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August 31, 2013


“Last dance before Lent” – 100 years of Lawlor’s of Naas

An advertisement bearing the text “Last dance before Lent” from an issue of the Leinster Leader in the 1950s was one of the star exhibits at a night presented by the Naas Local History Group in Lawlor’s Hotel to mark the centenary of  the opening of a hotel in Naas in 1913 by Mrs. Brigid Lawlor whose name was to become legendary in the hospitality business.  There were many strands to what was to become the Lawlor empire – hotel, world-class ballroom, catering business known the country over, and the breeding of successful National Hunt chasers were just some of the themese on the night.  There was a strong input from the Lawlor family and Mr. Shane Lawlor contributed some reminiscences which had been gleaned from long-serving staff of a bygone area. Another connection Mr. Anthony Lawlor, TD, was also present.

The evening was opened by Naas History Group Chair Gerry McCarthy who introduced a  speaking panel of accomplished local historians including Paddy Behan, James Durney and Stan Hickey.

Paddy Behan outlined how research established that one James Lawlor from Lacken in Wicklow had made money on supplying the dairy business in Dublin. In the late 1800s he bought a farm at Greenhills Kill and also the impressive old millhouse known as Johnstown House. His son Myles married Brigid Keeley of Bawnogues (beside Punchestown) who was to become the Mrs Brigid Lawlor of catering and hotel fame.

There was evidence that Brigid Keeley had learned her catering skills in the old Naas Technical School which was accommodated in the water tower on the Fair Green. Her flair for catering had come to the attention of Lady Geraldine Mayo of Palmerstown House who was to prove an influential backer when Brigid Lawlor decided to set up in business herself. Although Lawlor’s hotel is also known as the “Nas na Riogh” hotel Paddy Behan’s researches established that there was an existing hostelry of the same name which Brigid Lawlor acquired in Poplar Square. The first public notice of the new hotel business under her management was a sequence of advertisements in the Kildare Observer in May 1913 which announced that the Nas na Riogh hotel would be open for lunches and accommodation. The advertisements directed readers’ attention to the fact that the new establishment was commended by Lady Mayo of Palmerstown. 

Soon Bridget Lawlor’s hard work and ability saw her business flourish and diversify well beyond the hotel in Poplar Square.  Her repute for high-class catering capable of dealing with large numbers soon won her contracts for catering services at prestigious occasions in the Irish social calendar.  These included the RDS Spring Show and Horse Show, Punchestown and the Curragh including the big Derby days, many more racecourses including Galway, glittering hunt balls in many parts of the country, Garda dances and Army dances, and other more local occasions such as social dances in  Naas Town Hall. She also had a good line in to the Catholic church authorities and her large-scale catering resources were advertised in Catholic magazines highlighting her contracts for reunion days at  Clongowes, Knockbeg and Newbridge Colleges and for ordinations at Maynooth College.

Realising the popularity of dances held in local venues such as Naas Town Hall, Brigid Lawlor decided to capitalise on this business by building her own dance hall. She acquired the three-storey house known as Mill House on the eastern side of Naas in the early 1930s and began the work of converting the old carpet factory space adjacent to the mill to become one of the finest purpose-built ballrooms in these islands. The dance floor was all important and here the most advanced construction technology for its time was employed with the floor being made of polished Canadian maple planks mounted on 18-inch springs so that the floor waltzed as the dancers waltzed.

Lawlor’s Ballroom became a venue known throughout Leinster and drew hundreds – travelling by bicycle in the early days -- to hear some of the best bands and artistes of the era. In the early days local maestros such as Jimmy Dunny and Ralph Sylvester were popular as well as the incomparable Gallowglass Ceilí band led by the McGarrs of Naas. As musical tastes changed over the following decades Lawlor’s remained at the fore front of the show band circuit and among the legends to have performed there were Paddy Cole, Roly Daniels, Red Hurley and the legendary Joe Dolan. Among those to grace Lawlor’s ballroom  was the man who could reach for the low notes like no other, Longford’s Larry Cunningham (who passed away in late 2011).

An early rock star appearance at Lawlors was Marianne Faithful who in recent times was resident in Leixlip Castle while Lawlor’s also featured in the early bookings of career of another band which was to reach the dizzying heights of the music business was the Boomtown Rats who, according to the latest pop industry news, are to reform after a fashion this year. The drummer of the Rats, Gerry Cott, certainly must have felt at home in Lawlors in that he had family connections in Kilcock, Ballymore Eustace and Baltinglass. Mentioning Baltinglass brings a connection with the Random Inn adjacent to Lawlors once owned by  Ned Timmins whose nephew Godfrey (later a TD for Wicklow) used to travel by train from Baltinglass to Naas and stay with his uncle while attending Naas Christian Brothers.

Meanwhile the Lawlor catering empire went from strength to strength. Naas historian James Durney had personal memories of working as a 12-year old with many other young people from the area for the Lawlor catering operation at the Derby. He recalled the early starts – a Lawlor’s truck would leave Naas at 6 in the morning laden with staff who would work like the clappers for a long day and not get home until 9pm. The pay for the day was £2.50 for younger workers and £3 for more experienced hands.

The core business at the hotel continued at full pace and Lawlor’s became a byword for its hospitality throughout not alone Ireland but Britain. A number of speakers testified to being as far from home as the Isle of Wight and London and once they mentioned they were from Naas being met with an immediate reply of affection for Lawlor’s of Naas. Some celebrities from the worlds of politics and sport were recipients of Lawlor’s hospitality.  Eamon de Valera attended a dinner to honour the Kildare men who had taken part in the independence struggle while one of the biggest names to take tea in the hotel was Ronnie Delaney on his way home from Shannon after winning a gold medal for Ireland in the 1500m at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

The evening of nostalgia  was rounded off by Mr Shane Lawlor who read some of the reminiscences of the staff who were an essential factor in the Lawlor success story. One memory featured Ms. Aggie Cullen who recalled a catering operation for races in Portmarnock which involved setting jelly in a bath tub outdoors.

However such stories will have to await another time and none better than next May when the current Lawlor’s management intend to celebrate the centenary of Bridget Lawlor establishing her hotel in Poplar Square which was to become the hub of a catering empire.   Series no: 318.

Liam Kenny recalls 100 years of Lawlor's Hotel and catering firm in  no: 318 of his popular Looking Back series


New essays by Kildare historians

The summer 2013 issue of the The Irish Sword. The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland (Vol. XXIX, No. 115) has two essays by Co. Kildare historians: ‘Attempted ambush and escape from Stacumny, 2 July 1921,’ by Seamus Cullen and ‘The killing of Lieutenant J. H. Wogan–Browne at Kildare on 10 February 1922: a test of Anglo-Irish relations,’ by Mark McLoughlin.

The first essay, ‘Attempted ambush and escape from Stacumny, 2 July 1921,’ is an account by Seamus Cullen, a Research Student at Trinity College Dublin, of an unsuccessful ambush of a British troop train at Stacumny near Celbridge by a IRA volunteers from North Kildare, Meath and Dublin. The attack occurred against the backdrop of a campaign promoted by the IRA leadership to hamper British transportation of British troops with Co. Kildare chosen because of it’s low level of republican activity. The second essay, ‘The killing of Lieutenant J. H. Wogan–Browne at Kildare on 10 February 1922: a test of Anglo-Irish relations,’ is an account by Mark McLoughlin, a Trinity graduate, of the fatal shooting of Lt. John Wogan-Browne in a payroll robbery by Suncroft IRA men. The killing was a shocking crime and caused considerable outrage at the time, just two months before the departure of British troops from Kildare. The essay gives details of the murder, the aftermath and the participants.

