A Lived Memory: A History of Acres Hall, its Folly, and its Formal Gardens, Tullamore. By David F. M. Egan

Originally known as Acres Hall after the eighteenth century building developer Thomas Acres, this fine house with its Georgian features is now home to Tullamore’s town council chambers. In 1986 the house was acquired by Tullamore Urban District Council who undertook a refurbishment programme and extensions to the north and south wings, and at the rear of the house, to accommodate new civic offices. While much of the house was subject to a major reconfiguration, the development attempted to be sympathetic and sought to retain the house’s external architectural simplicity.  Acres built the house in 1786 and positioned it in a commanding elevated position at the confluence of High street, Cormac street and O’Moore street. The location of the house may be on the hill from which the town takes it name, Tulach Mhór (great hill). Acres Hall is listed as a protected structure in the Tullamore town development plan.

Thomas Acres was described as  Tullamore’s leading property developer over a period of fifty years from the building of Acres Hall in 1786 until his death in 1836.1 The date stone for Acres Hall, which was set into the wall above the garden entrance to the conservatory, reads ‘Spes Tutissima Coelis Thos Acres 1786’, and below in English, ‘The Safest Hope is in Heaven’. Acres was well connected to the town’s major landowner, the Earl of Charleville, Charles William Bury, from whom he acquired substantial landholdings on which to build his houses including Acres Hall. In 1790 he built the adjoining houses on the western side of Cormac Street.2

Captain Thomas Acres of: ‘Tullamore House’, is mentioned among the ‘principal inhabitants of Tullamore, and neighbourhood in the year 1823.’3 Tullamore House was built around 1800 directly across the street from Acres Hall, on the corner of O’Moore street and Cormac street, to accommodate military officers staying in the town in preparation for a possible invasion by Napoleon. Acres received his commission as a  Captain in the Tullamore Yeomanry Corps on 20 August 1808.4 The Tullamore True Blue Rangers had been formed as a local yeomanry in 1778 during the period of Grattan’s parliament.

Acres also developed Columcille Street and most of the houses in Offaly Street. In 1795 he obtained a further lease on lands at Windmill Hill where he built nine houses on O’Moore Street and twelve houses on the eastern side of Cormac Street. Leasing land for building was an attractive proposition with many leases extending to 999 years at an annual rent of a shilling per foot of street frontage.5  The Tithe Applotment Books of 1825 note Acres interest in four tracts of land. Acres Hall had seven acres and three roods of land attaching one another at Kilcruttin. Acres was paying a tithe of nineteen shillings and four and a half pence. He held thirty-five acres in the parish of Lynally and a further two holdings in Spollanstown of eighteen acres and three roods, and eighteen perches, respectively. Acres married Elizabeth Slator from the Wood of O, Tullamore. They had five children only one of whom, their daughter, Ellen, survived.When Thomas Acres died in 1836, he owned 140 houses in Tullamore or about four per cent of the total number in the town in addition to farms and substantial capital.7

  The Hall subsequently passed to Acres wife, Elizabeth, and to her daughter’s eldest son, Thomas Acres Peirce in 1879. The will of Ellen Peirce (née Acres), made in 1859, mentions ‘the children’s money left by my dear father Thomas Acres £4,964.’8 She left her ‘dear papa’s watch and chain’9 to her son, John Peirce, and any interest which she may have had in Aughnamanagh Farm. Ellen had married Dr George Peirce with whom she had nine children.10

Thomas Acres-Peirce joined the King’s County Militia and in 1869 Captain  Acres-Peirce was chairman of the magistrate at the Tullamore petty sessions. He married Frances French and they had six children, and lived at ‘Acres Hall, Tullamore, Co. Offaly’.A headstone in Deansgrange cemetery records the deaths of two of the children of ‘Lieut. Col. T. Acres Peirce, Acres Hall, Tullamore’; Louisa Peirce d. 1937;  Edmund Peirce d. 1945, and his wife, Maud, d. 1955.’11 In 1876 the representatives of Thomas Acres (deceased) owned 71 acres in Tullamore while Captain Thomas Acres Peirce, Tullamore, owned 1,694 acres of land.12 When Acres Peirce died in 1879 Acres Hall passed to his brother John Peirce, and in turn to his son, Donald McFarlane Peirce, in 1889. McFarlane Peirce left Tullamore in 1891 due to financial difficulties.13

