The ‘Elite’ of Tullamore skating at Charleville Lake on St Stephen’s Day 1864. By Cosney Molloy

Skating on Charleville Lake, Tullamore was a popular pastime when I was a young lad. I remember the cold icy winters of 1962, 1982 and 2010. I can recall as a young man the Tullamore people skating on Charleville Lake in 1962. I am a long time now in D 4 but I got down a few weeks before Christmas to the nice butchers in Tullamore – old Tormey’s is still going strong and now you have, Hanlon’s, Crossan’s of Main Street, Ray Dunne and Fergus Dunne, and a few more I would not know. I was sorry to see Grennan’s shop closed for now. I miss Paddy Mac’s, Cleary’s and Joe ‘the Butch’ Kearney and not forgetting Dunne’s butchers off the Square. It was Treacy’s later. Liver we got a lot of and sheep’s hearts in that fine shop. Many old friends gone to the heavenly pastures. I always like to get my turkey in Tullamore and a nice ham even though I am out of the town now for over forty years. What with the bacon factory open until 1989, and now Tullamore Meats, the town has a long tradition in fine food. Come to think of it the bacon factory did a huge business in turkeys back in the 1940s and 1950s when my father was rearing same.

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Charleville Castle, home of the earls of Charleville, about 1910

 I will never forget the desperate cold of December 2010 when it was as low as -15 and I can recall the winters of 1982 and 1962 when we could skate on Charleville Lake near the town of Tullamore and to the east of Colonel Bury’s Charleville Demesne. He was alive then but a great age and the place was managed by his cousin Major Hutton. I have only a hazy memory of the long winter of 1947 when the Grand Canal was frozen over for months and some of the Egan boys of the Tullamore business family are said to have made it to Dublin skating on the canal for some lark or wager. Another very cold year was in 1901 when a young Tullamore boy by the name of Quirke drowned at Charleville Lake, trapped by the ice, while up to 200 people looked on and did nothing.

Walking the ice on Charleville Lake in 1962

This New Year I am recounting a Christmas story in Tullamore when all the shops were closed for the two-day holiday and everyone seemed to be out skating at Charleville. It was back on St Stephen’s Day in 1864 when Alfred Bury, the brother of the late third earl of Charleville, was taking care of the orphaned children. Their mother had died in 1857 and the ennobled father in 1859. Harriet, one of the five orphaned children, was killed in an accident on the stairs in the family home at Charleville Castle in 1861 when she was about eight. Another brother, John William, died of illness in 1872 and that left two girls, Emily and Katherine, and their brother, Charles William, the fourth earl, who came of age 16 May 1873 and died in November the following year.

I see some of this mentioned in the diary of Lydia Goodbody recently published by Offaly History in 100 years of Clara History. Lydia mentions in 1857 that she ‘Heard the melancholy intelligence of Lady Charleville’s death at Limerick of scarletina’ and of her husband, the third earl dying in January 1859.

The fourth earl’s sister, Katherine Bury, married Col. Edmund Bacon Hutton in the same few weeks in 1873 as the only surviving brother came of age – the fourth earl. He too was afflicted with what I call ‘the miasma’ and died in New York at the age of only 22 in 1874. He was unmarried and childless. The young earl had been ‘yachting the Newfoundland coast and got a severe chill’.  He died in Staten Island, New York on 3 November 1874. It was his uncle Alfred, he who had ‘taken care’ of the young children, who then became the fifth and last earl. For he too died a year later, in 1875. He was childless and was only 46. The last of the girls of the third earl, then unmarried, inherited. She was Lady Emily and the mother of the mountaineer, Col. Howard Bury, who died in 1963, aged 80. Lady Emily married Captain Kenneth Howard in 1881 and he died in 1885 leaving two children – one was the mountaineer and the other was Marjorie who died at 22 in 1907. To a few long life was given, but for too many in those days it was all too short.

Charleville and district from a ‘Bog map’ of 1809. The red line is to show how the new road of c. 1800 was built so as to enlarge the demesne.

Anyway, that St Stephen’s Day in 1864 was a happy one and four of the five children were alive and well and no doubt well equipped for their outdoor amusement a few fields to the east of the castle. Reading the Irish Times report I cannot help thinking that the journalist (probably a local man who ‘filed the story’) was having a little bit of fun at the expense of the great and good of Tullamore. The fact that St Stephen’s Day was a holiday would have been approved of by Charles Dickens, if not his character in A Christmas Carol (1843), old Ebenezer Scrooge with his ‘bah humbug’ dismissal to his office clerk. The Captain Bury mentioned below was the guardian of the children and later fifth earl. The Goodbody tobacco factory in Tullamore was destroyed by fire in 1886. The new Clara jute factory of the 1860s survived up to about 1980.

The Irish Times

Saturday, Dec. 31, 1864

St. Stephen’s Day in Tullamore

This day was kept as a strict holiday in Tullamore, every shop in the town being closed.  The Charleville lake, about two miles from Tullamore was the great centre of attraction on the occasion.  The Hon. Captain Bury, brother to the late Earl of Charleville, accompanied by his amiable and accomplished lady, the youthful Earl of Charleville and several members of the Charleville family were present and by their countenance and smiles added much to the hilarity that marked the day’s proceedings.

The young Earl of Charleville is a very nice boy, and heartily joined in the sports of the day with the humblest lads that would show any dexterity in the juvenile line.

The “elite” of Tullamore and its vicinity mustered very strong on the occasion and contributed to make the day enjoyable and what made the scene a most enchanting and romantic one, was the perfect rustics, associating and exchanging compliments with each other, fine ladies and rural beauties making common cause in attracting the attention of their respective votaries without any apparent rivalry; such a galaxy of beauty and fashion as to make the most ossified heart melt into feelings of sympathy, and to feel the influence of lovely woman.

The Messrs Goodbody of Tullamore and Clara, who give such employment in various ways, were present with their interesting families and dependants, and proved by their presence that enjoyment is compatible with prosperity. The day was exceedingly fine, and the vast assemblage, comprising old age, youth, beauty in every variety, presented a scene calculated to make the most careworn look upon the woes of mortality as a myth, and to breathe a wish to witness such another St. Stephen’s Day.  The day’s proceedings ended with sundry athletic sports which gave universal satisfaction.

The Goodbody shop and farm supplies, Tullamore. The tobacco factory was to the rear until the big fire in 1886 and was then moved to Dublin. It was a huge loss to Tullamore at the time. This image about 1905-9.

I read in the recently published 100 years of Clara History (edited by Michael Goodbody) that there were at least 36 children in the following Goodbody houses in Clara and Tullamore: 12 children at Inchmore; 4 at Drayton Villa; 5 at Charlesown; 8 at Pim’s (Thomas Pim Goodbody, Tullamore); 7 at Robert James’s (Tullamore); 36 in all. Thomas Pim Goodbody lived with his family at Elmfield on Charleville Road, Tullamore and Alfred, who was a partner with Lewis in founding the law firm of A. & L. Goodbody, was one of the six sons of Pim Goodbody of Elmfield. Like everywhere else Charleville Lake has its secrets.

This new book is an important source and well liked. Only softbacks still available at €15.

We will be opening the new year of 2022 with a bang.