The Home Rule Club opened its doors for the first time on 20th July 1894.
Below is a piece written by Katharine Blake, Freelance Journalist and Editor, in 2007.
A sign on the door of the ground-floor lounge in the Home Rule Club on John’s Quay reads, ‘Yearly Membership now due – €10. For this, members can enjoy the sociable atmosphere of two lounges, a few games of snooker on two championship-size tables, darts, music nights and trips abroad. They can also sit and gaze out on the River Nore as it scoots by on its way to the sea just as it did in the early 19th Century when Mrs Catherine Pack built the Nore View Seminary; a school for young ladies.
In his article in the Kilkenny Review of 1995 under the headline “The School that Mrs Pack Built”, Edward Law tells us that Mrs Pack moved her boarding school, which she had begun on High Street in 1813, first to Patrick Street and then by 1831 she and her two daughters were ensconced in their three-storey, five-bay, detached Georgian building at 3 John’s Quay.
“This is where the boarders would have slept,” says Mick Quinlan, former president of the Home Rule Club and long-time member, as he leads the way to the top floor and opens the door on a long, light-filled room with a low ceiling. In 1834, each boarder was asked to bring, ‘a silver spoon, two pairs of sheets and six napkins’, with her on taking up her place at Mrs Pack’s academy. As part of the club’s refurbishment, the former dormitory now has a new wooden floor, spot lights and newly plastered and painted walls.
In a small room at the top of the house Mick is carefully going through the club’s old records and receipts which contain some valuable delights and insights into life in Kilkenny at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th Century. Club member, Seán Kerwick has been helping Mick Quinlan with his research into the history of the club and remembers his father telling him of a time when the club hired out boats for trips up and down the river.
“My father lived on Wolfe Tone Street,” says Seán, “and he remembered a man playing the accordion to entertain the passengers in the boats. They would travel up to Bennettsbridge or out to Three Castles and I think it cost half a crown for the afternoon. They could also get a boat down the canal to the bandstand and spend the afternoon there. Hundreds of people used to go to hear the bands play. The boathouse is still beside the Home Rule Club but the doorway is boarded up.”
Mrs Pack’s school became the Kilkenny Home Rule Club in February 1897 when its 130 members purchased it for £280 following the collapse of an outside wall of their former residence, Arch House on Patrick Street.
The Home Rule Association was formed by Isaac Butt in 1870 and led by him from 1873-’79 before Charles Stewart Parnell took over as leader in 1880.
“There were Home Rule Clubs in every county,” says Mick, “and the Kilkenny one is the only one left. It was set up in July 1894,” he says handing me the list of the club’s first officers and committee members which includes many familiar Kilkenny surnames and a number of priests.
“The Kilkenny Home Rule Club was founded by the Catholic ascendancy,” adds Seán, as is evident from the professions of the founding members, some of whom were Justices of the Peace, Town Councillors and wealthy merchants.
Downstairs, two rooms with shuttered windows hold a snooker table each and on the walls hang the original score boards provided by Burroughs & Watts of London. Around the walls of the ground floor lounge, framed receipts and letters reveal the day-to-day business of running the club in its formative years in a formal language long fallen from use. There are invoices from establishments no longer in business and some from names which we still recognize today.
“This is a bill from Duggan’s, Monster House,” says Mick pointing out the pencil drawing on the top of the invoice of the once-beautiful building which occupied a block of High Street, “ and this is from Smithwick’s Cash & Carry which, of course, is still there today.”
A John Slater of Walkin Street provided the club with a turkey and a goose for Christmas of 1922 and a letter from R De Loughry & Sons thanks the club for their enquiry regarding the supply of a ‘Listening In Set’. “I think that’s a radio,” says Mick laughing.
Another familiar High St name, PT Murphy, invoiced the club for the repair of a gramophone and soundbox in 1924 and W. St Clare based in Ormonde House supplied wigs for the club’s dramatic society.
“The Dramatic Society used to put on plays regularly,” says Mick, “but, unfortunately, we don’t have a dramatic society anymore. There used to be a cricket team too and a brass band. There was also a library and members could come in for a read and take books out on loan. We’ve kept whatever books were left over and they are on display in a cabinet in the ground floor lounge. The club also used to have the daily newspapers here for members to read and when they were finished with them, the club would sell them back to the shop who would then sell them on again cheaper and weeks out of date,” says Mick.
Invoices from Thomas Hoyne & Son and Kilkenny Motor Co. for the hire of charabancs reveal the club members’ destinations on their ‘excursions.’ The charabanc or motor coach in the pencil drawing at the top of Thomas Hoyne’s invoice is roofless and carries about a dozen people sitting up very straight.
“This one from Thomas Hoyne & Son was for the hire of a charabanc to take the members to Woodstock in Inistioge for the day,” says Mick, “and the other one was for the hire of a few charabancs for a trip to Graiguenamangh and St Mullins.”
A letter from the Urban Council of Killarney was written in response to a request from Kilkenny Home Rule Club to visit the area. “You didn’t write directly to hotels then,” says Mick, “you wrote to the town council and they wrote back recommending certain hotels.”
The formal style elicits laughter in the modern reader as does the letter to the club from the Catholic Young Men’s Society warning of the perils of ‘evil literature’. One sentence from its two pages reads, ‘The representatives of our country are in handigrips with a dastardly and unscrupulous and abundantly-financed campaign of calumny.’ The letter is signed, ‘The Kilkenny Vigilance Society.
Having pondered on whether ‘handigrips’ may have the same meaning as today’s ‘cahoots,’ we wander up to the records room where Mick produces a box of excursion tickets invoking days spent on the strands of Tramore or Clonea or in the historical grounds of Glendalough. Some tickets also included tea or dinner. A black and white photograph taken in 1903 of a victorious billiard team shows six men in formal attire, but without jackets, clutching their cues and, all but one, sporting styled moustaches.
Today, many Kilkenny organisations use the Home Rule Club for their meetings and its walls now listen in on the rudiments of water safety, Tai Chi, soccer and the proposed heights to be scaled by the Tyndall Walking Club.
Current president of the club, Peggy Murray, who has come in to see how the refurbishments are progressing, recalls that women were not admitted to the Home Rule Club until 1989. No doubt the irony of women not being admitted as members in the late twentieth century would not have been lost on the woman who had built the house for young women in the previous century.
“I used to come in here years ago to meet my father, Tommy Long, for a drink” says Peggy, “and I got to know lots of people. Then as soon as women were allowed to join, I joined and was elected to the committee. Of course anybody can come in for a drink in the evenings and we would welcome new members. They’re a lovely bunch in here and there’s a friendly atmosphere. The more the merrier.”