The following year, Patrick Egan formerly of Charleville Square, and the managing partner in the business of P. & H. Egan, took possession of the property and leasehold. On 27 July 1892 he had the house insured for £800 with The Royal Insurance Company at a cost of £15.14 The insured properties included both Acres Hall, and his house at Charleville Square with car house and stables at the rear lately occupied by the insured’.

 

Fig 1. Patrick Egan (1842 – 1897) moved from Charleville Square to live at Acres Hall in 1892.

 

Egan’s father, Patrick Egan snr was a successful solicitor who had already established himself in business in Moate, County Westmeath before acquiring an existing merchant business at The Bridge House, Tullamore in 1852. Patrick Egan jnr later joined the Tullamore concern at the age of about seventeen or eighteen and in due course his younger brother, Henry, also joined the business. Together the brothers grew their company into the formidable trading enterprise of P. & H. Egan Limited. The business included the local Tullamore brewery, maltsters supplying their brewery in Tullamore and the Dublin markets, whiskey bonders and spirit merchants, extensive wholesalers and retailers dealing in hardware, agri-supplies, saw mills, builders supplies, and coal merchants, wholesale bacon importers, and general grocers. Patrick Egan lived in The Hall with his wife Elizabeth Egan (née Moorhead) with their eight surviving children: Edith, Elizabeth (Bessie), Mary, Eveline, Emily, Judith, Francis, and Dorothy, who was born at the Hall in 1893. In 1897 Patrick Egan died suddenly at the age of fifty-five, six years after moving into Acres Hall, and after nearly forty years as the senior partner in P. & H. Egan Limited. A crowd of ‘six to eight thousand persons on foot’ attended his funeral. His obituary stated: ‘It might be supposed that a man so intent on keeping out of the public view would be unknown, but the immense gathering to pay the final sign of condolence and respect told a different story. He oversaw the services of managers, overseers, foremen and a first rate staff of a couple of hundred young assistants, all working like bees in their separate departments. Nevertheless, he was the great main-spring of this complicated machinery of an immense establishment would never slow down until it literally broke down’.

 

Fig 2. Elizabeth Egan (née Moorhead) wife of Patrick Egan lived at The Hall from 1892 until circa 1899.

Fig 3. Elizabeth (Bessie) Egan, seen here, lived at The Hall from 1892 to circa 1899. Bessie and her sister, Edith, had found their father, Patrick Egan, collapsed in his offices at The Bridge House on 4 May 1897. He died later that night. Bessie married an English barrister, Nicholas Cockshutt, at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar in 1902 and settled in England.

Fig 4. Six of Patrick and Elizabeth Egan’s nine children all of whom lived at The Hall for a period. (l. to r.) Francis, Mary, Eveline, Judith, Emily, and Dorothy.

After Patrick’s death his brother, Henry Egan, chairman of P. & H. Egan Limited, either rented the house from Elizabeth Egan or took on the lease himself for a short period. Henry may not initially have lived in the house as his son, Patrick (Pat), is recorded as ‘head of the household’ in the 1901 census which notes that there were eight people living at The Hall. Patrick J. Egan (24), a brewer, Henry J. Egan (22), a solicitor, James F. Egan (20), a wine merchant, and William Egan (18), a maltster. Anthony Egan (5) was also living in the house as were three members of staff including Elizabeth Matthews (39) from Dublin who was the housekeeper. Bridgid Seally (40), from Horseleap, was the cook, while a local girl Ann McNamara (19), was a maid. The address of the houses in the 1901 census is recorded as House 1 in Charleville Street while in the 1911 census it is referred to as house 38 in High Street.

