Friday, November 27, 2015

Photographs Rehban Team 1967 and Asbestos Factory Team

Volume Two Issue Three of the Newsletter issued by the Friends of Athy Heritage Centre has an interesting article on Lord Furnival, the man who erected a fortress on the bridge of Athy in 1417.  White’s Castle is the name given by generations of Athy folk to that building which was extended over 200 years ago. Copies of the journal which issues to Friends of the Heritage Centre can be picked up in the Centre located on the ground floor of the Town Hall.  The Friends of the Heritage Centre was established to assist and support the Heritage Centre and particularly to help the expansion and improvement of its various exhibits.  Membership costs €20.00 per year and brings with it free admission to the Centre and copies of the Friends quarterly journal.  It would make a nice Christmas present for many people while at the same time providing much needed support for what is a worthwhile local amenity.

I’ve had enquiries from an Australian correspondent regarding ‘Skurt’ Doyle whom I have mentioned in previous articles.   I gather ‘Skurt’ whose first name is not known to me married Mary Lawler of Ardreigh.  Both are now deceased and I am told they had no children. I would like to hear from anyone who can give me any information about ‘Skurt’ Doyle.

This week I am showing two photographs of football teams from the 1960s.  The first photograph is of the Rheban team which won the Jack Higgins Cup in 1967. 

The second photograph is of an asbestos factory team wearing what I think are starlights jerseys.  Am I right?  If you can name the team members and the year I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Photographs of Parades through Athy's Main Street

I recently came across some photographs of parades through the town featuring a number of businesses which are no longer trading.  I use the word ‘parades’ in the plural as the photographs which at first sight seem to record one parade show the participants travelling and parading in the opposite direction, leading me to believe that two parades at least were captured on film. 

The first parade featured tractor drawn floats advertising the Trailer Manufacturing and McCormick Agency of Glespen Brothers of Athy.  Glespens operate from premises at Duke Street which I believe are now occupied by Pizza Pan. 

John Farrell, Licensed Carrier, Athy with a Dublin depot at Mary Street had one of his lorries in the parade.  John, who started business in Ballylinan, eventually passed it on to his son Freddie.  Glespens and Farrell have long ceased business.  Another exhibitor was Asbestos Cement Limited who are still in Athy but now operate under the name Tegral.

There is nothing to indicate the year the parade took place, or indeed the occasion.  Was it perhaps a St. Patrick’s Day Parade sometime in the 1950s?  I am showing a photograph from that parade of one of the Glespen Brothers floats as it climbed up Crom a Boo Bridge from the Leinster Street direction.

The second parade shows the participants approaching from the William Street direction and were photographed near Deegans premises of Duke Street.  The shop has in the meantime changed hands, as have two of the participants photographed in the parade, Flemings Fireclays and D. & J. Carbery Ltd.  Senior students from Scoil Mhuire also paraded, while a horse drawn brake had what appears to be actors in period dress advertising a forthcoming drama.  The I.N.F. St. Patrick’s Branch Athy banner was carried behind an unnamed pipe band.  The photograph I have chosen to show from this parade may hold the key to identifying the year it was held.  The year 1853 appears on the banner held by the lone marcher in front, with further banners bearing the dates 1883 and 1933 following on.  Was this parade held in 1953 as part of the An Tostal Festival?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

'I hate to see the town go down' - Athy's economic slump

‘I hate to see the town go down’ sung by Dave Mallett is playing in the background as I sit down to write this week’s Eye on the Past.  The blank sheet which faced me as I put pen to paper suddenly came to life with the very words ‘I hate to see this town go down’.

This town is Athy – the one time Anglo Norman village which over a period of 800 years or so grew to a sizeable town.  During its long life it has witnessed good times and bad.  Having survived several destructive wars it faced into the relative calm of mid 18th century Ireland, seeking to claim its share of the prosperity which came with peace. 

Its future as a thriving market town seemed assured when the Canal company extended the Grand Canal to Athy in 1791.  This gave direct access to the great metropolis of Dublin, and courtesy of the navigable River Barrow, to the seaports of Waterford and New Ross.  What more was needed to create the conditions necessary for the commercial and economic wellbeing of an Irish town?  Surely Athy in the 1790s was on the cusp of a great drive forward which would bring prosperity to one and all.  It was not to be for within just 7 years of the Canal opening murder and mayhem again raised their heads with the events of 1798, creating and maintaining for perhaps decades thereafter suspicion and unrest within the local community.

