Memories of the Kerin family of Clara in the first half of the 20th century. By Sylvia Turner

Offaly History is delighted to welcome a new contributor this week who has generously shared her mother’s memoirs of life in Clara in the 1930s.

My mother, Ethel Clarke neé Kerin, wrote memoirs in later life of the time before she moved to England after World War II. Clara figured a great deal in the stories that she told me about her childhood and she clearly held very fond memories of the town. 

Her mother, Elizabeth Evans, came from nearby Geashill and was employed as a servant in the household of Joshua Clibborn Goodbody at Beechmount, Clara. Her sister, Mary Anne Evans, known as Poll also worked in Clara, employed as a housemaid/domestic servant at Charlestown. It was here where Poll met her future husband, Robert Stewart, who was employed as a coachman.

H6 - Beechmount, Clara


Beechmount, Kilcoursey, Clara, Co Offaly


Christmas card 1905 depicting the Goodbody family and sent to my grandmother from ‘Miss Phyllis’

Communication with the family home in Geashill would seem important to the sisters as can be seen from this note on a postcard my grandmother sent to one of her sisters in Geashill.

Beechmount House – We hope to see you tomorrow evening. I saw Poll. I went to the train. I will go and meet you if you are coming. We did not hear when Mrs J.C. was coming – love from all – remember me to Maggie and all with best love from Bessie. I got your letter – thanks so much – we had very bad weather since Bye Bye BE

Joshua Clibborn Goodbody was a jute manufacturer and lived at Beechmount with his wife, Eliza Lucia Pim. They had three children, Anna Phyllis, Jonathan Goff and Eric Goff. It is likely my grandmother met her future husband, Thomas Kerin, through relatives of Joshua Goodbody’s mother, Lydia Clibborn. Thomas Kerin worked in Clogheen, Co Tipperary, as a gardener/domestic servant. Lydia Clibborn’s sister, Anna married Joshua Grubb of Clonmel, just 26 km from Clogheen. As first cousins, the children of Lydia and Anna are likely to have known each other and be in touch with the Grubbs of Clogheen for whom Thomas Kerin worked.

My grandparents married on 28th August 1912 at St Mary’s Church of Ireland, Geashill, and moved to Clogheen. This was followed by a move to Killoe near Longford where they had their first two daughters, Frances Mary (known as May) in 1914 and Margaret Florence in 1915.  They returned to Clara between 1915 and 1918. A third daughter, Elizabeth Esther was born to Elizabeth and Thomas Kerin in 1918 and was registered by her father who gave his address as Kilcoursey. The family lived in a gate lodge on Kilbeggan Road. Thomas Kerin, was employed as a gardener

(l) Thomas Kerin and his three daughters on St Patrick’s Day 1921 outside Charlestown House and (r) Aunt May’s bible with inscription from ‘Mrs Goodbody’


The bible that May held dear all her life was given to her by ‘Mrs Goodbody’. It is not clear which Mrs Goodbody gave her the bible but the photograph above looks as if it was taken at Charlestown House and so could be from Mrs Robert Goodbody. Alternatively, it may have come from Mrs Joshua Clibborn Goodbody as the Beechmount family may have kept up an association with my grandmother as a former employee. 

May and Margaret went to the Protestant National School in Clara with David Beers Quinn, the eminent historian who wrote ‘Clara: a Midland Industrial Town 1900-1923’ He describes the raid on the RIC barracks in Clara by the IRA on 2nd of June 1921. Despite significant bloodshed, the attackers withdrew but it altered the situation in Clara. The police barracks were abandoned and the Protestant School was commandeered with a large private residence in Kilbeggan Road to be combined police and military posts.

The timing of my mother Ethel’s birth in Clara on 11th January 1922 was not auspicious. The Clara of January 1922 was a dangerous place to be. Although the Treaty signed in December 1921 was generally viewed favourably by the population of Clara, there was still unease in the town, particularly for the Protestant population. The violent clashes earlier in 1921 between the RIC and IRA had led to a 9pm curfew, making them vulnerable to attack by unscrupulous members of the IRA. It would seem that the Kerin family felt it expedient to leave Clara as many other Protestants came to do including the family of David Beers Quinn. The Kerin family moved to the comparative safety of Cromlyn House (now called Rockfield House), Rathaspic near Rathowen in County Westmeath where my grandfather worked as a gardener for a Major Battersby.

