Friday, September 29, 1995

Local Advertisements of 1939

I came across four torn pages of the Nationalist and Leinster Times for the 11th of March 1939 last week. Fifty six years have passed since they came off the press but still they managed to inform and delight with the minutiae of Irish provincial life which unfolded as I perused the now yellowing pages.

Advertisements in those days had none of the glitzy glamour of today and relied on straight- forward appeals to the public, as in the following advertisement which appeared for Shaw’s of Athy, Maryborough and Mountmellick :


The advertisement continued:

“This may sound a sweeping assertion but our wide experience
of dressing men correctly has led us to the conclusion
that only through hand craftsmanship and careful measuring
can real smartness be achieved.”

Suits to measure were to be had from 50 shillings and the men planning to attend the Cinderella Dance in the local Town Hall advertised for Thursday 16th March would have been well advised to wear Shaws’ latest pattern. Admission to the dance was 2/6, tax 3d, with music by Alex Kelly and his Revellers Band.

If the suit was not up to cavorting around the Town Hall, then you had the option of going to the local cinema. Athy Picture Palace in Offaly Street had three shows on Sundays, a matinee at 3.00 o’clock and further shows at 6.15 p.m. and 8.45 p.m. The double feature programme advertised for the following Sunday was “St. Martin’s Lane” starring Charles Laughton and “Oh Boy” featuring Albert Burdon and Mary Lawson. The main feature film was described as “a romantic comedy with pathos set against the hurrying and scurrying background of the world’s greatest city, London’s Theatre Land with all its music, spectacle, hopes and heartbreaks.” The programme was repeated at 8.30 p.m. on Monday with a change of programme for Tuesday and Wednesday nights when “Break The News” with James Knight was on offer. On Thursday and Friday “The Emperor’s Candle Stick” came to town with a matinee on Friday afternoon. There was no mention of any programme for Saturday night, which might indicate the public’s preference for a more liquid form of pleasure on that night.

In case the local Picture Palace was not to your liking, you could always cycle out to Castledermot where the Castle Cinema was scheduled to open on St. Patrick’s Day 1939 with Raymond Navarro in “The Sheik Steps Out”. The Abbey Pavilion, we were told in a separate news item, had been enlarged and remodelled as a cinema in which there was comfortable seating for about 500. Admission prices for Athy’s Picture Palace were not stated, but in Castledermot they ranged from 1/4 to 1/8, with childrens Matinee prices at 4d. and 8d.

The election of Pope Pius XII was the subject of the papers Editorial, in which reference was made to the new breed of absolute nationalism then prevalent in Germany. The unfortunate Editor then unburdened himself of the following :

“Most of the howling about the treatment of German Jews is dishonest propaganda and those nations that now shriek loudest for papal denunciation of all Herr Hitler’s works and pomps were those same nations that rigidly excluded the Pope and his representatives from the infamous Peace Conference of Versailles.”

“Robert O’Neil” was the title of a play billed for the Town Hall, Athy on St. Patrick’s Night. The cast was to include Ernie and Nicholas Glynn, May Glynn, Jack Kelly of William Street, John Murphy of Russelstown, John Watchorn of Fortbarrington, Mary Ward of Duke Street and some local children.

The same paper announced that Athy man Patrick O’Rourke, saddler and harness maker, Stanhope Street, had been favoured with an order from the Land Commission for the supply of all harness and saddlery equipment for the new colonies set up in North Kildare and Westmeath for migrants from the Donegal Gaeltacht.

Confirmation outfits for boys and girls were advertised by Nolans of Mountrath, Athy and Maryborough, with boys suits ranging in price from 8/11d for a tweed suit in brown herring bone cloth to 13/6d for a heavy navy suit with fancy stripe. Boys shirts were to be had for 1/3d each while a pair of rubber-soled shoes were 8/11d with heavy leather shoes priced at 13/11d.

The local Urban Council agreed to send to the Gardai a letter of complaint received from Mrs. Meehan, Chemist of Emily Square, in which she brought to their attention “the vandalism that goes on here in the Square. On two occasions quite recently I had very serious damage done to my premises. The windows were smashed by stones and the actual woodwork outside kicked down through sheer hooliganism.”

