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, December 15, 2015

Aidan Prendergast and Athy Scouts



Voluntary work within the community is one of the most valuable contributions one can make to society.  Many of us make that contribution on an irregular basis, but to find someone with a lifelong commitment to volunteerism is understandably unique.  One such person is St. Patrick’s Avenue resident Aidan Prendergast who 38 years ago founded Athy Boy Scouts and who recently received the Order of Cu Chulainn for profound and long service to scouting.  It is, so far as I am aware, the first time this particular award has been made to an officer of the local scouting group.

In 1977 Aidan, then working with the local building firm of D&J Carbery of St. John’s Lane, was approached by the local curate, Fr. Prenderville.  He was asked to help with the setting up of a Catholic Boy Scout troop in Athy at a time when a separate Bading Powell Scout group were operating out of the Church of Ireland Hall at Church Road.  I am happy to relate that both scouting groups amalgamated in 1995 to form a Scouting Ireland troop. 

The initial meetings of the 1977 scouting movement were held in the Leinster Arms Hotel where Aidan was joined by Breda O’Neill of St. Joseph’s Terrace, Mairead Walsh of Stanhope Street, Jackie Johnson of Dooley’s Terrace, Christine Condron of Ratharrig and Trish Robinson of Dooley’s Terrace.  I hope that in recording these early pioneers of scouting in Athy I have not overlooked someone – but if so let me know as it is important in recording local history of this nature to ensure that the record is as accurate as possible.

The Leinster Arms Hotel meetings resulted in the setting up of a scout troop catering for boys of 12 years of age.  Weekly scouting sessions were held in the vacant Christian Brother’s School in St. John’s Lane and as the movement grew a group of cub scouts was also established.  The old school premises had in time to be abandoned and alternative premises were made available courtesy of the Athy Development Association.  This association founded by Bill Fenelon, Trevor Shaw, Johnny Watchorn and others did wonderful work in its time to encourage industry to locate in Athy.  It was responsible for the purchase of lands later developed as the Woodstock Industrial Estate and also assisted the local boy scouts in transferring its activities to the old Minch Norton stores at the Canal Harbour.  There the scouts remained for 10 or 11 years.

The ongoing growth of the scouting movement prompted the setting up of a parents committee with the stated purpose of raising funds to acquire a permanent home for the scouts.  Fundraising over a number of years proved sufficiently successful for an approach to be made to the then Parish Priest, Fr. Philip Dennehy, for a new scout headquarters.  Part of the old British Legion Hall site at St. John’s Lane, which in later years housed the Social Club and subsequently the C.Y.M.S., was acquired for a new scouts den.  Development work by Jim Lawler, Building Contractor, started in 1990 and shortly afterwards the 5th Kildare Athy Scouts moved into their new premises.

In 1995 the two separate scouting movements in Athy came together and today operate as one troop based in the St. John’s Premises under the name ‘Scouting Ireland’.  Nowadays the movement caters for approximately 100 boys and girls under a variety of categories with interesting titles as Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Venture Scouts and Rover Scouts.  Scout meetings are held 6 days a week with Beavers catering for 6-9 year olds coming together on Thursdays.  Cubs with members aged 9-12 years meet on Wednesdays, while scouts, catering for 12-15 year olds come together on Friday.  The older groups, Venture Scouts, catering for up to 18 year olds and Rover Scouts for over 18 year olds, meet on Saturdays and Mondays.

Some weeks ago the founder and former group leader Aidan Prendergast was presented with one of Irish scouting highest awards in recognition of his ‘dedicated and steadfast commitment to scouting which impacted on the lives of many young people.’  Aidan, while still involved in scouting, is no longer the local group leader, a position occupied in the past by Cecilia Crowley and presently by Fergus Lennon. 

Others involved today in Scouting Ireland in Athy include John Delaney, Jackie Eustace, Mary Fricker, Niall Davis, Dave Ward, Ray Whelan, Breda O’Connor, Johnny O’Connor, Stephen Horan and Sandra Lennon.  Again I am conscious in giving a list such as this that there is always the possibility of omitting someone whose contribution deserves equal mention.  Let me know if any such person has been omitted.

