Christmas Reading from Offaly History – twelve new titles of Offaly interest, one for every day of the Festive Season. Another bumper year for local studies.

All the books here can be purchased from Offaly History (Bury Quay, Tullamore and online) and at Midland Books, Tullamore. You can also view/ borrow at Offaly Libraries and consult at Offaly History Centre.

Rathrobin and the two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900-1920. Michael Byrne (Offaly History, Tullamore, 2021), 330 pages, 280×240, hardcover, €24.99.

Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the pictures of Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926) of Rathrobin near Mountbolus are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was well aware of the Plantations of the 16th and 17th centuries. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than a 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Bidduph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.

Biddulph’s story, and that of his associates and friends, is illustrated by a selection of over 300 pictures in all, of which 250 are from the Biddulph Collection in Offaly Archives, and fifty more to illustrate the introductory essay and provide the all-important context. The essay and the photographs provide a more nuanced understanding of Ireland in the revolutionary period of 1900–23. Biddulph’s wonderful house at Rathrobin that he had so carefully ‘restored’, and all his farm improvements, were lost in the Civil War in 1923. Many other big houses from Ashford, to Ballyfin, Durrow, Brookfield, Screggan Manor and Charleville are also recorded in this volume. Some such as Brockley Park in Laois are now gone thereby making this an important work of record. The photographs by Middleton Biddulph were taken at a crucial moment in Ireland’s history. Their publication now could not come at a better time. Rathrobin is the portrait of one small estate and Killoughy parish in Offaly from the 1650s to the 1920s, but the story is of national interest. T.E. Lawrence spoke of the Arab Revolt, perhaps in Ireland we can talk of the Irish Revolt and not the full circle Revolution. You decide.

Rathrobin was supported by the Decade of Commemorations Unit in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media

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Judge John Neilan, late judge of the district Court, no 9: a journalist recalls. By Declan McSweeney

The recent death in Roscommon of Judge John Neilan, at the age of 76, evoked many memories for me, of years covering his court cases for the now-closed Offaly Express (the print version).

While I joined the staff in 1988, I didn’t start covering courts on a regular basis until after the retirement of the late Eddie Rogers in January 1995. Eddie was legendary for his understanding of the judicial system over many decades.

On average, coverage of courts took up about 40% of the working week, with one day spent in court, and another checking records with the always helpful court staff, and then writing it up. Some weeks it could be even more, with special sittings being held to clear a backlog of cases.

Judge Aidan O’Donnell was the district court judge in my early days reporting, following Judge Connellan if I recall correctly, but Judge Neilan later took over. He covered a large court district, including Mullingar as well as Tullamore.

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The 14th and 15th earls of Huntingdon of Sharavogue, Shinrone and the Birr barracks scandal. By Stephen Callaghan

Warner Francis John Plantagenet Hastings was born on 8 July 1868 at 54, St Stephen’s Green Place, Dublin. He was the son of Francis Power Plantagent Hastings, 14th Earl of Huntingdon, and Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra. The title of Earl of Huntingdon was an English peerage title originally created in 1065, the current title is its seventh incarnation which was created in 1529.

The 14th Earl married Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra 15 August 1867, who was the only daughter of Colonel Honourable John Craven Westenra, of Sharavogue, King’s County – a member of the Irish Whig party.

The family acquired lands in Waterford and King’s County. In the latter they lived in Sharavogue House. The house was originally built in the 1820s and was described as containing drawing and dining rooms of the finest proportion, a library, seven bedrooms, servant apartments, stables, coach houses and offices. A walled garden and 100 acres of land. Later additions to the house were made by notable Irish architect Sir Thomas Deane.

