Flann O’Brien and the Tullamore Connection. Offaly Literary Associations, no 5. Michael Byrne.

The flat countryside around Tullamore left a deep impression on the future writer’s mind. And when, 20 years later, he wrote an existentialist murder mystery called The Third Policemen, set mainly in a nether afterworld, he used Offaly as his model.

Best of Myles OHFlann O’Brien (1911-66) was the well-known Irish novelist and political commentator. He was born in County Tyrone as Brian O’Nolan and raised mostly in Dublin. The writer spent about four years in Tullamore where his father, Michael V. Nolan, worked with the Revenue keeping an eye to the duty or taxes to be collected on Tullamore whiskey when it was removed from the bonded warehouse. From 1940 until his death, Flann wrote a political column called ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ for The Irish Times under the pseudonym of Myles na Gopaleen; his biting, satiric commentaries made him the conscience of the nation. As Flann O’Brien, he published three novels, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), The Dalkey Archive (1964), and The Third Policeman (1967). He also published a play, Faustus Kelly (1943). The Third Policeman is now considered his best and it was possibly in Tullamore he got his poky and spooky ideas for this quirky book which after a struggle in the late 1930s was published in 1967 after his death. Continue reading

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Local Government in Offaly: The county council and marking 120 years of local democracy. Michael Byrne

 

Poor Law Unions from 1838
The development of local government institutions in County Offaly can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century when poor law unions under boards of guardians were established at Roscrea, Birr, Mountmellick, Edenderry and Tullamore. Each union had its workhouse financed by the striking of a poor law rate. The board of guardians, most of whom were elected by the rate payers, were entrusted with the management of the workhouse, but subject to detailed control from a central authority, the poor law commissioners. Continue reading

Saint Columba, June 9th and the monastery of Durrow . ‘To every cow her calf, so to every book its copy.’ By Sarah McCann

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Columba, son of Eithne, daughter of Mac Naue, and Fedelmid mac Ferguso, is one of the most important Irish saints, and the strength of his saint’s cult in the centuries after his death on June 9th, 597 attests to this. Columba, or Colmcille, meaning the dove of the church, was born around 520 as a prominent member of the Cenél Conaill, This was a branch of the northern Uí Néill, a powerful dynastic grouping tracing its origins back to Niall of the Nine Hostages and based in north-western Ireland (Tír Chonaill takes its name from the Cenél Conaill). Columba’s influence extended into political matters as well as the religious sphere, but he is remembered as a monastic saint above all else. Like most early Irish saints, he was never formally canonised.

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OFFALY’S LITERARY ASSOCIATIONS: No. 4, Anthony Trollope and Banagher. Michael Byrne

020a - Banagher by George Petrie 1821
Banagher in 1820 from a drawing by George Petrie with the old bridge, barracks and mill.

Banagher, County Offaly has associations with two well-known writers of the nineteenth century – Anthony Trollope and Charlotte Bronte. Up to recent years nothing by way of notice of this was to be found in Banagher, but that has all changed as Banagher, now hard pressed along its main street, looks again to embrace tourism in a way that it did so well in the nineteenth century and in the 1960s. The rescue of Crank House was a great feat, but the challenges are growing.

Many have tackled Trollope’s Life, but none immersed himself so much in Banagher as the late James Pope Hennessy. John McCourt in his 2015 study of Trollope Writing the Frontier: Anthony Trollope between Britain and Ireland ‘offers an in-depth exploration of Trollope’s time in Ireland as a rising Post Office official, contextualising his considerable output of Irish novels and short stories and his ongoing interest in the country, its people, and its always complicated relationship with Britain’.

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Sir Charles Parsons of Birr and his company C. A. Parsons and Company in Newcastle, by Ruth Baldesera

Ruth Baldesera is Quality Engineer at CAP Works, Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, where Sir Charles Parsons (1854-1931), son of the 3rd Earl of Rosse, founded his world famous engineering works. Sir Charles is best-known for inventing the steam turbine which revolutionised marine transportation and the mass production of electricity. Over the past few years Ruth has spearheaded a heritage project in Newcastle dedicated to the achievements of Sir Charles Parsons and in this article she outlines the scope and outcome of the project.

 

The Factory

Sir Charles Algernon Parsons “…the first Engineer to use a steam turbine to produce large amounts of power for electricity generation and driving ships”.

In 1889, Charles Parsons established C. A. Parsons & Company in Heaton, Newcastle, to produce turbo generators to his design. In the same year he set up the Newcastle and District Electric Lighting Company (DisCo) and in 1890, DisCo opened Forth Banks Power Station, the first power station in the world to generate electricity using steam turbo generators. Continue reading

A whiskey distilleries trail for Tullamore: a first draft. Michael Byrne

Tullamore is still to this day a vibrant and friendly Irish market town which has never lost sight of its commercial heritage. It’s one of the very few Irish towns that still preserves that friendly main street social-commercial atmosphere that I spoke about earlier. Today, The Bridge House is one of the largest town centre hotels in the midlands and it is really great to see the way that the modern owners show their appreciation of the past by maintaining the look and utility of the building facade.
With Egan’s and Tullamore D.E.W.‘s combined influence still so visible in today’s town, surely it is only a matter of time before a whiskey savvy historian develops a Tullamore Town Whiskey Walking Tour. (Stuart McNamara in a recent blog on Egan’s whiskey).

