Farm Ireland

Saturday 26 May 2018

A small town fighting back against decline

A view of the Grand Canal from the market town of Kilcock in Co Kildare.
A view of the Grand Canal from the market town of Kilcock in Co Kildare.
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

My local town of Kilcock no doubt mirrors hundreds of similar towns throughout Ireland which were formerly prosperous and then began to fall in to a long, slow and seemingly inevitable decline.

I remember from my childhood when people would travel from miles around to shop in Kilcock. They were happy times and in those days a threepenny ice cream from Baxter's shop was so big it was almost more than a small boy could finish. We had Cotts mail order store, the first in the country and which even advertised its services on Radio Eireann. Kelly's bakery was a great employer and their bread vans delivered to every corner of the country.

On fair days, the town would be bustling with people and cattle and despite the streets being awash with cow dung, there was that air of good business that is almost tangible.

Of course times were hard then compared to now but you don't miss what you never had and the pubs all did a roaring trade. Cars were few but then we had both the Grand Canal and a railway line and with Kilcock still on the main road route to Dublin from the west, traffic was constant.

The drivers of the cattle lorries and other commercial vehicles all stopped in Kilcock for a rest and a feed and no man could feel hungry after enjoying the mixed grill in Corscadden's hotel which like so many other older buildings, now lies derelict and empty.

I am not sure when or indeed quite why things began to go downhill but I took a walk around the town a few weeks ago and came to the conclusion that at least one third of the built area was either lying idle or for sale. Kelly's bakery is long gone. For a while we had the Leaf chewing gum factory but even it has ceased business.

All the life of the town seemed to then head towards Maynooth and from there to Dublin. The rapidly expanding university brought more people and activity but this didn't extend the few miles down the road to Kilcock which continued to put up ever more for sale or to let signs.


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Prosperity is a hard element to grasp for it comes and goes over the years and always follows sources of employment. An old coaching rhyme from the 18th century sums up what was thought of some of our rural towns situated on former major routes. It goes as follows:

The town of Naas is a wretched place

And Kilcullen's twice as bad

But damned the bit of me ever seen

The likes of Kinnegad.

Poor old Kinnegad was even the butt of jokes by the late Terry Wogan many years ago on his hugely popular BBC radio show but it is now a busy commuter town and seems to be holding its own as is Kilcullen which is perhaps the most prosperous of the three.

Naas, the largest of those mentioned, has not fared so well and many smaller shop owners complain of a lack of business since the huge out of town shopping centre was opened.

This is a common occurrence worldwide where traditional high street shops just cannot compete with new shopping malls and their large car parks which inevitably drain the life out of a town or village. It is hard to provide essential parking in streets designed originally for horse drawn vehicles.

But things are beginning to improve in Kilcock and there is a definite hint of optimism in the air.

Supervalu are almost finished building a large retail outlet, happily within the town itself on the site of the old Christian Brothers school and work is slowly starting on some of the many acres of farmland on the edge of the town that had changed hands for small fortunes during the Celtic Tiger years for housing but have lain idle since.

Best of all the developments from a social aspect has been the arrival of the Men's Shed where the members rolled up their sleeves and have transformed what was a derelict building and yard next to the old hotel in to a wonderful bright social centre.

Their plans for the future are equally ambitious and among their fund raising efforts is a gospel concert to be held in Kilcock church on April 22.

A blast of good high-spirited rock gospel cheers us all up so do come along, join in and help support a great cause.


From stage coaches to canals, trains and no parking

In the 17th century, there was a weight measurement referred to as 'A Barrel of Oats Kilcock Measure' which was then in  use throughout Kildare and  illustrates the importance of Kilcock as a leading commercial centre.

In 1776 the town had six distilleries which reflects the enthusiasm for alcohol (in moderation of course) that happily still remains.

Commercial activity increased greatly in 1796 with the building of the Grand Canal and the first staging post for stage coach traffic on the Dublin to Galway route was at Kilcock with passengers travelling between the two cities regularly using the services in the town.


This trade continued with the arrival of passenger boats but the canal trade declined rapidly following the coming of the railway in 1847.

By the early 19th century the number of fairs held annually on the 'Fair-Green' had risen to nine, but these subsequently ceased in the late 1950s.

The 'Square' in Kilcock is on the site of an ancient 12th century market-place and it still retains the same streetscape of the early settlement.

An old document describes it as having 'several small streets diverging from the market-square'.

Maybe that explains why there are no car parking spaces.

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