the first of his many battles with authority arose when the local G.A.A. club officials had him suspended for playing soccer.  When the suspension ended Paddy joined the Castlemitchell Club, where he was to finish his playing days many years later. 

The Castlemitchell teams of the 1950’s were a mixture of footballing skills and brawn with the latter qualities more often than not employed in the quest for victory on the field of play.  Paddy himself acknowledges this when declaring that “Castlemitchell’s problem was fighting - you can’t fight and win football matches.”  It was a rough, tough arena for a young man to find himself in but Paddy contributed to the mayhem which generally marked the onward march of the Castlemitchell men.  However, it was the delayed league final between Athy and Kilcock which saw Paddy, by then a Castlemitchell club player but temporarily back in the Athy fold for the postponed final, incur suspension.  Apparently he took exception to some of the referees decisions and promptly thumped him.  The outcome was an enforced absence from the playing field for some months thereafter.

It was a short time later that the entire Castlemitchell team, including Paddy, was suspended for life following a fracas with Round Towers.  Paddy by then was a member of the Senior County Team panel and the County Board contrived to lift the suspension on Paddy so that he could line out for the County team in a second round championship match against Louth at Croke Park.  Louth went on to win that game but Paddy was to continue playing with the County team for sometime thereafter.

Paddy, who worked in the Wallboard factory for twelve years, where his father was also employed as a sawman, emigrated to England in 1959.  A short stint spent in Birmingham and then in London was followed by his return to Ireland where he resumed his footballing career with Castlemitchell and for a short while with the County Senior team.  Two of Athy’s most prominent buildings, the Dominican Church and the Minch Norton Silos, were constructed in the early 1960’s and Paddy proudly declares that he was a steel fixer on both projects.  The high rise silos under construction by Crampton’s of Dublin afforded Paddy the first opportunity for a foray into public disputation when he lead the workers out on a two day strike to further their demand for danger money.  Another spell in England, this time tunnelling on the Victoria Line Underground, provided Paddy with the unique distinction of being the only Kildare man to work on the tunnelling project which was largely the preserve of men from the Innishowen Penninsula of Co. Donegal.

While in England Paddy attended evening lectures in the Working Men’s College in Camden town where the Irish Socialist, Desmond Greaves, was a tutor.  Hyde Park Corner on Sunday mornings was also another favourite venue and in time Paddy overcame the literacy problems which were the legacy of misspent years in the local Christian Brothers School.

Paddy spent a number of years going back and forth between England and Ireland until he finally returned to settle down in his home town in 1968.  For a few years he was self employed and when Paddy Rowan, caretaker of the local cemetery, retired in 1975, Paddy was appointed in his place.  It was around the same time that Paddy was elected a member of Athy Urban District Council and he has remained a Council member for the past 28 years while he also served a number of terms as a member of Kildare County Council.  Never one to understate his position, Paddy has been the most colourful character on the local Council.  His sometimes raucous contribution to the staid deliberations of the Town Fathers no doubt causes eyebrows to be raised in some quarters, but Paddy remains largely unconcerned by the public’s reaction.

The agitator who in his time took on allcomers has never shirked a battle, no matter how unevenly the odds are stacked against him.  We might not always agree with him, and indeed there is seldom reason to do so, but nevertheless his contribution to local affairs is always entertaining.  He is the master of the carefully honed sound bite which is inevitably guaranteed to catch the ears of even the most bored reporter.

During our conversation Paddy spoke of the traumatic experience he had as a young nine year old.  He recounted with feeling and emotion how his father, Johnny, after a Sunday morning shooting trip to Killart left his loaded gun aside when he returned to his Geraldine Road home.  Young Paddy picked up the gun and innocently fired it, causing serious injury to his uncle Daniel O’Shaughnessy.  It was an experience which affected Paddy for many years and the pain and trauma he experienced is still apparent in reliving the events 56 years later.

The recent recipient of an artificial hip, Paddy in his retirement now enjoys a new lease of life.  He is a great raconteur whose stories of Athy in the 1950’s are not only embellished in the telling, but provide a ready backdrop for the singing of a local ballad for which Paddy has now become famous.

Paddy Wright, social agitator, raconteur and ballad singer, has in turn entertained, frustrated and often annoyed many of us with his sometimes outrageous statements on local issues.  However, one can never find fault in the man, who having left school at 13½ years of age subsequently dedicated himself to self improvement and thereafter to a life of local public service.  He retains, even now as a pensioner, all the attributes of a likable rogue whose outlandish statements are overlooked because, although Paddy is unique, he is one of our own. 