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Centenarian philosopher: Tullamore Man’s Recipe for Happiness “Take Life as it comes” – 80 years married and never quarrelled’ – Michael and Mary Coughlin of Rapp Road, Puttaghan, Tullamore. By Cosney Molloy

Take the good and bad in life as it comes; be satisfied with your fate; if you find yourself in an argument, get out of it as quickly as possible. This was the philosophy of Mr Michael Coughlin (or Coughlan), of Rapp, Tullamore, who celebrated his 107th birthday in November 1929. I am told by Offaly History that he was the oldest man to die in Tullamore in the history of record keeping. He and his wife ‘who is nearing her century, have based 80 years of married life on this happiness recipe and he guarantees that if this advice is followed it will bring contentment to thousands of married couples.’ News of their recipe for ’80 years of marriage and never having quarreled’ went around the world and is said to have featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Michael Coughlin was a native of Eglish and had worked for Malachy Scally as a gardener at Moore Hall, Tullamore in his later years. Rapp is the road to Tyrrellspass from the canal at Whitehall and was the main road from Tullamore to Westmeath until the canal was completed in 1798. Housing there was decimated in the Famine years.

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‘The present war will be the greatest and most appalling the world has ever seen. The results will be proportionately as great both to conqueror and conquered.’ Bernard C. Molloy, former MP South King’s County in August 1914. By Michael Byrne

  

If only the American policymakers of late years since 2001 (Afghanistan), (or even Kennedy and LBJ) had read B.C. Molloy. A former MP for King’s County, Bernard Charles Molloy, was one of the few to predict that the First World War would not be over by Christmas 1914. Molloy read the signs well, besides he had fought with the French in 1870 and knew the strength and perseverance of the Prussians. He was an MP in King’s County from 1880 to 1900 and died in 1916. It is a good time to reflect as we recently marked 11 November and the anniversary of the Truce and the Peace in June 1919. It was a a war that killed at least 40,000 Irishmen, led to 1916, the War of Independence and the Second World War.

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Opening of Offaly Archives by Minister Malcolm Noonan, 18 Nov. 2021.

Offaly History is pleased to announce the opening of Offaly Archives at unit 1F, Cluster Two, Axis Business Park, on Thursday 18 November 2021, by minister of state at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan.

Offaly History completed the building of its second premises in 2019 to coincide with its 50th anniversary. The new repository is a state-of-the-art archives building managed by a professional archivist, Lisa Shortall, and houses the collections of Offaly History and Offaly County Library. The mix of the voluntary and the public sectors, under professional management, provides a unique blend of enthusiasm, specialist knowledge and continuity that can only enhance Offaly Archives over time.

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Scallys of Kilbeggan and Tullamore: the height of fashion, mechanics and aviation. By Maurice Egan

One could only marvel at the grandness of the shopfront, its curved plate glass display windows, its fine chiselled limestone three-story edifice, as well as the coming and goings of customers. This was what was on view to the townsfolk and visitors to Tullamore when coming across the shop owned and operated by proprietor Malachy Scally of Kilbeggan. In 1901, for his thirty first birthday he visited London and picked up retailing insights, ideas on cash handling systems, and street facing window placings from the likes of Selfridges and Harrods retail establishments.1 He completed the magnificent frontage, between 1912 and 1914 at a cost of £5,000-.

            In the 1960s, I remember putting my back against Noel O’Brien’s shop on the opposite side of the street and watched the same comings and goings to the famed shop under new owners, the Melville group. The most intriguing sight was seen from within, the mesmerising swishing sound and rapid movement of the railway wire line carriers with its overhead mechanical system. It was just fascinating to watch. (Mrs Jo. Morris and her sons Philip and Kenneth, had a similar but smaller version, at their family shop, J Morris draper on Church Street).

Fig 1. The magnificent edifice of Malachy Scally’s drapery on Columcille Street (Pound Street), Tullamore. Designed by architect T F McNamara (who also designed the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore), it was completed between 1912 and 1914. Courtesy NLI and set here in the jacket of Maurice Egan’s new book to be published in mid-December by Offaly History.

While my mother bought her items from the various departments, she chatted at length to the attendants, I was only too happy to sit all day and watch the mechanics of the ‘rapid wire’ system. In fact, I recall pleading with her to buy each item for cash, so I could observe the railway workings in detail. The Lamson ‘rapid wire’ system was developed in 1888 and consisted of a cylindrical wooden cup with screw-on base which was projected by a catapult mechanism along a taut wire, travelling on grooved wheels suspending the cup from the wire. These cups would travel a good distance, including around corners, without the need of gravity by incline.At Malachy Scally’s this system would travel to and from the ground floor centrally located, elevated cash office.