The opening of the railway line between Dublin and Carlow in August 1846 was the next great impetus for reviving and developing the commercial life of Athy.  By all accounts the opportunity was seized on that occasion, not however without some criticism of the alleged failure of the Duke of Leinster (who effectively owned and controlled the town of Athy) in preventing the recently opened town jail and the Quarter Court sessions being transferred to the county town of Naas.  Both were a huge loss to the south Kildare town, but that loss spurred and prompted the local business people to do something about reviving the town’s fortunes.

It was soon thereafter that Athy came to be recognised as the best market town in Leinster.  Local businesses prospered and the town’s markets and fairs flourished.  It was a commercial town where businesses were geared primarily to meet the needs of farmers within a 12 or 15 mile radius of Athy.  Men living in the lanes and courtways of the town had little opportunity for fulltime employment.  Industry was limited to the local brickyards, the malting works and the experimental peat works at Kilberry.  The town’s success in the second half of the 19th century was by and large enjoyed by the local shopkeepers, but at least the trickledown effect gave much needed employment to some of the local population.  Unfortunately there was not enough work to go around, but viewed against the situation then prevailing in towns of similar size in Ireland of the day, Athy was doing well.

The modern industrialisation of Athy started with the I.V.I. Foundry in the 1920s and received a tremendous boost with the opening of the Asbestos Factory in 1936 and the Wallboard Factory in 1949.  Only one of these factories now survives and even that survival is based on an extremely small workforce.  In the meantime our local shops have been hit by the recession and more and more vacant shops are beginning to appear on the local streets. 

What can we do to stop the slide?  Is there in the long promised outer relief road something approaching the Canal and the railway in terms of its beneficial impact on the commercial life of the town?  I believe so, indeed I am firmly of the belief that the commercial revival of Athy cannot succeed unless and until the outer relief road is in place.  I am assured that funding for the road will be made available within the lifetime of the present government, if so the Town Council and local businesses should get together now and plan for the future redevelopment of the town centre. 

Does our future lie in large scale shopping centres on the edge of town or in the development of independent retailing units in the town centre?  Is there a need to look at the possibility of pedestrianising our main shopping streets to improve the town centre shopping experience?  These are some of the questions which need to be addressed now by everyone concerned.  Planning requires action today, not when the outer relief road is in place.

Blame Dave Mallett for this digression or maybe subconsciously I was influenced by my recent experience of city regeneration as practised by the city fathers of Gloucester.  I was mightily impressed how the centre of that ancient city has been transformed into a shopping friendly area by a pedestrianisation scheme facilitated by sensible road traffic routing schemes.  The outer relief road presents us with the same opportunity.  Let’s hope those in charge and those with the opportunity to influence change can give us hope for reviving the town of Athy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Athy's Wheelchair Association

On Thursday last the Athy branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the first branch of the National organisation.  Teach Emmanuel was ‘en fete’ for the occasion as volunteers, past and present, returned to acknowledge the wonderful work undertaken by that most underrated of organisations.

The I.W.A. was founded in 1960 by a small group of wheelchair users who had participated in the first Paralympics Games held in Rome.  In September of that year the inaugural meeting of the I.W.A. took place on 10th November 1960 in the Pillar Room of the Mater Hospital Dublin, attended by several members of the Irish Paralympics Games team, as well as a number of civic minded individuals.  Given the later history of the Athy branch of the Association it is, I feel, significant that the founding meeting was held in the Dublin hospital established by Mother Mary Vincent Whitty.  This was the same Sister of Mercy who came to Athy in 1852 to take charge of the new Convent of Mercy and the nearby Convent Schools. 

The Irish Wheelchair Association was founded primarily to improve the lives of people with physical disabilities and today the organisation has a network of 20,000 members with over 2,000 staff and many dedicated voluntary workers supporting and encouraging independence for all.  The I.W.A. seeks to improve equality and access for wheelchair users as well as providing employment and housing, while encouraging social interaction.  A quarterly magazine ‘Spokeout’ is published and made available to members of the Association.

Pride of place at the 50th celebrations went to Sr. Carmel Fallon and Sr. Alphonsus Meagher, both Sisters of Mercy who were part of the small group who in 1968 established the local branch of the I.W.A.  It was these two Mercy nuns who with their colleague, the late Sr. Dolores, formed a girls club in Athy in 1968.  The young club members were encouraged to visit wheelchair users in their homes and very soon the possibility of establishing a branch of the I.W.A. in Athy became a reality.

