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July 23, 2008


1st March marks age old link
between Wales and Kildare’s county town
The first days of the spring months are marked by the feast days of two great saints of the early Christian church in these islands. Here in Kildare we are familiar with the significance of the 1st February as the feast day of St. Brigid, storied abbess of a great monastery at Cill Dara. The 1st of March carries significance in the calendar of Celtic saints in that it is the feast day of Saint David. Now David might be thought of mainly in terms of his position as patron saint of Wales but his memory is also kept alive in Co. Kildare where, for some years now, the day is marked in Naas which, since the 12th century, has had a connection with the Pembrokeshire peninsula in south-west Wales.
St. David never visited Naas but rather he was imported in to the locality in the 12th century by the Normans who landed on the Wexford coast having made the crossing of the Irish sea from Wales. The barony of Naas was granted to Maurice Fitzgerald who had direct family connections with the area of St. David’s monastery and cathedral at the extremity of the Pembrokeshire peninsula.
Mediaeval Naas acquired many of the features of a Norman outpost with a moat, mills, walls and gates all being recorded. But just as important as their physical reinforcement was the way in which the Normans brought a cultural impact to bear with traces of Norman-Welsh Culture being welded to existing Irish custom and practice. One of the most striking similarities between Kildare and Pembrokeshire is in the names of townslands and localities. Overlay a townsland map of Co. Kildare on to a map of south-west Wales and the coincidence of naming is remarkable. Townsland names such as Herbertstown, Sherlockstown, Craddockstown in the Naas area of county Kildare are to be found in Pembrokeshire. An obvious Norman import for example is Kerdiffstown (as in Cardiff in Wales) while it may come as a surprise to Kildare folk that there is another Punchestown – in this case the name of a locality near Fishguard on the Pembrokeshire peninsula.
As well as leaving their placenames and settlement patterns the Norman settlers of the 12th century and later also brought their own patron saint from Wales. David was a saint of the early Christian era who became known for his sanctity and wisdom. He is thought to haved lived about the years 530 to 601AD. His church in a valley near the coast of Wales became a place of pilgrimage and was expanded to become an abbey and cathedral. When six centuries later the Normans sailed from their strongholds in Wales to find new fortune in Ireland they translated this dedication to David across the Irish sea where it was to find permanent expression in Naas. It was to prove a dedication of great longevity despite the many changes, trials and divisions experienced in Naas over the centuries. Indeed St. David’s day was, it appears, celebrated in Naas over several centuries. According to one old recollection an amusing incident occurred in the late 1700s when a regiment of Welsh soldiers was marching through Naas. They noticed that the townspeople were wearing green leeks in their hats and having something of a party. The Welshmen took this as some form of dishonour to their national patron  (the leek, of course, being a symbol of Wales) and were about to take on the Naas folk when it was explained to them that this was the normal custom in the town on the feast of St. David (1st March). This explanation not alone calmed the situation but brought a strong fellow feeling between the Welsh soldiers and the Naas residents, and both groups are said to have joined together in celebration of their common patron into the small hours of the night.   In later generations the commemoration of the link with St. David was continued albeit in a much more sober format. When the new Catholic church was built in 1827 on the Sallins Road in Naas it was named after Our Lady & St. David, an identical title to that which attached to the old Augustine priory at Great Connell near Newbridge. In the early 1900 there was still sufficient awareness for the town council to confer the name St. David’s on a new housing estate. However it seemed as if the connection between Kildare’s county town and Wales might have faded completely in the twentieth century until in 1990 a number of local historians in Naas succeeded in influencing a positive Urban Council to conclude an official twinning between Naas and the cathedral city of St. David’s in Pembrokeshire. So this March the Welsh dragon will fly from outside the Town Hall in Naas as it might have flown over the town back in the 12th century when the Normans found space – among all the Irish saints – for the patron saint of Wales.
Series no 56

Exploring the welsh connection! Liam Kenny looks at the Norman importation of St. David, Patron Saint of Wales into the life of the county town of Naas and the legacy that remains - from 'Nothing New under the Sun,' in the Leinster Leader.


VISITING the bushwomen of the Curragh in the daytime naturally seemed to an incomplete way of ascertaining how they really lived. The wren is, of course, a night bird, and ought to be seen at night by any one who thinks it worth while to learn her real characteristics and the part she plays in the economy of the universe. Therefore I ventured on a journey to the bush one evening, making myself as safe as a man can be who goes into haunts of recklessness and crime with nothing about him to tempt cupidity, and with a stout stick for the casual purposes of defence.  I did not suppose I should have any extraordinary adventures, but the Curragh is a wide place, and very lonely, and such of the Queen’s troops as consort with the bushwomen are often a dangerous character, especially when they happen to be drunk.
It was already dark when I set out from that miserable little town, Kildare, directing my steps first towards a landmark uncomfortably called the “Gibbet Rath.” Gibbet Rath I made out without much difficulty ; and from that spot made my way across the dark and silent common to the bush village, which, as I have already said, is far in its interior. I had marked the path pretty accurately on former visits ; and, after passing many a bush that might have been a wren’s nest, I presently discovered a glimmer of light here and there in the distance, which assured me that I had not gone wrong. These lights were the turf fires of the wrens, burning upon their earthen floors in a homelike way, which, at a distance, was pleasant enough. But arrived amongst the nests a difficulty did arise. Here were several, but how could I distinguish the one at which I could most rely, from previous acquaintance, upon a civil reception ? There were no means of distinguishing it at all ; and after wandering between one and another in a vain attempt to make out No. 2 nest, I resolved to take my chance and enter that which was nearest at hand. This particular nest, however, needed no addition to its assembled company. Peeping in through the hole that is called a doorway, I observed that the bush was tenanted by six wrens, two soldiers, and two little children. The women were smoking, the soldiers roasting potatoes, or “spuds,” as they called them, at the fire ; the children, poor little souls ! were huddled amongst the women, awake and lively, and perfectly contented. As soon as my presence was known I was invited to enter. So I went in, just to light my pipe ; and still the women smoked, and the soldiers roasted potatoes, and the children stared about them with innocent inquiring eyes, and a pretty picture of humanity they made crouched and crowded together in the low-roofed little den. But my visit was not to this nest ; and therefore, after a few compliments and the circulation of my tobacco pouch, I ventured to ask my way to No. 2 nest. One of the women rose to show me the way. The others put away their pipes at the same moment, and getting together the various articles of their evening attire, sallied out to dress in “the open.” Their stockings were already outside, hanging upon adjacent bushes. These the women gathered, and then proceeded to dress in the light that streamed upon the common from their fire and their one candle. Stockings, boots, the Curragh petticoat, the starched cotton gown, and with a little deft arrangement of the hair, there they stood clean and decent enough-to look at. The toilette being completed, each took a glance at herself in the looking-glass, and then they went away into the darkness, the soldiers with them, leaving my guide behind. She faithfully showed me to No. 2, and then went back to keep watch till her companions returned from one more excursion into the most dismal swamp of vice where they find their daily bread.
No. 2 nest had also a turf fire burning near the door ; by the light of which I saw, as I approached it, one wretched figure alone. Crouched near the glowing turf, with her head resting upon her hands, was a woman whose age I could scarcely guess at, though I think by the masses of black hair that fell forward upon her hands and backward over her bare shoulders that she must have been young. She was apparently dozing, and taking no heed of the pranks of the frisky little curly-headed boy whom I have made mention of before ; he was playing on the floor. When I announced myself by rapping on the bit of corrugated iron which stood across the bottom of the doorway, the woman started in something like fright ; but she knew me at a second glance, and in I went. “Put back the iron, if ye plaze,” said the wren, as I entered ; “the wind’s blowing this way to-night, bad luck to it.” The familiar iron pot was handed to me to sit upon, my stick was delivered over to poor little Billy Carson, my whisky flask and tobacco were laid out for consumption, and I laid myself out for as much talk as could be got from the watching wren. Billy Carson had not the splendid appearance he wore when I last saw him, in his Sunday frock. His clothes were rags, and they were few and foul. The face of the poor child was of the colour of the earth he sprawled upon ; but there were his thick curly black locks and his great big eyes, so full of fun and sense, of innocence and spirit, as if he wasn’t a wren’s child at all. While I looked at this unfortunate little fellow, wondering what was likely to be the end of him, and what my own end might have been had I begun life as a wren’s little boy, the woman still sat crouched near the fire, with her face hidden on her folded arms, in a very miserable and despairing attitude indeed. I asked her whether the boy was hers, by way of starting a conversation ; she bluntly answered me without looking up that “it wasn’t, thank God.” I tried again. “Have some whisky ; you’re cold.” “Indade I am, but it’s not whisky that will warm me this night,” said she. But next minute, she jumped up, turned some whisky into a cup, tossed it off with a startling rapid jerk of hand and head, went to the looking glass (an irregular fragment as big as the palm of your hand), and wisped her hair up in a large handsome knot. Then the whisky began to operate ; her tongue was loosed. She readily answered all the trifling questions I asked of her, meanwhile putting Billy to bed, who had got sleepy. I was very curious to see how this would be done when she proposed it to Billy, but there was nothing remarkable in the process to reward expectation. The straw was pulled from under the crockery shelf, and Billy was placed upon the heap dressed as he was, with an injunction to shut his eyes. He did so, and the operation was complete.
Of course I wanted to know how my wretched companion in this lonely, windy, comfortless hovel came from being a woman to be turned into a wren. The story began with “no father nor mother,” an aunt who kept a whisky-store in Cork, an artilleryman who came to the whisky-store, and saw and seduced the girl. By-and-by his regiment was ordered to the Curragh. The girl followed him, being then with child. “He blamed me for following him,” said she. “He’d have nothing to do with me. He told me to come here and do like other women did. And what could I do ? My child was born here, in this very place, and glad I was of the shelter, and glad I was when the child died-thank the blessed Mary ! What could I do with a child ? His father was sent away from here, and a good riddance. He used me very bad.” After a minute’s silence the woman continued, a good deal to my surprise, “I’ll show you the likeness of a betther man, far away !-one that never said a cross word to me-blessed’s the ground he treads upon!” And, fumbling in the pocket of her too scanty and too dingy petticoat, she produced a photographic portrait of a soldier, inclosed in half a dozen greasy letters. “He’s a bandsman, sir, and a handsome man he is, and I believe he likes me too. But they have sent him to Malta for six years ; I’ll never see my darlint again.” And then this poor wretch, who was half crying as she spoke, told me how she had walked to Dublin to see him just before he sailed, “because the poor craythur wanted to see me onst more.” The letters she had in her pocket were from him ; they were read and answered by the girl whose penmanship I have already celebrated, and who seems to be the only woman in the whole colony who can either read or write. I could not find another, at any rate.
From this woman, so strangely compounded, I learned, as I sat smoking over the turf fire-and the night was bitterly cold-much that I have already related. I also learned the horror the women have of the workhouse ; and how, if they are found straying over the limits allotted to them, they have to appear at Naas to be fined for the offence (a half-crown seems to be the fine commonly inflicted), or to be sent for seven days to gaol. There, according to this woman, they get about a pint of “stirabout” for breakfast, at two o’ clock in the afternoon some more stirabout and about a pound of bread, and nothing more till breakfast time next day. I cannot but think this a false statement, and yet she spoke of the workhouse as a place still more unlovely. However, she had suffered so much privation last winter that she had made up her mind not to stay in the bush another such season. “At the first fall of the snow I’ll go to the workhouse, that I will !” she said, in the tone of one who says that in such an event he is determined to cut his throat. “Why, would you belave it, sir, last winter the snow would be up as high as our little house, and we had to cut a path through it to the min, or we’d been ruined intirely.” In this way she talked, and I listened, and heard how one of the inhabitants of the place I was in had been seduced at the age of thirteen years and four months by an officer in a rifle regiment-a circumstance of which my companion seemed to think there was some reason to be proud. “A rale gentleman he was.” In some such spirit one woman declared to me, with a scornful air, “It wasn’t one man brought me here, but manny ! and that’s the truth bedad !” I also heard that in winter some of the women knit stockings to sell at the camp market, adding a little money to the common stock that way ; and further, that sometimes an officer took a fancy to the companionship of some particular wren, and smuggled her into his quarters.
Presently the report of a gun was heard. “Gun fire !” cried my companion. “They’ll soon be back now, and I hope it’s not drunk they are.” I went out to listen. All was dead quiet, and nothing was to be seen but the lights in the various bushes, till suddenly a blaze broke out at a distance. Some dry furze had been fired by some of the soldiers who were wandering on the common, and in search of whom the picket presently came round, peeping into every bush. Presently the sound of distant voices was heard ; it came nearer and nearer, and its shrillness and confusion made it known to me that it was indeed a party of returning wrens-far from sober. They were, in fact, mad drunk ; and the sound of their voices as they came on through the dense darkness, screaming obscene songs, broken by bursts of horrible laughter, with now and than a rattling volley of oaths which told that fighting was going on, was staggering. I confess I now felt uncomfortable. I had only seen the wren sober, or getting sober ; what she might be in that raging state of drunkenness I had yet to find out ; and the discovery threatened to be very unpleasant. The noise came nearer, and was more shocking because you could disentangle the voices and track each through its own course of swearing, or of obscene singing and shouting, or of dreadful threats which dealt in detail with every part of the human frame. “Is this your lot ?” I asked my companion, with some apprehension, as at length the shameful crew burst out of the darkness. “Some ov ’em, I think.” But no, they passed on ; such a spectacle as made me tremble. I felt like a man respited when the last woman went staggering by. Again voices were heard, this time proceeding from the women belonging to the bush where I was spending so uncomfortable an evening. Five in all, two tipsy and three comparatively sober, they soon presented themselves at the door. One of them was Billy’s mother. At the sound of her voice the child woke up and cried for her. She was the most forbidding-looking creature in the whole place ; but she hastened to divest herself, outside, of her crinoline and the rest of her walking attire (nearly all she had on), and came in and nursed the boy very tenderly. The other wrens also took off gown and petticoat, and folding them up made seats of them within the nest. Then came the important inquiry from the watching wren, “What luck have you had ?”-to which the answer was, “Middling.” Without the least scruple they counted up what they had got amongst them-a poor account : it was enough to make a man’s heart bleed to hear the details and to see the actual money. In order to continue my observations a little later in a way agreeable to those wretched outcasts, I proposed to “stand supper”-a proposition which was joyfully received, of course. Late as it was, away went one of the wrens to get supper, presently returning with a loaf, some bacon, some tea, some sugar, a little milk, and a can of water. The women bought all these things in such modest quantities that my treat cost no more (I got my change and I remember the precise sum) than two shillings and eightpence halfpenny.   The frying-pan was put in requisition, and there seemed some prospect of a “jolly night” for my more sober nest of wrens. One of them began to sing, not a pretty song, but presently she stopped to listen to the ravings of a strong-voiced vixen in an adjoining bush. “It’s Kate,” said one, “and she’s got the drink in her,-the devil that she is.” I then heard that this was a woman of such ferocity when drunk that the whole colony was in terror of her. One of the women near me showed me her fact torn that very right by the virago’s nails, and a finger almost bitten through. As long as the voice of the formidable creature was heard, every one was silent in No. 2 nest-silent out of fear that she would presently appear amongst them. Her voice ceased ; again a song was commenced ; then the frying-pan began to hiss ; and that sound it was perhaps which brought the dreaded virago down upon us. She was heard coming from her own bush, raging as she came. “My God, there she is !” one of the women exclaimed ; “she’s coming here, and if she sees you she’ll tear every rag from your back !” The next moment the fierce creature burst into our bush-a stalwart woman full five feet ten inches high, absolutely mad with drink. Her hair was streaming down her back, she had scarcely a rag of clothing on, and the fearful figure made at me with a large jug, intended to be smashed upon my skull. I declare her dreadful figure appalled me ; I was so wonder-stricken that I believe she might have knocked me on the head without resistance. But, quick as lightning, one of the women got before me, spreading out her petticoat. “Get out of it !” she shouted, in terror. “Run !” And so I did. Covered by this friendly and grateful wren I passed out of the nest and made my way homeward in the darkness. One of the girls stepped out to show me the way. I parted from her a few yards from the nest, and presently “lost myself” on the common. It was nearly two o’ clock when I got to Kildare from my last visit to that shameful bush village.
This scene, which I shall never forget, gave me, so to speak, a bellyful. As I wandered over the common for two good hours, I saw that dreadful woman in imagination at every turn, and her voice disturbed my sleep when at last I did get to bed. I resolved to go no more a-nesting, but to return and write what I have now written, hoping that some good may come of it. I suppose it is not possible to allow such things to continue in a Christian country ?
PART 3 of the pamphlet on The Wrens of the Curragh to celebrate the 300th ARTICLE on EHISTORY 
[Apparently the pamphlet (based on the original newspaper article) was written by a reporter of the Pall Mall Gazette, James Greenwood, who visited the Curragh in 1867 - all spellings etc. have been retained - typed and edited by Claire Connelly - re-edited Roy O'Brien]


