Athboy Times Past – Vol. 4

Train Driver Killed

Accident at Athboy Railway Station.

The town of Athboy was thrown into mourning in August 1937 with the death of popular local train driver, James Brennan. He was crushed while shunting wagons at the local railway station and died a short time later. Brennan, who was a widower, was a native of Galway but had lived in Athboy for a number of years along with his wife who was from a local family. He had been the regular train driver from Athboy to Kilmessan for many years. On the day of the accident he had arrived from Kilmessan with a goods train of eleven carriages. He was in the process of sorting the carriages, by shunting, when the accident happened. It seems that he himself alighted from his engine to couple a carriage while his engine fireman manoeuvred the steam engine backwards into position. Brennan was caught between the buffers and received severe crush injuries. Despite the best efforts of 2 local Doctors he died a short time later. James Brennan was survived by 2 sons and 3 daughters. He was buried in St James’ Old Cemetery.

The Little Sweep

Many stories, with the passing of time, get changed, altered, added to or subtracted from. One such local story concerns a man known as “The Little Sweep”.

The Night of the Big Wind” is often talked about in folklore. In truth there were many such Nights of the Big Wind, and over many lifetimes the damage and devastation caused by big storms to the flimsy homes and meagre lifestyles of the poor was long remembered. One such “Night of the Big Wind” was on 27 February 1903.

The story, as told to me, was that a travelling chimney sweep, was plying his trade around the Athboy area. Nobody ever knew his name; he was known only as The Little Sweep. He moved around from area to area, cleaning chimneys in exchange for a meal or a penny or two. He slept in a flimsy tent, pitched wherever he went. On the night in question he was supposedly sheltering in his tent on the Kells Road, just out of Athboy. At the height of the storm a tree was supposedly uprooted and fell on the tent, killing The Little Sweep. The story goes that he was buried in the Old Cemetery in Athboy, under the name The Little Sweep, because no one knew his proper name.

The above story is however partly true. A travelling sweep by the name of Michael Coyle from Kells was working in the Athboy area. On the Night of the Big Wind he set out at a late hour to return to his home in Kells. It is supposed that he was overtaken by the severity of the storm and was unable to reach shelter. He was found on the following morning on the Kells Road, Athboy, barely alive. Medical help was summoned but despite all that Dr. Grene could do, the unfortunate Sweep died a short time later. An inquest was held the following day and, as reported in The Meath Chronicle of 7 March 1903, the jury returned a verdict of death from exposure. It is unclear whether The Little Sweep was buried in Kells or Athboy.

The Granard Fly

The public transport needs of generations of Athboy people have been served well by The Granard Bus. The route from Dublin via Trim, Athboy, Delvin, Castlepollard and on to Granard was a popular one and is in fact still served by Bus Eireann to this day. In times past The Granard Bus travelled this route twice each day, both ways, morning and evening. It was always a service to be relied on, as regular and timely as clockwork. However not many people would realise that the Dublin to Granard route was first opened two hundred and thirty years ago, in 1787, with a coach service called “The Granard Fly”.

The Dublin Evening Post of 15 Septemeber 1787 carried the following announcement:

Heavey and Monaghan, of Castletown-Delvin, beg leave to inform the Gentlemen of Meath, Westmeath, Longford, and the public in general, that they have purchased an elegant Carriage, with everything suitable, which will run from Dublin to Granard in one day; leaving The Sun Inn in Queen Street on Tuesdays and Fridays at six o’clock; and leaves Mr. John North’s, Granard, on Wednesdays and Saturdays at five o’clock. Inside passengers for Granard 16s; for Castlepollard 12s; Castletown-Delvin 10s 10d; Athboy 8s 8d and Trim 7s 7d. Outside passengers half price. Breakfast at Blackbull and dinner will be ready at Castletown-Delvin, going from Dublin. This being a new undertaking the Proprietors have spared no expense to render this Carriage as complete as any in the Kingdom, and hope to give universal satisfaction.

Seperately, Mr. John North of Granard (mentioned above) announced that he had “Elegant travelling carriages” and that “anyone who travels in the NEW GRANARD FLY may go to any part of the counties Leitrim, Sligo etc. And any Ladies and Gentlemen going to the Swanlingbar Spa (sic) may with the greatest ease and safety be there in a day and a half from Dublin, which will be found to be the most expeditious and cheap travelling as can be wished for”.

The 1798 Memorial

Located on the L6836 road, between Drewstown Gate and Fordstown, on the borders of the townlands of Clonleason and Girley, is a roadside memorial to the men of the 1798 Rebellion who died nearby. Now neglected and almost forgotten about, this memorial is overgrown with weeds and brambles.


Girley Grove memorial


The United Irishmen of 1798 fought a somewhat disastrous campaign in parts of north Leinster and around Dublin. Some of the retreating insurgents made their way to Girley Grove to regroup and recuperate. An informer reported them to the Kells Militia who attacked the United Irishmen in what became known locally as “The Ambush of Girley Grove”. About twenty of the insurgents were killed and their bodies were buried at the spot. However, the exact location of the Croppy grave has never been found.

