Marking the Wonderful World and Tragic Death of Mary Ward on the 150th anniversary of Ireland’s first recorded road fatality in Birr in 1869.

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How many people have died in road fatalities since the first to occur in Ireland at Birr in county Offaly (then known as King’s County) on 31 August 1869, just 150 years ago next week? Few of us have not been touched by some sad incident involving collision with a motor vehicle. That in Birr involved a steam-powered carriage possibly constructed by the fourth earl of Rosse, a brother of Charles Parsons, later famous for his steam turbine. Perhaps the making of the engine was the work of the two brothers. The fatal accident occured at the corner of Oxmantown Mall and the junction with Cumberland/Emmet Street near the church and close close to where the theatre is today. It was here that the young Mary Ward, then aged 42, a woman of talent and a mother of a large family (11 pregnancies), was killed on the last day of August 150 years ago.

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In search of bog memories By Emily Toner, Clara Bog Visitor Centre, Monday 19 August at 2-4 p.m.

 

As a Ferbane student wrote in the School Folklore Collection: “There’s a large amount of bogland in the locality round here.” County Offaly is a place covered in peatlands–more than a third of the county was classified as peat soil by in the National Soil Survey of Ireland published by Teagasc in 2003. Offaly is also the county with the highest proportion of homes using those bogs for turf. At 37.9% of households heated with turf according to 2016 Central Statistics Office data, Offaly outcompetes the next county highest county, Roscommon, where 26.6% of households have the turf fire burning. The prevalence of bogs and bog-connected people is what brought me to live in Tullamore for a year.

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Heritage Events from Offaly History 18-31 August 2019

Yes we are extending our events to conclude on 31 August with the Mary Ward book launch about which more in our blogs of 24 and 31 August. In the meantime you
can download a PDF from Offaly County Council Heritage Officer Amanda Pedlow of all the county events. Lots of things including book launches in Geashill and Banagher. Read below about the very special Mary Ward book launch and commemoration in Birr on 31 August. It will be available at the launch and from 1 September at our bookshop. Order now so as not to be disappointed. Here we look at events being organised by Offaly History and with a note from Amanda Pedlow, county heritage officer.

Old Industries of Tullamore (see the blog on Tanyard Lane on 10 August).
Sunday 18 August at 2.30pm from the library in O’Connor Square
The tour includes talks by Noel Guerin and Dan Geraghty on the Tullamore Bacon Factory; John Flanagan on the Tanyard Lane industries from the 1960s; and Michael Byrne on tanning, malting and brewing.
Venue: Tullamore Central Library, O’Connor Square, Tullamore
Organiser: Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society
Email: info@offalyhistory.com
Telephone: 0579321421
Website: offalyhistory.com

RM 48676 (21)
The New Offaly Archives Building
at Unit 1F, Axis Business Park.
The good news is that the new archives building is completed and building costs and fees will come in at about €600,000.

 

The first tour of the recently completed building will include a talk by archivist Lisa Shortall, ‘Introduction to the new Offaly Archives’.
Venue: Offaly Archives, Unit 1F, Axis Business Park, Clara Rd, Tullamore
Organiser: Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society
Email: info@offalyhistory.com
Telephone: 0579321421
Website: offalyhistory.com
Date Start Time End Time
Mon 19th 11:00 12:00
Mon 19th 19:00 20:00
(Suitable for Children under 12) (Wheelchair Access – Full) (Car Parking Available) (Booking Required) (Free)

The archival records will be moved to the new archive
TOUR, EXHIBITION

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Heritage week at Durrow in 2017

Offaly History Library & Exhibition CentreThe tour will be of the library, exhibitions and history shop of the society. The Society premises was opened in 1992 and its holdings, especially the library, have been expanding ever since. The book collection is upwards of 20,000 volumes of which 12,000 are distinct titles. The maps and photographs are also extensive. Some artefacts are collected but these have to be small given size and expertise constraints. The archives collections will be moved out to our new building from September 2019. The lecture hall is much used and seats 80 to 100.
The society’s bookshop has over 2,000 history titles of which 150 are new books on Offaly History for sale in the shop and online.
Venue: Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore
Organiser: Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society
Email: info@offalyhistory.com