WHEN once a wren’s nest is distinguished from the natural mounds of furze amidst which it is placed, after-recognition is tolerably easy ; though at a first glance it is so much like a mere bush that you might well pass by without dreaming that it was the habitation of human creatures. However, there are differences, of course ; and thus after I had looked for a few moments at my first nest, and glanced around and beyond it, I saw that I was in fact in the midst of a little village, with as many-homes shall I say ? and as many inhabitants as some English hamlets whose names are well marked on the map. Dotted about to right, and left, and onward, at intervals varying from 20 to 100 yards, were other bushes, which bore not only certain signs of man’s constructive skill, but of woman’s occupancy. Suspended against the prickly sides of one of them was a petticoat, against another a crinoline ; an article so bulky and intractable that it could not well be got inside. Indeed, the probability is that it never did get inside at all-never was inside ; but was put on and taken off, as occasion required, at the hole that served for a door. How could three or four large-limbed women, crinolined accordingly, live in a space no bigger than the ox’s crib or the horse’s stall ? Besides, that is exaggeration. To be particular, the nests have an interior space of about nine feet long by seven feet broad ; and the roof is not more than four and a-half feet from the ground. You crouch into them, as beasts crouch into cover ; and there is no standing upright till you crawl out again. They are rough, misshapen domes of furze-like big, rude birds’ nests compacted of harsh branches, and turned topsy-turvy upon the ground. The walls are some twenty inches thick, and they do get pretty well compacted-much more than would be imagined. There is no chimney-not even a hole in the roof, which generally slopes forward. The smoke of the turf fire which burns on the floor of the hut has to pass out at the door when the wind is favourable, and to reek slowly through the crannied walls when it is not. The door is a narrow opening nearly the height of the structure-a slit in it, kept open by two rude posts, which also serve to support the roof. To keep it down, and secure from the winds that drive over the Curragh so furiously, sods of earth are placed on top, here and there, with a piece of corrugated iron (much used in the camp, apparently-I saw many old and waste pieces lying about) as an additional protection from rain. Sometimes a piece of this iron is placed in the longitudinal slit aforesaid ; and then you have a door as well as a doorway. Flooring there is none of any kind whatever, nor any attempt to make the den snugger by burrowing down into the bosom of the earth. The process of construction seems to be to clear the turf from the surface of the plain to the required space, to cut down some bushes for building material, and to call in a friendly soldier or two to rear the walls by the simple process of piling and trampling. When the nest is newly made, as that one was which I first examined, and if you happen to view it on a hot day, no doubt it seems tolerably snug shelter. A sportsman might lie there for a summer night or two without detriment to his health or his moral nature. But all the nests are not newly made ; and if the sun shines on the Curragh, bitter winds drive across it, with swamping rains for days and weeks together ; and miles of snow-covered plain sometimes lie between this wretched colony of abandoned women and the nearest town. Wind and rain are their worst enemies (unless we reckon in mankind), and play “old gooseberry” with the bush dwellings. The beating of the one and the pelting of the other soon destroy their bowery summer aspect. They get crazy ; they fall toward this side and that ; they shrink in and down upon the outcast wretches that huddle in them ; and the doorposts don’t keep the roof up and the clods don’t keep it down :-the nest is nothing but a furzy hole, such as, for comfort, any wild beast may match anywhere ; leaving cleanliness out of the question. Of course, I did not make all these observations at a first visit. It was afterwards that I found No. 5 Bush (they are called No. I Bush, No. 2 Bush, and so forth by the wrens themselves) was a really superior edifice in its way-larger, better than any other ; and well it should be, for it was the abode of five or six women. Other nests were smaller, and fast going to decay ; but even in the smallest three women were harboured, while one was tenanted by as many as eight. Altogether, there are ten bushes, with about sixty inhabitants. In them they sleep, cook, eat, drink, receive visits, and perform all the various offices of life. If they are sick, there they lie. Brothers and mothers and fathers go to see them there. There sometimes-such occurrences do happen-they lie in child-bed ; and there sometimes they die.
My eyes had not taken in one-tenth of what is above described, when they were brought to bear upon the group of women which had first arrested my attention. They were three members of the family of No. 5 Bush. One was a perfectly neat-looking girl, washed, combed, and arrayed in a clean starched cotton gown, and with bright white stockings and well-fitting boots ; she had evidently just completed the one toilette of the day. Two others squatted at the bush door, and they were foul as any Hottentots. One filthy frieze petticoat worn about the loins, another thrown loosely over their backs-that was all their clothing. Their towzled hair hung down upon their naked shoulders, and straggled upon their unwashed faces, as they sat in a full stream of gossip. All three were fine limbed women, large and sturdy ; as, indeed, are many of the inhabitants of this Arcadian village. Now and then I came across some fragile creature, her strength broken ; but these were the exceptions rather than the rule, certainly. And several of them were not only fine-looking, but well-mannered girls-when sober ; and I had an opportunity of seeing a letter written by one in as pretty and “ladylike” a hand as if it had been traced at a davenport in Belgrave-square, instead of on the bottom of a tin pot on the Curragh.
“Good day to you, sir, and will you walk into our little house ?” This greeting was addressed to me by the woman in the clean cotton gown, and that in a voice and with a manner that had nothing in them but simple civility. At the same moment her companions rose up, and one of them attacked my carman, Jimmy Lynch, with language that was absolutely appalling. Now my courage was first put to the test, no less by the civil invitation than by the astounding outburst of this black-haired young virago. To walk into the little house was what I had come for ; and there was the invitation to make myself acquainted with a Curragh interior, and the domestic economy of the wren. It was not with any alacrity, however, that I bowed my head and crept into the bush-leaving Jimmy to bear with the monstrous blasphemies, the raving obscenities, of the girl of eighteen outside.
It was washing day at No. 5 Bush-with one of its tenants, at least ; and she appeared to be engaged upon all her clothes at once (excepting only a single frieze petticoat which she did wear)-in a tin saucepan. Another young woman idly squatted near the doorway, was bidden to get up “and give the gintleman a sate ;” when it appeared that she was sitting on another saucepan, bottom upward. This vessel was perforated all over, at the sides and at the bottom alike ; the only explanation of which seemed to me at the time to be that this was an Irish device for letting the fire get more readily at the water ; however, I learned the real use of a perforated saucepan afterwards. With apologies to Miss Clancy, I accepted the “sate” she proffered, and disposing myself upon it with more or less of grace, looked about me to discover the appointments of a wren’s nest.
Little observation was needed to make the inventory complete. The most important piece of furniture was a wooden shelf running along the back of the nest, and propped on sticks driven into the earthen floor. Some mugs ; some plates ; some cups and saucers ; a candlestick ; two or three old knives and forks, battered and rusty ; a few dull and dinted spoons ; a teapot (this being a rather rich establishment), and several other articles of a like character, were displayed upon the shelf ; and a grateful sight it was. I declare I was most thankful for the cups and saucers ; and as for the teapot, it looked like an ark of redemption in crockery ware. If they were not, as I told myself when my eyes first rested on them, the only human-looking things in the place, they did give one a comfortable feeling of assurance that these wretched and desperate outcasts had not absolutely broken with the common forms and habits of civilized life. And that this feeling was not a strained or singular one I learned afterwards in conversation with a soldier. This gentleman averred to me on oath, with the air of a man who is going to startle you out of all false and maudlin sympathies, that wrens used cups and saucers “just like other people.”
There was little furniture in the nest beside the shelf and its decorations. Beneath it was heaped an armful of musty straw, originally smuggled in from the camp stables ; this, drawn out and shaken upon the earth, was the common bed. A rough wooden box, such as candles are packed in, stood in a corner ; one or two saucepans, and a horrid old tea-kettle, which had all the look of a beldame punished by drink, were disposed in various nooks in the furzy walls ; a frying-pan was stuck into them by the handle, in company with a crooked stick of iron, used as a poker ; and-undoubtedly that was there –a cheap little looking-glass was stuck near the roof. These things formed the whole furniture and appointments of the nest, if we exclude a petticoat or so hung up at intervals. There was not a stool in the place, and as for anything in the shape of a table, there was not room even for the idea of such a thing. Except for the cups and saucers, I doubt whether any Australian native habitation is more savage or more destitute ; he can get an old saucepan or two, and knows how to spread a little straw on the ground. Nor were any of the other nests (and I believe I looked into them all) better or differently furnished. The only difference was in the quantity of crockery. In every one the candle box was to be found. I discovered that it was the common receptacle of those little personal ornaments and cherished trifles which women in every grade of life hoard with a sort of animal instinct. In every one an upturned saucepan was used for a seat when squatting on the earth became too tiresome. In all the practice is to sleep with your head under the shelf (thus gaining some additional protection from the wind) and your feet to the turf fire, which is kept burning all night near the doorway. Here the use of the perforated saucepan becomes apparent. It is placed over the burning turf when the wrens dispose themselves to rest ; and, as there is no want of air in these dwellings, the turf burns well and brightly under the protecting pot. Another remembrance of a decent life is seen in the fact that the women always undress themselves to sleep upon their handful of straw, their day clothes serving to cover them.
While I was making the particular observations which were afterwards expanded into the above-described generalities, I was not allowed to remain silent, of course. However, by dint of a little management I contrived to confine the conversation to tobacco and whisky, my pouch and flask (well filled in expectation of a call upon them) furnishing the primary subjects of discourse.   Both topics were handled with such freedom and dexterity that in less than fifteen minutes they were fairly exhausted. I thereupon proposed to take leave, and was not opposed by anything like the cajolery or the solicitation for money that I expected to encounter. The women were quite sober, and therefore well-behaved : which I found to be a common characteristic. I verily do believe that the whole world contains no spectacle of degraded humanity so complete as those unfortunate women present when they come home in roaring groups from their hunting grounds, drunk. Their flushed faces, their embruted eyes, their wildly flowing hair, their reckless gestures, and, above all, their strong voices competing in the use of the most hideous language depravity ever invented, make such a scene as I believe can be matched nowhere under the sun. But the same women who in such circumstances seemed to be possessed with a determination never to be outdone in violence, or blasphemy, or obscenity, are, when sober, of civil conversation and decent demeanour. This is true not of one or two, but of many of them. So I had no more difficulty in getting out of No. 5 Bush than if I had been making a morning call at home. The person who was washing her clothes in the saucepan bade me good day with an expression of her assurance that I had a good heart, while Miss Clancy simply hoped I would keep my promise to come again when they were less occupied with domestic cares. When I got outside I found that Jimmy Lynch had been less fortunate than the Saxon stranger whom he had conducted to the strange place. He was still engaged in wordy conflict, and was so completely beaten that he retreated upon the car upon my first appearance, and started off before I was fairly settled on it. “Did any one iver hear the like ov them devils ?” he roared. “It’s disghusting intirely !”
But ready as Jimmy was to “call” upon the energies of Scottish Queen, I insisted upon his going slowly through the bush village, and then I was enabled to see on a first visit that its inhabitants at any rate were all of one kind and looked all alike. In the first place every woman is Irish. There is not a single Englishwoman now in the nest, though there were two of our countrywomen there lately : these girls, however, went away with a regiment ordered elsewhere. Then the wrens are almost all young-the greater number of them being from seventeen to five-and-twenty years old. Then they almost all come out of cabins in country places, and seem still to enjoy-most of them-some remains of the fine strength and health they brought from those wretched cots. Then there was a common look, shocking to see, of hard depravity-the look of hopeless, miserable, but determined and defiant wickedness. Fine faces, and young ones too, were marred into something quite terrible by this look, and the spirit of it seemed to move in the lazy swing of their limbs, and was certainly heard in their voices. And lastly they are dressed alike. All day they lounge in a half-naked state, clothed simply in the one frieze petticoat, and another equally foul cast loosely over their shoulders, though towards evening they put on the decent attire of the first girl I met there. These bettermost clothes are kept clean and bright enough ; the frequency with which they are seen displayed on the bushes to dry shows how often they are washed, and how well. These observations apply to the cotton gown, the stockings, the white petticoat alone-frieze and flannel never know anything of soap and water at all apparently. The “Curragh petticoat” is familiarly known for miles and miles around : its peculiarity seems to be that it is starched but not ironed. The difference in the appearance of these poor wretches when the gown and petticoat are donned and when they are taken off again (that is to say, the moment they come back from the “hunting grounds”) answers precisely to their language and demeanour when sober and when tipsy. In the one condition they are generally as well behaved and civil as any decent peasant women need be ; in the other they are like raging savages, with more than a savage’s vileness.
