Henry Egan of The Hall (now the Tullamore Town Hall) died on 18 May 1919, one hundred years ago, and on 18 May 2019 his contribution to the economy and to public life in Tullamore will be marked with recollections of his life and times and the launching of a new brand of whiskey in the Egan Collection. The great firm of P. & H. Egan went into voluntary liquidation in 1968 having been in business in Tullamore and the midlands since 1852. Today it is still recalled as the great shop, grocery and department store in Bridge Street where the Bridge House pub, restaurant and hotel are now located. The heritage of the firm in grain handling, malting and wine, brewing and wine and spirits is today celebrated in its association with the new Irish whiskey. The two largest native firms in Tullamore up to the 1960s, Egan’s and Williams’, now have whiskeys associated with them that are known throughout the world. It is something that is distinctively Tullamore and it sends out the message that our midlands heritage counts and that Offaly people can be proud of the commercial heritage of Tullamore and the midlands in the post-Famine years of recovery and up to the 1960s.
It is good to see an initiative on the part of Coláiste Choilm, Tullamore (1912- in progress) and, in particular, Ray O’Donovan and his team of students building a special collection of books in the school library written by former students of the school. It will throw up surprises not just for the current cohort, but indeed for old boys as well. The collection was unveiled in the school on Friday evening 17 May by Conor Brady who was a pupil in the school until the untimely death of his father in 1962 and his subsequent departure for the Cistercian College, Roscrea. Conor has always been a great champion of Tullamore.
The first school history was published in 1962 but has not been updated. It will be a difficult task to do other than list all the students and teachers. Giving a flavour of the school as distinct from a recital of classes over the years can be contentious. The formation of this library is a step in the right direction. Collecting the memories of those who were in the school in the 1950s and 1960s would be good.
Reunion of the boys of the 1969 and 1970 classes
It was Pat Hennessy formerly of Patrick Street, Tullamore (retired from Foreign Affairs and ambassador to several countries including Israel, Italy and UAE), who recently suggested that a get together of the boys of the 1969 and 1970 Leaving Certificate classes be held by way of a 50th anniversary. A date has now been fixed for the Tullamore Court Hotel on Friday 7 June at 7 p.m.
Ballinagar 50 years ago was a much smaller place than it is now. There were no housing estates, no streetlights or footpaths. There was a row of cottages on the Geashill road and a few houses in the village. Close by was a church and a run-down hall which was the old school. The school was a two- roomed school with a prefab at the back. There was a shop and a post office where Coco heat is now and beyond the school on the Cappincur road was the ruins of an old hall. Across from the school was the schoolmaster’s house. Opposite the church was a thatched house. There were a few thatched houses just outside the village. There was no cemetery or football pitch. There were the two sets of pumpsticks, one on the Geashill road and the other on the Killeigh road. There was the remains of an old forge on top of what is now called Crowley’s lane and there was another forge at Ballycommon cross called Gorman’s forge. There was no water or sewage scheme at the time but there were a couple of pumps in the village where people got their water.
The Brigade Activity Reports (BAR) series of the Military Service (1916–1923) Pensions Collection, released by the Military Archive recently were compiled from 1935 onwards to assist in the verification of individual applications for pensions; nearly all of the reports include brief descriptions of particular operations undertaken or planned including some in Tullamore, the attacks on Clara barracks, Kinnitty, Raheen and more. A new publication, a Guide to the Brigade Activity Reports is available from the Military Archive and a copy can be downloaded there free of charge (hard copy in Offaly History Centre Library). The published guide contains useful essays together with listings of Brigade activity in Offaly, the diversionary attack at Geashill, the killing of Sgt Cronin and the death of Matthew Kane, IRA Volunteer. Last week we looked briefly at the killing of Sergeant Cronin and this week the aftermath. But first a mention of what else is contained in the BAR for Offaly.
Two memorial cards: :Terence McSwiney and Henry Cronin. One was killed in retaliation for the death of the other.
