Friday, March 3, 2017

Famine Orphan Emigration Scheme (Part 1)


Some years ago I visited the Hyde Park Barracks Museum in Sydney and viewed the Australian monument to the Irish Famine.  It was commissioned in 1999 by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales on behalf of the Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee.  The sculpture consists of a bronze table piercing the sandstone wall of the museum with the names of the orphan girls sent out from Irish Workhouses to Australia sandblasted onto glass panels.  It includes a shelf with a few potatoes, a shovel, some books and personal belongings with three bronze stools showing evidence of womens clothing and needlework.



The orphans commemorated in this monument were the more than 4,000 girls from Irish Workhouses who in the aftermath of the Great Famine were selected by government officials to be sent to Australia between October 1848 and August 1850.  The Orphan Emigration Scheme was devised by Earl Grey, the British Secretary of State, as a means of alleviating overcrowding in Ireland’s workhouses and in an attempt to lessen the imbalance of the sexes in Australia.



Criticism of the Orphan Emigration Scheme was led amongst others by the Anglican Bishop Goold of Melbourne and much of that criticism was based on fears that an influx of orphan females, the majority of whom were Catholics, would ‘Romanise the Australian colonies’.  The Orphan Immigration depot in Adelaide was described as a ‘government brothel’ and claims were made and reported that the orphans were not the ‘kind of people suited to Australia’s needs.’  In the face of increasing mounting criticism the Scheme was abandoned at the end of 1850, but not before more than 4,000 young orphan girls had landed at Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.  Amongst their numbers were two groups of girls from Athy’s Workhouse.  The first group of 18 girls travelled in the ship ‘Lady Peel’, arriving in Sydney on 3rd July 1849.  The second and last group of girls comprising 16 former inmates of Athy’s Workhouse arrived in Sydney on the ship ‘Maria’ on 1st August 1850.  The details of those who arrived in 1849 are:-











NAME
AGE
ADDRESS
PARENTS

RELIGION
Carroll, Ann
17
Athy
Martin and Biddy
Father in America
R.C.
Clare, Ann
17
Athy
Patrick and Ann
Mother living in Athy
R.C.
Connor, Lucy
19
Athy
James and Eliza
Both dead
R.C.
Croak, Bridget
19
Stradbally
John and Ann
Mother living in Hyde, Kildare
R.C.
Dobson, Margaret
17
Athy
Joseph and Julia
Both dead
R.C.
Egan, Bridget
18
Athy
John and Jane
Mother living in Athy
R.C.
Fitzpatrick, Eliza
19
Monasterevin
Stephen and Elizabeth
Both dead
R.C.
Flemming, Catherine
18
Athy
Barney and Catherine
Mother living in Athy
R.C.
Flemming, Rose
19
Ballyadams
Patrick and Mary
Mother lives in Ballyadams
R.C.
Green, Mary
18
Athy
John and Catherine
Both dead
R.C.
Hayes, Mary
18
Athy
John and Mary
Both dead
R.C.
Hayes, Elizabeth
18
Athy
John and Mary
Both dead
R.C.
Ivory, Bridget
17
Athy
James and Margaret
Both dead
R.C.
Moore, Bridget
18
Athy
James and Mary
Father in America
Mother living in Athy
R.C.
Murray, Ellen
18
Athy
Hugh and Jane
Mother living in Athy
C. of E.
Neill, Margaret
18
Athy
Michael and Catherine
Both dead
R.C.
Sinclair, Ann
17
Àthy
Patrick and Mary
Living in Athy
R.C.
Sullivan, Ellen
18
Athy
John and Ellen
Mother living in Athy
R.C.







......................... TO BE CONTINUED ...............................

Christy Dunne - Musician


Music has always been an important part of the social life of Athy people.  Examining records going back as far as the 19th century one comes across many references to fife and drum bands, pipe bands and brass bands associated with different parts of the town and sometimes associated with local associations such as the C.Y.M.S.  That musical tradition found expression in the 1940s and later in the orchestras and show bands fronted by Athy men and women.  After the Stardust and the Sorrento dance bands of the 1940s and 1950s there followed a bewildering array of groups and musical combinations, not all of whom I have been able to document. 