A COMMUNITY like that which I am attempting to describe naturally falls into some regular system, and provides for itself certain rules and regulations. Fifty or sixty people separated from the rest of the world and existing in and by rebellion against society, naturally form some links of association ; and when the means of life are the same, and shameful and precarious ; when those who so live by them are poor as well as outcast ; and when, also, they are all women, we may assure ourselves that a sort of socialistic or family bond will soon be formed. It is so amongst the wrens of the Curragh. The ruling principle there evidently is to share each other’s fortunes and misfortunes, and in happy-go-lucky style. Thus the colony is open to any poor wretch who imagines that she can find comfort in it, or another desperate chance of existence. Come she whence she may, she has only to present herself to be admitted into one nest or another, nor is it necessary that she bring a penny to recommend her. Girls who have followed soldiers to the camp from distant towns and villages-some from actual love and hope, some from necessity or desperation-form a considerable number of those who go into the bush ; and I also learn that the colony sometimes receives some harvester tired of roaming for field work, to whom the free loose life there has, one must suppose, attractions superior to those of the virtuous hovel at home. She walks in and is welcome : welcome are far less eligible immigrants too. Suppose a woman with child who has followed her lover to the camp and loses him there, or is admonished with blows to leave him alone ; or suppose a young wife in the same condition is bidden by her martial lord to go away and “do as other women do” (which seems to be the formula in such cases) ; they are made as welcome amongst the wrens as if they did not bring with them certain trouble and an inevitable increase to the common poverty. I am not speaking what I believe they would do, but what they have done. It is not long since that a child was born in one of these nests ; and wrens had made for baby what little provision it was blessed with ; wrens smiled upon its birth (it was a girl) ; and wrens alone tended mother and child for days before it was born, and for a month afterwards :- then the unfortunate pair went into the workhouse. The mother of the babe which had so strange and portentous a beginning of life had followed its gallant father to the camp from Arklow-a fishing village many a mile away ; but he unfortunately diverted his benevolence into other channels, and she sought refuge amongst the bushwomen when her trouble was near. They did what they could for her, and brought her safely through without recourse to the doctor.
Although the birth of an infant is a novel event in the annals of the Curragh, the appearance of a mother with her baby in arms is by no means rare ; and though a child is certainly as much an “incumbrance” there as it can be anywhere, no objection is ever made to it. In fact, a baby is obviously regarded as conferring a certain respectability upon the nest it belongs to, and is treated, like other possessions, as common property. At the present time there are four children in the bush. The mother of one of them is the young woman whose amazing abuse routed my carman, as previously related. Her outrageous blasphemies were uttered over the face of the unhappy little one as it lay at her breast. But even she seems to have the tenderest love for the babe : she never could bear to think of parting with the “poor darlint,” she says, and she stays at home with it as much as possible, doing duty as watcher at night, while the others are away. The children all seemed to be well cared for. We shall see that an egg is always bought for Mary Maloney’s baby when the day’s provisions are procured, and I found one bright curly-headed little fellow in possession of a doll. Another, a certain little Billy Carson, was produced to me on a Sunday morning, in a rig of which the whole nest seemed proud. He was arrayed in a pretty light coloured stuff frock, for which, I was assured, as much as seven and sixpence had been paid. Should the children fall sick they would be taken at one to the workhouse ; for the doctor is never seen in the bush. In sickness the wrens administer to themselves or each other such remedies as they happen to believe in, or are able to procure ; and when these fail, and the case seems hopeless, application is made at the police barracks at the camp, and the half-dying wretch is carried to Naas Hospital, nine miles off. The medical officers in the camp are, of course, kept too busy amongst the men who are the wrens’ friends to have any time to spare for the wrens themselves. Something more must be said upon that subject by-and-by.
The communistic principle governs each nest, and in hard times one family readily helps another, or several help one ; the deeps are not deaf to the voice of the lower deeps. None of the women have any money of their own. What each company get is thrown into a common purse, and the nest is provisioned out of it. What they get is little indeed ; a few halfpence turned out of one pocket and another when the clean starched frocks are thrown off at night make up a daily income just enough to keep body and soul together. How that feat is accomplished at all in winter-in such winters as the last one-which was talked of only three weeks ago as a dreadful thing of yesterday and its recurrence dreaded as a horrible thing of to-morrow-is past my comprehension. It is an understanding that they take it in turns to do the marketing, and to keep house when the rest go wandering at night ; though the girl whose dress is freshest generally performs the one duty, and the woman whose youth is not the freshest, whose good looks are quite gone, the other. And there are several wrens who have been eight or nine years on the Curragh-one or two who have been there as long as the camp itself. At that time, and long after, they had not even the shelter of a regular built nest. I asked one of these older birds how they contrived their sleeping accommodation then. Said she, “We’d pick the biggest little bush we could find, and lay undher it-turnin’ wid the wind.” “Shifting round the bush as the wind shifted ?” “Thrue for ye. And sometimes we’d wake wid the snow coverin’ us, or maybe soaked wid rain.” “And then how did you dry your clothes ?” “We jist waited for a fine day.” Only four or five years ago the wrens were not allowed upon the common at all-at any rate, nowhere near the camp. They were hunted off on account of the extravagant behaviour of one of the women in the presence of a lady (related to a general officer) who was riding on the Curragh. The wretched creature’s audacity cost her companions dear ; they were driven from the common and their hovels were destroyed. A ditch in “Furl-lane,” leading to Athy, was for some time afterwards their only home-those who would not seek shelter in the workhouse or the gaol ; as to which places they have no preference whatever. But by degrees they re-established themselves on the common, and there they remain, a credit to the country. I may mention here what I had nearly forgotten-which would be a pity-that there is beside the colony I have described another small hive of wrens on the other side of the camp. Their nest is pitched in a field belonging to an intelligent Scotchman. It contains a family of seven. In consideration of the shelter afforded to these wretched creatures by the humane proprietor of the field, who holds a good deal of land round about, they keep a sharp look out for trespassers on the Scotchman’s grounds. In this way they probably save the cost of a couple of men and their dogs. Indeed the proprietor himself is said to rate their services much higher, and to boast that “the wrens do his work better than twenty policemen.”
Whisky forms, no doubt, a very important part of these poor wretches’ sustenance. Whisky kills in the end, or it swiftly destroys all that is comely or healthy in woman or man ; but it can scarcely be doubted that without it the wren could hardly live at all. She would tell you existence would be impossible without it ; and unfortunately it would be of little use to answer that “enough” may be good for food, but “too much” is poison. They get it easily ; they get it from the soldiers when they can get nothing else ; and hunger and cold and wet dispose them too readily to go home with their heads full of drink though their pockets are empty. Then at any rate they are warm ; the appetite for food is drowned ; they are drunk, and being drunk “don’t care;” and how not to care cannot always be an undesirable end when your lot is cast amongst the Curragh bushes. But of course even the seasoned wren cannot live by whisky alone ; and I took some pains to ascertain how she did live. Nothing in the world can be got out of the plain itself, not even water ; and the nearest town or village is three or four miles off. But there is the camp within something like half a mile ; and though the wrens are forbidden, under severe penalties, to appear within three hundred and sixty yards of certain defined limits of the camp, the severity of this regulation is relaxed on three days of the week, when a sort of market is held there. A certain number of the wrens are then allowed to approach and make purchases, “just like other people.” But the market days at the camp are only three out of the weekly seven-Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday ; and though as a rule the camp’s sweethearts do find means to get their daily bread, they have to get it from day to day. At Tuesday’s market Tuesday’s food may be bought ; but Wednesday’s food there is no money for yet. Nor can all they need be bought at the camp market ; and so they pay frequent visits to a certain little store or chandler’s shop. Learning this, I also visited the store, for opportunities of observing the particular purchases of the wren. Bread and milk and potatoes were the most conspicuous articles in the shop-in fact, the only articles to be seen in any quantity ; and so it was easy to discover what the good-natured little woman behind the counter was chiefly called upon to supply. I say good-natured little woman, for her manner to the degraded creatures who flocked to her shop was very considerate ; and they seemed to be thoroughly appreciative of its spirit. Bread, potatoes, milk, candles-these were the things most in demand. Thus, one woman carried off a stone of potatoes (12 lb.), twopenn’orth of milk, (in a tin can with a cross handle), a fourpenny loaf of bread, a penny candle, and “an egg for Mary Maloney’s baby.” Other women made purchases of tobacco, tea, and sugar ; and when these articles are added to the others a pretty complete account is given of the wren’s provender. Flesh meat is a rare luxury ; though sometimes a few meagre slices of bacon give token of its presence amidst half a stone of potatoes. Nor is tobacco a luxury merely. That weed is a well-known stifler of hunger-a fact which the wren discovers for herself before long. Water is a luxury. They would have to buy every pint of it, were they not permitted (on account of a little casualty which may be mentioned by-and-by) to get it from the military train. As it is, they do buy water sometimes of good-natured Mrs. Westley. I was in her shop one day when several wrens were marketing there. All were served but one-a civil and decent-looking girl, whom she detained while she carefully unfolded a little parcel. “There, Nelly,” said she, presenting the wren with a sprig of lavender, “put it with your clothes, my dear ; it’ll make ‘em smell nice.” Nelly had never seen a lavender sprig before evidently ; but she took it respectfully, tucked it into the bosom of her gown, and no doubt folded it in that garment when it was set aside. For, as I have said, the women-put off their decent clothes immediately they have no further use for them as ornaments ; for in that sense the print gown and “Curragh petticoat” are regarded. “Fine feathers make fine birds” is a saying as well understood in the bush as anywhere else. Thus, Bridget Flanagan, who had the honour of coming from the capital, was able to put down the pretensions of one of her companions who spoke of Dublin ladies as equals, by exclaiming, “You set yourself along wid such as thim ! Where’s your fine clothes ? Where’s your jewlree ?”
From all this a fair idea may be gained, I hope, of the intolerable life of the Curragh wren-intolerable to such of us, at any rate, as have any sense of public decency or public duty. We do not hear now of women being found dead amongst the furze, as they say used sometimes to happen, but surely things are terrible enough as they are to demand notice and remedy. It was the death of one of the wretched creatures which led to the granting of water to them from the camp supplies. In the nest where I spent one uncomfortable night, out of a desire to get my lesson thoroughly, a woman named Burns was suddenly taken ill, and in the morning was found dead amongst her companions. In this case a surgeon was brought, and there in the nest (I shuddered as the story was told to me) a surgical examination was made of the poor wretch’s body. An inquest was afterwards held in the same shameful place, and evidence taken of her companions. The medical evidence showed that the woman had perished through exposure to the weather and the drinking of foul water-collected anywhere on the common. A verdict to that effect was accordingly returned by the jury, who subscribed the handsome sum of thirteen shillings towards defraying the funeral expenses. She was buried in Kildare churchyard, to which better home she was attended by her companions. That must have been a pretty sight for the parson.  No similar death has happened in the colony since Mary Burns perished. The unfortunate creatures hold out as long as they can, and then crawl to the hospital or the workhouse to die there.
PART 2 of the pamphlet on The Wrens of the Curragh to celebrate the 300th ARTICLE on EHISTORY - all spellings etc. have been retained
[Apparently the pamphlet (based on the original newspaper article) was written by a reporter of the Pall Mall Gazette, James Greenwood, who visited the Curragh in 1867 - typed and edited by Claire Connelly - re-edited by Roy O'Brien]


Reprinted from the “ Pall Mall Gazette.”
NOT out of idleness, or for the gratification of mere curiosity, or for the pleasure of making a drawing-room sensation by an adventure with something strange and wild about it, was the task undertaken which resulted in the story of the Curragh bush-women. It was done simply in accordance with the routine of action necessary nowadays for the redress of grievances, and for the working of our administrative system. For it must have been generally observed that a new principle governs the performance of official duties in England. Elsewhere, when certain men are appointed to take part in the government of a country, they understand that they are to do the duties of their office forthwith. With us the understanding is quite different : no work is to be begun except under such emphatic demand as in private life would answer to the practice of regularly kicking your footman to the coal scuttle when the fire needs replenishing. No doubt it will be said that this is an evil consequence of government by public opinion ; but whatever the steps by which the result has been attained, we have now got so far in no government that those whose duty it is to check or to heal the disorders of our social system are indifferent and supine to a degree which has destroyed all hope of them. Confidence in public servants died long ago. It has come to be an understood and accepted thing that it is for them to conceal the manifold small evils which prey upon the country ; that it is for the public to discover them ; and that not even after discovery are they, the officers of the nation, bound to find means of remedy, unless it is demanded with considerable outcry. No doubt it is a very grotesque state of things, and one that is not paralleled in any other conditions of human circumstance ; but it exists, and we must accommodate ourselves to its existence. It was in accordance with this new exigency of political life that, years ago, some gentlemen who wrote in the Lancet took upon themselves the duty of other gentlemen paid to inspect the hospital wards of workhouses-who, in accordance with their traditions, saw and said nothing, or, seeing nothing, had nothing to say. Through the labours of the volunteer inspectors the most cruel practices, the most terrible sufferings were revealed again and again. But there was no outcry ; popular feeling was shocked, but silent ; and therefore the Poor Law Board did nothing to remedy what would not have been permitted for an hour had its president and secretaries been in the public service as well as in the public pay. It was not till what in official places is called a “row” was caused by workhouse revelations of a more curious and picturesque character, though really indicating less cruelty and guilt, that those who had the guardianship of our disabled poor began to think of putting an end to the infamous creation of their own neglect. But (and this is almost comically characteristic, though it is intolerable too), as the “sensation” referred to the London workhouses alone, only the horrors of the London workhouses were to be abolished. An equally shocking state of things existing and known to exist by our officials in provincial poorhouses was allowed to await the future investigations of the press and another outcry from the public.
In these circumstances, it was thought worth while to open the eyes of our authorities upon another scandal, to which they had been deliberately shut. Deliberately, we say, because not only all that has been told in these pages, but infinitely more, was known to the Government years ago. They had not to wait to be informed of what was going on, or of the shameful and hideously wasteful consequences that flowed from it ; they had only to be told that it might be as well to seek some remedy. They knew long ago that the poor wretches congregated on the Curragh, in ditches and bush dwellings no better that those which are so distressingly savage when inhabited by Kaffirs, lay out there winter and summer, utterly neglected ; and they continued that neglect although they knew, by statistics carefully prepared, and as carefully hidden away in official pigeon-holes, that the consequences of their indifference told not only upon the poor wretches themselves (and of course nobody is bound to pity them), but also in swelling the immorality of the camp and filling the hospitals with diseased and disabled soldiers. For this is not only a matter of mere humanity-that answer, though it has sometimes proved very acceptable, will not apply in the present case. Our readers must have understood, though for obvious reasons we left it for inference, that our solicitude does not by any means extend to those miserable bush-women alone. We have to deal with something more than the scandal and disgrace of permitting the existence of such a colony as we have described. To tolerate it is to foster the spread of disease more degrading and more direful than any other that can be named ; it is to favour a state of things inhuman in itself, destructive of public decency, destructive of public health, and as a mere matter of money expenditure costly and extravagant to a monstrous degree. It may be conceded that it is nobody’s business to take vicious women under official protection-nobody’s business to palliate the misery vice brings upon them but it is somebody’s business to put an end to a state of things which contributes to the hospital of the Curragh thirty-eight per cent. of its patients-of every hundred there thirty-eight recipients and disseminators of one most shocking and contagious disease. That is the latest report ; the latest, but not the worst of a long succession of reports, made in full knowledge of how they came to be so particularly bad. The gentlemen whose business it is to govern such matters have known the average rise to fifty per cent., without counting patients whose sickness was not immediately though certainly due to the same cause ; and they were aware at the same time that the cause was to be found amongst outcast wretches lying in unutterable misery in Kildare infirmary, in Naas workhouse, and under the whin and furze of the Curragh. They knew that no such precaution as is elsewhere taken, in the establishment of special hospitals or hospital wards, had been thought of ; and, what is more, they knew why fifty or sixty women preferred to live even through the hardest winter in ditches and bushes on the common, rather than seek shelter in the workhouse. This is a part of the subject which has probably given the public some consideration. They have said, “Surely it cannot be from destitution alone that these women choose to live as they do live, not only in summer, but through all the inclemencies of winter. There is a workhouse open for them ; they would go there if they were not utterly abandoned to vice and in love with it.” And no doubt this consideration has turned many a mind from further care about the matter so far as the women are concerned. But let us correct that view of the case by a picture taken not just lately, but in the depths of a recent winter. At that time, when the ground was covered with snow, fifty women lay out upon the common, and fifty (their numbers differed by only two or three) were in Naas workhouse. What the condition of the wilder ones must have been is not a matter that need be enlarged upon ; the circumstances are, a vast bleak common, winter days and nights, snow and bitter winds, constant hunger, and the shelter of a bush. But before we make up our minds that nothing but the sheer infatuation of vice could have kept them in that condition while the doors of a poor-house were open to receive them, let us see how the others fared. The work-house itself was half empty ; but these women were not allowed to enter it and share such poor comforts as it might easily have given them. The whole fifty, with four children, were turned into a range of low hovels separated from the main building by a high wall, and so ruinous as to be totally unfit for human habitation : and this was in winter. The beds were bags of foul straw, and two or three women slept on each of them-huddled, sick and sound together, without any attempt at separation : and more than one-fourth of them were not sound. The measurement of one of these hovels was as follows : length, 28 feet ; breadth, 14 feet ; height, 9 feet. Imagine a room, a broken hovel, of these dimensions ; imagine twelve such beds in it as we have described ; imagine those twelve beds occupied by twenty-three women and two children ; and ask whether you also would not rather have lain out on the common. That is a faithful picture ; nor need anything be added to it, except that these despised and certainly very wicked women were not even allowed to worship with the other paupers ; they had to thank God by themselves, and listen to the exhortations of his minister in their own hovels apart. This, we say, is a faithful picture taken not long ago. What has been done to improve that state of things ? Anything ? If not, ought not something to be done-say, to keep down hospital expenses ? Or are our rulers at the War Office waiting for the popular outcry as usual ?
For many a year mysterious little stories have been wafted to England from the Curragh-hints and glimpses of a certain colony of poor wretches there who lived as nobody else in the three kingdoms lived, and died most like people who do come within the bills of mortality-tramps and others-when they happened to perish of cold, want, and whisky, upon that vast common. In these stories there was always something so shocking that comfortable people were glad to disbelieve them, and something so strange that it was reasonable enough to set them aside : they were not probable in an orderly, commonplace, police-regulated, Christian community like our own. Besides, one could not read those little stories-paragraphs in odd corners of newspapers in the great gooseberry season-without a knowing suspicion that if only half they told was true more must have been heard of them. This seemed all the more likely because the Curragh is not an unfrequented nook in some distant corner of the land, but a plain near a capital city-an encampment wherein thousands of Englishmen as well as thousands of Irishmen constantly live, gentle and simple both, and where scores of strangers, visitors who go there for no other purpose but to see what is to be seen, peer about every week of every summer season. It did not seem at all natural that things so very unlike what ought to happen in the nineteenth century as those little wandering paragraphs hinted at could go on from year to year without investigation and arrest. But our own observation is that the wildest circumstances and most incredible anomalies of life are those which lie open to every eye, and are stared at, and are not seen. And therefore when, a few weeks ago, other little paragraphs came wafted from the Curragh-chiefly to the effect that the poor wretches of whom we have spoken are called “wrens,” “because they live in holes in the banks,” and that things are not so bad as they used o be some years ago, when it was not uncommon to find a wren (or unfortunate woman) lying dead amongst the furze of a morning, we though it worth while to ask a hardy man of brains to go and look into the matter. Hardy, we say, because it seemed to us now, as on a former occasion which need not specify, that to ask for accurate live knowledge from official persons would be answered by the gift of a stone, as it always is. Therefore we solicited some one to go to the camp, and find the wrens (if any), and visit their nests (if any), and spend time enough by day and night amongst them to let us know what peculiar people it is of which so many incredible hints have been given-and forgotten. What the nature of the task really was, and what additional knowledge it gives us of the world we live in, will appear from the following narrative :-
It was on an evening before September had cooled-three weeks ago and more-that I set out to investigate the manners and customs, the habits and habitat, of a bird not unknown indeed in England, nor even in London, but reported to be on the Curragh of a seriously peculiar kind. Rumour had told us all we had heard of the species ; Rumour is of ticklish veracity ; but one thing may be said for her, that if she sometimes tells more lies than is tolerable, she sometimes tells more truth than it is convenient to believe. “Before September had cooled” is not merely an ornamental phrase. It is meant to be remembered as a statement of fact ; because what aspect the place of my visit would have now, what it would wear when the turf of the Curragh, so soft to the foot, is even more silent to the ear under a winter day’s snow, has got to be considered as we go on. It is an important part of the lesson learned there on an autumn day, sharp enough, but very tolerable.
From London to Holyhead, from Holyhead to Kingstown, from Kingstown to Dublin-all this was within the limits of civilization. Not that I think it a matter for congratulation that anybody in the nineteenth century should be seasick. Nor that I wish the dispensation altered. The pleasantest spectacle I have witnessed for some time was a director of a railway company (who annihilated space) and a secretary of a telegraph company (who abolished time, and used heaven’s lightning as a messenger) alternate with a basin on a playful sea. Dublin-yes, Dublin is a civilized city too : there is not courage enough in the world to deny it. But Kildare, county town though it be, one may be permitted to withhold from it the all-sufficing designation. To Kildare my steps were directed, for that town is nearer than any other to the Curragh camp : -thence could I most easily go a-nesting.
From Dublin to Kildare, past much squalor that seemed less to lie upon the earth, in the shape of wretched huts of poverty and idleness, than to be born out it naturally, as toadstools are. At Kildare station carmen were rampant-great industry of tongue among them, and much ingenuity of speech. “Bedad, sir,” said one of them, with a snatch at my luggage, “I’m the man to match ye ! Ye’re in luck to-day, sir, indade. The mare I’m driving is the celebrated Scottish Queen-no less ! own sister to Achaivement, and the best blood in Ireland. And where’ll I be driving yer hanner ? Impayrial Hotel ? I’ll make no mistake, sir, seein’ there’s no other but one, and that’s a clubhouse.” And so I go to the Imperial Hotel, where the guest proposes, the host disposes. “Foive, did ye say ? It’s no dinner ye’ll be gettin’ at foive, sir, nor no baife aither ; it’s mutton ye’ll have.” And you have mutton at four. At least I did, or at any other hour when the table-cloth happened to be disengaged. But then, how do I know ? More honourable guests than myself may have been there, and it was necessary for me to look rough and sink all fastidiousness, because my business was with people with whom a gentleman is never seen, and can never mingle with a hope of learning anything : at least, so I thought then, though I have reason to believe now that a gentleman and an officer may sometimes send for a wren and nourish her in his honourable bosom.
In the afternoon, Jimmy Lynch-my carman on many little expeditions afterwards-a loud, loquacious carman, whose adoration was given to horses and his respect to Mr. Donnelly, who fought the great fight with Cooper in Donnelly’s Hollow-called to take me on my first visit to the Curragh. As we drove along, Jimmy talked of his mare-there was never such a mare ; of the fight-there was never such a fight ; while I, half listening, looked away to the vast common where an army lives all the year round. “How many men do you think, Jimmy ?” I asked, breaking into his raptures about the “Scottish Queen. “Well, thin, tin or twelve thousand, maybe ! and a mighty fine time they have of it !” “Without their wives and sweethearts ?” “Widout their wives, shure, and hwat of that, yer hanner ? But some of their wives is with them, I believe, good luck to them ! though there’s no sweethearts in the camp at all-divil a one ! But over there,” pointing vaguely with his whip across the common, “there’s many of them poor devils living in places made of furze inthirely. Winther and summer in a bit of a bush.” “Wrens don’t you call them ?” “Wrins ! That’s the name ov ‘em ! Wrins !-that’s what they do call ‘em, and a dridful life they lade. Most distrissing, believe me !” This exclamation was not priggish in Jimmy-it was only a note caught from the mouths of other intelligent tourists. A moment of silence and his mind sought relief in the virtues of his mare, while my eyes wandered over the common where many a furze bush was visible, but none which looked as if it could be inhabited by any creatures but birds of the air and beasts of the field.
On the Curragh the air is strong ; an easterly wind was blowing over its miles of waste land-dead level for the most part, but with undulations here and there, and broken by mounds and raths, stretching along for a considerable distance and at a height at least distinguishable. The turf is soft and elastic everywhere. Sheep browse upon it ; and there you may see the Irish shepherd, idler than nobody else in his green isle, and the Irish shepherdess (O Arcadia !) flustering her rags out of their natural repose in an attempt to separate the sheep marked this way from the sheep marked that. That she might have been a beauty you see well, because her head, with its abundant locks, is bare, and so are her well-shapen legs ; but she isn’t-the chance was lost long ago. The Scottish Queen bowls along. There are good roads from Kildare to the camp, and from time to time we meet cars upon them containing well-buttoned military men. Other military men are seen, in ones and twos and threes, lounging in one direction : they show in moving patches of red amongst the dark-green masses of furze.
Jimmy has no precise instructions ; he is to drive upon the Curragh, and that’s all ; but he has a notion that generally we want to go to the camp, and particularly to the Hollow, the actual spot where Cooper was licked by the immortal Donnelly. In this somewhat aimless way we came to a series of block huts, extending for two miles, perhaps, on either side of the road. Here and there a few groups of soldiers were seen lounging listlessly, or engaged in some athletic sport. Jimmy pointed out each object of interest as we drove along. “And that’s the Catholic chapel, your hanner. And that’s the Prodestan’ church. And this is Donnelly’s Hollow” (strewed with many canvas tents) “where the fight was ! Hould the mare, sir ! hould Scottish Queen, and, bedad ! I’ll show ye where Cooper stood, and where Donnelly stood-well I know the futmarks ov ‘em !” Nor would Jimmy be denied. Fortunately, the Scottish Queen restrained the fiery impulses of her blood, and stood like any cart-horse still while Jimmy planted himself in Donnelly’s footmarks, and tried to satisfy the last object of my journey by putting himself in a fighting attitude on that heroic spot. With as little shock to his feelings as I could contrive I made him aware that I didn’t care extremely about Cooper or Donnelly ; that the afternoon was too far advanced for a regular visit to the camp itself, but that in driving back I should like to get a glimpse of the wren’s nests. Jimmy put his hands down slowly, and in silence remounted the car. The sojers he could understand as the object of a tourist’s gaze, and Donnelly’s Hollow as an object of his contemplations ; but “thim wrins !”
However, back we went through the line of huts ; the road dwindled, and we were presently driving over the common itself. By this time the air was fast growing colder and mistier. The block huts of the camp, seen only in dim outline, soon were the only hints of human life in the dreary prospect. As far as the eye could distinguish within the waning limits of the light all was barren and cheerless. The sky above looked waste as the heath itself, and drearier ; for there were still those constantly recurring patches of furze to break the green monotony below, while there was nothing at all to break the grey monotony above. How in such solitary places at such times the mind also seems to close in from above and on all sides in a twilight sort of way, everybody knows. Mine soon got into that condition as we rolled over the noiseless turf ; so that it was with a start I presently saw a bare-headed, bare-footed woman standing only a few feet distant. Had the figure sprang out of the earth or dropped from the clouds my surprise could not have been greater ; true though it was that I had come to Ireland to see this very woman-her and her companions.  At the same moment, “There’s wrin, sir !” Jimmy shouted, “and there’s a nest ! and there’s another !” I saw no nest. The clumps of furze looked a little thicker than usual in the direction indicated, but there was nothing more remarkable about them. But when, jumping from the car, I walked a few paces onward, I understood better what nesting on the Curragh is. These heaps of furze are built and furnished for human occupation ; and here and there outside them were squatted groups of those who dwelt therein-“winther and summer in a bit of a bush.” Not one or two, but several groups-half naked, flagrant-indicating a considerable colony. I spent a long night amongst them afterwards, and believe I know pretty well all that is worth knowing of a tribe of outcasts as interesting, perhaps, as any which the scientific men of the Abyssinian expedition are likely to write books about. One thing I may as well add here. When your correspondent who inspected the casual wards of Lambeth told what he had seen there, he thought it necessary to warn your readers that there was not a single word of it that could justly be called exaggerated. So I assure them that what I may have to say of the Curragh shall not have a touch of false “colour” anywhere. But of course, in dealing with such a matter a great deal must be suppressed.