Fig 2. The Lamson Store Service                 Fig 3. From Anscombe’s in the UK, the cashier                                                                       returning the customers change along the ‘rapid                                                              wire’ system.

The Scallys of Rahugh, Kilbeggan and Tullamore

The Tullamore drapery store Scallys were originally farmers who hailed from Attyconnor, Rahugh, close to the Westmeath/Offaly border. The farm is still owned and worked by the family and lies between Kilbeggan and Tullamore.

            Loughlin Scally (b c 1808, d 16 October 1896) and his wife Rose (b c 1809 d 21 August 1885) had three sons and one daughter that we know of: James, Patrick, Daniel, and Clara Scally. James Scally (b c 1841 d 8 December 1903) was a Kilbeggan merchant and licenced premise owner based on Main Street Upper, Kilbeggan, and was a leading local member of the Land League. He married Clara Christina Horan (b c 1846 d 13 January 1917), a prosperous farmers daughter from Muiniagh, Tullamore. They were married at Durrow church on 17 January 1868 by Tullamore curate Fr Joseph Flood C C. The bridesmaid was Clara Scally. They had ten children. James was an enterprising entrepreneur and with the assistance of his father-in-law, Mathew Horan, James expanded his business to Tullamore. Luke Horan, second eldest son of Mathew (b c 1841 m Bedelia Clavin of Clara on 18 April 1866, b c 1846 d 4 November 1896), was a merchant tailor by trade, and was set up in business on Tullamore’s Colmcille Street (Pound Street) in a shop leased to him by his father. They had one son Mathew Joseph Horan who died of TB in early childhood (b 16 September 1867 d 24 March 1871). Sadly, Luke did not escape the ravages of TB, and suffered from its effects for many years.

_________________________________________________________________________________Footnote: Muiniagh is the townland (218a) that extends from Tullamore’s Axis business park north to the Silver River and includes a portion of the residential estate called, Norbury Woods.

It is believed James Scally, his brother-in-law, took over the lease of the Horan shop and established it as James Scally draper in 1876.3 Luke died at the Whitworth Hospital in Drumcondra (a hospital for the chronically ill) on 30 November 1879. He was 38 years of age. His bereft widow Bedelia moved to Castletown, Clara to live with her two brothers.

Fig 4. Extract from the last will and testament of Mathew Horan 1880. Courtesy NLI.

Fig 5. Will and testament of Mathew Horan 1880. Courtesy NLI.

Fig 6. Clara (née Horan) and James Scally. Courtesy Malachy Scally.                                    

Established in 1876, this became the start of a great trot for the Scally drapery business, which was to continue for an uninterrupted eighty-five years. It is believed that James and Clara Scally lived at Bank House (alias Step House), on Main Street Upper North, Kilbeggan since around 1868. They later resided at their  fine hardware, grocery, provision, and licenced merchant house which continued as Scally’s for over sixty years until 1928. Malachy, their eldest son was born 8 April 1870. They had ten children, five boys and five girls. James now a successful businessperson, continued to grow his business and leased lands, some known as Towns Park, as well as property, including the Crescent store and Market Square store, Kilbeggan.

Fig 7. James Scally, grocer, provisions merchant and licenced premises, Main St, Kilbeggan. Their residence ‘Step House’ was six doors up the street to the right of picture. Courtesy the NLI.

Unbearable tragedy was not too far around the corner for James and Clara Scally. In 1884, in the space of just nineteen days they lost six (four daughters and two sons) of their ten children to scarlet fever and typhoid.

