Tuesday, July 30, 2019
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.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
One hundred years ago the Irish countryside was in turmoil as a resurgent Sinn Fein organisation brought the armed struggle to the world’s most powerful colonial authority. The Irish War of Independence would be the Irish people’s final military rebellion against the might of its near neighbour. The nation’s struggle, which had its origins in the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century, was entering its last phase and would end with the truce of 11th July 1921. Here in south Kildare the Carlow Kildare Brigade played its part in the armed struggle which countrywide caused so many difficulties for the English government that the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act was passed in August 1920. By then many of the rural RIC stations throughout the country had been evacuated and vacant barracks at Luggacurran, Grangemellon and Castledermot had been destroyed by the local IRA. On Bloody Sunday 21st November 1920 twelve English officers/civilians were shot and killed in Dublin in a planned attempt by IRA headquarters to destroy the intelligence wing of Dublin Castle’s administration. It led to a largescale roundup of Sinn Fein members and sympathisers. Indeed so many were arrested and detained that the authorities had to hastily provide temporary detention centres at Dollymount and Collinstown Dublin. The most infamous detention centre of all was Ballykinlar, Co. Down which opened in December 1920. It had served as a military training camp during World War I and until December 1921 was to be home to many Sinn Feiners. Amongst those detained in Ballykinlar was Joe May of Athy who was arrested on 22nd December 1920 and charged as an IRA officer. ‘Bapty’ Maher, another Athy local, was arrested around the same time and both were lodged in Gough Barracks before being transferred to Ballykinlar Detention Camp. Richard Murphy, originally from Kilcoo but in 1920 an Officer in Charge of the Ardee Battalion of the Louth Brigade, was also a prisoner in Ballykinlar where the sleeping accommodation and sanitary arrangements were described as causing ‘disease to rage in the camp’. As the War of Independence intensified more and more men were arrested. Some of those men were detained in Hare Park detention camp, Curragh, which was built during the First World War to house soldiers in training. Another detention camp was opened on the Curragh in March 1921. Rath Camp, so called as it was located close to the Gibbett Rath, the scene of the infamous 1798 massacre, was built to accommodate 1,000 prisoners. The camp consisted of 50 or so wooden huts arranged in four rows located on a 10-acre site. The exact figure for those detained is difficult to ascertain but it has been claimed that upwards of 1,500 men were incarcerated in Rath Camp. Amongst those was Athy man John Hayden of Offaly Street whose release from Mountjoy prison in July 1919 led to a riot on the streets of the town. Thomas O’Rourke of Grand Canal Harbour was another Athy man detained in Rath Camp. His story and that of the O’Rourke family members involvement in the War of Independence was told in the booklet ‘To Stem the Flowing Tide’ published two years ago. John Brophy, whose address was listed as Athy, was another Rath Camp detainee. I am uncertain as to John’s identity, but wonder was he the John Brophy born in Vicarstown whose uncle Willie McEvoy was involved in the Cooperative Store, Athy. Other locals detained included Charles Gorman of Grange, Maganey, Edward Cranny and Patrick J. Dunne of Ballyshannon, Richard Fitzgerald and John Flanagan of Fontstown, James Kelly Kilkea, Michael Murphy Nicholastown, Edward Lynch and Patrick McDonnell of Barrowhouse, Garrett Murphy of Luggacurran and Michael McGrath of Wolfhill. The last local man I came across was James Bradley of Barrack Street who I think was a brother of the late newspaper reporter John Bradley. Another local connection was provided by Dr. Tom O’Higgins of Stradbally who was a member of the Athy Board of Guardians. He was detained for a short period in Hare Park camp. Sadly he was shot and killed in his home during the Civil War which followed. The truce of 11th July 1921 did not bring about the early release of the Irish prisoners. The British Authorities waited for the Anglo-Irish Treaty to be signed on 6th December 1921. The 8th and 9th December 1921 saw the detainees released with all being provided with train vouchers to reach their homes. The trains bringing the former Ballykinlar detainees to Dublin were attacked by mobs in Portadown and Banbridge. The Shackleton Museum will open a War of Independence Exhibition shortly curated by Clem Roche. It will provide an insight to a period of our history which was largely overlooked by previous generations. If any reader has any information relating to the War of Independence, Clem or myself would be pleased to hear from you.
