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ATHY - Newspaper article on the industries in Athy in 1898

Leinster Leader: 26/03/1898

Athy and its Industries

A Review of past History and a Description of Modern Manufacturers

The Past and Present

Athy is one of the most interesting, as well as one of the quaintest of Irish provincial towns. It can trace its history back to the "immemorial past"-back to the far-off days when Ireland gained world-wide renown was the "insula sanctorum". Tradition brings it back even further, to the time when our pagan forefathers worshipped, in groves of Oak, with the fervour, which subsequently characterised their religious beliefs under a higher and nobler form. You cannot enter this, the largest town of Kildare, without being convinced that you tread on sacred ground-that the houses, could they speak, might unfold a tale of entrancing interest and relate accounts of heroic self-sacrifice and noble usefulness for which no parallels can be found in later days. On the left bank of the Barrow where the river is fordable and is spanned by a bridge of five arches stands White’s Castle, built in the 16th Century by Gerald, Eight Earl of Kildare, whilst on the right bank you see the Dominican Convent which reminds you of a monastery built in the town in the 13th Century by the families of Boyle and Hogan, soon after the establishment of the Order, but which has now disappeared. Two miles from the town is Rheban Castle, situated on the west bank of the Barrow. Rheban, we are told, was one of the inland towns of Ireland in the Second Century, and was found on Ptolemy’s map. Here, therefore, are a few monuments, a few living witnesses, which bear testimony to the antiquity of the district, and the importance, which attached to it at an early point in our history. The population of the town in 1831 was 4,494, in ’41, 4,698; in ’61, 4,124; and according to the last census, 1891, the number of inhabitants is now 4,866; so that unlike the majority of other Irish towns, it seems so far as the number of its inhabitants is concerned, to have lost nothing by the agricultural depression of recent years, or by emigration.

Athy derives its name from an Ancient Ford called Athlegar, which means "the ford towards the west," and near which a great battle was fought in the 3rd Century between the Septs of Munster and Leigh. It must have been a bloody engagement too, because there are no protecting hills where the resources of strategy could have been exhausted and the encounter should, bien entendu, take place on the open plain. Retreating from the battle of Clontarf Donagh O’Brien and his forces crossed the ford at White’s Bridge. Besides the monastery of the Dominicans already referred to there was a monastery for Crouched Friars founded on the west bank of the Barrow in 1253 by Richard de St. Michael, Lord of Reban. This building has disappeared, and on the site it once occupied a modern and handsome structure, the Christian schools, now stands. The site of the Dominican Monastery is taken up by a pretty building known as "The Abbey," and inhabited by a Mrs. Hinckson, a Protestant lady. In 1315 the town was plundered by Robert Bruce after the fierce and warlike Scot had defeated the English at the battle of Ardscull in which some distinguished men fell on both sides. On the side of the Scots there fell Sir Fergus Andressan and Sir Walter Murray, and on the side of the English, Raymond le Gros and Sir Wm. Prendergast. All of those worthies were buried in the Dominican Monastery. No wonder that Athy people as they pace and promenade along the spacious and beautiful walks on the banks of the Barrow should be given to romance, and inclined to occasionally conjure up pictures of mailed warriors who once made red with blood the waters of the Barrow, or of "Chiefs and ladies bright," of amorous swains and unsophisticated "Debas," who in mysterious days of yore trod the same ground and gazed on the same scenes. White’s castle, previously mentioned, is so called on account of having been enlarged in 1506 by a member of the White family. It was held by the Irish under O’Neill in 1648, but was taken in 1650 by two of Cromwell’s commanders, Colonels Hewson and Reynolds. At the time of the plantation consequent on the confiscation of the lands of this country by Cromwell’s blood-thirsty followers it was probably in this castle that the following letter, mentioned in Cusack’s history, and dated "Athy, March 4, 1664-5," was written being intended for publication in London-"I have only to acquaint you that the time prescribed for the plantation of the Irish proprietors, and those that have been in arms and abettors of the rebellion, being near at hand, the officers are resolved to fill the jails and to size them.