          By 1911, Henry Egan J.P. (63) was residing at The Hall as: ‘head of family and a retired merchant’. When Henry Egan was secretary of the Tullamore branch of The Land League in 1881, he had been jailed in Naas under the Coercion Acts. His primary offence seems to have been his exhortations to the crowd at a public meeting: ‘not to employ threshing machines except they belong to the Land Leaguers’.

Around 1899, Elizabeth Egan moved with her seven daughters and one son, to live at 15 Temple Villas, Palmerston Road, Rathmines, Dublin.

A total of 953 people were detained under the 1881 Coercion Act that required only: ‘reasonable suspicion of activity in the Irish National Land League’. On the day of his arrest, Egan was unanimously elected chairman of Tullamore Town Commissioners and later became the first chairman of Offaly County Council from 1899 to 1910.16 Living at The Hall with their father in 1911 were: James F. Egan (30), who was manager of the wholesale wine and spirit division. Also, resident was Kevin F. Egan (23), who was manager of the grocery and hardware business, and Gerald J. Egan (19), who was a student in the bank. Madeline Egan, Henry’s daughter, was also living at The Hall. Elizabeth Matthews was still the housekeeper while the cook was Mary Martin (39), and Catherine Hackett (19) was a parlourmaid. Henry Egan jnr (29) had died at The Hall in 1907.

 

Fig 5. Henry Egan, seen here withhis eldest granddaughter Molly Adams, resided at The Hall, Tullamore from circa 1900 until his death in 1919.

            During the period of the Egan association with the house it was referred to simply as: The Hall, Tullamore. Henry Egan died in May 1919, followed five months later by his son James, who died in October (39), both died at The Hall. When Patrick and Elizabeth Egans only son Francis came of age in 1908, he sought to take control of the properties, rents and interest which had accrued to him during his minority. He reached a settlement with his mother to buy out her entitlements under her ‘dower’ including, it is thought, her interests in both The Bridge House, which had been the property of her husband, Patrick Egan, and The Hall, at a total cost of £800. Francis Egan was living in Hayes Hotel (owned by P. & H. Egan Limited) in 1908. On 7 January 1915, he married Helen Byrne and they moved to live at The Hall. He had had taken out insurance on the property for £1,000 from Lady Day, 25 March 1915.17

Fig 6. Helen Egan with Frank jnr on her lap, (l. to r.) Aileen Egan (with toy dog), Paddy Egan and Joan Egan. Photograph taken 16 April 1923, at the end of the drawing room of The Hall, with conservatory doors behind.

 

Fig 7. Francis Egan with five of his children taken on the back lawn of The Hall c.1934. (l. to r.) Evelyn (5), Harry (9), Frank jnr (12), Aileen (14) Joan (19), Frank snr (47).

          After extensive litigation Francis Egan became a major shareholder, and a director, in P. & H. Egan Limited. He was a member of Tullamore Urban District Council and, in 1919, he became a member of the Tullamore Town Guardians. He lived at The Hall with his wife Helen and six children: Joan, Paddy, Aileen, Frank, Harry, and Evelyn. Francis and Helen Egan were Captain and Lady Captain in Tullamore Golf Club in 1922 and 1920, respectively. After his retirement, in the 1950s, Francis Egan moved to live in one of eight semi-detached houses which had been built by P. & H. Egan Limited, at Clonminch in 1936. His second eldest son, also Francis (Frank) Egan, moved into The Hall with his wife, Carmel Egan (née Duffy) who had come to Tullamore from Monaghan as an employee of the Ulster Bank. In 1950 she married Frank Egan who had lived at The Hall for most of his life since 1923 before they left Tullamore to live in Birr, in1968.

 

Fig 8. Frank and Carmel Egan lived at The Hall until 1968.