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
The members of Athy Sinn Fein Club met on 17th July 1919 to make arrangements to mark the release from prison of Sean Hayden of Offaly Street, a prominent Sinn Fein member who had been arrested for possession of Sinn Fein documents and sentenced to six months imprisonment in Mountjoy. Sean Hayden was scheduled to arrive in Athy by train on Saturday 19th July, the day before the Feis Mór Cill Dara was to take place in the local showgrounds. Saturday was also Peace Celebration Day which was intended to be marked by ex-soldiers throughout Ireland. However, the peace celebrations were abandoned in Athy as was the comrades marathon race scheduled for the same day. At about 7.30 p.m. on Saturday the St. Michaels Fife and Drum band, commonly known as the Leinster Street band, headed by a large banner inscribed ‘Poblacht na hÉireann abú’ paraded through the town before marching to the railway station. Outside the Post Office, where a Union Jack had been raised in anticipation of the Peace Celebration Day, a scuffle broke out between some ex-soldiers and Sinn Fein supporters. Afterwards the band and the Sinn Fein supporters proceeded to the Railway Station to meet Sean Hayden. The band on leaving the Railway Station lead a parade down Leinster Street and Duke Street and turned around at the top of Duke Street to return to the Square. The released prisoner, Sean Hayden, was seated in a motor car with two men carrying Sinn Fein flags bringing up the rear of the parade. The ex-soldiers and their supporters booed the Sinn Feiners and attacked the flag bearers at Duke Street, capturing one of the Sinn Fein flags. Uproar ensued and fist fighting broke out with the Sinn Fein supporters calling out ‘Up the Republic’, with the ex-soldiers answering back ‘Up the Khaki’. The melee continued for a time until the Sinn Feiners regrouped and marched to Emily Square having recovered the Sinn Fein flag. Sporadic fist fights took place during the remainder of Saturday evening. Next day the County Feis was held in the local showgrounds, during which a football match was played between Dublin and Kildare. The Feis organised by a local Feis committee under the chairmanship of Fr. F.J. Sheridan C.C. Castledermot passed off without incident. However, later that evening the soldiers band, commonly known as the Barrack Street band, headed by a large number of shouting women and children and followed by many ex-soldiers armed with sticks and waving Union Jacks, marched through Athy’s main streets. However, there were no major disturbances that night. On Monday evening about forty ex-soldiers and their supporters attacked Mrs. Daughen’s house at the top of Duke Street where the local Sinn Fein club rooms were once located. The front door of the house was battered in and the cycle shop on the ground floor rented by J.B. Maher was destroyed. J.B., better known to later generations as ‘Bapty’, was a prominent Sinn Fein member. The rioters reassembled and marched towards Leinster Street lead by a local man carrying a long eel spear. Spanning Leinster Street, outside the home of Bridget Darby who was secretary of the local Gaelic League branch, was a banner erected in connection with the County Feis. The banner included a scroll with the mottos ‘Gan teanga gan tir’ and ‘go maríodh ár nGaeilge’. The banner was torn down by the eel spear carrier and set alight before being carried aloft towards Barrack Street. On the way the rioters halted at Duke Street and held what we are told were hostile demonstrations outside the homes of prominent Sinn Fein members. The local papers reported the weekend events under the headlines: ‘Disgraceful riots in Athy’. The Urban District Council held a special meeting the following morning for the purpose of taking steps to preserve the peace and protect the property of the town against further disturbances. The Councillors with Thomas Plewman dissenting passed a resolution calling on the ‘well disposed citizens of Athy to enrol themselves immediately with the Town Clerk in his office, into a volunteer force to preserve our peace and property and civil liberties’. The minutes of subsequent Council meetings do not disclose any take up of the volunteer resolution. It was perhaps not required as the riot was an exceptional outburst by ex-British soldiers who had enlisted at a time when there was no Sinn Fein club in Athy. On their return from France and Flanders they found Athy practically a Sinn Fein stronghold and as the press speculated ‘it only required some overt act to bring the parties into collision’. Councillor Martin Doyle at the special Council meeting rather strangely claimed that ‘Hayden was the cause of it’. Interestingly Councillor Martin Malone, a publican of Woodstock Street in response to Doyle’s claim stated ‘I was looking at the commencement of it and it was caused altogether by the actions of a woman’.