The summer 2013 issue of the The Irish Sword. The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland (Vol. XXIX, No. 115) has two essays by Co. Kildare historians


The Leinster Leader 15 March 1890

     St Mary's, Moorfields, London,
      5rd March, 1890

DEAR SIR, ― A most interesting incident of the terrible '98 was related to me a few days since by a poor old Irish woman whom I visited in illness. The incident I considered worth your notice, owing to the fact that the scene of the tragic event was the village of Bert, near Athy, in the county Kildare. The announcement by the servant, "Please, Father, sick call, Mrs Riley very bad with bronchitis," fetched me in a quarter of an hour to a squalid room in a noisy court of the parish, which is inhabited by too many of our Irish fellow-countrymen and women. In No. 6 I found Mrs Riley very ill in all conscience. At first the old crone appeared to receive me with a certain amount of coldness and reserve, very rarely shown to a priest by Irish people. But the ice was soon broken by some questions I put about her native place in the ould counthry. "Won't you sit down, Father?" and I listened with unfeigned attention to many family anecdotes. But the following, which I give you partly in her own words, shall long remain in my memory. It was spoken with genuine Irish feeling, here and there interrupted by a deep sigh. "I was bred and born in Athy .  .  .  and had good men and true in my family. My Grandfather ― God rest his soul to-day ― Sam Bailey, kept a forge in Bert, near Athy, and troth 'tis me is not ashamed of him. He was killed by the Yeos (sic) in '98. If you listen, Father, I'll tell you the whole story. The boys came to Sam one night, and said, 'Sam, we want eighty or a hundred pikes. But we know the times is troublesome. Trouble or no trouble, my boys, you'll have the pikes,' said Sam Bailey.' Pikes to the number of 100 were turned out accordingly at Sam's forge, and were hidden in a garden as they were being made. But then as now there was a Pigott. The Yeos got word, they surrounded Sam's house, seized on him, and said if he would not deliver up the pikes he should hang like a dog. But Sam Bailey was no 'stag.' 'You shall get the sacrit out of the anvil as soon as out of me.' He was then dragged from his house, suspended on a triangular stand, and received one hundred lashes on the naked back. But no word of information escaped from Sam's lips. He was then thrown into an old house, which the Yeos set on fire, from which he was rescued by the boys more dead than alive. The poor man was so bruised and burned that he died in six weeks' time." I believe this awful anecdote substantially, and I hope you, sir, will publish it to show how a poor artisan in '98 displayed intrepid bravery and patriotism fit to rank with the noblest deeds of that dark and terrible time. ― Yours sincerely,
      P. McKENNA.

Father P. McKenna was at the deathbed of Mrs. Reilly, in London, in 1890, when she recalled an incident of the 1798 Rebellion in Bert, near Athy


Padraig Pearse in Celbridge

A recent query to the Kildare Collections and Research Services, Newbridge Library, from local historian, Jim Tancred, of Lyons, Straffan, led to this very interesting find in the Kildare Observer and Leinster Leader newspapers.

Kildare Observer 5 July 1902


On Sunday evening a most successful and enthusiastic open air demonstration was held at Celbridge, in connection with the establishment of a branch of the Gaelic League in that district. The demonstration took the form of Gaelic football and hurling matches, a public meeting, and concluded with an Aerideacht, to which several well-known Gaelic musical artistes contributed. A special train, which left the Kingsbridge at 1.30 o'clock, brought down an enormous crowd, which included many young ladies and a strong representation of the various Gaelic League branches in Dublin. Large contingents also attended from Clondalkin, Lucan, Leixlip, Straffan, Clane and Maynooth. The matches were contested in an admirably laid-out field, which is about a mile from the railway station, while the meeting and the Airideacht were also held here. In all there were about 3,000 people present, and it was quite apparent that the people of Celbridge have taken up the question of the revival of the Irish language in a whole-hearted manner. The proceedings opened with a football match between Maynooth and Clane, which was won by the latter. In the hurling contests the Confederates (Dublin) were badly beaten by the Maynooth team.
At the conclusion of the games the public meeting was held. Amongst those on the platform were the following members of the committee charged with the organisation of the Celbridge branch of the Gaelic League:― Dr O'Connor, Thomas Connolly, R H Paisley, E Kelly, M O'Brien, M Gogarty, T Coleman, J Martin, J Shiel, F Shortt, Mulligan, Michael Lambert, etc. Sir Gerald Dease was also present. Rev Father Meighan, C C, presided.
The Rev Chairman said the object of the meeting that evening was to start a branch of the Gaelic League in Celbridge (hear, hear). A few days ago he was delighted to hear that the people of Celbridge had at last responded to the call for a unity of all, and had joined the Gaelic League (hear, hear). About Christmas last a few of them endeavoured to start a branch, but they were unable to do so because they could not obtain sufficient support; consequently he was very glad to find when he came back to Celbridge that all the people united, and that practical steps had been taken to establish a branch, and that was the principal thing which brought them together that day, and also to say a word in favour of Irish industries in connection with which a resolution would be submitted to them. They should determine to further in the future Irish manufacture, and leave as much money as they could in the hands of their fellow-countrymen, and thereby financially improve their country (hear, hear). They should bring the importance of the Irish industrial revival home to themselves. They should take the matter up and start some little industry in Celbridge.
Mr P H Pearse, B L. proposed ― "That a branch of the Gaelic League be hereby formed. Recognising that the lack of industry in this country is one of the principal sources of emigration, we, the members of the Celbridge Branch of the Gaelic League, hereby pledge ourselves to support and encourage by every means in our power the revival of Irish industries." He said not long ago he had a conversation with a Leinster Irish lady over the language question. He said he thought it would be a good thing if every Irishman and woman spoke the Irish language. This remark seemed to startle the lady to whom he addressed it, and she replied, "Arrah! do you want to make Connaught men of us all." He said he was not anxious to make Connaught men of them, but he wanted to make Irishmen and women out of them, and their object in coming there that day was to accomplish that. He did not commit himself to the opinion that everyone who did not speak Irish was not an Irishman, but he said the Irishman who did not understand Irish should make an effort to learn it, or if he did not he was a sorry specimen of an Irishman.
Mr Butler seconded the resolutions, which were supported by Messrs Hourihane and Cunningham, and passed amid great applause.
The following contributed at the Aerideacht, which was greatly appreciated by those present:― Buidheann cheoil na nGaedhilgeoiri Miss A Kenny. J Lawless, MacHale Branch. J O'Connell, D O'Hea, T Cuffe. J Kelly Central Branch Quartette, Caithlin ni Ghriodhthn. The programme concluded with the rendering of an Irish National Anthem, composed by Mr O'Brien Butler.

Leinster Leader 2 July 1902


Celbridge Branch

A meeting of the Celbridge Branch of the Gaelic League was held in the meeting rooms on Friday last. Rev Father Meighan presided. The following members of the committee were also present:― Dr O'Connor. Messrs Thos Connolly, D C; Jas Malone D C; O'Brien, Kelly, Paisley, Ahearne, Kevany. Dr O'Connor was elected vice-president, and Mr Malone, deputy vice-president; Mr E Kelly, hon sec; Mr O'Brien, assistant hon sec; Mr Jas Fay, treasurer. The committee co-opted the following additional members:― Mr A Dwyer and Mr E Byrne, Hazelhatch; and Messrs Jas Mulligan, John Mahon, T Ward, and Thos Coleman, Celbridge. The secretary was directed to write to the surrounding branches of the League for information as to the forming of the classes, fees, &c., and in the meantime to have posters printed calling on the people of the district to assemble at the meeting rooms on Thursday, 17th inst. so that a commencement can be made. After arranging for a meeting of the committee to be held on the 14th inst. at 7.30 o'clock, p.m., the meeting adjourned.

A recent query to the Kildare Collections and Research Services, Newbridge Library, from local historian, Jim Tancred, of Lyons, Straffan, led to this very interesting find in the Kildare Observer and Leinster Leader newspapers.

August 23, 2013


100th anniversary of the 1913 Lockout

26 August 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Lockout. Mario Corrigan and James Durney, Kildare Library and Arts Service, have been giving talks on Co. Kildare connections to the Great Lockout in Co. Kildare libraries. This poem, with a local flavor, was given to us by Naas historian, Paddy Behan.

The 1913 Strike

Oh, James’s Street did echo to Larkin’s bugle call,
And for the rights of Irishmen, we rallied on and all;
Those tyrants Tough and Allen we left in sad dismay,
When they closed the gates behind us as we struck for higher pay.

The mounted and the foot police did all of us surround
Outside the gates of James’s Street we boldly stood our ground.
We shouted back defiance to that cursed and tyrant crew,
And closer all around us, the police force was drew.

Our gallant leader Larkin, sure he stood by our side,
And when we all got out, he gazed on us with pride.
For to give us a lecture he stepped up on a dray,
And we all gathered round him to hear what he might say.

Across that silent harbor his voice rang loud and clear,
Caused tyrants for to tremble and traitors for to fear.
He said, “My gallant heroes, today we’ll let them know,
If they fight the Dockers’ Union, they’ll fight a worthy foe.”

There was a boat for Ballinasloe in Hatch lay anchored tight,
Scabs and traitors formed for to steal her in the night;
We watched her through the darkness until the morning clear,
When our pickets on the Bog of Moods saw forty-nine appear.