The driving force in setting up the branch was the Co. Galway born Sr. Carmel Fallon who entered the convent in Athy in August 1935.  The year was 1969 and very soon the local branch developed as socials for wheelchair users were held in Mount St. Mary’s, annual Christmas dinners were arranged and summer holidays were spent in boarding schools operated by the Sisters of Mercy.  None of this could have been done without the help of volunteers, both male and female, who from the very start devoted their spare time and energies to helping Sr. Carmel in her determined effort to provide services for the disabled, while integrating them fully into the local community.

Amongst the early volunteers (and apologies if anyone has been overlooked) were Leo Byrne, Lily Murphy, Mary Malone, Mary Prior, Michael Kelly, Bridget Brennan, John Morrin, Tommy Page, Paddy Timoney, Dinny Donoghue, Phoebe Murphy, Caroline Webb, Peadar Doogue, Fr. Lorcan O’Brien and Fr. Denis Lavery. 

The Athy branch was in time to provide a fulltime activity service for the disabled and the first Day Centre outside of the association’s facility in Clontarf, Dublin was opened in Athy.  Teach Emmanuel was developed on a site in the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital and represented a partnership between the Health Board and the Irish Wheelchair Association.  It also confirmed, if confirmation was needed, that the diminutive nun from the West of Ireland had an admirable record of achievement since arriving in the South Kildare town at the height of the economic war of the 1930s. 

In 1992 Sr. Carmel was appointed president of the Irish Wheelchair Association National Organisation and held that position for 10 years.  She is now retired from active involvement in the day to day work of the local association, but still retains a kindly watching brief over the work of Teach Emmanuel.

The 50th celebration was graced by the presence of many of the volunteers, past and present, without whose work and efforts over the years the local branch of the Wheelchair Association could never have been expected to survive.  That it has survived and indeed prospered, despite depending so heavily on voluntary financial donations and voluntary workers, is a measure of the generosity, not only of the volunteers involved, but also of the Irish public who can always be counted upon to help those who need their help the most.  The Athy branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association can be justifiably proud of its many achievements in helping the physically disabled to better integrate with the local community.  At the same time the people of Athy and district can take pride in the continuing success of a local organisation whose presence is a welcome addition to the medico social facilities of south Kildare.

Last week I wrote of the new Traffic Management Plan for Athy and referred to an alternative plan proposed by a group which I understood was the Irish Farmers Association.  In fact I am told the plan in question arises from discussions within the Athy Traffic Action Committee and has the support of a large section of the business community.  I gather their plan has not yet received the backing of the Town Council but perhaps that support will come when the Council members sit down with members of Kildare County Council to consider the Traffic Management Plan prepared by the Council’s consultants. 

Hugh Bolger of 6 Offaly Street passed away last week.  A native of Ballylinan he worked for many years in the Wallboard factory and his funeral was marked by a Guard of Honour of members of Ballylinan Gaelic Football Club and by the attendance of many of his former work colleagues from the now long closed Barrowford complex.  Hugh married Loy Hayden, now sadly deceased, whom I fondly remember as part of the Offaly Street family of the 1950s.  She and her brother Seamus lived with their aunt Mrs. Kitty Murphy and her husband Joe at No. 3 Offaly Street before moving to No. 6 when the Taaffes vacated that latter address to move next door to No. 5.

I had departed Athy for ‘foreign parts’, i.e. Naas, before Hugh married Loy and moved into No. 6.  I got to know him over the years and he became part of the familiar Offaly Street background at a time when several of the older families were still living there.  It is now a street much changed from my young days and the community of which I was a member and of which Hugh was later a welcome part of, has disappeared.  Hugh was one of the last links with that street community and his passing is much regretted.  He is survived by his daughters Sinéad and Áine and his grandchildren to whom our sympathies are extended. 

Athy's New Traffic Plan / Michael May

I am very loathe to pass judgment in public on the new Traffic Management Plan prepared for Athy Town Council which was recently on public display prior to being presented to meetings of Kildare County Council and Athy Town Council.  However, my reluctance in that regard vanishes in the face of yet a further potential waste of public funds should the plan be implemented.  I am advised that the Traffic Plan cost in excess of €100,000 to produce and its implementation cost can be measured in millions of euro.  Given the rather poor state of Local Government finances at this time I am afraid it is money we can ill afford to waste.

