The Discovery of the Bronte Family Portrait in Hill House in Banagher, Ireland in 1914

The Offaly Heritage Office and Amanda Pedlow have been working with Dr Maebh O’ Regan of National College of Art and Design supporting a project with the Banagher Crafting Group exploring the Banagher and Bronte connections.  Some of you may have attended events at the recent That Beats Banagher Festival.

One of the outputs is a short fifteen-minute film about the discovery of the Bronte Family Portrait in Hill House in Banagher in 1914 and an interview with Dr Sarah Mouldon of the National Portrait Gallery London who care for it now.  Please see the video link for you tube of a very fine presentation adding greatly to our knowledge of how the portrait was received when first presented to the public in 1914. We attach some background material on the discovery of the painting at Hill House, Banagher and how it came to be there from an earlier Offaly History blog. Our thanks to Amanda Pedlow and all concerned with this fine and informative production.

This is one of the projects supported by Offaly County Council through the Creative Ireland programme.

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Richard Barry, Tullamore Celtic Literary Society, William Rooney and Arthur Griffith.  A contribution from Offaly History to mark the Decade of Centenaries and the death of Arthur Griffith, 12 August 1922.

Arthur Griffith died of a heart attack, or stroke, in Dublin on 12 August 1922. He was only 51 and had given a lifetime of service to his country at huge personal cost. To mark the centenary of his death we recall an important contribution from Richard Barry (1880–1978) in 1970 where he set out some of the cultural history of Tullamore in the period before the Rising and the War of Independence. Barry was greatly influenced by the writings of Arthur Griffith in the United Irishman and also by the earlier contributions of William Rooney (1873–1901). Rooney met Griffith probably in 1888 and both were members of the Parnellite Leinster Literary Society, and after 1892 of the Celtic Literary Society. When the United Irishman was launched in 1899, with Griffith as editor, William Rooney was the main contributor and, working together, developed Sinn Féin policy. Rooney’s early death at the age of 27 was a devasting blow to Griffith. William Murphy in the short life of Rooney in DIB cites Michael Collins as describing Rooney in terms normally associated with John the Baptist: ‘Rooney spoke as a prophet. He prepared the way and foresaw the victory’ (Path to freedom, 150).

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Going to UCD in 1978: the experience of one Tullamore man. By Declan McSweeney

I recently found myself reminiscing about the experience of moving from Coláiste Choilm, Tullamore, to University College Dublin in 1978.

In many ways, there was a sense of culture shock, it was like moving to a foreign country, though I suspect the transition would be less for today’s students.

I was moving from what was then a small secondary school where I knew all my classmates to a university which even then had around 10,000 students.

As you were in different classes with students for different subjects, it was obviously very difficult to get to know many of your classmates.

Nowadays it has over 33,000 students! 

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The Ross dwelling house at 6 High Street, Tullamore. Part of Tullamore 400th series, no.8 By Michael Byrne

The Ross dwelling house in High Street, Tullamore is a five-bay, two-storey, late-eighteenth-century house set over a high basement. It has a rough-cast walls and large windows with nineteenth-century glazing-bars. The round-headed doorcase, which is set up a flight of steps with moulding nosing, has a blocked-architrave dressing and a keystone. Fronting the house is a low wall with moulded coping and cast-iron railings. Beside the house is an elliptical-headed carriage-arch topped by a cornice. According to the Garner Tullamore: architectural heritage for An Foras Forbartha survey of 1979 the house has regional status (Garner, 1980). Thanks to Tanya and George Ross the house is now in excellent shape and one of the few town houses in Tullamore lived in as was intended by those who built it. The house is one of the few in Tullamore to be featured in national magazines and has been the subject of two articles.[1] The other two were Charleville Castle (Country Life, twice) and Shepherds Wood. The house is now called 6 High Street. In Griffith’s valuation of 1854 it was no. 45 High Street. This piece is also a contribution to the Heritage Council programme on living in towns.

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Recalling old Bridge Street, Tullamore. By Michael Byrne. Part of the Tullamore 400th series, no. 7. A further contribution to the Heritage Council programme on living in towns.

Bridge Street, that narrow street that we rush through so many times each week, but have to stop at lights whether on foot or by car (or bike), is as old as the town itself. Here is the river that divides the town, was a source of water and power for milling and, because of this, a base for settlement. The bridge may date back to the 1720s and was in use from that time. The township of Tullamore dates back to the 1620s at least, but it was another 100 years before we learn of the first leases granted by Lord Tullamoore for buildings where the Bridge House now stands. Further on can be seen a date-stone in Douglas Jewellers giving a date of 1747. It was also at this time that the Tormey and Flynn shop properties were built by Edward Briscoe. The site of the Bank of Ireland may have been occupied by cabins, but it was in the 1780s that the houses here were built and later on that it got its Portland stone façade. Bridge Street had only six leaseholders from Lord Tullamoore/ later the earls of Charleville. The sites were generous with a large frontage. That of the Bridge House was 55 ft, followed by that of Tyrrell (now Douglas and the Foxy Bean restaurant) followed by the Vaughan leasehold (where now is the vehicular and pedestrian entrance to the Bridge Centre). Across the street was the Ridley, Acres and Briscoe leaseholds.

This article is part of our contribution to the Heritage Council’s historic towns initiative and to quote:

Many of our city, town and village centres are historic places with their own distinct identities. Sustaining these is a complex process that in many cases involves the conservation and re-use of existing buildings, the care of public spaces and the provision of community facilities. The conservation and interpretation of this heritage makes our towns interesting, unique and attractive to residents and visitors. In support of the Town Centres First policy set out in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future (2020), the Historic Towns Initiative (HTI) is a joint undertaking by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Heritage Council which aims to promote the heritage-led regeneration of Ireland’s historic towns.