The pages of the local newspaper just before the outbreak of World War II clearly demonstrates, how, in some ways at least, some things never change in Athy.

Friday, September 22, 1995

Viking Battle Plans and Gaelic Football!

An improbable juxtaposition of medieval battles and contemporary contests of a less warlike nature crowd in on my mind this week. I am reminded that down through the generations, men, and to a lesser extent women, have sought to impose their will and might on their opponents, and not always in a friendly or cordial manner.

What reminded me of this was, firstly, a meeting in the Town Hall last week when I listened to James Cavanagh, Chairman of the Clans of Ireland, eloquently put the case for a Viking battle reenactment in Athy next year. James apparently has been involved in this form of pageantry for a number of years and lives in Cloney.

Later in the week, I attended another form of sometimes blood-curdling physical activity, which for want of a better name, we commonly refer to as Gaelic Football. In my younger days I played football for many years, but somehow it never seemed then to have taken on the barely-controlled frenzy which marks the game today. The rushed ebb and flow of the game always accompanied by hard physical contact speaks volumes for the toughened nature of those who participate today. In Sunday’s football game between Athy and Clane each player’s eyes and face reflected the fearful tension which must have marked the faces of the ancient warriors engaged in one or other of the battles which James Cavanagh hopes to recreate in South Kildare.

I suppose in a way the comparison is far fetched, but really it is difficult not to make connections between the warring troops of an earlier age and the highly-trained sportsmen of today involved in a battle to overcome a determined and well-prepared opponent.

Athy’s team on Sunday afternoon in Newbridge savoured for a short time the glory which is the prize for those who strive to succeed. The pleasure of anticipation does not always result in the reality of success, but, as in Athy’s case, is grasped with the belief that past success has brought. The glory was in reaching the final, the ultimate prize was not to be, and in failing, the dream was shattered and pride was dented.

The young players on the team, of which there were many, can be justifiably proud of their success this year. Remember, it is eight years since Athy last reached the final and to do so with players who are yet to mature and who are still far from their full potential, was an achievement worthy of celebration.

If one left Newbridge on Sunday heavy hearted after the events of the afternoon, the same could not be said for those who attended the Town Hall earlier in the week. There we heard of a Viking battle using the as yet uncategorised Dunrally Fort as a staging point for an attack on Athy. A weekend of revelry will no doubt enliven a summer weekend next year and the opportunity of participating is open everyone.

I thought that a Viking battle might be inappropriate for Athy, given the absence of a Viking influence in the area, notwithstanding the recent claims in relation to Dunrally Fort. However, such considerations are mere triflings when viewed against the magnificent and dramatic backdrop which would be provided by a Viking ship slipping into Athy to disembark its marauding hordes on the unsuspecting natives. Almost like the Clane forwards on Sunday as they plundered score after score, the Viking raiders could be expected to pillage the settlers’ town on the River Barrow on a grand scale.

It would not be the first time that such happenings took place here. Was it not a common enough occurrence in the 13th century for the O’Mores of Leix to attack the new village of Athy, and did they not succeed in burning the village on at least four occasions during those early years? Further back in time, the Ford on the River Barrow was the scene of a famous battle between the Munster men and the Leinster men when Ae, the son of a Munster Chieftain, was killed, giving to the Ford a name which is recalled in the Anglicised placename, Athy, and in the language of the Gael, Ath Í, meaning the Ford of Ae.

We are rich in battle lore here in Athy, for we can read of an 11th century encounter just a few years before the Anglo Normans founded the town, when the Dalcassions returning from the Battle of Clontarf faced up to the Tribe of Fiacha. You know, there is a wealth of historical material to chose from, if one wanted to recreate a battle anchored in our local history.

James Cavanagh’s idea is an excellent one and worthy of support from anyone who has either an interest in physical exercise, local history or dreams of the chance of putting his next-door-neighbour to the sword.

As for the footballers, they will have other opportunities to prove their worth, and I am confident that with a little more experience and benefiting from the rewards of commitment and dedication to their sport, they will achieve the ultimate prize of a County Championship before too many years have passed.

