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.