The first aerial photograph of Tullamore 101 years ago – on the eve of the War of Independence. Michael Byrne

3 Tullamore aerial 1918 - Copy
Tullamore town in August 1918 in the first known aerial photograph

The first aerial photograph of Tullamore was published in the press in 1918 as part of the work of the Irish Recruiting Council and in an effort to promote voluntary recruiting. Variants of the aerial photograph and the story behind it are also to be found in competing historical accounts of the Great War and the War of Independence.
A by-product of the accelerated interest in flying in the war years was that of aerial photography with happy results for the study of Tullamore’s urban history. In September 1918 an aerial photograph of Tullamore was published and described as ‘Tullamore gathering/Aerial Activity/Co-operation with Voluntary Recruiting by the Irish Recruiting Council.’ The same picture was also published in the magazine Irish Life at the time. The picture was taken by Captain Norman Herford Dimmock and was described as an ‘Aerial view of Tullamore horse fair taken by RAF biplane in 1918.’ What may have attracted Dimmock in his aerial reconnaissance for subversive activity was the extent of the movement of people in the town on that fair day on 16 August 1918. Tullamore town centre fairs were to last until the 1960s, but this is the only such aerial photograph of the farming event and the first aerial picture of the town.

The Granary in 1918
The former distillery and now the Granary apartments as of 1918. A horse fair was in progress in O’Carroll Street and a cattle fair in Market Square

After the turbulence in April 1918 over conscription the emphasis by August 1918 in securing recruits for the war was on the technical training available for such as air mechanics at 2s. to 5s. per day. The Irish Recruiting Council was advertising that it had 50,000 places in a voluntary enlistment scheme.

The 1918 aerial photograph is valuable because it shows the boundaries on the western side of Tullamore near the old distillery, O’Molloy Street, O’Dempsey Street, Clara Bridge, Tea Lane and the army barracks, all of O’Connor Square and the back gardens to the south. It also shows the new malt and grain buildings of Tarleton’s in the Tanyard and the new laundry of 1906-7 at Church Road. What was probably the house of the commanding officer of the barracks is shown at the western end of Patrick Street and facing directly to the former Hayes’ Hotel (now Boots pharmacy) together with St Kyran Street, Tea Lane and Bride’s Lane. On the south eastern side of Tullamore at Harbour Street are impressive houses including the Foresters’ Club (burned by the Black and Tans on 31 October 1920) and the harbour warehouses. The view of the 1822 Pentland distillery in Market Square, and in 1918 that of P. &. H. Egan, maltsters, is impressive. To the north of it can be seen the gasometer and gas works at the back of the south side of Harbour Street (dating to 1860 and replaced with electricity in 1921). The view of Market Square picks up the houses in Pyke’s/Market Lane and the Shambles before the Foresters’ new hall was built in 1923 and the Co-operative Bakery two years earlier. Only a fraction of the many warehouses facing into the Market Square have survived. The electricity generating shed in Market Square had not yet been erected (c. 1921 and demolished in 1999).

3 Tullamore the harbour and Foresters in 1918
The Harbour and the Foresters hall destroyed by Crown forces  in October 1920

The long line of Tarleton warehouses to the back and west of the big house in O’Connor Square (demolished in 1936, now Tullamore Central Library) is visible. So too is the line of buildings forming Hayes’ Hotel in Church Street and the substantial drapery (later Champ’s and now Supermac) at the junction of Columcille Street and Church Street. The Tullamore distillery and Egan’s Bridge House and brewery take up much of the north eastern side of the photograph. Goodbody’s yard at Bridge Street (where the tobacco factory was located until the fire in 1886) is rich in detail, such as was not to be seen in the 1950s aerial photographs of the town taken for the Irish Press and the Irish Independent.

3 Tullamore Shambles
The Shambes market off Church Street in 1918

The wonder of digitised searchable newspapers, since about 2008, is no less innovative than that of flying in the latter years of WW1. Some historians would say that it was the lack of effective communication that started and prolonged the war. So much has changed in the past twenty years with the internet and in the last ten years with digitisation.
An extended version of this article can be found in Offaly and the Great War (Offaly History, Tullamore, 2018). A enlarged version of the picture can be seen on display at the new Lidl store at Church Road, Tullamore.