To commemorate the 300th ARTICLE on EHISTORY we will republish in parts, the original pamphlet on The Wren of the Curragh, which was reprinted from the Dicken's newspaper The Pall Mall Gazette and published in 1867. My thanks to Maria Luddy for a copy of the pamphlet and to the late Con Costello for helping bring the story of the wrens to light - and of course to Reggie Darling and the Curragh Local History Group who preserve all traditions relating to the Curragh. Also Claire Connelly and Roy O'Brien for their help in its preparation.

[Apparently the pamphlet (based on the original newspaper article) was written by a reporter of the Pall Mall Gazette, James Greenwood, who visited the Curragh in 1867 - all spellings etc. have been retained]


The famine era in north Kildare
recalled by Celbridge author
There are few more enduring images in modern Irish history than the image of the Workhouse. It conjures up impressions of famine, of suffering and of the harsher face of English rule.  The very mention of the word ‘workhouse’ engendered feelings of humiliation and of desperation in bygone generations. Entry to the ‘workhouse’ was a point of no return for many – while escaping the immediate devastation of famine the workhouse inmates were subject to a routine which was harsh and made precious few concessions to humanity.
That said, there were some redeeming features of the concept. It marked the first time that a government at national level took responsibility for the welfare of citizens. It also marked an important step in the building blocks of a local government system with the workhouses overseen by elected Poor Law Guardians. And finally the workhouses themselves were buildings of some substance which even to the present day form the basis of a number of district and general hospitals.
In Co. Kildare there were three workhouses – at Athy, Naas and Celbridge, all of which exist in one form or another to the present day. The workhouses in turn were the centres of a district, about ten miles in radius, which was known as the Poor Law district. A key feature of the workhouse system was that a rate was levied on the occupiers of land and premises in each poor law district to fund the costs of the workhouse. This rate, termed the Poor Law rate, formed the basis for a valuation and rating system which exists to a degree in modern times.
The story of the Celbridge workhouse has been documented by Seamus Cummins in a booklet coinciding with the opening of the fine memorial park on the site of the old workhouse cemetery at the Maynooth Road. Although very few records have survived the author gives a comprehensive account of the origin, operation and modern uses of the Celbridge workhouse building. The workhouse in Celbridge was built to a plan which was virtually identical to other workhouses throughout Ireland – more than 100 were built with a workhouse in every market town. However there was a degree of formality accorded to the beginning of construction on the Celbridge workhouse which was unusual given the general sense of austerity which surrounded the operation of the system. Seamus Cummins records the account from the Leinster Express newspaper of 10 August 1839 which described the ceremonial of laying the foundation stone. A type of time capsule was inserted in the foundation stone containing coins and inscriptions and covered with a plate inscribed 1839. Among those present at the opening ceremony were Richard Maunsell of Oakley Park, Arthur Henly of Lodge Park, J.D. Nesbett of Leixlip House, Dr. Ferguson, Dr. Madden and William Brown of Ballygoran.
The workhouse opened in June 1841 and soon was receiving the destitute – a trend which was to accelerate in numbers as the Great Famine loomed in 1847. Celbridge workhouse might have been built to a uniform pattern as with workhouses nationally but its pattern of admissions was to be quite different. In as expert a distinction as to be found in any writing on the period, Seamus Cummins points out that the devastation of the famine was at its must acute in other parts of the country where the conacre system applied – this occurred where farm labourers were not paid in cash but were given a plot of ground to grow potatoes in return for giving their labour to the landlord. North Kildare was not in this category as the main landowners such as the Connollys of Castletown and the Fitzgeralds of Carton had developed pasture economies centred around cattle-rearing. In such cases there was less labour involved and the farm labourers tended to be paid in cash. The north Kildare towns too had a level of small industry in the form of mills, ironworks and distilleries which provided a further source of income. Maynooth College was a large employer and the railway and canal trade also helped maintain a level of a service economy which deflected the full impact of the famine from the district. Nonetheless there was call on the workhouse, upwards of 800 people were admitted during 1847 and inevitably some perished. The workhouse authorities provided a cemetery which became the resting place of an unknown number of inmates with children and the elderly being particularly prone to the pestilences of the age. In modern times the memory of the unknown souls – there are no records surviving of interments – has been honoured in the most appropriate way by the creation of the memorial park by the civic-minded community of Celbridge.
Reference: A Brief History of Celbridge Poor Law Union by Seamus Cummins, published by Celbridge Tidy Towns Association. Thank you to Tony Maher of Celbridge Tidy Towns for his assistance.

In 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' Liam Kenny explores the history of the Celbridge Poor Law Union from a recent publication by Seamus Cummins


Romance blossomed between land war campaigners
The occasional publication of magazines and journals by local history societies in various localities brings new and fresh material to the record as well as providing an entertaining read for anybody interested in the topic. A welcome return to the local publishing scene is the latest edition of the Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society. The West Wicklow Historical society published three journals in the 1980s but then went through a quieter period. Now after a lapse of almost two decades Volume Four of the journal has emerged, edited by Chris Lawlor, well known Dunlavin historian, and Donal McDonnell, another stalwart of the history scene west of the Wicklow mountains. The magazine, as is the way with such publications, includes an eclectic range of articles, items and photographs. The end  section of the journal includes a valuable selection of photographs of monuments erected or restored to mark the bicentenary of the 1798 rising. Included in the photographs are pictures of the monuments related to the Dunlavin Green massacre; the escape at the Dwyer-McAllister cottage in the Glen of Imaal; the incident at Dwyer’s Brook where a rebel scout was beheaded but whose bravery saved 1000 men on Blackmore Hill; the monuments at Knocknadroose and Hollywood to the rebels Hoyle, Burke and Byrne; the modern granite sculpture in Tournant graveyard to the men killed at Dunlavin, and a fine statue of Michael Dwyer, musket in hand, in the Glen of Imaal.
Still on matters of a nationalist flavour and of particular interest to readers of the Leinster Leader is an article by Maire O’Neill on Jenny Wyse-Power, who was born Jenny O’Toole in Baltinglass in 1858 and whose life was devoted to activism in public life in a way that was rare for women in that era and indeed in subsequent generations – to quote the writer: ‘ She combined feminism with a strong nationalism and spoke out constantly on issues that affected women.’  Marie O’Neill traces the story of how Jenny O’Toole as a young woman in her early twenties became acquainted with Anna Parnell, sister of Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of Irish home rule opinion, and herself a leader of the Ladies Land League which had been founded to give support to the Land League led by Michael Davitt.  The role of the ladies’ land league was initially envisaged to be auxiliary to the men’s League and embraced such tasks as  bringing relief to the evicted tenants or collecting money for the men’s Land League. However capable and feisty women like Jenny Wyse Power were not going to be confined to such ancillary roles and soon she was sent down to a Land League battle ground in the Hacketstown area where as well as climbing ditches in the winter weather to reach the scattered homesteads of the evicted tenants she also presided over protest meetings and gatherings designed to stiffen resistance to the landlord-inspired attempts by the constabulary to suppress land league agitiation. Her land league activism brought her in contact with John Wyse Power, who although from a well-heeled farming background near Waterford had thrown himself into the campaigns of the Land League and the more militant Irish Republican Brotherhood. Sharing many interests, including an admiration for Parnell, romance blossomed and the couple married in July 1883 when John who had taken up journalism, was editor of the Leinster Leader which had been established just three years previously as an unashamedly campaigning newspaper for the interests of the Land League and Irish nationalism. John had another claim to fame during his Leader days as he was one of the now legendary group who attended the first meeting of the GAA in Hayes’ Hotel Thurles in 1884. It can be presumed that during this eventful time the young people lived in Naas for a brief period before they moved to Dublin 1885 where John was to become a journalist with the Freeman’s Journal paper.
Marie O’Neill follows Jenny’s (Wyse-Power) later life which was one of amazing energy and commitment both to family and to the causes she had adopted as a young woman. She was a joint founder in 1900 with Maud Gonne of the ‘Daughters of Erin’ revolutionary society which aimed for a resurgence in the Irish language, music, art and literature as a platform for full independence. She also was a founder member of Sinn Fein and an early member of its Executive. Again way ahead of her time as a woman she contested elected office and as elected to the Dublin Poor Law Guardians in 1902 becoming one of only a handful of women to have elected office in Ireland or Britain. Her home in Henry Street was to becoming a meeting point for Sinn Fein leaders and it was there that the proclamation of the 1916 rising was signed just before the rebellion was triggered from the GPO by Padraig Pearse and company. According to her biographer Marie O’Neill, Jenny Wyse Power never forgot her Baltinglass roots and visited her relations in west Wicklow until her death in 1941. Certainly the West Wicklow Journal is to be commended for reminding us of the life and times of this remarkable woman who like so many other figures of the era seems to have slipped through the cracks of the historical record.
The foregoing are just a few examples of the variety of material in this fine journal publication of the West Wicklow Historical Society which makes an absorbing read for anybody interested in the stories, personalities and lore of the area in bygone times.
Reference:   Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society, Number Four – edited by Chris Lawlor and Donal McDonnell.
Series no. 54

In his regular Leinster Leader column, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' Liam Kenny reviews Vol. IV of the Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society with particular emphasis on the article by Marie O'Neill on Jenny Wyse Power


Essays on Athy’s past
evoke memories of Lilywhite football glory
For the past fifteen years Athy historian Frank Taaffe has been recording the stories and folklore of the Barrowside town in a weekly column in the Kildare Nationalist. In an impressive example of longevity he has now written over 800 articles almost all dealing with the characters and personalities of Athy and its environs. Selections of his weekly columns have already appeared in book form twice and now he has publishd a third collection entitled ‘Eye on Athy’s Past – Volume 3.’
A glance at the contents list shows the electic range of topics taken on by the author. Headings such as ‘The Ballylinan carnival of 1937’ , ‘ Jack McKenna and the Graney Ambush’ and ‘Barney Dunne and Kildare’s 1935 All-Ireland football team’ – all reveal the deeply social and personal approach taken by the Frank Taaffe to his recording of Athy’s past.
The sporting interests of the greater Athy area are well represented in his latest collection of columns. In an article on ‘Barney Dunne and Kildare’s All Ireland Football Team 1935’ he shows his gift for bringing a personal and local focus to an event of all-Ireland significance.
The All-Ireland of 1935 was to mark the end of Kildare’s run as one of the top flight team’s in the country. Having picked up All_Ireland’s in 1927 & 28 the Lilywhites remained competitive into the 1930s and reached the All-Ireland final in 1935 against Cavan, a county which they had beaten for All-Ireland glory in 1928. Enter Barney Dunne from Athy who had the unusual distinction, according to Frank Taaffe, of having a dual loyalty – he had in fact been born in Cavan but had for many years been involved in Kildare football and indeed had won two Kildare County Senior championships with Athy.
Although a valued part of the squad he was to find himself on the subs bench for the 1935 final along with Athy club-mates Jim Fox and ‘Cuddy’ Chanders – the latter had been dropped from the fielded fifteen in a controversial decision by team coach Paul Doyle. South Kildare was strongly represented on that 1935 All Ireland squad which was captained by Paul Matthews of the Athy 1934 winning side. Also from Athy was Tommy Mulhall who, according to newspaper reports quoted by Frank Taaffe, was ‘ the brainiest player on the team and one of he fastest wing men.’
Frank Taaffe’s interview with Barney Dunne reveals that the team’s build-up for the All-Ireland was quite organised for the time but was clearly leisurely in terms of training camp activities compared to the modern high-intensity squad regimes. Barney recalled the team being brought to Oakley Park near Celbridge for two weeks training under Paul Doyle, the manager. Morning training was followed by long walks including a walk to Maynooth and, closer to the GAA code, a challenge match against Meath was organised for Navan.
When the big dawned the players went to mass in Celbridge before travelling by bus to Croke Park where new attendance records were set as they had been every time the Lilywhites, regarded as the form team of the generation, appeared in the Croke Park cauldron. However this team the Kildare side were on the back foot from the first minute when Cavan kicked a point. Even from that early stage the Lilywhites were chasing the Breffni men. The half time came with Cavan ahead by double scores and they maintained their lead until the final whistle echoed around the old Croke Park.  
Although the Lilywhite supporters had turned out in great numbers the event seemed to have lacked the ‘hype’ which accompanies modern sport. While the fact that they were the beaten side no doubt dampened the kind of reception they might have expected back in the Short Grass, Barney Dunne recounted to Frank Taaffe that ‘ there was no great fuss made of footballers in those days’. He and his vanquished colleagues had a quiet meal in Barry’s hotel where they stayed overnight before returning to their respective workplaces the following day – Barney turned up that evening for his usual shift in O’Meara’s public house, Leinster St., Athy. Perhaps the low key reaction was an omen of the fact the that the 1935 All-Ireland was to mark the Lilywhite’s last All Ireland appearance until 1998 when, alas, the silverware was to prove equally elusive.
Frank Taaffe’s collection of essays ranges over other sports ranging from tennis to meggars as well as politics, ceili bands and pipes, high-street businesses and old placenames, and is masterly compilation of well-observed local history memoirs which will be of interest to anybody with connections to the Barrowside town.
Reference: ‘Eye on Athy’s Past – Volume 3 by Frank Taaffe
Series no 51


Seven centuries of service
on the banks of the Barrow in south Kildare
Before 2007 disappears into the rear view mirror of history it is worth recalling one of the more prominent anniversaries which was marked towards the end of the old year. The presence of the Dominican order of priests in Athy for seven and a half centuries was commemorated in the Barrowside town last November. Accompanying the commemorative events was the publication of a booklet entitled ‘Dominicans of Athy 1257-2007’ by Fr. Hugh Fenning OP, learned member and historian of the order’s heritage.   Of course the Dominican presence in county Kildare was not confined to Athy. The college at Newbridge is well known in the present day and it, in turn, traces its roots to a mediaeval Dominican foundation in Naas. Indeed a Naas Dominican Fr. Peter Higgins, OP, is commemorated as one of the Irish martyrs who suffered in the 17th century onslaught on the Catholic church and a portrait-likeness of him is exhibited in Naas parish church.
However Hugh Fenning’s  publication concentrates on the Athy Dominicans  and the lengthy story of the Dominicans who occupied several locations in and around south Kildare since the the 13th century. In his eloquent summary he says that the Dominicans of Athy have seen ‘ every shade of fortune and have had their share of hunger, fire and sword’. Their presence in Athy was not one of  uninterrupted continuity – Henry the VIII’s henchmen confiscated their old abbey and forced them out of the town for some ninety years. In the following decades a priest of the Athy friary, Fr. Richard Ovington, was caught up in the siege of Drogheda and killed by Cromwell’s forces in 1649.
In a later decade the sub-prior of Athy, Redmund Moore, became enmeshed in the religious wars and died in a dungeon in Dublin in 1669. He had refused to fall for the persuasion of another Kildare cleric one Peter Walsh, a Castledermot-born Franciscan, who was attempting to divert the loyalties of the Catholic orders from their allegiance to the pope. In the midst of all of this harassment the remaining members of the Athy community were forced into hiding in rural locations in south Kildare such as Belan near Moone, Cloney near Monasterevin and in the remote hideouts of Derryvullagh bog. There was a further black period from 1698 which saw all clergy including the Dominicans banished from Ireland for half a century.
It was not until 1754 that hostility to Catholic practices had relaxed to a degree and the friars were able to resume their life of prayer and service in Athy. It is from this year that their unbroken presence in the south Kildare town begins.
While conditions became more amenable for religious orders there were still practical problems to be surmounted not least the sustenance of the friary from the charity of the local people. One of the customs was the ‘quest’ which saw the friars embark on missions to the neighbouring countryside bringing prayers and pastoral support to local people while also collecting alms for their friary in Athy. Accounts kept by a Fr. Kenneally who was prior for almost three decades in the early 1800s reveal an annual circuit which saw the friars travel on horseback ‘ by Cloney to Monasterevin, by Crookstown, Narraghmore and Dunlavin to Kilcullen. Eastward they followed the line of the Wicklow mountains, riding to Castledermot, Baltinglass, Rathvilly, Hacketstown, Rathdrum, Redcross and even to Glendalough.’ Working south from Athy the friars also sought food and money on a route which took in ‘ Ballyadams, Ballylynan, Wolfhill, Kilabban, Levitstown and Clonegall.’ These customary fund raising circuits were jealously guarded by the respective friaries with the Athy friars making  sure not to intrude on the fund-raising terrain of their confreres in Newbridge and Kilkenny.
Fast forward to the early twenty-first century and the biggest challenge facing the Dominicans in Athy is not so much one of funds as of manpower. As Fr. Fenning remarks in the concluding lines of his booklet ‘ All seems tranquil now for the Dominicans in Athy, but what of tomorrow? New dangers loom as the friars grow old and numbers drop not only in Athy, but across the western world … one can only pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his vineyard.’
It would be ironic indeed if the Dominicans in Athy, and indeed all other religious congregations and diocesan clergies, having survived seven centuries and more of repression, harassment and hardship were to fade from view in our modern era of relative peace and plenty.
Reference: ‘ Dominicans of Athy 1257-2007’ by Hugh Fenning, OP, available from St. Dominic’s, Athy, tel 059 8631573.
Series no 49