On 22 November 1998, on the two-hundredth anniversary of the Rebellion, The Carrigbyrne Pike Group from Wexford laid a memorial stone at the Girley site. The simple inscription reads:

This plaque was erected by The Carrigbyrne Pike Group Wexford to the memory of those who fell at the ambush of Girley Grove and are buried in this area.

The stone on which the plaque is mounted is said to have once been the doorstep of Athboy jail.


Saunder’s News Letter, 26 February 1777: On Saturday night 16th inst., Patrick Clinton, the post-boy from Trim to Athboy, was met, near Clifton Lodge, by three fellows, who robbed him of half a guinea, being the amount of that day’s postage. As the villains are well known, and inhabit the town of Athboy, it is hoped that they will be speedily brought to punishment.

Two Accidents

In 1777, Saunder’s News Letter, a Dublin based daily publication, reported two unfortunate accidents, which happened on succeeding days, in the town of Athboy. On the eve of May day 1777, a number of young men were rearing a May-pole, nearly seventy feet long, in Athboy. The ropes gave way when “the tree was a great distance from the ground”. It fell with such violence on the head of Michael Bracken that it “bruised him in a most shocking manner”. The unfortunate man was reported as “languishing without hopes of recovery”.

On the following day, 1 May, James Reilly fell into a distillers kneeve full of boiling water, at Athboy. “Notwithstanding the greatest care taken of him, he died in about twenty hours, after suffering the most excruciating torture for all that time.”

Moyagher Graveyard

In the townland of Moyagher, about three miles from Athboy town, is a small, very old, graveyard set around the ruins of an old church. The graveyard is still used for burials and is lovingly cared for by families who have plots there.


                                                   Headstone of Rev Richard Gosson (on right)

In his great historical work The Diocese of Meath Ancient and Modern published in three volumes between 1862 and 1870, Dean Cogan describes the Moyaugher ruins as follows:

“The old church measures, internally, sixty-eight feet by nineteen feet eight inches. Most of the walls have been torn down and the stones carried off for building purposes. There is every appearance of malicious vandalism and sacrilegious iconoclasm in the ruthless ruin and desolation with which the Church robbers have wrecked this ancient sanctuary. Inside what remains of the old walls there is a flat tomb to the memory of Christopher Plunket and his wife Catherine Begg, dated 1630, asking a prayer for their repose. The imitation of a ruin in the church yard at Killua, erected to grace and ornament the demesne and prospect from the castle, was built with portions of the stone of Moyagher church”.

One of the more interesting headstones in the old graveyard is that of Rev. Richard Gosson. Dean Cogan records that Richard Gosson was born in the Parish of Kells around 1771. He studied for the Priesthood and on 15 May 1799 received the tonsure (shaving of the head), four minor orders and subdeaconship in the Chapel of Navan. When ordained he was appointed as a Curate to the Parish of Killiegh (sic). He had received a drenching from heavy rain while on a station (a visit to a parishioner’s home with a Mass which all the neighbours attended). He sat in his wet clothes hearing confessions and caught a severe cold from which he never recovered. Rev Richard Gosson “died of a decay” on 6th November 1806 and was buried in Moyagher graveyard. What’s most interesting about his grave is that the inscription was written on the BACK of the headstone. Whether this was a genuine mistake on behalf of the stonemason or a deliberate reversal of the body at interment is unclear. (As it was the practice of the time for the priest to say Mass with his back to the people, this posture was carried on into death when priests were waked in the Church with their feet towards the altar). The headstone inscription reads:

“This stone was erected by Patrick Gosson of Berford, as a grateful tribute to the memory of his brother, The Rev Richard Gosson, who departed this life on the 6th day of Nov 1806, in the 35th year of his age. Sincerely and deservedly regretted.”

Rather strangely though, Dean Cogan also records that another priest is buried in Moyagher graveyard, although no trace of a grave marker exists for this priest’s grave.

“Another young priest, The Rev Hugh Farrelly, met with a similar accident and is buried in the church-yard with his friends. He was born in the parish of Dunboyne, about 1824, studied at Navan and Maynooth, and was ordained in June 1850. Officiating as curate in the parish of Eglish, he was drenched with rain on his way to a station, sat in his wet clothes discharging his sacred duties, caught cold, fell into a decline, and thus, in the first year of his ordination, sank into a premature grave.”

No records survive in the parishes of Eglish, Athboy or Dunboyne to verify the above account. We must therefore accept, however coincidental it may seem, that two young priests were similarly afflicted unto death, almost fifty years apart, and buried in Moyagher graveyard.

Also worth recording here is the disappearance of The Moyaugher Wayside Cross. Dean Cogan tells us:

“The burying ground was formerly more extensive. Two roads which meet at the cross of Moyagher are said to have been constructed through it. Convenient to the cemetery, on the opposite side of the road, by the way-side, up which is a flight of steps, stands the erect shaft of the cross of Moyagher, the cross bar of which has been broken off”.

One hundred years later, in the 1970s, Dr. Beryl F. E. Moore records:

“Three pieces of the old Moyagher Cross, without letters or carving, are fixed into a large cement table-like erection on the opposite side of the road.”

Today, even those meagre remains of an important local historical landmark are no longer visible. They are possibly in situ and completely overgrown by briars and vegetation but local knowledge says that they were removed many years ago.

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