004 Offaly Exhibition & Research 1998Centre

Telephone: 0579321421
Website: offalyhistory.com
Date Start Time End Time
Tue 20th 14:00 16:00
Thu 22nd 14:00 16:00
(Suitable for Children under 12) (Wheelchair Access – Full) (Car Parking Available) (Free)
OUTDOORS AND ACTIVE, TOUR

The Castles of West Offaly
James Scully and Kieran Keenaghan will lead tours of castles at Coole, Kilcolgan, Clonlyon and Lisclooney. Booking required.
Venue: The Crank House, Banagher
Organiser: Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society
Email: info@offalyhistory.com
Telephone: 0579321421
Website: offalyhistory.com
Date Start Time End Time
Sat 24th 10:00 16:00

Castle Heritage Event 24th August 2019 to include Balliver House (Castle Iver)

There will be a presentation on these matters ,on Balliver House (Castle Iver) itself and the role of the Armstrongs on the forecourt of Balliver House Saturday 24th 1030 am

Baliver House Banagher

Thanks to Mary and John Naughton and family Balliver House, formerly known as Castle Iver, is a substantial mid eighteenth-century property with gate lodge, walled garden and farm complex contained within its extensive grounds. The house itself is impressive with full-height bows flanking the central entrance of finely tooled limestone. Though the house was adapted over the passing of time, seen by the glazed and timber porch on the east elevation and large fixed windows to the ground floor, it also retains many original and early features which are typical of the Neo-classical idiom, examples being the curved timber sash windows to the flanking bows. Balliver House, as well as its associated structures, makes an architecturally important contribution to the heritage of County Offaly.

Thanks to De Renzy MSS and Maps c1620s we now know that the townlands of Balliver ,Park,Attinkee , Guernal,Carrick,Kilcamin, Crancreagh etc were all included in Lomcluna ui Flatile (Lumcloon of the Flatterys) . Lomcluna features a number of times in the annals but until now it was incorrectly assumed that Lomcluna Ui Flatile was the townland of Lumcloon ie 2 mile on the Cloghan Road towards Tullamore.. Lumcloon Powerstation etc.
The De Renzy maps show that some of the lands of Lomcluna Ui Flatile -including Balliver – were granted to Arthur Blundell in the Plantations of the 1620s.(De Renzy regrets that “half appertains to MacCoghlan). Blundell was the first sovereign of the Borough of Banagher, he built Fort Falkland and played an active role in local affairs for almost 30 years.
De Renzy mentions Lomcluna a number of times in his letters
“…And Lomcluna na Flaitire being one of the best and greatest plowlands in that countrie….”
One of the De Renzy maps show the 13 plots of land which Banagher Burgessmen owned in Lomcluna.
The MacCoghlans were the chieftains who controlled the Barony of Garycastle for several hundred years . However genealogists say that MacCoghlans “derive their descent and surname from Coghlan son of Flatile”.

“Gillacainnigh Ua Flaithfhileadh Lord of Delvin Beathra (Garycastle) was slain by his brother Aedh ,son of Cochlan Ua Flaithfhileadh” Annals of the Four Masters 1089

Queen Elizabeth granted pardons to several Flatterys for their role in rebellion – swordsmen from Lomcluna !!

 

OUTDOORS AND ACTIVE, TOUR

Durrow High Cross and church 25 3 12 (12)
A Tour of the Cemeteries of Durrow
This tour will explore the cemetery at Durrow Abbey, as well as the nearby Catholic and the Church of Ireland cemeteries. Readings have been done by members of the society over the years and many are on our website Roots Ireland.
Venue: Durrow High Cross, Durrow Abbey Estate, Durrow
Organiser: Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society
Email: info@offalyhistory.com
Telephone: 0579321421
Website: offalyhistory.com
Date Start Time End Time
Sun 25th 14:30 16:30
(Suitable for Children under 12) (Wheelchair Access – Full) (Car Parking Available) (Free)

Amanada Pedlow, Offaly County Council Heritage office writes:

We have 9 days of Heritage Week starting tomorrow so I am encouraging you to get out and explore the talks, walks and events that communities, individuals and organisations have put on for the week. Some updates below – for the full listing of events see http://www.heritageweek.ie and there are still county brochures available in the libraries.