Malachy Scally

Malachy Scally (b 8 April 1870 d 3 October 1935) married Mary Anne Fitzgibbon (25 June 1874 d 9 May 1935), at St Michaels church, Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire). She was daughter of well-known M P in the House of Commons for Castlerea County Roscommon, John Fitzgibbon and his wife Marion, née O’Carroll. John Fitzgibbon (1845–1919) was also a merchant draper in Castlerea. John was a supporter of Home Rule and unity with Britain, as well as a member of the Gaelic League. He started his working life in his father’s drapery business in Castlerea. Seen as a spokesperson for the tenant, Fitzgibbon exercised his powers of persuasion and oratory at meetings across Roscommon. His political life spanned 30 years, from the land war to the ranch war.Mary Anne’s brother Michael Fitzgibbon (b 2 August 1886 d 15 August 1915, was an apprentice at the solicitors’ firm, Hoey & Denning, Tullamore) joined the British army during the First World War as a second lieut with the 7th Dublin Fusiliers. In July 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Captain and the regiment was shipped to the Dardanelles. One week into the disastrous Allied Gallipoli campaign, the popular twenty-nine-year-old Capt Fitzgibbon was killed in action on Turkish soil.

__________________________________________________________________________________Footnote: The ten children of James and Clara Scally were: Rose Mary (b 3 April 1869 d 25 September 1919 of TB, m 15 September 1892 Peter Joseph Joyce of Leenane Galway b 1859, a commercial traveller from Edgeworthstown and Longford d 9 September 1926), Malachy (b 8 April 1870 d 3 October 1935 m 19 June 1895 Mary Anne Teresa Fitzgibbon of Castlerea b 25 June 1874 d 9 May 1935), Joseph (b 29 September 1873), Mathew James Scally (b 20 July 1875 d 31 October 1884), John Frances Scally (b 4 December 1877 d 1 March 1907 m 1906 Annie White, daughter of P J White of Clara, widowed she later married James Kelly 17 June 1912), Bridget Christina (b 21 December 1878 d 3 November 1884), Mary Joseph (b 29 February 1880 d 24 October 1884), James Scally jnr (b 20 July 1881 d 24 October 1884), Agnes Scally (b 28 January 1883 d 11 November 1884), Clara Christina (b 18 July 1884 d 4 November 1884).5

Fig 8. Malachy Scally, merchant draper and entrepreneur. Courtesy Malachy Scally.

Malachy was deemed an astute and quick learner, and was schooled at the Christian Brothers, Tullamore and later at Navan. He finished his schooling at Rockwell College. He quickly learned the drapery business and was constantly looking out for new ideas in the world of fashion and retailing. He and Mary Anne had eleven children, the three eldest were born above the drapery store on William Street (todays Colmcille Street) . The businesses in both Kilbeggan and Tullamore were thriving, and he took out a lease on the architecturally impressive residential property Moore Hall on Earl Street (O’Moore St, Tullamore) in 1900. He learned much on his travels and brought back and implemented new ideas from a 1901 trip to visit Selfridges and Harrods, London. Malachy formally took over the running of the family business when his father James died in 1903.

          In April 1902, as his business expanded he took over the lease of the former Bradley boot and shoe warehouse next door (today’s AIB bank). Malachy Scally, grandson of Malachy snr recalls: ‘Around 1903, Malachy took a lease on number 2 and 3 Colmcille Street from Lady Emily Alfred Julia Howard Bury of Charleville Forest. Earlier, it was called William Street after Charles William Bury First Earl of Charleville.

          In 1912 he commissioned the office of architect William Hague (1836-1899) to design the magnificent shop and façade for 2 and 3 Colmcille Street. His daughter Philomena (Phlo) also had an input in the design. While accompanying her father on a buying trip to Brussels, she made sketches of shop fronts, which influenced the outcome. After Hague’s death, his wife took over the firm’s partnership with their managing assistant, the renowned architect T F McNamara (1867-1947) who had worked on the Church of the Assumption, Grand Central Cinema, and the Co-Operative Society premises in Tullamore. The shop was completed in 1914.’

Ever the moderniser with a keen interest in mechanics, he was the first to install the mesmerising Lamson overhead cash wire carriers in the town. He was fascinated with aeroplanes and encouraged his sons Manco and Frank in their pursuit to become qualified pilots.