          Frank Egan jnr was a director of P. & H. Egan Limited with responsibility for the retail division including grocery, hardware, branch houses and hotels. He was a member of Tullamore Urban District Council (1960s) as was his father, Francis, (1920s), his grandfather, Patrick, (Tullamore Town Commissioner until his death in 1897) and his great-grandfather, Patrick snr (Tullamore Town Commissioner 1860). His uncles, James and Pat Egan, both former residents of The Hall, were also members of Tullamore UDC and Pat Egan went on to become a Cumann na nGaedheal T.D. in the fourth Dail (1923 – 1927) while his grand-uncle, Henry Egan, was both a member of Tullamore Town Commissioners and Chairman of Offaly County Council.

          The Egan interest in both business and politics originated with Patrick Egan snr who had no connection with The Hall but who was elected as a Tullamore Town Commissioner in 1860, despite being a resident of Moate, Co. Westmeath. Egan was a solicitor with offices in Moate and was the Sessions Crown solicitor for Westmeath. He was a friend of Daniel O’Connell since at least 1831. In 1837, he acted as an election agent for O’Connell’s son, John, who was returned unopposed for the borough of Athlone. Egans first association with Tullamore was in 1841, when he acted as an election agent for the Liberal candidate, Andrew Armstrong, who was returned as M.P. for the Kings County in the General Election of that year.

          After P. & H. Egan Limited, entered voluntary liquidation in 1968, Frank Egan purchased Doolys Hotel, Birr from the considerable assets of the company. Frank Egans five children, Marguerite, Terence, David, Tony, and Jennifer were the last generation of Egans to have had an association with The Hall.  Frank Egan subsequently let the house on several occasions before selling the property, effects and freehold of The Hall to Tullamore Urban District Council in 1986. The refurbished building was officially opened as The Town Hall by Minister for Labour, Mr. Brian Cowen T.D., on Monday, 22 June 1992. The Acres association with the house spanned one hundred and six years while the Egan association was about ninety four years. When Frank Egan left Tullamore, he was the last of four successive generations of political representation in the town by seven members of the Egan family, six of whom who had lived at The Hall. In total, four generations of Egans including thirty-three members of the extended family, lived in the house at one point or another.

Architectural Heritage

 

Fig 9. Tullamore Town Hall. Courtesy Offaly History and Archaeological Society

When built in 1786 Acres Hall was considered to be the finest house in Tullamore. To accommodate the house and allow it to nestle in the shelter of Kilcruttin hill at the rear, required considerable excavation and earthworks. The front of ‘this beautifully proportioned’ house, as it presents today, has changed little from the time of its construction. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage describes it as: ‘a five-bay two-story over basement house with flanking extensions to north and south side. Coursed limestone walls with tooled eaves and quoins. Round-headed door opening with tooled block-and-start surround and bespoke fanlight. Maintained in excellent condition, with original five-over-four timber sash windows and impressive block-and-start tool stone surround, this building without a doubt had a positive impact on the Offaly town.’

          An Foras Forbartha commissioned a report in 1980 describing the front of the house as: ‘limestone ashlar façade’ (ashlar refers to finely dressed stone, cut, or worked until squared).‘The round-headed Gibbsian door-case has blocked-architrave dressings with fluted blocks and a scroll keystone supporting a tiny cornice.’ Gibbsian, or a Gibbs door-case, after the architect James Gibbs, is also referred to as block-and-start, and is used to describe a surround or architrave: ‘the most essential element of which is the alteration of blocking with non-blocking elements.’ The hall door offers an excellent example of this style (Fig 10).

 

Fig 10. Block-and-start door case built in 1786. The intricately worked fanlight positioned below the keystone is thought to be the original. Helen Egan, her sister Gertie Byrne, second from left, with unidentified friends in 1941.

 

There are many similar examples in Tullamore and Athlone while doors from the later Georgian period, such as those in Birr and Mountmellick, are lighter and less muscular with more exuberant fanlights and sidelights.

 

Fig 11. Front door inset with two panels of leaded stained glass, doorknocker, door handle and a wall-mounted bell. The two young boys are Harry and Frank Egan in 1930.

