I was asked by John Brady to research his house, which has long functioned as a shop in Daingean, Co. Offaly. John Kearney’s book From the Quiet Annals of Daingean contains a picture of the old post office, with the name Z. Collins above it, and a large ivy-covered wall beside it, taken some time at the beginning of the 20th century. This is the same building, so it was going to be very interesting to find out all about it.
Daingean in the Registry of Deeds
I went to the Registry of Deeds in Dublin and found a deed from 1740 referring to the building of three houses on the site. Richard, Lord Viscount Molesworth, the owner of the town, granted to John Pim of Edenderry, wool comber, “lands and house plots formerly held by Daniel Ranelagh, now in possession of John Pim who has built three dwelling houses”. The plot of land was “bound on the south by the Session House in Philipstown and the Court before the same, on the east by the holding of George Cartwright (elsewhere named as Viscount Molesworth’s agent) and on the north by the plot in possession of Daniel Farrell, on which he has built two houses”, for a yearly rent, with part of the Great Bogg, of £6:10. John Pim had already had a deed agreed with Richard’s father ,Robert the first Viscount, in 1725 for the same land in the possession of Daniel Ranelagh, before he built any houses.
The house is actually immediately south of the old Session House, so it can’t have been “bound on the south by the Session House”, but this is not the first time I have found references like this in the Registry of Deeds where they seem to mistake or confuse north and south, east and west. Remember these are purely records kept of deeds which have been reported to the Registry, they are not the deeds themselves. The men recording them have probably never visited the area.
There was another deed which records Viscount Molesworth as being indebted to his brother Coote Molesworth for the sum of £966, which was a huge amount of money 300 years ago.
The house was originally adjacent to the wall of the old Courthouse, which was still standing at this spot until the early decades of the 20th century. This ceased to operate as a courthouse once the New Courthouse was built in 1806. By 1853 it was unroofed and in ruin.
According to Pigot’s Commercial Directory of Ireland 1824, Thomas Whitfield, tanner and tallow chandler lived in what is now the Brady house. In 1853 he was recorded as having 15 tan pits, so it was a big operation, and he was listed under the gentry of the area. His wife Catherine continued to hold the lease on this and other houses beside it for the next ten years. Some of these leases were from Charles B Marlay, who owned Belvedere near Mullinager, while the lessor for most houses in the town was Lord Ponsonby. 20
In Griffith’s Valuation of 1854, Samuel Payne was listed as holding the lease on a house, offices, tannery and yard for £13 a year from Catherine Whitfield. This was a higher rent than most of the other houses in the town, presumably because it included the tannery. After 1876, the rent declined to £9:10, possibly because the word tannery was crossed out of the Valuation Office record. Mrs Whitfield also had the lease for the police barracks (the old army foot barracks, which was very important in the 16th and 17th centuries), which was leased from her by the Constabulary Force. This was only a couple of doors from the Brady house.
By the year 1862, Zorobabel Collins leased property no. 45 (no. 433 in the Land Registry map) from Eliza Payne (presumably Samuel’s widow). He was a clerk of petty sessions, grocer, china and glass dealer and later postmaster. He married Anna Payne, daughter of Samuel, in Philipstown Church of Ireland in April 1858. Zorobabel was a son of Hugh Collins, publican and grocer. He was mentioned in the town birth register for 1868, which was the year of the birth of their eldest surviving daughter Louisa, but he was also deputy birth registrar in that year.
The Collins family were Methodists. John Wesley, who founded the religion of Methodism, visited Philipstown in the 18th century. There were two Wesleyan chapels in the town in the 19th century. There was an account of a public meeting of the Primitive Wesleyan Methodists on 22 October 1821, when travelling missionaries had found “the preaching-house, which has been beautifully fitted up, cleaned and lighted by Mr Collins and is now a model of neatness and comfort.” Presumably this would have been Zorobabel’s father Hugh Collins.
The Ellis family were postmasters of Daingean (and indeed post mistresses) before the Collins family, from 1796 to at least 1881. In 1796 William Ellis wrote to the Secretary of the Post Office in Dublin, John Lees, reporting on outrages by Defenders (a Catholic agrarian secret society) near Philipstown, which was being defended by only 30 soldiers. 24 Later there was a Catherine Ellis who was sub-distributor of stamps, postmistress and hotelkeeper at the south end of the town in 1846 and a Martha Ellis, postmistress around the same time. Thomas Ellis rented a property beside the Collins’ property and was recorded as postmaster in 1856, 1870 and 1881.
Zorobabel Collins moved to the house and post office shortly after 1881. Zorobabel filled out the Census form in 1901, referring to himself as a clerk of petty sessions, and his daughters Louisa, Fanny, Charlotte and Isabella as telegraphists. He also employed a postman, Christopher Cassidy, who lived on the premises. Three daughters were still living in the house in 1911 and running the post office and probably one of the only telephones in the town – Louisa wrote in the Census, in a section on whether they were deaf, dumb or blind: “No, we hear more than is good for us”.
Zorobabel Collins was the caretaker of the old Courthouse for many years. Following his death, an article in the King’s County Chronicle of December 1906 reported that Mr Collins had received £9:6:3 p.a. for being caretaker for the Courthouse. His daughter now claimed part of the building for her own. She was to be paid £5 as salary until the question of proof of ownership was decided. Unfortunately there was no subsequent report on this matter.
There were two other newspaper articles which referred to the post office: a report of the first telegraph at the post office in 1913, and a report of two families of Belgian war refugees, who were to be put up in 1915 in the house “lately inhabited by the postmistress, Miss Collins”. This would have been shortly after her death. The refugees were probably spirited away from the fighting in Belgium during the First World War. A number probably in the low hundreds was brought to Ireland, but none seem to have stayed here for a long period.
In 1862 the house was being rented ultimately from Lord Ponsonby (through Eliza Payne); in 1876 George Purdon became the lessor; in 1895 it was Annie and Ellen Purdon; in 1907 this changed to Thomas Purdon and in 1913 to Mrs Purdon (through John Breakey JP). From 1907 the rent went up to £15:15, but down again to £9 in 1918 and back up to £11 in 1931.
In an article in the King’s County Independent in March of 1914, it was reported that Philipstown tenants were being asked to pay very high rates to buy out their landlord Purdon. The following May, the landlord had relented and offered reductions. “It was then hoped that a successful conclusion would be reached.” James Rogers was a solicitor based in Tullamore who used to come to Philipstown on Mondays in 1914 and 1915, to help people buy out their landlord. Many were successful but many others still had to pay the Purdon family rent for many years.
JJ Connaughton was in the grocery and provisions business after the Collins family for a short while in the old post office, while another shop across the road became the new post office.
In 1918 Peter Brady moved to Philipstown and rented the shop and house from John Breakey JP. By 1929 John J. Brady had succeeded his father in renting the shop. So it continues in the ownership of the Brady family to this day, although the lovely old shop has been closed for some years.