My near neighbour Christy Dunne was for many years a stalwart on the music scene.  He was just 15 years of age when he joined Alex Kelly and his Aces as bass guitarist.  He would remain active in music making for upwards of 50 years, combining a busy music career with a full time job in the local Asbestos factory, later renamed Tegral.  He retired from Tegral at 60 years of age, following 41 years of service.  If this was not enough Christy was also a volunteer fireman who served for 31 years in that capacity.  Coincidentally his father Christy also worked in the Asbestos factory and served for many years in the local fire brigade. 



Recounting his music playing career Christy recalls nine years spent with Alex and his Aces where his fellow musicians included Alex’s brother Tom Kelly on keyboard and Brian O’Neill on drums.  Alex’s Aces played relief band for the annual military ball which was one of the major local social events held in Dreamland Ballroom during the 1960s. 



Christy married Kathleen Foley in September 1968 and that same year with other local musicians formed the Adelaide Showband.  The line up included John Kelly, John Lawler, John Scully, Christy Leigh, Robert Eston, Denis Chanders and Pat Keeffe.  With the decline of the show band scene Christy formed a beat group with David Craig and John Kelly.  Under the name ‘The Reeds of Innocence’ the trio played the provincial club scene including what I am told was a local club venue in St. John’s Hall.  The country music scene next attracted Christy’s attention and with John Joe Brennan and their respective wives formed the group ‘Big Country’.  It proved to be a very successful music combination during the seven years of its existence and they were joined towards the latter part of that period by Denis Chanders.



The final musical combination with which Christy was involved was the Spotlights.  This three piece combination originally featured Christy, his wife Kathleen and Denis Chanders, later to be augmented with the addition of Eamon Walsh and for a time were joined by Pat Kelly and Andy Murphy.  The Spotlights played on a regular basis in Jurys Hotel Dublin and held a weekly residency for almost five years in Lumville House, The Curragh.  Towards the end the Spotlights consisted of Christy and Kathleen Dunne and Eamon Walsh who continued to enjoy huge success, not only locally but particularly with Dublin bookings.  The band was on the road six nights a week, only keeping Tuesday as the one day free of engagements.  After almost 50 years playing music Christy retired about three years ago and the Spotlights disbanded.



It is strange to recall the dance venues which were once available to the people of Athy, starting with St. John’s Hall and the Townhall ballroom, both of which were replaced by Dreamland ballroom.  Now the former Dreamland ballroom is a sports venue and bands deprived of dancing venues are few in number.  We can look back with nostalgia at the time when Alex and his Aces, the Adelaides and laterally the Spotlights played their part in continuing Athy’s extensive music tradition.


Preserving Local Authority Records


With the abolition of Athy’s Town Council looming on the horizon my thoughts have turned to the treasure trove of minute books, documents, maps and files which the local authority has accumulated over the years.  What I wonder is planned for those priceless records which document the infrastructural development of the town over many decades.  Preserving those records is an imperative and I hope that both Council officials and public representatives have agreed on a plan of action to archive the Council records of Athy Town Council once the Council is abolished. 



I had the privilege some years ago of examining in detail the minute books of Athy Urban District Council and its predecessors, Athy Town Commissioners and Athy Borough Council back as far as 1781.  Later on I had to visit the Public Records Office in Belfast to study the earliest extant minute books of the Borough Council covering the years 1738 to 1783.  That particular Minute Book was deposited in the Belfast Public Records Office with the Fitzgerald family papers some years ago.  The whereabouts of the minute books prior to 1738 are unknown and in all probability have been lost forever.  Those missing records should prompt local authority officials and representatives to value the records still held by the Council and to ensure their preservation and secure protection for the purpose of future historical research.



