Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Peter Barry

Kilkenny v. Tipperary.  Memories of epic hurling matches between the two counties immediately come to mind and never more so as when natives of both rival counties come together.  As a Kilkenny native I will never forget the Liam McCarthy cup days of the 1950s when the Doyles superiority over the Walshes prevailed and Kilkenny men came home from Croke Park more often than not having failed yet again to topple the Tipperary men.  The past decade and a half has seen the rebalancing of the hurling equation, with Kilkenny the victors time and time again.

All of this is by way of an introduction to this week’s piece, written by a man whose bones were fashioned in the Kilkenny hurling county and whose subject is a Tipperary native for whom hurling is a passion.  Peter Barry, the man from Puddingfield, Tipperary, has been the Athy post master for the past five years and is retiring at the end of August on reaching his 60th birthday.  At least you and I know him as the local post master, a title we still cling to after many decades of usage, even though I am told the title changed 15 years ago to branch manager.

Peter, one of the nicest persons one could meet, always cheerful, always ready with a pleasant quip or comment to pass on, first entered the postal service as a junior clerk in 1972.  His first posting was to Drogheda, but he quickly transferred to Athy, arriving here in May 1972.  The post master in those days was Wilf Meredith, who like the bank managers of old lived over the premises.  Isn’t it strange to relate how much the business world has changed over the last few decades with bank closures and bank managers and post masters no longer living on the premises.  Indeed the most extraordinary change in recent times is one’s inability to phone your bank or post office directly as all incoming calls are redirected to central units dealing with a multiplicity of different locations.

The young Peter Barry coming from a Tipperary background became, as one would expect, a member of the local hurling club.  He did so even though, on his own admission, his hurling abilities were not on par with those of John or Jimmy Doyle.  He moved to Wexford in October 1972 and remained there until February of 1975 when he transferred for the last time back to Athy.  During his time in Wexford he met his future wife Maeve and they are the proud parents of four children, Aoife, Adrian, Wayne and Ciara and three grand children, Killian, Alex and Carla.  Back in the south Kildare town Peter served under a number of post masters, or branch managers, including Paddy Begley, Tom Holland, Paddy Harrington and John Neede. 

During the 1970s and 80s Athy Hurling Club was going strong and indeed neighbouring Castledermot had an excellent hurling club which won two senior hurling titles in succession in the late 1980s.  Peter was a playing member of the Athy club and won a place on the Kildare Under 21 county team in 1975.  He had to wait another 14 years to win his first county medal with Athy as a sub on the Intermediate winning team of 1989.  That same year Athy hurling minors reached the county final.

Today, regretfully, Athy has no adult hurling team and the same situation applies in Castledermot.  St. Laurences now fields an adult team comprised of players from their own locality as well as Athy and Castledermot.  Peter who was very involved in the revival of the local camogie club seven years ago bemoans the decline in the hurling fortunes of the local club, but is hopeful that under the direction of Colm Byrne and others that the Athy underage hurling teams will eventually lead to a revival at senior level. 

Peter was involved with the Athy hurling club over many years, not only as a player but also as club treasurer and club secretary.  In addition as a Board member of Athy Credit Union for many years he gave sterling service to the local community here in Athy. 

With his retirement the local Post Office will lose the services of a genuinely pleasant official who has proved himself popular with the people of Athy and district.  I wish Peter well although even as I write this piece in advance of the upcoming Cork v. Tipperary semi-final I cannot hold out much hope of his native county on the first Sunday in September overcoming the best hurling team ever to have graced Croke Park – up Kilkenny!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Happenings in Athy December 1899

The Nationalist and Leinster Times of Saturday, 30th December 1899 priced at 2 pence carried a front page notice proudly boasting that it comprised 12 pages.  The front page was devoted to advertisements, with most space devoted to Carlow and Kildare Auctioneers, including P.J. Corcoran of Athy and Deegan & Sons of Leinster Street.  Miss L. Browne, ‘manageress for the late Mr. C. Timmons’, informed the public of the opening of her boot and leather warehouse in Duke Street, while the Athy Tile & Brick Co. Ltd. had available for sale their new make of full size red bricks 9ins. x 4½ins. x 3ins.

