Offaly History intended to have a walk on 26 December 2020 through the historic Lloyd Town Park, Tullamore, but had to cancel due to the imposition of the third wave of restrictions since March 2020 designed to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 virus. An historic year and one we will be glad to see the back of. After fifty-years of mostly progress since the 1960s we have become accustomed to the shock of change for the worst since the banking crisis and the bail-out. Now it’s the Covid-19 virus and in the background climate change, and in Offaly the end of the bogs – so much a part of growth in Offaly from the 1950s. Today we are visiting the Lloyd town park, Kilcruttin, Tullamore and reflecting on its historical features and change in the landscape of the area and the town of Tullamore since the 1700s.
The name Kilcruttin was recorded in 1574 and on the Ordnance Maps from 1838.
The town park is there because of a suggestion in 1982 from Junior Chamber that was taken up by the council. The work on the planned park in the 1980s was gradual as it was part of back-to-work schemes in that difficult decade. The field was owned by the nearby Lloyd family from the 1890s to the 1960s and it was decided to call it Lloyd Town Park in 2006. The park got an award winning €1 million revamp in 2007–9 and has been maintained successfully by the council since them.
The park is in the townland of Kilcruttin and is bounded on the west by the Tullamore River and on the east by Cormac Street. The land was part of the Lloyd’s farm and Lloyd’s grocery was in nearby Cormac Street where the sports gear shop is now located.
Besides the Tullamore River the other prominent features are the cemetery where the oldest recorded tombstone is 250 years old and dated to 1770 and the hill of Kilcruttin. The cemetery was called the ‘burial place’ as early as 1752. The original access lane and entrance to this cemetery is still to be seen between the terrace of ten houses built by the Acres Pierce Estate in 1879 and the brick house near the railway station. It is the oldest cemetery in Tullamore town and was located on what was the outskirts of the town and in a soft poor ground close to the Tullamore river. It has some very good monuments including the mausoleum to the Methodist merchant John Burgess, his wife Deborah, and four of their children who died in infancy. The epitaph describes John and Deborah Burgess as ‘consistent members of the Wesleyan Methodist Society for upwards of fifty years’. The memorial of 1808 to the German Baron Oldershausen of the King’s German Legion, the heroes of Waterloo, who were stationed in Tullamore in 1806–8. Out of Kilcruttin came no less than three new cemeteries, that for ‘paupers’ on Ardan Road in 1852 and ‘the Sleeping Ground’ for Protestants at Clonminch in the same year. Forty years later the new Catholic cemetery at Clonminch (in Spollanstown townland beside Collier’s Stream) was opened.
How old is Kilcruttin? Was there a church at Kilcruttin and is it an early site? There is little or no evidence of any remains there at the time of the first ordnance survey map in 1838. Yet curiously Canon O’Hanlon included the place in his Lives of the Saints even providing an illustration. Was it conjectural or actual? It is surprising that it is not mentioned in the ordnance survey letters if any such historical traditions or remains survived. It is not known when people first began to be buried here but the earliest known gravestone dates from 1770 and the latest in the 1850s. Most of the people buried here were members of the Church of Ireland or Methodists. Catholics were generally buried at the older Catholic sites at Kilbride, Durrow or Lynally and only in Tullamore when the Clonminch graveyard was opened in 1893. However the better off Protestants were also buried at the old graveyards near the town because these graveyards became the property of the Established Church after the Reformation. Lynally was the final resting place of Thomas Acres who built what is now the municipal offices at Cormac Street.
1,000 poor and famine victims buried at Kilcruttin in 1848-52 Kilcruttin cemetery was officially closed in 1892. However an attempt was made to close the place in the 1850s. In 1852 the then rector of Tullamore, the Rev. E. F. Berry, wrote to the responsible local authority, the board of guardians of the Tullamore union advising of the difficulties with Kilcruttin: and the second letter was written to the Board by Francis Berry, the agent for the earl of Charleville (the local landlord).. The Rev. E. F. Berry to the Board of Guardians:-I beg leave to inform you that within the last few days I have been inspecting the graveyard of Kilcruttin where the greater number of persons who die in the Tullamore Poorhouse [the workhouse at Ardan Road] are buried and I find that it is now so full that no more bodies can be interred without greatly endangering the healthfulness of the neighbourhood. In one corner more than a thousand paupers have been buried within the last four years, and according to Patrick Gorman’s return to me two hundred have been laid there within the past year. Under those circumstances I trust that the Board of Guardians will, as soon as possible, obtain a burial ground for interment of all paupers who die in the Poorhouse, as I trust as I must very soon, close Kilcruttin churchyard and prevent any more interments.” E. F. Berry, Glebe House, Tullamore. 30th January, 1852.