Oweny Prendergast - Death of Dinny Prendergast

Sitting here on the night of the 2004 budget I marvel at how different, how improved, our lives are compared to those who lived 50 years ago.  Many would no doubt take issue with me on that simple assertion, citing personal reasons why it is not so.  But really, taking the ups with the downs, life in Ireland has improved considerably since the 1950’s.  Unemployment I am told now represents 4% or thereabouts of the total working population.  How different it was just five or six years after the end of World War II.  In Ireland, jobs were then few and far between, but thankfully just beyond the Irish Sea our closest neighbour was embarking on a war recovery programme which would utilise the brawn and the sweat of the Irish.

I am reminded of this every time I hear or read of a former emigrant from Athy who has passed away.  Dinny Prendergast died last week after 49 years in Bermingham, to where he emigrated to join his sister Marie in 1954.  He was just one of the many young men from Athy, Dinny being then just 18 years old, who every year took the emigrant boat to Holyhead. 

The Prendergast family are an old Athy family.  Dinny’s grandfather worked for the Lefroys of Cardenton and it was in the gate lodge of Lefroys that Oweny Prendergast, Dinny’s father, lived as a young man.  When Oweny married Mary Timpson, a sister of Jimmy and Paddy Timpson, two old Athy families were brought together.  In the early 1930’s Kildare County Council built a number of isolated cottages in South Kildare, one of which at Milltown was allocated to Oweny and Mary Prendergast where they were to rear their ten children.

Oweny as a young man played Gaelic football and he was a member of Rheban Gaelic Football Club when it was founded in 1929 by the Moore brothers, John and Tom.  When the club won its first football game, defeating Suncroft at the Showgrounds in Athy, Oweny Prendergast was a team member and many years later he was the proud recipient of a gold watch presented by the club on the 50th anniversary of Rheban G.F.C.  Oweny was also a member of the Kilberry Pipe Band with whom he played the drums and for a time both Oweny and his son Dinny, who also played the drums, marched together as members of the Pipe Band.

When writing of Oweny Prendergast and his family it is difficult to avoid references to Bradbury’s Bakery, for Oweny was employed as a bread van salesman by Tom and Peg Bradbury shortly after they set up a bakery business in Stanhope Street.  In those early years Bradbury’s was quite a small operation, with the husband and wife team assisted by Mick Lawler, Oweny Prendergast and Mick Corr.  Oweny was engaged in bread sales locally and travelled throughout the town in a horsedrawn bread van which I’m sure many of my readers will remember.  When the business expanded with the move to a larger premises in Leinster Street, Oweny’s mode of transport changed and a motor van was provided.  In time, staff numbers increased and Paddy Murphy and Tommy Deering were also employed as bread salesmen for what was one of the most popular provincial bakeries in the country.

Oweny Prendergast travelled each morning with bread supplies for Portlaoise but in the afternoons he travelled on the country byroads bringing Bradbury’s breads and confectioneries to rural shops.  Monday afternoon the run was to Stradbally, Timahoe and Ballyroan.  Tuesday afternoon it was to Baltinglass, with Castledermot the following afternoon.  The rest of the week was spent going back over the same routes.  The friendliness of life in those far off days was typified in the story told to me some years ago of how Oweny on his daily trips through the countryside collected shoes and boots to be dropped off for repair by Ned Wynne in his premises in Leinster Street.  I’m told that the only seat in the bread van was that on which the driver sat and anyone wishing to join Oweny on his circuitous journey through the Irish countryside had to sit on a butter box.

Of Oweny’s ten children, six of them would be employed in Bradbury’s Bakery.  Dinny, Paddy, Damien “Boy” and Eugene worked at different times in the bakery, while their sisters Jo and Rose were in the confectionery section where so many other local girls found work over the years.  Dinny Prendergast started work in Bradbury’s soon after leaving school and he worked with Paddy Hayden of St. Patrick’s Avenue, and later still with John Mealy of Geraldine and Jackie Murphy and his brother Paddy of St. Joseph’s Terrace, not forgetting the three Brennan brothers from Cardenton, Sean, Michael and Willie.  As well as working by day and part of the night in Bradbury’s Bakery, Dinny was also a member of the Sorrento Dance Band founded by Paudence Murphy of Offaly Street.  He was 18 years old or so when he emigrated to England in 1954.  He travelled to Bermingham to join his older sister Marie and there he was to remain for the remaining 49 years of his life and where he died last week.  He was married and is survived by his wife and four children.

Dinny Prendergast was of a generation which did not have the economic and social benefits we take for granted today.  He was just one of the hundreds of young local men and women who made the journey by rail, boat and rail again to the industrial centres of England, there to be met and greeted, if they were lucky, by a brother or sister or perhaps a friend on their first day in a strange land.