            He continued to run the original family business on Main Street, Kilbeggan, and employed his first cousin Patrick Scally of Attyconner and later Moyvore, as an assistant shop hand. He thereafter put his son Manco in charge of the Kilbeggan store from around 1920. James A Scally the eldest son, worked with and was trained in the retail trade by his father, having completed his schooling at Clongowes. Together they introduced a new sales incentive at Scally’s drapery where paying customers were entered into Scally’s draw for their unique prize scheme. Uncollected monetary prizes were donated to charity. Increasingly James A was taking over more of the running of the business, assisted by his youngest brother Brendan and youngest sister Eithne Scally.

            Manco decided to spend more and more time engaged as a professional aviator, spending considerable time in Coventry, England. In 1928 Malachy decided to sell the old established Kilbeggan business inherited from his father James Scally. It was advertised for auction by the Kelly Brothers, Auctioneers at Kilbeggan on the 29 September that year.

            The free-spirited Manco had planned a huge adventurous solo flight from Ireland to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) via Baghdad. It would be the first private individual flying out of the new Irish Free State. His tiny plane (EI AAL) he called ‘Shamrocket’ and flew via Paris and then onto Marseilles. He was tragically killed while trying to land at nearby Berre on 21 February 1932.

We need 100 carefully researched stories for 2022. If you have one contact us info@offalyhistory.com. With thanks to all who have contributed the 330 so far and to you the readers of which we had 100,000 views so far this year. 120,000 is our target for 2021 so spread the word. We have published 83 on the Decade of Centenaries period.

A new insight into some Tullamore families.

Overview

In mid-December we publish a book by Maurice Egan, ‘Merchants, Medics, and the Military Commerce and Architecture’ It provides an exciting insight on the social history of Ireland from 1875 to 1925, as seen through the lives of influential Irish families. We are now taking orders and expect to be able to fill them from 13 December. You can order online or call to Offaly History at Bury Quay and at Midland Books in High Street, Tullamore. Email info@offalyhistory.com

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Sean Barry: a Volunteer who ‘was in any operation worthwhile in Offaly’, and Three Cheers for Mrs Nurse Barry. By Michael Byrne

Some of the more recent contributions to the narrative of the 1912–23 period, such as that of Ferriter and Dolan, have looked at the personal histories of the combatants and less at causation and the course of the military campaign (Hopkinson and Laffan). Others such as Foster (and earlier Thompson) examined the cultural background for what role it played in the mind-set of the young revolutionaries. These approaches can be combined in the context of at least one Tullamore family that of Barry of Earl Street, now O’Moore Street, Tullamore. Here two sons of Richard Barry, Richard jun. and John (Sean) each played a significant role – Richard on the cultural side and Sean as a soldier Volunteer. We will look at Richard’s early years in the cultural movements in Tullamore in a later article.

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‘Opening the Hidden Bridge  and A New Theory of The Early Origins of Tullamore’. By Fergal MacCabe

Introduction

Amongst the recently announced projects for the rejuvenation of the centre of Tullamore is the long promised opening of the ‘Hidden Bridge’ behind the County Library and the linking across it of O’Connor Square and Church Street by a new public park. Though the age and function of the bridge are obscure, clues may be found which shed light on not just its genesis but also those of Tullamore itself.

 Settlement Types

As humans began to leave the forests and gather together for trade and security, three distinct models of settlement began to emerge. One was the elongated village street which developed along a well travelled trail. Another was the crossroads ie. a meeting of four trails creating a junction around which housing and businesses clustered.The third was the village green form, where several trails came together around an open marketplace.

In Offaly the best examples of the first are Banagher, Shannonbridge, Daingean or Edenderry with their long main streets. Ferbane is a good example of the second type. Killeigh, Cloneygowan, Geashill and Clara which share the same feature of a triangular fair green, are good examples of the last.

Into which category therefore does Tullamore fall?

