The King’s County: Epitome of its History, Topography & C. (Birr, 1883, reprinted 1998.) Review by Dorothee Bibby

Recently, I purchased a little booklet ‘The Kings County: Epitome of its History, Topography & C. by J. St. George Joyce ’ at the Offaly History bookshop at Bury Quay, Tullamore. Joyce was the first editor of the Midland Tribune in 1881. This pamphlet style read was published by him in 1883. It is remarkable that the original booklet would be a rare treasure to have today (maybe you should check your loft…). I enjoyed the old advertising with sentences like: Liver Complaints cured by Dr. King’s Dandelion and Quinine Liver Pills (without Mercury). Hair loss and Gout were all curable thanks to newly discovered ointments. Also monthly painless dentistry visits from Dublin Surgeon Dentists to the midland towns are listed, and every advertisement promises ‘modest rates’ for the product! (The book can be ordered online at http://www.offalyhistory)

The main contents cover, beside the King’s County overview, more detailed records on Tullamore, Birr, Edenderry, Banagher, Clara,  Philipstown, Frankford, Shinrone, Kinnitty, Cadamstown, Cloghan, Ferbane, Moneygall, Shannonbridge and a few sentences about each Parish in the King’s County. Please allow me to give you an inside look at the Tullamore details, which I am going to type as written in the booklet. Also, admittedly, Birr and Shinrone have much more vibrant and spicy tales to tell.

Michael Byrne gives an introduction to the facsimile reprint from 1998. Seeing that more and more historical facts are discovered every day, we have to take some of the entries with a grain of salt – like the O’Dempseys did not dominate part of Ballycowan barony it was entirely in the control of the O’Molloy family until the plantations. Mr Byrne outlines this amongst others.
068 King's County Epitome J.St. George JoyceAt the launch in 1998 were John O'Callaghan, Bro R. Kinihan,Ger Scully, and Derek Fanning

At the launch of the reprint (left) in 1998 were John Callaghan, editor of the Midland Tribune, Raphael Kinahan, president of Offaly History, Ger Scully, editor of the Tullamore Tribune and Derek Fanning, senior reporter with the Midland Tribune. DF was looking over an early issue of the newspaper from the Offaly History collection in this picture.

Here St. George Joyce’s original text:

This, the capital of the county, is situate in the barony of Ballycowan, which appears to have been included in the ancient territory of O’Diomosaigh, or O’Dempsey, Lord of Clanmaliere.

It is a station on a branch from the Great Southern and Western railway, which thus opens a communication direct with Dublin and Cork. The Grand Canal passes the end of the towns, affording water communication with Dublin and Shannon Harbour; and the small river Clodagh (a branch of the Brosna) runs through it, and is crossed by a neat bridge.

The name Tullamore is derived from the Irish, tullagh, arising ground and more, great and the gentle but considerable ascent from the river seems to make it peculiarly applicable. The town and lands of Tullamore, whit other lands, making altogether about 1,147 acres, were granted to Sir John Moore, of Croghan Castle, in 1622. In 1715, the Right Hon. John Moore, of Croghan, his descendant, who was Member of Parliament for the county, was raised to the Irish Peerage, as Baron of Tullamore. Charles, the second Baron, was created Earl of Charleville in 1758, and on his demise the title became extinct, but the estates reverted to his nephew John Bury, whose son became Earl of Charleville in 1806. Owing to the grant of the place to the Moore family, the appellation Tullamoore was occasionally substituted for the more ancient Irish one, though in the grant it is called Tullamore.

About the year 1790 the place was an insignificant village, consisting almost wholly of thatched cabins, but having been nearly destroyed by an accidental fire, occasioned by the mismanagement of a fire balloon, it was rebuilt by the Earl of Charleville in an improved manner.

Its central situation in a very fine agricultural district, and the circumstance of its being for a time the terminus of the Grand Canal, before it was extended to Shannon Harbour, caused it to increase very rapidly in wealth and population, insomuch that an Act of parliament was passed in 1833 creating it the assize and county town, which since the reign of Queen Mary had been represented by Philipstown. The town is arranged in the form of a cross, and the houses being white, and the streets wide, it is in appearance airy and cleanly.