The typical Irish emigrant, devoid of daily contact with family and kin, generally led a lonely existence until time and memory dimmed and new friends and relationships were formed.  Those who left these shores 50 years or so ago are now in old age and each year brings news of another Athy born emigrant who has breathed his or her last.  Over 80 years ago a generation of Athy men died violent deaths fighting a war which was neither glorious or great, but which nevertheless robbed our town of a generation’s life blood.  In this, the first decade of the 21st century, a later born generation of Athy men and women who were lost to the town of their birth 50 years or so ago, have made or are soon to make their final journeys.

The story of one Athy family is typical of many an Irish family whose long rooted ties with a locality could not always be maintained due to the harsh economic conditions of the day.  How different it is today as the Minister for Finance announced his budget, dealing with figures which were unimaginable 50 years ago.  The bread delivery man is no longer part of our daily lives, the dance band days are but a memory, but somehow, somewhere, there is a part of us which yearns for the pleasant, unhurried days when a lift, even sitting on a butter box, was a generous neighbourly gesture.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The County Agricultural Show Athy

Last Sunday’s County Agricultural Show in the Showgrounds, Athy was a very enjoyable event, made all the more enjoyable by the good weather while the rain held off. This was the twenty-fourth County Show held in Athy since the event was revived in 1995. The County Agricultural Show in Athy goes back over 100 years, but unfortunately I don’t have any verifiable information to hand relating to the early shows or the men and women who organised them. The South Kildare Horticultural and Agricultural Show Society was incorporated as a limited company in the early 1900s and that Society acquired lands which today incorporate the sports grounds catering for Gaelic football, rugby, Association football and tennis. Those sporting facilities form a unique sporting complex in the context of an Irish provincial town. It offers huge opportunities for shared high class integrated sporting facilities which individual clubs could not afford to provide. If such a cooperative approach was undertaken by the clubs, it would improve immeasurably the sporting facilities available in this area. The County Agricultural Show restarted in 1995 after a period of 25 years following the holding of the last agricultural show in 1970. That show was the twenty-fourth and last show organised by the committee which came together in 1946. Amongst those committee members was a former rural science teacher from the local Vocational School, county Galway man, Stephen Cullinan. He was just 28 years of age when the Agricultural Show was restarted in Athy at the end of World War II. That same year Cullinan had resigned from his teaching post in the Vocational School to take up a position as technical adviser to the local firm, Minch Nortons. He had been a driving force in the setting up of Athy’s Young Farmers Club in March 1944 and six months later the Athy club in conjunction with Young Farmers clubs in Kilmallock and Mooncoin came together to form a national organisation which eventually became known as Macra na Feirme. Stephen Cullinan and Paddy Kehoe of Kilcoo were appointed joint secretaries of the national organisation and later Stephen took over sole responsibility for the honorary positions of secretary and treasurer. Athy was the location of the first summer gathering held by Macra na Feirme in 1946. Was it I wonder the catalyst which led to the revival of the County Agricultural Show that year? Stephen Cullinan, whose dynamic leadership lead to the formation of Athy’s Young Farmers Club and the emergence of Macra na Feirme as a national organisation died on 11th January 1951, just a few weeks short of his 33rd birthday. His loss to Macra na Feirme and to Irish agriculture in general was keenly felt. The revival of the show in 1995 after a lapse of 25 years owed much to the initiative of Anna May McHugh who encouraged and cajoled Liam Dunne, Majella Conlan, John Costello, Stephen Perry, Padraig Murphy and others to organise what was once the county’s premier agricultural show. Anna May was elected President of the organising committee in 1995, with Liam Dunne as chairman, Majella Conlan as honorary secretary and John Costello as honorary treasurer. Liam Dunne, a local farmer from Bray, Athy, had been active in the local Macra na Feirme branch for many years and in 1978 was elected to Macra’s national council. Nine years later he was elected National Chairman of Macra na Feirme. The current chairman of the County Show Committee is Tom Kelly, with Tony Martin as secretary and Fiona Rainsford as treasurer. The current of president of the Athy Agricultural Show Society is Brian Ashmore who was a member of the organising committee of the pre-1970 event. Organising an annual show on the scale of the County Show requires the cooperation and involvement of many persons. Those men and women make an enormous contribution to their local community and for the most part their time-consuming active involvement is largely taken for granted. It is probably for the same reason that those involved in the earlier County Shows cannot now be identified. In this the twenty-fourth year of what may be the revival of the County Show our thanks must go to all the volunteers including members involved in organising and running the show. Teresa Aldridge and her sister Ber who look after the crafts, home produce and flower sections. Emma O’Brien who organises the kids’ zone and the County Show’s Facebook while catering is in the capable hands of Robert Reid. The Athy Gaelic Football Club house was the venue for the extraordinary lego display, all organised by Mark Dunne who had dual responsibility of organising car parking. Maurice O’Flaherty was responsible for the hugely enjoyable dog show. There are many many others involved in running the show whose names I don’t have to hand but to all is extended a hearty congratulations and thanks for a hugely enjoyable County Agricultural Show.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Rev. Thomas Kelly

