James Lyle Stirling Mineral and Medicinal Water Manufacturing, Importer of Wines and Brandies, Athy and Tullamore. By Noel Guerin

James Lyle Stirling was born 16 May 1858 to Thomas Lyle and Anne Stirling of Tullamore. He was a business man who ran several businesses in Tullamore, between the years of 1880 and 1898, and is best remembered for his mineral water manufacturing company.

His father, Thomas Lyle Stirling, was a brewer and merchant in King’s County, who ran most of his business in Church St., Tullamore. He was also an active Tullamore town Commissioner and sometime acted as an agent for Mary Anne Locke of Locke’s Distillery Kilbeggan. Thomas Lyle Stirling married Anne Jane, daughter of William and Catherine Commins of Cappincur, Tullamore, they had six children, all born in Tullamore except the youngest, Thomas who was born in Dublin. The children were Margaret (born 1857), James Lyle (1858), William (1860), Catherine (1862), Isabella Elizabeth (1863) and Thomas (1866).

James Lyle Sterling and family

Anne Jane, James’s mother died shortly after Thomas was born in 1866 and his father Thomas remarried later the same year to Helena Reamsbottom, widow of Thomas Reamsbottom Esq. of Bellair Lodge, after she had lost a child and her husband early that year. Thomas Lyle and Helena Stirling, now married, lived in Bellair Lodge, Ferbane, and they went on to have two more children: Elizabeth Helena (born c.1869) and Thomas Francis Lyle (1872). In 1876 Thomas Lyle died, leaving a young James as his heir. As James was too young to take charge of his businesses, his estate was run by his executors, John Tarleton and Constantine Quirke. It would be another four years in 1880 before Stirling was old enough to take over his father’s business.

James Lyle Stirling married in Dublin to Gertrude Bridget Murphy (born c.1864), a daughter of Patrick Murphy a trader from Athy, Co. Kildare. They had six children at Church Road, Tullamore: Genevieve, Mary Margaret (born 1888), Eithel Mary (1889), Blanche Loretto Lyle (1891), Ida Mary Gertrude (1892), Joseph Allen (1893), and Raymond Gordon (1896). The family later moved out to Cloonagh House, just outside Tullamore.

A Sterling family gathering, possibly in Ennis c. 1910, and with Killaloe clergy one expects.

Early Years

Stirling was a bright, intelligent and hardworking young man who was well respected amongst his peers, resulting him getting the position of honorary secretary on many of the local social and sporting events of the day. In his youth he played cricket on the Tullamore team and was also captain on occasions on the Tullamore rugby football team. In July 1881, when it was decided to hold an amateur sports meeting and bring in a programme embracing a programme of twenty-two items including cricket, football, cycling and later GAA, Tullamore Amateur Athletic Club was formed and Stirling was elected an honorary secretary. The first sporting meeting was to be held in the Deerpark of Charleville forest and after a couple of years of great success the club was looking for a permanent location, and a field in Spollenstown was chosen.

Over the following years the Club also ran many other social events with Stirling in the position as secretary, such as the prestigious Tullamore Club Ball which was run in the Grand Jury Room in the Courthouse, and Tullamore Steeple Chases in Ballykilmurry. Other committees he was on for a time including the Town Commissioners, Tullamore Dispensary Committee and the Board of Guardians.

After the burning of Goodbody’s Tobacco factory in March 1886, which was such a loss to the town, Tullamore Fire brigade took on a greater importance. It was decided by the town commissioners that volunteers would need to be raised and trained. Stirling drew up a code of rules and was elected Captain in command. He later resigned and became Hon Secretary. In November 1882, when the Tullamore branch of the National League was inaugurated, Stirling was elected to the position as honorary secretary. Three years later, when he put himself forward as a follower of Parnell, in the upcoming elections, his position was ridiculed in one of the local papers.

Memo of 1890 in regard to a proposed lease of n. 40 Church, a licensed house and premises of Mary Anne Dunne. Courtesy of Offaly History

Business

In the Tullamore petty sessions of December 1879, Stirling applied to get his father’s spirit licence transferred back to him from Miss Tarleton as he had now come of age. Miss Tarleton was acting as executer of the will of Stirling’s late father on behalf of her own father, John Tarleton, and after a lengthy ordeal by the end of October the transfer of his late father’s licence was granted. Sterling’s business in Tullamore was off to a running start and with his business style he expanded his interests and prospered in Tullamore. 

Alan Sterling and Raymond Sterling at confirmation day in Tullamore in 1908

Stirling was the Tullamore shipping agent for transporting people and goods to America, Australia, Canada, and other parts of the world, a business that his father before him had set up. This most likely facilitated him to set himself up as a direct importer of a large variety of beverages that he sold in his establishments including brandy, port, sherry, wines, clarets, whiskeys, rum as well as  Chinese and Indian tea. He also sold a wide variety of minerals waters, Guinness stout and Allsopp’s ales and later John Jameson & Sons whiskey, Kirker & Greer The Shamrock Whiskey. He bought his products in bulk and bottled them in his factor off Church street, Tullamore. Amongst his many businesses he became the agent for Sun Fire and Life Office, a life insurance company.