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
I have just heard the sad news that Rev. Philip Knowles has died. Rev. Philip, former Dean of Cashel, came to live in Athy following his retirement as Dean of the Church of Ireland Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and St. Patrick’s Rock. I first met Rev. Philip when I visited the Bolton Library in Cashel some years ago. The library had a unique collection of rare books and incunabula which had been acquired over the years by Theopilus Bolton, a native of County Mayo who was appointed Archbishop of Thurles in 1729. Bolton was a leading ecclesiastical figure who had served as a Canon of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin when Dean Swift was the Dean. His vast book collection was not his only legacy for the County Tipperary town as he employed Sir Edward Lovett Pearse to design and oversee the construction of the Bishop’s palace which in more recent years was utilised as the Cashel Palace Hotel. My visit to the Bolton Library which housed not only Bishop Bolton’s books, but also books which once formed the library of Archbishop King of Dublin, was greatly facilitated by Dean Knowles. We had never previously met, but he kindly gave me a hugely interesting tour of the Bolton Library which was then in a sadly perilous state. The library was small, but in terms of its book holdings was comparable in many respects to the more famous and better known Marshes Library in Dublin. I did not meet Rev. Philip again for many years and it was only when he took up residence in Athy that I got to know the Church of Ireland cleric. His love of music, especially church music, provided him with an abiding interest which led to the formation of the In Cantorum choir. The members of Athy Lions Club were especially grateful to Rev. Philip and the members of In Cantorum for their voluntary involvement in raising funds for local Lions charities. Our paths crossed in recent times when I had the opportunity to talk at length with Rev. Philip, ill for some time past. He spoke of his family background and how he came to be ordained. Conversing with him I was hugely impressed by a man who many could rightly regard as a deeply religious person. He was a truly good man and on his passing all of us, whether Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist or any other shade of belief, will have lost a gentle caring man of the cloth. Rev. Philip’s death occurred a few days after an announcement was made in relation to the collection of funds to carry out repairs to the steeple of St. Michael’s church. The church at the top of Offaly Street was consecrated on 15th September 1841 and two months later work started on pulling down the old church which was then located in Emily Square. Local builder, W. Cross, started work on building the church steeple in June 1856. I can remember some time in the 1950s extensive work being carried out on the steeple of St. Michael’s Church. Steeple jacks hung from ropes slung from the top of the steeple as they worked on the 100-year-old structure. They presented a most unusual sight as they worked away for a number of weeks. I wonder did anyone take a photograph of those steeple jacks at work? Given Rev. Philip Knowles’ connection with St. Michael’s Church, where he served in a temporary capacity for some time after retiring from Cashel, it would be a wonderful tribute to this good man if Athy residents of any religious persuasion would consider contributing to the steeple fund in memory of Rev. Philip. Another good man leaving us soon, but happily returning to his native town of Athlone, is Dave Henshaw. Last weekend Dave was the recipient of many tributes at a surprise going away party held in his honour in Paddy Dunnes. He fully deserved the tributes as Dave with his late wife Pat made a huge contribution to community life in Athy over the years. He was one of the founders of Age Action in Athy and more recently served as a Director of Athy Heritage Company. Dave, a go ahead person, was always willing to participate in community affairs and was never afraid to take the initiative in projects promoting Athy. We wish him well as he returns to Athlone. After attending a function in the Shackleton Museum last week, organised by the local Dragon Boat Club, I came away marvelling at how our use and enjoyment of the waterways in and around Athy has grown in the last few years. It is part of a revival of largescale community involvement in the town, evidenced by community spirit which I have witnessed developing slowly but gradually over the years. Rev. Philip Knowles and Dave Henshaw made their contribution to that reawakening of community spirit during their time with us.