Carrigeen Farmhouse tour (near Five Alley ) on Saturday at 4.00pm and Monday at 11.00am – there was only an email address provided so if you would like to place on this tour of this very special interior with its original fixtures and fittings please call Anne-Maria Egan on 087 6989650

Gloster Arch Folly and Demesne – Tuesday 20 August – 6pm to 7.30pm
There is an error with the phone number for Tom Alexander so if you have got stuck do try 087 2342135. The conservation of the folly is complete and the evenings at Gloster are always special to see the landscape and house too.

Offaly Archives Tour 11am and 7pm on Monday 19 August – book directly with Offaly History 057 9321421 / info@offalyhistory.com. This is a nationally significant project developing the county archive and well worth getting the insight.

Tour of Raised Bogs in the LIFE project bus tour on Thursday 22 August 10am to 3pm – no charge – book direction with Rona Casey 076 1002627 ronan.casey@chg.gov.ie

NEW EVENT – The Importance of Raheenmore Bog – 22 August, 8pm – 9:30pm, hosted by the Living Bog, Kilclonfert Community Centre
Find out why Raheenmore Bog SAC, 5km from Daingean is one of Europe’s most important raised bogs with an evening at Kilclonfert Community Centre featuring Ronan Casey (The Living Bog) & other guests. Raheenmore Bog is home to some of Europe’s rarest species. Designated as a SAC by the Irish State & a Natura 2000 site by the EU, it is one of the finest remaining examples of a relatively intact raised bog, with deep peat & extensive areas of wet, living bog. It’s being restored by The Living Bog, who are working with the local community on raising awareness of the bog. Find out why it is one of the best examples of Europe’s oldest near-natural eco-systems. Refreshments served.

 

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A London editon of Mary Ward’s, The Microscope

Mary Ward’s Sketches with the microscope, reprinted by Offaly History
Launch and commemoration on Saturday 31 August 2019 at 3.30 p.m. Price of book €20. Very limited run, so book your copy now. It’s in full colour hardback, a delight for all the family of all ages.
Born in Ferbane to the King family of Ballylin, and cousin of the 3rd Earl of Rosse, Mary Ward became a well-known artist, naturalist, astronomer and microscopist. To mark the launch of the reprint of Mary Ward’s first publication ‘Sketches with the Microscope’, Offaly History, Birr Historical Society and Birr Castle invite you to a special afternoon to commemorate her life and work on the 150th anniversary of her death, 31 August 2019. Beginning at the Castle end of Oxmantown Mall, Brian Kennedy of Birr Historical Society will lead a walking tour marking the last journey Mary made from the Castle to the site of the fatal steam-car accident near St Brendan’s Church, the first recorded road fatality in the world. The tour will continue to Emmet Square and to the former premises of F. H. Sheilds the printers who published a limited run of 200 copies of ‘Sketches with the Microscope’ in 1857. Brian will continue to St Brendan’s graveyard and to the Rosse vault where Mary Ward is buried before leading the group to the Courtyard Café in Birr Castle where Offaly History’s new reprint will be launched with the Earl and Countess of Rosse and members of the Ward family of Castle Ward in attendance. The reprint is a faithful full-colour facsimile of the original publication and features new introductory essays by Michael Byrne and John Feehan.

Jacket Ward

Tanyard Lane, Tullamore: a hive of economic activity. Michael Byrne

Offaly History has organised a walking tour of Tanyard Lane on Sunday 18 August as part of Heritage Week at 2.30 pm meeting at the Library. The place has changed over 270 years right up to 25 July when the new Lidl store opened largely on site of the laundry, glass factory/wholesale and part of the creamery/bacon factory – the latter all post 1907.
Passing through Tanyard Lane, Tullamore today is to see almost total change since the 1970s. At that time it was full of old malting and grain stores the last of which to be built was also the first ferro-concrete building in Tullamore and one of the earliest in Ireland – that of Tarleton’s and now Oisin O’Sullivan Furniture, in about 1908. Beside it is another later grain store and now Robbins Limited of 1901. Below them is the plumbing store of zz, also housed in a former grain building. These are the only old buildings left now of an industrial legacy stretching back to 1750. Older photgraphs show the malting houses there with their louver chimneys (4).

