A Knight of the Roads

Bucky Hynes – A man of the roads – ranks as one of the great folk-figures of Athenry and surrounding parishes. Standing six-foot-three in height and of slim build, he earned the nick-name “Bucky”, because he was a man of remarkable agility, as fleet-footed as a buck-deer, and in leaps and bounds could clear the most daunting obstacles. His running stride was phenomenal and, as I shall relate, he achieved a unique distinction among the runners of his time.

Bucky was a man of exceptional intelligence and wit, and when on his local rounds stayed in the house of a very educated man named Sheridan, who lived somewhere near PollnaBannie. It was said, by well-informed people, that Bucky Hynes had a heritage that many might envy. He was also a man, who held strong religious beliefs, and on one occasion spat on the soup offered to him by a member of the gentry because the day was Friday. He said openly that the lady had insulted him, and made little of his Catholic upbringing.

On several occasions Bucky boasted in public that he could beat the Galway hounds in a long distance run and was finally taken up on the bet of five pounds. He did not renege. In those years, as you can well imagine, the followers of the pack had little respect for a tramp, and set small worth on his life.

A dead fox was dragged on the track, and needless to say, Bucky was given a good dose of the same treatment. The day and time had come, excitement ran high, the race was on. All went well until he reached the boundary of Oranmore village, where he heard the savage pack not far behind. Bucky was a quick thinker, and acted with speed. He spotted a tree with an outstretched arm, but above his reach. With a run and high leap he grasped the branch, got his foot on a small projection on the trunk, and succeeded in pulling himself to safety. Within seconds, the blood-thirsty howling pack surrounded him, but Bucky was safe. He had won the day.

Almost eighty years have come and gone since a “man of the roads” made history. He placed his life against a five pound wager, and beat the Galway Blazers in a race from Craughwell to Oranmore. Small wonder that the name “Bucky Hynes” lives on, and is forever enshrined in the annals of local Folklore.

Bucky was given a head-start, but all my enquiries have failed to find out the distance.

I heard it said that in 1915, Bucky Hynes cleared the Mill River in a long jump! The bet was five shillings.

From the book – “Athenry, History from 1780, Folklore and Recollections” by Aggie Qualter, March 1989

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The first Dominican Priory in Connaught was established about 1241. Myler De Bermingham, First Lord and Keeper of the Barony who invited the Dominicans to the town insured them a good start. He generously gave them 1,500 acres of land as well as abundant tithes. The Abbey flourished for almost three centuries, to become a great centre of Education, and in time attained University status.

The Dominicans were a preaching order, but their aim was also to improve the living standards of the people and they dedicated their lives to this cause. While in Athenry they taught many kinds of crafts – weaving spinning, wool-making and woodwork.

The Religious Split, caused a great upheaval and brought about the suppression of the monasteries. The Abbey lands were confiscated, and handed over to the Mayor and Corporation in 1574. The friars left returning now and then in times of peace. Finally, the threat became too great for them, and the majority of the Friars went abroad. So ended the reign of the Dominicans in Athenry. A small number of the Friars remained, hiding in the woods around Esker, and in 1662 they established a famous school on the lands of Clanrickarde. Students numbering 300 came from many parts to be educated there. Many professional men, as well as Dominicans emerged from this school, but misfortune again was to overtake them. At the end of the seventeenth century, after the Battle of Aughrim, the Irish Parliament decreed that all Friars be banished from Ireland. This resulted in the closure of the school. A few of the Friars again went into hiding. Penal Laws were at their worst, but when times became quieter, they rented a piece of land from Denis Daly of Carnakelly, on which they built a rough cabin. Eventually, some of the monks returned, and with the help of the people built a strong structured house, improving it in time.

They went from strength and succeeded in laying the solid foundation of a new home at Esker. The Dominicans continued the good work dedicating their lives to the poor; all their motivation and endeavour was directed to the education and advancement of the young. One Father Smith comes over as an extraordinary man. In 1837 he founded a school to accommodate 600 children. Many of them were fed and clothed. The school taught trades, agriculture and other subjects. He also opened a private school for 120 children and a Sunday school. One of Fr. Smyth’s schools in the l840s became the Esker National School.

A High School for young gentlemen failed after ten years – the classics, literature, pure science and agricultural science were taught. Fee £25.

Esker was a house of great charity. No one was turned from the door empty-handed. Many a starving person and indeed families were kept alive from the hand-outs received there during the Famine years. 1893 saw the end of Dominican Esker, which began at Athenry in 1241.

The beginning of the century brought the dawn of a new era – Redemptorist Esker. (Source – The History of the Dominicans by Rev. Patrick O ’Donnell).

Author’s Notes: Dominican Church, Esker opened and consecrated in 1844.

Opening Sermon preached by the famous Fr. Theobald Mathew, admission 5/- (five shillings), proceeds to go for building schools for the poor.

1768 – Dominicans at Esker numbered l2 priests. Later it was visited by the poet Raftery, who wrote a poem in Irish praising the hospitality he received there. Irish was then the language of the people.

The ruins of the Abbey are visited by many tourists each year, very interested in the History of the Dominicans, and the architecture of the time. They see a great past through the ruins.

Dominicans turned out powerful Church leaders. One was a de Bermingham, who became Archbishop of Tuam in 1289 and died in 1312. He was Rector of the parish of Athenry. His body is entombed in the walls of the Abbey. He was made Archbishop when a Deacon and ordained the following year. This brings home to us the power held by these people in Church and State.

Florence O’Flynn another Dominican became Archbishop of Tuam in 1250.

Thomas De Burgh entered the Dominicans 1226, was appointed Historian of the Order and created Bishop of Ossary in 1259 – died at Kilkenny 1276.

Brownes presented the famous Abbey window – facing north. They then lived in Coolarne. A powerful family in town and county; vast land owners. United in marriage with the famous Lynch family.

From the book – “Athenry, History from 1780, Folklore and Recollections” by Aggie Qualter, March 1989

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Cross Street 

The six stone-faced houses were built in 1902 by Lambert (landlord) on what was then waste ground. They had all the modem amenities of the time, long gardens, out-offices, and a right-of-way. The houses in lower Cross St. are said to be very old. Nearly all the houses from Western Hotel to Fox’s Lane were occupied by the R.I.C. Sergt. Condron, Const. Gibbons, Sergt. Kells, Sergt. McGlade, Sergt. Minchen, Const. Curran; Const. McLouglin, Davis (son of the infamous landlord) lived in Jo Sweeney’s house. Corleys lived there as long as I can remember. Healys, on the opposite side was occupied by Sergt. Lynch R.I.C. In the last century the post office was at Paddy Ryan’s house. Mrs. Rushe was post-mistress. Tom Hynes lived at Cross Street in 1850.

James Kelly’s Forge was at the back of 44 Cross Street. Probably this became Pat Quinn’s Forge later (grandfather of Christy Flynn). One of Schoolmaster O’Brien’s prophesies was that Martin Luther would one day be made a saint of the Catholic Church. He also foretold that Athenry and Galway would be linked by houses. This has almost become a reality. When Luther is canonised, I hope the town will commemorate and raise a flag for O’Brien at McDonnell’s Lane.

Athenry Town House

Athenry Town house was built by John Lopdell between 1822 and 1830. It was then known as “River View”. Lopdell must be given credit for landscaping the place with its lovely lawns and tree-belts – the copper-beech is the crowning glory.

The estate is completely surrounded by Athenry’s medieval walls and towers, giving the scene a unique historical setting. In 1865, the river Clarin with its lovely roman-arched bridge, was brought through the estate – lending added charm – to make it one of the most beautiful surrounds in Athenry. It was then renamed “River-Vale”.

