ATHY, an incorporated market and post-town, in the barony of WEST NARRAGH and RHEBAN, county of KILDARE, and province of LEINSTER, 17- miles (S. W. by S.) from Naas, and 32 (S. W.) from Dublin; containing 4494 inhabitants. This place derives its name from an ancient ford called Athelehac, or anciently Athiegar, the "ford towards the west," which led from the territory of Leix to that of Calleagh or Caellan, and near which a great battle was fought between the people of Munster and those of Leix, under Lavisegh Cean Mordha, in the 3rd century. Donough O'Brien and his forces crossed the river Barrow at this ford, on their retreat from the battle of Clontarf. The town appears to have originated in the foundation of two monasteries, soon after the English invasion; one on the west bank of the Barrow, by Richard de St. Michael, Lord of Rheban, in 1253, for Crouched friars; and the other on the east bank, by the families of Boisle or Boyle and Hogan, some time in the 13th century, for Dominican or Preaching friars. It was frequently exposed to the assaults of the neighbouring septs, especially of the O'Kellys, whose territories, then called Caellan, are included in the modern county of Kildare. In 1308 the town was burnt by the Irish, and in 1315 was plundered by the Scots under Robert Bruce, who gained the battle of Ardscull, in which were killed, on the side of the English, Raymond le Gros and Sir William Prendergast, and on the side of the Scots, Sir Fergus Andressan and Sir Walter Murray, all of whom were buried in the Dominican monastery. In 1422, the Lord Justice of Ireland, considering Athy, from its situation on the Irish frontier, to be one of the keys of the Marches of Kildare, and necessary to be maintained for the defence of those parts, placed it in the custody of a military governor; and about the year 1506, a castle was built on the eastern side of the river, by Gerald, eighth Earl of Kildare for the protection of the town, which being enlarged in 1575, by one of the family of White, has since obtained the name of White's Castle, and in 1648 was held by the Irish under O'Nial, but was taken in 1650 by the parliamentary forces under Cols. Hewson and Reynolds.
The town is pleasantly situated on the river Barrow, and on the mail coach road from Dublin, through Cashel, to Cork; and the surrounding country is remarkably open and healthy. In 1831 it comprised 733 houses, and consists chiefly of one long street divided into two parts by the river, over which is a neat stone bridge of five arches, built in 1796. On the east side of the bridge the road from Monastereven to Carlow intersects the main street at right angles, forming, on the Carlow side, a neat square called the Market-square. The only trade is in corn, of which a very considerable quantity is sold in the market, for the supply of some extensive mills on the Barrow, and of the Dublin market, the proportion destined for which is sent thither by the Grand Canal in boats and barges; there is also a daily fly-boat, for the conveyance of passengers to the metropolis. Its situation in the midst of an exhaustless turbary, affording fuel at a low price, is advantageous for the establishment of manufactures; and its facility of communication by water with Dublin and other parts of the kingdom admirably adapts it for carrying on an extensive inland trade. The market is on Tuesday and Saturday, and, in addition to an ample supply of corn, is well furnished with meat, poultry, butter, and other provisions. Fairs are held on the 25th of April and July, under patent granted August 17th, 1756, by Geo. II.; also on March 17th, June 9th, Oct. 10th, and Dec. 11th, for cattle, sheep, and pigs. There is a chief station of the constabulary police, also a barrack capable of accommodating a troop of cavalry.
The inhabitants were incorporated in 1613, at the instance of Sir Robert Digby, Knt., by a charter, in which the corporation is entitled "the Sovereign, Bailiffs, Free Burgesses, and Commonalty of the Borough of Athy." The officers of the corporation are a sovereign (who is a justice of the peace), 2 bailiffs, 12 free burgesses, a recorder, and several inferior officers. The sovereign and bailiffs are elected annually, on June 24th, by the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses, out of the body of burgesses, and are sworn into office on Sept. 29th; the burgesses are elected for life, out of the body of the freemen; the latter, in recent instances, have been nominated by the sovereign. The governing body consists of the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses: the recorder, treasurer, and inferior officers are appointed either by the sovereign or the governing body. The borough returned to the Irish parliament two members until the Union, when, of the £15,000 awarded as compensation for the abolition of the elective franchise, £13,800 was paid to the Duke of Leinster, as proprietor of the borough, and £1200 to Lord Ennismore. A court of record was held here until 1827, for determining pleas to any amount arising within the borough and its liberties, which extend half a mile in every direction from White's Tower. A curl court, for the recovery of debts under 40s., late currency, is held on the 1st Monday in every month, at which the sovereign presides. The summer assizes for the county, and the Epiphany and Midsummer quarter sessions for the division, and also a weekly petty session on Tuesday, are held in the court-house, which is a neat and commodious building in the market-square. A court, called a "presenting court," is held annually in the month of October, to make presentments for the ensuing year; and a market jury of 12 persons is also chosen as inspectors of the markets, weights, and measures. The county gaol is situated outside the town, on the road to Carlow: it was completed in 1830, at an expense of £6000, of which £2000 was given by the Duke of Leinster, in addition to the site, and the remainder was paid by the county; it is a well-arranged building on the radiating principle, the governor's house being in the centre, and comprises 6 airing-yards, 6 day-rooms, 2 work-rooms, and 32 sleeping and 3 solitary cells, with a matron's room, 2 hospitals, and a chapel.