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Vintage Week before it was Vintage! Military sports and spectacles at Birr Barracks in August 1919. By Stephen Callaghan

For the past 51 years Birr Vintage Week has commenced around the month of August, with only in recent years it taking in the August bank holiday weekend. While the festival is in its 51st year, 100 years ago on 4 August 1919 the army at Birr Barracks had organised a program of military sports and spectacles. An  antecedent of Birr Vintage Week perhaps?!

The events took place on the military training grounds adjacent to the barracks, the ‘Fourteen Acres’. The events kicked off at two o’clock. While the weather was not desirable it held dry until the events had finished up. The program was organised and promoted by Lieutenant Noel Edward Fasken, while Lieutenant Leslie M. Codner was responsible for the ground arrangements. Both officers were members of the Royal North Devon Hussars. The day’s program consisted of 26 events which lasted beyond six o’clock. While the barracks occasionally held large events and concerts, one of this scale was likely not seen before.

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Looking south-east from cemetery road towards Leinster Villas where the military air field was located. (Photo: Stephen Callaghan)

One of the main spectacles was the air display by Captain Brooks. ‘His daring feats in the air were witnessed with interest and admiration, and showed the possibilities of a flying machine in the hand of a capable pilot.’ Captain Brooks was likely piloting an Avro 504k, a two seat trainer biplane. The airfield in Birr had only been constructed in February and consisted of a detachment of six aircraft from 106 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The airfield was dismantled in October of that same year 1919..

Men under the command of Second Lieutenant E. A. Grainger and Sergeant W. A. J. Leonard enacted a battlefield play, entitled ‘The Sacrifice’. The demonstration was reminiscent of a scene from the Great War. It was apparently not without a sense of humour! The centre of the sports ground was chosen for this display, it had been mocked up to look like ‘anywhere on the battlefield’; there were sandbagged trenches, mines, and a ‘shattered’ house. The house had been temporarily erected for the event. It is quite likely that the sandbagged trenches were in fact the practice trenches dug to training men during the Great War. These trenches were excavated during August 2018.

Second Lieutenant Grainger took command of about twelve British soldiers, while Sergeant Leonard played the role of a German officer and took command of twelve ‘enemy’ soldiers. The battle was set as if it had taken place three hours after dawn. The idea was that at dawn that morning a line of trenches had been captured from the enemy.

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Aerial view of the ‘Fourteen Acres’, looking north-west, where the day long events would have taken place

The ‘shattered’ house was occupied by a ‘British’ gun team, they had defended against a ‘German’ attack which had attempted to recapture their old trenches. The attacked opened with the explosion of mines, the ascension of rockets and the crack of rifle and Lewis gun fire.  The outpost was supplied with ammunition by courageous runners.

The lone outpost held out until the very last man gave his life in its defence, thereby giving their comrades time to prepare for a counter attack. The display was well preformed and a stark reminder of the horror of the recent Great War.

Another item of interest was the physical training exhibition by a squad of the Royal North Devon Hussars under Corporal Snwothey.

Humour was provided in the form of Corporal Hatch and Private Ash acting as gentlemen the worse for ware, another soldier acting as a lady. Hatch and Ash both competed for the affection of ‘the lady’.

The day long events were reported in the King’s County Chronicle as a ‘splendid source of entertainment’, with the events being well attended by the people of Birr and the surrounding areas. The events themselves were also well patronised by competitors. Prizes for the sports were presented by Brigadier General James Graham Chaplin.

The Harbour of my Dreams – Tullamore’s very grand canal dock by Fergal MacCabe

Aerial View Canal Harbour 2002

All over the world, as maritime trade moves downstream and heavy goods are transported by motorway, redundant docks and harbours have become prime targets for urban redevelopment. In my work as a town planning consultant, I visited renewal schemes from Buenos Aires to Barcelona and from Boston to Bilbao. Some have been very successful – others less so. Two common problems with many schemes is that they are either remote from the centre of the city with consequent costs and difficulties in integrating them seamlessly into the urban fabric or else they have to be developed as stand-alone districts; which can tend to have a rather soulless character- particularly if the dominant use is commercial offices.