Athenry Town House

By 1870, Lopdell had moved to Raheen House, selling “River Vale” to Dr. Leonard, who again changed the name to “Town House”.

Dr. Leonard died there in 1893, leaving an invalid wife, and a raised family of one son and four daughters. With no family income they survived to the end. The eldest, Miss Mary was a trained nurse who served in the Florence Nightingale Hospital, London. She was then appointed private nurse to the King of Spain, who succeeded to the throne the day he was born – or so they said. The other ladies, Barbara, Jenny and Henny, with two part-time helpers, ran the house, farm, dairy and orchard.

We called the son Dr. Staff, but he was not a qualified doctor, always on the “batter” when sitting his finals, and never got his letters. Through studying his famous father’s notes, he had a cure for all ills. His cure for itch, and Impetigo – something the doctors of the time were unable to treat, never failed, and was known far and wide. It was a made-up herbal ointment taken from his father’s book. Dr. Staff never visited patients; they came to him. He earned his fees, and then set off to the Athenry Hotel to drink all.

The Leonards were devout Catholics, and though of the gentry by birth, they were also of the people, and gave them a free run to the lawn on both sides of the river to enjoy themselves reading and fishing.

As a child I was spellbound by the gentry. They transported me into a make-believe world. I trailed them everywhere – to the church, the Hunt meets, and the Town House. Wherever they were I was sure to be. Watching them was like seeing a fairy-tale come true. I remember two big tennis tournaments at Town House during World War I, both within a few weeks.

Judging from the crowd that attended, they may well have been the County Championships. I’ll never know. The gentry came from all over – in landaus, carriages, and bell-ringing pony traps. The Lopdells, Roes, Halls and Concannons came on bicycles (bikes were status symbols in those years).

How I enjoyed watching them from the opposite side of the courts. The ladies wore large sun-hats. The maids, on loan, from Rockfield House, looked immaculate in their black frocks, lace collar, cuffs, and aprons, as they served tea in the lawn. The spectators were a sight to behold – beautiful, flowing dresses of every make and colour – all to their ankles. For ladies it was then an offence against modesty to show more than their ankles. In their lovely plumed hats, and sporting their gay parasols, and coloured fans they all looked gorgeous. The style, grandeur and glitter are better imagined than described.

Although, I brought “the full of my eye” with me and cart still see it all, yet, I am unable to put the full picture in words. To make a long story short, these memorable scenes brought my young dream to fulfilment. I saw the gentry at their mighty best.

I can still see the Town House as I saw it from the Abbey Row wall seventy five years ago. In memory‘s eye, it stands out as vividly as last night’s dream. Even at such a tender age, I heard the stories of the great and famous Doctor Leonard. People were then marvellous story-tellers and children were always eager to listen.

During our growing-up years, and well into our teens, we ran down the river bank, a merry band of boys and girls, over the bridge and in. It was there we played rounders, had our swings and picnics. In the lawn we gathered the first snowdrops and daffodils, and with the burst of summer the primroses, bluebells, and forget-me-nots. From the lawn we heard the first call of the cuckoo and tirelessly followed her voice trying to sight her but never succeeding. In the adjoining meadow we searched in vain for the corncrakes – their never-ceasing crakes echoing day and night – sounds nowlong silent.

For me, the Town House, and Leonard ’s lawn, more than any other place – hold dear those precious, treasured memories of “That Sunny Long Ago”.

From the book – “Athenry, History from 1780, Folklore and Recollections” by Aggie Qualter, March 1989

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Editor’s note: Declan Barron on Facebook – “Athenry as was” – 04.04.24. I am researching the Hickman family in Athenry. William Vesey Fitzgerald Hickman of Athenry House (circa 1850 to 1875). He is recorded in 1860 as having stopped the destruction of a gateway in the town walls. His daughter Louisa married Rev. Thomas Connell Cotter in 1869. Do any old photos of Athenry House survive?

At Tallyhoe, less than three miles from Athenry the gates and ruined lodge at what was once the back-entrance to Moyode Castle are still to be seen, but nothing now remains of this once majestic home of the great Persse family. The gaunt ruins are remnants of a past world that the people of today will never understand. It was the world of the great Landlords, their castles and big houses.

The fame and grandeur of Moyode Castle stretched not only throughout Ireland but across the British Isles. It was a centre of attraction for the great Dukes and noblemen of Britain and Ireland.

What attracted the mighty and the great to Moyode? There were two contributing factors. One was the host and owner, Burton Persse, a man of exceptional charisma, who entertained lavishly. The other was the famous hunting-pack – “The Blazers” the private property of Burton, and kennelled at Moyode. In fact, for many decades, there were two packs there and in addition, twenty of the best-bred hunters in the land, specially reserved for the hunting enjoyment of the important guests.

The adventurous escapades of Burton, his dare-devil tactics on the hunting field, the harum-scarum antics of this fun-maker made him the talk of every Big House in the land. Many tales still centre around this colourful man. The great Hunt-Balls and parties at Moyode were talked about for months afterwards, and even now, after a lapse of one hundred and thirty years, provide food for fire-side stories in many homes. The pomp, revelry, and pageantry of those great gatherings could scarcely be surpassed even at the London Royal Palace. Can you imagine the spacious dining-hall, and ballroom, where the Connaughts and Edinburghs (sons of Queen Victoria), Clanrickardes, Dunsandles, Ashtowns, Clonbrocks and countless others dined, wined and danced?

At its peak Moyode had over eighty employees. Apart from its vast tillage and grazing areas, its stables and kennels, the Castle had its own forge and blacksmiths, saw-mill and carpenters, a large dairy-farm, and an extensive pig farm and butchers. Moyode, with its thousands of acres, was largely self-sustaining.

Burton Persse had a very good relationship with his workers and treated them well. It was he, who built the cottages at Sliabh Rua to accommodate some of them. To work at Moyode was to command a special status in the community.

How did the name “Blazers” come about? In the 183Os, when the Persses were entertaining another famous Hunt at a hotel outside Ballinasloe, there was a serious outbreak of fire, so they decided to name the pack “The Blazers”. Burton was so popular, that his pack was the last in Ireland to be stopped by the Land League, and only then by extreme pressure from the top. The farmers were severely censured and threatened with the “Boycott”.

The last of the Persses (unmarried) died in Ballinasloe in 1935 aged 81. He too bore the name of Burton Persse. His remains were brought to Athenry Protestant Church during Minister Bomfort’s time, and buried in Moyode the following day. His death brought to an end the Great Perse Dynasty, that spanned almost two and a half centuries.

The Castle of Moyode – Written by one of the Persses in Australia

On limestone land this Castle stands

‘Neath oak and elm tree,

In years gone by it caught the eye

Of all that Heaven could be.

Its great high towers stood out like flowers

Along its sandy road,

When coach and four pulled to the door

Of the Castle of Moyode.


Its the polar-star of Galway,

Its the Bethlehem of my birth

Had Napoleon known its whereabouts

He would have headed West,

And left behind the Alpine range

‘Where the mercury skies had snowed,

And settled for a moon-lit night

O’er the Castle of Moyode.


The courtyard gate of spikes and plates

Just like the letter M,

And O and Y are found in “Joy”

Which always seemed within.

When the cuckoo’s call came o’er the wall

To soften life’s heavy load,

As your axe you swung, and the echos ning

Through the Castle of Moyode.


The other O is a bullet hole

Pierced through an old ash tree,

And the archways in my childhood

Looked like the letter D.

