The war memorial in O’Connor Square: the first of the public memorials in Tullamore Town

The 2016-17 €3m enhancement plan for Tullamore town contains a broad proposal that the war memorial in O’Connor Square be moved to a widened footpath opposite the Brewery Tap. The reasoning is unclear, but may be to have a broad sweep in the square for a covered market or band stand idea to the front of the library. A Fergal MacCabe drawing of 2013 was able to provide for the retention of the war memorial where it was first placed in 1926. The purpose of this article is to provide a history of this and other memorials in the square with a quick overview of Tullamore’s monuments to recall ‘those who should not be forgotten’.

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A view of the square and war memorial by Fergal MacCabe.

The war memorial is in a historic location

The war memorial occupies the centre of the square and follows in the location of it being where the only public light in the town was placed prior to the switching on of town gas in 1860. Also in the same location from 1895 was placed a new public fountain when piped water was brought to Tullamore from Clonaslee in that year. As such the square’s war memorial is steeped in tradition and has a historic setting. The location is a place of honour to all those who fought in the war of 1914-18 and (by way of a later dedication) the war against Hitler in 1939-45. It may need a place where honours can be properly given and, perhaps, what better place than where it is. Very soon a list of those who fought in the 1914-18 from Tullamore will be published. While there were the well-to-do officer class and pro-union and Empire supporters many of the ordinary men were either following John Redmond’s direction or simply putting bread on the table while placing their body on the line. It was too hard a bargain for up to 20 per cent of those who fought. Small wonders that the survivors should want a degree of support and camaraderie by joining comrade associations and seeking recognition in the provision of housing (such as was built in Dillon Street, Tullamore) and memorials in places such as Tullamore, Birr, Nenagh, Mountmellick, and Portlaoise.

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The public fountain presented by Admiral Cooke to Tullamore in 1895 was removed to the ‘County Home’ 31 years later. This picture was taken in 1904 and shows the ‘Town Hall’ or Market House in the background (10 O’Connor Sq.). The tradition of parking agricultural machinery was continued until the 1960s.

Tullamore town has no wonderful history of memorials by contrast with Birr where three were erected over the period 1746 to 1894 and Edenderry with two over the period 1846 to 1874. Tullamore has the reputation of being comprised of self-made people who were early free of dependence on a local landlord because of Charleville’s own policy of giving virtual freeholds of the town plots for housing and shops. Besides the earldom of Charleville was extinct by 1875 and Lady Emily Bury who succeeded in that year did not much spend much time in Tullamore from her succession in 1875 to her death in 1931. Accordingly, neither she nor her agent had little influence on civic policy by contrast with Birr. So there was little question in Tullamore of erecting monuments by or to the landlord. When the labour/Sinn Féin activist James O’Connor spoke at a big Labour meeting beside the public fountain in the O’Connor Square in February 1920 he was surprised there was no memorial to a public figure in the town and that he had to stand on the fountain to be seen and heard.

A gas lamp had been placed in the centre of the square in 1860, a gift of a local resident and to mark the gas lighting scheme installed in that year. In 1895, at the time of the introduction of piped water to Tullamore, Admiral Robert Coote (died 1898), who had property in Srah, presented Tullamore with an ornamental water fountain for O’Connor Square and a drinking trough for the Market Square. These were the only ‘monuments’ in the town until 1926, when one excludes those erected in the cemeteries and the grounds of the Catholic church.

In the years of the First World War a memorial to those who had fought had been vaguely mentioned as early as 1916 by the then chairman of town council Pat Egan. There had been discussions at several council meetings from 1915 about having a Roll of Honour to those who were fighting and some of whom had already died in the war. Most of the Protestant churches in the county erected such memorials in the form of windows, plaques and tablets after the war. In Tullamore it was planned to have a scroll in the office of the council but nothing came of this. The press from time to time did publish listings of soldiers, but it was not until 1926 that the war memorial was erected in the square in Tullamore.

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Major Hutton Bury standing to attention at the war memorial. A great photo from the late Joe Hanly of about 1950.

