Athenry in Olden Times

Source: Tuam Herald, 1915

Athenry was a famous place in the olden times. It was a Parliamentary borough and elected two members to the Irish Parliament. It was a pocket borough in the gift of the Blakeney’s of Abbert, and they are one of the noble few families of Ireland who did not make a good thing out of the privilege and sell the borough or county for a title.

Jacobites and Gay Company

In Athenry, before the Union, was a far noted Jacobite clue – for all the Galway gentry were Jacobites. It was called “The Athenry Club”. The members met at the club one evening to dine. Where the club was situated no one knows now so fast has the recollection of it faded out of the people’s minds. Drinking and toasting went merrily on until about five o’clock in the grey morning. John Kelly of Fiddane, rose to propose the toast, “The Glorious Pretender”. John Blakeney, of Abbert, then member for the borough, was present on the occasion, and he and others were afraid that they would be prosecuted for taking part in these treasonable proceedings. He angrily protested and told Kelly he must be mad but Kelly, the more incensed, only sprang to his feet, as well as he could, and waving his glass over his head, gave a shout and called for three cheers for “King James”! King James III.

The Earl of Athenry was amongst the gay company but had gone to bed at this time, and into him John Blakeney ran and exclaimed, “The gentlemen are gone mad and drinking the Pretender’s health”. Lord Athenry (John Birmingham) got up out of bed, hastily dressed himself, and going into the club room he commanded the company there assembled to disperse and go to their homes. Thereupon Thomas Burke, of Ballydavid, started up and said, with some tempest, “By God, my lord, it is what is in your lordship’s own heart if you would but let it be known”.

The matter reached the ear of the authorities. There was some informer amongst them, and John Kelly of Fiddane, and Thomas Burke, of Ballydavid were summoned up to DublinCastle to explain their rebellious conduct, and both were bound in a sum of £100 to be of good behaviour and to keep the peace. The drink partaken of on these occasions were usually claret and rum shrub.

Although Jacobites at heart only Robert Martin of Ross, went over to join the Pretender, and attired as a peasant he made his way from Galway up to the North to take passage in a private boat for Scotland. He was suspected, arrested, and kept in prison for some time, and only allowed home when the Rebellion was over.