And on the top there’s a weather-cock

there you find the letter E

And all linked up together spells


The front gates at Esker Monastery, were once the two main entrance gates to Moyode Castle. (Taylors and Beimes gate-lodges). Although Burton Persse was one of the most popular of men, the same cannot be said of other members of his family. Many of them were hated for their cruelty. As a child, I often heard the old people express their hatred and condemnation of one Robert Persse, who had the heads of two little girls tarred as a punishment for taking two turnips from his field on their way home from school.

My own mother couldn’t bear to hear the name of Persse. She told us the story over and over again of how her father was beaten by one of the Persses. It seems my grandfather was bringing a load of seaweed to the Athenry market, when he came to a sharp, steep hill near Ballygurane. The mare was heavy in foal, and he was obviously trying to zig-zag the load, so as to avoid the heavy pull, and rest the mare. Persse came speeding in his carriage, and seemingly had to stop or slow. He jumped, enraged from the carriage, grabbed the whip from the driver on top, doubled the stick and whip, and started belting my grandfather across the face. The poor man kept pleading with him. “Its the mare I was trying to save yer Honour, its the mare I was saving,” but Persse continued to vent his temper, with blow after blow. Notwithstanding all, my grandfather succeeded in holding on to the mare and saved her from falling. The horse and cow, were then the most valued possessions of every little home. Two men, travelling to Athenry on foot, came on the scene, and helped the mare and load to the top. My grandfather was so badly battered, that my grandmother failed to recognise him, as he pulled into the street in the evening.

There was a brighter side to the story of the gentry. They were not all bad. My aunt Mary, then a little girl of eleven, ran errands and did odd jobs for Colonel Davenport’s family of Ross Hill House. I do not know where exactly this house was, except that it was some miles across fields from the old home. Though only a youngster, she was a gifted cake-maker, and at the Colonel’s request, had to bake potato-cakes almost every evening for the family tea. The Davenports loved her, and the Colonel gave her father a large stretch of strand to gather sea-weed, and so help him raise his young family on a fourteen Irish acre holding. It was this sea-weed, he was taking to Athenry, when attacked by Persse. My aunt continued to work at Ross Hill House until she emigrated to America at a young age, and could never say enough in praise of the Davenports. Since I have given the story of the bad Persse, it is fitting to include the story of the good Colonel.

Frank Persse, Moyode married a Miss Monaghan – a “peasant” girl of Templemartin. The marriage in the Catholic Church was based on true love and they remained happy to the end. They lived at Woodville House, near Kilchreest, and are buried together in the area.

Other branches of the Persse family lived at Persse Lodge, Castleboy House, Roxborough House (Lady Gregory was a Persse) and Sommerville House. The Distillery in Galway was owned by a Persse. They also had a big house in Galway.

Shaw-Taylor’s mother was a Persse, as was Mrs. Bingham, Ivymount House and Mrs. Keary-Bernard, Belville House (Rita Persse).

Landlords and Gentry. The following had British Army titles: Eyres, Blakeneys; Taylors; Gregorys; Darcys; Bomforts; Persses; Lamberts; Halls; Clarkes (Craig Abbey); Lopdells; Binghams, Goughs; Dalys; Concarmons.

Daly, Dunsandle, and Blakeney sat in Grattan’s Parliament. Talbot was elected for Athenry after the Battle of Aughrim and sat in James’ Parliament. I failed to trace him. It must be remembered that those were elected on a limited franchise. The plain people of Ireland had m say or vote in the matter.

From the book – “Athenry, History from 1780, Folklore and Recollections” by Aggie Qualter, March 1989

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If we could take a trip back in time and visit Athenry in 1850, how would we compare it with the town of today? How was the town community then structured? What kind of living standards were enjoyed by the people? Were there unemployment or housing problems?

You would be absolutely appalled at the sight. For a town that ranked second in Ireland in the 13th century, Athenry had reached an all-time low. The streets were narrow and unpaved. The wretched houses, many of them without windows, were built below the level of the streets. The people were condemned to a grinding poverty and deprivation, but let it be plainly understood that these conditions were enforced upon our people by a system of British Law from which they had neither power or hope of extricating themselves. If poverty was a shame or sin, then everyone was guilty.

The records reveal that Athenry was no worse than any other village of its size in Ireland, and very much better than most villages in the West. Everyone was poor – that is everyone except the people who lived in the numerous Big Houses that surrounded the town. If I find it hard to describe the misery of our people, I also fail to find words to describe the splendour, grandeur and life-styles of the people known as the “Gentry”. Their houses were palatial residences, built in the best architectural designs – each surrounded by a retinue of servants. They lived in the lap of luxury and had everything and anything that money could buy.

The principal Gentry of the locality were: The Lamberts of Castle Lambert and Castle Ellen, Persses of Bellville and Moyode, Halls of Knockbrack, Lopdells of Raheen, Blakes of Rockfield – to mention but a few.

With the exception of four Streets, Chapel St., (now Old Church St.) North Gate St., Cross St. and Bridge St., all the others were known as Lanes. River Lane was absent as the river was not diverted until 1860 or earlier. The old thatch Church called the Mass House was at the back of Hanberry ‘s Hotel or nearer the Swan Gate.

Chapel Lane circa 1800 – Photo Gary Ryan Facebook

In 1850 the Dominicans were flourishing at Esker, and education was well provided for. there was a College, an Agricultural College, and also four private fee-paying Schools for young gentlemen. The National and Parochial Schools had an attendance of 800 pupils made up of the poorer classes. One hundred were provided with food. Apart from the Landed Gentry, the professional classes were represented by two teachers, a Barrister (John Lopdell), a Surgeon (M.J. Edgar) and a Land Agent (J. Barrett). I found strange names Hesty, Hickman, GUIIHBII, Geese and Bradish. Very old family names were Broderick, Newell, Shaughnessy, Coleman, Hynes, Qualter, Higgins, Kilkelly, Cannon, Barrett, Cumiiffe, Quinn and Keamey.

Old Church Street consisted of 49 houses. Two of the householders were Thomas Heavey and Patrick Greally.

At Cross Street I found Michael McNamara, Great Grandfather of Christy O’Grady (Senior) and Grandfather of the late Arm Maria Mack (Mrs. O’Grady). There also was Thomas Hynes – Great Grandfather of Una Hynes.

In Knockaunglas (Cnocán Glas ,the small green hill) in 1851 there were three cottiers’ houses occupied by T. Kinnein, T. Whelan and P. Greally. They had 14, 9 and 5 and a half acres, respectively. Traces of some of the ruins are on the town side of the old Pump House.

Caheroyan (Hynes Quarters). John O’Connor then lived in Caheroyan House with 216 acres. There is an O’Connor grave at the back of the Catholic Church. There were also 12 free houses – all held by squatters.

Bridge Street in 1851 consisted of six houses and two ruins. No. 1 Joseph Barrett. Here are the roots of the present Barrett Family, which leaves them at least six generation Athenry. Joseph Barrett was Great Grandfather of Christy Barrett, Caheroyan. No. 2 P. Connolly, No. 3 Mick Kane, N4 J. Murray, no. 5 Ruins, No. 6 Patrick Cannon. Here are my own paternal roots. Patrick Cannon was my Great Grand Father. He died in the late 1850s and my Grandfather, Michael Cannon and family continued to live there. No. 7 Ruins, but formerly lived in for generations by the Moggin Family. The last Moggin, Johnny (an old man) died in the late l840s. The Bridge was then called “Moggins’ Bridge” – an old rustic bridge that spanned an overflow stream of the main river – which then ran through

River Lane and around the Tower to the Pound.

Burke’s Lane had seven small houses. (Down by the circle of Coppinger’ s)

McDonalds Lane. Eight houses and one ruin. At No. 8 the famous Larkins Forge. A great meeting place for the young men of the time.