Tullamore has its town guides and an app but, as yet, no whiskey trail. What with over 50,000 visitors to Tullamore DEW Old Bonded Warehouse every year it would be good to assist those visitors to see other parts of Tullamore connected with the story of Tullamore’s whiskey traditions. The commercial heritage of Tullamore is closely linked with the town’s malting, brewing and distilling history.

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The 100th anniversary of the death of Tullamore’s Henry Egan, major employer, first chairman of Offaly County Council and an icon of Tullamore’s whiskey traditions. By Michael Byrne

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Henry Egan (1847-1919, was chair of Offaly County Council from 1899 to 1910. He died in 1919. He was succeeded in managing the business by his son Pat who was a TD for Laois Offaly in 1923-27, chair of Tullamore Urban District Council, 1915-24 and the county council 1928-34.

Henry Egan of The Hall (now the Tullamore Town Hall) died on 18 May 1919, one hundred years ago, and on 18 May 2019 his contribution to the economy and to public life in Tullamore will be marked with recollections of his life and times and the launching of a new brand of whiskey in the Egan Collection. The great firm of P. & H. Egan went into voluntary liquidation in 1968 having been in business in Tullamore and the midlands since 1852. Today it is still recalled as the great shop, grocery and department store in Bridge Street where the Bridge House pub, restaurant and hotel are now located. The heritage of the firm in grain handling, malting and wine, brewing and wine and spirits is  today celebrated in its association with the new Irish whiskey. The two largest native firms in Tullamore up to the 1960s, Egan’s and Williams’, now have whiskeys associated with them that are known throughout the world. It is something that is distinctively Tullamore and it sends out the message that our midlands heritage counts and that Offaly people can be proud of the commercial heritage of Tullamore and the midlands in the post-Famine years of recovery and up to the 1960s.

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Tullamore CBS/Coláiste Choilm: Remembering Brother ‘Spud’ Murphy, the collected writings of former students, and a reunion dinner of the 1969 and 1970 Leaving Certificate class for 7 June 2019. By Michael Byrne

It is good to see an initiative on the part of Coláiste Choilm, Tullamore (1912- in progress) and, in particular, Ray O’Donovan and his team of students building a special collection of books in the school library written by former students of the school. It will throw up surprises not just for the current cohort, but indeed for old boys as well. The collection was unveiled in the school on Friday evening 17 May by Conor Brady who was a pupil in the  school until the untimely death of his father in 1962 and his subsequent departure for the Cistercian College, Roscrea. Conor has always been a great champion of Tullamore.
The first school history was published in 1962 but has not been updated. It will be a difficult task to do other than list all the students and teachers. Giving a flavour of the school as distinct from a recital of classes over the years can be contentious. The formation of this library is a step in the right direction. Collecting the memories of those who were in the school in the 1950s and 1960s would be good.

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Lots of 1969 faces there from a pic taken perhaps in 1967 and arranged by the only school photographer Sean Breatnach, back left. The recently deceased John O’Beirne second left in front row.

Reunion of the boys of the 1969 and 1970 classes
It was Pat Hennessy formerly of Patrick Street, Tullamore (retired from Foreign Affairs and ambassador to several countries including Israel, Italy and UAE), who recently suggested that a get together of the boys of the 1969 and 1970 Leaving Certificate classes be held by way of a 50th anniversary. A date has now been fixed for the Tullamore Court Hotel on Friday 7 June at 7 p.m.

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Jimmy Flannery causes my grandfather to blow a fuse! The story of how Rural Electrification almost came to our home in Clerhane, west Offaly. By Pádraig Turley `And the light shineth in darkness; And the darkness comprehended it not.` St. John ch 1,v,3

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 Canon J.M Hayes switching on the first rural scheme in Bansha county Tipperary.

This is a story from my childhood in the 1950s. We lived on a farm in a place called Clerhane about two miles north of the village of Shannonbridge. We did not have electricity or indeed running water. The Rural Electrification Scheme in county Offaly which lasted from 1947 until 1962, was very much in vogue and was a topic of everyday conversation in the early 50s. Our farm was contiguous to the river Shannon, which had been the source of electricity since the opening of the Shannon Hydroelectric Scheme in 1929 by W.T. Cosgrove, President of the Executive. However, notwithstanding this, it was remote to our lives. Continue reading

Ballyduff Church, Tullamore where mass is again celebrated after a gap of over 200 years. By Offaly History

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John Flanagan, builder overseeing the restoration work at Ballyduff

The old Catholic church at Ballyduff was erected in 1775 and was the first post-Reformation church in Tullamore parish. It was erected in the remote townland of Ballyduff near the centre of Tullamore parish to minimise upset to the authorities at a time when the Penal Laws were still in force. It appears to have been on the boundary of the Coote estate at Srah and that of the Herbert estate (later Norbury) at Durrow –again designed so as to minimize upset to the authorities.

Now the ruin old church is the location for the celebration of a vigil mass early on Easter Sunday morning.

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