Mountbolus, Ireland: the funeral mass and final resting place for Ashling Murphy, 18 January 2022. Specially contributed

The whole of Ireland will be watching Mountbolus today for perhaps the first time in its history. None would want the attention it will receive as the family of Ashling Murphy, her friends and representatives of state, gather for her final mass in the lovely church dominating the village of Mountbolus. The family who have given and suffered so much may now need privacy in their great sorrow.

St Brigid’s Church, Mountbolus.

Mountbolus (Cnocán Bhólais) is close to Tullamore, Mucklagh and Blueball. It is a scenic area almost at the base of the Slieve Bloom mountains. Nearby are the lakes of Annaghmore (now drained) and the lake at Pallas. The name is said to mean a large hill or hillock/ clod of earth. The village name is not taken from any townland name and instead is comprised of a number of townlands including Rathrobin, Gortacur, Lowertown beg, Rathkeeragan , Rathmurragh and Mullaghcrohy. In its time it was good hunting country and now better associated with football and hurling. The village of Mountbolus is in the civil parish of Killoughy and Catholic parish of Kilcormac and Killoughy. The parish is in the diocese of Meath. Mountbolus is part of the old barony of Ballyboy and before the plantations it was part of the country of the O’Molloys. Some of the last of the original family in the area were landowners up to the 1850s. Some remains of their castles at Pallas and Rathrobin can still be seen. The big houses nearby were Annaghmore, Mount Pleasant and Rathrobin. The latter was owned by the Biddulph family and it and Mount Pleasant were burned in 1923 during the Civil War. Fine photographs of people and places were taken by the last owner M. W. Biddulph and have lately been published. The O’Connor Morrises of Mount Pleasant were an intellectual family while the Foxes of Annaghmore were farming gentry. These landlord families supported the development of schooling in the district while Biddulph provided a site for the parochial house in Mountbolus.

The memorial to Fr Walter Lynch, died 1863 in Mountbolus church. Courtesy Offaly History

A seemingly surprising gap in the improvement works of the Biddulph family was the overlooking the village of Mountbolus, but the family did not own the village and therefore did not control development. Here the landlord appears to have been Thomas Bernard of Kinnitty with the ownership of Gortacor townland in which most of the village is situate.[1] Bernard helped develop nearby Kinnitty as an ‘estate village’ close to his Kinnitty Castle, much as Digby and Trench did in Geashill, but little was done for Mountbolus. The Black Lion Protestant church, Mount Pleasant, was away from the village on the perimeter of the O’Connor Morris estate and close to Rathrobin. The village had no big house or Protestant church adjacent. Biddulph rebuilt his great house in 1898 and planted many trees from the 1870s.

The Catholic church was erected in the village and dates from 1837. Unlike in many towns including Kilcormac it had a central location and was not shunted to a back street. It is a large barn style pre-Famine church and was designed to cater for a population three-times greater than that in 1911. The fine monument in the church is to Revd Walter Lynch who was the parish priest from the early 1820s until his death in 1863. He was a great reforming clergyman but alas no archive of his survives except in the carefully-kept parish registers  recording his 1826 census, the loss and death of local people during the Famine years, and the shocking fall in the marriage rate in the post-Famine period. The memorials in the adjoining cemetery record the great and good such as the Barretts, Scullys, Molloys and Commins families. The population in the village in 1826 was 179. In 1831 it was 164 and with 30 houses. In 1841 it was 1841 with forty houses. By 1901 the population of the village had fallen by half and was 96. The area of the village was put at twelve acres.

The village of Mountbolus. Courtesy of Fergal MacCabe

The external bell tower must have been a joy to the young mass servers called upon to ring it over the years.

The village store and post office with the former co-op building to the right, c 1990. Courtesy Offaly History.
Mountbolus school in 1901. Courtesy Offaly History.

Mountbolus was greatly improved in 1904 with the provision of the new D.E. Williams’ shop (of Tullamore Dew fame) on the site of the Beehive public house.

Courtesy Offaly History

Yet the village depended on one public pump for water and when this was out of repair in 1905 the nearest pump was two miles away.[2]

Courtesy Offaly History

Now Mountbolus is undergoing village renewal and improvement works and will present well on what is and will long be remembered in these parts as an awfully sad occasion.

Mountbolus Catholic Church, erected in 1837 with large lancet windows to north. Courtesy Offaly History

Offaly History, on behalf of its members and friends, extend our sympathy to the Murphy family and all the people of Durrow, Blue Ball and Killoughy on their sad loss. There are few people in Ireland who have not been affected by the shocking, cruel, wanton destruction and killing of this young woman.

Ashling Murphy in her caring role as teacher. Courtesy of Paul Moore

[1] See Griffith valuation, Tullamore Union (Dublin, 1854), 44.

[2] Midland Tribune, 18 Nov. 1905.