The town comprises the greater part of the parishes of St. John and St. Michael, which, together with the rural parishes of Ardrie and Churchtown, constitute the vicarage of St. Nicholas, or Nicholastown, united by act of council, in 1804, to the rectory and vicarage of Tankardstown, in the diocese of Dublin, and in the alternate patronage of the Crown and the Archbishop; the tithes of the several parishes amount to £544.2. 6. The church of the union, a plain edifice, is in the parish of St. Michael; and a new church is about to be built on a site given by the Duke of Leinster. The glebe contains seven acres.In the R. C. divisions this town is the head of a union or district, comprising the same parishes as the Protestant union, together with that of Kilberry, and containing two chapels, one in St. Michael's and the other at Tankardstown; the former is a spacious and handsome edifice, built in 1796, principally by a donation from the late Maurice Keating, Esq., of Narraghmore, on an acre of land given by the Duke of Leinster, who also contributed towards its erection. There are places of worship for Calvinists and Wesleyan Methodists. The parochial school, in which 120 children are instructed, is held in a room behind the court-house. Contiguous to the R. C. chapel are two large schoolrooms, one for 400 boys, built in 1826 by voluntary subscription, aided by a donation of £100 from the Duke of Leinster, who also gave the site and erected a convenient residence for the parish priest, at a nominal rent; the other, capable of containing 100 girls, was built by a donation from the late Mrs. Dooley. Here is a dispensary; and a charitable association for relieving the aged and distressed, without regard to religious distinctions, is maintained by subscriptions, aided by annual donations of £50 from the Duke of Leinster, £30 from the Rev. F. S. Trench, and £5 from Lord Downes. There are several remains of antiquity; but of the ancient monasteries little is left besides a gateway on the Carlow road, which, when seen in connection with the plantations intervening between it and the river, forms a picturesque and interesting feature in the landscape. Near the entrance from the Dublin road is a modern building occupied by two Dominican friars, with a small domestic chapel, near which is the ancient burial-ground of St. Michael's. The remains of White's castle, which is situated close to the bridge, consist only of a massive square and embattled tower, now used as the police barrack. On the western bank of the river stand the remains of Woodstock castle: the date of its erection is unknown, but it is supposed to have been built, about 1290, by a descendant of the Earl of Pembroke, or more probably at a later period by Thomas Fitzgerald, seventh Earl of Kildare, who, on marrying Dorothea, daughter of Anthony O'Moore, of Leix, in 1424, received the manors of Woodstock and Rheban as her dower. The walls are very thick and in moderately good preservation, and the mullioned windows are much admired for the elegance of their execution; a fine arched gateway and part of the outer court yet remain. The castle was taken from the insurgents, in 1642, by the Marquess of Ormonde, who made it a halting-place for his troops; and, in 1647, Owen Roe O'Nial surprised it and put the garrison to the sword, but Lord Inchiquin compelled him soon afterwards to surrender both it and Athy. Rheban castle is on the west bank of the Barrow, above two miles from the town. In the 2nd century, Rheban was one of the inland towns, and is found in Ptolemy's map. The castle was built, or greatly enlarged, in the 13th century, by Richard de St. Michael, when it and an adjoining district named Dunamase were erected into a barony, of which he was created baron. The first English settlers strengthened and repaired this castle, as also the opposite one of Kilberry. Its name was formerly Raiba or Righban, "the habitation of the King," and though now in ruins, its massive walls, mullioned windows, and imposing position, show that it was intended to awe the surrounding country. In 1325, Rheban, Dunamase, and all their dependencies, were taken by O'Moore, whose descendant, Anthony O'Moore, gave it in dower to the Earl of Kildare, through whom it has descended to the Dukes of Leinster. About three miles from the town, on the Dublin road, and in a most commanding position, is a rude but very extensive ancient fortification constructed entirely of earth raised so high as to command all the adjacent country: it is called the Moat of Ardscull, and if not raised on the occasion of the battle, was probably the scene of it; it was enclosed and planted about ten years since by the Duke of Leinster, and is a conspicuous landmark.