Tullamore Gas Company: the missing archives. By Michael Byrne Sources for Offaly History no. 11

Now where is this in Tullamore ?

So here we are talking about sources that have been lost. We have a new Offaly Archives since March 2020 and we are working to fill it, but yet we have to regret what has been lost. There are many such collections in Offaly – grand jury records (some) mostly pre-1820 are missing, county infirmary records (very little surviving), the records of Tullamore town commission ( all gone). We should do a list of what we are missing. Somebody out there may have them.  The writer of 1915 had access to the minute books of the Tullamore Gas Company, but where are they now.? Where are the books for Birr?

The memo and arts of Tullamoore Gas Company the first incorporated entity in Tullamore . The document was lately presented to Offaly Archives. A rare example of Tullamore printing.

Today we are talking about the records of the Tullamore Gas Company. Start up was in 1859 and the company survived until September 1921. Let there be electric light and there was in that month during the Truce in the War of Independence and that was the end of gas. The change was coming for over twenty years and Charleville Castle and D. E. Williams had electric light from about 1900 and earlier. Lord Rosse had it in Birr Castle in the 1880s.

Much of what we now know of the gas companies in Birr and Tullamore will be found in the local press. Today we publish a convenient summary in respect of the Tullamore company from an article in 1915. The names will be familiar such as Goodbody and Lumley. The first directors were an ecumenical lot. What we need now is a full history of the essential services in Offaly from gas to water and sewerage. We take it for granted but in 1854 Tullamore had one candle lamp in O’Connor Square and that was it. Many of our readers will remember when the lights were turned off at 12 midnight. Some may have heard of the ‘glimmer man’ and what he got up to during the war years. And so to our 1915 Chronicler.

The gas lamp at Supermac in 1902

Industrial Tullamore – some of its principal business firms in 1915

In treating of Tullamore from the historical point of view, no mention has been made of a body which is closely connected with the commercial and industrial life of the town, namely, the Tullamore Gas Company. For over half a century the Gas Company has been closely allied with the industrial concerns, and it will be found that the first board of directors was composed of gentlemen who had the welfare of the town at heart, and who strove in their day to make it a prosperous centre of commercial enterprise. In this connection, then, a reference to the Gas Company will not be out of place. The company was formed in 1859 as “The Tullamore Gas Co., Ltd.,” with a nominal capital of £2,500, divided into five hundred shares of £5 each. The first meeting of the subscribers was held on the 15th September, 1859, when the following were appointed directors for the first year:- Messrs. Robert James Goodbody, Edward Cantwell, John Hill, Henry Manley, Thomas Pim Goodbody, Daniel Carroll, George Ridley, Alexander McMullen, John A. Bradley, Patrick Egan, John Willcocks, Bernard Daly, Robert G. Deverell, Lewis F. Goodbody, Clara, all of whom held 20 shares each. Mr John Willcocks was appointed Chairman, and Mr Robert Whelan, solicitor, was the legal adviser of the company. Messrs. Ridley and Cantwell were entrusted with the selection of the site for the proposed gas works, and a suitable plot was purchased from Mr George Pretty for the sum of £100 [in Harbour Street].

Offaly has no museum of artifacts associated with the county. Why not start one. €250,000 will get us started with a building of 5,000 sq ft where we could build a collection for a museum perhaps in 20 years . Eustace also worked with the gas company as did his father.

The site having been secured, the building was commenced under the supervision of Mr William Browne, the mason work having been executed by Mr Thomas Davin, Spollinstown. The works were supplied by Mr William Daniel, of Dublin, the apparatus for the manufacture of the gas costing £755 13s. 9d. Mr Robert James Goodbody acted for some months as temporary secretary of the company, the permanent secretary Mr Patrick O’Loughlin, being afterwards appointed. He held the office until 1875, when he resigned to take up a position in Co. Tipperary. The minutes of the company contain the following entry of a letter dated 6th September, 1875, from Mr O’Loughlin:-  “Dear Sir – After a long service in connection with the Gas Company, since its foundation, you can scarcely have an idea of the difficulty I find in writing this note placing my resignation in your hands. You are already aware that I have undertaken a very heavy responsibility in Co. Tipperary, which I find with other duties will leave very little time at any disposal, not even enough for ordinary recreation. I am, therefore, most reluctantly obliged to adopt the course I am now pursuing. Indeed, I felt I would not be treating the company well were I to hold a responsible trust the duties of which I would not be able to discharge with satisfaction either to the directors or myself, requiring close attention to small details.

Gas lamp in Cormac Street in 1900

Everything is now in fair working order under your efficient manager, and, I may add, that I shall give every assistance in my power to my successor.”  Having thanked the chairman for the assistance given him, Mr O’Loughlin concluded, “I feel some little pride, I hope justifiable, in reviewing the past, and believe that you all feel satisfied that I at least endeavoured to do my duty; I always found it harder to please myself than the directors.”  A sum of £10 was voted by the directors for the purpose of providing a testimonial to Mr O’Loughlin. Messrs. William Lumley and Stephen Lynam were appointed, the former to discharge the secretarial duties, and the latter as collector. In June, 1873, Mr William Eustace was appointed manager of the works, which important position he continued to fill with satisfaction to the directors and everybody else concerned until his death in 1895, when he was succeeded by his son, Mr F. J. Eustace, the present popular manager. During the last decade the works have been reconstructed, their being very little of the original plant in existence. (As the town developed industrially, it became necessary to make improvements and extensions in the works. A new gas holder was erected at a cost of over one thousand pounds. The retort settings have been constructed on what is known as the regenerative system. A plant for the manufacture of sulphate of ammonia was also erected at considerable expense. The system of public lighting has also been considerably improved, the illuminating power of the lamps having been greatly increased by the adoption of inverted incandescent burners which are a vast improvement on the old flat flame burners. Originally the number of public lamps in Tullamore was forty; the number is now double that, and within the past couple of years new mains have been laid through different parts of the town. About a year ago there was talk about introducing the electric light, and the scheme was successfully defeated at the Urban Council by the supporters of the old-time system. Since then the directors have had under consideration a scheme for the lighting of the town with electricity and possibly in the near future the scheme will fructify. The town is well lighted at present – the Gas Company having at the beginning of the season made a new arrangement with the Urban Council whereby the lighting can be more effectively and satisfactorily carried out. The present secretary of the company is Mr J. A. Lumley, who succeeded his father when that esteemed gentleman died in 1900. It is of some interest to note that when the company was formed, in 1859, the population of Tullamore was 5,000.

The subscribers to the gas company.in 1859

More on the electricity supply to mark the 100th anniversary in 2021.