I presume we shall be very tender about hanging any but leading men, yet we shall make no scruple about sending them to the West Indies and help to plant the plantation that General Venables it is hoped hath reduced." This is an important and suggestive communication when viewed in the light of subsequent developments. Whatever consignment of Irishmen may have reached the West Indies, Athy, today, swarms with O’Briens, and O’Reillys, and Lalors, and Kavanaghs; so it is through the ages.

Irishmen may be defeated in bloody fray and in unscrupulous diplomacy, but when their extirpation seems well-nigh, phoenix-like, they arise again and cover their would be victors with confusion. Now, it is interesting to note that 100 years ago, Thomas Reynolds, the infamous informer and base betrayer of the United Irishmen, was in imprisonment within the walls of this same castle. He was already giving private information and his incarceration was merely a piece of finesse in order to compel him to come forward and give parole evidence. After his arrest on the 5th May, he wrote a letter headed "Athy, Saturday, 4 o’clock," to his patron Mr. Cope, in which he said; -"I have this day been arrested and thrown into the common jail here....I request, I entreat you to send down here an immediate order for my acquittal and release and further protection." Such were the words penned within this historic building by that incarnate ruffian, the erstwhile occupant and mandee of Kilkea Castle, near Athy, at the close of the last century. Surely White’s castle has a history, and in truth a remarkable one.

In 1616, at the instance of Sir Robert Digby, the inhabitants of Athy were incorporated by a charter in which the corporation is grandiloquently dubbed "The Sovereign, Baliffs, Free Burgesses, and Commonality of the Borough of Athy." The old order of things has made way for the new, and we have now a board less majestically titled, but more vigorous and active. The capable body that now administers such of the local affairs of the town as come within its scope under the Towns Improvement Act is in many respects a model one, its chairman being that able courteous, and broad-minded gentleman, Mr. Thomas Plewman. Until the union the borough sent to the Irish House of Commons two representatives. After the Union £15,000 was awarded as compensation for the abolition of the elective franchise. Of this sum the Duke of Leinster-by the way his successor is landlord of the town-received, as proprietor of the borough, a sum of £13,800, and Lord Ennismore, £1,200. A Court of Record was held here until 1827 for adjudicating in actions for any sum. The Summer assizes for the county were formerly held in the old courthouse, but the place of sitting was long since transferred to Naas. The new county gaol completed in 1830 at a cost of £6,000 was given by the Duke of Leinster and the remainder contributed by the county, is now derelict, so far as the purposes for which it was built are concerned, being merely occupied by a caretaker. The last governor was a Mr. Carter. When we read that the tithes of Athy and the "rural parishes of Ardree and Churchtown" amounted to £544 2s 6d in the early part of the century we can only reflect what a very heavy burden has been removed from the shoulders of the Catholic inhabitants by the Church Disestablishment Act of ’69.

Woodstock Castle is a fine old ruin situated on the west bank of the river, and is supposed to have been built by Thos. Fitzgerald, seventh Earl of Kildare. It was taken in 1647 by Owen Roe O’Neill, and the garrison slaughtered. Tradition has it that there is an underground passage between this castle and the Abbey (a distance of over a quarter of a mile), but the best authorities state that this is merely a myth. The ancient monasteries have practically vanished, but the Dominicans have now a fine presbytery and handsome chapel on the west side of the river. The Christian Brother’s Schools are on the west bank of the river, and is supposed to have been built by Thos Fitzgerald, seventh Earl of Kildare. It was taken in 1647 by Owen Roe O’Neill, and the garrison slaughtered. Tradition has it that there is an underground passage between this castle and the Abbey (a distance of over a quarter of a mile), but the best authorities state that this is merely a myth. The ancient monasteries have practically vanished, but the Dominicans have now a fine presbytery and the handsome chapel on the west side of the river. The Christian Brothers’ Schools are on the west side of the river also. There are five Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, whilst the town also contains meeting houses for Methodists and Presbyterians.

