by ehistoryadmin on January 27, 2017

Leinster Leader 26 March 1960

A Squadron of Apple Pies

In this resume of life in a country town before the Great Famine, Cornelius Brosnan includes Thackeray’s description of a visit to Naas in 1842.

On the morning of December 8th 1831, the Freeman’s Journal carried the following front page advertisement for a Hotel in Naas, Co. Kildare: –

“King’s Arms Hotel, Naas, H. Harrington, proprietor of this Hotel respectfully acknowledges his obligations to the nobility and Public generally for the kind support which he has experienced since he undertook the management of this establishment. He hopes that his personal and unremitting attention and moderate charges will secure for him the patronage of those who have already visited his hotel.

“To those who may not as yet have stopped at his house he hopes his established name may be a sufficient inducement to favour him with a trial. He would suggest to families, about to leave Dublin for the country, the convenience of sleeping at Naas the night prior (if allowed to say so), to their undertaking the journey and as the hotel department is conducted under his own immediate inspection he pledges himself for the safety and goodness of his beds, and the attention and honesty of his servants. He also begs to say that he has a supply of food and post horses and carriages, always ready at a moments warning.

“N.B., Any orders by post directed Harrington, King’s Arms, Naas, will be punctually attended to.”

This establishment, trading under a different name, is still in business.

Well indeed might the proprietor of the King’s Arms find in necessary to advertise for business, there were four other inns in the town and a large well-established hostelry at nearby Johnstown.

In fact, when the celebrated William Makepiece Thackeray visited the Agricultural Show in Naas 11 years later he dined at a rival establishment, the Globe Inn and he has left this description in his “Irish Sketch Book.” “I thoroughly enjoyed myself and had an excellent lunch, a saddle and a leg of mutton with turnips, a large piece of roast beef, cheese and a squadron of apple pies. Speeches were made and toasts drank [to] the Queen and Prince Albert, the Agricultural Society, the Sallymount Beagles and the Kildare Foxhounds.

“Songs also were sung, including the famous old “Kilruddery Hunt”. I think the meeting was the most agreeable one I have seen in Ireland; there was more good humour, more cordial union of classes, more frankness and manliness that one is accustomed to find in Irish meetings, all the speeches were kindhearted, straight forward speeches, without a word of politics or a word of orators.

“It was impossible to say whether the gentlemen present were Catholic or Protestant, each one had a hearty word of encouragement for his tenant and a kind welcome for his neighbour. There were about forty stout, well-to-do farmers in the room, renters of fifty, seventy and one hundred acres of land.”

Coach and Canal

Due to its position on the main roads to the South, Naas was very well served by public transport and no less than eight coaches left the town each day for Dublin. Private cars, which start from No. 86 Thomas St., Dublin, were also available for the journey.

Since the establishment of the Bianconi coach services in the southern parts of the country in 1815, the amount of traffic on the roads had increased considerably. In less than 20 years, this tycoon for the road had 300 horses in service; by 1865 he had treble this number travelling on 4,000 miles and it was possible to cover eight to nine miles an hour at ½d per mile.

Some idea of the efficiency of the service can be formed from a study of the time-table of the period. The coach for Carlow, for example, travelling via Naas, Kilcullen and Castledermot, left Dublin at 9 a.m. and reached Carlow at 2.30 p.m. The fare was 8/4 for the somewhat cramped seats but only 5/- for accommodation on the roof where the passengers took a gamble with the weather.

During the rebellion of 1798, and afterwards, due to the activities of the highwaymen, many people found it safer to travel by canal and by this system the people of Naas were again very well served.

The construction of the Grand Canal had started in 1756 but progress was so slow that the Board of Governors was nick-named the ‘Company of Undertakers.’ It took thirty years to complete the line to Monasterevan and the expenses of the project may be estimated by the fact that the nine mile branch from Sallins to Corbally Harbour, opened in 1978, cost £12,300.

Passengers had the option of travelling by the Fly (or Swift Passage) Boats or the cheaper and much slower Night Services. There were important Canal Hotels at Sallins and Robertstown and within living memory an old lady lived locally who often told the story of her honeymoon trip to Dublin, when, after spending a night at the Hotel in Robertstown, she continued the happy journey to the Metropolis by Fly Boat.

In his book ‘The Stranger in Ireland’ the English writer, Sir John Carr, gives an interesting account of his journey from Athy to Dublin in 1805, of the good meals served on board and of the noble inn belonging to the Canal Company at Robertstown. He concluded by saying that “I was so delighted with my canal conveyance, that if the objects which I had in view had not been so powerful, I verily think I should have spent the rest of my time in Ireland in the Athy canal boat.”

Town Sovereign

On account of its proximity to the capital and its situation in the Pale, Naas was always a place of importance though perhaps not a typically Irish town. The history of the district tells of pro-Christian chieftains, a visit and foundation of a church by St. Patrick, it was a residence of the Kings of Leinster and later a Norman stronghold. As early as 1409, it had been granted a charter, and after 1586 when Queen Elizabeth granted a new charter, the borough was administered by a Sovereign and Corporation until 1840.

Robert Burke, Esq., was Sovereign in 1831. By law he had considerable powers. He could make and repeal laws within his area, and until the system was altered he received Deodlands, i.e., any animal or thing which caused the death of a man was forfeited to the sovereign.

