Traditional Architecture in Offaly: History, Materials and Furniture, 1800 to Present Day

Kitchen, parlour and bedroom – transforming a house into a home

Traditional Architecture in Offaly: History, Materials and Furniture by Rachel McKenna (Offaly County Council, 2022) is a wonderful new addition to the growing collection of quality publications on the county of Offaly and its place in Irish heritage. For long neglected by the travel writers who took the coastal route the county has made up for that oversight since the late 1970s with a whole series of publications. The writer is the county architect and well placed to observe the changing scene and to appreciate what was distinctive about the habitations of the ordinary people (the third and fourth class housing of the 1841-61 censuses) and what has survived to the present day. As the CE of Offaly County Council has written in the Preface

Continue reading

Have an ‘Offaly History’ Christmas with over a dozen new books this year

It has been a good year for new publications contributing to the history of County Offaly and helping us to get to know ourselves and our place better. When the annual report of the Tullamore Credit Union is dropped in the door you know Christmas is close. Seeing the cover and that the credit union is now sixty years old set us thinking of phases in our history. The year 1923 marked the end of the civil war. After a period of growth from 1891 to 1918 things got difficult. You could write off 1923–63 in terms of the economic engine. It was mostly switched off with exceptions in Tullamore Yarns, the Bacon Factory, Tullamore and the Williams and Egan businesses serving the midlands. The emerging Bord na Mona and ESB were providing jobs in west Offaly from the 1950s and east Offaly later, but it was the 1960s before a general ‘all boats’ lift up occurred. Equally you could say that since September 2001 (and the mobile phone) we have been living with anxiety which seems to grow every year especially since Brexit 2016 and now the war and climate change. Not to mention all the things we have to do online to comply with the requirements of banks and government. These books are all available from Offaly History, Bury Quay (and online http://www.offalyhistory) and our friends in Midland Books, Tullamore.

Continue reading

‘It will last for centuries’:  St. Joseph’s Convent, Tullamore

Fergal MacCabe

In 1840, the scaffolding began to come down to reveal the new convent and school of the Sisters of Mercy on Bury Quay, today Convent Road.

With the building of the County Gaol in 1830, the County Courthouse in 1835 and the Union Workhouse in 1839-41, Tullamore was rapidly acquiring substantial civic and social buildings which were adding to its prestige and promoting its new role as the capital of King’s County.

But as yet, no buildings of a religious or educational nature which might contribute equally significantly to the architectural character of the town centre had emerged. The Catholic chapel of 1802 on its backland site off Harbour Street was a relatively modest structure without a frontage presence onto a main street. Charleville School built in 1811 at the junction of Henry Street and Church Street exhibited a well-mannered but unassuming appearance. Though a most impressive structure, the siting of Francis Johnston’s St Catherine’s on Hop Hill rendered it remote from the daily life of the town.

Continue reading

Who is the Birr poet John De Jean Frazer? By Terry Moylan

This question has popped up recently arising from the launch last week in Birr by Offaly History of a book containing the complete poems of John De Jean Frazer. The Tullamore launch is Thursday 24 Nov. at Offaly History Centre at 5 p.m. so the editors may get to meet you there. You are welcome to attend.

John De Jean Frazer was a poet and cabinet-maker, the son of a Presbyterian Church minister from Birr, then known as Parsonstown. He was also a quite accomplished artist.

While his exact date of birth is not known, it is pretty certain he was born in 1804 and died a young man in 1852.

He was believed to from Huguenot stock, this belief coming from the use of `De Jean` in his name. We are not sure of this, and certainly a recent DNA test by one of his descendants cast doubt on this, as it showed no French DNA but rather Scottish. Frazer is certainly a Scottish name and is quite common in Ulster. His being from a Presbyterian family tends to make me believe that a Scottish ancestry is more likely to be correct. The `De Jean` in his name could be explained by possible sympathy with the ideals of the French revolution.

Continue reading

Charles W. Kelly of New York remembers Birr in the early 1900s. From the Offaly History Collection and thanks to Offaly people who emigrated many years ago for these recollections of their native place

I write in the hope that you may find space to record my memories of the town of Birr fifty or sixty years ago. The following recollections are all from memory only – no notes – and I am sure a lot of boys and girls I knew will get a thrill.

Birr, as you know, is situated in the South-West of Offaly, known then as King’s County, near the borders of Leix County – known then as Queen’s and Tipperary County. It is about one mile and a half in length and one mile in width.

It was a military town. The Military Barracks were in the village of Crinkle, which is about one-half mile outside the town. The main thoroughfare was from the high path of Drumbawn to the New Line. You passed Moorpark Street, Bridge, Market Square, Main Street, Duke Square, Cumberland, Melsop and Townsend Street, – that is the length. Now the breadth was from Clonoghill Cemetery through Newbridge or Crinkle and the Military Road, John’s Mall, John’s Place, The Green and some of the Lusmagh Road to the back of the Castle.