Looking through details extracted by me from the minute books of the Borough Council I find a reference to the town clock in 1780 which I had previously overlooked.  William Drill was paid a handsome fee of £6 for looking after the clock, the location of which was not indicated.  That same year is recorded the orders of the Court Leet presided over by the Town Sovereign, Rev. Anthony Weldon ‘that no huckster or forestaller is to buy any commodity or goods coming into the market of Athy until such commodity or goods be brought into the public market place under the penalty of five shillings to be levied and raised by sale of the offenders goods and paid to the informer.’  Obviously the selling of goods outside the town’s market place and the consequent loss of customs and tolls was not to the Borough Council’s liking.



Another interesting reference in the Sovereign’s court records for 1786 was a direction that ‘the meat shambles be removed, they being a great nuisance.’  The shambles was located in the alleyway which ran between Andersons pub and the adjoining premises.  I noted that the Court held five years previously was called the ‘Leet Court’ but that term was not used for the 1786 Court. 



An entry in the Borough records of 1792 referred to the water running from the house of William Cahill, Kildare Street, starch manufacturer ‘having a foul smell so as to be prejudicial to the health of the inhabitants’.  Incidentally Kildare Street in 1792 is today’s Stanhope Street. 



In a recent article I mentioned clock and watchmaker Thomas Plewman.  The borough records for 1800 detail a payment of £3 to Thomas Plewman, being one year’s salary for attending to the town clock.  A similar sum was payable to John Andrews for taking care of the town’s fire engine.  On 3rd September 1808 the Town Sovereign and the Burgesses of Athy passed a bye law requiring every boat loaded with turf passing the weir to pay a toll of ten shillings to be applied by the Sovereign in the purchase of fuel for the relief of the poor of Athy.  The Sovereign in question was Thomas J. Rawson, originally from Glasshealy, who played a major part in putting down rebellious activity around Athy and South Kildare during the 1798 Rebellion. 



I was reminded of McHugh’s Foundry which was once located in Meeting Lane when reading the following entry in the Sovereign’s Court record book of the 27th May, 1820.  ‘We present that a forge for working iron which has been erected by Edward Moore in a house in Meeting Lane is a nuisance and not only exposed the said house but also adjoining houses, all of which are covered with timber and straw to constant danger of being consumed by fire and therefore that business of said forge should be forthwith discontinued.’  So much for early 19th century town planning!



The written record is always an important resource for historical researchers, whether it relates to local authorities or clubs, sporting or otherwise.  I have twice in recent years been tasked with writing the history of two Athy institutions but in each case found to my horror that the records once so carefully compiled over many decades had in one case been destroyed and the other lost and never found.  I sincerely hope that the records relating to Athy Town Council and its predecessors will not suffer the same fate.




Remembering the Dead of World War 1


The knock on the front door was unusual.  After all, the half door was always open and the neighbours never knocked.  As she went to the door the woman of the house caught a glimpse of the uniformed telegraph boy standing outside.  Her heart sank for she knew that he brought bad news just as he had to some of her neighbours since the start of the war.  Those same neighbours were now gathering at her door, even as the telegraph boy passed over the telegram.  As she feared the telegram from the war office read: ‘Deeply regret to inform you that your husband died of wounds on June 28th.  Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy.

 

The scene is an imaginary one, but in reality it was a scene re-enacted more than 100 times in the laneways and courtyards of Athy during the years of the 1914-18 war.  The dreaded telegram was delivered to so many local houses during the 52 months of the war that neighbours readily recognised the scene even as it evolved.  Sometimes the telegraph boy retraced his steps to the same house, not just twice but sadly in at least one case, three times.  The Kelly brothers of Chapel Lane were to die fighting another nation’s war.  Encouraged by local Church and civic leaders brothers Denis, John and Owen Kelly enlisted in the British Expeditionary Force to fight overseas where they died. 



In many instances local men starved of employment and weary of the unsanitary and claustrophobic conditions in which they lived gave their names to the local recruiting sergeant in Leinster Street.  They would after all be home by Christmas, or so they were told.  The excitement of travel to foreign lands, pride in wearing a smart uniform and of course, the army pay, no doubt played a part in prompting the large scale enlistment of men from Athy and district.  Perhaps even the promise of Home Rule played its part in encouraging many to join the ranks. 