We ordered out those cowards and we struck them with surprise
Bill Smyth and Parsons gazed at us with wild and wondering eyes;
And to a man named Garry, great credit him is due,
For when he heard our warning, it was from that boat he flew.

We all forgive you Garry, for you did a noble part,
And those that did not follow, will be sorry to the heart;
It would be better for them, on the road to starve and die,
Than to bear a cowardly traitor’s name, as Carey did, the spy.

Fred Kerr was at the helm when she left Lowtown Lock,
And when the horse had started off they got a dreadful shock;
With the trackline in the water were our gallant heroes true,
In a circle all around us, those hardy boatmen drew.

There was a man from Gallen, Jim Taylor was his name,
Let him be recorded in history’s scroll of fame.
He held on to the horse’s head, undaunted by the foe,
No threats would make young Taylor, the bridle reins let go.

And there was Sergeant Houlihan with a pistol in his hand,
All ready for to fire upon that young unnamed man.
With a musket placed against his breast the cowards saw no fear
In bold and manly Taylor, a boy of tender years.

He opened wide his jacket and pointed to his heart,
He says, “Come on I’m ready now and I’ve no wish to part.
Come send me that long journey to abide eternity,
And a dreadful swift and just revenge will send you after me.”

He won the battle bravely, we’re ready now again,
To work for honest labour without either sword or pen.
We’ll rally round the standard of our Union loyal and brave,
We’ll defy those cursed tyrants or fill an early grave.

Now here’s a health to Larkin, may his memory never die,
May God of battle guard him, Who rules the earth and sky.
May he trample on all tyrants, and His Glory bright be seen,
Holding high the standard of the harp above the green.

Supplied by Thomas McCormack, Allenwood South, Co. Kildare


Mario Corrigan and James Durney, Kildare Library and Arts Service, have been giving talks on Co. Kildare connections to the Great Lockout in Co. Kildare libraries. This poem, with a local flavor, was given to us by Naas historian, Paddy Behan.


The Gathering

For many years the Irish were forced out of their home

And like the wandering nomad’s they started to roam

In far foreign countries a living to find

With thoughts of their family’s and homes on their mind


America, Australia, and Great Britain, too

We’re glad of the Irish and what they could do

And in Argentina a man called Tom Brown

Said “Stand up like the Irish and don’t be put down.”


So in that great country so far far away

They still honour that man to this very day

And even in America the great USA

When their civil war started sure we had our say


As you see around the world we’re held in esteem

Sure there’s no place on earth that we haven’t been

We have our own problems as you understand

But when someone else calls we lend them a hand.


In sport or in business we have a great name

Our music and dancing sure it’s just the same

And be it at home or far far away.

The world wants to be Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day


Our poets and our scholars are also well known,

As they speak form the heart about country and home

So when you meet the Irish say it’s a soft day

For a smile and a handshake is the auld Irish way


The call has gone out to the Irish today

Please come home and help us this tax for us to pay

For the TD’s and bankers have brought us great shame

 And almost destroyed the Irish good name


I know we can count on you all for to come

Just think of the people who won our freedom

Oh, Lord I think they would turn in their grave

And try to come back our country to save


The year of the gathering is 2013

Let’s make it the greatest anyone’s ever seen

With pride in our heart once again we’ll walk tall

So Cead Mile Failte to you one and all.

Joe Kennedy, 2013.


Joe Kennedy has written a poem for Coill Dubh's Gathering festival on Saturday September 14 2013 



Droichead Nua Boy Scouts. Blessing of colours

The Kildare Observer 8 October 1932


The blessing of the colours of Droichead Nua, St. Conleth's 2nd Kildare Troop of Catholic Boy Scouts, took place in the Military Barracks Grounds on Sunday last in delightfully fine weather. There was a huge attendance present and the ceremonies were followed with interest.
Seven troops of Scouts at the invitation of the Droichead Nua troop travelled from Dublin ― the 59th., 20th., 28th., 44th., 64th., and 1st., and 2nd. H.Q. They were under the leadership of Commissioners E. Cullen, J. Ward, S. O'Higgins, Executive H.Q.; J. S. M. Ayres (in command); Scoutmaster Costello, and Mr. Skelly, Rathmines.
There were also present ― Rev. D. Waldron, Kildare; Mr. C. Bergin, do.; Mr. J. Fleming, do.; Bro. Nilus and Community, do.; Rev. C. P. Horan, C.C., Droichead Nua; Messrs. Joseph Murphy, J. Kearns, L. Murphy, J. Higgins, R. J. Donaghy, Manager of "Leinster Leader," Naas; Senator W. Cummins, and P. R. O'Farrelly, Curragh Camp.
Sharply at four o'clock the troops had taken up their positions in the barracks, the visiting Scouts being arranged in horseshoe formation, and the left end being taken up by the St. Conleth's troop. Senior Patrol Leader, P. Coffey carried the colour "frog" and was accompanied by a guard of honour, while six paces in front of the troop, Patrol Leader, Peter Conlan, and Patrol Leader J. Murphy, with staves, took up position. On the arrival of Very Rev. L. Brophy, P.P., accompanied by Rev. Father Walsh, C.C., troop chaplain, the Scouts came to the alert and the ceremony of blessing the colours which was performed by Rev. Fr. Brophy assisted by Fr. Walsh, was immediately proceeded with. At its conclusion the colours bearer with guard of honour advanced and the former with bended knees received the colours. Rising up he faced the troop and the general salute sounded, at which the colours were dipped, and the guard of honour saluted with their staves.
In a short address Mr. Commissioner Cullen emphasised the importance of all Scouts having a thorough grasp of their duties and still more important of acting up to those duties on all occasions. As Scouts they had obligations to carry out and it was up to them to show by their example and conduct that they were really Scouts not only in name, but in fact. He congratulated the Scouts, who had taken part in the Eucharistic Congress and who had given so much help to the organisers to make that great event such a conspicuous success.
In conclusion he thanked the Droichead Nua troop for their kind invitation and wished them every success.
The troops then marched to the parish church for Benediction, St. Conleth's troop leading. In the church the colour bearers arranged themselves around the High Altar in a semi-circle, and at the Elevation the colours were again dipped to the ground and the blare of trumpets rang out strong and clear.
At the close of Benediction the Scouts' promise was administered by the troop chaplain, Fr. Walsh, and the Scout Prayer said aloud. The ceremony concluded with the singing of Faith of Our Fathers.
An entertainment was afterwards held in the New Schools and a most enjoyable evening spent.
The ladies catering committee consisted of the following:― Mrs. M. Colohan, Chairman; Mrs. B. Timmons, M. Kenna, K. Phelan, B. Barry, A. Begley, M. Hayes, A. Brazil, F. Conlan, M. McKenna, Miss L. Farrell, K. Coffey, M. Foran, Mrs. White, Mrs. Keths, Mrs. Colleton, Miss Quinn. Vocal items were rendered at intervals and loudly applauded and the chorus taken up by the whole assembly ― Mr. J. Higgins, Assistant Scoutmaster, sang "Barney O'Hea," with fine effect, and Mr. Joe Murphy's "We all Went Marching Home Again," was greeted with hearty applause.
Songs were also contributed by Mr. Commissioner Ward, Mrs. Kenna, Patrick McCaffrey, Miss M. Foran, and Scout J. B. Berry. Patrol Leaders O'Brien, McCaffrey, Dunne and Messons won thunderous appreciation for their fine rendering of "Susan Fane," "Poly Woodle Doodle," and "Down in the Cornfields" and other topical items.
In commemoration of Rosary Sunday, presentations of Rosary Beads, special souvenirs of the Eucharistic Congress and badges made by the Thurles Nuns, were made by Mr. Farrelly, Curragh, to Patrol Leaders P. Coffey, D. Conlan, and J. Murphy.
The proceedings closed with the singing by all the Scouts, with hands joined round the table, of "Auld Lang Syne."
Just before the break up Mr. Farrelly, on behalf of the committee thanked the Dublin Scouts for their kindly gesture in coming to Droichead Nua, and the Chief Scoutmaster for the Dublin Scouts replied in a like strain.
Great credit is due to the organisers, and especially to Mr. Patrick Kelly, Scoutmaster, to whose initiative and enterprise the establishing of the troop is mainly due.


The blessing of the colours of Droichead Nua, St. Conleth's 2nd Kildare Troop of Catholic Boy Scouts, took place in October 1932


St. Brigid – an inspiration for all seasons

St. Brigid, whose feast day is 1st February, is an inspiration for all seasons. There are few figures in popular culture whose story has been reinvented in so many ways to find relevance to a 21st century audience. Viewed by an earlier generation as an icon of the Irish church she has become in modern times a rallying figure for environmentalists and feminists.