Madden’s forge started by Tom Madden in the early 1870s. He moved down the road from Baunmore, where the Madden roots and farm were for generations before and still are. The Bridge Forge is still very successfully run by Eamon Madden – a grandson of Tom Madden.

Barrack Lane had five families and two ruins. Three lived at River-Green – Kearns, Culkeen and Higgins and two at the back of Joe Keating’s Garage, Burke and Kelly. The Land League Forge was built on the ruins in l880 – now John Lawless’s work shop. The five neat thatched cottages on the other side were built in the l870s. A great shoe-maker (Dan Kenny) lived nearest the Old Barrack. He made Riding Boots and Sports Shoes for the Gentry.

Court Lane. One house owned by John Coen in 1850.

In the early l860s Free Emigration Ship “The Rag a Dee” sailed from Galway. Athenry, they said, was nearly cleared out – more than two hundred people left the town and surrounding town-lands. The Ship was nick-named the “Ragetty-Dee”. The name tells its own story. It was a voyage into the unknown, but they believed they were heading for a Utopian Land and expected to find gold on the roads there. When they arrived, there was no one to meet or settle them. The late Michael Shaughnessy in relating the story, as he heard it said “They were the pity of all creation, huddled together, hungry and miserable, not knowing where to tum and without a penny in their pockets”. When they were hired they were sent in all directions to work with all sorts of people and the separation nearly killed them. They did not take kindly to America, but in time they worked their way back to Boston where they settled and prospered.

The Irish were then on the same level as the negroes – a sad but true statement.

It was a revelation to hear the Michael Shaughnessy relate stories of the 1870s and 80s: The finest of men and women were raised here in those years. Men of the finest physiques – tall, lean and athletic; the women tall and stately with flawless complexions, and flowing tresses. Their food consisted of Indian com bread and stirabout. Rabbits were so plentiful that you could almost catch them rushing for the burrows; the country abounded with hares; the river was alive with the finest of trout and eel. American bacon at 1 and a 1/2 d a lb. No Hotel of today could tum out a meal like the stuffed rabbits laced with bacon. The food and fuel were there for the asking but no money. If you had 10 half-pennies to jingle, you considered yourself rich. One wonders if the diet of the Athenry hard years was better body-building food than all the vitamins of today.

Photo – Gary Ryan Facebook

The Railway Line was laid as far as Athenry in 1851. About l870 it became a junction – improving in importance as the lines extended, till finally about 1875 the town was listed as an important Railway-junction. This gave great status to Athenry. Soon a central Post Office was established here, followed by a big R.I.C. Station. The future looked bright, but alas, the greatest tragedy in the town’s history was about to strike.

On the 1st of March 1875 a baker named Walsh was sent home by his employer in Tuam suffering from the deadliest form of smallpox. The disease had reached a climax. The local curate was called to administer the last rites. Some days later he became gravely ill and died, and so the terrible cycle of death began.

The towns sanitary conditions were no better than in 1850, and was a breeding ground for disease. On the 17th of March the Death Knell sounded – eight outbreaks of Small Pox followed by six deaths. Inoculation proved useless. The plague spread like wild-fire and scarcely a house in the town was free. May day saw the death roll over a hundred.

Athenry was isolated and treated like a leper-colony. Dr. Leonard appealed for a cottage hospital. One was assigned near Loughrea, but was burned down by the people. One woman lost her husband and three children within days. Panic gripped the town – no grave diggers, no coffins. The mother herself had to bury her last child in the outer abbey.

In order to save the Community from total extinction Dr. Leonard converted the west wing of his own home (Town House) to a Small Pox hospital. Not large enough for all the patients, sheds were erected at the back. Beds and blankets were sent by the work house. After more than four months he halted the plague. Hundreds who survived were disfigured. The western wing of the Town House was never re-opened, but remained shuttered to the end. This was the saddest chapter in Athenry’s history.

Dr. Leonard’s total dedication to a poor and oppressed people, his heroism and self-sacrifice, and above all his Christian and spiritual force ranks him as one of the greatest of his time. He died in 1893. The Leonard grave is at the back of the Catholic Church.

If the people of the town were sunk in the mire of poverty the tenant-farmers of the parish were even worse. Imagine their plight when out of 4 and ¾ million people 4 million people lived on the land. The 20 million acres of Irish land were owned by 19,000 people, and 700 men between them owned half the land of Ireland. Evictions were the order of the day, and in fact they doubled in this parish in 1878. To make matters worse England flooded the market with artificial manure, and Athenry lost the valuable sea-weed market.

In 1879 a Star of Hope was rising for Athenry and Ireland. Michael Davitt, the greatest man of the century entered the picture and came to the rescue of the Irish people. The Land League was born.

Men of the town and parish threw themselves heart and soul into the movement. After the assassination of Blake and Burke near Loughrea many of the young men of the Parish were cast into Galway Jail. They included Fenian Broderick and his brother Peter. The movement spread throughout the land like a gorse fire and could not be halted. Athenry was alive with Peelers. An American Journalist (Mr. George) was arrested here, because he was seen in the Abbey with the Curate, Father Mc Philpin, a supporter of the League. England did not want the outside world to know of conditions here. All his writings were confiscated by the R.I.C. This most formidable movement of the last century, the movement which broke the back of the system which crippled our people, can be closely identified with conditions which prevailed in Athenry town and parish.

Why? In 1879 when the Land League was launched the registered Land possessions of the big Landlords surrounding the town were as follows:

Captain William Lambert, Castle Lambert 4,686 acres

Walter Peter Lambert, Castle Ellen 3,829 acres

Burton Persse of Moyode and Belville 9,500 acres

Major Lopdell, Raheen House 1,365 acres

Blakes of Rockfield 986 acres

Major Hall, Knockbrack another big land owned (I failed to find acreage)

I also found that Robert French, Monivea had 10,121 acres.

Robert French of Monivea Castle was described as a good and progressive Landlord – not tainted by evictions.

At this time the Persses, Frenches and Lamberts were three of the most powerful families in Ireland and I venture to state that they can be numbered amongst the seven hundred who owned half the land of Ireland in 1878.

Gladstone, knowing he could not beat the ‘Land League’ won enough support to rush the Gladstone Land Act through the ‘Commons’. It was one great step forward and ended the evictions. Other Acts gave greater rights ‘till finally the Wyndam Act transferred complete ownership of Lands to the people of Ireland.

Athenry started to move uphill early in the l880s. There were reasons for this.

1. In 1881 the population was reduced to 813 – a fall of 674 people since 1851.

2. Those who left were faithfully sending home the dollars, which meant much to the economy.

3. The traders were able to give credit to the farmers, as the Gladstone Act gave them co-ownership of their little holdings and “The Three F.S.”  The up-surge was on, and steadily improving.

In the early 1890s Abbey Row was built. It was formerly an old Barracks. Matt Mc Donaghs, Bridge St. was also built around this time. This is now a combination of Kinneens and Linnanes. Before that the McDonaghs had a thriving business where the Ulster Bank stands. At one time Napton Persse lived there. It was then called “The Castle”. All carts and creels of turf passing had to throw sods into their yard as part of the town’s customs or “tolls”.

On the opposite side of the Square Blackall and Mc Donaghs built a big business house. It was like a modem Supermarket – a walk-through from T. Coppingers door to Fitzimons in North Gate St. Cash-balls were flying in all directions. It was opened in 1886. The Building Trade was booming.

A new Athenry was taking shape. The houses in the town, though still under thatch, were improved and renovated. The Cottages at New Fort, Kingsland and Boyhill went up at the turn of the century. Cross Street houses were complete in 1902 – hammerstone facing on those is a monument to the craftsmanship of the Howley Brothers – father and uncle of Christy Howley.