          Unfortunately, in the course of the extensive Tullamore Urban Council renovations the decision was made to remove the attractive lodge at the northern street front of the house described as:   ‘a small two-story lodge with tall, slender, engaged columns and a façade inset under a hipped roof ’18 (Fig 12). The lodge had direct access onto the street and into the front garden. It has been additionally suggested that servants had access from the lodge to the rear of Acres Hall secluded from view behind a curtain wall. This view is supported by various OSI maps (below). Two Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI) maps from 1837-1842 and 1888-1913, and an Ordnance Survey Sheet (OSS) 1890, in particular, show the layout of Acres Hall and gardens in surprising detail. The balancing carriage-arch on the south side was also lost, with its ‘tall, slender, Doric columns’ as was the front garden. ‘In the front of Acres Hall, is a lawn, a rockery, a majestic beech tree, and tall railings with two flat headed arches. Each arch is composed of four slabs of limestone decorated with pulvinated panels.’ 19 (Fig 13).

Footnote: Bessie (née Egan) Cockshutt, resided for many years at: The Red House, Sutton Green, Guilford, Surrey. In its garden today is a fine copper beech planted, it is believed, by Bessie in remembrance of the copper beech of her childhood days, living at Acres Hall.

 Fig 12. The two-story gate lodge of Acres Hall with railings and street entrance. Courtesy National Library of Ireland.

 

Fig 13. One of the two doors leading from Cormac Street into the front garden. The door cases were formed by four limestone slabs with pulvinated or convex panels on either side. Courtesy National Library of  Ireland.

The four wrought iron balconies outside the second level bedrooms are thought to be later additions. The front lawn and rockery are clearly visible as is the extension on the north side and the wicket gate, which gave access to the rear of the house. Wood panels have replaced the glass panels in the front door.

          On entering the house, the two finest rooms were the dining room on the right and the drawing room on the left. The drawing room now acts as the new Council Chamber and contains the original and only 1786 Georgian fireplace remaining in the house. The repositioned fireplace follows the strict rules of Palladian proportion in keeping with the house (Fig 15). Originally there were four such fireplaces, in the drawing room, dining room and in the two main bedrooms. Three fireplaces were ‘stolen’ during a period in the 1980s, when the house remained unoccupied prior to its sale. Around the same time the house suffered serious water ingress causing part of the ceiling in the drawing room to collapse. The repurposed Council Chamber bears little resemblance to the original room.

 

Fig 15. Original fireplace from drawing room of Acres Hall.

          The drawing room led onto a conservatory through a floor to ceiling panelled glass partition with stone steps down onto a terraced lawn at the rear of the house. Positioned halfway down the drawing room, were two richly decorated, opposing plaster panels, depicting a white robed woman with hands raised above her head releasing a dove, in classical style, on a painted Wedgwood-blue background (Fig 16).

 

Fig 16. Detail of drawing room with plasterwork panel and picture rail.

The substantial rectangular conservatory, off the drawing room, contained  a terracotta floor while a small copper bell was suspended outside on the conservatory wall. The dining room, now offices, had a bow shaped arch set into the back wall and an equally impressive fireplace, and serving hatch onto an anteroom located at the top of the basement stairs with access to the kitchens below.

          The entire second floor of the house was taken up by two, two-bay bedrooms each with its own Georgian fireplace which, in the 1950s, were separated by a generous one-bay landing with a recessed library. This middle bay may have formed part of a third bedroom when the house was built. The top floor of the house retained the same footprint and was used as a children’s nursery and bedrooms, with windows facing south and north respectively. A small house maid’s bedroom was located off a half-landing between the top two floors.

          The original house and its surrounding gardens, walled garden and farmland show that it was designed to be a self sufficient, functional, town house as evidenced by the sprawling basement and extensive kitchen with an open fire for cooking, and various ancillary rooms. Access to fresh water was drawn, it is believed, through a passageway from a basement well. This well was located towards the junction of O’Moore Street and Cormac Street, later the location for an early town well (Fig 17). Entry to the passageway started directly opposite the foot of the basement stairs and extended out under the front lawn. The entrance to the well was sealed off some time after the installation of running water.

 

Fig 17. Street access to the front door of the lodge at Acres Hall. In the foreground, the well at the junction of High St, Cormac St, and O’Moore St. Courtesy National Library of Ireland.