Battles and contests are fought to be won and lost. It is the losing which sharpens our focus for the future and serves to replenish our desire to achieve that which we have lost. Athy should not be disheartened by the lack of success on the football field, and in the same way, James Cavanagh should not be deflected from putting into operation his plans for next year, no matter what difficulties might be presented.

Friday, September 15, 1995

St. Brigid's Pipe Band Athy

A mystery, which despite my best efforts until now remained unresolved, was unravelled following a recent telephone call. It relayed the message that an English visitor wanted to present a photograph to the local Museum Society. The generous donor called on me, but he was not English. Jim Moran, now 88 years of age, but with the memory and agility of a 50 year old, lives in Luton, England, far from Athy where he was born and grew up.

The photograph he brought to me was one which I had previously seen and indeed a copy of which had been on display in the Museum Room some years ago. It showed the members of a pipe band with two young girls in Celtic costumes which I had previously believed was an early photograph of Kilberry Pipe Band. That identification was made on the basis that the musicians included Willie Hutchinson, who had played for some years with the Kilberry Band. However, the welcome visitor of a few weeks ago was to provide the evidence which would finally identify not only the band, but also its entire membership.

The photograph was of St. Brigid’s Pipe Band, Athy, taken in 1919 in the field at the rear of the Malt House in Rathstewart, to mark the band’s success at a feis in Maryborough, now Portlaoise. Jim Moran was a member of that band and with Willie Hutchinson, they are today the only survivors of the men and women captured on film that day.

St. Brigid’s Pipe Band was formed in Athy some time before World War I. It was in existence before the Churchtown Pipe Band and long before the Kilberry Pipe Band which I gather was only formed with the break up of the local L.S.F. Band following World War II. However, Kilberry can lay claim to an earlier musical heritage with a Fife and Drum Band which was based in the Coke in the 1880’s.

In its early years, St. Brigid’s Pipe Band had its band room in the premises of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, then located in Duke Street. When the Garda Siochana Barracks was opened in the same premises the bandroom had to be vacated, and St. Brigid’s Pipe Band moved out to the “Foxhole”, a small thatched-house at Killart, then owned by band member John Tierney of Belview. When this thatched house was mysteriously burnt down, the band practised for a time in Salisbury House, owned by Pat Tierney a brother of John’s. The band members also had use of a field at the rear of the Malt House in Rathstewart, now Bachelor’s factory, where the 1919 photograph was taken.

Jim Moran joined the band in 1917 and took pipe lessons from the Pipe Major William Spittal of Kilcrow. Other young fellows who joined the band around the same time included Willie Hutchinson of Bert, Bill Carbery of Athy, a brother of the legendary Tom Carbery, and John McEvoy of Duke Street. Bill Carbery later emigrated to America and on his return to Ireland was tragically killed during building works at Poulaphoca.

Other members of the band included George Bailey of Oldcourt who later emigrated to Canada, John Dobbyn of Cloney Castle who joined the Gardai and his brother Dan who emigrated to London where he was a caretaker in Richmond Park. Ber Kane of Kilberry worked as a ganger for many years with Kildare County Council and Peter Sexton, also of Kilberry, later went to work in Carlow. John Tierney of Belview played the big drums, while the organiser of the band was John Bailey, publican of Stanhope Street. John had spent many years in America and had returned to Athy and to the public house which is now owned by Michael Noonan. John Spittal of Kilcrow was Pipe Major and leader of the band and he also emigrated to America. Another member was John Farrell of Tomard who later joined the Irish Army.

Jim Moran was the youngest member of St. Brigid’s Pipe Band and recalls with remarkable clarity the various feiseanna in which the band participated during the summer piping season. Hannon’s Mills were then operating at Ardreigh and Duke Street, and the company’s lorry was always made available to transport the band members around the midlands. John Davis of Blackparks was the driver of the solid wheeled truck which delivered flour on weekdays and on Sundays transported St. Brigid’s Pipe Band to the various Feis venues. The photograph of the band in 1919 includes two young girls, one of whom has been identified as the late Nora Dooley. The second young girl Jim remembers as Baby Daughn, whose father had a bicycle shop in Duke Street. The band was active up to 1924 or thereabouts, and went out of existence when many of its members emigrated. The loss of the Pipe Major John Spittal who emigrated to America was a particularly telling blow for the young band and his departure hastened the end of the Athy pipers.