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That beats Banagher festival, 22-24 July 2022. From our correspondent James Scully

This year’s That Beats Banagher Festival will take place over next weekend Friday to Sunday, 22 to 24 July with a multiplicity of literary, heritage,  cultural and sporting events including a food and craft fair in the Bridge Barracks Yard at the West End on Saturday, 12 noon to 4.30 p.m. craft workshops, children’s events, water events, children’s outdoor cinema and other surprise events. We are a day early with the blog to help promote this interesting festival.

Book Launches 

The programme is particularly strong on literary events with the launch of two books on Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon in Ireland, the first called Arthur & Charlotte, by Pauline Clooney (published by Merdog) and the second, Charlotte Brontë: An Irish Odyssey by Michael O’ Dowd (published by Pardus Media). Pauline & Michael recently spoke with much acclaim at the prestigious Bradford Literary Festival under the title No Net Ensnares Me: Charlotte Brontë Abroad. The event will be held at 6.30 p.m. on Friday 22nd July in the Long Room in The Crank House.

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The burning of Tullamore courthouse, jail and barracks by the anti-Treaty IRA on 20 July 1922. By Michael Byrne.

Contributed by Offaly History to mark the Decade of Centenaries

We saw in previous articles in this series the lead up to the civil war notwithstanding the outcome of the general election in June in which the vote was substantially in favour of supporting the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. In Laois-Offaly all four pro-Treaty candidates were elected with Labour, who preferred to look at the social rather than the Treaty question securing almost fifty percent of the vote. But among the soldiers of the IRA, particularly in Offaly, there was a reluctance to accept the Treaty outcome. Some were of the view that the people would follow where the military led.

The burning of Tullamore courthouse, jail and the former military barracks (in Barrack Street, now Patrick Street) on 20 July 1922 was one of those momentous historic occasions the impact of which had an almost a numbing effect on the people of Tullamore and the county. The completion of these buildings in 1716, 1830 and 1835 were all major steps in the progress of Tullamore. Now all were destroyed in one night for no tangible military benefit by the departing Republican IRA.

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Healthcare in Ireland – pre and post Partition. By Sylvia Turner

Since the early 18th century public healthcare in Ireland had been funded by  voluntary donations. The first hospitals in Ireland were founded in the 1720s. The dispensary doctor was formally established by legislation in 1805 under an Act of Parliament.  The amount from voluntary donations was matched by county grand juries from local taxation. The Poor Law Act of 1838 improved the distribution of dispensaries and divided Ireland into 130 administrative units known as Poor Law Unions, with their own workhouse, governed by the Poor Law Guardians, who were elected by the local rate payers.

The Poor law unions at the end of the nineteenth century. Courtesy Wiki Commons

The dispensary doctor became the mainstay of healthcare in rural Ireland as many people lived too far from medical help in workhouses. The position of the dispensaries was clarified in the 1851 Medical Charities Act, which introduced a state-funded dispensary system to provide free medical aid to the poor. These were to be funded from local taxation and were subsidised by the Poor Law Commission. To attend the dispensary, a person needed to have a colour-coded ticket, dispensed by the committee. The Poor Law Commission was replaced by the Local Government Board in 1872.

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Birr Barracks burnt 100 years ago on 14 July 1922. By Stephen Callaghan. An Offaly and the Decade of Centenaries feature.

Today 14 July 2022 marks one of the most significant centenaries of the year in County Offaly, the burning of Birr Barracks in Crinkill. While the barracks started to go into decline towards the start of the twentieth century, it was still a vital provider of local trade. When the town council requested Lord Roberts station an infantry regiment in the barracks in 1897, local trade from the barracks was valued at £40,000 or around €3.5 million today. While not totally abandoned, troops were stationed in the barracks during the Second Boer War and during the WW1.

On duty at Birr Barracks about 1910

With the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the evacuation the barracks was handed over to the National Army, Commandant General Michael McCormack taking command of the barracks. The last of the British Army to leave had been a detachment of the Northamptonshire Regiment, which stayed to oversee an auction of government property, which ultimately never took place. The deport staff of the Leinster Regiment, had left several days before, bound for Colchester, which would act as the depot until the regiment was disbanded in June 1922.

Now in the hands of the National Army, the barracks was to act as the headquarters for the 3rd Southern Division. As the rift in the army occurred those in favour of the Anglo-Irish Treaty left the barracks leaving behind the anti-treaty forces, which sealed the faith of the barracks.

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Building Offaly’s courthouses and prisons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Dr Richard Butler will showcase the building of Offaly’s courthouses and prisons in the years between roughly 1750 and 1850 in a lecture at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore and via Zoom on Tuesday 12 July 2022. The presentation will place individual buildings in Tullamore, Birr, Daingean and elsewhere in the context of changing political and social events throughout Ireland in these years, highlighting local agendas alongside those of the British administration in Ireland. Illustrated with historic architectural drawings, old and new photographs, the lecture will also highlight schemes that were never built as it traces the ways in which the appearance of Offaly’s towns was transformed in these years by new public architecture. The lecture will incorporate new research on Offaly’s history undertaken in recent years by historians based in the county such as Michael Byrne alongside volumes such as Andrew Tierney’s new Buildings of Ireland guide for Central Leinster and the speaker’s recently published book, Building the Irish Courthouse and Prison: A Political History (Cork University Press, 2020).

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