The traditional story of Brigid that has come down through the generations is personified in the form of a woman who was the founder of a monastic foundation in Cill Dara, the church of the oak tree. Her powers and spirituality are the stuff of legend – the brat Bríde, for example, was her expanding cloak which covered the distinctive plain now known as the Curragh. The story of the Christian Bríd is a mesmerising blend of folk-tales which may have their roots in the depths of pagan Ireland.

A constant in the folklore of Brigid relates to geography which puts both pre-Christian and early Christian strands of the Brigid story in the area we now know as modern County Kildare.  A chronicler of Ireland in the 12th century, Gerard of Wales wrote ‘At Kildare, in Leinster, celebrated for the glorious Brigid, many miracles have been wrought … the first that occurs is the fire of St. Brigid which is reported never to go out but the nuns and holy women tend and feed it.’ On the face of it this recalls the tradition of the eternal fire being carried out in Kildare to perpetuate the life and work of a Christian era Brigid.

However to show that nothing in ancient Irish folk life is that simple there are deeper and older explanations for this ritual of perpetual fire. One of the recent works on the rituals of St. Brigid suggests that even the Gerald of Wales account could be influenced by practices from the ancient Latin classics which describe rituals where virgins took care of a perpetual fire. A recent analysis by Seán Ó’Duinn, a monk of Glenstal,  quotes another scholar of the era, Professor Kim McCone as writing ‘the twelfth century visiting cleric, Gerald of Wales, describes a fire cult at her main church of Kildare that can hardly be other than a pre-Christian survival”

On the question of Brigidine geography many places in Ireland claim a share in the Brigid story not least her reputed birthplace of Faughart in north Co. Louth. However Seán Ó’Duinn makes a compelling case for the centrality of Kildare in the Brigid tradition.  He points out that a line could be drawn between Cill Dara  across to Dun Ailinne (near Kilcullen), the great Iron age fort, then north to Nás na Ríogh (home of the Leinster chieftains), and then west to Dun Almhaine (the Hill of Allen). Within this terrain the ancient fair of Carman may have taken place on Cuirreach Life or the Curragh as it is now known. Thus Cill Dara lent itself to a myriad of influences with connections to places which have archaeological and annalistic pedigrees rooted long before recorded history.

Whatever about the conjectural blending of folklore and history in the story of Brigid there can be no doubting the continuity of the folklore and craft associated with devotion to Brigid. The best known tradition is of course the St. Brigid’s Cross, the four-armed one which is most familiar being one of numerous styles woven from straw and twigs in country areas from Kerry to Donegal. A particular devotion to Brigid existed in Roscommon and on the shores of the Shannon where the abundant reed beds provided the raw material for complex interpretations of the cross design.

The St. Brigid’s Cross has made its way on to prominent graphic representations in the modern era. It forms one of the symbols emblazoned on the Kildare County Council coat-of-arms. The Lilywhites sport a modern graphic version of the Brigid’s Cross on their jerseys when they take the field. It featured too as the logo of the broadcaster RTE when it first transmitted in 1962, showing that the symbolism of an early Christian saint, who in turn inherited ancient pagan devotion, could be adapted to the technology of modern times.

In modern times Brigid has attracted a new range of followers interested in feminism and environmentalism. As a female, and one who lived close to nature, she has become an inspiration for those searching for an alternative to the relentless pace and consumption of the modern world. Her benign ways have been seen as a role model for those seeking social justice and a better way of sharing the world’s resources. Every generation makes its own of Brigid.  She is truly an inspiration for all seasons. Postscript: this column marks its sixth year of publication on St Brigid’s Day. Thank you to the readers who keep in touch and who come forward with nuggets illuminating the history of Kildare and adjoining counties. Series no: 316.

Liam Kenny reminds us that St. Brigid, whose feast day is 1st February, is an inspiration for all seasons


The winter of 1963 … homesteads isolated by snow drifts in the Wicklow hills

Writing about weather at this time of year is fraught with the potential for embarrassment arising from the possibility that in the interval between these words being typed and the newspaper appearing in print the weather may change dramatically. At time of writing the weather over north Kildare is grey and wet – an unwelcome contrast to the hardy bright days of earlier in January. In terms of temperature it is not chilly but neither is it balmy. Either way there is general sense of relief that so far the winter of 2012/13 has not unleashed a prolonged blizzard or spell of freezing weather.  The optimists among us are already pointing to the lengthening of the evenings and asserting that if we reach St Brigid’s Day unscathed then the worst of the winter may be over. However it might be a bit too soon to be putting away the scarves and gloves. There can be a background chill well into the spring and this column can recall a year in which there was snow to be seen in the fields as late as Punchestown week.

This time fifty years ago there was no such relief about seeing off another winter as the country found itself in the prolonged grip of a three month long freeze. January 1963 broke all records in terms of winter conditions and was the coldest since 1740 according to meteorological records. The freezing temperatures lasted right through to March. The Shannon at Limerick froze over for the first time in living memory.Each locality sprung its own folklore from the winter of 1963: a man is said to have ridden a motorbike across the frozen Boyne near Navan, another drove a tractor across a lake in Mayo. Even those who did not believe in miracles found that they could walk on water – so long as it was in the form of four inches of ice.

There was chaos nationwide but the hamlets and farmsteads of west Wicklow were particularly vulnerable. The population living in the terrain on the mountain side of the Blessington to Baltinglass road was cut off for days. Communications and rescue resources were basic – few houses had telephones, four-wheel drive vehicles were even rarer. Wicklow County Council’s roadmen wielded a hundred shovels to try and make roadways through the snow. Unemployed men were taken off the dole queues and given shovels in their hands so as to help shift the drifts.

However the onslaught of that winter was sustained and severer. No sooner had men spent days clearing a road but a fresh ice-storm would bear down setting at nought days of heavy shovel work. The Army was called in to help in a number of locations. However two trucks with troops attempting to reach Blessington had to turn around so deep was the snow on the road from Naas. New methods of reaching in-accessible communities were tried: the Irish Parachute Club flew a number of missions from Weston airfield near Celbridge dropping parcels of supplies to isolated households in Wicklow.

The plight of rural residents became a heated political issue with Dáil deputies accusing the Government led by Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, T.D., of not doing enough to secure relief for isolated communites. One of those critical was M. J. O’Higgins who used an adjournment debate in the Dáil on 22 January 1963 to highlight the plight of some of his Wicklow constitutents. He said that the situation had approached crisis proportions. And he pointed accusingly to the Government benches: “Surely the people were entitled to look to the Government for some leadership, for some activity, for some assistance? What leadership did they get from the Government?”

However a Government TD Padge Brennan took a sanguine view and pointed out that Wicklow people were no strangers to hard winters: “We have come to expect these things and the people in the areas referred to by Deputy O'Higgins are accustomed to these conditions. Only yesterday I was speaking to a man from Hollywood who told me that every farmer in that locality expects a snowstorm after Christmas that can last for two or three weeks.”

He said that there had been previous severe storms in 1933 and 1947 and people would be hard pressed to say which was worse. He said that Wicklow folk were neighbourly people and did not stand idly by and allow their neighbours to suffer. In this instance what happened is that Wicklow County Council was on the job right from the word “go” and within a few days routes had been cleared to most of  the villages in the county. It took a little longer to reach a few smaller hamlets such as Ballyknockan, Lacken, Manorkilbride, and Knockananna.

It was to be another two months before the snow on the Wicklow hills thawed and life returned to normality. It was not the last time that winter emergencies triggered controversies in the Dáil – the winter of 1982 was to prove embarrassing for the Garret Fitzgerald-led Fine Gael-Labour coalition with accusations of lack of preparedness being directed at local and at national government. In the years since response to emergencies has improved and pride of place must go the County Councils who have upgraded their winter clearance resources. Driving across Kildare in the late hours of a wintry night it is reassuring to meet the orange beacon emerging from the winter dark and to hear the slap of grit across the windscreen as a County Council gritting truck goes on its way.

In another week or so, St Brigid will begin to work her magic and, while the Irish weather can bite back when least expected, a gradual rise of temperature will engender relief that at least the severity of winter has been left behind. At time of writing (and those could be famous last words!), the winter of 2012/13 does not look as if it will emulate the chilly records set by its predecessor of fifty years ago when householders in the Kildare and Wicklow hills were cut off from the outside world by the most ferocious winter seen for a generation. Series no: 315.