[On Friday and Saturday 18 and 19 Nov. 2022 the annual heritage seminar will be held in Birr. The programme started on Friday at Birr Library at 5 p.m. with the launch of the collected poems of J De Jean Frazer and will be followed on Saturday with walks in the morning and talks in Oxmantown Hall (1889) in the afternoon. The exile here was Charles Kelly who wrote to the Offaly Chronicle from New York in 1952. It appears that his children moved to the United States. These memoirs give an insight into life that is so valuable. Well done to the Birr Annual Review who have published many such memoirs since 2001. Back issues of the Birr Annual Review have been uploaded to http://www.offalyhistory.com Ed]

Continue reading

John De Jean Frazer Inspired Me. By Laurel Jean Grube

Friday 18 November at 5 p.m. at Birr Library, Wilmer Road will see the launch of The Complete Poems of John De Jean Frazer, edited by Padraig Turley, Terry Moylan and Laurel Grube. This is the first collected edition of Frazer’s poems ever undertaken and represents a major commitment of time and expertise by the three editors. In this the 170th anniversary of the Birr poet’s death it is appropriate that the the launch be held in the town library in Birr. Our thanks to the editors, to Creative Ireland and to Offaly County Council (ed.) Laurel Grube writes:

As a young girl, I listened to stories about my third great-grandfather, John De Jean Frazer, and I felt a connection to him. I wanted to know him, and my curiosity has brought me to Ireland for the book launching of The Complete Poems of John De Jean Frazer, edited by Padraig Turley, Terry Moylan, and myself. Frazer from the Little Brosna, in County Offaly, to myself from the Mill Creek, a little stream in Ocean County, New Jersey.

My father encouraged my interest in our history by reading from the family history book he wrote in 1941. There he mentioned John De Jean Frazer in one small paragraph, but it caught my attention.

“John Walsh married Mary Ann Frazer, daughter of John Frazer, who wrote many poems for the Irish people, under the name John De Jean, one being published in 1851.”

Continue reading

The Irish Land Commission Records, 1881-1992: the most important state body operating out of rural Ireland. When will it be open for research?

First established under the 1881 Land Act, the Irish Land Commission began as a regulator of fair rents, but soon evolved into the great facilitator of land transfer. However, over emphasis on these aspects of its work can sometimes camouflage its equal significance as the main instigator and architect of rural reform. There is no doubt that for most of its existence from 1881 to 1992 the Land Commission was the most important state body operating out of rural Ireland where its long tentacles spread into every nook and cranny.  [Come to Professor Dooley’s lecture on Monday in Tullamore – see details below.

Continue reading

Serious fires at Birr Castle in 1832 and 1919. Serious Tourism now. Specially contributed to mark the decade of centenaries in County Offaly

Two serious fires took place at Birr Castle within the hundred years from 1832 to 1919. Thankfully there has been nothing like it since and the castle was fortunate to survive the burnings of country houses in the county in the period from June 1922 to April 1923. Birr Castle is the only large house in the county to have survived in the same family since the 1620s. Its Gothic exemplar Charleville Castle, Tullamore also survived the destruction of the Civil War period. Both houses were occupied by the Free State Army from late July 1922.

The fire of 1832, ninety years earlier, was perhaps the most destructive and in its aftermath Laurence Parsons, the second earl of Rosse took the opportunity to add a third storey to the great house that had been substantially rebuilt in 1801–03. Its comrade in Tullamore is dated 1800 to 1812, or 1809 the grand opening – if not quite finished.

Continue reading

Clara’s contribution to the birth of radio. By Michael Goodbody

#DecadeofCentenaries @DeptCultureIRL @DepartmentofCultureIRL Tourism-Culture-Gaeltacht @offalyheritage @offalylibraries

The B.B.C.’s centenary celebrations and John Bowman’s recent feature on RTÉ’s Sunday morning broadcast which included a recording of my late father, Llewellyn Marcus Goodbody, bring to mind the important part that Clara played in the development of radio, the scientific discovery which transformed communications and is now part of everyday life. Without the backing of Irish capital it is possible that Guglielmo Marconi’s invention would never have got off the ground.

Continue reading

The Mulock family of Bellair/Baile Ard, Ballycumber, County Offaly. By Eamonn Larkin

Specially contributed to mark the Decade of Centenaries in Offaly #DecadeofCentenaries @DeptCultureIRL @DepartmentofCultureIRL Tourism-Culture-Gaeltacht @offalyheritage @offalylibraries

Bellair or Ballyard is in the Parish of Lemanaghan, in the Barony of Garrycastle and has an area of 1,198 acres and borders Hall, Westmeath in the north, Cappanalosset in the west, Moorock to the east and Springpark to the south. The dominant feature is the Hill of Bellair, which is visible from adjoining counties. The most striking feature of the Hill is the wonderful plantation of Beech and Fir trees which were planted on the instructions of Rev. Doctor Mulock. The Mulock or Mullock family were not planters, but were Irish landowners, who originated in the North of Ireland in the lands of Dal Araide.

Continue reading