De Wetts: Immortal Sport Stars of 80 years ago. Their achievements on the football field brought fame and glory to Athenry. They will soon, I understand be given their place, on “Roll Call of Fame‘, in the G.A.A. History Book. They named their team “De Wetts” to honour the hundreds of Connaught Men, who fought under General De Wett against the British in the South African Boer War.
Mick Good – a great ﬁsherman, and the late Michael Tierney of Caheroyan fought with De Wett. John McBride – Father of Sean McBride – recruited hundreds of Irishmen to ﬁght for the Boers.
Peter Barrett; of Castle Lambert ﬁgured in the most sensational trial of the last century. Charged with the attempted murder of the Landlord Lambert, he faced trial three times. The pulse of the nation stood still with emotion, as they awaited the ﬁnal verdict. Every Irish heart – at home and abroad – beat for the cause of Barrett. He was found ‘Not Guilty’. Barrett was defended by Isaac Butt, who for his legal strategy and oratory was described as the “Law Wizard”. He broke down the greatest Counsellors of the Crown. For his defence of Barrett he was conferred with a ‘Knighthood’. The year was 1869.
Johnny Kelly a man famous in many ways – a man of great philosophy. He was involved in the G.A.A. in the last century. He could compose a ballad in ﬁve minutes. A wonderful story-teller”, a great counsellor. My father referred to him as a man of “great lore”. He lived at Whelan’s, The Square.
Julia Mary Morrissey would have married Liam Mellows had he lived, so her closest friends said. She was a great pianist. She lived in and owned Jimmy Nolan’s Shop.
An Old Prophecy “Athenry was, Galway is, but Aran will yet be the best”. Aran is free from pollution and contamination of the outside
world. An island people of simple faith, who hold dear the old values, retain the Irish culture and the soul of the Gael. When Athenry ranked 2nd in Ireland, Galway was but a small ﬁshing village – Claddagh.
A Coal-Mine was opened at Castle Lambert in 1875-76, and a quantity of good coal found, soon discontinued – trouble over evictions. Proprietor Lambert intended to re-open it.
Old School at Ball-Alley in 1875 had 55 boys and 35 girls. Last lay Principal teacher in girls school was Mrs. Dolan. She lived beside the Ball-Alley, now Whelan’s. She had three beautiful daughters – tall, stately and handsome – Minnie, Annie and Aggie – all raised in the l880s.
Chaly-Beate Spring: This was mentioned in documents of the l860s, 70’s and 80s. After exhaustive enquiries I found it on an old map only 20 yards from Abbey Row. When I was a child, it was called the Spa. A Chaly-Beate spring is impregnated with minerals particularly Iron. What a pity it is lost to the people!
Rita Persse, the great heiress of Belville, was married in the Protestant Church about 1910. Her husband was Mr. Keary Bernard, a millionaire. It was the sight of the century. The red carpet stretched out to the Square. The town could hardly hold all the carriages. All the Gentry of Ireland were there. Two members of the British Royal House were present.
Lady Gregory was Persse of Roxborough Mansion.
Doctor Burkett acknowledged as the greatest Medical Scientist of Europe and Africa is grandson of Dr. Minister Burkett, who lived in Riverdale House until the early l920s (Presbyterian Minister).
Professor Margaret Heavey One of the greatest scholars in the British Isles. She mastered many languages: English, Irish, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. She was equally brilliant at Mathematics and had complete command of the six books of Euclid at l5 years. Bom and raised at Old Church St., she was Professor of Ancient Classics at U.C.G. for many years. She died in 1980.
Padraig Fallon poet and playwright of National and International fame, was born and raised at Old Church St. Son of John Fallon, a great athlete, and nephew of Paddy Fallon a member of the famous “De Wetts”.
Michael Whelan was born at the Square, where his mother still lives. He has reached the pinnacle of fame in the Business World. A Barrister by profession, he also holds a Master of Science Degree, and became Assistant Head of Board Failte at a very early age. After a serious accident he bounced back to become Chief Executive of Aran Energy.