Today only Willie Hutchinson and Jim Moran, now both well advanced in years, are the sole survivors of that group of men who 76 years ago were photographed standing proudly with bagpipes in hand in the field at the rear of Rathstewart Malt House.

Friday, September 8, 1995

Lower St. Josephs Terrace 1935

The Slum Clearance Schemes of the early 1930’s enabled Athy Urban District Council to rid the town of many of the unhealthy lanes and courts which had been home to local families for generations past. New houses were erected in St. Joseph’s Terrace to accommodate families from Mount Hawkins and The Gulch and before long those families bonded together to form the strong close-knit community which still exists today.

Let us look at the families who lived in Lower St. Joseph’s Terrace in 1935.

No. 1 - Mick Keogh and family. Mick worked for the Duke of Leinster’s Agent who had an office in what is now the Old Folks House in Leinster Street.
No. 2 - Mrs. Leonard and family.
No. 3 - Annie “Ba” Alcock and her brother Tommy “Tut” Alcock.
No. 4 - Jim “Scallop” O’Neill, his wife, daughter Gertie and son Joe. “Scallop” was a fine exponent of the art of basket making.
No. 5 - Paddy O’Neill, son of Scallop, and family. Paddy worked in Carbery’s Builders and at one stage had a small shop in his house. Paddy died in Manchester last week.
No. 6 - Jenny Kavanagh and her two brothers. All later emigrated to England.
No. 7 - Johnny and Dora Johnson and family. Johnny worked in the sandpit at Gallowshill with his two sons. Two daughters, Sheila and Irene are married and living in Athy.
No. 8 - The Kavanagh family, including John and Maggie, both of whom died in recent times. Their father was batman to John Vincent Holland, who won the Victoria Cross in World War I. His son Isaac joined the Irish Guards.
No. 9 - Johnny and Mag Davis and family. Johnny, who was in the English Army, had four sons and two daughters.
No. 10 - Mrs. Pender and her children Peg, Molly and Tom.
No. 11 - “Jacksie” and Mary Kelly and family, then consisting of Jim, later a postman, Paddy, Mick and Christy. The Kellys suffered the loss of three sons in World War I.
No. 12 - Patsy and Kathleen Delahunt and family. Patsy, a postman, served in World War I as did his brother Jack and both were fortunate to survive. Their young son Paddy died at 13 years of age. The other six members of the family are alive and well today.
No. 13 - Mrs. Kavanagh and her two daughters. One daughter married a Navy man while Mary died two years ago in England.
No. 14 - Nell Keogh with Chevit and Johnny Doyle. Johnny later emigrated to England and Chevit, a former Urban Councillor and a good footballer in his day, died some years ago.
No. 15 - Neddy and Kate Rainsford. Their son, Michael, is now living in Ballylinan having returned from abroad.
No. 16 - Johnny Rainsford, his wife and family. Their daughter Mag is still in the house while another daughter was married to “Hocker” Mulhall, their next door neighbour. The Rainsford brothers, Neddy and Johnny, worked on the bog harvesting turf, which they sold in Athy and surrounding area.
No. 17 - Hocker Mulhall, a barber in Leinster Street and his family. Interestingly enough, their son Jim, who worked for years in Athy, has again returned to South Kildare, as has his sister Mary who had lived in England for many years. Their sister Eileen is married to Eddie Doyle, who lives in the Churchtown area.
No. 18 - “Messcock” Kelly, a cheerful man noted for whistling to his own accompaniment as he beat his fingers on the bottom of a milk can while walking to the dairy. The widow of his son Christy now lives in the house.
No. 19 - The Chanders brothers.
No. 20 - “Brudge” Dunne, her husband and family. Their children included Jim, Jack, later of Meeting Lane, Christy, fondly known as “Bluebeard”, and two daughters one of whom, Nan, married Jim Kelly, postman. The only one of the Dunne lads still alive is Dick who lives in Dublin.

Recording the names of persons who lived in an area 60 years previously is always a hazardous venture, and inaccuracies or omissions can be expected for any such inaccuracies or omissions in the above list, I can only ask my readers indulgence.