Street Wise – Assumption Road

This series of articles for the Westmeath Independent was run in conjunction with the Street Wise Athlone series on Athlone Community Radio

Athlone Miscellany by Gearoid O'Brien

Today the trend is to name streets and housing estates after people of note, or types of trees, or physical features but in the 1930s, 40s and 50s the trend was to call new estates after saints. Thus, we have St Anne’s Terrace, St. Peter’s Terrace, St. Patrick’s Terrace, St. Asicus Villas and St. Paul’s Terrace but today I wonder how many people ever wonder why Assumption Road is so called?

Those of us who remember our feast days will remember that August 15th is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is an ancient feast day and it is the oldest exclusively Marian celebration in the church. In 1466 the feast was approved by the then Pope, Sixtus IV. Then in 1950 Pope Pius XII who had a great devotion to our Lady proclaimed the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven as a dogma of then church.

To get some idea of how important this feast was to the clergy and, indeed, the plain people of Ireland, I will quote two excerpts from The Westmeath Independent of 1950, the year Assumption Road was first occupied.

The Feast of the Assumption in 1950.

On the Feast of Christ the King in 1950 the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise dedicated the newly restored church of St. Ciaran in Clonfinlough. The sermon was delivered by the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Joseph S. Walsh. Thanking the Archbishop for his presence the bishop added “Now he is leaving for Rome, he has to hasten to the Eternal City where he will represent not only his own diocese and the Province of Tuam, but all of Ireland at one of the most memorable events in the history of the church, the definition of the Dogma of Our Blessed Lady’s Assumption”.

When the Dogma was proclaimed the Westmeath Independent reported:

“In common with the rest of the country, Athlone and district joined in the joyous celebration of the Dogma of the Assumption on Wednesday. The devotion of the people to Our Lady found expression in the display of lighted candles and statues in hundreds of homes, both in town and country, while Papal and National flags were flown from public buildings and business premises in Athlone. Thousands received Holy Communion at the early masses and special services included a military church parade, headed by the No 4 Army Band, to the Church of St. Peter and Paul”.

We can be sure that the people of Assumption Road turned out in large numbers.

Controversy over Rents

While the earliest tenants were delighted to be housed in brand new houses, even if the roads were rough and unfinished, they were far from happy with the rents being charged by Athlone UDC. The idea of a differential rent scheme did not go down well with the residents of Assumption Road. In January 1951 representatives of the Athlone Fianna Fail Cumann met a deputation from the Assumption Road tenants in the Royal Hotel. Mr John Sherwin acted as a spokesman for the ten-person deputation.

Mr T. Fahy said that members of their organisation [Fianna Fail] were approached by the residents who considered their rents to be very high, and found it hard to pay them. He agreed, because after all when it came to the payment of £1 or 25/- a week, very little was left out of a man’s wages to run the house.

Mr Sherwin explained that regarding the differential rents they had to pay, ranging from 10/- to 30/- per week, the burden was just too heavy. They felt that if the differential rents system was to continue, they should start with a minimum of 7/- and finish at £1.

In February, Cllr A.J. Faulkner, asked at a meeting of the UDC whether any correspondence regarding ‘Arbour week’ on 12th March, had been received. The Town Clerk said they had not received any communication but they had ordered trees for planting in Assumption Road.

In 1951 various Managers Orders were signed by the County Manager to either increase or decrease the rents in Assumption Road to reflect household incomes, size of families etc. By March 1951 there were arguments being put forward that future local authority houses should be built by direct labour. Mr Waters was told that the cost of houses in Assumption Road was £1,750. Mr Waters pointed out that this was £500 more than similar houses built by direct labour and the cost of building was dictating the rents.

When army tenants got a pay increase in 1951 the Council responded by raising the rents of all council tenants. The rents of Privates and Corporals was raised by 2/- per week and the rents of Sgts and above was raised by 3/-.

Services for Assumption Road

In May 1952, following strong representation from Mr T. Fahy PC, the Minister for Post and Telegraphs agreed to provide a post-box at Assumption Road. However, in December that year he turned down an application from Athlone UDC for the erection of a telephone Kiosk on the grounds that the revenue would not be enough to cover the annual charges. The town clerk said the population of Assumption Road was 606 and the Council were to build a further 67 houses there. They appealed to the Minister to reconsider his decision.

At a meeting of Athlone UDC in May 1953 Cllr McNeill proposed and Cllr Faulkner seconded a motion to provide a telephone kiosk at Assumption Road, with the council giving a guarantee to cover any loss arising from its provision, but not all councillors agreed. The telephone kiosk was not put in place until the Spring of 1956.

Two small shop units were provided by Athlone UDC to service the needs of the residents in Assumption Road and Beech Park West. When I was a child, the late Michael O’Connell had the shop at the top of Assumption Road and the late Billy Daly had the butcher’s shop at Beech Park West, both services were greatly appreciated by the local residents. Only one of the units still survives, that at Beech Park West, opposite the fire station and it is now occupied by Marie McManus’s Preschool Montessori School ‘Na Fea’.

Sixty Years of Assumption Road

In 2010 the Assumption Road Residents association marked the sixtieth anniversary of the building of the estate in a magnificent show of community pride. It truly reflected the community spirit which prevails among the residents. Full credit is due to the organising committee who worked tirelessly to make it all happen.

The celebrations were held in August and the day kicked off with Children's Sports in St. Kieran’s Community Centre at 10.00am. This was a day to remember for adults and children alike.

The sports were followed by a community mass at 11.30 preceded by a march past of the Army Band and a contingent representing the Defence Forces, which was most appropriate as many of the original tenants were the families of serving soldiers in Custume Barracks.

The day of celebration was formally opened by Cllr Sheila Buckley Byrne, her speech was followed by an address by Lt. Col John Durnin O/C of the 6th Battalion and Custume Barracks.

The day was punctuated with music, ceili dancing, street theatre, a photographic exhibition and so much more. One of the great results was the number of former residents who returned to their roots and met friends they hadn’t met for years.

Next article: Coosan

For previous articles in this series, see here