Tullamore 1838

Early Maps

The Cotton map of the mid to late 16 th century shows the central Midlands as mainly woods, trackless plains and bogs. Apart from ‘Dinian’ (Daingean), Killeigh is the only settlement noted

Tullamore first appears as a distinct settlement on the Moll Atlas of 1728 which shows the Tyrellspass to Birr road as the main route from Westmeath to Tipperary and crossing the Ballycowen River river just south of a hamlet noted as ‘Tullymore’. No other roads into this village are shown.

The first map which shows the layout of the town of Tullamore itself is Taylor and Skinner’s 1777 volume which describes the routes of all the main roads traversing Ireland at that time, but does not purport to be a reliable guide to the streets or form of the towns through which they pass. The guide shows the north -south Kilbeggan to Birr road crossing the river and  intersected by the east-west Philipstown (Daingean) to Clara road at a point just south of the present canal bridge. A small chapel is shown on Church Street and a nobleman’s seat close by. The Tyrellspass to Birr road is shown entering the town from the north east and meeting the Philipstown/Clara road at a T-junction, but does not continue further southwards. Were it to continue in a straight line however, it would arrive at the river at precisely the location of the ‘Hidden Bridge’ at the rear of the Library which suggests that this was once its destination.

William Larkin’s Survey of 1809 is a little more detailed and shows seven roads radiating out into the countryside from a central point- again presumably the river crossing. The arrival of the Grand Canal in 1798 had interrupted this road pattern north of the river.

Larkin 1809

Some indication of the age of these radial roads may be drawn from an examination of the first really reliable map of Tullamore-the Ordnance Survey of 1838. Field boundaries which are not continuous across road lines suggest land ownerships of some antiquity and therefore longer established routes. The clearest example of newer roads interrupting established field boundaries is visible in Bachelors Walk, laid out in 1815 while the relatively recent vintage of Tanyard Lane and the road to Geashill are evident also. However, the Killeigh, Kilbeggan, Rahan and Charleville radial roads which have differing boundaries on either side, are clearly much older.

The North Eastern Radial

Of particular interest however is the north eastern entry to the town from the Tyrrellspass direction and the former direct route to Birr according to Moll.  Having cut through the esker at Derrygolan, the road  takes a direct and straight line to enter Tullamore at Puttaghan along a route formerly known locally as Rapparee Alley; at which point (according to Taylor and Skinner) it suddenly meets the east-west Philipstown-Clara road and proceeds no further. The discontinuous boundaries on either side northwards of this junction suggests a route of some antiquity. We can only speculate as to why it does not continue further to its projected and natural  destination point -the river crossing suggested by Moll’s map.

Roads evolve along desire lines of movement and historically the focus of all the other radial roads entering Tullamore was the river crossing. As there were no physical obstacles to interrupt the original line of the Puttaghan Road, we can only surmise as to the reasons for its discontinuance or abandonment.

Combining the Moll Atlas and Taylor and Skinner’s Map it would appear that the road originally ran past the ruined castle recorded in 1620 as being in the ownership of Sir John Moore and which was located somewhere in the Church Street/O’Carroll Street area. Indeed the castle may have originally been built to ensure the security of that ancient road.

In 1710 Sir John moved the family seat of the O’Moores from Croghan to Tullamore and built a new house somewhere near the old castle. It is possible but conjectural that some years later the Puttaghan road was decommissioned by Sir John to increase and protect the pleasure grounds around his new residence. Traffic from the north east would now meet a T-junction at the northern edge of his estate and travel westwards along the Philipstown- Clara road to meet with what was by then, the main Kilbeggan-Birr road and then proceed southwards along it to ford the river.

Though this diversion might have inconvenienced travellers, it should be noted that in 1786 Sir John’s successors rerouted the Tullamore- Birr road around their new demesne at Charleville for this very reason.

Tullamore c. 1912

The Old Bridge

What then was the function of the bridge between O’Connor Square and Church Street and which has been hidden out of sight for many years? The sharp cutting of the stonework of its central abutment suggests that it is not an ancient structure, but we have no precise information as to when it was erected; in particular we don’t know if it predates or succeeds the bridge to the west which was provided on the site of the former ford sometime around 1775.