The Traffic Management Plan proposes a number of radical changes to the existing road layout in the town, the first of which is at the Dublin Road end of Leinster Street.  The existing wall between the two road levels is to be removed and replaced with a new wall to allow two way traffic on the Lidl side of the widened road.  On the People’s Park side of the wall it is proposed to have a pedestrian access route to the railway station and inside that again a road leading from St. Michael’s Terrace to a new road to be built through the People’s Park giving access to the Park Crescent estate from Church Road.  Church Road will be straightened and re-graded to allow access directly onto the Dublin Road via a new junction at the top of the Railway Bridge. 

Another major change centres on Emily Square where further pedestrianisation of the rear Square will effectively reduce the parking facilities there.  However, it is the proposed re-routing of traffic coming from the Carlow Road direction which now turns at the traffic lights onto Leinster Street to go towards Dublin which may create more traffic problems than it can help solve.  Dublin Road bound traffic coming down Offaly Street will have to divert across the rear Square and turn right at Barrow Quay onto Leinster Street.  The traffic planner who came up with this idea has an obvious liking for turning traffic at the bottom of humpbacked bridges as he also proposes a somewhat similar manoeuvre at the Canal Bridge on the Kilkenny Road.  Traffic coming from Stradbally intending to turn onto the Kilkenny Road must go via Nelson Street and hopefully make a safe exit from there onto William Street.  Vehicles will stop on Nelson Street just yards from the Canal Bridge where the sight distance is very limited and will then have to exit smartly and speedily if there is to be any hope of avoiding a collision with traffic coming over the bridge into the town.  Similarly traffic from Kilkenny going towards Stradbally must turn into Nelson Street.

There are a number of other changes, all of which I cannot now recall having attended the information evening in the Carlton Abbey Hotel a few weeks ago.  The overall impression I have of the Traffic Management Plan however is not helped by the use of a plan which has the Courthouse building described as the Town Library.  There are I’m afraid compelling reasons why this latest Traffic Management Plan is unsuitable for Athy, not least being the price tag which accompanies the changes proposed.  I only wish the planners and our Town Fathers would concentrate on the Outer Relief Road which I see is now being described as ‘the Southern Distribution Route’.  It alone can help solve the traffic problems which beset Athy’s town centre and the sooner Council officials and public representatives alike accept this the sooner we can press ahead with this much needed road project.

Incidentally despite the Minister’s clear advice to Athy Town Council and officials of Kildare County Council to make up their minds as to whether they wanted an Inner Relief Road or an Outer Relief Road, the local Council still persists in retaining the Inner Relief Road as an objective in the Town Development Plan.  Apparently the decisions of the Planning Appeal Board and the High Court have had little influence on either party and the Minister’s advice has been ignored.  It’s no wonder then that the Minister has not to date made any funds available for the construction of the Outer Relief Road.  As a consequence we find ourselves today in the unhappy position of attempting to apply what can only be described as ineffective measures to a chronic traffic situation which is crying out for the only viable solution – an Outer Relief Road.

As I came out into the foyer of the Carlton Abbey on Wednesday evening Liam Dunne of the Irish Farmers Association and his team were manning their alternative traffic plan for Athy.  It proposes a much simpler solution to the town’s traffic problems.  Roundabouts at Leinster Street/Stanhope Street junction, at Barrow Quay/Leinster Street junction, at Leinster Street/Woodstock Street junction and at the junction of the Bleach and Kilkenny Road are the mainstay of the I.F.A. proposals.  In addition pedestrian crossings utilising zebra crossings rather than the existing pelican crossings have been suggested by the Farmers Group as a necessary measure to allow traffic to flow as easily as possible.  However, I am aware that pelican crossings are more favoured by wheelchair users. 

I have to say that the I.F.A. plan seemed reasonable and practical and certainly less costly than the Council Plan.  Given the limited costs involved the general feeling of those who examined the two traffic plans at the Carlton Abbey Hotel is that the I.F.A. plan is worthy of further detailed consideration.

I learned recently of the death of Michael May whom I remember well as a pupil in the Christian Brothers School here in Athy in the 1950s.  Michael was usually two classes ahead of me and the ginger haired well built young man was an extremely popular member of the school population of that time.  Michael, a retired Garda Sergeant, was the son of Hester and Joe May who lived in the Gate Lodge at St. Vincent’s Hospital where Joe May was the hospital administrator.  Michael’s parents were part of that great band of Irish men and women who during the War of Independence and later gave so much of themselves so that future generations could enjoy the fruits of a self governing democracy.

Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam.