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January 31, 2009


Lyons House with its surrounding estate of thirteen hundred acres has roots which dig deeply into the history of Ireland. This lovely old Georgean residence is on the Kildare-Dublin border, and its surroundings are so grand that from a hill at the back of the house, Cromwell, on his return journey from subjugation of this country, is credited with saying that “Ireland is a country worth fighting for”.
Lyons was once the property of the Aylmer family who came here at the end of the thirteenth century. This Anglo-Norman sept deduce their origin from King Ethelred; but in common with others we find them fighting on both sides in our age-long struggle. William Aylmer, Lieutenant in the Militia, fought on the Irish side at the battle on the Hill of Ovidstown in ’98.
Two years before this Mel Aylmer had sold Lyons Demesne to Nicholas, Lord Cloncurry, for the goodly sum of £45,000. This was a big step in the rise to fame of the Lawless family. The first member of the family had sold turf on the streets of Dublin. Robin Lawless had been invited by a woollen merchant to stay with him during the bad winters. On the death of this kindly benefactor, Robin married his widow, sold his ass and cart, and embarked on a fine trade in woollen manufacture as well as a banking career. His son, Nicholas, was the first Lord Cloncurry. And down the family tree came Valentine Lawless, patriot and friend of artists, and later still Emily Lawless, historian and poet
 In Captivity
 The fight for fame and title of the first Lord Cloncurry, who voted for the Act of Union, was almost set at nought by the actions of his son, Lord Valentine, whose intense sympathy with the ’98 patriots led him to captivity in the Tower of London, and nearly to the loss of his life. He was a friend of Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Daniel O’Connell, Grattan, and of every English statesman who had sympathies with this country. His partiality for Irish manufacture led him to dress in green cloth made here, and his pamphlet against the Union was a strong denunciation of British rule.
As advocate for better farming, Lord Valentine championed spade cultivation, and in 1847 he offered to his tenant farmers who had tilled the greatest portion of their land, digging it not less than nine inches deep and sown before the 20th March, a prize of fifty pounds. There were other prizes coming down to fifteen pounds for tillage. He, with the Duke of Leinster, formed the Co. Kildare Farming Society and started the first ploughing match at Monasterevan. He said that “the first manufacture is farming. In the land we have the best raw material. The best artisan is the bold and intelligent denizen of the soil.”
He was Director of the Grand Canal which he tried to open from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic. In this he foresaw a panacea for the ills of Ireland for there would be employment for 30,000 spades “instead of bayonets.”
Papal Gift
He was also a magnificent patron of arts, and in Lyons House may be seen a portico which originally adorned the Golden House of Nero. He employed and Italian al-fresco painter to beautify Lyons House wherein are Hogan’s Hibernia and a marble bust of Cloncurry himself. And in Ardclough Chapel, which he caused to be erected in 1810, is a holy-water font of white marble brought from Rome, and a bronze crucifix was there given to him as a personal gift from Pope Pius VII.
In direct line from Valentine Lawless came Emily Lawless, poet and patriot. Strong Unionist though she was, her pen was plied to sing of Ireland’s wrongs. In one of her poems, “After Aughrim”, she strikes a note of patriotic poignancy when she speaks of Ireland-
They gave me of their best,
They lived, they gave their lives for me;
I tossed them to the howling
And flung them to the foaming sea.
And when the ghosts of warriors sail home after Fontenoy on ships without sails or row-locks-
Men of Corca Bascinn, men
Of Clare’s brigade,
Harken, stony hills of Clare,
Hear the charge we made;
See us come together, singing from the fight,
Home to Corca Bascinn, in
The morning’s light.
With her cousin, Horace Plunkett, a frequent visitor to Lyons, she planned schemes for the establishment of industries in Connacht, and for the betterment of the farming community by instruction through libraries. (Plunkett was a grandson of Valentine Lawless through his grandmother, Charlotte Lawless, a sister of Lord Valentine’s).
Friends of Strikers
In our own century Mary Lawless, friend of the Dublin strikers of 1913, asked her father for a cow for milk for those who were locked-out. Lord Cloncurry promised her that she could have her cow if she drove her to Dublin herself. He thought this would put her off. But he didn’t know the generous stuff of which his daughter was made. With a pair of stout walking shoes, and a stouter”boulthaun”, she drove her cow right up to Liberty Hall to provide milk for the little ones.
I hope the future of Lyons will be in keeping with its great past. Inside the demesne walls, and indeed narrowing with them, are lovely woods, a lake and a model walled garden. This makes a fitting home for students of agriculture to study the science of the “spade” that Lord Valentine Lawless was so anxious to drive at least nine inches into the rich soil of the spot where the best of our people met and planned to make our country rich by its “first manufacture-farming”.

Brigid Maguire gives a brief history of Lyons House in her article in the Leinster Leader in August 1963

January 30, 2009


Prayer to St. Brigid

Oh! Dear St. Brigid, patroness of Ireland, we, thy dear Irish children, place ourselves under thy special protection. Thou wert the true friend of God and Ireland and, with St. Patrick, thou didst endow the children of the Gael with a rich and priceless heritage – the knowledge of the true God and the gift of faith. May we ever value this precious gift at its proper worth, and sacrifice everything as thou didst, for its attainment and preservation. Give us a share of thy boundless charity and generosity towards God and our neighbour. Make us strong in the performance of good works, and pioneers of the faith. Help us to be pure and humble and serviceable, as thou wert, seeing God in each of His creatures. And after a life of  holy achievement in the service of God, obtain for us through thy intercession, dear “Mary of the Gael,” a death like thine of peace and joy and resignation, consoled by the holy Sacraments of our holy Church. Amen.


St. Brigid


                                               Gentle Mary of the Gael

                                                Thee our patroness we hail,

                                                Ireland’s maids and matrons all

                                                Flock to thy banner at thy call.


                                                “Fiery Arrow” send thy dart

                                                Straight to every Gaelic heart,

                                                Let thy shining spirit be

                                                Inspiration to an Ireland Free.


                                                Brigid with thy bounty lavish,

                                                Our mean souls and spirits ravish;

                                                Cherish thy children dear, and save us

                                                From losing the faith that Patrick gave us.


                                                “Pearl of Ireland,” precious stone

                                                Set in holy Ireland’s crown,

                                                Grant that this treasure we may find

                                                Ever in our hearts enshrined.



"St. Brigid of Ireland," by Maud Lynch. H.H. Gill (Dublin; 1940), pp.23-24


Leinster Leader 2 February 1941
Feast of St. Brigid
February 1st
Oh dear St. Brigid hear our call,
And guard our native isle,
In olden days you spread the light
Of love o’er the soil,
Your mission full of ardent love,
With pleadings did not fall,
And ever shall thy memory live,
As Mary of the Gael.
How oft you prayed with fervent hope
To save our native land,
The fire of Faith you kindled here,
By a heavenly breeze was fanned,
Thy earthly life our guiding star,
A beacon of light to all
Fond patroness of Erin’s Isle,
You heard the plaintive call.
Tho’ years have flown O Glorious Saint,
Since you trod the Emerald Isle,
The hills and pleasant valleys,
Seem acalling all the while.
Come dwell again O Brigid true.
Amidst the scenes so fair,
Where first thy virtues flourished
From thy Convent at Kildare.
The Irish race O faithful Queen,
Shall ever breathe thy name,
With Patrick’s aid Apostle true,
Our land shall rise to fame.
And when all earthly things shall end,
We pray our trials are o’er,
To meet our Glorious Irish Saint,
Yes meet to part no more.
                                         PATRICK McCORMACK


‘The Lily of Erin; Saint Brigid,’ by Rev. P. A. Sharkey (New York; 1921), pp. 65-66.


Oh, she was fair as a lily,
And holy as she was fair,
The Virgin Mary of Erin,
Brigid of green Kildare;
She came to earth when the snowdrops
Were starring the rain-drenched sod,
The sweetest blossom among them
From the far-off gardens of God.

And over the haunted mountains
Where Druids still watch and pray
A dawn-wind wakened and whispered:
“Give praise to the Lord today,
For to you a child is given
Whose name in the days to be,
Will flame like a torch eternal
From uttermost sea to sea,
And her life, like a surge of incense
From the alter of your green sod,
Will fashion a stair forever
From Ireland up to God.”

O Brigid, so high and holy!
So strong in womanly grace,
Look down from the sills of Heaven
Today on your olden race.
‘Tis over the world we’re scattered,
And your land is a land of woe,
But we’re holding you as a lodestar
Whatever the roads we know.

For you are our pledge in Heaven,
With Phadrig and Columcille,
For the faith of our foes unbroken
And the hopes that they could not still;
For the surge of our prayers unceasing,
For the depth of our love unpriced.
For our agony in earth’s garden
And our crucifixion with Christ.

And we cry to you, holy Brigid,
‘Tis you have the right to pray
For us and the land of Erin
In the hour of our need today.
We breathe your name as a symbol,
Like the lamp on your alter set,
That God is an unforgetting God
And will stand for our righting yet;
Yea, He, who so long has tried us
In the flame of His purging fire,
Will give to the race of Brigid yet
The crown of their soul’s desire.


Two poems dedicated to St. Brigid, from Paddy McCormack (Kildare Town) and Theresa Brayton (of 'The Old Bog Road,' fame). For full details of events for Feile Bhride 2009 - visit www.solasbhride.ie


Hymn to St Brigid
Far above, enthroned in glory,
Sweetest Saint of Erin's Isle.
See thy children kneel before thee,
Turn on us a mothers smile.
Sancta Mater, hear our pleading,
Faith and hope and holy love.
Sweet Saint Brigid, Spouse of Jesus,
Sent to us from heaven above.
Sweet Saint Brigid, all thy children,
Far and near, o'er land and sea.
'Mid the world and in the cloister
Fondly turn with love to thee.
Sancta Mater, soothe the mourner,
Shield the weary tempted soul,
Sweet Saint Brigid, guide thy children,
To that bright and happy home.
Alternative translations and spellings exist –
e.g. 2nd verse – ‘Send to us from heaven above’ instead of ‘Sent to us from heaven above.’
3rd verse ‘Sweet Saint Brigid, Erin’s children’ instead of ‘Sweet Saint Brigid, all thy children,’
4th verse last line – ‘To the bright and happy goal.’ instead of ‘To that bright and happy home.’

Sunday, 1st of February, is St. Brigid's Day - our day to commemorate our female national Saint - St. Brigid, Mary of the Gael, Patroness of Ireland, who is synonymous with Co. Kildare. For full details of events for Feile Bhride 2009 - visit www.solasbhride.ie

January 29, 2009


Leinster Leader, August 1st 1936

The New County Library (Newbridge)

Official Opening Ceremony

At a special meeting of the Kildare Co. Library Committee, held at Newbridge on Monday it was decided to open the new Co. Library to the general public about mid-August. This is good news for users, who have been deprived of the service of this splend’d library for close on three months. Though a few minor details of arrangement and construction remain to be carried out, the new library is a triumph of modernity, convenience and expert arrangement. The highly capable Co. Librarian, J.J. Connolly, had adopted a brilliant new index and filing system by means of which any one of the 20,000 volumes which the new library houses can be located in a few seconds and the would-be borrower informed at once whether the volume is on the shelves, on loan in the district, or in a branch library.
The official or formal opening day of the new library will take place later in the year and it has been definitely decided to ask Mr. T. Harris, T.D., Chairman of the Kildare Co. Council to perform that ceremony.

New Bridge at Droichead Nua

The new bridge over the Liffey at Droichead Nua will be thrown open for all traffic to-day (Saturday). The main body of this handsome new bridge is completed, but a considerable amount of work remains to be done on the approaches. That work, however, can be conveniently performed whilst the bridge is open for traffic. The official opening ceremony will not take place for some weeks, and will coincide with the official opening of the new County Library nearby.

To commemorate our reaching 350 articles this week on EHistory

The official opening of the Bridge and Co. Library HQ in Newbridge in August 1936 from the pages of the Leinster Leader


Kildare Observer, April 27th 1912
The Titanic Disaster
The figures given by the President of the Board of Trade confirm the returns already published about the awful loss of life caused by the sinking of the Titanic. Altogether 815 passengers and 688 members of the crew lost their lives. Out of a total of 416 female passengers, 315 or 76 percent were saved. The crew included 23 women, and of these 21, or 91 per cent, were saved. Of the male members of the crew only 22 per cent were saved. Altogether 493 passengers, or 38 per cent of the total, and 210 members of the crew, or 23 per cent, were saved. Judging by the sensational incident at Southampton on Wednesday when a number of firemen left the Olympic, alleging that the collapsible boats were not seaworthy, the Titanic disaster has created a feeling of nervousness among seasoned seamen.
The Titanic Disaster
Amongst the members of the crew of the Titanic lost in mid-ocean was Mr. Ernest Waldron King, assistant pursers, who was son of Rev. Thomas Waldron King, now of Clones who, with Mrs. King, was in charge of the Straffan Estate Schools for many years. Here young Mr. King’s early education was received. This gentleman was, it is recalled on the “Olympic” when she collided with “The Hawk.”

King, Ernest Waldron. Lived at Currin Rectory, Clones, Ireland. Occupation - Clerk, Pursers Assistant. 28 years old. (Born in Dublin, Ireland).
Body number 321. Interred at Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Memorial stone in Fairview Cemetery reads:- In loving memory of Ernest Waldron King, Currin Rectory, Clones, Ireland, died on duty, SS Titanic, April 15, 1912. Aged 28 years. ''Nothing in my hand I bring simply to thy cross I cling. 321.
Information Clearing House
By Robert Fisk
06/24/06 "The Independent" -- -- It comes as a shock to walk through the Titanic cemetery.
Take Ernest Waldron King of Currin Rectory, Clones, in Ireland. "Died on duty, SS Titanic," it says on his headstone. "April 15,1912, aged 28 years. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." And then I glance at the lowest writing on the stone "Erected by Mr J Bruce Ismay to commemorate a long and faithful service."

To commemorate our reaching 350 articles on EHistory

A Kildare connection to the Titanic disaster from the pages of the Kildare Observer, April 1912.

A Kildare connection to the Titanic disaster from the pages of the Kildare Observer, April 1912.


Leinster Leader 6 November 1969
A President of the United States from Timahoe
Richard Nixon’s Forebears Originated in Co. Kildare
The many Irish people who felt honoured by President Kennedy’s Irish connections may be pleased to know that Richard Millhouse Nixon also has strong connections with this Country.
   Nixon’s ancestors sprang from people who left this country long before the great tide of Catholic emigration from Ireland reached the shores of the United States. The following tell something of those ancestors of the future President Nixon.
  In 1641 Thomas Fitzgerald, who belonged to a branch of the family of the Earls of Kildare, owned among other places Timahoe in the north of Co. Kildare.
 In that year a great rebellion broke out that caused great destruction all over Ireland. In nearby Donadea the Rev. Mr. Pilsworth was robbed of all he had and turned out of doors with his large family. The rebels were going to hang him, but he was saved by the intervention of a priest whom he did not know.
  As a result of the rebellion that ended in the victories of Oliver Cromwell, great numbers of Irishmen lost their lands and after Cromwell’s death many of them tried to get possession of their properties again.
  In 1660 Thomas Fitzgerald of Timahoe in a petition to Charles II mentioned that he had never taken part in the rebellion, but that he was nevertheless dispossessed of his estate. He did not take land in Connaught, but had lived, he said, on the charity of well disposed Christians. He was, he said, patiently expecting the King’s miraculous restoration.
   That Thomas Fitzgerald was not to experience the miraculous restoration is evident from later events.
  In 1662 a John Burniston got custody of the lands of Timahoe, Carrick and Gilltown, and we later find him complaining that others were trying to dispossess him of the lands of Thomas Fitzgerald, to the ruin of his wife and ten small children. The next owner of Timahoe would seem to have been the Duke of York who later became King James II and was ousted by King William and defeated at the Battle of the Boyne. After the defeat of King James his estate in Timahoe became the property of Robert and John Curtis of Dublin.
 In 1704 Robert and John Curtis leased the lands of Timahoe and Gilltown-a nearby townland-to Theobald Burke and Richard Aylmer. In the same year we find Burke and Aylmer in turn leasing this property to a group of people who were members of the Society of Friends, and commonly called Quakers.
  This group consisted of Alexander Wyly of Gilltown; Samuel Mickie of Timahoe; Robert Wyly of Timahoe; James Miller of Timahoe and Samuel Miller of Timahoe; John McKay of Timahoe and John Millhouse of the same townland. These Quakers, who had many relatives in the north of Ireland, held their lands in common for a period, but in 1709 we find them partitioning the lands into separate farms.
  In 1710 John Millhouse made its will with the object of putting his affairs in order. He named his friend Alexander Wyly of Gilltown, farmer, his friends and kinsmen, John Mickie, Killmuclone, King’s Co., farmer and Samuel Mickle of Timahoe, farmer, and his wife, Sarah Millhouse. Among the debts that were owed to John Millhouse in 1710 were several for measuring land, for as well as being a farmer, he acted as a surveyor and must have been kept at this work by the many new sellers then establishing themselves in the area in which he lived.
   John Millhouse held by several leases the great area of 237 plantation acres.
       An inventory of his good taken in May 1710 by Richard Millhouse, John Wardell and Robert Wyly discloses that on the farm he had about forty-six cattle; eighty-two sheep with thirty-three lambs and seven horses. Among the crops mentioned are wheat, barley, peas and oats. Among the furnishings of his home are mentioned one cheese press; two hutches; one oval table; one square table and two feather beds; beds, clothes and hangings.
   As John Millhouse did not farm all his land himself, we find him leasing lands to undertenants. Among those who owed him rent in May 1710 were James Haverin, Daniel Connor, John and Patrick Connor, Nicholas Fox, Richard Foxe, Garrett Walsh and partners, Pierce and James Fitzgerald, John Hanlon, Robert Greer, Hugh Downey, Manus Downey and John Coin.
   Many of these no doubt were the descendants of the people who had been settled in the area for a long time and who in the 1641 period had been undertenants of Thomas Fitzgerald who had been dispossessed. Many of the descendants of these tenants still live in Timahoe. Pierce and James Fitzgerald mentioned as tenants in 1710 may have been the descendants of the…..[apparently a paragraph or line missing from the newspaper].
  Among the children of John Millhouse, we find the names of Thomas and Robert Millhouse.
 This Thomas Millhouse was born in Timahoe in 1699. He married Sarah Miller who was born in 1701 and was probably the daughter of either James or Samuel Miller who were among the original Quaker settlers in Timahoe.
  In 1744 Thomas Millhouse and his wife emigrated to America at a time when there was a great movement of people from north of Ireland to that country. Thomas Millhouse’s family prospered and spread in this new land. The most prominent descendant of their family at present is Richard Millhouse Nixon.
  Robert Millhouse continued to live in Timahoe after his brother went to America. He is mentioned in records dealing with the property in the Timahoe area until 1751.
  A map of Kildare for the year 1752 shows a Quaker Meeting House in Timahoe near the ruins of the castle of the Fitzgeralds.
  It would seem that after this time the Quaker Colony in Timahoe declined in importance. By 1850 no land owners or tenants in Timahoe bore such names as Millhouse, Mickie, Miller or Wyly.
   All traces of a meeting house have also disappeared. One memorial that recalls the previous existence of the past is the site of the Quaker graveyard where no doubt lie the remains of John Millhouse, one of whose descendants becomes President of the U.S.A.
    -M. Kelly.

The 350th article on EHistory.

An article from M. Kelly forty years ago in the Leinster Leader of 1969 on the Co. Kildare origins of a well-known US President. 


Leinster Leader 3 July 2008
From Dunlavin to Edenderry … local notes recall summer of ‘58

The first week in July marks the final break-up of the primary schools with associated sports days and prizegivings. This was the pattern just fifty years ago when a variety of end-of-term school functions is recorded in the local notes page of the Leader in the first week of July 1958.
Under the Kildare notes we read that ‘there was a big attendance at last Sunday’s Drill Display, staged by the pupils of the Presentation Convent, Kildare, and the display proved most successful. There were eighteen items on the programme including a most impressive final tableau and visitors expressed their appreciation of the drill and co-ordination displayed by the young gymnasts.’
Across the Curragh there was a similar emphasis on physical education in Droichead Nua where the ‘annual physical culture display at the Convent of the Holy Family also proved an outstanding success and here again parents and visitors expressed delight at the spectacle and co-ordination displayed by the young gymnasts. The instructor was Mr. E. Goddard and Mr. J. Dunny’s band supplied the music.’
Sport of another kind at school level also featured in the Droichead Nua notes that week with an enthusiastic report of the final of the Christian Brothers’ Cup between teams from the Barracks (3-7) and Pairc Mhuire (1-6). Outstanding for the winners were R. Coffey, T. Cox, P. Brennan and K.Brennan while the losers were best served by E McDonnell, P McGann, Sean McCormack and J. McCormack. And giving credit where it was due the report concluded: ‘Full marks to the Christian Brothers who organised the competition.’
Across the county boundary there was jubilation in Edenderry in that summer of ’58 when the town’s national school won the Offaly primary schools’ football championship. The Edenderry boys beat Clara by the big score of 7-9 to 2-4 much to the delight of their large following. There was jubilation in the north Offaly town when the victorious team returned from Tullamore – the local notes correspondent conveyed the sense of euphoria felt by townspeople: ‘ On the team’s return to Edenderry the band led a parade through the town and enthusiastic supporters carried team captain, James Farrell, shoulder high for almost a mile. Their cheers brought householders to their doors and they too joined in the applause. The boys were trained by Edward Moran NT, and showed superb physical fitness during a hard-fought match. Also in the parade were Fr. J.McWey, vice-chairman Offaly Schools GAA and Mr. J. Keane, Principal, Edenderry Boys’ National School.’
There was also excitement on the football field at Maynooth where the North Kildare notes recorded that ‘The seven-a-side football tournament organised by the Maynooth Gaelic club has made excellent progress and some fancied teams such as the home team, Kilcock and Dunboyne, have been seen in action.
Clearly the Maynooth organisers did not have to contend with the heavy summer cloudbursts which threatened sporting activity in other parts of Leinster.   Reporting on the Baltinglass Technical School sports the notes mention a word of thanks to Mr. Godfrey Timmins who placed his field at the disposal of the school when it was discovered that the sports field was flooded ‘after Wednesday’s torrential downpour.’
This was not the only weather-related interruption reported from West Wicklow with the local correspondent recording: ‘The torrential rain of last week caused a lot of damage to roads in West Wicklow. The Tournant road was impassable after Wednesday night’s downpour – channels about 12 inches deep having been scored into the surface.’
In South County Dublin too the weather was playing havoc with the farming plans: ‘Farmers in south county Dublin are seriously worried about the state of the meadows consequent on the heavy rain. Quite a lot of hay cut is lying unsaved and to aggravate the situation fresh growth is making its way up through the flat laying swarts.’
No doubt hoping for better weather were the members of Saggart Pioneer Association who were planning an excursion to Drogheda for later in July. They were to be joined by Pioneer groups from Bohernabreena, Newcastle and Eadestown. An elaborate programme was planned including a tour of the Boyne Valley and the Newgrange Caves. After lunch the party intended to visit the shrine of Blessed Oliver Plunkett in Drogheda and to complete the day ‘a stop will be made at Laytown strand before finally setting out for home.’
Back safely after their pilgrimage were the participants in the Naas parochial pilgrimage to Knock. Over 600 took part including 50 invalids who were looked after most efficiently by the local branch of the Knights of Malta under the charge of Adjutant J. Burke and Mrs. Brennan. Naas station then closed to passenger trains was reopened for the occasion and the pilgrimage train left Naas at 1005am stopping at Sallins, Droichead Nua and Monasterevin for further pilgrims. They reached Claremorris at 2.30pm and then travelled by bus to Knock. The ceremonies were described as ‘most impressive … Rev. L. Newman, CC, Spiritual Director, was in charge of pilgrims.’
So with a rich miscellany of sporting, weather and pilgrimage reports the local notes columns of July 1958 recorded for posterity the life and times of communities in Kildare and adjoining counties.

  Liam Kenny in his regular feature in the Leinster Leader, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' examines the local notes of the Leader for July of 1958

January 21, 2009

Only Woman at British 'Handover'

Only Woman at British Handover
Leinster Leader
“I remember that those trees outside were very small then” was one of the nostalgic comments to come from Athy woman Mrs. Hester May when she recently revisited Curragh Camp. Meeting Curragh Command G.O.C., General Charles McGuinn, at Ceannt Barracks, Mrs. May had come back to recall the first day on which the Irish flag flew over the camp.
On 16 May 1922 – the day on which the “handover” from British to Irish control formally took place – Mrs. May, then Hester Dooley, was the only woman actually present on the Curragh. Now into her eighties, her fascinating recollections of life before and after the war of independence are not just interesting personal memories of people and placenames which have now taken their place in the history books. They also serve to remind us of the very active role played by some women at the foundation of the State.
Born at Duke Street, Athy, Mrs. May was just twenty on that historic date at the Curragh. However, her work experience to date would undoubtedly have made exciting reading on any curriculum vitae. A member of Cumann na mBan, she went to work in Dublin for the late Piaras Beaslai. Many supposedly legitimate businesses in the city at that time were in fact “fronts” for a variety of activities connected to the war of independence in progress. Mr. Beaslai was editor of An tÓglach (The Volunteer), a magazine which was printed “somewhere at the back of Aungier Street”. In the course of her work, Mrs. May was frequently requested to carry despatches and messages and more than once placed her own safety in jeopardy. “I remember occasions when the military (British army) would climb on to a bus to carry out a check. You would have to hide whatever documents you were carrying under the seat”.
Among those she met was Erskine Childers, father of the man who subsequently became Irish President. She remembers, too, hearing the news of his execution at a later date. “It was a bleak day for us when we heard about that”.
Others whom she recollects meeting include Desmond Fitzgerald (father of the current Taoiseach), Kevin Barry and Michael Collins. After Mr. Beaslai departed to the United States, she began to work for others, including General J.J. (“Ginger”) O’Connell, at whose invitation she was on the Curragh on 16 May 1922. She remembers having to ask her parents’ permission on that occasion – they were dangerous days. “You might be travelling home from Dublin by train and have to stop along the route because a bridge had been blown up, or something”.
Towards the end of the war of independence, during the “Black and Tan” period, Mrs. May actually came under direct fire while on her way to Portobello Barracks in Dublin. Joseph May, the man whom she later married and who was also native of Athy, was arrested and interned during the “Black and Tan” era. For her visit to the Curragh recently, Mrs. May wore two medals awarded to her for her service during the war of independence, one of them relating specifically to her activities while the “Black and Tans” were in Ireland.
Following the ending of the war of independence, Mrs. May among others, was officially made a civil servant and, throughout the civil war, continued to do essentially the same work on behalf of the Free State government.
The camp, to Mrs. May’s eyes, has not changed radically although she did comment that there appear to be a lot more buildings. On that day in 1922 she watched the handover from the then H.Q. (now the Civil Defence building).
To mark Mrs. May’s nostalgic trip into the camp. The Army produced the original tricolour to be flown from the Water Tower on that date. The flag is enormous, measuring 150 x 243 inches. The original measurements were 150 x 250 but unfortunately pieces have actually been removed from time to time. The flag had been in the possession of the O’Connell family but was frequently given out on loan for the funerals of veterans and other occasions. It has now been given into the care of the Army and, following consultations with the National Museum on suitable means of preservation, it is to be displayed at Ceannt.
Mrs. May, meanwhile, does not really need a flag to recall her many memories. Now living at St. Patrick’s Avenue, Athy, she has seen a lot of water flow under the bridge since those days, as the mother of eight children and now a grandmother. Her youngest brother, Paddy, served as T.D., and Mrs. May has always retained a keen interest in political developments. No period, however, could be as close to her heart as the years from 1918-23 when going to work in Dublin brought a combination of excitement and, on occasions, terrible tensions.
The birth of the Irish State has been a popular and frequently controversial subject for historians over the years. As an elderly and much respected lady, however, Hester May has gone long beyond caring about controversies. She just likes to smile and say, “I was there”.

Athy woman, Mrs Hester May recalls the occasion in 1922 when she attended the formal handover from British to Irish control at the Curragh Camp

January 15, 2009

Search teams mobilise in missing boy episode

Leinster Leader 26 June 2008 
Front page drama as search teams mobilise in missing boy episode
The weekly publishing schedules of a local paper mean inevitably that the paper tends to be a journal of record rather than a news paper in the sense of reporting breaking news. However even the relatively regular schedule of a provincial newsroom can become animated when a story is breaking as the weekly deadline approaches. This was the case in the last week in June 1958 when the Leader brought an exciting account of the search mission for a local boy who had gone missing. Not alone was the story breaking at the right time for the paper’s weekly schedule but in this case the Leader reporter became part of the action himself so it is not surprising if there is a certain excited breathlessness in the paragraphs penned as the story unfolded.
 The front page story headed ‘All-Night Search for Missing Boy’ centred on the disappearance on the Monday afternoon of fourteen year-old Kevin O’Kelly. We are told that about 2.45pm that afternoon he had told his mother ‘the proprietress of a well-known ladies hair-dressing establishment at North Main St., Naas’, that he was going for a spin on his bicycle. When he failed to return  later that evening the alarm was raised and Naas town mobilised all its resources. Search parties set out to scour the local haunts where, as was the pastime of the era, young fellows went fishing, snaring or foraging in the woods. There was no result to the first night of searching ‘ Although many of the searchers stayed out all night no trace of him or his cycle was found.’
The Leader report gives a blow-by-blow account of how the search escalated: ‘ Then the searchers multiplying as the news that he was missing circulated began to widen the extent of the hunt. Car loads of people travelled many of the outlets from the town going as far as Prosperous, Clane and Millicent.’ There is an interesting reference to a major building project in the Naas area at the time: ‘ The line of search then took a new direction to Caragh, where further questions to men working on the construction of the new Church proved fruitless’ (this is a reference to Caragh church which was to be completed in 1960).
As always the rumour machine added to the confusion – even the rumours were reported in the paper: ‘ One report said he was seen on the canal banks, while another had him cycling out at the Newbridge road both at practically the same time.’
 His worried mother told the Leader reported on the Tuesday morning that she had been unable to sleep the previous night and ‘ once morning came she searched every bit of De Burgh’s wood.’ Her worry was that as Kevin had a pellet gun with him he may have been climbing trees to take a shot at birds and could have suffered a fall.
More manpower for the search came by way of the recently established Army Apprentice School in Naas from where the young recruits were mobilised to search in the Beggar’s End-Tipper district . The whole search effort for Kevin was now concentrated on the eastern hinterland of the town – the woods in the Tipper area being a favourite haunt of young lads from the town in pursuit of wildlife. According to the Leader report: ‘ Parties travelled by car and bicycle to the ‘likely’ places and then spread out scouring the thick woods at Tipper and Rathmore, one party actually making inquiries and searching as far as Glending (near Blessington).’
The concentration on the woods and hills to the east of Naas began to yield clues by Tuesday night. A bunch of keys belonging to Kevin was found in a barn at Tipper. His brother Seamus provided a vital lead by showing the search party the location where Kevin normally hid his bicycle when exploring the extensive woods of the Wolfe estate to the east of Naas racecourse. At this point his knapsack was found and then the Leader reporter had his moment of glory becoming part of the story: ‘ … after a search his bicycle was found hidden well into the wood by a ‘ Leinster Leader reporter …’
However the find was to prove superfluous as news came through that Kevin had been found safe and well if somewhat shaken. After resting on Tuesday night he was able to give the Leader a first-hand account of the incident that had befallen him: ‘ Kevin told our reporter that he had been going after a green budgie for a good while. He followed it up a tree and slipped down into a cup between boughs.’ That had been about seven o’clock on the Monday evening and he remained there stuck in the v-of the tree until 9.30pm on Tuesday night when through a stroke of luck he was spotted by two boys who were out in Wolfe’s wood. Asked by the Leader reporter if he had thought of shouting for help Kevin replied ‘ I didn’t know what to do.’
So all was well that ended well in a drama that electrified the county town and provided Leader readers of the last week in June with a real-life human interest story.
Series No. 73

Liam Kenny in his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun' examines the front page coverage of the search for a missing Naas boy and the involvement of a Leader reporter in the drama. 

Three sisters' wedding brightens up a wet summer of '58

Leinster Leader June 19 2008
Three sisters’ wedding brightens up a wet summer of ‘58
It is the time of year when we scan anxiously the weather signs for some omen of what the summer holds in prospect. Now that schools are on the point of breaking up for the summer families are finalising holiday plans, the early signs of a good or a wet summer being decisive as to whether the decision is to stay at home or head for sunnier shores.
Certainly things were not looking good on the weather front in the early summer of fifty years ago. A report in the Leinster Leader of mid-June 1958 is headed ‘ Rain Holds up Work on the Bog’ and goes on to say: ‘ The fate of thousands of tons of machine and hand-won turf is in the balance. A continuance of the rain may mean that 500 casual bog workers on the Glasbaun and Ballydermot bogs will lose two to three months employment.’ The bogs were so sodden that the first cutting of turf remained unfooted and turf machines were unable to get in and start on a second cutting.
Elsewhere in the county the heavy rains had not caused anticipated problems. The northern end of Naas town from Poplar Square and beyond was notorious for flooding which had also been a nuisance to the residents of St. Corban’s Place estate on the Dublin Road. However at the June meeting of Naas Urban Council the Town Engineer, Mr. Concannon, reported that he visited St. Corban’s Place during the recent heavy rains and found that the gullies were well able to take the storm water.
The Council Chairman Mr. Tom Dowling said that if the shores had been able to take the abnormally heavy rainfall of recent weeks then there was nothing much wrong with the drainage system in that part of the town. Cllr. Paddy Fitzsimons said that if the gully traps were altered then ‘everything would be all right’ while Cllr. Barney Smyth felt that there was a problem with the drainage levels.
A water feature of another kind landed the members of the town council with a perplexing historical problem. The Town Clerk, Mr. Whyte,  mentioned that he had been approached about the re-opening of a well known as St. Patrick’s Well which was said to be in the grounds of St. David’s Church in the heart of the town. The report stated that the St. Patrick’s Well in question had been closed a few years previously by the late Chancellor Clover because visitors trespassed on church property. However his successor as Church of Ireland rector. Rev. JCW Beresford, was agreeable to reopen the entrance in deference to the wishes of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society.
There was some bewilderment regarding this request as there is also a St. Patrick’s Well, marked prominently on Ordnance maps,  in the grounds of the De Burgh estate on the Sallins Road out of Naas. The Town Clerk Mr. Whyte had carried out some research and reported to councillors that he saw no mention of a St. Patrick’s Well in the official guide to Naas but mention was made in the guide to the fact that it was in the site of St. David’s Church that Patrick was reputed to have pitched his tent on his first visit to Naas. Whatever about the precise nature of the vanished well in St. David’s church the Council agreed to ask the Town Engineer to see Rev. Beresford regarding a means of access to the well.
While holidaymakers, town engineers and farmers all have reason to be anxious about summer rains there is probably no category more concerned about the weather than brides-to-be who are planning their big day in the expectation of fine weather. Certainly the Child of Prague was deployed with much hope in bygone times to ensure a fine spell for the special occasion. One remarkable wedding that was reported and photographed in the Leader in June 1958 seemed favoured by the elements. The Leader reported that three sisters got married in the same church and with exactly similar ensembles. The brides were the three Butler sisters from Grange, Enfield – Eileen, Detta and Breda. Their grooms were respectively Brian Barrett of Enfield, Bernard Hyland of Enfield and Sean Cribben of Mainham, Clane. The weddings took place in St. Coca’s church, Kilcock with Very Rev. J O’Meara, PP, Kilcock officiating.
And, for the record, the brides wore an ensemble of an ivory brocade ballet length dress of tulle with pearl wreath. A spray of red roses and a pearl prayer book completed the accessories. It certainly made for the a pretty and pleasing sight and one guaranteed to make a splash of colour against the background of a wet Irish summer.                                                                                     
Series No. 72

Liam Kenny in his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun examines the newspaper coverage of the weather in 1958 and the wedding of three sisters that year.

Leinster towns take on a continental aura for Corpus Christi

Leinster Leader 12 June 2008


Leinster towns take on a continental aura for Corpus Christi



The street processions which accompany holydays and feast days of saints are a huge feature of the calendar throughout Europe especially in the Mediterranean countries where elaborate pageants and festivities are encountered in Spanish cities or Greek villages celebrating the feast of the locality’s patron.  In Ireland, for numerous reasons, (the weather being one, no doubt) the scale of public celebration on such occasions has been limited. However, for many decades, the banners and bunting  were broken out for the Corpus Christi processions in early June with many towns putting out their best décor to mark the almost mid-summer church holiday.

This was the case in many Leinster towns in June 1958 when the Leinster Leader featured front page reports of the processions throughout the midlands. The article was headed by a large four column-wide picture of the procession in Naas – the photographer being noted as Jim Gaffney, one of Jim’s first published photographs at the start of a photographic career which was to continue for over fifty years.

The photograph depicted a procession on main street of Naas led by a large number of altar boys followed by the Blessed Sacrament being held aloft under a canopy by Fr. Sean Swayne curate and escorted by an honour guard of Army officers. Following the escort party were schoolchildren from the local schools, the Order of Malta, the women’s Legion of Mary, the Children of Mary, the Convent of Mercy School Choir and what was described as the ‘Select Choir’ under the direction of Fr. Doyle, Parish Priest. The procession traversed the length of the main street south from Poplar Square, turned around at Murtagh’s Corner and then proceeded to the decorated portico of the Courthouse where Fr. Swayne, assisted by Fr. Larry Newman, conducted Benediction.

There was a colourful scene in Ballymore Eustace for the Corpus Christi procession there where it was reported that ‘Little girls strewed flowers before the Canopy under which was borne the Sacred Host … Fr. M. Brown, PP was celebrant assisted by Frs. Scanlon and P. Dowling. The canopy bearers were Patrick Burke, Thomas Cregg, Jerome Lynch, and Peter Nugent. The band was under the baton of Mr. J. Twaytes and the choir was in charge of Mrs. N. Gallagher, NT.

As could be expected there was a strong Army contribution to the Corpus Christi procession at the Curragh Camp. Open-air mass was celebrated on the McDonagh Barracks Square by three Army chaplains – Frs. P.J Boylan, B.McGuirk and G. Brophy. The Cadet School under the command of Comdt. Tadhg Ryan rendered honours with sword drill and the salute was sounded by buglers from the Army No. 1 band conducted by Lieutenant Denis Mellerick.  There was then a procession over a mile long through the camp with large numbers of army and (unusually for an inland location) naval personnel taking part. The sacred host was escorted by the highest ranking guard of honour possible with Lt. Colonels O’Donnelly, Byrne, Cogan and Kennedy forming the escort.

The opening paragraph of the report on the Blessington procession painted a picture of blissful high-summer days: ‘With a brilliant sun castings its radiance over the district, the annual procession wended its way through the gaily decked town of Blessington.’  The vivid colour of the procession was enhanced by the school-children who walked carrying multi-coloured flags under the supervision of their teachers Mr. JL Quinn and Misses Moore and Shanley. The first communicants who had made their first holy communion the day before carried baskets of flowers and looked exceedingly pretty reflecting ‘great credit on their parents and their teacher, Ms. O’Donnell, NT.’ Indeed the ceremonial at Blessington would leave Vatican pomp and ceremony in the shade: ‘Altar boys dressed in red cassocks, and carrying thuribles and candles came immediately before the canopy-bearers and presented a continental and charming feature of the procession.’

This sense of making a great effort continued into the public address arrangements at Blessington: ‘A loud-speaker mounted on a motor van, was loaned by Mr. L. Halligan. It conveyed Fr. P. Leonard, S.J. and Fr. Collins, CC who recited appropriate prayers along the route.’ The choir under the direction of Mrs. Hessian, and St. Joseph’s Brass & Reed band trained and conducted by Mr. E. Cannon contributed immensely to the procession.  Fr. Daniel Lucey, PP, carried the monstrance and the canopy-bearers were Messrs. John Healey, A O’Leary, Thomas Hamilton, Myles Cullen, Joseph Slattery, Thomas Walsh, Patrick Kelly and Louis Murphy.

The ceremonial in Blessington came to an end with the singing of ‘Faith of Our Fathers’ – as good a summary as any of the devotional character of the Irish public in the middle decades of the twentieth century.                             


Series No. 71

Liam Kenny in his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun' examines the newspaper coverage of how Leinster towns took on a continental aura for Corpus Christi.


Leinster Leader 5 June 2008
‘One of the greatest days in the story of Rathangan …’

The building of new Catholic churches in Ireland was at its peak in the years after Catholic emancipation … the half-century from 1830 to 1880 accounts for many of the fine churches still used for worship in town and country although a few of the humbler designs had been in place since the early 1800s. By the close of the 19th century spires and towers soared over every community in Ireland as the Catholic Church completed its building programme. It is thus unusual to read of the building of new churches a half-century later but this was the case in west Kildare when new churches were built in Allenwood, Caragh and Rathangan.  It was the solemn opening of the latter which featured on the front page of the Leinster Leader of 7 June 1958.
In what was described as ‘One of the greatest days in the history of Rathangan’ the bishop of Kildare & Leighlin visited the town to bless and open the new Church of the Assumption built over the previous number of years by local builder Mr. Andrew Cross who also built the new churches at Allenwood and Caragh – all three making use of the relatively new constructional techniques of concrete in contrast to stone which had been the material of choice for the 19th century church builders.
Returning to the ceremonials Bishop Keogh is reported to have blessed the church and the stations of the cross and celebrated mass. His concelebrants included Monsignor Miller PP of Droichead Nua; An t-Athair MacSuibhne, Kildare; Fr. J. Murray, CC. Rathangan. Fr. J. McInerney, CC, Kildare and Fr. James Dunne, a native of the parish and now with the Holy Ghost fathers in Kimmage.
It was also a special day in the life of the impressive number of 458 boys and girls from the local schools of Rathangan, Kildare town, Barnaran and Boston who received the sacrament of confirmation in the new church later that day from His Lordship. No doubt some of those young people are reading this column fifty years later and perhaps recall that great day for Rathangan when their confirmation coincided with the blessing of the town’s new church.
Describing the structure the Leader reporter was clearly impressed remarking
‘ Entering the church one gets the impression of brightness and airy spaciousness … the vaulted ceiling heavily moulded in panels has a rather startling impact until one realises that the magnificent interior is entirely devoid of roof supports and pillars.’ The new church was described as being splendid in proportion measuring 142 feet long, 53 across and 43 in height.’  It was also well illuminated: ‘ The brightness comes from a score of narrow windows, 200 feet high, the light being pleasingly filtered through stained glass in various bright colours.’
Although the church represented the most modern in construction detail of the time there were also appropriate connections with furnishings from the old St. Patrick’s church which had served the parish since 1816 and indeed had been built by the parishioners ‘ notwithstanding the general depression and consequent distress of that time.’
The bell of the old St. Patrick’s church, made in 1857 by bell founder J Murphy, of Dublin, was installed in the tower of the new church – a truly profound link between the old and the new. Still on a musical note another legacy finding its way into the new building was the old organ which had been presented to the old church during the pastorate of Rev. Dr. Murphy PP Rathangan and Fr. James Hughes, curate, in the years 1896-1901. The donor was a Mrs. Carroll (nee Coyle) who was born in Rathangan but had lived most of her life in the United States. Indeed the strength of the Kildare diaspora in the US was to come to the fore fifty years later regarding the funding of the new church. Kildare ex-pats in the US formed a Rathangan Church Fund Crusade in 1951 and their first fund-raising function had been held in the Henry Hudson Hotel, New York, in October of that year. Through the 1950s, according the Leader, ‘these loyal Kildare men and women have contributed hundreds of dollars to the building of the Church of the Assumption.’ 
While many people overseas and local had contributed to the project there was special praise reserved for local builder Andrew Cross of Drimsree, Rathangan who was described as being the ‘proudest and happiest man’ at the ceremonies. He headed up a building firm which had records of projects going back a hundred years: ‘A splendid employer … his employees are almost all local men and his wages bill for the Rathangan church has run into five figures.’  While the builder is lauded in the Leader article one has to search further afield for name of the architect of the church. The splendid guide to Kildare & Leighlin churches by John Duffy gives his name as Charles Powell who like Andrew Cross was responsible for the two other churches in west Kildare. All three are built of the same concrete construction with some stylistic differences – Rathangan’s gesture towards a round tower and Caragh’s imposing tower for example.
Today anybody driving past the commanding Church of Our Lady & St. Joseph on the hill of Caragh, or passing the Church the Immaculate Conception at Allenwood Cross, or visiting the Church of the Assumption in Rathangan in its 50th anniversary year can admire the design similarities of this trio of west Kildare churches which represented a statement of confidence by their communities in the Ireland of the 1950s.         
 Series No.70


Liam Kenny in his regular feature, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' examines the newspaper coverage of the opening of the new church at Rathangan in 1958.

January 09, 2009

Centenary of Shackleton Polar Expedition

Centenary of Kildare-born explorer’s epic polar achievement
Edwardian Kildare  awoke to a typical winter morning on 9th January 1909. The newspapers were filled with news of horse racing, hunting and the recent introduction of the old age pension. However half a globe away, on the frozen continent of Antarctica, a Kildare-born explorer was pushing the limits of human endurance and reaching a point further South than anyone had ever been before.
Ernest Shackleton was born into the Kilkea Co. Kildare farming and milling family in February 1874. The second of 10 children, his wanderlust earned him the nickname of ‘Mr. Lag’ as his sisters waited on him while he wandered off the beaten track during childhood rambles. The family moved to Dublin in 1880 and then to London in 1884.
Aged 16, the young Shackleton realized an ambition to go to sea and joined the merchant Navy. In 1901, following a fortunate meeting with an influential backer of the National Antarctic Expedition, he was accepted as junior officer on Captain Scott’s inaugural voyage to Antarctica. This represented the burgeoning British Empire’s first purposeful mission to the Antarctic continent. Shackleton’s dramatic and independent character was also forming – two days before sailing with Scott on ‘Discovery,’ he had written to Charles Dorman asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
On 30 December 1902, Shackleton, Scott and Wilson, having trekked south for over 270 miles, established a ‘furthest South.’ The return journey to their base camp was nightmarish, with all three suffering from scurvy, shortage of food and adverse weather. In February 1903, a disappointed Shackleton was invalided home, unfit for further work in the Antarctic.  As he was to demonstrate on subsequent occasions, Shackleton didn’t treat this as a setback, but as a challenge to be overcome.
In February 1907, he announced a plan to lead his own expedition South to reach the magnetic and geographical poles. By August, ship, crew and supplies were ready, along with financial support from some of the wealthiest industrialists in the British Empire. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited ‘Nimrod’ as she departed England, the Queen giving Shackleton a Union Jack to plant at the South Pole.
On 29th October 1908, Shackleton, Wild, Marshall and Adams along with ponies and sledges set off southwards. A month later, they had passed Scott’s Southern-most point. Slowly, they inched towards the pole itself, detouring to avoid bottomless ice crevasses while hampered by weather, inadequate food and equipment. On 6th December, disaster struck when Socks, the last remaining pony, broke through the ice and disappeared into a crevasse. At a crucial point, Shackleton’s team had lost their main method of haulage and a potential food source. Pushing onwards, each mile marched was a mile further added to the return journey and food supplies were depleting rapidly. Finally, at 9.00am on 9th January 1909, the party halted and Shackleton “with a few well chosen words” planted the flag given by Queen Alexandra. They had gone as far as possible, the South Pole was less than 2 degrees of latitude and under 100 miles away. On a judgement of their condition and the supplies remaining, Shackleton bravely choose to turn back. He recorded in his diary that "Whatever regrets may be, we have done our best." Later, he explained the decision to his wife Emily, saying he thought she would “rather have a live donkey than a dead lion.”
Between Shackleton’s party and safety lay a trek of 750 miles northwards, in freezing temperatures and on half rations. The account of the return journey is a testimony of hope and optimism against all the odds. Shackleton’s ability to unite, inspire and lead by example emerges as a dominant and essential theme. Dwindling food supplies, illness and treacherous conditions underfoot were countered by good judgement, belief while seizing strokes of good luck.  The return journey was a race against time as ‘Nimrod’ would soon depart for New Zealand to avoid the Southern winter. Missing it meant another year in Antarctica. They managed to signal to the ship hours before it departed on 1st March and so bring an end to an amazing achievement and survival ordeal.
In an equally heroic exploit, David, Mawson and Makay had reached the magnetic South Pole on 16th January.
On arriving in New Zealand March 1909, news of the achievement was relayed worldwide. Shackleton and his crew were lauded as heroes. Newspapers in Ireland headlined accounts of the epic news, proudly claiming Shackleton as an Irishman. The Irish Times of 24/03/1909 ran a piece entitled “Return of Lt. Shackleton. Party 100 miles from Pole.” For Shackleton, a knighthood soon followed. Two years later, he watched on as Amundsen, followed by the tragic Scott, reached the South Pole.
While Shackleton’s 1909 ‘furthest South’ achievement was to be eclipsed by his later exploits on the Endurance, to many it stands as his hallmark as a great leader, able to exercise sound judgement in the face of fierce pressure. In a response made by Shackleton, when questioned about overcoming adversity, he summarized “There would be nothing in it if there were not great obstacles to be overcome."


An article by Kevin Kenny to commemorate the centenary of the epic expedition by Ernest Shackleton in 1909 to within 100 miles of the South Pole. 

From Knock to New York...

Leinster Leader 29 May 2008 

From Knock to New York …
arrivals and departures signalled in local notes coverage

The local notes column of the provincial papers is a treasury of nuggets of information which are prized in later years for the insight they give into the events and happenings of significance in local communities.  The local notes column of the Leister Leader of the last day of May, 1958 is just one example of their value as a source.
Under the heading ‘Naas District’ a note announced one of the last passenger train services to leave the mothballed Naas station. The occasion was the annual parochial pilgrimage to Knock scheduled for 22 June when it was expected that large numbers would participate. The train would also take on pilgrims at Sallins, Newbridge and Monasterevan. Tickets were obtainable at the Committee Room in the Town Hall, Naas, on every Friday night from 8pm to 9pm.  The Naas branch railway which had rarely seen a train since 1947 was to close finally in early 1960.
Travel of a maritime kind was mentioned in a note headlined ‘Off to America’ which related ‘Tomorrow via the Cunard liner, Britannic, Mr. Gerald Howard, youngest son of Mr. & Mrs. Patrick Howard, Newbridge Road, Naas, will leave Cobh on his way to New York where he will join his aunt. He later intends to travel to California where his sister, Alice, has resided for some years.’  It was clear from the remainder of the report that while the loss of the talented Naas lad would be California’s gain the young emigrant would feel at home with the possibility of meeting up with some other Naas ex-pats in the US: ‘Gerry, who has spent some time in England, was a well-known boy Soprano. Incidentally in New York he will probably have the opportunity of meeting Naas men Hubie Thompson and Christy Burke who emigrated within the past year.’ And while focussed on the personality the note gives an insight into the emigrant pattern of the day with emigration to England and the States touching many Kildare households.
Also on the move but to a closer destination was a member of the Naas Garda Force. Under the heading ‘Transferred’ we are told that Garda Andy Hallisey had left Naas for Leighlinbridge. During his time in Naas he had played with the senior GAA side and at his last game on the Sunday before his departure the Secretary of Naas GFC, Eddie Marum,  praised Garda Hallissey’s unfailing loyalty to the Naas club.
Another man who was on the receiving end of honours as recorded by the Naas notes of 31 May 1958 was definitely staying put. Under the heading ‘Presentation’ we learn that the case-room (typesetting) staff of the Leader had made a presentation of a smoking set to Mr. Arthur Harvey, President of the Naas Branch of the Typographical Association to mark his 45th year of service with the Leader. Mr. Ger Durney, Works Foreman, congratulated Mr. Harvey on his long service

Away from Naas the tapestry of comings and goings was well documented with the occasional news item highlighting how in the Ireland of the 1950s visitors from America were considered sufficiently exotic to merit recording in the local paper. Under the ‘West Wicklow’ notes column for instance we are told that ‘An interested visitor to Dunlavin recently was Mr. Dick Gilchrist of the United States Air Force who came with his wife and young son to see the birthplace of his father, the late Mr. Richard Gilchrist of Tournant. Mr. Gilchrist is stationed in Germany near the Luxemburgh border. His wife is a native of New York. In their own car, carrying a United States army registration they toured the West Wicklow area and met a number of relatives.’
Whether the touring Gilchrists had time to taken in another Dunlavin attraction is not recorded but certainly they would have been rewarded with the best in West Wicklow’s traditional musicians had they been able to get along to an ‘excellent programme of music and dancing which was presented by Comhaltas in the Imaal Hall.  The note in the West Wicklow column tells us that the ‘Dunlavin and Donard troupe gave an exhibition of ceili dancing and Miss Bridget Murphy, Dunlavin, sang a selection of Irish airs. Breda Kelly and Margaret Molloy danced a hornpipe and Paul Flynn also danced a number of traditional steps.’’ Not alone was the performing talent first-rate but so too was the costume department: ‘Mrs. Patrick Corrigan, received great praise for the way in which the local dance troupe was turned out. She organised a sewing circle in her own home at which the young dancers learned to embroider their costumes for the occasion. Mr. Thomas Walsh and musicians from Donard, Dunlavin, Kiltegan and Dublin provided an excellent and varied programme of traditional music.

Music and dance was also on the local notes agenda just north of the Kildare county boundary according to a report in the ‘South Dublin’ notes of a dance held in St. Finan’s Hall, Newcastle which according to the correspondent ‘ was the first held in Newcastle for a considerable time’.  The event held in aid of the Finglas boy’s club featured a waltz competition with the adjudication being decided by popular vote of the attendance. The winners with 38 votes were a Finglas couple while runners-up just one vote behind were ‘ Mr. P Duggan and Miss Patricia Kenny of Newcastle.’
And on that perhaps romantic note our review of the local notes and news from the districts as reported in the issue of 31 May 1958 draws to a close.
Series No. 69

Liam Kenny examines the local notes section of the Leinster Leader of 1958, in his regular feature, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' Leinster Leader 29 May 2008.

Kildare's defeat in the National League Final of 1958

 Leinster Leader 22 May 2008

Dublin machine too good for All-Whites in pulsating final

The ‘always the bridesmaid never the bride’ story of Kildare football seems to be imprinted in the genes of the county’s Gaelic followers. How often has great promise been shown in the early stages of league or championship campaign only to evaporate in the white-heat of the Croke Park cauldron? That was certainly the case in the National League final of 1958 when Kildare seemed poised to break the bad luck of decades and grasp the county’s first league title and indeed its first national senior success in thirty years.
And on that May Sunday of 1958 the legion of All-White supporters who converged on Croke Park were given every grounds for optimism. As the opening line in the Leader report of the game related ‘When the All Whites led at half time by four points against Dublin in the final of the National Football League the large gathering of enthusiastic Kildare supporters visualised an All-White victory’ but it was too good to be true and the note of bewilderment coming through the report is palpable ‘However, whatever the reason, the Kildare men did not play the same brilliant brand of football in the second half as in the first and Dublin definitely were the superior team in tactics and skill.’ And perhaps it was a mark of the writer’s despair that the blame-the-referee card was played ‘ … Kildare held on grimly until five minutes from full time, when Dublin got a goal which many Kildare supporters maintain should never have been scored had the referee, Simon Deignan (Cavan), been on the mark to witness a Kildare back being fouled in play’.
However there is a long tradition in the local press of finding the moral victory in defeat: ‘though beaten we were far from disgraced’ was the scribe’s verdict. And credit was given to where it was due – the distinctive passing pattern of the Dublin side known to other commentators as the ‘Dublin machine’ was in evidence in the 1958 season: ‘Dublin are adept at combination play. The players have a wonderful knowledge of each other’s tactics’.   And moral victory or not the Leader correspondent did not hesitate to scold some of the Kildare team for their shortcomings: ‘Kildare players were warned and warned time and again of the necessity of close marking but in some cases the advice fell on deaf ears. Dublin’s first goal came from lax marking and when players fail to take the advice given them they lose the confidence of the Selectors’.
Credit was given to Kildare’s better players but there was a scolding sting in the tail of the Leader reporter’s assessment: ‘The opposition was great and some of our players did not shine as brightly as we expected but Flood, Gibbons, Tom Conolly, S. Moore, and Treacy reproduced their old wizardry. This however does not detract from the hard work of the other players and if some of the backs had marked more closely and used their brains more quickly we might have held our opponents to the end.’ 
The robust nature of the play is indicated by the account of substitutions and injuries: ‘During the course of the game S. Maguire and ‘Pa’ Connolly had to retire injured. They were replaced by P. Timmons and M. Doyle, both of Sarsfields. Pa Connolly was attended at the Mater Hospital where he is retained for a few days with an ankle injury.’
Such swipes at the lax performance of the backs alternated with renewed declarations of a moral victory at Croke Park that day: ‘All around the county we hear nothing but praise for the All-Whites … There were many who looked askew at us when we prophesised a great future for this combination. Some of the pessimists now are loud in their praise forgetting that they held out little hope of Kildare going far in the League.’
And the praise for the All-Whites was celebrated in a tangible way in the capital: ‘The team was entertained to dinner in the Ormonde Hotel later in the evening by the Kildaremen’s Association in Dublin. Over 130 guests attended and loudly praised the Kildare team when they appeared.’
No doubt the toasts of ‘Cill Dara Abu’ echoed across the Liffey as Kildare’s appearance on the stage of national football greatness was celebrated in the capital city.
Series No. 68

Liam Kenny in 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' Leinster Leader 22 May 2008, comments on the defeat of Co. Kildare in the National League Final of 1958 by Dublin. 

Kildare preparations for 1958 National League Final

Leinster Leader 15 May 2008

Last minute changes as Kildare All-Whites

take on the Dubs at Croke Park



The white bunting was being broken out all over Kildare in 1958 as the county geared up for a National League Final with the Dubs after a scintillating campaign by the All-Whites.

In a preview to the game in the Leader of 17 May an article bye-lined ‘Scoop’ discussed late changes to the Kildare line-up. Since the semi-final against Tyrone the Kildare defence had been drastically altered. ‘Scoop’ was concerned about the ability of the new Kildare back-line to resist the Dubs: ‘Whether these new look backlines will stand up to the ingenuity of the Dublin forwards spearheaded by Olly Freaney and Kevin Heffernan is a matter of conjecture.’ ‘Scoop’ was not at all confident about the wisdom of the Kildare selectors in the changes they made in advance of the big game: ‘The selectors may have made an injudicious move by breaking-up the half-line partnership of Gibbons, Carolan and Connolly, by moving the latter into Toss McCarthy’s place, for in the Tyrone game Kildare’s real defence lay in that line.’

Continuing his commentary on the changes Scoop reported: ‘Peter Maguire, injured in the semi, returns to the side, not to his old place at centre-field, but to the left-half back position vacated by Pa Connolly, a new position for him in county football. The other changes see Seam McCormack take over from the injured ‘Son’ Byrne. Thus regular Danny Flood is flanked by two players who, as I have seen them, play their best football in the half-backs.’

Scoop posed a rhetorical question: ‘Will these positional switches and change work out? The answer to that query is of paramount important as far as Kildare’s chances are concerned because it is possible that the game will be won and lost for the county in the back-lines.’   The forward division got a clean bill of health according to Scoop’+s punditry: ‘The forwards have proved themselves as accurate and opportune as any attack in the country and the midfield partnership of tom Connolly and Paddy Moore should at least hold their own.’

Calling the result Scoop summed up: ‘… if the backs click as a sound and capable defence, and the midfield manage to hold their own, I look forward to Kildare returning to the county as League champions as a result of the edge the Kildare forwards should have over the Metropolitan defence.’

Elsewhere on the sports page the path of the All-Whites (note the Leader usage of the 1950s was ‘All Whites’ not ‘Lilywhites’) to the final was recounted. Since November 1957 Kildare had played 13 matches and had only one suffered one defeat – a surprise beating by Carlow.  When Kildare beat Cork in the first round All-White supporters were surprised by the Kildare display, but they held out little hope of overcoming Kerry in a later game. Indeed some of Kildare’s most ardent supporters could see nothing good in the present Kildare and predicted a ‘snow-under for the All-Whites.’  However the Kildare men again surprised the home-grown sceptics by beating the Kingdom and Kildare followers ‘began to realise that our team was not so weak as some maintained.’ The victory roll had continued in the early spring with a win away over Wexford but a reality check came from an unexpected direction when the All-Whites went to contest neighbouring county Carlow: ‘ they faced Carlow away and it must be said that the players were over-confident of the result. Carlow taught our players a lesson and it was lucky for the all-whites that they had a replay for the Group honours.  A hard-earned win over Tipperary and a strong performance against Tyrone had brought the county to the verge of national league success – a cause of great excitement in the county which had not experienced GAA success at a national level since the great All-Ireland wins of the 1920s.

The Kildare team for the National Football League final was listed (starting from the goal-keeper and working out) as: M. Nolan, S. McCormack, D. Flood, P. Connolly, P. Gibbons, M. Carolan, P. Maguire, T. Connolly, P. Moore, C. Kelly, L.McCormack, K.O’Malley, E. Treacy, J. Dowling, E.Hogan: subs – M. Doyle, J. Fitzsimons, P. Timmons, F. White, J.Doyle, B. Kehoe, F. Timmons.

The Dublin team included a number of household names and was listed as: P. O’Flaherty, M. Wilson, J.Timmons, J.Brennan, C.O’Leary, J.Crowley, J.Boyle, S.Murray, P.Downey, P.Haughey, O.Freaney, D.Ferguson, P.Farnan, J.Joyce, and K. Heffernan. Subs: P. Flynn, J. Lavin, M.Whelan, L.Foley. B. Morris and C. Leaney.

The curtain raiser to the National League senior final at Croke Park was a game between the Kildare and Dublin minors. The Kildare side was listed with their respective clubs, as follows: ‘G. Connolly (Athgarvan), W Murphy (Ballymore), B O’Sullivan (Naas), E McCormack (Round Towers), J Barker (Kilcullen), M Geraghty (Sarsfields), N Rochford (Athy), T Merriman (Clane), J Morrissey (Athy), P Tyrrell (Carbury), J Carroll (Army Apprentice School), P Cummins (Carbury), J. Doyle ( St. Mary’s), P. Kilgannon (AAS), S. Connolly Clane; subs: M. Goss (Kildoon), G Coll (Sarsfields), P Little (Naas), J Mulpeter (Rathangan), T Cahill (Athy), A Flynn (Sarsfields).’

Series No. 67

A look at 1958 as the county geared up for a National League Final with the Dubs after a scintillating campaign by the All-Whites, by Liam Kenny in his regular column, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' Leinster Leader 15 May 2008.

Town councillors call to presbytery to pay tribute

Leinster Leader 8 May 2008

Town councillors call to presbytery to pay tribute

to long-serving pastor



Probably one of the more unusual meetings of a town council in the annals of local authority history took place in Naas in May of 1958 when members of the Urban District Council visited the Presbytery on the Sallins Road in Naas to present an illuminated address to Very. Rev. P.J.Doyle, parish priest, on attaining the Golden Jubilee (50th anniversary) of his ordination.

The illuminated scroll was presented by the Mr. J.P.Whyte, Naas Town Clerk, who with the other members of the Council expressed their joyful appreciation of the great achievement of their beloved pastor in reaching his Golden Jubilee.

Father Doyle thanked the Councillors for their kind thought and added that it was an unexpected and welcome gift. He modestly said that anything that he had done was in the course of his duties as a priest and spiritual adviser to the faithful. He had been in Naas over 36 years in the town. He had been overcome with the kindness and generosity of bodies and individuals who had wished him well on his Golden Jubilee. But he reserved a particular appreciation for the little pupils of the Convent School who had daily noted in their exercise books their communions, prayers and Stations of the Cross for his continued health.

Father Doyle mentioned that the Convent primary school although built to accommodate about 200 had now 450 children on its roll and it was proposed that the school should be extended as soon as possible.  Despite the growing enrolments in the school the 1950s were a time of population stagnation in Ireland and while Naas had a level of prosperity which in part deflected the worst of the prolonged recession of the 1950s, emigration was a reality for many other parts of the country. Fr. Doyle was alive to this haemorrhage and said to the councillors that emigration was a very grave problem and that a solution should be found in the interests of the country as a whole.

The Address of Appreciation to Father Doyle was effusive in its tribute to the long serving pastor – its text was quoted as an addendum to the report of the councillors’ visit to the presbytery. It began: ‘We the members and officials of Naas Urban District Council respectfully tender you our heartiest congratulations on the Golden Jubilee of your ordination to the Priesthood and on your devoted Ministry among us as beloved Pastor during the past thirty-six years.’

The council made particular mention of some improvements which Fr. Doyle had overseen to the parish church of Our Lady & St. David in Naas: ‘Due to your efforts the church is now one of the very few in this Diocese which has been solemnly consecrated. The Mortuary Chapel alone will for ever stand as an abiding memory to you.’  The Mortuary Chapel (seldom used now) was added to the church in the 1950s under Fr. Doyle’s supervision and reflected his passion for Teutonic or German art and architecture which produced an aura of solemnity and gravitas.  According to local lore some of the stone from the old gaol in Naas (near the canal harbour) was used in the construction of the mortuary.

The encomium presented by the council went on to describe Fr. Doyle’s other achievements during his long tenure in the town: ‘ As Spiritual Director of the Naas Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society much good work has been done for those in need’. There had been considerable expansion too in the boy’s school accommodation in the town with St. Corban’s primary school having opened in 1954 and the new Secondary School for the Christian Brothers in 1958 and Fr. Doyle was credited with being influential with this progress.

The role of the pastor in exposing the people of Naas to some of the finer aspects of continental music and literature was also mentioned – again a reference to his life-long interest in the mid-European tradition which had seen him form a polyphonic choir to sing the works of the great composers in Naas church. As the council said: ‘Your attainments in literature and music have been a source of great pleasure and pride to your parishioners.’

Fr. Doyle was a man of many accomplishments and indeed in a much earlier phase of his life had been on the staff of Knockbeg College where he was a mentor to many who were to become nation-builders in the emerging Irish state – he was particularly close to Kevin O’Higgins, Minister for Justice in the Irish Free State who was assassinated in 1927.

Returning to the visit to the Presbytery by the Council reported on the front page of the Leader in 1958 it is an interesting local example of the great closeness in the Ireland of the 1950s between church and state when the protocol of the civil authorities deferred demonstrably to the position of the Catholic Church in Irish society.

Series No. 66

Liam Kenny in his regular feature, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' in the Leinster Leader of 8 May 2008, reports on the visit by members of Naas Urban District Council to the Presbytery on the Sallins Road to present an illuminated address to Very. Rev. P.J.Doyle, parish priest, on attaining the Golden Jubilee (50th anniversary) of his ordination.

Pat Taaffe, Punchestown and the paste-board ladies …

Leinster Leader 1 May 2008

Pat Taaffe, Punchestown and the paste-board ladies …
 colourful coverage of an enduring event

There are some staples in the calendar of a local newspaper such as the annual general meetings of the local councils or the build-up to the county football championships. But for a Kildare newspaper there is an extra annual fixture and that is the Punchestown retrospective. And this was tradition continued in the first week of May 1958 when the paper took a look back at the Punchestown meeting of that year.
The column was headed ‘Huge Crowds at Punchestown’ and no doubt part of the attraction that year was the benign weather as reported ‘Favoured by warm sunny weather the annual race meeting cum carnival attracted many thousands of visitors on Tuesday and Wednesday; on both days the enclosure and wide-open outside were packed with milling crowds of happy race goers intent only on extracting the maximum enjoyment from the unique gathering …’
The sun did more than just warm the climate at the Punchestown venue which is an exposed location at the best of times. It also provided the setting for a particularly colourful ladies’ day on the Wednesday. As the enthusiastic columnist described it: ‘The sun brought the gentler sex out en masse and their gay dresses and colourful hats heightened the air of carnival and brought to the meeting that holiday spirit which is so peculiarly a part of Punchestown.’
That particular form of purple prose which seemed to be reserved each year for the Punchestown article was in full flight: ‘The course was in fine trim and the galloping horses with the variously coloured silks of their riders made an appealing picture against the green background of the rolling sward and gorse-covered hills.’   Appealing and all as the vista had been the Punchestown management of the 1950s had to be aware of the changing demands of race goers and had made improvements to the amenities. But it was still and era when the relative innocence of wandering minstrels and trick-of-the loop men were still a feature of the racecourse scene as described colourfully in the report: ‘Progress has brought bigger stands and wider enclosures …. but they have not supplanted the strolling musicians, the stall holders, the games of chance, the man with the elusive pasteboard lady, the gypsies and the side-shows.’
For many the real Punchestown was not the throng of the betting ring or the diversion of the carnival but the thud of hooves into the springy sod as the track looped out into the east Kildare hills. A crowd converged  the big double (a bank with a ditch either side) at the north-eastern angle of the course which was jumped in many of the races in that era. Many of those who had traversed Punchestown’s sward to the far end of the course remained there for the remainder of the day’s racing.
While some traditions held others were giving way to progress. The Ireland of the late 1950s was becoming more dependent on the motor car. While fleets of buses brought race goers from Dublin, more and more were travelling to the course by car and indeed the volumes were threatening to overload the country road network converging on Punchestown. The columnist highlighted the increasing traffic volumes: ‘A small army of police were necessary to control and direct the flow to and from the course …. there was of course confusion but never congestion.’
It is a measure of the festival-like nature of Punchestown with its many attractions that the report could lead in with many paragraphs describing everything but the racing action on the track.  But here too there was cause for local celebration with trainer Paddy Sleator (whose stables were at Grangecon, just on the Wicklow side of the county boundary south of Dunlavin) sending out four winners on the first day – three of them were ridden by local amateur jockey Mr. Francis Flood while the fourth was ridden by G. W. Robinson.  And another name emerging on the racing scene in 1958 which was to go on to greater things in the next decade was that of a young Pat Taaffe who rode Vanessa’s Pet to first place in the Sallins Plate. This was a popular local winner being owned by Mr. T. J. Lawlor of the famous catering family which already had long associations with Punchestown through their provision of marquees and catering for the inside and outside crowds at the track.
With this emphasis on the local wins at the Punchestown meeting of the 1958 the Leader columnist brought his report to a close, continuing the annual coverage of one of Kildare’s most established sporting fixtures.
Series No: 65

A retrospective of Punchestown festival of 1958 by Liam Kenny in his regular column, 'Nothing New Under the Sun, from the Leinster Leader 1 May 2008.

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