Caheroyan Cottages were built about 1910 and the ones nearest the arch much earlier. Presentation Convent and National Schools were up about this time.

New houses at Bridge Street in 1911. Brownes was then the Court Hotel. The Athenry as we know it today, without the surrounding estates, was recognisable in 1910. Wages at this time exceeded those at Ballinasloe by 2/6 a week, – a lot of money in those days.

In 1907 the Lambert Castle Ellen Estate came up for division. At a meeting at Athenry, Patrick Hynes, the Fenian veteran and local builder, started an agitation, and vehemently asserted that the town tenancies be included. This he said was possible. He quoted extracts from the Wyndam Act. The Town Tenant’s League came into operation and proceeded to pursue a policy of militancy. The townsmen went wall knocking and cattle-driving. Stephen Jordan was arrested at Castle Ellen in May. The town tenants marched in strength through the Lambert lands led by a Band, defying the Peelers. When the Estate was divided every town tenant, and that was nearly everyone, got a parcel of land, which proved very valuable in later years.

The Town Hall was built by Dick Murphy in 1907. The I.R.B. and volunteers had it free. Volunteers carried out an intensive training course there under Liam Mellows. A rifle-range was set up in the yard. Leaders were John Cleary, Stephen Jordan, Frank Hynes, Jim Barrett, Sean Broderick and Commanding Officer Larry Lardner. Mellows was a familiar figure in the Town and cycled 10-15 miles each day building up the organisation.

He stayed at Brodericks. In order to avoid harassment by the Peelers he stayed at Frank Hynes’s from 1915, as he had easy and secret access to the back yard through Leonard’s Avenue.

Easter Week l916; Athenry was the centre of insurgent communication, since it was the Headquarters of Mellows. The position was unclear after McNeill countermanded. Larry Lardner with 500 men took the Agricultural College. He was joined by Mellows and his companies from Kinvara, Kilcolgan, Killeeneen and Craughwell. Gort was told to stand until joined by other companies from the South. They were unaware that only Dublin and Wexford were making an effective stand. Mellows with his men, about 700, marched through Rockmore and turning right across field track reached Moyode Castle – the stronghold of the Persse family who were then in England. They were joined by companies from Castlegar, Tuam and Dunmore. Members of Cumman-na-mBan joined the volunteers at Moyode to perform the duties of cooking, washing, and all household chores. The Rebels remained in Moyode till Friday, when Fr. Tom Fahy came, and reported that the Rising had reached a downward path.

Dublin was in flames, the leaders arrested. He strongly advised them to disbanded.

About 150 retreated to Limepark. Hundreds were interned in concentration camps. Twelve were positively identified by a man at Moyode and condemned to Wormwood Scrubs Prison. Known as the twelve Apostles they were: Thomas Barrett and Charlie White of Caheroyan, Grady Brothers Church St, Martin Hansberry, Rahard, Peter Murray, Derrydonnell, Michael Higgins, Castlelambert; Patch and Thomas Kennedy, Sliab Rua, Jack Hanniffy, Tallyhoe; Murty Fahy, Sliab Rua and Michael Donohue. All were in prison until the General Amnesty in 1917 when England desperately needed to take the heat out of the Irish question.

From Limepark Mellows and Frank Hynes (Athenry) headed for the Aughty Mts. Hunted by Peelers (a price on the head of Mellows) they lost their way. They met a man named Maloney searching for a colt, who brought them to the safest hide-out in Ireland, a bothy amongst the heather. They were given dry clothes, plenty of blankets, dry straw and food. They remained in the bothy for almost five months. Father Crowe (near Ennis) arranged the escape of Mellows. He got them to his home from Balloughtra Bothan, where Mellows was disguised as a nun and accompanied by Miss Barry from Gort, also a nun disguised. He was taken to Rochestown House Priory outside Cork city. He finally escaped on the “Harry Herbert” captained by Capt. Murray, and landed in America in December. Mellows took the anti-treaty side in the Civil War, defended the Four Courts with O’Connor, was arrested and shot as a reprisal on the 8th December, 1922. A fine bronze bust of Mellows is erected on the grounds of the Boy’s National School to remind the future generations of the part this great man played in the struggle for Irish Independence. The big ACOT College is named “Mellows College”.

Extract from a letter to his mother written before his execution: “I had hoped, some day, I might rest in some quiet spot, but if it is to be the prison clay it is all the sweeter, for many of our best lie there”. Athenry’s long association with Mellows gives the town a special place in modem Irish History. Athenry was split in two politically during the Civil War and still is. So many decent people stand on either side of the political divide. I say ‘good luck to them all’. The town had two T.D.’s in the 30s – Seán Broderick, F.G. and Stephen Jordan F.F. They always remained the best of friends and neighbours.

I can vividly recall what life was like in Athenry seventy odd years ago. From a social economic and educational view-point the entire structure of society has changed dramatically. Those born into the modem and affluent life can never understand the hardships endured by our people the past.

In those far off days the town was almost completely under thatch, the half-door being the common feature of almost every house. Trunk roads were unheard of. Streets were rough and pot-holed, and dimly lit. The better off shopkeepers had outside paraffin lamp in protective glass cases. The turn-wheel pump outside the old barracks, the Spa well at Leonard’s Lawn and Abbey Row provided the town water supply – no piped water, no sewer system. Drawing water from pump and well was a constant and arduous job.

The turn-wheel pump and horse trough outside the old barracks

Work was scarce, the little of it available was slavery, long hours, meagre wages, no houses – one room one family was the common pattern of life. The families raised in these rooms and tenements were a credit to Athenry and Ireland at home and abroad. Some domestic servants worked hard at 2/6 a week. Padraig Kenny the stone-breaker hammered away at Maddens Bridge from morning till night at seven shillings a week. He lived at River Lane. The heel of colonialism pressed heavily; the badge of oppression was visible in town and country. Emigration was the sole release for the youth.

Turf, the black gold of today, was plentiful. Hawkers were constantly on the streets at 1/9 an ass-box. Ass-and-carts were anchored to every post and rail in the town.

As children we were as free as air to play and romp on the streets and fields – no traffic, only a few bikes. Our usual pastime on Sundays was sitting on the cross watching the “Gentry” arrive for Service in the Protestant Church. They came in carriages, horse-back, and rubber-tyred traps – their liveried footmen helping them alight, – the ladies in their beautiful clothes, feathered hats and veiled faces. All the trimmings and trappings of “Up Stairs, down Stairs” came to life at Athenry Square on Sundays. A smaller Presbyterian Church was at Minister Burkett’s lawn, River Dale House, and there one had a similar display of grandeur, but by lesser numbers.

Many of the old names have disappeared. The ones which come to mind – Matt Daly’s opposite the old Barrack; Johnny Kelly’s now the Square Inn, Mahons now Torpeys. Pat McDonagh’s Business complete stretched from Court Lane to the Church Wall linking Bridge St. and the Square. The business names which have survived and prospered are Hessions, Corbetts, Higgins, Ruanes, Glynns, Sweeneys and O’Neills.

In those far-off years times were hard, money was scarce, but there were many compensations for the lack of today’s luxuries such as the dances at the cross-roads and ball-alley, in winter the kitchen and the country barns dances. As grown-ups we headed off on “shanks-mare” to enjoy the best of music, and all for nothing.

A great spirit prevailed amongst the people – a feeling of “togetherness’, caring and sharing. No one was lonely or isolated, each person was the concern of all. Happiness, the most important ingredient of life, was there in abundance, – something which the affluence and prosperity of today has failed to provide. The best things in life are free and I say with truth that those were the “Good Old Days”.