The surrounding country is level, and the bogs are numerous, causing turf to be cheap, and giving employment to great numbers of persons in procuring and bringing it to the market. The public structures, besides the places of worship and schools, are noble and admirably constructed goal, with a graceful courthouse, a county infirmary, union workhouse, town hall, barracks, and convent. The Protestant church of Saint Catherine stands about a quarter of a mile from the town upon a lofty sandy hill. It is a neat building with a handsome pinnacled tower, conspicuous for a considerable distance round; and several finely sculptured memorials of the Charleville family adorn the interior. This imposing edifice was erected in 1818, in the Gothic style, at an expense of £ 8,030 British, of which £ 738 was a gift, and £ 2,769 a loan from the Board of First Fruits, and the residue, amounting £ 4,523, a donation from Lord Charleville.

The Catholic church is a handsome building in the modern style of architecture, with two pinnacled towers on the east end; and the Methodist chapels, of which there are two, are neat structures. To the latter place of worship Sunday schools are attached; and there is a valuable school, founded by Lord Charleville, for an unlimited number of both sexes; a national school, the female branch of which is under the care of the Sisters of Mercy, is the other public educational establishment.

A savings’ bank and a loan fund dispense their respective benefits here. Within two miles of the town is the beautiful demesne of the Earl of Charleville, to whom the town is greatly indebted for its improvement. The mansion is a spacious modern structure, erected in the style of an English baronial castle, form designs by Mr Francis Johnston, and within the demesne, which contains about 1,500 acres, and is magnificently wooded, are two artificial lakes, the larger of which is added with islands. The Clodagh river passes through the demesne, forming several fine cascades overhung with trees; and the rustic bridges, grottoes, and artificial caverns with which it is studded makes it picturesque in the extreme.

Convenient to the town is also the College of St. Stanislaus, where, under the direction of the Jesuit Fathers, a higher education is afforded to boarders and day boys. The superiority of the teaching bestowed on the pupils of this institution has been very conspicuously displayed by the results of the annual examinations that have taken place since the passing of the Irish Intermediate Education Act.

The remains of the castle, built in 1625 by Sir Jasper Herbert, on the abbey lands demised to him by Queen Elizabeth for a term of years, and afterwards granted to him in fee by James I., are still in existence, as also those of three small square castle build by his tenantry. The ruins of the first-named show it to have been a building of some extent and grandeur, and an inscription over the entrance records the date and circumstance of its erection.

The population of Tullamore in 1881 was 5, 098.

The market days are Tuesday and Saturday, and fairs are held on Jan. 26, Feb. 19, March 19, April 13, May 10, July 10, August 9, Sept. 13, Oct. 21, Nov. 18 and Dec. 13.

Advertising from the original issue of 1883 and part of the reprint of 1998 – whiskey from the Birr distillery (destroyed by fire in 1889); Houlihan’s of Roscrea and the well-remembered Rattigan’s (later Wrafter’s pub in Patrick Street), Tullamore.

As Mr Byrne writes in the introduction – it is not the broadly accurate early history that makes this historical text valuable but the details of the Offaly industries in the 1880s such as Egan’s brewery in Tullamore and the B. Daly distillery, underlined with their advertising. The Goodbody tobacco factory at Tullamore and the jute factory at Clara are featured. Those interesting history snips are recorded in the typical manner of their time and this rare bargain is in the Offaly History bookshop for the small cost of 6 Euros.

Enjoy discovering the 19th century county and let us know what you think!

King’s County; Epitome of its History, Topography and Antiquities by John St Joyce is available from Offaly History Centre and all good newsagents at €6.



The famous Molloy quarries were situated off Clara Road near where Burlington/Carroll Meats are today in Burlington Business Park.

The book was republished by Offaly History as it had access to the last intact copy of the original edition. This only copy known is the property of one of our members. The book provides an invaluable guide to Offaly of the 1880s through its opinions and perhaps most revealing of all, through its advertisements. It is a history and record of the area as it was known at the time. The book was launched at a function in the OHAS centre, Bury Quay Tullamore in 1998 by Derek Fanning, senior reporter with the Midland Tribune who is the fifth generation of his family to be involved with the newspaper. Mr Fanning recalled that the Tribune had been originally established to give a voice to the nationalist cause and as a result his great-great grandfather, John Powell, the newspaper’s second editor had been imprisoned on a number of occasions. The publication was first issued free of charge with the ‘Tribune’ in October/November 1883 and was issued some time later with 40 pages of advertisements. J. St George Joyce, the book’s author and Tribune first editor, was a fervent nationalist and had spent a number of years in the United States before returning to Ireland in the 1860s or 70s. He joined the Midland Tribune, which had been founded as a Land League organ by four curates from the diocese of Killaloe in 1881.