Most people will readily agree that good fortune in life is dependent on hard work and luck. Getting a break can make all the difference. Policeman Sergeant Henry Cronin was shot at Tullamore’s Henry Street (now O’Carroll St) on 31 October 1920 and died the following morning. Now those who shot him that night have been identified in the release of the latest batch of records from the Military Archive. It was a case of bad timing for Cronin as he had been sent to Tullamore only four years earlier in 1916 to replace Sgt Philip Ahern who was injured in the Tullamore Incident and was retired in September of that year.
Congratulations to the people of Offaly in having secured as their member Ireland’s Ambassador to America. Their unanimous endorsement of his mission is particularly opportune. Dr McCartan will voice a united Ireland’s demand that the Irish people be given the right of self-determination and will tell the world that Irishmen will not fight as England’s slaves.
De Valera telegram to Dan MacCarthy, Dr Patrick McCartan’s election agent for the North King’s County by-election, April 1918. Irish Independent, 20 April 1918.
This week we publish a day earlier to mark the 100th anniversary of the General Election of 14 December 1918 – a watershed in the history of politics in Ireland. It should be noted that apart from the by-election of 1914 in North King’s County (Banagher-Tullamore-Edenderry district) no opportunity arose for the north King’s County parliamentary voters to go to the ballot box between 1885 and 1922. Notwithstanding all the excitement in 1918 for both the by-election in April and the general election in December Dr McCartan was unopposed. Women who had fought so much for the vote in the pre-war years did not get a chance to exercise the parliamentary franchise in north Offaly until 1922.
Living just beside the cemetery, we often walk there and I have been struck by the informative and often moving inscriptions on the
tombstones of the graves there. It struck me that these throw a
valuable sidelight into the pattern of life and death in Tullamore.
Some are very sad, especially those on the graves of infants and the
very young. There are others that make you reflect on how strange
attitudes are. For example, when we came to live here in the summer
of 1983, you never saw tombstones commemorating any of the thousands
of Irish volunteers who fell in the two World Wars. We know that
until very recently it wasn’t politic (except in the North) to admit
that any member of an Irish family had served in what was regarded as
British regiment. But one day, not so long ago, I noticed that a
number of War Grave Commission tombstones had suddenly appeared like
mushrooms in St Joseph’s Cemetery. I list them below:
War Graves in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Tullamore Continue reading
When the great historian and first ‘telly don’ A.J.P. Taylor published his short history of the First World War just in time for the remembrance days of fifty years ago he wrote that the war reshaped the political order in Europe. That its memorials stood in every town and village and that the real hero of the war was the Unknown Soldier.
The launch on Sunday 11 November 2018 at Tullamore Central Library of Offaly and the Great War brings us one step closer to recalling those who fought in the war from this county and those who died. It is difficult to believe that a war that killed perhaps 40,000 Irishmen and upwards of 700 from or connected with this county should have received such little attention over the 100 years. Offaly and the Great War is the first such publication to provide more than listings of those who died.
One hundred blogs is a reason to celebrate this September day in 2018. Yes 100 articles, 150,000 words, at least 400 pics – and the 100 stories have received 64,000 views and climbing every week. In 2018 alone we have received over 32,000 views. The list of all that has been published can be viewed on Offalyhistoryblog. We have lots more lined up. We welcome contributors, so if you have a history story you want to share contact us. The other big story is happening on Monday night with the launch of Offaly History 10.
Our thanks to our contributor Cosney Molloy for this piece. He is the perfect gentleman and sometime we will get him to accept Honorary Membership. He says he is not old enough yet. Like the whiskey he gets better as he gets older. If Galways wins tomorrow he will have a few.