Tuesday, July 2, 2019
On the 20th of April 1888 the Vatican issued a Papal Rescript condemning the Irish Plan of Campaign and what was described as the evil of boycotting. The Plan of Campaign was devised by John Dillon, William O’Brien and Timothy Harrington two years previously in an attempt to force landlords to lower rents for their agricultural tenants. Landlords were expected to offer rent reductions and if they refused to do so the tenants united to offer a reduced rent. If the reduced rent was not accepted tenants under the Plan of Campaign paid the rent into a fund controlled by the campaign leaders and used to support evicted tenants. Boycotting, so called after Captain Boycott who clashed with the Land League in County Mayo in 1880, led to the ostracising of anyone who took over the holding of an evicted tenant. The 1880’s were a notorious period in Irish history for evictions. In nearby Clongorey there were several series of evictions which commenced in February 1883 and only ended nine years later. The Coolgreany evictions in County Wexford of 1887 and the Vandeleur evictions of County Clare the following year were part of a countrywide destruction of Irish rural social order. Nearer to Athy occurred the evictions of 1887 and 1889 on the Luggacurran estates of Lord Lansdowne which saw 64 families evicted. The National League also known as the Irish Parliamentary Party emerged from Isaac Butt’s Home Government Association of the 1870’s. Under Parnell’s leadership that party achieved great success in the general election of 1885 with the election of 86 nationalist members of parliament. Amongst those elected were John Dillon and J.L. Carew who were the principal speakers at a meeting held in Kildare town on Sunday, 27th of May 1888. The meeting, described in local newspapers as a ‘monster meeting’, was organised to oppose the Coercion Act passed in 1887 which would be later used to jail John Dillon and many other leaders of the Plan of Campaign. The meeting was also called to condemn evictions in Ireland and to consider the Papal Rescript at a time when the Irish clergy were largely supportive of the Plan of Campaign. The local papers described the arrival at the Kildare meeting of members of several of the Gaelic clubs in the county, dressed in their ‘Gaelic jerseys’ and marching with ‘Gaelic camáns’ on their shoulders to the music of the bands. ‘Amongst the first to arrive being the Athy men who bore a beautiful banner at their head and were accompanied by about 40 members of the Gaelic club of the town, in full fighting costume, walking four deep to the music of their efficient fife and drum band.’ The platform party included Athy men John W. Dunne who was chairman of Athy Board of Guardians, PJ Corcoran and J Whelan. A letter of apology for inability to attend was read for another one-time Athy resident, James Leahy M.P. Other Athy men in attendance included Town Commissioners J. Whelan, M. Doyle and M. Heffernan as well as Athy GAA officials E.J. O’Reilly, T. Dinan, R. Scully and P. Lawler. John Dillon M.P in his speech referred to Dan Whelan of Athy ‘who alone of the Barrowhouse estate took his stand with the Luggacurran tenants.’ The reference was to Whelan’s decision to give outdoor relief to evicted tenants for which he was subsequently surcharged by the Local Government auditors. He was supported by the Athy Board of Guardians who would suffer disbandment as a result. The Papal Rescript was described by Dillon as a document founded on falsehoods ‘concocted by a gang who frequented the Papal Court.’ Mr. E. Fenelon, chairman of Naas Board of Guardians, referred to the Papal Rescript as a document that would do very little harm: ‘I am not saying anything against my church but as an Irishman and a Kildare man I adopt the views expressed by O’Connell when he said he would take his theology from Rome but would prefer to have his politics from Constantinople.’ The Plan of Campaign would continue until the jailing of John Dillon and William O’Brien in 1890 and finally end following the Parnellite split in the Irish Parliamentary Party. The campaign did have some limited success locally as evidenced by a front page advertisement in the Leinster Leader of the 2nd of June 1888 under the heading ‘Apology’ inserted by Christopher Calmey of Coolelan, Rathangan. ‘I beg to apologise to the general public for having interfered with Quinn’s evicted farm at Ballinure but state in explanation it was not my intention to take it without satisfying the tenant, and in proof of this statement I have since paid to Quinn’s £40 for their goodwill, and they are perfectly satisfied.’