With a few notable exceptions (Liverpool and Galway certainly, but even these are on the edge rather than within the centre of the city) the opportunity to integrate a large waterbody into the very heart of an urban area is rare, if not unique. That is why the now mooted redevelopment of Tullamore’s canal harbour is of such significance and offers such extraordinary opportunities.

Tullamore Habour 1950s
The Old Harbour
When I was growing up in Tullamore in the 1950s, commercial traffic on the Grand Canal was at its height as barges brought Guinness to Limerick and turf to Dublin. Recreational boating was rare but increasing and the arrival of a visiting cruiser was still an event. Though it was a busy place, my recollection of the harbour is that it was relatively open and accessible and was so public that some of us kids made rafts and sailed or swam around it.

Sometime in the 1960s, the harbour became the central depot for the maintenance and repair of the waterways network in the Midlands. Surrounded on all sides by high walls and rendered virtually invisible, it became an enclosed commercial property and public access or activity was discouraged. Over the years the memory of it as an attractive and vibrant part of the town gradually died.

Whithall Bridge July 1994

A New Quarter for the Town
Gladly, change is at last at hand. The redevelopment and reintegration of the harbour into the heart and life of the town has become a priority project for the bodies that matter. Identified by the recently adopted Eastern and Midlands Regional Strategy as a key driver in the renewal of the centre of Tullamore, it will be eligible for renewal funding from the Regeneration and Development Fund. Offaly County Council and the owners of the harbour, Waterways Ireland are combining their skills and powers to deliver the project.

Convent View, spring

Though it may have to await the next tranche of funding in 2027, it is now possible for the people of Tullamore to begin to imagine the enjoyment of a development of hopefully world class quality. Like any major but worthwhile project, there will inevitably be setbacks and disappointments, but by making it a designated objective in the regional and local plans, the right initial steps have been taken and it is now only a matter of time before things begin to happen. What are the likely next steps?

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Old friends in Bank of Ireland, Tullamore: forty years on, 1979–2019 by Cosney Molloy

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I once again visited my old friends in Tullamore in the last few weeks. I was down from D4 to sort out a charity account with Bank of Ireland in O’Connor Square. I had to make my way through the bollards with the footpath widening. I came on the train of course (thanks Charlie, nice one). I was reminded by a customer that the Bank of Ireland opened in Bridge Street in the summer of 1979. At the time of my visit I was too busy to pay attention because between money laundering forms and this new GDPR stuff I was fit to be tied. And the account is 60 years old. What is all the fuss about small money. Now the new bank of 1979 is so different to the one I remember in High Street where Hoey & Dennings are now.

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Fr Willie Cleary, parish priest of Tullamore (died 2015) and fifteen eventful years in Tullamore. By Declan McSweeney

Fr Willie Cleary died after a short illness at Tullamore hospital on Sunday 19 July 2015  aged 80. He had been parish priest of Tullamore from December 1989 until his retirement from that post in September 2004. He was then transferred to Laytown as a curate and was serving there at the time of his death. His last days in Tullamore hospital were entirely appropriate in that while he loved his work and the people of Laytown it did seem to some that his heart was still in Tullamore and he liked nothing more than to meet friends from the parochial house ‘team’ both current and in the 1990s and call on some of the parishioners of his old parish that he knew well. Fr Willie was appointed parish priest of Tullamore of Tullamore in December 1989 in succession to Fr Pat Fallon who had carried the burden of building the new church following the fire in 1983. Fr Willie was a native of Rathwire/ Killucan and was ordained in Maynooth in 1959. After a short time on loan to Ossory diocese he spent 21 years in Mullingar of which 7 years was as parish administrator in what is the bishop’s parish. His work in Mullingar has been recently recalled in that town.

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Charlotte Bronte and her association with Banagher. ‘It is a solemn and strange and perilous thing for a woman to become a wife.’ Offaly Literary Associations, no 6 by Michael Byrne

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Cuba Court before 1946

Banagher’s Cuba Court (now demolished) is said to date from the 1730s and may have been constructed by one George Frazer, a former Governor of Cuba and perhaps to a design of Sir Edward Lovett Pearce. The house was unroofed in 1946 because, like so many Irish houses, it was ruined by the policy on rates at the time. If the abolition of rates in 1977 was disastrous for the National Debt and local government at least, it may have contributed to the saving of many Irish houses.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century Cuba was the home of Denis Bowes Daly. Bowes Daly was a prominent member of the local ascendancy. Prior to his death in 1821 he had leased Cuba Court to the Army Medical Board as of 1804 on a 61-year lease. The building was but little used as a hospital and the Medical Board was quite happy to give it up to the Commissioners of Education for the purpose of the Royal School. In 1819 the school had some forty pupils. The then headmaster, Thomas Morris, was succeeded by Revd Alan Bell in 1822. Bell purchased the headmastership from Morris for £1,000.