Through the decades Athenry and the “ups and downs”, the economic war years of the 30s, the war years of the 40s with its after-effects running into the 50s, the golden years of the 60s and 70s.

Today it ranks as one of the best in the West – a smiling progressive, prosperous expanding town with all modem amenities. The business people enjoy a great degree of wealth. Education at National and Secondary level is well provided for. Two big centres, Presentation College and Vocational School and also an Agricultural Training School.

The town has many sources of employment – ACOT Research College, Cattle Mart (one of the best in Ireland), Creamery Co-Op and the Engineering Byrne-Mech Factor. C.I.E. also absorb many workers.

Community Council has achieved a marvellous degree of success for the parish:

1. Community Hall purchased, enlarged and installed with central heating.

2. A parcel of land of 5.5 acres (to be developed later) at the end of Bridge St.

3. Outdoor Sports complex at Raheen consisting of four pitches and two Tarmacadam Tennis Courts. It also includes a heated Club House, Function Room, Dressing-Rooms and Showers. Raheen costing £120,000 is the biggest project ever undertaken in Athenry, and will be officially opened in August.

All the above mentioned are owned by the parish community. This is a great tribute to the co-operation and support of the people. Everyone must admit, that in order to serve the needs of a rapidly expanding population, the Raheen project is the way forward. The Community Council deserve and expect further financial support to pay off the remaining debt.

Today throughout the parish the fruits of Davitt’s dream “The Land for the People” is evident on all sides. One sees the well-kept fertile fields decked with herds of pure-bred cattle and sheep, and everywhere picturesque, well laid out rural dwellings. Athenry in the heart of the best lime-stone land, and surrounded by such a prosperous rural community can never fail to thrive.

The soil is the gold of Ireland. The workers on the land will always hold the “Life-Line of the Nation”.

From the book – “Athenry, History from 1780, Folklore and Recollections” by Aggie Qualter, March 1989

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Athenry 1821 – Oldest official Census in Ireland

Population figure within town walls was 1093. There were no houses then outside the Arch, Swan Gate, Chapel Lane, or Mill Bridge.

The streets were – Back Street – now Old Church Street, Moanbawn Lane – now Chapel Street, Abbey Lane – now Bridge Street, McDonnells Lane, Barrack Lane – which included Soldiers’ Barracks at Abbey Row, Court Lane, Allen’s Lane, which I believe to be Davis Street, Cross Street, North-Gate Street.

Back Street – 53 houses, and 256 people. 1 Donovan, a dancing master. Numbers 30, 34 and 39 retailers of spirits. No.40, Butcher (Kilgariff), Number 41, Anthony O’Brien (school teacher). No. 9 (Burkes) had 9 occupants, No. 6 (Fitzpatricks) had 14 occupants, No.12 (Mahons) had 8 occupants, No.13 (Divannys) had 13 occupants, No.40 (Ryans) had 9 occupants, No.43 (Hynes) had 10 occupants. Strange names were Gabbard, Lawly, Nesbit, Clynes.

Moanbawn Lane 20 houses, and 81 people. All Irish names – Labourers, House Servants, Weaver (1), Wool-Spinners, Hacklers, Post Boys (1), Carmen (2), Farmer, (Edward Maher with half-acre), Nailers.  (Hacklers were engaged in wool-making)

Barrack Lane: 11 houses and 32 people, numbers 1 and 2 uninhabited. Two little houses at the back of Keatings Garage (ruins still remain), 4 houses down lane around John Lawless’ workshop, 3 houses on site of Matty Mac’s House. I cannot trace No. 10, but No. 11 was then a Police Barracks (three storey) – now Abbey Row – occupied by 16 policemen and their families – in all 29 people. They were not the R.I.C. (not then established) but were listed as “policeman and tailor, policeman and cutter, policeman and shoemaker” and so on. Chief Constable was William Hunt and the Sergeant in charge was McFaul.

The people who lived at Barrack Lane had names different to those of 1851 Census – Burke, Camey, Greelish, Coan, Murphy, Lally, Kenny.

At that time there was no road down from Mill Bridge and no river, only a little stream – dry in summer. There was no school-house or ball-alley. It was all waste ground (1 acre, l rd. and 18 perches). This was also the pattern in 1851.

North Gate Street – 37 houses and 168 people. No. 7 Francis Healy, retailer of spirits – the oldest pub in town – on corner opposite Eddie Sommers. No. 8 John Burke (grocer). No.13 Richard Kilkelly, publican and farmer, a very old Athenry name. Here could be the roots of the Kilkelly family. The names of the children were John, Paddy, Michael, Jim and Mary. No.13 John Cunniffe, weaver, another very old Athenry family. The family names were exactly the same as John Cunniffe’s (weaver) two generations on – (Batty’s father). They were: John, Paddy, Michael, Martin, Mary, Bridget and Eliza (Lizzy).

The Cunniffe’s were wonderful weavers and colour-blenders, but were forced out of business, as were all the Cottage Industries of Athenry through the British Industrial Revolution, and the importation of cheap British fabrics:- face-cloth, winsey cloth (which cloth resembled wool), linen, cotton, poplin, Italian cloth and many others.

No. 31 – another pub (James Burke). All the other tenants of North Gate Street were made up of stone-cutters, hatters, weavers, flax-spinners, wool-spinners, brogue makers (5), baker (1), smith (1), thatcher (1), carpenters, nurse-maids, house servants, labourers and a few paupers. Strange names were Dillany and Alcock.

Court Lane: 9 houses and 46 people. Hacklers, flax-spinners, weavers, labourers and four paupers.

When I was young there was about a dozen houses from the Arch to Coens. The lane was then only ten feet wide.

Abbey Lane now Bridge Street, 9 houses and 48 people. No. 3 was ruined. (By 1851 three of those houses were in ruins). The names are different to those on the 1851 census – all but one, Cannons. My own paternal roots – Michael Cannon, listed as a weaver was my great grandfather. He was then aged 30, and was born there. One member of his family, then aged four years, was named Murty. They lived in a little thatched house, opposite the park. No1 – Brownes – painter and glazier, 9 people lived here. No. 2  Bartholemy Burke – a steward. No. 3 – Ruins. No. 4 – Mark Burke (shoemaker). There were eight people in the house. No. 5 Martin McDonnell (farmer, half-acre). No.6 John Brennan (tailor). No 7 Martin Brennan (tailor). No. 8 – Michael Cannon (weaver). No.9 – Edward McCage (hatter).

Allen’s Lane – 4 houses and 14 people. No.1 in ruins. The Allen family (5) lived at No. 2 – all tailors and mantua makers. I am not certain whether Burke Street or Davis Street was then Allen’s Lane, but I believe it to be Davis Street. When I was a child O’Flynn’s, then a little thatched house facing Davis Street, was very old (now Rooney’s Boutique). There was no square in Athenry then as Coppingers, Fitzsimons’ or adjoining house were not built until 1886. I heard my father say that at one time one could drive from Cross Street straight to North Gate St.

McDonnell’s Lane – 10 houses and 55 people. All Irish names – Donaghoe, Kenny, Bums, Melody, Clarke etc., brogue makers, flax-spinners, house servants, washerwomen and labourers. Larkins Forge was not there then but was very prominent in 1851. It was the “breeding ground” of Athenry Nationalism and Fenianism, and they said it was under constant surveillance by the Peelers. The Anthony O’Brien Schoolhouse was at No.9 and Anthony lived at 41 Back Street, then 31 years old.