The eminent chronicler of the history of the town, Dr. William Moran conjectures that  ‘It was probably about the time (early 18c.) the fair green and the cornmarket were opened, that the first bridge over the river was built to enable farmers from the south side of the river to bring their produce to market’. He then goes on to surmise that ‘Two short stretches of road, one each side of the river, connected this bridge with the already existing Philipstown-Birr road.The inconvenience of having to make this little detour, in order to cross the river by the bridge was soon felt; and the present bridge was built to replace the old one’

The provision of the western bridge to replace the ford at present day Bridge Street does not explain why the eastern bridge should have been enclosed and abandoned. It would still have been the more direct route between the two market places of the town and of greater convenience to cattle drovers and wheeled traffic.

The other eminent chronicler of the history of Tullamore Michael Byrne, suggests that property records indicate that the eastern bridge is of a later date than 1775  and was a private facility and an internal link within a single business premises-as was common in the other brewing, tanning and distilling businesses of the town that utilised the river as a source of water or for the discharge of effluent.

I think it is possible to argue that neither Dr. Moran nor Michael Byrne have fully explained the genesis of the bridge and that we have to go back to an earlier date to understand the reason for its location; whatever about the date of its construction.

I believe that, as in the case of its companion to the west, the natural extension of the radial line of the approach roads into Tullamore suggests that it may have been built on the site of an earlier ford-indeed that the entire river between both bridges may have originally been shallow enough to have been fordable. The drainage scheme of the early 1950s deepened this section of the river between Church Street and Bridge Street by removing the rocky outcrop which facilitated the fording of the river at this point.

If this earlier crossing point existed, it is probable that prior to the construction by Sir John Moore of his new house in 1710, all of the radial roads met together at a point to the south of the river. If I am correct in this, a triangular fair green with the fordable river running through and surrounded by houses on the three sides (Church Street being its northern side)  would have been the most likely original urban form.

The neighbouring villages, Killeigh, Clonygowan, Geashill and Clara, display such triangular layouts. As may be seen from comparative plans, the form and dimensions of their central village greens are almost identical to each other. (illus.). The village green which I submit may have been the form of Tullamore up to the end  of the 17th c. would have been similar to them in scale and shape.

It is possible also that Frankford (Kilcormac) originally formed around a Fair Green of similar scale though the triangular block is now much compromised by infill housing.

A New Theory

As ‘Tullymore’, Geashill, Killeigh, Clonygowan and Clara appear on Moll’s map of 1728 it is possible therefore that all five or even six villages all formed in the mid to late 16th c, as the plantation of Leix-Offaly began to transform the economy and settlement pattern of this particular area of the Midlands.

It is also possible that some time in the early 18th c. the direct route into Tullamore from the north east and which crossed the river to culminate in the fair green of Tullamore-today O’Connor Square- was enclosed into the estate of Sir John Moore and the connection discontinued.

Over the years, the triangular form of the original village green evolved into ‘The Market Place’ and later into Charleville Square. From 1740 onwards it was reduced in scale and became more rectangular and formal. Eventually the land on its northern side, between it and the river was enclosed to build the Market Hall in 1789.

Meanwhile, the lands on either side of the river at the location of the former crossing had come into the ownership of the Quaker Thomas Wilson, who together with his partner Thomas Pim conducted a wool combing and tannery business at the rear, backing on to the river. The lands then passed through the hands of Gideon Tabuteau and on to Joseph Manly who operated a brewery and maltings. They were later acquired by the Tarletons who operated a milling business. It is possible that any of these commercial families may have erected the private stone cut bridge.

I suggest therefore that the bridge behind the County Library is relatively new but that it is located on an earlier crossing point of the river which existed up to the end of the 17 th. century and which gave direct access from the farming hinterland on the north east to the central marketplace of Tullamore.

If I am right, the long promised and eagerly awaited opening to the public of the ‘Hidden Bridge’ will reestablish part of an ancient route which was once an integral part of the original village of ‘Tullymore’.