I see my friends in the Offaly History Centre have organised a tour of the old industries of Tullamore to start at 2 pm from O’Connor Square on Sunday the 19th. It all part of this new idea Heritage Week. I am down for Clonminch Cemetery but I might skip the end of that and head up the Tanyard. I might skip a bit of Michael Byrne’s tour too as I want to head to one of the pubs to see the hurling. It should be great. I believe some of the Egan family will be there too. I remember when Frank and the family lived in Acres Hall and the bell at Christmas time down at Bridge House. Paddy Egan was up in Charleville Road with the minerals and Harry was down in Egan-Tarleton. That’s called the Granary now and must have forty apartments where the heaps of grain used to be.
During the late years of the Second War the town was a hive of industry. Egan’s had their Bridge House shop in full swing and at one time had coach building, saw mills and, of course, the famous brewery and they bottled whiskey too and like Williams had salesmen on the road six days a week. Joe Kenny used to tell me about it when I left the town. Himself and Pat Carty and all the teachers in town were great buddies and used to stay in lodgings with plenty of free time.
The Tullamore Distillery was going strong most of time and my namesake started it in 1829. That will be 190 years ago next year. Over in the Tanyard was the old tanning business. In fact I read somewhere that Marrons shoe shop in town could trace its history right back to the time when a certain Mulready man had a tannery business where Rattigan’s/ Wrafter’s Copper Urn was later. Then we had the bacon factory from about 1929 until 1989. The later Mr Quill told me that it gave work to nearly 100 people and that you could hear the roars of the pigs and sometimes the river turned red. OMG as my daughter would say. I think Lidl are going in to some of that old place soon. It will 30 years next year since they locked the gates.
Up the town my sister had work in Salts in the early days. I remember a John Carroll worked there and my old friend the late Michael Dowling. Sure it had nearly 1,000 people at one time. I think it closed about 1982. It’s hard to believe it now. Bill Proctor I knew and I remember to see Arthur Greene when he ran the place in the sixties.
Its great to see all the old pubs in town, Wrafter’s Harbour Bar, Hugh Lynch’s (my son tells me he is having a burlesque tonight. Sounds interesting but I will go down early maybe and have one of his nice rare whiskies. I met Paul Bell a few times. He always has the hand out to welcome everybody and has a fine place. I remember Kevin Adams in it and getting coffee in with my mother in Egan’s time. Behind it was the brewery and Seed and Manure and what not. Lumleys went in there after and I think they packed sugar over in the Tanyard where that funny man Oisin Sullivan is now. He is a character. Years ago that is where a man from Waterford, Aylward, I think, had bacon curing and later there was tea packing.
Come to think of it does anyone have the old tins with the Williamses Red Cup tea. And you remember the PAK orange and Egan’s great lemonade and orange. I am told that is still going on with a man called Harney, somewhere up in Spollanstown near the hotel where I often stay when I come down to Tullamore. Years ago Paul and Vincent were up there with a farm business. I think the Co-op moved there after. Come to think of it my old friend Martin Bracken tells me the Co-op will be 100 years old this year. I suppose they will have a dance. I remember all the great dancing in Tullamore and Christy May in his younger days. I hear he was one of the big men behind the show that I came down for a few times.
You know Tullamore has a lot going for it
Coming back to the whiskey it’s wonderful to see the new place out on the by-pass and I hear there are nearly 100 people working there. What would all the salesmen say who used to be in Williamses head office. I remember Paddy Hennessy worked there and Mick Casey and a Bill Igoe was in the Pak. Great Times. O’Donovan I think was the taster of the tea and the whiskey. Of course he was a Cork man – free tea and whiskey what more could you want.
Bill Jaffray was up the yard in Williamses where they made the Irish Mist, a lovely drink. It was like the Winter’s Tale sherry only stronger. You could open it and maybe not finish the bottle for a year.
The old Tullamore distillery with Seamus Flanagan looking into the mash tun. Not sure who is feeding the furnace unde one of the pot stills.