Said to be confirmation day in Tullamore in 1908 with the Stirling boys centre.

In the early 1880s, Stirling may have seen an opportunity to produce mineral water. The Tullamore Mineral Water Company had closed in 1877 and there was no large producer in the area at that time. He had a free run until P&H Egan’s and DE Williams started producing mineral waters in the early 1890s.

Some of the surviving Sterling jars.

Stirling added the manufacture of mineral or aerated beverages to his bottling business in Tullamore where he produced lemonade, soda, sarsaparilla, ginger, cider, seltzer, kali, lithia, cerrera, etc, and was capable of producing twenty thousand bottles daily. This was all produced in his factory off Church Street, Tullamore, where he later also set up a business to manufacture corks for his bottles from raw bark. He powered his machinery with an Otto Gas engine. Stirling also had a premises in Duke Street, Athy and later a licenced House and a mineral water factory on Barrow Quay that was run by Mr Walter Murphy.

To promote his mineral water business, Stirling advertised a report from a well-known business man and professor, Charles A. Cameron, M.D.  F.R.C.S.I Professor of Chemistry and Hygiene in the Royal College of Surgeons; Medical Officer of Health and Analyst for Dublin; Analyst to the Royal Agriculture Society, etc., etc:

I have examined several specimens of Mineral Waters and aerated beverages, submitted to me for that purpose by J.L. Stirling Tullamore, and I find that they are of excellent quality and have evidently been prepared from the best and purest materials. The liquids are charged with carbonic Acid Gas, and in many other respects they are deserving of commendation.

In June 1885 the Midland Tribune featured ‘the Important Mineral Water Factory’ of Mr James Lyle Stirling of Tullamore and commented on how he had removed all lead pipes and replaced with blocked tin piping to remove any chance of the lead contaminating the filtered and soda water production. No sugar was used, but instead syrup was used in the production. Two wells were used for a very high-quality product. Sales had improved and he was now selling large scale in King’s and Queen’s Counties, Longford, Cavan, Westmeath, Kildare, Galway, Dublin, etc. The report claimed the factory was an excellent source of employment in the town, a large number of men and boys were constantly engaged at it in addition to a good number of hands employed at the bottling of ales, porter, wines, brandies &c., of which Mr Stirling was a large importer.

In 1885, Stirling became a tenant of Lady Emily Howard Bury when he purchased the leasehold interests in the Market Square and Shambles. The shambles contained stables, butter house, weigh bridge house etc., and he made a business charging people for the use of the weigh bridge and weigh scales as he had sole access to Market Square, Charleville Square and the market in the shambles.

Stirling was also involved in the setting up of the Tullamore Bakery Co. Limited June 1890, and James Lyle Stirling Esq, T.C. (Stirling & Co.) Tullamore and Athy, is listed as one of the directors along with five other businessmen of Tullamore: Alexander R. McMullen, Esq. Donald A. Bradley Esq, James Hayes, Esq, Michael Ryan, Esq, and William Lumley, Esq, manager of the bakery.

Stirling on holidays with family and friends.

Dublin

In 1893, Stirling purchased William Burke’s No. 57 High Street and 1 & 2 Nicholas Street. He moved his family from Tullamore to Eustace St., Dublin where he set up shop as a director of Stirling, Cockle & Ashley Limited 19-21 Eustace-street. He was also on the board of the Dolphin Hotel and Restaurant, and Michael Nugent, Limited Joshua Watson & Co. Limited. He became very involved in the Vintners Association representing King’s Co., and in 1895 he also went as part of their delegation to London. He was elected a county delegate to the Central Committee of the Liquor Trade. This news was well received by his many friends in the trade in Tullamore. Stirling organised and presided over a meeting of the spirit traders in Tullamore, the meeting was well attended by traders from Tullamore and the surrounding towns, the high sheriff of Dublin, Daniel Tallon, Esq, was invited to chair the meeting, the agenda of the meeting was to protect trade interests.

In 1896, James Lyle Stirling sold out the wholesale liquor and corks and his business interests in the mineral water company Stirling and Co. in Church Street Tullamore. This business was acquired by the firm of P&H Egan of Tullamore. He was still involved in several commitments and continued to be involved in his remaining business interests in Tullamore.

In 1916, he was trading as James Lyle Stirling of Stirling, Cockle and Ashley, of 18,19, 20 and 21 Eustace Street, Dublin, wholesale tea, wine and spirit merchants. At the formation of the company Irish Press Limited in September 1928 under Eamon de Velara, James Lyle Stirling of Stirling, Cockle and Ashley, Limited is listed as one of only a handful of director’s along with Edmund Williams of D.E. Williams Limited, Tullamore. The expected amount that directors were expected to invest was £500 Stirling put in £1,000. Stirling never got to see the launch of the Press as he died before the paper was launched.

James Lyle Stirling died suddenly 20 November 1930 at Granite Lodge Dunlaoghaire, he was 72 years old. Genevieve, his daughter, was present at his death. He left a large estate to his son, Raymond and family. The local newspaper, the Midland Tribune, described him as an enterprising and popular citizen who had a long and honourable association with the town.