James Ruane installed an Electric Plant in the very early l920s which gave light to streets, houses and church. This was a great uplift to the town. James Ruane was a man of great vision, enterprise and initiative – a man before his time.
Michael Shaughnessy in his own simple humble way was one of the most intelligent men I ever knew. Listening to him telling stories was like seeing the past on a television screen. The man never knew his gifts. 120 years of authentic local history was lost by not recording his stories.
Anthony Blyth of Rockﬁeld'(now Lord Blyth) crossed the Atlantic with four others in 1952. They sailed form Galway in the Aisling, a boat specially built in Galway for the occasion. Excitement ran high. There were thousands there to see them off. After 28 days they reached Porto Rico, on to Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Miami and ﬁnally reached New York. This was a daring and dangerous adventure demanding a lot of courage. Their bravery captivated the imagination and admiration of the World.
Kingsland: Legend has it that King Felim O’Connor was slain there at the Battle of Athenry, hence the name. Legend also said that De Bermingham prayed at “Lady’s Well” for victory. Both statements tie with logic. The heights of Kingsland and Rahard were of great strategic importance. The Old Road passed at the back of Madden’s Forge, crossing at Cleary’s ﬁeld to Madden’s hills. It crossed to Kingsland at second tum to Lady’s Well.
Wishing Stone at Kingsland on roadside. “To sit and wish and your dream came true”. A great custom when I was young, and for generations.
The Mill opened by Robert Irvine in 1866. Samuel Taylor, of the big land owners of Castle Taylor, bought the mill about 1890 – the last family to run it. Sam Taylor was a J. P.. The Taylors were a protestant family. The eldest son Herbert became a convert at marriage. There is also a four generation Catholic Branch who gave two members to the Church in recent decades – Father Taylor (Maynooth) and Sr. Stanislaus (Presentation Nun).
Mr. George the man arrested in Athenry during the Land League was the celebrated author of ‘Progress and Poverty’. Extract from his report – “As a result of British Rule in Ireland, I saw sad and horriﬁc sights everywhere I travelled”. Parnell of course took the Land League platform with Davitt.
Protestant Church built in 1828. Catholic Church built in 1852.
Major Lopdell lived in the Town House before Raheen House was built. He was killed at the Railway Station – falling between train and platform. Miss Lopdell married Chichester Clarke in Northern Ireland. Their son was premier for a short time. He was overthrown by the Unionists because he was a “moderate”.
A boy of 17 fell from the top of a Ball-Alley in the 1880’s and escaped with a few scratches. The fall was broken by a tree or bush growing out of the wall in the inside Abbey.
Edward Carson, Son of Isabella Lambert of Castle Ellen, spent much time there as a lad and, as a student in Trinity, came there on holidays. He loved the place. My father, who knew him during the course of his duties, said “Ned Carson was a decent chap – a man of the people, different entirely to the rest of his breed”. However decent he was, Edward Carson, more than any other, was responsible for the partition of our Country. Whether he intended it to be permanent is another question which I would love to hear a well-informed answer.
Bogs reclaimed in 1954 and the great industry Bord na Mona started at Attymon and Cloonkeen. A source of great employment for the people of the parish.
Major Hall’s Daughter, Knockbrack married Sir Norman Stronge of Tynan Abbey, Co. Armagh. He and his son were victims of assassination in recent years. Sir Norman was “Speaker” of Stormount.
Fairs: Calendar of F.J. Finnerty, The Arch, 1895: Big Horse Fairs, Feb. 8th; May, 23rd; Aug 17th; Nov 30th.
Inland Postage Rates: Letters not exceeding 4 oz.1d and, above that weight, 1/2d for every additional 2 ozs. Parcel Post was as follows; l lb. 3d; ld per lb. up to 9 lbs; up to ll lbs. 1s.