          Natural light flooded the basement kitchens through a large window facing south onto the courtyard, which was at ground level. Two further windows gave light from vertical shafts rising at the front of the house. A similar technique was employed to give light to basement rooms on the north side of the house. Most of the various ancillary rooms (staff dining room, pantry, dry stores, work rooms etc.) had some access to natural light. After the basement kitchens were closed, a small kitchen containing an Aga stove and an adjoining pantry came into use. The kitchen was located behind the dining room with a bedroom overhead. A ground floor toilet was located at the end of the hallway.

          The Acres family made substantial additions to the house in the early nineteenth century which were completed before the death of Thomas Acres in 1836. The 1838 Ordnance Survey map shows the outline of the completed alterations, which were largely unsuccessful, and not in keeping with the house’s original Georgian proportions. The addition of a new south wing included a sitting room and two further consecutive small connecting annexes. The outer annex was a single story building referred to as ‘the office’ which suggests it may have originally functioned as a type of estate office. To the rear, the office overlooked the yard while at the front it contained a small door with direct access onto the garden path. Above the sitting room a large bedroom was built with its own dressing room. The bedroom was linked to the main house by a return on which were located a bathroom and a W.C. The extension was balanced on the north side by the addition of a new dressing room built over an arcade, which gave access to the rear of the house. Entry to the arcade was through a wrought iron wicket gate (Fig 18) set into the wall beneath a niche containing a carved wooden urn.

Fig 18. Original wrought iron wicket gate from Acres Hall.

          On entering the courtyard, through the carriage arch, two small two-storey houses were located to the south of the arch. The house’s faced into the yard with their backs to Cormac Street. The yard also contained a number of impressive buildings for housing carriages, stabling for horses, and an array of smaller buildings referred to variously, in the 1950s, as the turf shed, the coal shed, the pigsty etc. (shown on OSI maps 20 & 21). The yard was closed off at the west end by a six metre high retaining stone wall. Access to a washroom and the basement kitchens was through a door off the yard which also provided a walk-through into the back gardens.

The Formal Gardens

The Acres gardens were as extensive as they were magnificent. In all, the formal gardens were laid out in parterre fashion. Extending to close on two acres, they included walkways, terraced and raised sections, a walled garden where fruit trees and vegetables growing abounded. For sport and pleasure a regulation size lawn tennis court was maintained.

Fig 19. The Ordnance Survey Ireland Historic 6 inch map (1837 – 1842) showing the walled gardens of Acres Hall laid out in parterre fashion with six sections. The open space to right of The Hall prior to the building of the Presbyterian church.

The west wall had an entrance into the adjacent field and a river walk, which followed the line of the river ending opposite an elaborate gazebo. The gazebo seems to have been placed on tiered, raised ground situated on the far side of the riverbank and was most likely constructed by Acres as a point of interest on the landscape. It was possibly reached by a small wooden bridge. The gazebo is not shown on the 1890 OSI map.

 

Fig 20. Ordnance Survey Ireland historic 25 inch map (1888 – 1913) showing ‘Hall’ and front garden, lodge, carriage entrance (arrow points to X), accommodation houses, stable block and various outhouses, and office buildings.

During the period of the Egan’s tenure the land comprised the three blocks shown as .464, .688 and .622 acres, a total of 1.77 acres. The Summerhouse and Acres Folly are clearly marked on the .464 plot while the plot marked .622 was formerly a walled garden with an archway (marked on map) onto the field leading to the Tullamore river. The adjoining land was sold in 1891 to Patrick Lloyd around the same time as Patrick Egan took up residence in Acres Hall. Access to the river walk would have ceased and the doorway in the west wall sealed up from that time. On the street to the front of the house, P, marks the location of a street pump, while W.T. denotes a water tap both of which are shown in the National Library of Ireland photographs above. L.B. indicates a letterbox.

Fig 21. Ordnance Survey sheet 1890 showing a pump, water tap, and trough located in the yard.

