One hundred years of Clara History: a Goodbody perspective. Michael Goodbody and Offaly History

One hundred years of Clara History: The diary of Lydia Goodbody, 1841–86; Harold Goodbody’s history of Clara, 1887–1945. Illustrated with over 200 photographs, 360 pages (Offaly History, 2021). To be launched at GAA Centre, 8 pm on 4 Nov. Orders also per shop at http://www.offalyhistory.com and to callers (from 5 Nov.) to Offaly History, Bury Quay, Tullamore 9 am to 4 30 pm Mon to Fri. Thanks to Clara Heritage Society for all their help with the launch. Strictly in accordance with Covid guidelines for events so follow directions of members of society. There will be at least four points of sale to avoid crowds and possibly outside the hall as needs. Email us at info@offalyhistory.com for any special wants or needs in regard to securing a copy of the book. We have copies set aside for all who ordered. On the night have €15 for soft and €20 for hardback handy so as to avoid change and delay. Enjoy and with thanks to all in Clara Heritage Society.

Clara has long been associated with the textile industry; stretching from the bleach greens of the early 1700s to development of the country’s largest jute factory, which gave employment in the district from 1864 and ran as a very successful business for the next hundred years. Reading the diaries of his Victorian great-aunt during World War II Harold Goodbody realised that she had kept a day-to-day record of how this industry had been created and how it and her family’s flour milling activities had supported the local community.

Harold made extracts of the more relevant parts of the diaries and added his own notes and recollections, creating a history of the Goodbody family in Clara and how a modest Offaly village had been turned into one of Ireland’s leading industrial centres. His work has now been edited to what will be a valuable local history source. Harold’s own historical research, covering the period from the late 1880s to the 1940s, is particularly insightful in the context of a period of significant change in Ireland and in the fortunes of Clara and its leading entrepreneurial family. The work is illustrated with over 200 carefully selected photographs.

Michael Goodbody has rendered another great service to the history of Clara, to Quaker family history and to Irish business history with his editing of the diary of Lydia Goodbody (1809–86) and the historical notes of Harold Goodbody (1880–1947). He would be the first to say that it was all Harold’s doing but that is far from the case. Michael has achieved a great deal in making primary sources available for the history of Clara. His careful editing of this work makes this an important primary source and the use of over 200 photographs greatly enhances the volume as an accessible work of record for the scholar and the general reader. It is another important contribution to the history of Clara and will encourage others to delve into the many faceted  aspects of the modern-day history of Clara since the 1700s.

Lydia Clibborn, the diarist in this volume was from Clonmel but with Moate connections. She married Jonathan Goodbody (1812–89), one of the five surviving sons of Robert Goodbody (1781–1860) who settled in Clara in 1825. The family developed flour milling and textiles in Clara and a tobacco business in Tullamore. The latter business was destroyed in a disastrous fire in March 1886, a few months after Lydia’s death and shortly before the defeat of Gladstone’s first Home Rule Bill. Tullamore would not see another factory of such significance for fifty years until the opening of the Salts Spinning Mill (1938-81). Clara was more fortunate and retained its jute and textiles business from the 1860s to the 1970s. The Clara flour mills suffered due to a fire in November 1918 as the war ended. The expense of the replacement mill and too heavy a capital commitment on the part of Goodbodys opened the way for a takeover of the milling business by Ranks in 1931. James Perry Goodbody’s election to the new county council without a contest in 1899, and the loss of his seat to an employee (and leading member of the IRA) in 1920, signpost the changes in Clara in that period. The book takes a longer view of the progress of Clara’s leading entrepreneurs, with their nine big house establishments, and records the decline that set in from 1918 and the political and social changes from 1921.

About 1900 at Clara market

Lydia Clibborn was aged 33 when she married Jonathan Goodbody. The Clibborns originated in Moate and her mother was of the prosperous Clonmel Quaker family of Grubb. When she arrived in Clara in February 1843 she was the only woman in a family of bachelors while Robert, her father-in-law, was a widower. Jonathan was a partner in the flour mills at Charlestown and was later one of the founders of the jute factory in the 1860s. They lived first at the old Kilcoursey house before moving to Charlestown. From the beginning Lydia led an active life of travel and visiting the houses of her relatives. Yet it was far from big house weekends and her visits included going to Tullamore courthouse and jail where she managed to see several of the more notorious prisoners. Lydia noted the arrival in 1843 of the first steam engine for the flour mill that was destroyed by fire in 1918. She also noted the hardship caused by the Famine, the ameliorating works comprised in the Brosna Drainage, the new railways and the revolution of 1848. Lydia was a keen observer of world affairs and was able to mix all with the local narrative of the doings of the Goodbody family, their new houses and extensive Quaker business connections. Her comments are factual and we seldom get character assessment or criticism. She does mention a new priest in Clara in the 1850s beating the girls who attended at Anne Jellicoe’s pioneering school. Something that would occur again in the 1890s when the then Fr Gaffney (later Bishop Gaffney) took a dislike to the Franciscans in the town. Harold Goodbody in his comments on Lydia’s diary speaks of the entries being of interest to only a limited number who may wish to know more of Clara’s history. That is far from the case today with a great surge of enthusiasm for local and environmental studies, for women’s history and Irish business history.

The map is from the Cox Estate and is courtesy of Offaly Libraries and Offaly Archives. Make an appointment with Offaly Archives to see the full map.

Harold’s own contribution in bringing the history of Clara from Lydia’s death in 1886 to the mid-1940s is the more enjoyable as a narrative because of his shrewd comments and insider observations. We must be grateful to him for the work he undertook in editing the Lydia Goodbody diaries and his own contribution to the history of the town of Clara and its great business employing upwards of 1,000 in all – almost the entire working population. Michael Goodbody has carried on from where Lydia and Harold began and stayed the course to ensure publication of this contribution to Clara history and to the Decade of Centenaries.

The temporary police barracks in Clara in 1921. See Offaly Heritage 11 which will also be available on the night at a separate table. Great value at €15 for 360 pages.