On Sunday 30th June Rev. Thomas Kelly, the founder of the Kellyites, will be commemorated with the unveiling of a plaque near to the entrance of his early 19th century meeting house in Duke Street. Kelly was one of several notable individuals from Athy’s past whose story, like that of Ernest Shackleton, I rediscovered and so reclaimed as part of our local history. Kelly, the only son of an Irish Judge who resided at Kellyville, Ballintubbert, was born on 13th July 1769. Educated at schools in Portarlington and Kilkenny he attended Trinity College Dublin, after which he studied law in London. He subsequently gave up his legal studies and entered for the priesthood. Ordained for the Anglican church at 23 years of age he returned to Dublin where he soon acquired a reputation for his evangelical style of preaching. The rector of St. Luke’s church Dublin however objected to what he termed Kelly’s ‘methodistical tendencies’. Reported to the Dublin diocesan authorities the Archbishop deemed it necessary to prohibit Kelly from preaching within the Dublin diocese. Rev. Thomas Kelly returned to the Athy area and preached in the town’s Anglican parish church which strangely enough, given Archbishop Fowler’s concerns, was also occasionally used by the recently formed local Methodist congregation. Soon after returning to Athy Thomas Kelly, disillusioned with the Anglican church, formed his own dissenting group known as ‘the Kellyites’. They were to remain a small but active religious group for the next 50 years or so. The Kellyites opened a meeting house off Duke Street approached through the archway, now separating the Gorta charity shop from Donnelly Solicitors. Church returns for 1834 indicate that the Kellyites in Athy numbered between 30 and 40 and met every Sunday for a prayer service in their Duke Street meeting house. The Parliamentary Gazetteer for 1844/’45 confirmed the continuing existence of the Kellyite meeting house. Indeed it would remain in use by the Kellyites until shortly after Thomas Kelly’s death in 1855. The following year the Duke Street premises was sold and the local Kellyites disbanded and re-joined for the most part either the local Anglican or Methodist churches. Kelly, early in his career, had also opened meeting houses in Blackrock Dublin, Portarlington, Wexford and Waterford, but these meeting houses also ceased to be used soon after Kelly’s death. Nowadays Rev. Thomas Kelly is better known as a hymnologist whose published hymns ran to eight editions between 1804 and 1838. The first edition of his hymns entitled ‘Hymns on Various Passages of Sacred Scripture’ contained 96 hymns, while the final edition 34 years later had 776 hymns. Several of his hymns such as ‘Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious’, ‘On the Mountain top appearing’, ‘The Head that once was Crowned with Thorns’ and ‘We sing the Praise of Him who died’ are considered by many to be comparable with the best hymns in the English language. At the beginning of the last century nearly 140 of Kelly’s hymns were in common use. The everlasting popularity of Kelly’s hymns is confirmed by their inclusion in church hymnals to this day. Thomas Kelly was also the author of several pamphlets published during his lifetime. The ‘History of Andrew Dunn, an Irish Catholic’ was published in several editions. He also published ‘A letter to the Roman Catholics of Athy occasioned by Mr. Hayes seven sermons’ in 1823. In that pamphlet Kelly outlined his arguments against sermons in which Hayes had expressed his views on the Mass. Another pamphlet of Kellys titled ‘A plea for primitive Christianity’, an answer to a pamphlet by the Rev. Peter Roe entitled ‘The Evil of Separation from the Church of England’ was published in 1815. Rev. Roe, who was Rector of St. Marys Kilkenny, was a lifelong friend of Thomas Kelly and one of the leading Irish Evangelists of that time. A Kelly pamphlet published in Dublin in 1809 entitled ‘Some Account of James Byrne of Kilberry in the County of Kildare addressed principally to the Roman Catholic inhabitants of Athy and its neighbourhood’ gave an interesting account of James Byrne joining the Kellyites. Thomas Kelly was married in 1794 to Elizabeth Tighe of Rosanna, Co. Wicklow whose mother was a friend of John Wesley and whose brother, Rev. Thomas Tighe was one of the earliest leaders in the Evangelical movement of the Church of Ireland. Thomas Kelly was described by his peers as ‘a man of great and varied learning ….. an excellent bible critic ….. of an amiable disposition and thorough in his Christian piety …..he was a friend of good men and the advocate of every worthy benevolent and religious cause. He was admired alike for his zeal and humility and his liberality found ample scope during the years of the Great Famine.’ Rev. Thomas Kelly died on 14th May 1855 aged 86 years.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Henry Hosie and the I.V.I. Foundry

