by jdurney on November 29, 2012

Times Past

 Jim Collins

A recent walk along the new  Camphill  nature trail by the river reminded me of my childhood and life in Kilcullen Corn Mills.  I saw old car parts  embedded  in the weir to re-enforce  it.   This work was done by my father Jim Collins, The Miller, before the weir broke in 1946 when The Poulaphuca Scheme changed life on the river Liffey for many including the running of the corn mill by electricity.   The car parts he got from Jim Barber whose home and business was where the Ruby Shoes building is beside the Town Hall.  A  photograph  of Jim Barber’s shop is on display  in the Town Hall.
The Barbers were a Church of Ireland family who lived in that premises since the 19th century.   Jim was an expert in all things mechanical but his main business was the sale and repair of bicycles which were a popular mode of transport at the end of the 19th century.   In later life when the water pumping station was built in Barbers garden where the canoe club now stands, Jim became the water supervisor for Kilcullen.   The water was pumped  to  the Moat  located  behind  Dunleas   garage which was the highest point in the town.   It was then fed into water pipes which supplied the town.   Before this supply system was completed in the early 1900’s everybody got their water supply from the spout.   Some stories my father told me about Jim Barber are worth remembering.
In 1921 during the War of Independence the Black and Tans were stationed in the R.I.C.  barracks beside O’Connell’s bar. The Black and Tans would make Jim Barber drive them on patrols to gather information  on the locals but what they did not know was, that at night Jim would drive the local I.R.A. on missions against the Black and Tans and would tell the local I.R.A. what they were talking about.   If he was  found  out  he  would have been executed.
In the early 1930’s De Valera  addressed a meeting in Carlow but on his way back to Dublin his car broke down in Kilcullen.   Jim Barber was sent for, to drive Dev to Dublin.   He had an old French touring car with a canvas and wooden roof so with local supporters Jim set off for Dublin with Dev in the back seat.   Just passed Rathcoole where the roundabout  for Saggart is now located there was a small humped back bridge.  Jim, who had bad eyesight and wore bottle-end glasses hit the bridge at speed and the  canvas and wooden  roof collapsed on top of Dev resulting in another car having to come to the rescue to get Dev the rest of the way to his Dublin  home.
In July  of this year the Leinster Leader printed an item from the civil war times… “ In late 1922 an army armoured car on its way to the Curragh was blown up by an explosive planted in a culvert in the road near Rathcoole in which 2 soldiers were badly injured.  The car following was driven by  Mr Jim Barber  from Kilcullen accompanied by 2  ladies who he was bringing from Dublin.   When the road was cleared of the damaged armoured car Mr Barber continued on his way.”
In the 1930’s Jim Barber drove the post van to deliver the mail to the Kildare train station.  My father, the Miller, needed to collect an account from a racehorse trainer on the Curragh so he asked the post van driver to take himself and his bicycle as far as the Curragh.  A trailer was hitched to the post van, the bike loaded on to the trailer and the two set off.   They passed Donnelly’s Hollow and went round the next bend.  The driver approached the crossroads.   There was plenty of space,  no  traffic and  visability  was good.   Also it must be said… they were sober.   Even though driver Jim was wearing his  thick  lensed  glasses  he  didn’t  see  the  Army  lorry  approaching   from  The Curragh Camp and heading uphill towards the old war cemetery.  He hit the lorry broadside and the two Jims ended up in the Curragh Hospital. Dont say “ He should have gone to Specsavers.”
Next day the army authorities came to the hospital to take statements from the injured men.   When they were finished my father asked about his bicycle which was in the trailer.   The officer said there was no bicycle or trailer, just a wrecked van.   The patients insisted that they had a  trailer with a bike in it.   The scene of the accident was revisited.   A clump of furze was noticed a 100 yds from the crash site.   With army precision the bush was examined and sure enough the lost items were found.   The trailer having broken  away on impact careered across the Curragh  and disappeared into the furze bush.   Bike and trailer were found two days later in perfect condition.

Another story of local interest…..
Mrs Sheelagh Blacker of Castlemartin House had two sons, Ian and Percy.  We all have heard stories of Percy but not of Ian.    Would anyone have a photo of Ian?  He was a Captain in the British Army and was killed at the battle of Monte Cassino north of  Rome in June 1944.   After the war Mrs Blacker went to Italy to bring his body  home to be buried in the family plot in Yellow Bog cemetery.  On seeing where he was buried in the town of St. Francis of Assissi she changed her mind and said   “ Let him lie with his 945 allied comrades who are laid to rest there.”  If  anyone should visit Assissi please take a photo of his grave which is, C 9 in Plot No. 7.  It could be displayed in The Town Hall.

Historical Information from Military Archives.
On  Sept 3rd 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland, the invasion coinciding with an armistice made with the Italians who then entered the war on the Allied side.
Progress through Southern Italy was rapid despite stiff resistance.  But the advance was checked for some months at the German Winter position known as the Gustav line.  This line eventually fell in May 1944 and as the Germans withdrew, Rome was taken by the Allies on the 3rd of June.
Many of the burials in this cemetery date from June and July 1944 when the Germans were making their first attempts to stop the Allied advance North of Rome in this region. The site for the cemetery was selected in Sept 1944 and burials were brought in from surrounding battlefields. Assissi  war cemetery contains 945 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War.

Jim Collins, Kilcullen, recalls times past in his local area. Our thanks to Jim

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