Among the many duties of the Corporation was that of the annual perambulation of the town boundaries and records of this ‘riding of the fringes,’ as the ceremony was called, are preserved. On special, A squadron of Apple pies – GAL 2 occasions, the entire Corporation dressed in their colourful robes and, preceded by the Sovereign and his Serjeant-at-Mace, went in procession to church.

The Mace which was carried is now preserved in the National Museum. It is of late 17th century design in silver and it thought to have been made in Dublin.

Further displays of pomp and circumstance were given when the Judge visited the town for the Assizes; the streets from the Globe Inn, where he stayed, to the Courthouse were lined with soldiers when he travelled in his carriage to administer the Law.

Each year, the Sovereign presented the poorer residents of the town with a bull and before the animal was slaughtered he was used to provide amusement for the populace by being baited. This sport, popular until it was declared illegal in 1835 was held in Naas at the site of a long vanished Market Cross.

When the bull had been chained to a post in the ground the people tried their bull dogs on the bull and if a dog succeeded in pinning the bull, catching by the nose, or if the bull was quick enough to toss the attacking dog, the onlookers cheered encouragingly or derisively depending on whether they were supporting the bull or the dog.

When the last bull was being baited in Naas he broke from the chain and a contemporary account tells that “having tossed a cavalry man, the animal careered madly about town until he was eventually stabbed in the watercourse in Basin Lane by one James Mitchell.”

Buildings of Importance

In 1837, with a population of about 3,000, almost a thousand less than now, the town was described as “having one good street and about 600 houses, most of which were thatched.” Only a few of the houses were “handsomely built,” the remainder being of “indifferent appearance,” the streets were not paved or lighted, but in 1840 a public meeting was called to discuss the possibility of providing public lighting.

It is recorded that the “inhabitants were amply supplied with water from wells and there was assizes and quarter sessions.”

Principal buildings at the time were the Tholsell (on which there was a clock), a Savings Bank, the fine Market House built in 1813 at the sole expense of the Earl of Mayo, the new County Gaol opened in 1833, Military Barracks built in 1813, the impressive but as yet unsteepled Catholic Church which had been opened in 1827, and the small ancient (1176) and dignified Church of Ireland, the tower of which was then and still is incomplete.

There were a great many schools, most of which were one-teacher, single-roomed thatched structures. The students at the seven Catholic Pay (or hedge) Schools subscribed a penny a week, if they could afford it. There were four Protestant Schools, including the one in the Gaol, and three other pay schools which catered for all denominations.

It is estimated that the total number of pupils attending local schools at this time was in the region of 600. A new era for education started in 1836 when the Sisters of Mercy founded a school.

Business houses were numerous and varied, there were several grocers, two apothecaries, an earthenware dealer, glover, locksmith, cooper, stonemason, soap-boiler and chandler, nail and leather dealer, three bakers, a number of mills, several blacksmiths, a dispensary and three surgeons. Each morning at 3.30 a.m. the post left the Post Office for Dublin; every week, from 1832, when the first county paper – the Leinster Express – was established, the local newspaper was printed and published at Naas and Maryboro.

Alms House

During the period with which we are dealing, the Lattin Arms House had already been in existence for over two-hundred and fifty years. This charitable institution had been founded as a refuge for old women in 1590 by a local landowner named William Lattin. The original building was destroyed during the rebellion of 1798 to enable the cannon guns be put into position, but was rebuilt with Government aid a few years later.

Mr. George Mansfield, a direct descendant of the Lattin family, had the institution transferred to a new building in 1919 but some years later the yearly grant for the maintenance of the house was discontinued by the Lattin estate.

Now under different auspices, the Alms House continues in use and provides homes for a number of women. The tombstone of the founder and his wife, bearing the family Coat of Arms may be seen in the graveyard attached to the Church of St. David.

Body Snatchers

Two sources of public annoyance in the early nineteenth century were the body snatchers and the avaricious toll collectors. Until the Anatomy Act was passed in 1832 the stealing of newly buried bodies for sale to medical schools was a common crime. In Naas, there were many such offences and evidence of the precautions taken to discourage the practice is found in the small Watch House which was built in the cemetery in Ladytown, a few miles south to the town.

Until the early years of the present century, the former home of a man who had been convicted of the crime was pointed out as a place of interest to visitors in Naas.

The Sack-‘em-up-men as the snatchers were called had little respect for the law and they proved this fact by stealing the body of one of the Governors of the County Gaol from Maudlins Cemetery which is just outside the town. A contemporary account of this outrage tells that carts with leather covered wheels to deaden the sound were used to move the corpse.

Less spectacular, but perhaps more profitable, were the activities of the toll collectors. Their abuse of the public was so great that the Town Sovereign of 1813, the Earl of Mayo, found it necessary to introduce reforms in the toll laws.

A booklet named “The Toll Collectors Terror,” which sold for ten-pence, was published. Dedicated to the Earl of Mayo, the pamphlet contained a schedule of the articles tollable by law and the amounts which they were subject.

The writer claimed that in several cases the tolls had been increased twelve times beyond the specified charter and in some cases the tolls had been imposed where there was no toll at all.

Yet these misfortunes of extortion and body-snatching were soon to be forgotten in the far greater tragedies which came with the Great Famine, and Naas, despite its situation in a fertile region, had its share of sorrow.

Re-typed by Jennifer O’Connor

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