The Evicted Tenants Restoration Fund advertised a meeting scheduled for the Town Hall Carlow on Tuesday 9th January for the purpose of organising a county collection.  ‘All sympathisers with the wounded soldiers of the land war are invited to attend – God Save Ireland’.  Inside the news coverage disclosed that after protracted negotiations extending over at least two years the Clongorey Evicted Tenants Dispute was at last settled.  The evictions took place 12 years previously.  The earlier evictions at Luggacurran had not been the subject of a settlement, but the paper reported the prospect of one as the landlord, Lord Landsdowne, has been induced to consent to negotiate with the representatives of the tenants.

The Athy notes recorded the death of Henry J. O’Neill of Geraldine House, brother of Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill, and the death of ‘a young man named Flynn’ killed the previous week during the course of the Boer War.  I’ve been unable to identify the Flynn man in question but he was just one of the many men from Athy who served in Irish Regiments in Africa during the Boer War.  Recruiting was still taking place in December 1899 as the following week’s paper reported that ‘amongst the volunteers for South Africa are Mr. Butler of Ballybar and Mr. Telford, son of Mr. S. Telford of Barrowford, Athy’.

The Boer War was the subject of several other news items in the last newspaper of the 19th century.  The position of the garrison under siege in Ladysmith was reported as very serious.  From a list compiled by the Press Association it was reported that British losses in the war amounted to nearly 7,000 killed, wounded or missing.  One of those reported as wounded was Billy Nicholson, an athlete particularly well known to the people of Athy where the paper reported ‘his frank and jovial manner made him a great favourite.’

The Boer War was also prominent in a prank played in Athy on Christmas Eve by practical jokers.  The Nationalist and Leinster Times reported ‘that the lads of sweet Athy are famed for fun and frivolity and this year the pranksters decided to float a war flag from the highest point of the Town Hall.  How the feat was accomplished is a mystery, nor is it known how the perpetrators of the joke got access to the building.  Although used as a Town Hall and for the meetings of the Town Commissioners, the building is the private property of the Duke of Leinster.  It is in charge of a very vigilant custodian, William McCleary, who hails from north of the Boyne and is as shrewd as men from the Northern Province usually are.  On Christmas Eve between 7 and 8 o’clock a fireworks and cracker display was noted about the Town Hall.  The police were quickly on the scene but the organisers of the display seemed to be quite as mobile as the Boers and on the approach of the officers of the law they retired.  In the morning as soon as the first streaks of dawn appeared a grand green flag floated from the pinnacle which surmounts the Town Hall.  William McCleary, the Town Hall caretaker, volunteered to remove the flag and at about 3 o’clock he ascended to the roof of the building.  He had armed himself with a fishing rod, to the end of which he had tied a knife.  He cut through the strands of rope which held the standard in position and after some exertion the cords were cut through and the emblem of Krugerdom collapsed.  William handed the flag over to the police who are actively engaged in investigating the matter.

The flag incident has occasioned a great deal of talk about Athy and there is much conjecture as to the individuality of the daring crew who seized on the principal building of the town in this way.  Accounts brought by native runners from Dunbrinn direction disclose the fact that after dispersion by the police the band retired to a lonely kopje overhanging the Barrow and called Coneyboro.  Here they made a bonfire and when it was in full blaze they threw in a shell in the shape of a gallon of paraffin.  The fluid exploded with a report so loud that it awakened sleepers in distant Grangemellon.’
Hopefully the descendants of the Boer War pranksters and the Grangemellon sleepers will note that the Medieval Festival takes place in and around the Heritage Centre on Sunday, 24th August commencing at 12 noon.  On Wednesday, 20th August a walk along the line of the medieval wall of Athy will start at the Heritage Centre at 7.15 p.m.  Under the title ‘All Along the Watch Towers’ the walkers will be given a commentary as they take a leisurely walk through the town.  This is a Heritage Week event for which there is no charge.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