July 11, 2008


Kildare County Library, Local Studies, Genealogy and Archives Dept. in partnership with Kildare Town Heritage Centre have recently launched A Topographical Dictionary of County Kildare in 1837 being the relevant 'Kildare' extracts from Samuel Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in that year. It has been re-edited since the material was first made available on the internet, corrected and material added and now appears with almost 1300 references in the comprehensive index as well as a glossary and the original parameters for the survey as set out in the Leinster Express of 1834.
The book is on sale at Farrells of Newbridge, Barker and Jones in Naas, Kildare Town and Athy Heritage Centres, Malones Newsagents in Kildare and Kildare Outlet Shopping (Kildare Retail Village) and is priced at €15.99
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Below is an extract from the book re. County Kildare
KILDARE (County of), an inland county of the province of Leinster, bounded on the east by the counties of Dublin and Wicklow, on the north by Meath, on the west by the King’s and Queen’s counties, and on the south by Carlow. It comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 392,435 acres, of which 325,988 are cultivated ground, and 66,447 are unprofitable mountain and bog. The population, in 1821, amounted to 99,065, and in 1831, to 108,424.
This county is partly within the diocese of Dublin but chiefly in that of Kildare. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Carbery, Clane, Connell, Ikeathy and Oughterany, Kilcullen, Kilkea and Moone, East Narragh and Rheban, West Narragh and Rheban, East Ophaly, West Ophaly, North Naas, South Naas, North Salt, and South Salt. 
It contains the incorporated assize and market towns of Naas and Athy; the ancient disfranchised borough and market town of Kildare; the market and post-towns of Kilcock, Maynooth, Celbridge, Monastereven,Timoline, Rathangan, Leixlip, Kilcullen-Bridge, and Newbridge; and the post-towns of Castledermot, Clane and Ballytore: the largest villages are Prosperous, Kill, Johnstown-Bridge, and Sallins. Prior to the Union it sent ten members to the Irish parliament. The election, if held between the spring and summer assizes, takes place at Naas; if at any other period of the year, at Athy. 
The county is included in the home circuit: the spring assize is held at Naas, and the summer assize at Athy, at each of which are a county court-house and gaol. The general quarter sessions are held at Athy and Maynooth in January, at Kildare and Naas in April, at Maynooth and Athy in July, and at Naas and Kildare in October. The number of persons charged with criminal offences and committed to the two prisons, in 1835, was 101, and of civil bill committals, 22. 
The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 12 deputy-lieutenants, and 92 magistrates, with the usual county officers, including two coroners. There are 45 constabulary police stations, having in the whole a force of one stipendiary magistrate, 4 chief and 40 subordinate constables, and 205 men, with 6 horses the expense of whose maintenance is defrayed equally by Grand Jury presentments and by Government. The district lunatic asylum for the county is at Carlow, and the county infirmary at Kildare: there are fever hospitals at Celbridge, Naas, and Kilcullen, and dispensaries at Athy, Ballitore, Castledermot, Celbridge, Clane, Donadea, Johnstown-Bridge, Kilcock, Kilcullen, Maynooth, Monasterevan, Naas, Newbridge, Rathangan, and Robertstown; the infirmary and fever hospitals are supported by Grand Jury presentments, and the dispensaries by equal presentments and voluntary subscriptions. The amount of the Grand Jury presentments for 1835 was £19,554. 18. 9., of which £1221. 7. 10. was for the public roads of the county at large; £6051. 12. 5. for the public roads, being the baronial charge; £5206. 7. 8. for public establishments, officers’ salaries, buildings, &c.; £4713. 15. 10½. for police, and £2304. 14. 11½. in repayment of loans advanced by Government. In the military arrangements it is included in the eastern district, and contains three barrack stations, two for cavalry at Newbridge and Athy, and one for infantry at Naas.
The general surface is rather level. In the barony of West Ophaly are several gently rising hills, and others occur towards the eastern boundary of the county. The greatest elevation of the plain country is around Naas, both which baronies and their vicinity present an appearance of great fertility, which is also exhibited generally throughout the eastern and southern, and a portion of the western parts of the county; but towards the north and north-west are vast tracts of the Bog of Allen, comprising more than 50,000 acres, having a flat, dreary surface, relieved here and there by verdant elevations, here called “islands.” Near the southern extremity of this immense bog are the hills of Grange Allen, Cheelow, Dunmurry, Redhills, and Knocknagylogh, generally fertile, and cultivated to the summit. There are also small hills in the vicinity of Timoline and Moone; others stretching from Killan, by Kilrush, Davidstown, Calverstown, and Thomastown, and terminating in the hills of old Kilcullen and Ballysax; and other small and detached elevations near Arthurstown, Lyons, Longtown, &c. The Bog of Allen and the Curragh of Kildare are two distinguishing features of the county. 
Towards the west rises the Hill of Allen, a steep elevation of a conical form, about 300 feet in height. The Curragh is a fine undulating down, six miles long and two broad: it lies in a direction from north-east to south-west, having the town of Kildare near its western extremity, and crossed by the great road from Dublin to Limerick; and is, in fact, an extensive sheepwalk of above 6000 acres, forming a more beautiful lawn than the hand of art ever made. Nothing can exceed the extreme softness and elasticity of the turf, which is of a verdure that charms the eye, and is still further set off by the gentle inequality of the surface: the soil is a fine dry loam on a substratum of limestone. It is depastured by numerous large flocks turned on it by the occupiers of the adjacent farms, who alone have the right of pasture, which greatly enhances the value of these farms. This plain has long been celebrated as the principal race-ground in Ireland, and is equal, if not superior, to that of Newmarket, in all the requisites for this sport.
In general the county is fertile and well cultivated, particularly around Athy, and thence along the banks of the Barrow, extending to the borders of the county of Carlow. The districts around the towns of Kildare, Naas, Kill, and Clane are also fertile, well fenced, and tolerably well cultivated; but in wet seasons much water remains on the surface, showing the want of a good system of drainage, which is much neglected. Agriculture is systematically practised in some parts, particularly by the noblemen and resident gentlemen, and their example is beginning to produce its beneficial effects among the small farmers. Wheat is cultivated generally, and the quality is remarkably good; the barley is also bright and sound; the oats are good, clean and heavy, except in a few low, cold, and clayey situations; potatoes are extensively grown, and in great varieties of sorts, large quantities being sent to Dublin; turnips and mangelwurzel are cultivated by a great number of the wealthy farmers, clover and vetches by nearly all; and rape is grown extensively around Monastereven.
The Scotch plough is general, the old heavy wooden plough being rarely seen; indeed agricultural implements of all kinds are greatly improved, except the spade, which is still a long narrow tool. The heavy wooden wheel car has given place to one of much lighter construction, with low spoke-wheels, iron-bound, the kish, so general in the western counties, is scarcely ever seen here; some of the vehicles are made exactly after the plan of the Scotch cart, some of them with, and some without the high sides. Greater attention is manifested in collecting manure, and large composts are raised in the vicinity of bogs by the mixture of bog mould and stable manure or ashes. The burning of subsoil in kilns was introduced by the late Mr. Rawson, who compiled the statistical survey of Kildare for the Royal Dublin Society, and has now become general, producing the finest crops of potatoes and turnips. A kind of indurated sand found in banks, the adhesive property of which is so great that the bank, when cut perpendicularly, will never yield in any kind of weather, is considered by some agriculturists as a kind of golden mine for the farmer who can avail himself of the benefit of it. The cottagers in the neighbourhood of the Curragh collect the sheep dung, which they mix in tubs with water, stirring it until it forms a thick solution, which they call “mulch;” in this they steep the roots of their cabbage plants for some hours; a quantity of the substance consequently sticks to the roots, and ensures a full crop. In the smaller farms a very disadvantageous custom is prevalent of dividing the land into long narrow enclosures, which occasions an unnecessary and therefore injurious extent of fence in proportion to the land included. The fences generally are tolerably good, but they everywhere occupy too much ground; the usual kind is a bank of earth thrown up from a wide ditch, and covering five or six feet of surface, so that the bank and ditch seldom occupy less than nine feet in width: in the breast of this bank, about halfway up, a single row of quicksets is placed, sometimes accompanied by seedlings of forest timber.
In those parts which have not been subjected to tillage there are very rich fattening grounds; but where the soil has been much exhausted by the plough, the pasture is poor and light. The grasses in the meadows and feeding pastures are of the most valuable kinds; in low bottoms, especially in those subject to floods, Timothy grass is the principal herbage. Dairies of any extent are not frequent, except in the parts convenient to the Dublin market, where they are kept for the purpose of fattening calves. Great improvement has been made in the breed of cattle, the old long-horned Irish cow being now rarely seen; the most esteemed are the short-horned or Dutch breed, crossed with the Durham; some of the gentry and wealthy farmers have introduced the pure Durham breed, which commands large prices; others have the North Devon, which answers remarkably well. The small farmers mostly prefer the old Irish long-horned cow, crossed with the Durham; and in some districts scarce any other is seen: in the northern baronies, bordering on Meath, the large and heavy long-horned cattle are very common and grow to a size equal to those of Meath or Westmeath. Great numbers of cattle are brought from other counties, and fed here for the Dublin market. Great improvement has been made in the breed of sheep, and vast flocks are every year reared on the Curragh: the most prevailing breed is a cross between the New Leicester and the Ayrshire, but many of the principal agriculturists have the pure New Leicester; sometimes they are crossed with the Kerry sheep. The lower class of farmers have brood mares as part of their tillage stock, but they do not pay sufficient attention to the breed of the sires, and are too desirous of crossing with racers. Planting has been carried on for many years extensively and successfully. Many of the demesnes are ornamented with full-grown timber. The timber sallow thrives particularly well in the wet grounds with which the county abounds; beech and larch are also of very quick growth. In the demesne of Moore Abbey is one of the best-planted hills in Ireland; and the woods of Carton and Palmerstown are extensive, and the timber remarkably fine. In draining the bogs remains of ancient forests have been discovered.
The great mountain range of granite of which the county of Wicklow is nearly composed, terminates in this county at Castledermot. Thence by Ballitore, Kilcullen, and to the south-east of Naas, nearly as far as Rathcoole, is clay-slate; the rest of the county belongs to the great field of floetz limestone which covers the greater part of the flat country of Ireland, and which is here interrupted only by the chain of central hills. The low group of hills west of Rathcoole, which includes Windmill Hill, Athgoe, Lyons, and Rusty Hill, is composed of clay-slate, grauwacke, grauwacke-slate, and granite. The grauwacke consists of small and finely rounded and angular grains of quartz, numerous minute scales of mica, small fragments of clay-slate, and sometimes portions of felspar. The rock at Windmill Hill ranges 10onorth of east and south of west, which is the general direction of these hills, exhibiting also at times an undulating curved slaty formation: the dip is towards the south-west, and generally at an angle of about 45o. The grauwacke-slate of Windmill Hill is remarkable for containing subordinate beds of granite, the uppermost at the depth of four fathoms; they are 50 or 60 yards apart, separated by the grauwacke-slate, and all dip from 45o to 50o to the south-east. Some of these granite beds may be traced westward to the turnpike road opposite to Rusty Hill: they consist of a small and finely grained intermixture of yellowish and greyish white felspar, greyish vitreous transparent quartz, and flakes or scales of mica, white and silvery, with some scattered portions of schorl: the grains are sometimes so minute that the stone appears almost compact. Sometimes also small particles and cubical crystals of iron pyrites are disseminated through the rock, which, when decomposing, communicate an iron-shot spotted appearance to the stone. The red sandstone conglomerate occurs in situ at the northern foot of the Hill of Lyons, where it is exposed for about 10 fathoms in length, in strata four feet thick, ranging east and west, dipping 30o to the north, and resting on grauwacke-slate; it re-appears in the central range. Red Hill, Dunmurry Hill, and the western foot of Grange Hill, consist of alternating beds of finely grained grauwacke, grauwacke-slate, and clay-slate, ranging 10o north of east and south of west, and dipping 60o towards the south-east, but in many places being nearly vertical. At the northern foot of Red Hill is a small patch of red sandstone conglomerate, which was quarried for mill-stone some years since. Enough of the firm rock is visible to show that the strata range east and west, and dip 17o west. The Chair of Kildare consists of floetz limestone, extending southwards to the northern foot of Dunmurry Hill, and covering the grauwacke and slaty rocks. To the north it rests on the trap of Grange Hill, which also covers the same kind of rock. 
The Hill of Allen is separated from Grange Hill by an intervening vale, their summits being about two miles apart: it is composed of one great body of granular and compact greenstone and greenstone porphyry, which appears all round the base, on the sides, and on the summit, in numerous protuberant rocky masses, without any mark of stratification. Some of the greenstone is remarkably crystalline, consisting of large masses of hornblende, with crystals of felspar. Whether this hill be a distinct mass or connected with Grange Hill is not easily ascertained, from the depth of the alluvial soil. About a quarter of a mile from the northern extremity of the Hill of Allen is a slight eminence called the Leap of Allen, composed of red sandstone conglomerate, arranged in beds which vary from 9 to 18 inches and even to 2½ feet thick, and are separated by thin layers of reddish sandy slate-clay. It contains the same components as the conglomerate already noticed, with the addition of fragments of grauwacke-slate, which are, however, comparatively rare: it is quarried for mill-stones. The beds range north-north-east and south-south-west, dipping south-south-east at an angle of from 15o to 20o, and therefore they probably underlie and support the trap of the Hill of Allen. Indications of copper having been observed in the Dunmurry hills, miners were employed to explore them in 1786, during whose operations detached masses of sulphuret of copper were found of nearly 40 per cent. purity, accompanied with a strong vitriolic water: the principal bed seemed to lie deep in the hill, and even to dip under the adjoining valley. Near the base of the hill was also found an alkaline argillaceous earth of a light grey colour, possessing many of the qualities of fullers’ earth. In the veins of the rocks, and in the matrix of the ore, were quantities of fine yellow ochre proper for painting. The surface of the Hill of Allen also presents indications of copper. The loose stones and the projecting points of rock appear as if vitrified by fire, and in many places impregnated with carbonate of copper.
Several attempts were made near the close of the last century to establish the cotton manufacture, and some large mills were built near Clane, Leixlip, and other places, but they all fell to decay. A very large mill for manufacturing cotton was, however, built a few years since at Inchyguire, near Ballytore, which is still in full operation; and a small woollen manufacture is carried on at Celbridge. These are the only manufactures of note which the county possesses, although the numerous falls on the rivers offer most advantageous sites for the erection of works, and there is a great facility for the transit of goods. Though all the small rivers abound with trout, and though the Barrow formerly gave a copious supply of salmon, yet there are no fisheries. The weirs thrown across this river for forming mill-dams have presented such impediments to the passage of the fish, that they are nearly banished from it.
The river Boyne has its source in the northern part of the county, as also has its tributary branch the Blackwater. The Barrow forms the greater part of the western boundary, being joined in its course by the Feagile, the Little Barrow, the Finnery, the Grees, and the Ler (or Lune), all from the east; the Liffey trenches deeply into the eastern part, receiving at Leixlip the Ryewater, which forms part of the northern boundary, and its tributary the Lyreen; it also receives the Morrel between Celbridge and Clane. The Grand Canal enters this county near Lyons, nine miles from Dublin, and quits it for the King’s county near the source of the Boyne, in the Bog of Allen. Near Sallins it is carried over the Liffey by an elegant aqueduct, whence a branch leads to the town of Naas, and thence is another branch to Harbourstown, in the direction of Kilcullen, which was intended to have been continued to Wexford. From Robertstown, just where the canal enters the Bog of Allen, a branch diverges, and passing through the Queen’s county falls into the Barrow at Athy, opening a communication with Carlow, New Ross, and Waterford. From this line a branch, called the Miltown Canal, leaves it near Robertstown, and proceeds in the direction of the Curragh; and at Monastereven, where the Athy line crosses the Barrow by a noble aqueduct, another branch leaves it for Portarlington and Mountmellick. The summit level is in this county, from which each branch is amply supplied with water in the driest seasons without the expense of a reservoir. The Royal Canal enters near Leixlip, seven miles from Dublin, and passes a little south of Maynooth and Kilcock to Nicholastown, near which it leaves this county and enters Meath: it re-enters it by an aqueduct over the Blackwater, and continues to the Boyne, over which it is conveyed by an aqueduct, and again enters Meath near Clonard.
Among the existing relics of antiquity are five ancient round towers, situated at Kildare, Taghadoe, Kilcullen, Oughterard, and Castledermot; the first is the most remarkable. Raths are numerous. Three miles south-east of Athy, that called the Moat of Ardscull stands prominent. A mile farther is the Hill of Carmon, which was the Naasteighan, or place where the assembly of the states of the southern part of Leinster was held: near it are sixteen smaller conical hills, supposed to be the seats on which the elders sat. Near the rath is a single pillar stone, called Gobhlan, about seven feet high, supposed to have been erected for the worship of Baal. Stones similar to that at Mullimast are to be seen at Kilgowan, Furnace, and Punch’s Town, all in the vicinity of Naas. At Harristown, near Kilcullen, is another of those taper upright stones, with a conical top; and about two miles from Jigginstown are two others, known by the name of the Long Stones. The rath of Knock-Caellagh, near Kilcullen, consists of a tumulus surrounded by a circular intrenchment, 20 feet wide and ten deep, with a rampart outside the trench. Cromwell is said to have encamped here on his way to the south. Others less remarkable, yet worthy of notice, are to be seen near Rheban, two miles north of Athy, at Kildare, at Naas, near Kilkea Castle, at Moon, at Clane, at Lyons (across which the boundary line of the counties of Kildare and Dublin passes), and at Rathsallagh, near Duncavan. On the Curragh are numerous earthworks, most of which appear to be sepulchral, forming a chain of fourteen small raths or circular intrenchments without ramparts, in a line of nearly three miles, extending east and west. A tradition has long prevailed of a stupendous heathen monument of huge stones existing here; but no vestige of it can now be discovered.
There were many celebrated and richly endowed monastic institutions in the county. At Athy was one for Crouched friars and another for Dominicans. Castledermot possessed a priory for Regular canons, a house of Crouched friars, and a Franciscan abbey, the ruins of which still serve to attest its former magnificence. The ruins of another Franciscan abbey are to be seen at Clane, where there was also a house of Regular canons. At Graney are the ruins of an Augustinian nunnery. A gateway and some other remains of a monastic building, said to have belonged to the Knights Templars, are still shown there. The ruins of Great Connell abbey are on the banks of the Liffey, near Newbridge. In Kildare was a nunnery and abbey united, founded by St. Brigid, and of which the ruins are still pointed out; also an abbey of Grey friars, situated south of the town, and a house of Carmelites or White friars. At Old Kilcullen is a monastery as old as the time of St. Patrick, which in 1115 was elevated to the dignity of an episcopal see, but it does not appear that it long retained that rank. Near the ruins of the old church are the remains of two crosses, one of which still retains some very curious specimens of ancient sculpture. Maynooth had a convent of Black nuns, and a college of priests founded by the Earl of Kildare; the abbey of Killossy has been converted into the parish church, and is remarkable for the singularity of the architecture of its steeple tower; the monastery of Kilrush was surrounded by a broad ditch faced with masonry ten feet high; the abbey of Monastereven has been converted into the residence of the Moore family, the representative of which is the Marquess of Drogheda. At Moone was a Franciscan friary, the brotherhood of which retained possession of it subsequently to the Reformation. Here is a fragment of a very old cross, one of the most curious in Ireland, covered with numerous grotesque figures. In Naas were three religious establishments, namely, a convent of Augustinians, another of Dominicans, and one for friars eremites of the order of St. Augustine. Some remains of the buildings of New Abbey, on the banks of the Liffey, are still to be seen; and of St. Wolstan’s, also on the Liffey, near Celbridge, two towers and two gateways yet exist. Timolin had a monastery of Regular canons, and also a nunnery; at Tully, a mile south of Kildare, was a commandery of the Knights Templars, the possessions of which are held in commendam with the bishoprick of Kildare; the abbeys of Clonagh, Cloncurry, Disert-Fulertagh, Glasnaoidhun, Grangenolvin, Kilbeggs, Knocknacrioth, Lexlip, and Tulachfobhair, are known only by name.
The remains of many castles are scattered through the county: the principal were Kilkea, Athy, Castledermot, Rheban, Kilberry, Woodstock, Timolin, Castle Carbery, Ballyteague, Clane, Rathcoffy, Donadea, Lackagh, Kildare, Leixlip, Corifig, Morrestown-Nenagh, Cloncurry, and Maynooth. The modern mansions of the nobility and gentry are noticed in the parishes in which they are respectively situated. The farm-houses in general consist of a long thatched building of one story, containing in the centre a large kitchen, with lodging-rooms at each end: the front door opens into a yard, here called a bawn, on the sides of which are the out-buildings. The cottiers’ cabins exhibit a mode of construction different from that of the more northern districts; the lower half being built of stone and clay mortar, and the upper of clay or sods, topped with a thick covering of straw thatch. Oatmeal, potatoes, herrings, and some milk and butter, constitute the food of the poorer class; their fuel is turf; their clothing principally home-made frieze. Even in the midst of summer a heavy frieze loose coat, called a “trusty,” is worn over the rest of the garments. The dress of the women is much better than it formerly was. The circumstances and appearance of the population located on the bogs, or their immediate vicinity, are very unfavourable. On each side of those parts of the canal that pass through the bog, the land is let in small lots to turf-cutters, who take up their residence on the spot, however dreary and uncomfortable. Their first care is to excavate a site for a habitation on the driest bank that can be selected, which is sunk so deep that little more than the roof is visible; this is covered with scanty thatch, or, more frequently, with turf pared from the bog, laid with the herbage upwards, which so perfectly assimilates with the aspect of the surrounding scenery that the eye would pass it over unnoticed, were it not undeceived by the appearance of children and domestic animals sallying from a hole in one side, and by the occasional gush of smoke from the numerous chinks in the roof. The English language is everywhere spoken. The customs of gossipred and fosterage are closely adhered to. Gossips will fight most pertinaciously for each other; in all conversations they call each other by the endearing name; and not to have gossips at baptism would cast a deep reflection on the parents.
New book published by the Local Studies, Genealogy and Archives Dept.,
Kildare Co. Library and Arts Services, Kildare Co. Council
in partnership with Kildare Town Heritage Centre