Later, as those who survived the war returned to their home town, their late comrades, the majority of whom had no known burial places, would be forgotten and overlooked by the general public and also by local church and civic leaders.  Those who had encouraged recruitment now kept silent in the face of Sinn Fein’s rise in popularity.  The pre war politics of the Irish Parliamentary Party had been overtaken by the political dominance of Sinn Fein.  The local men who fought in France and Flanders and further afield were no longer war heroes.  Their return to Athy was not marked by parades led by local bands as was their departure from the local railway station a few short years before.



The returning ex-soldiers would of necessity keep a low profile, apart from honouring their dead comrades once a year on Remembrance Sunday.  But even that limited homage to the dead was not deemed appropriate to continue far beyond the election of the first Fianna Fáil government in 1932.  The families of ex British soldiers of the 1914-18 war may have grieved privately and commemorated loved ones within family circles.  Nowhere however was there any public recognition for those local men who responded to the call to arms and in so many cases answered with their young lives. 



I have in the past expressed the view that we can remember our neighbours of long ago without in any way feeling that we are doing a disservice to what we ourselves believe.  Whether you are a republican, a socialist or simply a political party member, commemorating the war dead of your town is not only a tribute to the young men of a past generation but also a mark of your respect for your town’s history.



Sunday the 10th of November is Remembrance Sunday, the one day in the year when the dead of World War I are commemorated.  Here in Athy six soldiers who died in their home town and are buried in St. Michael’s Old Cemetery will be the focus of a Remembrance Sunday ecumenical commemoration service to take place at 3.00 p.m.  The service, which will remember all the local men who died in World War 1, is not intended as a celebration of war but as a commemoration for a lost generation and an acknowledgement of the years of neglect of those men who died during the war as well as those who survived. 



Local men’s participation in the 1914-18 war is a part of our local and national history and in remembering those men we are recognising their contribution to their communities and the losses sustained by their families.  An open invitation is extended to everyone to join in the commemoration service at St. Michael’s Old Cemetery at 3.00 p.m. on Sunday next, 10th November.



No doubt many of you were puzzled to read of Mrs. Anna Duthie of 30 Duke Street.  I’m afraid Homer nodded yet again as of course Duthie’s jewellery shop has always been at 30 Leinster Street.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Athy Sinn Fein Club 1917


With the passing of the old year and the ending of the 1916 centenary commemorations thoughts now turn in this decade of centenaries, to 1917.  It was a year which witnessed the first Sinn Fein bye-election victory with the election of Count Plunkett at the expense of the Home Rule candidate in the Roscommon north constituency.  His election was a harbinger of what was to follow in the Longford bye-election where another Sinn Fein candidate, Joseph McGuinness, by then a prisoner in Lewes jail was elected with the slogan, ‘Put him in to get him out’.  This was the start of the upsurge in popularity for Sinn Fein which in the general election of December 1918 led to the collapse of the Home Rule party.



Here in Athy the first indication of the existence of a group of Sinn Fein sympathisers in the town was the holding of a concert in the Town Hall on 18th January 1917 to raise funds for the families of men arrested and imprisoned following the Easter Rising.  The following month ‘Athy Hibernian Players’ performed a play, ‘The O’Carolan’ in the same Town Hall at the end of which the actors and their supporters stood to attention to sing ‘A Nation Once Again’.



Two months later in June 1917 a local newspaper, named for the first time the Athy men who had come together to form a Sinn Fein club.  Their names are worthy of recording 100 years later and perhaps later in the year we will have an opportunity to commemorate their patriotism and courage in promoting the drive for Irish independence.  Their names are John Coleman, Joseph Murphy, J.B. Maher, Michael May, Joseph May, Joseph Walsh, W.G. Doyle, T. Corcoran, Robert Webster, J. Webster and C. Walsh.  Some of those named cannot be identified with any degree of certainty and I would welcome hearing from anyone who can help me to positively identify the men in question. 



