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Architecture and heritage

Athy Courthouse

Related links
Naas Court Office

Historical and architectural information

The courthouse was designed by Frederick Darley and built in the 1850s. A detached, six-bay, two-story, Tudor Revival style building with double-pitched intersecting roofs, there are two-storey offices at the south end, and the original north entrance was converted into toilets c. 1990. There are external loggias on either side of the courtroom, which is now divided. Square-headed window openings with granite lintels, stooled sills and granite surrounds contain three over three pane timber sash windows. Four centred arched doorways with granite surrounds contain timber boarded doors.

The building was originally the town's corn exchange. Reference was made to it in the Leinster Express of 25th April 1857 when that newspaper, then published in Naas and Maryboro, carried a report of a banquet in the Leinster Arms Hotel. The occasion was a celebration for the newly elected Member of Parliament, W.H.F. Cogan and the following week's headlines noted that one guest refused to stand for the customary toast to the Duke of Leinster. As landlord for the town of Athy, the Duke was accustomed to receiving unsolicited and uncritical allegiance from the subservient townsfolk and the action of the unnamed man was the first occasion such a public act of defiance was noted. The reason was the Duke's family involvement in the proposed closure of the town jail on the Carlow Road. It eventually closed in 1859 when all the prisoners were transferred to the new jail in Naas.

At the same time the Duke of Leinster received the gratitude of all those assembled in the Leinster Arms Hotel for the new corn exchange then under construction in the Square of Athy. Newspaper reports claimed that the Duke was providing for the town of Athy "as pretty a building as any in Ireland" to be used as a corn exchange. It was opened for business on Tuesday 6th October 1857 but before long the same newspapers carried reports that "the ventilation of the building was very defective and the manner in which it is lighted was also objected to". Whether the ventilation and lighting problems was the cause of the subsequent closure of the corn exchange we cannot say but certainly within five years the building was lying idle.

The criticism was surprising given that the architect employed by the Duke of Leinster was none other than Frederick Darley, one of Ireland's foremost architects of the 19th century. He was responsible for the Kings Inns library in Henrietta Street, Dublin as well as several other important buildings in Dublin including a number of buildings in Trinity College and the wrought iron conservatories in the Botanical Gardens, Glasnevin. He was, at different times, architect to the Ecclesiastical Commission for the Archdioceses of Dublin and the Board of National Education.

In Athy, there are several examples of his work including the Model School on the Dublin Road opened in 1850, St. Michael's Church of Ireland on the Carlow Road which was built in 1840 during the rectorship of Rev. F .S. Trench and dedicated in September 1841 and the Presbyterian church and former manse on the Dublin Road.

The former Corn Exchange was adopted for use as the town's courthouse before the end of the 19th century. The assizes eventually returned to Athy but during the War of Independence the fine stone building with its flamboyant curved gables, dramatic tall granite chimney stacks and elliptical arched colonnades was burnt to the ground. The rebuilding of the courthouse was apparently completed sometime in 1928 under the supervision of Foley and O'Sullivan Architects. When the courthouse was re-opened it continued to house the District Court and the quarterly sessions of the Circuit Courts.

Refurbishment

The courthouse, having received a one million pounds revamp, was officially opened by the Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform, Mr. John O'Donoghue T.D. on Thursday 21st June 2001. The one time corn exchange looked at its best after almost 1½ years of careful tending at the hands of D. & J. Cabery, Building Contractors. The opening ceremony was performed in the presence of judges of the District Court, the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court. The refurbishment work was undertaken by D. & J. Carbery, builders, under the guidance of Michael Lysaght architect. The mid-19th century building is now a lasting monument to the skill and workmanship of today's craftsman as much as it is to the skills of 150 years ago.