Athy Heritage Centre & Museum
Heritage Week Events
24/08/2008 - 31/08/2008
Military Medal Fair
On Sunday 24/08/2008            Times: 11am - 4pm
‘The Forgotten Heroes of South Kildare’ talk by Frank Taaffe
Tue 26 /08/2008                      Times: 7.30pm
Exhibit of Winning Works From ‘Spirit of Athy’ Art Competition
Theme for this year is Athy Architecture and the closing date is Fri 15th August. The competition is open to children and adults. The winning works will be exhibited during Heritage Week. Children’s Categories

Irish Wildlife Exhibition
This is a photographic exhibition of Irish birds, mammals and insects in their native habitats will be exhibited daily during Heritage week.
Other Details: The Museum itself is Situated in the early 18th Century Town Hall, the centre traces the history of Athy and Major International events through historical artefacts, graphic panels, photographs, and through an audio visual displays which can be view in our 30 seated audio room and can be heard through our audio guides in Irish, English, French and Polish. The museum boasts the only permanent exhibition to Sir Ernest Shackleton, the South Pole explorer in the county of his birth.
It is Child Friendly, has Wheelchair Access, Car parking is Available. There is Retail outlets, Restaurants, Cafe and picnic areas within walking distance.                                                                                                                                                                                                     Athy is on the main train and bus route
Contact Address: Athy Heritage Centre & Museum, Town Hall, Emily Square, Athy, Co. Kildare
Email: athyheritage@eircom.net  Website: www.athyheritagecentre_museum.ie
Telephone: 0598633075
Fax: 0598633076

Athy Heritage Centre have posted details of events for Heritage Week 2008

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