Alan Bell was at the time master of a classical school in Downpatrick and was the son of a County Antrim farmer. He graduated from T.C.D. in 1814. One of his assistant teachers in the late 1830s was Arthur Nicholls, a nephew and a past pupil of Banagher school. Alan Bell died in 1839 and was succeeded by Revd James Hamilton. After a succession of school masters James Adamson Bell, son of Revd Alan Bell, was appointed in 1848 – at the age of 21. The later agreed, at an inquiry at Tullamore in 1855, that he had not the experience at the time to run the establishment. He graduated from T.C.D. with a B. A. in 1847 and in 1852 became a clergyman. The school improved under his management and had 36 pupils in 1852.

Arthur Bell Nicholls

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Arthur Bell Nicholls was born of Scottish parents in County Antrim in 1818. He was orphaned early and subsequently brought up by his headmaster uncle in Banagher. He graduated from T.C.D. in 1844 and became curate of Haworth in 1845. It was at Haworth in the West Riding of Yorkshire that he met Charlotte Bronte, daughter of Patrick Bronte, a clergyman at Haworth. Charlotte was born in 1816 and at 31 published an extremely successful novel, Jane Eyre. Her sister, Emily, had earlier published Wuthering Heights. Bell was two years younger than Charlotte and was said to be very serious, almost grave, reserved religious young man of strong convictions – highly conscientious in the performance of his parish duties and narrow in his ideas. Phyllis Bently in her book The Brontes and their World described the marriage proposal and acceptance as follows:

‘For some time Charlotte had been uneasily aware of constraint and awkwardness in Nicholl’s behaviour in her presence, and when one evening in December 1852, just after the disappointing reception of Villette by George Smith, Nicholls on leaving Mr. Bronte’s study tapped on the parlour door, she guessed in a flash what was coming. But she had not realized how strong his feelings for her were. Pale, shaking from head to foot, speaking with difficulty in a low but vehement tone, Nicholls made her understand what this declaration meant to him. She asked if he had spoken to Mr. Bronte; he said, he dared not. She half led, half pushed him from the room, promising him an answer on the morrow, then went immediately to her father with news of the proposal. Mr. Bronte was furious. Charlotte’s own accounts of this courtship and eventual engagement, given in her letters to Ellen Nussey as it went along, could not be bettered in the finest novel in the world. Mr. Bronte’s jealous fury, expressing itself as snobbish resentment – a curate with £100 a year marry his famous daughter! Mr. Nicholl’s stubborn passion, which almost unseated his reason – he would not eat or drink; stayed shut up in his lodgings at the Browns’ (though he still took poor old Flossy out for walks); broke down in the Communion Service, while the village women sobbed around; was rude to a visiting Bishop; resigned his Haworth curacy and agreed to remain till Mr. Bronte found another curate; volunteered as a missionary to Australia but finally took a curacy at Kirk Smeaton, in the West Riding itself. Charlotte, exasperated by Nicholl’s lack of the qualities she desired in a husband, infuriated by her father’s ignoble objections to the match, conscious of the absence of alternatives. The villagers, torn between opposing parties – some say they would like to shoot Mr. Nicholls, but they gave him a gold watch as a parting present. What a tragic drama – or a roaring comedy, depending on its result. Love, coupled with Charlotte’s loneliness and Mr. Bronte’s dissatisfaction with his new curate, Mr. De Renzi, triumphed.

The-Bronte-sisters-

The only-known surviving portrait of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte  was painted by their brother Branwell in 1834 and then bought by the National Portrait Gallery in 1914 after it was rediscovered in Banagher. The painting is creased because it was discovered folded up on top of a cupboard in 1914 by the second wife of Charlotte’s husband.