Footnote: Paths are shown around the  front garden lawn with a rockery in the center, two grates at front of house allowing light to enter the basement, entrance to office building, covered carriage archway with entrance to front garden, passageway from lodge to rear of house with curtain wall.

 

Fig 22 .Ordnance Survey sheet 1890 showing location of the summerhouse facing south-west towards the river, and Acres folly with an external stair which gave access to the first floor.

 

Fig 23. Ordnance Survey Sheet 1890 showing various walkways at the rear of the house, entrance to the parterre garden, and the arch in the west wall giving access to a river walk. A small building, perhaps a potting shed, whose walls were still intact in 1960, was located immediately inside the entrance to the walled garden. The ‘P’ in the centre of the garden was a water pump (Fig 29).

Fig 24. The back gardens (c.1932) immediately outside the conservatory with a tall flagpole situated near the top of Kilcruttin Hill, a small cannon on its gun carriage which is thought to have been removed from its original location at the top of Acres folly, and a carved stone sundial on the lawn. The photograph does not show the large eight-sided stone table that was located on a grass terrace behind the gun carriage.

          The upper gardens to the rear of the house were framed by a formal walkway with retaining stone walls. Some paths were constructed, in part, with cobblestone drains to cater for the large volumes of run-off rainwater from the hill. The walkway ran around the upper garden perimeter, which included several terraced lawns rising to the top of Kilcruttin Hill, garden borders, and an orchard on the westward facing slope. OSS (Fig 23) seems to show that the garden immediately behind the conservatory originally extended as far as Acres folly. By the 1940s the top of the grass terraces was demarked by a rockery beyond which was meadow. Access to the field was through a wooden gate and any remnants of the paths towards the folly, shown on OSS (Fig 23) had disappeared.

          The built garden walkway descended gradually north/west away from the house (Fig 25) arriving at an impressive two metre high rockery before turning sharply southward and ending at a summer house. The small one-room summer house had a slated roof and contained a fireplace and chimney. It is thought to have had a wood framed glass front when built.

          The summerhouse faced west overlooking the walled garden at the rear of the property with views of Tullamore river in the middle distance and the progress of the Grand Canal towards the Shannon after 1789, and presumably, Acres gazebo. When Acres laid out his house and pleasure grounds in 1786 there was little development beyond the walled garden, which presented him with bucolic views over his lands.

 

Fig 25. Garden path descending westward with cobblestone drains visible on the right (c.1932).

 

Fig 26. Lower garden walk with Acres folly in the background and faint outline of summerhouse roof (c. 1932).

 

 

Fig 27. Entrance gate to the walled garden (1932). The gateway is the same limestone slab construction as those from Cormac Street into the garden at the front of the house.

          Passing through the gate it was possible to glimpse the remains of the formal planting. Dermot McAuley from Dublin, the eldest son of Joan McAuley (née Egan) recalls: ‘As a kid I was from time to time dispatched down to Tullamore to stay with Granny (Helen) and Grandfather (Frank snr). I can remember the garden. In the late 1940s to early 1950s (I was eight) about three quarters of the garden was laid out much as shown on the old Ordnance Survey maps. The area was broken up into separate plots by the network of paths. Each plot was surrounded by neatly trimmed box hedges. The plots themselves were mostly dug over with some used for vegetables and fruit trees. The other quarter of the garden at the end furthest from the gate had been let go wild with grass waist high. I believe this is where the tennis court was, but it had not been maintained for many years when I saw it. In later years, when I stayed with your family in The Hall, I saw that at some time in the 1950s the whole garden had beencleared creating what you call the bottom field.’

 

Fig 28. Tennis court located inside the former walled garden (1927).

 

 

Fig 29. Two ladies watching tennis (1927). The young lady on the right with the parasol is Joan Egan, aged twelve, with ‘Mrs Smith’. Behind the deckchairs and hammock, it is possible to see the original garden pump, and a large wooden water barrel, which were located at the centre of the walled garden (Fig 23). In the foreground, to the left side of the tree, a drinks trolley can also be seen.