In Athy we knew him as the Colonel but his first army commission was as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Service Corps at the outbreak of World War 1. Henry Hosie, born on 31st December 1891, was the son of Henry and Agnes Hosie of Coursetown, Athy. His father was a member of the Athy Board of Guardians and a director of Athy Auctioneering Ltd. and one of the local brickyards. Given his son’s later involvement in the economic and social life of Athy it is embarrassing to relate that Henry Hosie senior was severely injured during a raid on his home for arms in 1918. The raiders were believed to be local members of the I.R.A. 2nd Lieutenant Henry Hosie, who was sent to France in November 1914, was invalided back to Ireland in 1916. He later returned to army duties and was based in Scotland where he became officer in charge of machinery at the Scottish Area Forage Department. I gather he was promoted to Captain during that time. Henry Hosie married Laura McKeever in September 1916 and at the end of the war returned to Athy to work in Duthie Larges. After about ten years with that firm he formed Industrial Vehicles (Ireland) Ltd. with Freddie Thompson of Carlow. The company was initially involved in the sale of Fordson tractors and the manufacture of trailers. The Kildare Observer of 24th November 1934 reported that Hosie’s company was to open a factory for the manufacture of rainwater goods to the rear of its existing premises located in what was previously the town’s pound field. Hosie indicated that the new factory would start in the beginning of 1935 and said to the local newspaper reporters, ‘Athy wants a new industry, so we decided to give them one. There is a tremendous demand for rainwater goods in the Free State and we shall meet the demand.’ The I.V.I Foundry as we all know developed from the initial manufacturing of rainwater goods to become one of the most important employers of men in the south of County Kildare. In February 1964 the Nationalist and Leinster Times reported that the I.V.I. Foundry employed nearly 200 men. The company would go into liquidation resulting in the closure of the I.V.I. Foundry in September 1982. When the factory closed on 10th September of that year there were 90 men employed in the Foundry, apart from office and supervisory staff. Amongst the 90 workers was Michael Robinson who had started work in the Foundry in 1936 when he was 16 years of age. Mick O’Shea of Butler’s Row was a few months older than Michael, but he started in the Foundry a year later and ten days after Thomas Lawler of Geraldine Road. All three men spent their working lives up to September 1982 in the I.V.I. Foundry. Other long-term employees of the Foundry included Denis Byrne of Bray and Thomas Farrell of Ballylinan who started in 1946. Timothy O’Rourke of 37 Upper St. Joseph’s Terrace started work in the Foundry three years later. In 1951 Jack Kelly of Woodstock North and William Martin of Mullaghmast became foundry workers where Harry Mulhall of Skerries was already working for one year. The 1950s was a difficult time for any Athy man seeking work in his hometown. The I.V.I. Foundry however appears to have been going through a successful period at that time and recruited quite a number of young men. Amongst those who joined the I.V.I. in the 1950s and continued working until 1982 were Paddy Cahill and John Quinn, both of Pairc Bhride and Patrick Byrne of Clonmullin. They joined the Foundry in 1953 just a year after Daniel Foley of Kilberry and Daniel McCann of Castle Rheban. Others to become part of the Foundry workforce were John Kelly of St. Dominic’s Park who joined in 1956, Thomas Brennan of Ballylinan and Sylvester Bell of Foxhill who joined in 1958 and Liam Hughes of Woodstock Street who started work in the Foundry in 1959. The I.V.I. Foundry workers were the backbone of the industrial life of Athy over many decades. They worked in hot dirty dusty conditions which marked their appearance as they walked or cycled home at the end of each day. Henry Hosie, the man responsible for opening the Foundry, again served in the British Army during World War II. He was discharged with the rank of Colonel in 1947 having received an O.B.E. in the previous new year’s Honours List. His son Kenneth, a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, was killed while clearing mines in Italy in November 1943. Henry Hosie died on 27th October 1967. The local newspapers referred to him as ‘a fair minded employer who afforded his employees good conditions’. The I.V.I. Foundry is today all but forgotten but in remembering times past in Athy the I.V.I. workers’ contribution to the economic life of the town can never be ignored.