Yellow George Gorman is said to have replied to the protests of a man he was trying to bury in Kilcruttin that the doctor knew best. About one million people died in the Famine or Great Hunger of 1845-9. During the famine years as many as 2,000 persons were housed in the Tullamore workhouse or in temporary workhouses in the town. It is difficult to be exact concerning the local death-rate but at the height of the famine and fever it was probably ten to fifteen persons per week. The Patrick Gorman referred to in the Rev. E. F. Berry’s letter may have some connection with ‘Yellow George’ who carried corpses from Tullamore Workhouse on a dray. The latter is said to have replied to the protests of a man he was trying to bury that the doctor knew best.
On a less jocose note Thomas Prittie (1833–1916) recalled in 1915 that it was not an uncommon thing to see as many as a dozen corpses at several intervals of the day, being carted to Kilcruttin for interment. The dead were buried in a deep trench at the back of boundary wall on the western side of the entrance gate, where a slab marks the resting-place of a well-known Tullamore family named Gunning, some members of which succumbed to the disease. In this trench the coffins were piled on top of each other daily for months. Men were kept busily engaged making coffins and digging trenches to receive the dead.
The hill of Kilcruttin was included in the lease from the town landlord, Charles William Bury to building speculator Thomas Acres in 1786. He was responsible for building most of the street by providing sites and building the terrace on the east side to accommodate army officers during the Napoleonic Wars, 1793–1815. The folly on the hill was built to commemorate the Wellington victories on the Iberian Peninsula. The tower is now in course of restoration and perhaps the stone with the carved names of Wellington’s victories will be found.
In the park close to what is now the filling station can be seen the remains of a corn mill of c. 1800 and where Daniel E. Williams of Tullamore DEW fame started work as a young man in the mid-1860s. He lived nearby in the miller’s house (now demolished) until Dew Park was completed in 1900. Beside the corn mill was a flour mill demolished in the early 1990s to facilitate the Bridge Centre and new apartments. This was known to the B Daly staff as Cooke’s mill and was said to be haunted by the ghost of Ned Cooke. Acess was from High Street via ‘Marron’s gate’ and a key was held by D. E. Williams.
On the site of the filling station was a gazebo forming part of the gardens of the bow-fronted house in High Street belonging to the Crowe family. It was demolished in the late 1860s to facilitate expansion of the B. Daly distillery as were most of the old houses in Water Lane (now called Main Street). Those approaching the town park from Main Street are walking on the site of the old gazebo and the later Sally Grove warehouse famed for its whiskey maturation qualities.
The east side of Main Street was built on the site of the 186os distillery warehouses.
Adjoining the park are Scoil Mhuire, Kilcruttin, 1957, a Sisters of Mercy primary school that was built for 440 pupils and had over 500 in the 1960s. It was extended in 2016–7 and has the attractive Phoenix sculpture worth seeing provided the school gate is open
Scoil Bride Boys’ School, Kilcruttin, 1961 following on which the boys transferred from the old 1874–5 school at St Brigid’s Place, Tullamore. It was extended in 2016.
The 1937–8 bridge over the river at the foot of O’Molloy Street was erected to facilitate access to the new Salts Woollen Mill.
While in the park take a look at the neoclassical courthouse completed in 1835 and the gothic-style jail of 1830. Both buildings were destroyed by the Republican IRA in July 1922. The courthouse was rebuilt in 1927 and the ruins of the jail mostly demolished to facilitate the new Salts factory or woollen mill of 1938. The four houses to the north of the courthouse (see 1838 map) were built in the late 1830s on the site of the Wellington Barracks