At the dawn of Padraig Fallon’s literary fame, it was said locally that he had inherited the gifts from schoolmaster O’Brien. They were blood cousins. It seems schoolmaster O’Brien and his family were brilliant people, but at that time ‘they were flowers born to blush unseen.’ Johnny O’Brien, of another generation – lived opposite Fallons when I was young. The Fallons were a gifted family with music, (piano and violin). John Anthony, the youngest, became a veterinary surgeon. Johnny O’Brien, was a grandson of the schoolmaster and was married to Mary Cannon – my father’s second cousin. After all I heard as a child about schoolmaster O ‘Brien, his knowledge and his prophesies – its only now I know who he was, when and where he lived.

Cross Street was by far the most important and prestigious street in the town as evidenced by the type of people and houses there. It consisted of 62 houses – 8 of them 2 storey structures and in all 350 people. No. l John Lopdell (gentleman) with a staff of 8. No. 2 William Lopdell (his brother) and his nephew Ormsby Lopdell, with a staff of 12 which included gardener, steward, house servant, cook, house-maid, dairymaid, kitchen-boy, stable and cattle boys. No.20 (Roylans) had 14 occupants, No,22 – Anthony Smyth (another gentleman), No. 24 Cooney’s Hotel had 13 occupants.  No. 26 Lieut. James Browne, No. 27 Thomas Davis (gentleman), No,42 Dominic Burke (gentleman), No,43 – Brownes (two of them Anny Officers), No. 50 Laurence Smyth (gentleman), No. 57 Thomas Mahon (Apothecary), No. 61 James Blake (gentleman and farmer) – a member of the famous Blake family. He lived there with his mistress (a local girl) and had three children – James, Mary and Katherine – who were baptised in the Protestant Church with all the pomp and Ceremony befitting the great name of Blake. No. 8 – George O ‘Reilly, Schoolmaster was grandfather of Essie, Tom and Pat O’Reilly, and father of another great schoolteacher. I failed to locate the O’Reilly school-house, but it was said that it was away in at the back of Paddy Gardiner’s house. The second Mr. O’Reilly later became a National School Teacher when the school was built at the Ball Alley and lived in Finn’s house. He was a very fine teacher, they said. No.5 and 11 two butchers (Flynn and Walsh), No.57 – Robert Irwin, Protestant Minister, then only 26 years, No. 16 John Mitchell (Publican), No.26 – Bill Kelly (shop-keeper) and lodging there was Lieut. James Browne of the 57 Reg. of Foot – the last Reg. to leave Abbey Row Barracks in 1819. Sixteen soldiers remained in Athenry and moved to 62 Cross Street. The rest of the Cross Street tenants were made up of Shoemakers, Tailors, Flax-Spinners, Cart-makers, Coopers, Mantua makers and Hatters.

The road went straight down from Cross St. to the pound, narrowing slightly at the end, and continued up by Ivymount to join the cross-roads. What is now the Avenue and Orchard of Town House was made up of garden plots. There was no road over the Prospect side and Clarke Street had not been built. The Old Road, then called ‘Bothar Árd’, went straight from Swan Gate through Eamon Brody’s land, and over to Castle Turbin. It must be remembered, that the roads at that time were little more than tracks. The laying of the railroads and the bridges changed the course of the road (1851-1865).

Those who had little houses in 1820 – and even in the l880s – could be numbered amongst God’s chosen people. A little home then was a luxury – providing shelter and warmth. The people living in make-shift cabins, camps and holes in the hills were the real pity. They were not included in the census.

Bunk-Beds, though supposed to be a modem invention, were used in Athenry in 1820. Made of four strong uprights, the double beds were of light pliable boards covered with straw-filled canvas mattresses. They were necessary to save space in the cramped living conditions. The Settle-Bed beside the fire was a necessity, and when folded up in daytime provided good seating accommodation for four or five. The loft was the warmest part of the house. People of those years were resourceful and had a great ability to co-operate and challenge the conditions of the time. Many were handy-men – able to thatch and do all sorts of odd-j obs. Rushes were plentiful, and when dried made excellent thatch.

At that time and into the 1880s, pubs were small, scantily furnished and stocked. Porter was the main drink at 2d a pint and 1d a glass (old pennies).

On race-days, sports and pattern days on the way to the Holy Well, a plank was set up on two empty half-barrels on the street, and the drinks served. Little obstruction was caused, as there was little traffic apart from the ass and cart. On occasions such as these, they danced their feet off. Street musicians provided the music for a half-penny hat collection. “Puss-music” with spoon timing was popular. People made their own pastimes and pleasures, and had their own enjoyable carnivals – all at little cost.

In summery Athenry, in 1821, had 35 weavers, 25 shoemakers, 16 tailors, 15 mantua makers, 2 tutors, 2 school-masters, 2 grocers, 2 butchers, 8 nailers, 3 hatters, 1 gunsmith, 4 blacksmiths, 3 cart makers, 5 carpenters, 4 masons, 3 stone-cutters, 2 wheelwrights, 3 coopers, 1 sawyer, 1 chairmaker, 1 dancing master, 1 musician, 1 lacemaker, 1 baker and 6 pubs (then called retailers of spirits).

Note: A mantua maker made ladies cloaks, gowns and shoulder-capes. No priest was listed for Athenry in 1821. The parish was administered by the Dominicans in Esker.

My father always said, that it was the Railway Station and Junction that caused Athenry to prosper. It must be said though that Athenry made great strides forward from 1660 to 1821 – before the railroads: The population figure is significant (1093).

Galway in 1821, had widespread poverty and filth, with open sewers in many areas. It was a place of hunger, suffering and death by starvation.

There were no Catholic second-level schools, but two centres for the Protestants and the wealthy. There were few churches and no money to build them. The old Pro Cathedral was there, and the Dominicans, I think.

People were so poor that they were buried without coffins, wrapped in winding canvas, or such like. Children roved the streets in search of food. The begging carts were always on the move. Little girls hadn’t as much on them as would dust a fiddle. You can imagine what housing conditions were like when families were compelled to live in one room – often as many as fifteen.

Galway fell asunder after the Cromwellian siege, and almost two centuries passed before the city started to make an upward swing.

All glory and thanks to the great men of the past, who by their blood sacrifice, and suffering raised the torchlight of freedom to make us what we are.

Lord Dunkillin’s statue at Galway was thrown into the sea during the war of Independence. The pedestal was placed in reverse somewhere near Castlegar inscribed “To the memory of all men who died for Ireland.’ Dunkellin was brother of “Clanrickarde the Infamous.”

From the book – “Athenry, History from 1780, Folklore and Recollections” by Aggie Qualter, March 1989

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Athenry Protestant Church, 1780 onwards

The Athenry parish church (St. Mary’s) was burned down by the sons of Clanrickarde in 1577, and so the town lost one of its finest medieval buildings. Indeed, after four hundred years traces of the architectural skills and craftsmanship of the time can still be discerned through its interlaced gothic arched windows, and stone setting. The destruction happened during the religious split, when protestant power was established in Ireland.

In time, the portion of the church facing the Square, not completely damaged, was repaired and used by the Church of Ireland, until the present Protestant Church was erected within the ruins of the Old St. Mary’s in 1828.

In 1780 Protestant rule held sway, and not surprisingly the Church at Athenry Square displayed much power and pomp. The Protestants were the only ones that mattered. The Catholics of the parish were on their knees, with no hope for the future. These conditions continued until religious freedom was restored. The Land War, and the Acts which followed, somewhat lifted the yoke of oppression, and lightened the burden of our rural people.

The Protestant Church reflected its grandeur through those who attended – the Landlords, the titled gentry, military officers and their families, and a sizeable Protestant population, who apart from the landlords, held large stretches of land in the area. All worthwhile jobs were held by Protestants. They were the pillars of British power in Ireland, and had the best of all things.