The marriage took place at Haworth on 29 June, 1854, just 165 years ago. The honeymoon was in Ireland and if Bell was a poor unknown curate in England – in Banagher he was a member of a respectable family. In a letter quoted by Mrs. Gaskell in her book The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Charlotte wrote:

“My dear husband, too, appears in a new light in his own country. More than once I have had deep pleasure in hearing his praises on all sides. Some of the old servants and followers of the family tell me I am a most fortunate person; for that I have got one of the best gentlemen in the country . . . . I trust I feel thankful to God for having enabled me to make what seems a right choice; and I pray to be enabled to repay as I ought the affectionate devotion of a truthful, honourable man. “

Ruin of Cuba House Banagher
Cuba Court about 1977

She noted of the school in Cuba House where she stayed while in Banagher: “It is very large and looks externally like a gentleman’s country seat – within most of the rooms are lofty and spacious, and some – the drawing room, dining room &c handsomely and commodiously furnished. The passages look desolate and bare – our bedroom, a great room of the ground floor, would have looked gloomy when we were shown into it but for the turf fire that was burning in the wide old chimney. “Mrs. Bentley felt in her biography that it was difficult to judge whether Charlotte was happy in her marriage. “We’ve been so happy,’ she murmured to her husband, and she spoke warmly of his care and affectionate company when she was ill. But to Ellen she wrote: ‘It is a solemn and strange and perilous thing for a woman to become a wife.’ At least she was no longer lonely, but alway occupied, always needed; she had a parish and two men to care for – ‘my time is not my own now’ – and knew the reality of sex.

In January 1855 Charlotte discovered she was pregnant. It was accompanied by severe illness and she died on 31 March 1855 probably killed by the same illness – consumption – that had killed her two sisters and her brother. The marriage was of short duration – no more than nine months. As to Mr. Nicholls he “remained faithfully with Mr. Bronte in Haworth for the six long years which remained of the old man’s life. He was a somewhat stern guardian of the bedridden invalid that Mr. Bronte rapidly became, and allowed himself a strong dislike to references to his wife’s fame, refusing, for example to baptize infants with the names of any of the Bronte family. Mr. Bronte, learning this, once baptized an infant in his bedroom from a water jug – a sufficient indication of the terms on which the two men stood. When Mr. Bronte died in 1861 Mr. Nicholls returned to Banagher, taking with him his wife’s portrait, her wedding dress (of which a copy has been made), some of Charlotte’s letters and other mementoes, including Mr. Bronte’s dog Plato and Martha Brown. He made a happy second marriage with his cousin, but did not forget Charlotte. Forty years later, when the critic Clement Shorter prepared to write Charlotte Bronte and Her Circle, he found at Banagher among other cherished relics two diary notes of Emily and Anne, in a tin box, and some of the minute childhood writings wrapped in newspaper at the bottom of a drawer.
The following report of the pictures he brought from Haworth appeared in 1914 in a local newspaper:

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Banagher and Valuable Pictures
The Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery have purchased and placed in Room XXXVII a group and a single portrait of considerable personal value. The group represents the portraits of Charlotte Bronte and her two sisters Emily and “dear”, gentle Anne”; the single image is believed to be a long lost portrait of Emily, both pictures from the brush of the brother, Branwell, who was born a year later than Charlotte. The importance of the discovery is indicated also by the reference of the London daily papers. The Morning Post, from which the above extract is taken, says further:- “There seems to have been another group of the three sisters by Branwell. Mr. A. B. Nicholls took the picture with him to Ireland, and not caring much for the portraits of his wife, Charlotte, and Ann he cut them out of the canvas and destroyed them. He retained the portrait of Emily, however, and gave it Martha Brown, the Brontes servant, on one of her visits to Ireland. Martha took it back with her to Haworth, and from that date the fragment disappeared until recently rediscovered in the possession of the widow of Mr. Nicholls, and from her acquired for the National Portrait Gallery.