Athy’s Industries

Reminiscences of an historic past, however attractive to the antiquarian, have but a passing interest for the "practical man," and we may therefore pass to those features of Athy, which appeal to the mind of this product of the "commercial era." The industries of Athy, as they exist today are not numerous, but they are fairly flourishing. The flour, Indian meal and oatmeal mills of Messrs H. Hannon and Sons constitute by far the most important industry of the district. There are three mills-the Ardreigh (Athy) mills, in which flour alone is manufactured; the Plumperstown mills, also used for the manufacture of flour, and the Athy mills devoted solely to the manufacture of Indian meal.

The Ardreigh Mills were purchased from the Messrs Haughton in 1895, and since then they have been gradually growing in popular esteem, so that their present proprietors have been able to look back upon over two years of continued prosperity. During last year over 8,500 barrels of wheat were manufactured into flour of every quality-Acme, Champion, Rollo Firsts, X L and Prime Foreign for bakers, and Extra Firsts, Prime Irish Retailers (patents) Households, Seconds, Thirds, and Wholemeal for retailers. Practically all the wheat consumed in Athy comes from the flour mills of Ardreigh of the Messrs. Hannon, whilst an extensive trade is also carried on with Athy, Stradbally, Castlecomer, Monasterevan, Kildare, Portarlington, and Edenderry.

Of the total quantity of wheat manufactured in the mills last year 1,000 were native-grown. This has given such an impetus to the wheat growing industry in the district that it is calculated that the acreage under this cereal has been trebled this year. The farmers are well satisfied with the price they obtained, and have resolved to devote a larger area to the cultivation of this grain in future. No wheat produces such a white flour as the native, and the best results are obtained mixing it in small proportions with the foreign article. The Messrs. Hannon find that they not alone are able to compete with, but that they are able to beat foreign producers and manufacturers in fair competition in the open market. This is saying something for Irish enterprise, and covers an idea of the era of prosperity, which might be established, did the example of the Messrs. Hannon meet with a more general emulation. Certainly we would be considered the richer did less bags bearing the well-known brand "San Francisco, U.S.A.," enter the country. The mills were fitted up with the most modern machinery by Henry Simon, of Manchester. I got my information with regard to them from Mr. H. Hannon who waxed enthusiastic over the great benefits, which would accrue to the country from the establishment of industries on a large scale. The manager of the mills, Mr. Price, explained to me the process of manufacture in a most lucid and intelligent manner. Writing towards the end of the last century a celebrated doctor and litterateur gave expression to the statement-"The bread of Nice is very indifferent, and, I am persuaded, very unwholesome. The flour is generally musty and not quite free of sand. This is either owing to the particles of millstone rubbed in grinding, or to what adheres to the corn itself on being threshed on the common ground." Well, as regards the Ardreigh Mills there’s no danger of sand entering the composition of flour manufactured therein, as, the wheat goes through a most elaborate cleaning process, whilst as to mill-stones-none exist-they have been long since discarded. The wheat arrives by barge on the Grand Canal, and Mr. Price explained how it is then placed in elevators, thence to the receiving separator, where the dirt is removed by a preliminary cleaning. The separator is known as the Ureka Dustless Receiving Separator, and can treat 100 barrels of grain in an hour. It is then placed on the various lofts for storage, and subsequently drawn off and mixed to produce the different qualities of flour required. It is then again drawn off and cleaned by a "Dustless Milling Separator," is transferred thence to a divider, next to the cockle and barley cylinders of which there are eight, after which it is thoroughly washed by a scourer. It then goes to a whizzer, where it receives a partial drying. The damp in completely expelled by a Simon Dryer-a patent which is to be found in very few Irish mills, and which dispenses with the old tedious system of kiln drying. The dryer is about 50 feet long, and extending from the bottom of the building upwards, and whilst the wheat which is conveyed from the whizzer by means of an elevator, falls gradually through an opening in which it is played upon by hot currents of air. It falls from the dryer into bins, where it is allowed to remain for a few hours, after which it receives a final cleaning by a brush machine. The final stages in process of manufacture are quickly got through. The corn goes successively through brakes, scalpers, and purifiers, when finally the flour and semolina are separated from each other by a centripetal dressing machine. In the mills the most perfect cleanliness was observed. Mention must be made of the courtesy and business tact of the managing clerk, Mr. Dobbin, to whose energy and resource not a little of the success which has attended the firm is owing. About twenty men are constantly employed in the mills.