Emigration It is of interest to note that the total emigration ﬁgure for Co. Galway alone, going back from March 1861 was 227,666.
Teacher: Athenry had the best teacher in Ireland, or so they said. He turned out great scholars. He educated them on the basis of the 3 R’s. They were all well versed in latin Roots. He was Mr. O’Reilly, father of Tom and Essie O’Reilly, Old Church St. He was here in 1869.
River Lane: When the river was diverted in 1860, for the mill, people squatted in the eyes of the Bridge, and six families erected make-shift houses in the Lane. As no one owned the River-bed they could not be evicted. Mag Dilleen died in River Lane early in the century. Mag came from a good family, but she had a hard life – the times were against her – Padraig Fallon has written a poem “The Funeral of Mag Dilleen”.
Old Mike Martin, a blind, man also lived there. He travelled on an ass and cart selling cockles and mussels. The ass acted as a guide-dog, and never made a mistake. When the smallpox disease was raging in Athenry two large families, victims of evictions, lived in the eyes of River Bridge. Although every house in River Lane had the small-pox neither of these families caught the plague. According to Dr. Leonard it was because they had so much contact with cattle. Medical opinion of today may dispute this statement, but this is as I heard it.
The Shaughnessy Family reached great academic heights in America. I read this in a Boston paper more than forty years ago. Mentioned as the sons of Johnny Shaughnessy, who emigrated from the village of Athenry in the l880s. One was a famous Attorney; another a University Lecturer”, a third, another Lawyer, was a Mayor of Waltham, while the fourth son was then the highest Ranking Ofﬁcer in the American Navy.
Kinneens and Brownes opened two big grocery stores at Bridge Street – one on either side, about forty-ﬁve years ago, which resulted in it becoming one of the most important business streets in the town. The Post Ofﬁce was moved to Bridge St., less than thirty years ago.
The late Dick Morrissey was star in the All Ireland Final, when Galway won in 1923. He married into the Clasby home in Kingsland.
P. J. Molloy: Another All Ireland Star when Galway won in 1980 – a native of the parish, married to an Athenry girl, Pauline Loughnane.
Titanic sunk on maiden voyage in April l4th, 1912 – the greatest peacetime sea tragedy in history. Andy Keane, a popular young lad of Tobberroe, perished.
Castles: three of the most beautiful castles in Ireland at the height of their glory were Monivea, Moyode and Dunsandle – all only ﬁve miles from Athenry.
Robert French is buried in the Mausoleum in Monivea Wood. It would now cost more than £100,000 to build. A visit to the Mausoleum is worthwhile. One can also enter the vaults by a winding stairs. Robert French was envoy to Russia at the height of the Tzarist power.
Knockaunglass House: The parish visiting house for generations. Set dancing, cards and story-telling. Ned (the father) had a wonderful memory. Pat Brody had a great fund of Co. Clare fairy stories, but the Queen of all storytellers was Bridgie Clasby. She died in 1977. The old Madden home, now vacant, stands like a Sentinel guarding the great characters of the past – a landmark in local history as the “House of the thousand welcomes”.
Derrydonnell: When Red Hugh O’Donnell sacked the town in 1598 he pitched camp at an oak wood there. The name is derived from Doire Donnell, – Doire meaning oak wood in Gaelic.
Lady’s Well: A famous Marian Shrine for more than seven centuries. One of the holiest places in Ireland.
The Oldest Pub in Town was Kelly ’s, opposite Fitzsimmons on the comer. At one time it was owned by Carberrys, relatives of Kellys, The Square. Mr. Kelly, the last owner, was American born – his father left Athenry on the famous “Rag-a-Dee”.
Dr Brennan’s House, was built by Dr Monsell, a private doctor. When he left it was bought by the Church of Ireland. Munster Roe was next tenant, followed by his son, another Protestant Minister and later Cannon Bomphart.
Christy Howley: During World War 2 when no toys were available, Christy ﬂooded the market with the best of wooden toys of every shape and make. A man of great creativity, he became the Parish Santa Claus.