However, the move away from Clara did not stop frequent visits by my grandmother and her daughters. Below my mother explains her visits:

My mother had two sisters whom we knew as Aunt Poll and Aunt Maggie. Aunt Poll was the youngest and was married to Uncle Bob (Robert Stewart). She met him when she was “in service” to one of the Goodbody families and Uncle Bob was a coachman/chauffeur. They lived in Clara. My mother, before marrying my father, also was “in service” as a house parlour maid to a Mr and Mrs. Joshua Goodbody. 

When I was a child, I used to love to visit my aunt and uncle with my mother who used to take us girls in turn when she went there, perhaps for a week at a time. We went by train usually, sometimes getting a lift by car. In the mornings I remember hearing the factory whistle or horn rousing the factory workers at set hours – 6.a.m. 6.30 am and 7 a.m. perhaps and then the clonk-clonk of shoes hurrying to work. Uncle Bob used to keep several canaries and they liked dogs. They had one or two wire haired fox terriers. I have some lovely memories of my Aunt Poll. She didn’t have any children of her own, so she was very kind to us. I remember birthdays and Christmases when she always sent us really nice presents and at Easter some lovely pink and white sugar eggs.

The sisters communicated frequently by postcard and letter. Below is an example of such a communication.

Dear L. Many thanks for letter yesterday. This is just to say I have material now and will DV have it ready for M for Friday. I got this PC at home – you will recognize it – will write Thursday DV Love to all, yours P

Going shopping was associated with visits to Clara. Clara was a bustling little town due to its population working in the mills and there was easy access to Tullamore, the county town. Living at Cromlyn House, the family’s nearest shop for basic requirements was in Rathowen about 4 km away otherwise they had to walk to Rathowen to get the bus to Edgeworthstown. When my grandmother’s children were old enough, they went to Clara on their own. May wrote a postcard home to her mother on a visit in November 1928 when she would have been 14. It gives a sense of how they travelled around.

Dear Mammy – Aunt Poll and I are here at Aunt Maggie’s today. We came in the bus from Tullamore and had a lovely run in it. Aunt M did not know we were coming so we gave her a surprise, from May

Aunt Poll and Uncle Bob outside their house on Kilbeggan Road, Clara

Aunt Poll and Uncle Bob outside their home in Kilbeggan Road, Clara, July 1937- the house is still in existence next to St Francis’Boys’ School and almost opposite the entrance to Charlestown House

Robert Stewart was a widower when he married Poll. His father, James, was from Co.Donegal and his mother Isabella from Co. Roscommon. They had eight children but only three survived, James, a flour miller, Robert who followed his father in being a coachman/chauffeur and Jennie. They lived in River Street, Clara. Robert Stewart is buried in St Brigid’s Church of Ireland graveyard with his first and second wife either side of him. The other members of his family are also buried there.

St Brigid's Church of Ireland, Clara

St Brigid’s Church of Ireland, Clara

Aunt Poll always figured largely in all our lives. She came to my wedding in Northern Ireland in l945 and we visited her and Uncle Bob on one leave before we left the Forces.  Sadly, in 1946, she got very bad influenza which turned to meningitis (it wasn’t diagnosed in time to save her) and she died quite suddenly on virtually my last leave from Northern Ireland before I came to England to be demobbed. Uncle Bob died within a year. He was broken-hearted. They are both buried in Clara churchyard. 

At the same time as the deaths of Poll and Robert Stewart, the Kerin family dispersed. Thomas Kerin died just after his brother -in-law in 1947 in Ashford, Co Wicklow, whilst working as a gardener to the Misses Croftons of Broomfield. Two daughters went to England and two lived in the Dublin area, Elizabeth Kerin moving to her eldest daughter’s home in Malahide, following her husband’s death. Although Clara was rarely visited, it did seem to hold special memories with the Goodbodys for the family. Along with family notices in my grandmother’s bible, there were those for the Goodbody family such as the one for Jonathan Goff Goodbody above who my grandmother would have known as a child.

Death Jonathan Goff Goodbody (2)

In memory of my mother Ethel Clarke née Kerin

Sylvia Turner April 2020 with thanks to Michael Goodbody for additional information.