MAKING TULLAMORE WHISKEY
The late Desmond Williams (the man with the green Bentley) use to say that the harvesting and collecting of the grain in Tullamore, was like vintage time in French villages. For the manufacture of the Dew was, and is again, one of the town’s largest industries. Many extra hands were taken on during the working season in the war years, and all were involved in the magic transformation of the ears of the barley sheaf into the finished whiskey in the cask. And once the season started the Distillery worked day and night. The best whiskey, it is said, runs in the dim darkness of the night! The late Jack Clune told me that. He used to play cards with the Excise men (Redmond I think) well into the night. They were down in Water Lane where the Seed and Manure was after.
It’s hard to believe that the old Distillery covered an area of about twelve acres. Its where Maye built the shopping centre after. And then he built the hotel at the back of Egan’s old shop. The granaries of the distillery Seamus Flanagan told me could hold forty thousand barrels of grain—all purchased from the local farmers. There were special malting floors, a feature of the Distillery being the old style pagoda like kiln for the drying of the malt. The grinding of the grain into meal was done as of old, by means of a water wheel and grinding stones—this is said to make the best “mash.” People live now in apartments in one of the old mills. They used to say the place was haunted by man called Cooke. And what about all the chickens they reared after in those old warehouses.
To produce the perfect whiskey, the late Jack Wrafter (his father worked for Williams at the time of the pipe business – Sin Scéal eile) told me that four things were essential —sound barley, mountain air, pure water and distilling craft. Here in the centre of Ireland, he used to say in his gentlemanly way that nature had provided ‘all the requisites’ for Whiskey making. Well/ripened golden grain from the fertile fields of Offaly, fresh air from the Slieve Bloom hills, water laden with essences from local peat mosses, and a distilling tradition going back to the days of the illicit stills (we still have a few)—all these combine to make “Tullamore” a classic whiskey. It is, indeed, fit usquebaugh for connoisseurs. And you know they have an 18-year old now but its big money. They have a fancy one called Phoenix after the burst up with the balloonitics in Tullamore when Grattan was still in College Green. They say now it was the first air disaster in history, but I am sure someone will top it.
Now the old Tullamore was only Pot Still for a long time. Then Williamses got in the Coffey Still—invented by an Irishman, needless to say. Under one roof—so to speak—they can now produce all the ingredients for blends of pot, malt, and patent still ‘Whiskey. Very soon they will be in a position to sell at home and abroad, “vintage” Tullamore-made whiskey to compete on equal terms with anything produced on either side of the Atlantic and that includes Midleton, the Scotch boys and the Americans. Very soon because they started making the new Tullamore whiskey in 2014 and last year put in a massive Coffey still. I heard it cost €25 million. Old Mr DEW himself would be pleased that his name is now on 12 million bottles of whiskey every year.
I read somewhere that Sam Beckett used to drink only Tullamore. I was always interested in him because he wrote a book called Molloy years ago. I got a present of it but could make neither head nor tail of it.
I suppose you know that Tullamore distillery had three copper pot stills. John Teeling got them after for Kilbeggan about thirty years ago and they are still over in Locke’s place. A grand place to bring visitors and sure you can call into Durrow on the way to see the old high cross. Of course it was the monks who started it all and now there are three distillers buried in Durrow. Three Stills you could say.
I used to dread some of the priests calling to my mother’s house years ago because they just would not go home until the bottle was finished. My mother got clever though and started to keep a special bottle that would be three-quarters empty. Now you can’t beat the Molloys. Sure how could you when we started it all in Tullamore nearly 200 years ago and that was before Egans came or any other crowd, even Danny Williams who got a hold on the distillery because Daly was too fond of the good life with his horses and gentry friends.
That’s life, easy come easy go. The third generation nearly always breaks it.
Sure may be I will go tomorrow on this and have the ball of malt and a half-one if Galway wins. If Charlie Finlay is there on the tour tomorrow I might splash out on account of the old days when Guinness used to send the porter by train when the canal was finished. Charlie was always there to see everything went smoothly.