The Plumperstown Mills

During last year 9,338 barrels of wheat were manufactured into flour in the above mills. The principal markets are Carlow, Tullow, Baltinglass, and Castledermot. The price paid for wheat in this and in the Ardreigh mills last year was £1 0s 6d per barrel. With this the farmers were well pleased, and the result is that the stimulus afforded through purchasing has induced them to treble the area under the growth this year. Four hundred tons of Indian corn were manufactured into meal last year.

The Athy Mills

In Athy Mills 400 tons of Indian corn were treated last year, whilst a large quantity of oats was also manufactured into meal. There are, of course separate mill wheels for the manufacture of Indian Meal...................


and turning stone. The best patent oat meal, pe...., flaked do, and mixed do are manufactured ,and the flaked is packed neatly and conveniently in cotton bags in weights of a stone, a half stone, and a quarter stone.

The Maltings

The Maltings of Mr. M. J. Minch, M. P., and of Mr. John Whelan, Plough Hotel, Carlow, are important local industries. Those of Mr. M. J. Minch keep about 50 men in constant employment throughout the year.



The Brickworks

The Brick-making industry in the district received an important impetus in the year ’93, prior to which it had become well nigh paralysed owing to the competition carried on by English firms under more advantageous circumstances. Before ’93 it was found that the sale of home made bricks in the district was gradually declining. This was owing to two causes. One was that the machine made bricks of England were larger and therefore more economical for building purposes, and the other that the new and improved process of manufacture by machinery gave the manufacturers or vendors an opportunity of placing on the market an article at the minimum price. In ’93, however, the thinking men of the district put their heads together, and with the co-operation of friends outside, formed a company to manufacture bricks on the newest and most improved methods, and a sum of £120,000 has since been expended on machinery and buildings on a site on the Monasterevan road at the northern side of the town. Mr. Maurice Dominick, J. P., Great George’s street, Cork, is Chairman of the Company; Mr. Joseph Doyle, Curragh Camp, V. C. , Mr. Thomas A. Seagrave, late manager of the Hibernian Bank, Athy, and Mr. Robert Anderson, Castlemitchell, being other directors. Mr. S. Telford, T.C., a gentleman who takes a deep interest in the fostering of local industries, is Managing Director. Mr. Anthony Reeves, the courteous secretary and general business manager, took me over the extensive premises and explained the process of manufacture from the time the clay is wheeled from the field in lorries until the bricks come forth burned and ready for the market. About forty men are in constant employment throughout the year, and an average of £50 weekly is paid in salaries and wages. The working men earn from 10s to 20s per week, and as the work is perfectly healthy it can easily be seen what a boon such an industry is in the district. Mr. Reeves spoke in the highest terms of the treatment his company received from the Great Southern and Western Railway. Prior to ’93 the rate was 15s; it is now only 6s, this concession being made by the railway people in order to assist in the development of the industry. The railway company are also going to run a siding from the railway up to the brickworks, a distance of 400 yards. With a preferential rate and an article than which no better can, in the opinion of experts, be placed on the market, it is no wonder that the industry is developing. Although the weekly output of bricks amounts to 80,000 Mr. Reeves assured me that the supply was quite unequal to the demand. The principal market is Dublin, where the products of the company are now used by all the leading builders. The National Bank, Rathmines, at present in course of construction, is being built by bricks manufactured by the company. Octagon, bull-nose, and every variety of moulded brick are made. The five huge tanks on the premises are capable of holding material sufficient to manufacture 400,000 bricks. Those to which we have referred are the principal industries of Athy. The good they do could only be thoroughly understood and appreciated should they but cease to exist for a month. Mr. Plewman, whose photo we reproduce, is an active member of the Town Commission of which he is Chairman. He has taken a prominent part in organising the fairs and markets, and does much to add to the general weal.

An article from the Leinster Leader 26 March 1898 on the local industries in Athy

[Compiled and edited by Mario Corrigan; typed and edited by Niamh McCabe; Final edit Dee O'Brien]

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