Tuesday, August 27, 2019
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
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
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
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.