Exploring Castle Street, Birr from the 1620s: marketplace, buildings, families and business history.

A PowerPoint presentation narrated by Michael Byrne explores the identities of Castle Street in Birr as part of a project to know and appreciate our distinctive town centres. This Streetscape project is in partnership with Offaly County Council and part funded by the Heritage Council.

An initiative promoted by the Heritage Council as part of its Streetscapes Project

Castle Street about 1857. Courtesy of Birr Castle Archives

The focus of this study is Castle Street in the town of Birr. The street comprises a mix of about thirty commercial and residential properties close to the Camcor river to the south, Main Street and the old parish church to the north, and to the west Birr Castle. On the east at the Market Place or Market Square it opened into Main Street, Bridge Street and from the 1880s into the new Brendan Street.

Castle Street about 1920.

The market house stood from the 1620s where the memorial to the Manchester Martyrs was placed in 1894. Surprisingly, when the market house was taken down in the late 1700s it was not replaced with a new building. Castle Street varied greatly in character from the strong residential houses of two and three-storeys to the robust commercial warehouses close to the boundary of the castle, attracted by the availability of water-power and facilitating in the 1800s the development of distilling, brewing and malting houses. Castle Street was also the principal marketplace in Birr with markets held each week and large fairs three or four times per year. There was a strong base in agri-business in the street and this in turn created businesses such as draperies and boots and shoemaking to cater for the farming clients from the prosperous hinterland. That Castle Street was intimately bound up with the rural economy is clear from the surviving early photographs of the 1900s and one of 1856–7. The early photograph is by Mary Rosse and is of a market day in Castle Street.[1] This would make it the earliest surviving photograph of a busy street in Offaly, as most others are not before 1890 or 1900.

Castle Street about 1970, courtesy Birr Castle Archives

[1] David Davison, Impressions of an Irish Countess: the photographs of Mary countess of Rosse, 1813-1888 (Birr, 1989).

Crotty’s Church, Castle Street

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Exploring Castle Street, Birr: the buildings, business and people.