Upwards of 70 Tullamore connected people killed in 1914-18

Tullamore and environs had about 500 involved in the war when one includes those from the town or connected with it in some way. Of this number about 70 were killed. The memorial was to commemorate those who had fought and died from the town, from Clara and more generally from the county. Per head of population Clara may have sent more sons to the war than either Birr, Banagher or Tullamore. The work of raising funds was led by war veteran J. Haines of Tullamore and Councillor Philip Cunningham. The latter proposed and J.A. Lumley seconded the proposal at the council meeting in June 1926. Clara sent a strong contingent to the unveiling on 11 November 1926 and the Clara band, even though some of its instruments were stolen the previous night, was in attendance. From that year on the armistice was marked each November up to the beginning of the Northern troubles in the late 1960s. The sale of poppies was also carried on locally up to the 1960s. Many will recall the late Cecil Lumley, who fought in the war with two of his brothers, to sound the Fall in the Last Post and Reveille. By 1960 he was in his 33rd year marking the sad event. Many young boys of the 1960s will recall the excitement of the parade and salute at the memorial in those years.

Is the Roll of Honour book now lost?

The Tullamore monument was sculpted by F. Doyle Jones and takes the form of an obelisk square of local limestone, on a concrete foundation. It was, as noted, a memorial for all those from Offaly (King’s County) who died in the Great War, 1914-18. Some wanted it erected in Birr instead. The chairman of the Tullamore committee was Major Sherlock of Rahan Lodge and the monument was unveiled by Brigadier Hardress Lloyd. Prior to the unveiling ceremony the monument was covered by the Tri-colour and the Union Jack. Civilian dress and military decorations were worn. Major Sherlock referred to a county Roll of Honour book which was handed over to the urban council for safe keeping. (Where is it now?). Wreaths were placed at the memorial by some of those who had lost sons including Mrs T.B. Costello; John Rochfort, Clara; F.A. Hackett, Ballycumber; John McNeill, Tullamore and A. Colton of Colton’s Hotel.

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The trough in Market Square of 1895 was removed in 1964. This view about 1960 on a market day.

It was the custom of those who fought in the War of Independence to also march to O’Connor Square during Easter Week. The old Coote fountain was moved to the grounds of the County Home in 1926 and the trough to Charleville in 1964. Nothing further was done with the square until 1965 when a flower bed was erected by the council at the urging of Councillor Frank Egan. In 1980 this work was removed and seating and trees planted by Tullamore Junior Chamber. More work was done by the Chamber in 1987 before handing over the work to the council. In 1990 the town council embarked on the £130,000 scheme of paving and planting that is still in place. Paid parking came in from 1995 and the square settled down to being a car park rather than a market place.

 

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The War of Independence memorial at the courthouse, completed in 1939 and unveiled in 1953.

War of Independence Memorial

The War of Independence memorial was completed at the grounds of the courthouse in 1939, but not unveiled until 1953. The unveiling had been delayed until both sides who had fought in the Civil War were ready to come together. The location was selected by Peadar Bracken and agreed to by the council. It was placed symbolically opposite what had been the seat of British power in Offaly from 1835 when the courthouse was completed. Indeed, it was a gesture to say that Offaly had overcome the plantation and colonisation of the 1550s in the county, when one appreciates that the judges were early appointed to do the king’s justice. Hence the judges of the assize were always met at the town boundaries (or the railway station) by a guard of honour from the military or police and would then process in a carriage to a big house in town for robing. From the late nineteenth century this was generally to Tarleton’s in O’Connor Square (no. 7). At an earlier date it was to the former Kilroy’s house in High Street. As members of the gardaí will know this is a courtesy still insisted upon by some of the judges of the higher courts. Up to the 1980s some of the circuit court judges were quite sticky about it. Others not so.

Other memorials in Tullamore include:

  • that to IRA volunteer Mathew Kane at Riverside Lane. Another monument was erected at Mucklagh cemetery in 1948;
  • at the grounds of the hospital;
  • in the Catholic church grounds (3) including a Jesuit Mission cross of 1858 (as such the earliest memorial in Tullamore, albeit on private ground;
  • that inspired by the Book of Durrow and the monastery, outside of Offaly History Centre by Eileen McDonagh of Athy and sponsored by the Lions Club (2002);
  • the sculpture to Tullamore’s distilling traditions in Market Square. (Tullamore Council, 2000);
  • the memorial to ex-servicemen in the town park by the Organisation of Ex-Servicemen in the 1990s (by Dinny and Niall Bracken);
  • that by Maurice Harron to our heroic and monastic traditions on the by-pass heading to Kilbeggan (Offaly County Council, 2009)
  • The memorial to missing Tullamore woman Fiona Pender (2014) by Niall Bracken and with community funding.
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