Liam Kenny recalls the harsh winter of 1963 in no. 315 of his Looking Back series. Our thanks to Liam

August 15, 2013


Kill History Group

Autumn & Winter 2013

Monday 19th August:  1913 Lockout: the Kildare connections - James Durney
 (Heritage Week)                

Friday 20th September:   Walk and Talk around Kill village
(Please note that this is an additional event, as part of  “Culture Night” and will start in the car park beside St Brigid’s church at 7.30 p.m)

Monday 23rd September:  “Jubilee Nurse” - Elizabeth Prendergast

Monday 28th October:   “Women and the 1913 Lockout” - Mary Muldowney

Monday 25th November: “Serving the State:
   Fifty years of Irish Air Corps helicopter Operations” - Capt. David Browne


Monday 27th January 2014: Annual General Meeting (8 p.m)

All meetings take place in the Parish Meeting Room at 8.30 p.m.
(unless otherwise indicated)


Kill History Group's autumn and winter programme begins on 19 August with '1913 Lockout: The Kildare Connections'


Celbridge Heritage Week Grand Canal Walk

Dear all,
This is a reminder that our Heritage Week Grand Canal walk is planned for this Sunday, 18 August at 11.30 a.m. - in conjunction between Celbridge Public Library and Celbridge Historical Society.
We will start at Ardclough GAA Club carpark, cross the Ardclough canal bridge and follow the Grand Canal towards the 13th Lock (near Lyons' estate village) - and back again (about 20 minutes each way at a leisurely pace, with time to stop and look around).
CHS Committee member, Ida Milne, will lead the walk. In addition to the great wealth of history in the area, some lovely wildlife can be observed along the canal.
The Ardclough GAA club have kindly agreed to participants using their car park, and their bar facilities will be available to us for refreshments after the event.

N.B. because of the proximity of the water, all children should be accompanied by a responsible adult.

Looking forward to seeing you on Sunday,
Nuala Walker
(Tel 087 2844279)

Celbridge Heritage Week Grand Canal walk is planned for this Sunday, 18 August at 11.30 a.m.


New Dispensary for Naas

The Leinster Leader October 11 1958

From "Notes and News from the Districts"

The new dispensary at The Harbour, Naas, was opened to the public on Wednesday of last week but the official opening ceremony by the Chairman of the Kildare County Council will not take place for a few weeks.
It is furnished with the most modern fittings and has great architectural beauty, the design being most unusual in this part of the country. The architect was Mr. Nial Meagher, architect to the Kildare County Council, who deserves great credit for his attractive building.
The cost was approximately £3,500. The house adjoining in which patients and applicants were formally treated, will now be leased by the Urban Council.

In October 1958 a new dispensary was opened to the public at The Harbour, Naas


Should auld acquaintances be forgot … farewell 2012.

The year 2012 was like being in the chocolate factory for historians. So abundant was the range of anniversaries, centenaries, and of other historical events, of national and of local significance, that the appetite for nostalgia was more than fulfilled as the year progressed.  Whether it was the centenary of the “Titanic” sinking, the Home Rule Bill or the Ulster Covenant, the year 2012 brimmed with commemorations and reflections. 
From the early days of the year it was certain that one event was going to loom over all others and that was the centenary of the sinking of the RMS “Titanic” in April 1912.  The fascination of the Titanic for generations many times removed from 1912 is hard to fathom. Notwithstanding the plethora of disasters – including two world wars – that have happened in the years since 1912, the sinking of the “Titanic” continues to mesmerise the public imagination. Of course it was a great personal tragedy for those who perished. But the numbers of fatalities on the “Titanic” were small compared to the carnage of the First World War or to the ravages of consumptive diseases which stalked Ireland in the early part of the 20th century. And the sinking of the great ship had little impact on the ways of the world. Life went on after the sinking of the “Titanic” – its Belfast builders Harland and Wolfe continued to launch ships while there was no interruption in the steady flow of people willing to board ship and sail across the Atlantic. So why then has the “Titanic” such a fascination for a modern generation? There are perhaps many answers to that question but a good starting point would be the appeal which the costume drama has for modern audiences. The great success of period dramas on television such as “Downton Abbey” suggests that people have a fascination with the fashion and manners of the wealthy and elite. The “Titanic” story was a kind of sea-going costume drama with all the elements of class distinction from first class to steerage which appeal to people looking from the distance of our modern era. The “Titanic” story and the plethora of commemoration that went with it might make for compelling drama but whether it makes good history is another question over-shadowing, as it did, reflection on other less visual events which nonetheless have a bearing to our present day.
The violent demonstrations reported from Belfast earlier this month over the City Council’s decision to cease permanent display of the United Kingdom flag over Belfast City Hall are an all too real example of an 1912 event which has stark consequences to the present day. The Ulster Covenant of September 1912 was a mobilisation of loyalist political activism in opposition to the imminence of Home Rule for Ireland which would see the country gaining its own parliament for the first time since 1800. The introduction of a Home Rule Bill in Westminster in April 1912 promised to deliver the Holy Grail for Irish nationalists – the establishment of a parliament in Ireland, the first assembly since 1800 in which Irish people would have a say in how the country was governed. However the prospect of Home Rule was met with an equal and opposite reaction by the Ulster Protestants who saw the prosperity which they had created in Northern Ireland through the success of the linen and ship-building enterprises being undermined by southern Irish Catholics whose capacity for responsible government was in doubt. In an effort aimed at protecting at least the six counties of north-eastern Ireland from the dubious ministrations of an Irish parliament the Ulster unionists mobilised an extraordinary campaign which within a few weeks in September 1912 had succeeded in getting 470,000 unionists to sign a declaration that they would resist by any means the imposition of a Dublin government. The declaration was never put to the ultimate test as by the time Westminster had Home Rule ready to go on the statute book the First World War had broken out and Home Rule was put on the back burner. However it should have been very clear to nationalists in southern Ireland that nearly half a million people were implacably imposed to Irish rule and instead were to insist on maintaining their connection with the British Empire, an insistence in which symbols such as Union Flags were all important.  Northern Ireland may have gone through many stages of war and peace since but the Union flag protests of 2012 suggest that the reactionary spirit of the 1912 Ulster covenant has not gone away.
So much for the calamities and the politics of 1912 which were recalled at centenary events during the year.  One of the sad duties of an end of year reflection is to remember those who have passed to their eternal reward in the calendar year. Two loyal friends of this column died in the last quarter of the year. Mrs Mary McNally (nee Shiel) of Rathcoole was a great historian of the families who lived on the boundary of counties Kildare and Dublin in the landscape embraced by Athgoe, Rathcoole and Saggart. Back in the 1930s and 1940s such boundary areas looked to Naas as their service town as much as to the capital city and Mary had many memories of the county town in that era. She also had a special connection with one of the great aviation adventures of the era when Colonel Fitzmaurice and two German aviators took off from Baldonnel in 1928 to attempt (successfully) the first ever air crossing of the north Atlantic. Mary was a childhood friend of the Fitzmaurice family and had a clear recollection of seeing the aircraft -- named the Bremen -- being prepared at Baldonnel before its pioneering flight. Mary passed away    and is sadly missed.   Another friend of this column who passed to his reward was a man who not alone recalled history but was touched by it in a profound way. Zoltan Zinn-Collis was a child survivor of Hitler’s Holocaust. His family attempted to escape the Nazi tyranny in 1941 only to perish in the attempt.  Zoltan managed to stay alive and was found by an Irish doctor, Dr Collis. Dr Collis brought Zoltan and some other  German children to Ireland in the 1940s and gave them a new life. Zoltan put his horrendous experiences behind him and trained as a chef – a profession which brought him to Athy where he married and raised a family. It was only in retirement that he began to talk about the horrors of fascism which had deprived him of a family in his childhood. For a number of years he visited schools in Co Kildare sharing with pupils his experience of the Holocaust. It was only nine months ago that this column was witness to him holding spellbound hundreds of hard-to-impress students in a big lecture hall in NUI Maynooth with his recollections of one of the defining episodes of the twentieth century.  Zoltan passed away at his Athy home earlier this month. 
So with such memories of highlights and of farewells in the spectrum of local history  this column puts its pen aside and closes the file on 2012.