Strange names who attended the Church were: Brieton, Bellman, Gunn, Steene, Lovelace, Suderlin, Gaiger, Wheelock, Innan, Pruddy and Blow – all soldiers stationed at the Military Barracks listed in number 11 Barrack Lane, now Abbey Row.

From 1795-1828 there were three Church of Ireland clergymen serving together at Athenry – a Rector and two Ministers. A few on the only list I  could get were:- Rev. John Wallace (1796); Dr. Thomas Coffy (1 802); Rev. William Cooke (1811); Rev. James Currin (1812); Rev. John Boggs (1813); Rev. Robert Irwin (1821); Rev. Giles Eyre (1827); (Eyre Square, Eyre Court). Rev. Robert Irwin was father of Robert Irwin who started the water-powered mill in 1866. Rev, Dr. Coffy married Susanne Taylor – a branch of the Mill Taylors. They then lived at Eddie King’s house in Rahard.

Births and Baptisms registered at Protestant Church 1796-1828 numbered 210. Marriages registered numbered 84. Isabella Lambert, whose birth was registered at Athenry in I823 was mother of Edward Carson. His father was a successful Dublin architect.

Amongst the many deaths registered were: Right Hon. Henry Marquis Clanrickarde, 27th December, 1794. Right Hon. Thomas Earl of Louth, 10th February, 1799. John Lopdell, 22nd May, 1795. John Thomas deBurgh, Earl of Clanrickarde, 1st August, 1808. His funeral was three miles long.

Smallman was the Clerk of the Church – an important job in these years.

The recent cleaning up of the church grounds unfolds much local history covering a period of two hundred years; establishing many past links and for those who are old, reviving memories of the Big Houses and the great Landlords.

Many of the old Protestant tombstones go back as far as 1760. One to Rev. Lewis Clarke, who died in 1779, stating he was fifty years curate of the parish, puts his appointment to Athenry at 1729. The Lopdell plot – To John Lopdell and his wife Deborah – is dated 1764. A son of John Lopdell aged six years died at “Riverview” 1831 (Town House). They moved to Raheen House in 1871. The oldest gravestone I found is inscribed with the name Hesin 1681. There is a railed headstone outside the Church (North) to Peter Fitzwalter Lambert, Castle Ellen House, 24th February, 1891. He choked on a bone while dining in a Tuam Hotel, aged 45 years.

Two headstones to Concannons, Rockfield House – one to Blake Concannon, 1919 and another to Bertha Rockford Syrret, wife of Edmond Lieutenant Colonel, aged 42 years. The Concannons were a popular family, and never objected to people walking or cycling through the estate.

On the east side of the church there is a beautiful headstone with an angel to Vera Cecilia, child of Agnes and Frank Shaw-Taylor of Moorpark House, died February, 1914, aged eleven years. She was a lovely little girl. She loved riding and often came to church on her pony. While practicing at the jumps around Moorpark her pony bolted, causing her to fall. One foot caught in the stirrup and she was dragged half a mile by the runaway animal – a very sad event.

Tomb with Obelisk – I failed to find the name of the obviously important family buried there. The inscribed slab could not be found. There were at least three skeletons in the tomb – all reverently reburied. It could be the tomb of the Blake family (Protestant). There was no obelisk on the grave, when I was a child. It was found in the course of recent excavation work.

Lopdell Plot of eight graves outside the entrance to old St. Mary’s – one John Lopdell 1764. Tomb to Turbin Smith, Willmount House, 1820.

Unfortunately, the church was vandalised many times in recent years. In 1983, one could describe the church as a “write off’. With all the valuable stained-glass windows destroyed, and many wall-plaques, erected to the memory of the landlords, removed. The beautiful triple high altar window ( a special work of art, now ruined reads:- “This window has been placed in this church to the glory of God in loving memory of my beloved father, mother, sister and brothers – Burton A. Persse”.

Two stained glass windows facing north are dedicated to the Lamberts of Castle Ellen, and Castle Lambert – one totally destroyed. The other reads “In the glory of God, and in loving memory of P.F. Lambert, died 1891 erected by his mother”. Windows to Halls (Knockbrack), and Lopdells (Raheen) 1890 on south side are destroyed. The wall tablets removed include those to Shaw Taylors, Binghams (Ivymount House) and Halls (Knockbrack House).

The high altar tablet reads – “In remembrance of my beloved wife Eliza, who fell asleep in Jesus aged 21 years. This tablet is placed by her faithful and loving husband Giles Eyre Clarke, curate of this parish on the 30th day of January, 183l”. There are two tablets to Persses – one to Theophilus S. Persse, 4th son of Burton Persse, aged 29, died at Malta 17th December, 1863. Another tablet to Charles G. Persse, 5th son of Burton, died 19th September, 1892 and wife Alice, daughter of Thomas Richardson, Tiaquin House, died March, 1880. (These tablets are by Coates of Dublin, Church Furnishers).

I researched the church in May, 1986, when the cleaning of the grounds was under way. The church could then be described as derelict. Now thanks to the Project Society, a newly formed organisation that plays a big part in promoting the spirit of co-operation in the community, the church is completely restored, decorated and used for cultural purposes.

The Project Society deserve praise, appreciation, and thanks for all the effort, skill, and time put into this great work. The result is impressive, and must be seen to be believed. There is a beautiful polished floor and seats, with toilets, wash-basins and electricity installed. The church is certainly an ‘eye opener’ for all and a glowing example of what cooperation, and a ‘do it yourself’ policy has achieved for the town community.

The new windows in the church were donated by the following: Treble High Altar Window – Athenry Credit Union; The four aisle windows – Frank O’Neil, Frank Brody, Josie Murphy (Arch) and Athenry Mart. All the windows were fitted by John Lawless.

Only one wall plaque now remains – Lopdells. All the others, of equal beauty, have disappeared.

The surround of the church gate (Square) is made from the stones of the Old St Mary’s.

From the book – “Athenry, History from 1780, Folklore and Recollections” by Aggie Qualter, March 1989

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In attempting to write the History of Athenry, I discovered that nearly all Historical Records were destroyed at the Four Courts during the Civil War. I succeeded in getting the few that remain. According to Prof. Rynne, Athenry began with the coming of the De Berminghams and the Castle. Before then, there was some kind of little settlement around the place surrounded by Cahers, Caheroyan, Cahertubber, Cahercrinn and all the others. Cahers, I understand were made up of very poor people, who lived in rather primitive conditions.

Even before de Bermingham, the place had its own degree of importance as a centre of ideas and communication. Of added attraction were the thousands of acres of the best limestone land, which came to the possession of de Bermingham, as 1st Lord of the Barony. He choose Athenry as a suitable place to establish a great Norman stronghold.

Athenry advanced rapidly, to become a town of great importance and prosperity. This continued for two hundred years or more. Apart from the famous Battle of Athenry (1316) the town was scourged by invasions and plundering. Clanrickards’ sons sacked the town in 1577. A few years later, 1594, it was plundered by Red Hugh O’Donnell and his army. All those had devastating results, many of the great families including the Brownes moved to Galway. The town went down-hill, and rapidly sank into decay.

The Down Survey map made about 1655 (after Cromwell) shows the authentic face of Athenry. It was then gasping for survival, but miraculously made a “come-back” about 1780. By 1820 the cottage industries were thriving, and Athenry was set to improve, but again the British Industrial Revolution ruined all. The town was later hit by famine and plague, and it was not until the l880s that it was given the ‘kiss of life’.

Athenry soldiered on to happier and prosperous times. Today it ranks as one of the most progressive rural towns in the County.

Aggie Qualter, March, 1989

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