Another interesting development in 1917, but one without any political overtones, was the arrival of tractors in the South Kildare area.  The Irish Times reported a tractor demonstration arranged by the local firm of Duthie Larges on the lands of C.W. Taylor at Forest.  ‘It was for all the world like watching the tanks go into action with the townies behind to observe the two Overtime farm tractors at work’ reported the newspaper.  Taylors apparently had owned a tractor for the previous three years and the experience had taught them that a tractor could plough 3½ acres in a day while a good man with a pair of horses could only plough half an acre in the same time.  The arrival of the tractor was timely as local farmers had difficulty in replacing farm labourers who continued to enlist in large numbers during the 1914/18 war. 



Another difficulty facing the general public in 1917 was the government restrictions imposed in March of that year on the output of beers and spirits.  Concerned at the effect drinking habits had on production in munition factories and shipyards the British Government sought to control drink consumption in a variety of ways.  Athy in 1917 with a population of 3535 had 40 public houses and between 40 and 50 men employed in the local malting industry.  As a result of the restrictions on the brewing of beer and the malting of barley, malting works in Stanhope Street, Offaly Street and Nelson Street had to close temporarily.  By May 1917 restrictions on the sale of liquor caused many of the local public houses to run out of supplies.



On Thursday 19th July 1917 the local Sinn Fein Club organised a concert in the Town Hall, again for the families of the 1916 prisoners.  Arthur Griffith, President of Sinn Fein, who was making his first visit to Athy, addressed the Town Hall audience.  Before the end of 1917 Eamon de Valera made what was his first visit to the town.  He was accompanied by Arthur Griffith and both spoke from a platform in front of the Town Hall before a large audience which included members of Sinn Fein clubs from Athy, Bert, Milltown, Barrowhouse, Ballitore and Castledermot.  De Valera’s visit was marked with the presentation to him of addresses of welcome by Athy Urban District Council and the local Board of Guardians.  It was the same Board of Guardians which in May 1916 had condemned ‘the revolution in Dublin’.



Another important event which is worth commemorating in 2017 is the construction  of the White Castle on the bridge of Athy 600 years ago.  It was the Lord Luitent for Ireland Sir John Talbot who on behalf of King Henry V of England commissioned the erection of the fortified townhouse as part of the towns defences against the marauding O’Mores of Laois who attacked and burnt the town of Athy on several occasions.  Until recent times it was generally accepted that the White Castle was built in 1417 but recent research by archaeologist  Ben Murtagh raises unresolved questions as to the date of its erection.  What is clear however is that its proper name is not Whites Castle but the White Castle from the white appearance of the exterior lime rendered walls which were lime washed.  The White Castle located for strategic reasons on the bridge of Athy still holds sway as the most important building in the modern towns street scape.



Let us celebrate during 2017 the centenary of Athy’s Sinn Fein club and the six centuries of the White Castle of Athy.   

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Michael Wall and Tom Flood


The Swiss philosopher Amiel wrote “ To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living”.  One man who excelled in the art of living was Michael Wall of Chanterlands who died on Christmas Eve, having reached 96 years of age.  He was born on the 9th September 1920 in the second year of the Irish War of Independence.  A native of Ballywalter, near to the Mayo town of Ballinrobe, he once recounted to me how his baby cot concealed a revolver from a search party of Black and Tans who raided his parents home.  Michael was very proud of Mayo’s involvement in the War of Independence and of his father’s role in that struggle. 



It is probably a misleading word to apply to that conflict, implying as it does one army fighting against another.  The Independence struggle of the Irish Republicans which is deemed to have commenced with the killing of two Irish born R.I.C. men at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary on the 21st January 1919 is probably more accurately termed “Guerilla Warfare”. 