Liam Kenny bids farewell to 2012 in his popular Leinster Leader series Looking Back

August 09, 2013


Kildare Boxer's Success

The Leinster Leader July 22 1939

His many friends in Kildare town will be glad to learn that Tommy Rose, formally well-known in the amateur ranks, is now doing well in professional boxing in London. He is under the charge of Mr. Billy Affleck, of the School of Physical Culture and Tuition in Self-Defence, King Street, London, and for the past eight months has had fifteen contests. He has won nine of these by the k.o. route, two on points, and lost three. He has defeated such useful men as Johnny Clarke (Highgate, London), Bob Eggleton (Hertford), and Dan Harvey (London). With a little more experience Tommy, who is in the 11 stone class, should get to the first rank of professionals, and his future progress will be keenly watched by his friends on this side of the Irish Sea.


An article from the Leinster Leader of July 22 1939 on the London success of Kildare Town boxer Tommy Rose


A Touch of My Youth

by Con O'Hanlon

I was a country boy, because I lived 1¼ miles from Newbridge, in a little place of no consequence, except to residents, called Kilbelin. It was flanked by the river Liffey, and it was my home ground for 23 years.
Somebody once wrote: "A boy's will is the winds will, and thoughts of youth are long, long thought." I suppose there is truth in this. Youth, with its wishes of great deeds one day blown away as the wind, by some loftier ideal.
Growing up beside a river ordained that a great part of my youth would be centred around it. Looking back over the years, what a tragedy for this Grand River; the harvesting of its waters by the E.S.B. at Poulaphouca.
In my youth the River and its vicinity had so much life, and so much to give to the exploring mind. Fish life abounded, fine trout in the still pools and rapids. We would watch enviously as the real big ones rose to flies in inaccessible places.
Pike, too, in all sizes were there in haunts known as "Dardis Flat" ― "Blackthorns" ― "Flanagan's Hole" and "Fr. Kavanagh's Rocks," which was a deep stretch of water, shrub and tree lined on one side; it had an aura of lurking danger.
The many happy hours spent poking through the lovely clean moss on the river bed seeking the Stickle-back, Colic and other small, rare fish. The Crayfish hidden under stones - we had a healthy respect for their claws when walking barefooted in the water.
We fished with the crudest of rods, brown line that seemed to weigh a ton when wet, made up flies which many a fish cast a jaundiced eye at. For the minnow we used thread and a straight pin bent to taste. Old leather cast-off boots were our waders, turned up trousers to give depth. Our nets, if any, were the old onion containers which had some resemblance to nets. Usually we tried to flip the fish on to the bank, and scramble up to claim and assess him.
Bird life abounded too. Hawks across the river in the near wood and the far wood. Corncrakes clacking out their messages in the meadows. Up river the Dipper or "Polly White Throat," spring legged on some large rock. The beautiful Kingfisher, that we took for granted. Great flocks of Curlews, Plovers, the Swifts and Sand Martens, and the Larks overhead.
We all had our boxes, saw-dust or wool lined for collection of bird's eggs. Early morning quest for mushrooms would startle the Water Hen and her brood, or perhaps the ever wary Wild Duck.
Rafts, too, were always part of our youth. Spending weeks looking for old oil-drums and other items not so readily come by.
River flooding was always with us, depending on the rainfall. At their worst they were a frightening force; trees, debris of all sorts, cocks of hay and sometimes animals were swept past our lane. They were the great cleansers and beautifiers in the life of the River.
We swam endlessly in summer. Usually morning ― day ― evening sessions. Up through Counihan's meadow to our own private pool, or down-stream to Grimes, to mingle with neighbouring peasants. You got your unwritten diploma when you were capable of swimming the deep water here. Grimes also possessed a high-diving plank which jutted out from the river bank. Many a persons bravery was gauged on his willingness to dive from it.
How we looked forward to sheep dipping in the river during the summer. A flock would arrive in the care of 3 or 4 men and penned in a corner with cart creels. One man was delegated to stand in the river whilst his companions slung the sheep to him one by one. He dipped each one thoroughly, before pushing them away. What a drenching this man got.
Sixty four years on and I tread the paths of my youth with sadness. I see a river narrow and weed infested, rushes and reeds and briars fighting for its bank space. No hedges of note for the birds, all gone before the farmer's greed for prairie-land. No Lark song to rekindle the past, no Kingfisher to enrich the future.
Thomas O'Crohan in his wonderful book "The Island Man," which dealt with life on the Blasket Island said, "The likes of us will never be again."
Youth, being what it is, accepts Nature's bounty without really savouring it. Old age brings regret, for we know the likes will never be again.

Con O'Hanlon.
26 August 1989

In 1989 Con O'Hanlon recalled growing up alongside the river Liffey at Kilbelin


Christmas in the Big House … a child’s memoir of Castletown

Picture the scene – a twenty-foot high Christmas tree in the hall of a big house, children excitedly picking out a present from one of the 200 or so wrapped gifts under the tree, and the aroma of plum pudding wafting up from a basement kitchen. It’s like an image from a period costume drama of the kind which garners huge viewing audiences. But the Christmas scene described here comes not from a scriptwriter’s imagination but from the first hand memories of a woman who experienced childhood and adolescence in the “up-stairs down-stairs” world of the big house. It is just one of many resonant pictures of life in Castletown House, Celbridge to be found in a new book entitled “The Children of Castletown House” by Sarah Connolly-Carew and published by the History Press. 
Sarah is one of the four children of the last family to live in Castletown as a main residence. With an authorial team that includes her brothers Patrick and Gerald, and her sister Diana (one of Ireland’s greatest equestriennes) and a foreword written by the great Georgian, Desmond Guinness of Leixlip Castle, this sparkling book gives an intimate and engaging picture of what it was like to grow up in the twilight years of the “Big House”. For Castletown is as big as they come – not alone in scale but also in terms of architectural repute. It’s perfectly proportioned classical design influenced the architects for Leinster House and the White House (Jackie Kennedy visited to check out the similarities for herself) – while the treasures of art and plasterwork in its interior have given it international status among cognoscenti of great house décor.
Much has been written about Castletown’s architectural splendour and about the lineage of the great Connolly family associated with this Palladian gem.
However Sarah Connolly Carew opens up another vista of Castletown -- a more intimate and earthier one than available in standard histories.  She weaves the wonder of childhood and the excitement of adolescence into the fabric of the house which comes alive as the setting for escapades and adventures. The Christmas memories are typical of the author’s engaging style of writing.  Recalling the tradition of inviting in the children of the farm workers into the house on Christmas morning Sarah recalls: “… there would be a 20ft tree in the hall with presents for every one of the estate children. There would be nearly 200 gifts carefully wrapped up and labelled with each name. There parents were given money, a joint of beef, and extra milk and butter.”
A strength of the memoir is that it avoids sugary nostalgia but always makes reference to the practicalities of life for those living in the big house and those resident on its estates. She recalls the Christmas morning when one of the Leixlip residents of the Castletown estate, a Mrs Farrelly, did not seem to be joining in with the fun as her three children participated in the present giving. Her worry was that the Connolly’s had been bringing 1950s amenities such as electricity and water to the cottages on the estate and she was worried that her rent would go up as a result of the improvements. However Sarah’s father, William Connolly-Carew, reassured a concerned Mrs Farrelly that there would be no rent increase and that she could enjoy Christmas without worry. That gesture of seasonal good-will concealed another reality … that the rents and income from the farm were no longer enough to maintain a big house which was beginning to show its age spanning three centuries. The struggle by the Connolly-Carew’s to keep Castletown viable as a home and farm is an instructive insight into the economics of the big house in the 20th century. It’s near brush with disaster when the family sold Castletown to developers who abandoned the house for a number of years allowing it almost to fall apart is the stuff of thrillers. Enter the white knight Desmond Guinness whose foresight saved Castletown for the nation. All of this roller-coaster drama is chronicled in vivid prose by Sarah Connolly-Carew who in a work of considerable social history names the farm workers, the shop-keepers in Celbridge, and the members of the Kildare hunting and farming fraternity all of whose lives were intertwined with Castletown. And while the Christmas memoirs are only a small part of the Castletown narrative they do provide some of the homeliest and earthiest cameos in the story. Connolly senior (otherwise Lord Carew) was a practical man and when told by his wife to go shopping in Celbridge for the gifts for the estate children he produced a roll of Bronco (toilet) paper and began to write the list. As the author recalls, in the years when even paper was scarce, the loo roll was the only practical way to write a long list of names. She recalls the giggles of the shop assistants in Celbridge who had to suppress their mirth so as not to make fun out of a valued customer!
“The Children of the Big House” by Sarah Connolly-Carew is a great read and a fabulous insight into the behind-the-hall-door realities of “Big House” life and its social circles. Published in a classy presentation with colour and black-and-white photographs “The Children of Castletown” is available from bookshops or by contacting the History Press on 01 244 9470.  

