Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Athy Quiz (1)

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Industry in Athy

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

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

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Launch of Vol. 4 Eye on Athy's Past

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