Athboy Times Past – Vol. 1

The Last Cobbler

John Brown (1913-2000)

John Brown, Cobbler
John Brown, Cobbler. Courtesy of Des White.

In February 2000 John Brown of Main Street, Athboy, passed to his eternal reward at the age of 86 years. John, like his father before him, was a talented harness maker in his younger days but with the demise of the horse in farming and transport, he turned his talents almost entirely to the craft of cobbling/shoe repairs. He continued to work up until a few weeks before his death.

Behind John in this photo is his workbench and the window through which he watched generations of Athboy people go about their daily lives as he stitched and glued and polished. No job was ever considered too small and indeed John obliged by stitching many a schoolbag over the years.

People passing by were always guaranteed a wave or a smile or just a nod of acknowledgement if his hands were busy at their craft, all from under the shelter of John’s ever present hat.

He was married for over 40 years to his wife Bridgie (nee Mahon) who died in 2005. A quiet, soft spoken man, universally liked by all, John Brown was Athboy’s last cobbler.

The Priest’s Gate

On 30th January 1946 a tragic accident occurred in the townland of Otterstown, on the Athboy to Kildalkey road when Fr. Patrick Menton, Curate of Kildalkey Parish, was thrown from his horse and died.

Two local men, George Cowen of Athboy and Michael Doherty of Castletown, testified at the inquest held on 1st February that they were working in a field at Otterstown and heard the horse trotting along the grass margin towards Kildalkey. At the gate leading to the field in which they were working they heard the horse slip and fall. They immediately investigated and found Fr. Menton lying unconscious on the road, bleeding from the mouth and nose.

George Cowan went to Athboy to get help while Michael Doherty stayed with the injured Priest. Fr. Menton was taken to Navan Hospital where he died the following day, having never regained consciousness. Marks on the roadway at the scene of the tragedy seemed to indicate that Fr. Menton pulled his horse off the grass margin in order to avoid a load of sand at the field gate. The scene of the accident, located about four hundred metres from the Otterstown boreen, on the right hand side going towards Kildalkey, has become known locally as The Priest’s Gate.

Life At A More Leisurely Pace

The Irish Times 7th May, 1941

“The other day I was travelling to Athboy on one of our less civilized trains. Just about a mile outside the station the train came to an abrupt halt. I looked out of the window and saw a cow and her calf sauntering across the line. In spite of the loud and vulgar noises emitted by the engine, the cow and her offspring refused to hurry, and it was only after a delay of some minutes that the train was able to proceed on its way. Returning from Athboy on the same train the following day, I was again surprised to see that the train had stopped scarcely a hundred yards out of the station. Again I looked out of the window and this time I saw that a prospective passenger had been sighted in the distance and the train had been halted to allow him to catch it. He arrived, and the train started.

It had hardly got properly under way before there was another prolonged halt. Sticking my head out of the window once again, I saw the same cow and calf on the line again, only this time apparently they had no idea of allowing the train to proceed, for they were walking away from it in between the tracks. It was not until the driver of the train and the fireman actually threatened the animals with pokers and other implements that they moved off. Thank Heaven we still have Irish railways worthy of the name.”

Don’t Always Believe What You See In The Papers

Freeman’s Journal 14th November 1874

“A gentleman writes to us from Athboy to contradict the statement that “a great faction fight” took place in Athboy on last fair day. The gentleman states that the real transaction out of which the statement as to “the great fight” took place was an altercation between a man and his son over the price of a cow.”

The Travelling Public Of 1850

In the years before the railway arrived in Athboy the travelling public of our town could still avail of rail transport to Dublin and the West of Ireland.

In August 1850 a coach service commenced from Athboy departing every day except
Sunday at 5.50am. and travelling via Kildalkey, Trim and Summerhill to Fern’s Lock Railway Station near Kilcock. This arrived in time to catch the 7.30am train to Dublin or a similarly timed service to the West. The return coach service to Athboy departed Ferns Lock on the arrival of the 5pm evening train from Dublin. The fares were 2s 0d for outside coach and third class passengers and 3s 0d for second class passengers.

The arrival of the railway in Athboy in 1864 probably put an end to this commute.

Hurricane hits near Athboy

Hurricane plane crash
An LDF volunteer poses next to the Hurricane fighter

The declared neutrality of Ireland during World War 2, or The Emergency as it was called here, would have meant that Irish air space was off limits to any British or German aircraft. However incursions into Irish airspace, whether intentional or accidental, were quite common and sometimes with disastrous results. However The Local Defence Forces (LDF) were always there to defend Irish Honour.

In his book Landfall Ireland, Irish Military and Aviation Author Donal MacCarron, records the story of many of these incursions. One such incident occurred in 1941, at Tullaghanogue a few miles out the Trim road from Athboy.

Early in 1941 a squadron of Canadian Hurricane fighters and their pilots were stationed at Cheshire in England. Two months after their arrival four planes took off from Wilmslow Airfield in Cheshire bound for Glasgow. Weather closed in on the formation shortly after take off and one young pilot became detached from the rest of the formation. To make matters worse his radio malfunctioned.

Having completely lost his bearings the young pilot flew onwards until his fuel supply became critical and he decided that he would have to make an emergency landing. He did in fact make a near perfect wheels down landing in the cemetery field at Tullaghanogue. His Hurricane fighter was only slightly damaged.

The young Canadian pilot was then entertained in the house of Mrs. Walker of Rathvale until the LDF Volunteers arrived to take the man into custody. Mrs. Walker actually had plans to spirit the young man northwards and over the border so that he could rejoin the war effort, but her plans were thwarted with the arrival of the LDF.

The aircraft was removed to Baldonnel where it was repaired and afterwards became No. 95 of the Irish Air Corps. Strangely, although many other events of this nature were widely reported in the local and national press, nothing seems to have been printed at the time about this incident. Such were the reporting restrictions and censorship of the day.

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