Series no: 310.

Acknowledgement: thank you to Carmel Locke, Clane whose enthusiasm for Castletown is an inspiration.

Liam Kenny reviews Sarah Connolly-Carew's memoir “The Children of Castletown”. Our thanks to Liam


Christmas 1952 – a light shines out across the Bog of Allen

A light shone out over the Bog of Allen at Christmastime in the year 1952 illuminating the hopes and dreams of a generation of young couples settling into new homes. The source of the light was the architecturally striking Coill Dubh housing scheme built by Bord na Móna (the turf development board) to accommodate its workforce on the edge of the bog.  Coill Dubh was the largest of seven Bord na Móna schemes built in the 1950s throughout the midland counties and the only greenfield site among them – the others such as at Bracknagh and Rochfortbridge were adjacent to existing villages.
The majority of Irish towns and villages had evolved in a haphazard manner over generations but sixty years ago Coill Dubh marked the arrival of a rare phenomenon on the landscape – the creation in a planned way of a new town and, with it, the coming together of a new community.
The background to the creation of Coill Dubh was the need to provide a permanent home for some of the hundreds of workers who had flocked to the turf-camps of west Kildare during the years of the Emergency (1939-45) when the saving of peat on the bogs became a national crusade. During the war many hundreds came from all parts of Ireland to work and live in the turf-camps at Timahoe, Allen and Killinthomas, among others. Accommodation comprised billets – sometimes of the nissen hut variety – and living was communal with meals and recreation being taken in mess halls built, like the rest of the camp, as temporary structures. The turf camps evolved their own folk lore and while the conditions were basic there was, by all accounts, a strong sense of camaraderie among the young men gathered there from many parts of country.
However Bord na Móna  realised that a more stable foundation was needed if workers were to be retained to provide the labour needed for the ambitious post-war plans to develop the bogs as a source of fuel for the ESB peat-fired stations then being planned for the midlands.
It was with a vision for a new community and a new industry in the otherwise economically depressed midlands of Ireland that Bord na Mona under Todd Andrews – a politician with an entrepreunarial  commissioned an architect named Frank Gibney (1905-78) to design new housing schemes to accommodate workers and their families in place of the temporary camps.
Ireland in the mid 20th century was regarded as being insular in terms of artistic inspiration and had turned its back on overseas influences but Frank Gibney was a man apart in his profession. He had travelled widely in the 1930 to absorb architectural influences from new housing projects in locations as adventurous as the Holy Land, the Chicago World Fair, Spain and Sweden. Gibney absorbed all of what he had seen, and together with his own genius, worked to design and plan housing schemes which by their very form and layout would create a sense of community for their new residents.
His design for Coill Dubh featured 160 houses arranged as to embrace green spaces and create vistas with curving lines of houses so that every view of the estate was varied and different. Shops and other amenities were built as an integral part of the scheme and a site for a school provided.  No more than with the great ESB cooling tower rising over nearby Allen, Gibney’s new estate at Coill Dubh became a striking feature of the west Kildare environs in the early 1950s. A part of Ireland where the wet peat lands had seemed to offer little in terms of a future were now at the heart of an exciting enterprise to create a new industry and a new community.

As local historian John Larkin recalls the first nine households in the estate were occupied by families with names such as Carew, Smiddy, McCrystal, Sullivan, Grimes, Gallen, Larkin, Orr, Magarahan. These families alone had migrated from eight counties: Tipperary, West Cork, Down, Cork, Westmeath, Donegal, Galway, Dublin and Cavan, respectively. Meeting the practical needs of a new community was an integral part of the Coill Dubh design and shop spaces had been provided in the terraces which were taken up by business people such as Aidan Ward (grocery), Tom & Anne Adamson (drapery), J.J. Blake (confectioner & newsagent, bikes, radios, etc) and Gormley’s (chemist). 
Among the personalities to have lived in Coill Dubh were the musical Hopkins’ family; Barry Cluskey who played with the King’s showband and still lives in the estate; Arthur Voigt, a German airman who worked with Bord na Mona in the 1950s and later moved to Milltown; Peter Bracken, who was a brother of Brendan Bracken, a Minister in Churchill’s Government during the Second World War; and Austin Groome, a progressive Kildare  County Councillor and chair of the Eastern Health Board.
They are part of a story which began when lights shone out in the dark of a December night across the Bog of Allen as the first young families moved into their new Coill Dubh homes in the days before the Christmas of 1952. 

Series no: 309.
Acknowledgement: thank you to John Larkin, Carmel Darcy, Aileen Saunders and all at the St Mochua History Society.

Liam Kenny recalls the construction of the purpose-built village of Coill Dubh from his Looking Back series no. 309. Our thanks to Liam

August 01, 2013


Vikings - Raiders, Traders, Explorers and Settlers.

Athy Heritage Centre - Museum and the South Kildare
Medieval Festival
will be exploring the Viking World
on Sunday August 18th. It will be our usual blend of
the academic and manic as lectures exhibitions
and workshops vie for
your attention over the bustle of the Street Fair.
Add Viking Traders (and raiders?!) to the mix and
anything could happen!  A fun day for young
and old is in prospect!

Please Contact us for further information:
Athy Heritage Centre-Museum on 0598633075
Email: athyheritage@eircom.net

Athy Heritage Centre-Museum and the South Kildare Medieval Festival will be exploring the Viking World on Sunday August 18th


Murder, robbery and genealogy

The Freeman’s Journal 4 March 1802

County Kildare
A Meeting of the Magistrates of the County of Kildare is requested at Naas, on Monday the 8th of March, at one o’clock, to take into consideration certain wicked and daring outrages that have lately taken place in the said County.
Feb. 27, 1802.
Leinster, Governor

County of Kildare
Whereas, on the morning of the 16th of January last, Mr. William Williamson was robbed and murdered near the road on the lands of Friarstown, adjoining the Curragh. The Rathangan Association, holding in the utmost abhorrence such atrocious crimes, will give the sum of one hundred guineas for apprehending and prosecuting to conviction, the person or persons who committed said horrid murder. And whereas, Patrick Tobin, of Tullylost, and Owen Connolly, of Pollardstown, in said County, stand charged with said Murder. The rathangan Association will give reward of forty guineas for apprehending both, or either of said persons, and lodging them in any of his Majesty’s Gaols, on application being made to their Treasurer, Mr. Joshua Pim.

Rathangan, Feb. 2, 1802.
Parick Tobin, about 5 feet 10 inches, or 5 feet 11 inches high, aged about 28 years, brown hair, smooth complexion, pale faced, two big teeth in front of his upper jaw, stout and well made, has an ulcer on one of his legs, which is swelled, usually wore a blue body coat and leather breeches, and grey outside coat.
Owen Connelly, about 5 feet 8 inches, or 5 feet 9 inches high, aged about 35 years, pale complexion, his nose projects a little upwards, rather heavy limbed, dark brown hair, a few grey hairs over his temples, usually wears good grey frieze clothing and leather breeches, and sometimes blue inside coat.

Dublin-Castle, Feb. 11, 1802.
His Excellency the Lord-Lieutenant, for better discovering and bringing to justice the persons concerned in the Robbery and Murder mentioned in the foregoing Advertisement, is pleased hereby to direct a further reward for one hundred pounds to be paid for apprehending and prosecuting to conviction the persons guilty thereof, - His Excellency also doth hereby promise his Majesty’s free pardon to any one of the persons concerned in the said Robbery and Murder, (except the person or persons who actually committed the same) who shall within six months from the date hereof, first discover his accomplices, so as they or any of them be apprehended and convicted thereof.
By his Excellency’s Command,
A. Marsden.

Note: It seems probable that neither Patrick Tobin or  Owen Connolly (also spelled Connelly) were ever apprehended for their crimes as a search of the Freeman’s Journal in succeeding years reveals no more references to the robbers or the victim.

A newspaper article from the Freeman's Journal, of 4 March 1802, on the reward offered for the apprehension and conviction of the murderers of William Williamson


Kind donation to Kildare Collections and Research Services

Kildare Collections and Research Services (KCRS), based at Newbridge Library, gratefully acknowledge a recent donation from historian Paddy Behan, Naas. Paddy, a long-time friend of Newbridge Library and local history groups, has kindly donated three items which are a valuable asset to local historians:

An account book for the Grand Canal Hotel, Robertstown – 12 February 1835-18 November 1850
A letter copybook of handwritten letters from Naas UDC – 13 June 1908-24 April 1911
An account book for the Duke of Leinster – 2 January 1796-31 December 1796.