Michael’s attachment to his native County of Mayo never palled despite the fact that his family migrated to County Laois in 1929 following his parents purchase of a farm in the midland county.  Michael was the eldest of four sons and two daughters born to Patrick and Mary Wall. His father was at one time Clerk to the Sinn Fein Court which sat in Claremorris presided over by local solicitor Conor Maguire.  Conor Maguire would later become the Irish Chief Justice and by happy coincidence his son Bryan on becoming a dispensary doctor in County Kildare, came to live in the same neighbourhood of Athy as the Mayo born Michael Wall.



I was privileged to know Michael Wall since 1982 when I returned to live in Athy after an absence of 21 years.  Michael himself came to Athy in 1963 when he took up the position of Horticultural Instructor in nearby County Laois. He had attended Albert College in Dublin from where he had qualified as a Horticulturalist. He was one of the earliest members of Athy Lions Club and served for almost 40 years as an officer and a member of that charitable organisation.  A founder member of Athy Gymnastics Club, Michael was also involved with Jerry Carbery and Des Perry in setting up one of Athy’s earliest canoe clubs.



Apart from our common interest in Irish history, Michael and myself shared an interest in Irish politics. Our own politics were at opposite ends of the political scale. His being Fine Gael as against my support for Fianna Fail.  Michael often chided me failing to understand how “an intelligent man could be a member of Fianna Fail”.  It was a moot point, particularly when discussions settled on the deValera governments’ disgraceful treatment of Leitrim’s Jimmy Gralton and the deValera sleight of hand in transferring Irish Americans financial donations for the Irish Republican  cause to the since failed newspaper empire which continues to be controlled by a deValera. 



Michael, as I always told him, remained my favourite “blueshirt” given that on the two occasions I stood for election as a Fianna Fail candidate, he voted for the only times in his life, for a candidate whose political views he did not share.  In case anyone reading this takes offence to my use of the term “blueshirt”, note that Michael never did, as we both had a well grounded understanding of the history of Irish political parties.



Michael was blessed with 31 happy years of retirement which he devoted to his family and his beloved garden.  I benefitted on many occasions from his horticultural advice and his love of plants and I recall his friendship with admiration and deepest satisfaction. To his wife Moya and to his children I extend my deepest sympathy realising that his legacy remains in the wonderful children Moya and Michael raised to adulthood and of which both were justifiably proud.



The Christmas period just ended and also saw the passing of Tom Flood of Church Road whose father and uncles played a very prominent part in the struggle for Irish Independence.  Tom was earlier in the year predeceased by his older brother Danny who will be remembered as one of the Kildare footballing heroes of the 1950’s.  Their father, Tom Flood and his brothers, all natives of Dublin City were prominent members of the Dublin Brigade old I.R.A.   An uncle, Frank Flood, who was executed on the 14th day of March 1921 was one of the “forgotten ten” whose bodies were removed from Mountjoy Jail on 14th October 2001for burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.  Liam Callan of Ardreigh, like Michael Wall, died after a long life as did Ettie O’Brien of Fontstown and her sister Peggy Molloy of Booleigh. Also lost to us in recent days were Mary Gray of Ardreigh and Veronica Bradley of Foxhill.



Our sympathies go to all those who were bereaved over the Christmas period.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Photos of Athy Dominican Church


Another year is about to pass and with it mixed memories of times, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes sad, sometimes memorable, but for the most part quite ordinary.  One event out of the ordinary and one which brought an end to an ancient association stretching back centuries was the departure of the Dominican Order from Athy just before the year started.  Dominican priests had been celebrating mass in the town of Athy since 1257.  On Sunday, 22nd November 2015 the Dominican church at the end of Convent Lane was the scene of the last mass to be celebrated by a member of the Dominican Order in the town of Athy.



The Dominican Church which opened on St. Patrick’s Day 1965 represented a significant development in Irish Church Architecture.  Now deconsecrated, it will in the coming year house the town library and as such will continue to contribute to the cultural heritage of the area. 



The first photograph shows the Dominican Church which was replaced in 1965 and the Dominican Priory which as Riversdale House , the private residence of the Mansergh Family, was purchased by the Dominicans in 1846 and adapted for us by the Dominican Order between 1846 and 1850. The second photograph is of  the interior of the Church which was replaced in 1965.