In order to ascertain particulars the editor of the King’s Co. Chronicle communicated with the Revd. J. J. Sherrard, B. D. , Banagher, wrote to the Chronicle on 7th March –

“The Rev. A. B. Nicholls, left an orphan at six, was practically adopted by Rev. A. Bell, Headmaster of Cuba School, which Mr. N. who was a relative, attended as a boy. He returned to Banagher after the death of Rev. P. Bronte, to whom he was curate in Yorkshire, and married Miss Bell, daughter of Rev. A. Bell. The pictures, two in number – one of the three sisters and one of Emily, were found wrapped in brown paper in a wardrobe a few weeks ago in the Hill House, Banagher, by Mrs. Nicholls, who sent them to Mr. Smith, of Smith and Elder, Publishers of Charlotte Bronte’s books, and were sold through him to the National Gallery. The enclosed cutting (from the Morning Post) is wrong in stating the picture given to Martha Brown was among these. It was not and is believed to be lost.

030275 Protestant Church Banagher
Banagher Church of Ireland where Bell Nicholls was buried

Subsequent to the publication of the above there appeared in the Morning Post a letter from James J. Sherrard of Banagher a letter dated March 8, 1914.
” Sir,
I have received a copy of the “Morning Post” containing an article animadverting on some information I had recently forwarded to the King’s County Chronicle with reference to the above. I may state that your account of the discovery, &c. , of the pictures – though not quite correct- was nearer the truth than any of the accounts I read in other newspapers. The facts are as follows: The pictures sent by Mrs. Nicholls to the National Gallery have been at The Hill House, Banagher, ever since they were brought there by the late Rev. A. B. Nicholls. The single one of Emily – cut out of a large portrait containing three sisters – was preserved by Mr. Nicholls. The rest of picture, with the portraits of his wife Charlotte and Anne, was handed to Martha Brown – who lived at The Hill House for upwards of eight years – not for preservation, but to be destroyed, and it is believed it was destroyed by her. I need not go into all the reasons for this action on the part of Mr. Nicholls. You see, therefore, that I was correct in saying that the picture of Emily forwarded to the National Gallery was never in Martha Brown’s possession, though I was mistaken in implying that Mr. Nicholls had ever given any portrait to Martha Brown. I have the above facts on the best living authority. Yours &c. “
James J. Sherrard.

Banagher before the First World War

 

Charlotte Bronte and the Bell Family
Charlotte died in 1855 and her husband at Banagher in 1906. He had married his cousin and spent the last 45 years of his life there. Their writings place the three Bronte sisters on the highest eminence. Today their novels are read with the same avidity as marked their first publication, and promise to be perpetual. Charlotte’s, Jane Eyre, a romantic love story, met the public eye in 1847, and immediately had an immense circulation, which greatly relieved the straightened circumstances of the family, besides winning lasting fame for its author. Her two other principal works of fiction are known by the names Shirley and Villette, the former a tragedy appearing two years after the first, and at which time her brother and two sisters were dead. In both stories nearly all the people appear as living pictures of relatives and neighbours, and both secured a circulation surpassing expectation. Emily’s undying fame is due to her novel, Wuthering Heights, which saw the light in 1847, but she was not destined to reap the reward of her success as she expired in the course of another brief year, aged 30. The sister Anne’s novel, Agnes Grey, afforded another evidence of the almost evenly divided genius of the three immortal sisters.

Cuba School, Banagher, was one of the Royal educational institutions in Ireland, and ceased as such about 40 years ago, its last master under the endowment having been Mr. Joyce, who afterwards became a medical doctor. The school turned out not a few who rose to distinction in after life, one of these having been the late Sir William, father of Oscar Wilde.

Hill House
HIll House, Banagher

Hill House, where Nicholls spent so many years, was sold to Major Bell in 1919. He died in 1944 and his wife inherited the property. Florence Bell died in 1959. It is now once again open to visitors who can enjoy its restored appearance and sense the history of a place connected in a curious way with the Bronte family.

The Fireworks in Birr in 1851: Optimism after despair. By Michael Byrne

What a marvel it must have been in Birr in the year 1851. The town and the country were barely emerging from the shocking catastrophe of Famine and the associated fevers and deaths. Emigration was everywhere and Irish towns presented a shocking appearance of want and degradation. The town’s historian, Thomas Lalor Cooke, had reflected on the quietness and lack of social life in the mid-1840s. Birr suffered many deaths, especially from fever in the late Famine years. Yet, a spirit of optimism was in the air and many improvements would follow in the 1850s including railroads, gas lighting and local government.

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