The collection can be sourced for research purposes at Kildare Collections and Research Services (KCRS), based at Newbridge Library, during opening hours or by appointment.

Kildare Collections and Research Services (KCRS), based at Newbridge Library, gratefully acknowledge a recent donation from historian Paddy Behan, Naas.


The Visit of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to Naas in April 1904

Fionnuala Egan

The visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in 2011 created a buzz of excitement and preparation. It was much the same in 1904 when King Edward and his wife Queen Alexandra visited Naas, in County Kildare. Also known as “Nas Na Riogh” (Naas of the Kings), the town's name originated from the ancient chieftains who ruled North Leinster from their fortress in the town centre. Naas is also popular with the royalty of a more recent era. Since 1171, ten English monarchs have visited Ireland and all have either visited or travelled through County Kildare.
King Edward's connection with Kildare began in 1861. He was sent to the Curragh Camp by his mother Queen Victoria. He had little to do in the way of royal duties until her death in 1901 and so indulged his interest in horse-racing, as an owner and betting man.
In this article, I will be discussing his visit to Naas and Punchestown, in 1904. This visit made him the first and only King of England to attend.
The visit was announced early in 1904 and triggered a frenzy of preparation among the elite and merchants of Naas. These preparations began in earnest on April 6th. Leading citizens met at Naas Courthouse. Protestants and Catholics, Loyalists and Home-Rulers all came together to consider how best to welcome the royal visitors. An example of this diversity is that the Rev. A. Murphy, the Catholic curate, and the Rev. W. Elliott, the Church of Ireland minister, were among those “leading citizens” who wished to welcome the King. Mr. William Staples was the chairman of the reception committee.
By the 23nd of April, preparations were “in active progress” according to an article in the "Leinister Leader" which also reveals that the townsfolk were hoping for a positive change in the weather! A fund to pay for the decorations was opened. The contract to erect arches at the Railway Station, the Town Hall and the Ulster Bank was given to a Dublin firm called Switzers.
Similar to Queen Elizabeth's visit, safety was a concern. 333 Royal Irish Constabulary policemen were drafted into the town. Ironically, they were accommodated on straw-covered floors in the old jail!
The main street was transformed into an extravagant showpiece of imperial loyalty. The town was swathed in bunting, banners and arches bearing royal and loyalist symbols and colours which helped provide a welcoming and colourful look to the town. Every detail for the King's convenience was looked into; Mr. Percy La Touche wrote to the Urban District Council requesting that they spray water on the streets because of their dusty conditions! A new staircase and horse ring were also especially built at Punchestown.
Nationalist feeling was definitely in the air, evident from the nationalistic paper the "Leinster Leader” which referred to British rule as “a long record of wrongs to be righted.” However this did not deter the townsfolk from wishing to welcome the King to the town as they saw the King as a “good sportsman” coming to try his luck on Irish turf. The newspaper wished the King a “kindly and hospitable reception”. Furthermore, it was likely that the majority of Kildare was not strongly nationalist, as the county was tied economically to the British presence. The county’s rich farmland meant it was home to many Anglo-Irish families, who would have supported the royals. Local historian James Durney also reveals that it was easier to be a unionist in those times, and stick to the “status-quo”.
King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra sailed across the Irish sea to Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire). On 26th April, they travelled by rail to Naas via the Great Southern and Western Railway Company. They were seated in a luxuriously upholstered carriage, the engine decorated with flags and streamers. At the station, they were received respectfully by a large crowd at 12.30 that day as expected. A guard of honour by the Royal Irish Constabulary gave the customary salute, while a band played “God Save the King”.
The royal visit passed off without incident. The King and Queen received a greeting which has been hailed in the "Leinster Leader" as a welcome “whose generosity could not be exceeded if it could be equalled” in all the Empire. "The Kildare Observer’s April 30th, 1904, edition goes as far as to claim that “not one voice was raised against the clamorous greeting given to the Emperor-King and his Consort.”
Mr. Stephen J. Brown, JP, Chairman of Kildare County Council, welcomed the royal couple on behalf of the Urban District Council of Naas. He shared a brief history of the town, explaining that it was once a prominent and important centre of economic activity but unfortunately “various circumstances of time, as well as its proximity to the Metropolitan City have distracted from its importance and prosperity.”
King Edward VII received this address well, expressing his gratitude for the “cordial greetings” and his interest in the history of Naas. He mentioned his many happy days as a soldier in the Curragh Camp and how his previous visits to Punchestown were passed with “keen enjoyment”.
The King ended his reply by proclaiming that it was his earnest wish that Naas would “share to the full in the prosperity which the future has, I trust, in store for Ireland.”
A message that would have been valued, both then and today!
The royal couple travelled in an open coach to Punchestown, escorted by a detachment of mounted police and cheered by crowds and feted by bands as they passed through Naas and onto Punchestown road.
The King had first attended Punchestown, a local horse racecourse, in 1868 as the Prince of Wales. His attendance at that time had boosted the popularity of the track among the fashionable circles of Dublin Castle society, and his 1904 visit had a similarly positive impact. Many distinguished guests visited, such as Princess Victoria, Princess Margaret, the Duchess of Connaught and the Duchess of Devonshire, who accompanied the Queen.
Although one of joy and festivity, the visit also had a long lasting impact on the town. It served to improve the local economy. I interviewed local historian James Durney in relation to this. He reveals that visitors to Naas and Punchestown would have increased considerably due to the Kings popularity. This is confirmed in the 30th April edition of "The Kildare Observer", which stated that "no less than eleven excursion trains crowded with passengers arrived in Naas on Tuesday morning between 8 and 11 o clock. Visitors from the rural districts were numerous." The 333 RIC men would have also spent a significant sum of money in the local community.
Advertisements before the event in newspapers such as the "Leinster Leader" and "The Kildare Observer" frequently referenced the upcoming visit. According to Durney, several firms placed advertisements in the paper who would not have ordinarily have done so, again highlighting the importance of the Kings visit.
Punchestown benefitted from the visit as well, as reported in "The Kildare Observer’s April 30th paper; "from early morning, people had been pouring in from all directions," resulting in "such a gathering as has seldom graced an Irish meeting."
Overall, the royal visit created wealth for the county. The King's visit might be seen as having revived the economy, and had a long lasting impact - Naas continued to grow and thrive, and today has a population of over 20,000 people.
The local reaction to the Kings death in May 1910 provides a fascinating insight into this impact, as well as to the growth of nationalism.
By this time, nationalist feelings were far more prevalent in the town, and this is evident in the small amount of coverage given to the event by nationalist newspaper, the "Leinster Leader". Its May 14th, 1910 edition primarily focused on the dying Irish meat trade.
In extreme contrast, "The Kildare Observer" dedicated two and a half full pages to the report, stating that "perhaps no event in modern history....has plunged the British Empire into such deep sorrow, and, indeed, given cause for regret to the whole world." The newspaper remembered fondly the Kings visit to Naas in 1904, highlighting the importance of this event. It also discussed how the Kings death "led practically to a suspension of the ordinary conduct of affairs".
For example, Naas Petty Sessions, Naas Union, Clane Petty Sessions, Athy Rural District Council, Athy Board of Guardians, County Committee of Agriculture and Naas South Pensions Committee all adjourned their meetings out of respect.
Growing nationalist feelings did provide opposition to this. At the meeting of Naas Petty Sessions, Mr. P. Rourke stated that it was ridiculous to adjourn the board after bringing people long distances there, and he was supported by another dissenter Mr. J. E. O'Grady.
At the meeting of Naas Union, Chairman P. J. Doyle criticized British rule and accepted that "we are on the brink of a Constitutional struggle". However, he did go on to clarify that the memory of the late King, a nationalist sympathiser "will be cherished in Ireland.”
Overall, despite the nationalist objections to British rule, it appears that the King was a figure highly respected by the people of Kildare, nationalist and unionist alike, due to his visit in 1904. This can be summed up from a quote from the "Leinster Leader";
"The popularity of the late monarchy in this country, even amongst those who declare themselves opposed to the prevailing conditions of Irish government has often been demonstrated, but never so profoundly as on the occurrence of the lamented event which has plunged England into mourning and deprived Ireland as a powerful friend."

An essay by Fionnuala Egan on the visit of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to Naas in April 1904. Our thanks to Fionnuala.

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