Parnell: When he visited Galway in the 1880s, hundreds walked and jogged there to see the “uncrowned King”. They knew every ﬁeld-track, stile and short-cut. It seems they were all marathon runners in those days.
Drisheen: A good and delicious meal in by-gone times. Sheep’s blood mixed with some oatmeal, chopped onion, chopped suet, parsley and a little herbs. Tie in clean ﬂoured muslin bag – leaving room for expansion. Plunge into salted boiling water. Boil for ﬁfteen minutes and simmer for 3/4 hour. Drain by hanging bag. Flavour with salt and pepper while mixing. I believe that Drisheen was never heard of for at least two generations.
Watly’s School – one of the old Hedge Schools, was at Court Lane, somewhere near Mio Dempsey’s Slaughter House. It was probably at the end of Coen’s garden, as the teacher – a great scholar – was named Coen.
Sean Broderick: After the Treaty when the British Garrison handed over Renmore Barracks to the Irish Anny, the Commanding Ofﬁcer was Sean Broderick, later T.D.
Mommy Healy’s Shop was on the site of Mio Dempsey’s Stall. A big, friendly, buxom woman she offered a varied choice of the following for one half penny: Bars of Fry’s Chocolate, Peggy-’s Leg, Sugar-Candy, Butter-Scotch, Liquorice-Ball or a bag of can-sweets. Weren’t the times great only we hadn’t the half-penny! If one of six or seven was lucky enough to have the “make” we all invaded Mommy’s for a “lick”.
Robert Irvine, the Mill, established Athenry as a market town. Before that the markets were held in Monivea through the inﬂuence of the Frenches.
Fred White, on his maternal side comes from a very old Athenry family. His mother was Biddy McNamara – daughter of Michael McNamara (Cross St., 1850). Michael McNamara was married to Biddy Cannon – my father’s Aunt, and the woman who reared him. Fred White’s father came to Blackall McDonagh’s Tailoring Department as a “Cutter”.
Quinns, Caheroyan a very old family. James Quinn married Kate Madden, sister of Edward Madden, Knockaunglass.
Tom Cleary, Abbey Row – very well-read and knowledgeable man. He died the day Brendan Higgins was married. His death caused me great grief. Behind a very arrogant appearance I discovered a man of great feeling and understanding. He married a member of a very old Athenry family – Coppinger. Thomas Cleary was a man with a “great presence”.
Light: Before the invention of candles or oil-lamps, bog-rush tapers were soaked in tallow fat and left to dry. Hung on a devised wall-clip they provided light.
Tom Raftery, born and raised in this parish (Coshla), was elected to the European Parliament in June. The fact that he polled 42,000 – 43,000 ﬁrst preference votes speaks for his popularity. He joined a political party only two weeks before the election. He holds an M. Sc Degree and was appointed Professor of Dairy Science at the age of thirty. He master-minded the “Fota Project”. A self-effacing man, we wish him luck and success in Europe.
Headd: About eighty years ago the occupier of Manning’s Bar was a man named Martin Headd. He was married to a very beautiful woman, Mary Fahy, aunt of Kitty Fahy.
Population Figures For Athenry From 1841 – 1901
1841 – 1236
1851 – 1487
1861 – 1283
1871 – I failed to find!
1881 – 813
1891 – 774
1901 – 694
A population ﬁgure for Athenry town for 1981 I ﬁnd very hard to accept – 1479 – 8 less than in 1851. It was given to me by the Library Assistant.
Featured Photo – Mick Goode’s House in Northgate Street.
From the book – “Athenry, History from 1780, Folklore and Recollections” by Aggie Qualter, March 1989
Click on the Author’s name, below, to find more articles from Aggie Qualter’s book.
Written by Aggie Qualter
Published here 12 May 2022 and originally published March 1989
Page 38 of Athenry History
Seamus Heaney’s Visit to Athenry
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