Acres Folly

 

Fig 30. Acres Folly c.1932 showing wooden stairs, and entrance to the first floor, and windows with original glazing in situ.

 

Fig 31. Joan and Evelyn Egan sitting on the access stairs to Acres Folly (1933). Courtesy Dermot McAuley.

Behind Acres Hall the land rises steeply to the top of Kilcruttin Hill where a garden path once continued to the folly. Still standing today, Acres Folly, built by Thomas Acres around 1812, rises a further nine meters from the hilltop. Local folklore suggests that Acres built his folly to commemorate Wellington’s many victories in the Peninsular wars, which ended French rule in Spain.

Fig 32. Acres Folly with its iconic hexagonal chimney pots. Courtesy of the report by Howley Hayes Architects.        

          The folly was one of eleven in County Offaly that formed the basis of an Offaly County Council commissioned study, published in 2013, by Howley Hayes Architects. The folly nods in the direction of Sragh Castle but it is unlikely to have been conceived as having any defensive role and was most probably used as: ‘a pleasure building combining summerhouse and prospect tower for the Acres family to go, and enjoy views of their garden, and look out over the surrounding countryside.’ The tower is three storeys above a vaulted undercroft. The upper floor rooms had a fireplace and were accessed by a wooden stair leading onto the rooftop and viewing platform with protective iron railings. The report states that: ‘the door and window openings are dressed in crisp finely tooled limestone, as are the copings and the wonderful octagonal chimneypots.’ Because the upper storeys had an internal lime plaster finish and fireplaces, Howley Hayes suggests that these rooms were possibly used as servant’s accommodation as well as a summerhouse.

Given the long association of the Acres, and the Acres Peirce families, with the Tullamore Yeomanry Corps and The Kings County Militia, it is possible that the folly with it’s cannon and nearby flagpole, played a central role in various military ceremonial and commemorative events until the latter part of the nineteenth century.

 

Fig 33. Refurbishment of Acres Folly, October 2020.

About the author David F. M. Egan

David was born at Acres Hall in 1955 and was the third eldest of five Egan siblings. His father and mother, Frank and Carmel Egan moved the family to live in Birr, County Offaly in 1968, where they were proprietors of the famed Dooly’s Hotel. David resides in Athlone, County Westmeath.

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1. Tullamore Urban District Council, Official Opening of Town Hall, and Civic Offices on 22 June 1992

2. Early History of Tullamore by Dr William Moran.

3. www.igp-web.com/IGPArchives/ire/offaly/directories/tullamore-1823.txt

4. Returns relating to the yeomanry corps, Ireland. Accounts, and papers of the House of Commons published in 1843 https://books.google.ie/books?id=C3NbAAAAQAAJ

5. Ibid.

6. Flights of Fancy, Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna

7. Land Agents and Estate Management in King’s County during The Great Famine 1838 – 1853 by Ciaran Joseph Reilly.

8. findmypast.ie

9. Ibid.

10. Flights of Fancy, Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna

11. http://www.igp-web.com/IGPArchives/ire/dublin/photos/tombstones/1headstones/deansgrange-sw7.txt

12. Landowners in Ireland 1876 failteromhat.com

13. Flights of Fancy, Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna

14. Egan family papers

16. Tullamore Urban District Council, Official Opening of the Town Hall, and Civic Offices 22 June, 1992

17. Egan family papers

18. National Heritage Inventory Tullamore by William Garner published by An Foras Forbartha 1980.

19. Ibid

Ordnance Survey Ireland Historic Map 6 Inch B&W (1837-1842) http://map.geohive.ie/mapviewer.html

Ordnance Survey Ireland Historic Map 25 Inch B&W (1888- 1913) http://map.geohive.ie/mapviewer.html

University College Dublin 1890 Ordnance Survey Sheet XVII.52 Town of Tullamore: King’s County: https://digital.ucd.ie/view/ucdlib:41458

Photograph Nos. 11, 12 & 16  from National Library Ireland digital collection http://catalogue.nli.ie