World War 1 - Victims and Survivors

World War I has got our attention over the past few weeks with the Irish media giving plenty of attention to the subject which went largely unnoticed up to a decade or so ago.  Athy has more reasons than any other Irish town to remember the 1914-18 war.  In fact it has 122 reasons.  For 122 Athy men, mostly young men, died in that war.  Their families mourn their deaths, but for at least 40 of those who died there was to be no known last resting place.  Their names chiselled on war memorials are the only reminder of short lives once lived in a small provincial town in County Kildare.  These forgotten men are the reason why in this the centenary year of the start of the Great War we commemorate their lives.

Men like Christopher Power of 8 Plewman’s Row who was killed in action in France on 26th April 1915.  At 59 years of age he was the oldest Athy man to die in the war.  Power was survived by his wife Esther and three children.  His namesake, Christopher Power of William Street, was just 22 years old when he died of wounds received in battle on 28th April, 1916.  Both men served in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

At the other end of the age scale we find 17 year old Anthony Byrne of the Leinster Regiment who was killed on 28th April 1915.  Christopher Gleeson of Upper William Street was also 17 years old when he died in France on 1st May 1916.

I was reminded of these men and of the other World War I soldiers from Athy when William Walsh of Lusk, County Dublin called on me during the week.  William at 80 years of age is the son of an Athy father whose name he proudly bears.  William Walsh, the father, lived with his father, brothers and sisters at No. 5 Janeville Lane in 1911.  The head of the family at the time of the 1911 census was John Walsh, aged 55 years of age, who in 1901 lived with his wife and family at 13 Offaly Street.  That house, still standing, was next to the malt house and in later years was occupied by the Keatleys. 

John Walsh was a tailor in Meeting Lane whose father Brian Walsh originated from Kilkenny but came to live in Athy when he married.  William Walsh, his grandson, enlisted in the Leinster Regiment in November 1911 as a member of the 4th (Extra Reserve) battalion based in Maryborough.  It was usual in 1911 to join the Special Reserve for an initial period of six years, the first six months of which was spent in full time training.  Thereafter, unless called upon for active service, the enlistee was required to attend training for three to four weeks a year.

Called up as a reservist on the declaration of War William Walsh landed in France on 25th October 1914 as a member of the Leinster Regiment 2nd Battalion.  He was present at the Christmas truce in 1914 when German and English soldiers laid down their arms on Christmas Day and mingled with each other before returning to the trenches.

William Walsh, who survived the war, spoke of how he was fortunate to survive a German artillery attack which killed four of his colleagues just after he had left the trench where they had been resting.  He was also involved in the first battle of Ypres, which in October 1914 resulted in heavy casualties for the Leinster Regiment.

The Athy soldier who on demobilisation lived in Dublin, spent two years working with the Dublin tram company driving the Tram 21 which travelled between College Green and Inchicore, Dublin.  He later worked in Guinnesses.  His brother Joseph also joined the British Army during the 1914-18 war but took the wise decision on returning home on leave not to return to the battle front.  Joseph later lived at No. 2 Dooley’s Terrace.  A younger brother Edward was the father of John, Eamonn, Helen and Myra Walsh, all of whom still are living in Athy.  The story of William Walsh, World War I veteran, was told to me by his son William whom I had the pleasure to meet with his daughter Ann-Marie and his son -in-law this week.

There are so many stories to be told of the Athy men who fought in the 1914-18 war.  Unfortunately for 122 of those men their stories can never be told.  All we know is of their deaths and sometimes of their burials in graves maintained by the Commonwealth Grave Commission.  But for so many men from our town, young and middle aged, there is nothing but names chiselled into the stone of foreign war memorials.  Their names are recalled, but not the short lives they lived or the families they left behind.  They are part of our hidden past.                          