The scouting movement has gone from strength to strength encouraging young boys and girls to become involved in a wonderful range of outdoor activities including camping, mountaineering, hiking and kayaking.  All of these under the guidance and leadership of a group of adults whose commitment to their community is perhaps best shown by the work of the founder of the 5th Kildare Athy Scouts Aidan Prendergast over the last 38 years.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Athy's 19th century prison



An inspector attended the jail located in White’s Castle in 1825.  He was highly critical of the condition he found writing ‘this is, without exception, the worst County Prison I have ever inspected, as there are no yards, pumps, hospital, chapel or proper day rooms’.  The inspector went on to state that he had been assured that the Duke of Leinster was making available ground for the construction of a new jail. 

The Poor Law Commissioners visited the new jail in 1840, primarily in preparing a report for the Houses of Parliament in London, to make comparisons between the diet available to workhouse inmates and those in local prisons.  They noted that the prisoners in the Athy jail received eight ounces of oat meal and one pint of milk for breakfast while their dinner was four pounds of potatoes with a pint of sour milk.  Prisoners did not receive any supper in the evening.  The commissioners noted that meat was rarely ever tasted by the Irish peasant and that the diets provided in prisons and workhouses did not differ greatly from that enjoyed by people living in their own homes.  This was an ominous indication of the extreme dependency of the Irish population on the potato, the loss of which would wreak havoc when blight hit the potato crop in the years following.

The new jail built in 1830 on the Carlow Road was well established by the time prison inspectors visited on the 29th of September, 1848.  On the date there were 34 male and 17 female inmates.  They noted that this was 22 prisoners less than on a previous visit.  Accommodation for the inmates consisted of 22 single cells and 3 solitary cells together with 2 rooms.  They found that the solitary cells were well ventilated and dry but rather narrow.  In the middle section of the jail there were 25 cells with 1 prisoner each and two rooms with 3 prisoners in each room.  They noted the cells had no form of heating and they didn’t seem large enough for their occupants.  The jail generally was very dry, clean and in good repair and the building was in what was described as a 'proper state'.  There was only one bath in the jail which was located in the pump house and was used by the prisoners when they were first admitted or if ordered to be washed by the jail’s physician.  The inspectors complained that the prison chapel was far too small and that prisoners were obliged to stand during the religious services as there were no benches.  They also noted that there wasn’t sufficient accommodation for the prison staff all of whom had to sleep and live in the one room and the erection of a second staff room was recommended.

Prisoners spent their time tailoring, shoe making, painting, carpentry, oakum picking, mat and net making and stone breaking.  One of the prison officers, who was also a tailor acted as an instructor to the prisoners and all the clothing for the prison was made by the prisoners themselves.  Two of the prisoners worked in the kitchen and in return they received 2 hours schooling from one of the prison officers.  This was not a facility available to other prisoners.  The female prisoners were supervised by the Governor’s wife while the assistant Matron was her niece.  The women inmates spent their time sewing, knitting and washing.  There were two children in the women's side of the jail at the time of the inspection.  The prison authorities devoted one hour and a half daily to what was described as ‘moral instruction’ for the female prisoners.  It was noted that the female prisoners had made progress in respect of same.  However the inspectors noted with some concern that there wasn’t sufficient separation between the male and female prisoners and that many prisoners in the adjoining cells could easily communicate with each other. 

There had been changes in the dietary habits of the prisoners since the Great Famine.  Breakfast consisted of four ounces of oatmeal and four ounces of Indian meal with one pint of milk, while dinner consisted of a pound of brown bread and a pint of new milk.  Potatoes had disappeared from the menu.  The inspectors though did note that there had been a brief return to supplying potatoes to prisoners for a period of time but this was discontinued as they were unable to obtain a good supply of potatoes. 

Interestingly the Protestant Chaplain to the jail visited 85 times while the Roman Catholic chaplain did so only 36 times while the surgeon attended on the prisoners 88 times in the previous year.        

The Carlow Road jail closed in 1860 when the prisoners transferred to the Naas jail.  Around the same time Athy lost the Quarter Sessions which had previously alternated between Naas and Athy.  Some of the cells in the White Castle jail are still to be seen, while only a small portion of the 1830 jail is still standing.