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Shaws Department Store

The story of Shaw’s Department Stores has its beginning in the quaker town of Mountmellick.  It was largely through the industry of the local quaker families that Mountmellick was known in the early part of the 19th Century as the “Manchester of Ireland”.  Upwards of 2,000 men, women and children worked in the local cotton industry in the mid 1830’s while another major employer was the brass and iron foundries of which there were once several in Mountmellick. 

The County Laois town was also home to a vibrant Methodist Community and it was one of his members, Henry Shaw, who opened the first small Shaw’s store in 1864.   However, it was the drive and acumen of his wife, the former Annie Smith of Enniscorthy, following the death of her husband who developed the business with quite remarkable success. 

In 1887 Henry and Annie Shaw purchased a small store known as the Boot Store in the adjoining town of Portlaoise.  Five years later Henry Shaw died leaving his widow and nine children.  Undaunted, the Enniscorthy born Annie Shaw continued to manage the two stores.  She proved so successful that in 1902 following the completion of her eldest son’s apprenticeship as a drapery assistant, she acquired a further premises in Portlaoise from which Shaw’s would carry on their drapery and footwear business for over 110 years.

Her son, William Henry Shaw, managed the Portlaoise business while his mother oversaw the original Mountmellick store.  Annie’s son Samuel who was born in 1888 was  apprenticed at 14 years of age to Duncan’s of Duke Street, Athy.  After finishing his apprenticeship, Samuel Shaw, who would in time become the most important figure in the Shaw business empire, spent six years learning the tailoring trade in London.  He returned to Ireland to rejoin his mother and brother William Henry and when Duncan’s, the largest store  in Athy, went into receivership in 1914. Annie  Shaw acquired the business. 

In 1929, William Henry Shaw who had charge of the Athy store died unexpectedly and his brother Sam took over management of the store which for several decades would serve as the flagship of the Shaw’s family enterprise.  Waterford City was the location of the first Shaw’s store outside the Irish midlands.  Purchased from Robertson, Leslie and Ferguson in 1941, it was followed 8 years later by the acquisitions of Brown’s drapery store in Carlow. 

The 1950’s was a period of retrenchment and it was not until 1964 that further businesses and premises were acquired by Shaw’s.  Roscrea and Ballymun were in quick succession chosen as the location of Shaw’s newest outlets.  Seven years later saw the start of an acquisition surge by Shaw’s which commenced with the purchase of premises in Fermoy, soon followed by the opening of shops in Limerick, Dungarvan, Wexford and a second premises in Carlow.  Today Shaw’s trade in 17 different towns in Ireland with the latest store opened in Longford in 2013.

The business started by Henry and Annie Shaw 150 years ago is still very much a family firm with several members of the extended Shaw families sitting on the Board of Directors.  Other Shaw family members are part of the large working force employed in the countrywide stores.

To Annie Shaw, the hardworking co-founder 150 years ago of the first Shaw’s shop, must be attributed a large measure of the Company’s initial success.  A skilled dressmaker, Annie had two sewing machines which she employed in making up ladies coats, dresses and skirt.  Astute in purchasing material which she imported from Manchester, Annie developed the business while at the same time creating job opportunities for women at the turn of the century in millinery and drapery retail sales.   This was at a time when employment of women outside the home was largely confined to domestic services.

When Annie Shaw died in 1933  the management and control of the Shaw retailing business passed to her son Samuel who was then living in Athy.  He it was who expanded the business beyond the three midland locations of Mountmellick, Portlaoise and Athy.  By the time of his death in 1980, Shaw’s had added ten further locations to its business with a geographical spread which extended to Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Dublin and several towns in between.

Today the family run business has a fourth generation Shaw as Managing Director and the slogan (no longer in use of “Shaws Almost Nationwide” is a perfect indication of the geographical spread of the retailing giant which had its origins in Mountmellick in 1864.