The McDonald Family of Birr and the Great War: one story of many from Offaly about those who fought in the Great War, 1914–18. Stephen Callaghan

Newspaper report on the McDonald brothers and their brother in law

In July 2018 an interesting Great War campaign medal appeared on eBay, a single 1914–15 Star awarded to Private Frederick McDonald of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The description provided by the seller stated that Frederick was born in Birr, and that he had been killed in action during the war.

Further research unravels a forgotten story, which gives insight into the life of Frederick and his family. It is a story not too dissimilar among the many working class Catholic families in Birr, because serving in the British Army was a source of steady employment and a means to support a family.

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The ghost of Charleville Castle, Tullamore! Eleanor Ridley (specially contributed)

021 Charleville Castle, front, April 17th 1889

As somebody from an old Tullamore family that lived in County Offaly for almost 150 years I feel I still have a place there in my old country, though I seldom visit now. I prefer the mild climate of Jo’burg and the Cape. My extended family had happy (and some sad) recollections of the old days in Tullamore. We were there from the 1760s as shopkeepers, hoteliers and, latterly, we were a medical family for two or three generations.
Our family owned what was later Hayes’ Hotel and is now, I am told, a Boots Pharmacy. Our old hotel in Tullamore was demolished nearly twenty-years ago. Some of our family lived in Moore Hall in Earl Street, Tullamore before emigrating to South Africa about the time of the Boer War. We left in a sad state as a great granduncle had cut his throat on the morning of the inquest into the death of a political prisoner in Tullamore jail – a man called Mandeville in the late 1880s.
Ireland is still a fine country and I owe much to it. Having sat at the feet of a kindly grandmother I know something of Tullamore and its old families. The story I have to tell  is of a lovely young girl who was killed on the stairwell in Charleville Castle in the 1860s, over 150 years ago. Some say that she still haunts the place. Continue reading

The earliest known photograph of O’Connor Square and High Street Tullamore

New discoveries of old views or photographs of Tullamore are always of interest. Street scenes of Tullamore are not known to survive any earlier than 1902 (views of the jail and Charleville Castle excepted). These 1902 views are from old postcards and show only the main streets. We have none of the lanes of the town until later, and then only a few.
This photograph of O’Connor Square was taken about 1900, or a little earlier (and preserved courtesy of the National Library) shows the fine corner building erected by the distiller Joseph Flanagan in 1787 with its original glazing bar/windows and Georgian doorcases. This is the large building from the former Willie and Mary Dunne’s shop to the William Hill bookmaker’s office, beside Gray Cuniffe Insurance. Like the Adams-Tullamore House at the junction of O’Moore Street and Cormac Street it is a substantial three-storey house closing off the square on the southern side with some ten bays to O’Connor Square and six to High Street. The building was carefully planned as can be seen from this lovely old photograph, courtesy of the National Library of Ireland. This is the earliest surviving view of the building.

070429b High St. Tul. 1800's
Also of interest are the bollards fronting the square, the shopfronts and the name Tullamore Brewery on what is now the Brewery Tap. Deverell’s brewery was in this location from about 1830 and was taken over by Patrick and Henry Egan about 1866. It continued to produce Egan’s Ale until the early 1920s. The ironwork in front of G.N Walshe and the fine doorcase on this house and what is now Sambodino’s and Kilroy’s showrooms (currently Mr Price) shows the changes on the town’s fine buildings since the 1900s.
Now with shopping moving out to the suburbs there is a case for more restoration of what were residential properties in the town based on the new realities of greatly reduced turnover in town centre shopping.
The road surface was not yet steamrolled – that would have to wait until after 1914–15.
It will be interesting to see how any pub and club in the former Woodchester building will retain the façade of the existing building (the former Dixon residence erected in 1752) and what lighting and advertising will be permitted by the planning authority.
Now the old post office has been painted and a carpark provided to the rear for 100 cars. This is forty more than in the square and should mean that the entire square saving the road to the Tanyard should be considered for presentation to the public as most other squares are in fine European towns.
What has gone in the picture includes the bollards, the house where Galvin’s Ladieswear was located (formerly Gill’s drapery and now Anthony Kearn’s Guy Clothing). The former McMullen three-storey house opposite Guy Clothing was demolished in the 1940s to make way for the Ritz Cinema. The cinema, in turn, was demolished in 1982 and part of the site acquired for the access to the Roselawn town houses.

Views of the Flanagan building in the early 1900s and again in the 1980s

Good buildings have survived including the offices of Conway & Kearney and much of the square. The lovely old 1740s building where the library is now located was demolished in 1936 to make way for the new Tullamore Vocational School. The 2011 façade to the old school (later library) appears to have worked well. The Bank of Ireland restored the facades of its buildings in 1979 as did the Northern Bank the former town hall, now Eddie Rocket’s. Finally, a few gas lamps can be seen in the picture. These may date back to 1860 when gas lighting was first introduced. It was the era before the telegraph and later telephone poles and, of course, the motor car.
The county council’s works for O’Connor Square are likely to commence soon. After many requests the war memorial will stay where it is. It was erected in 1926 on the site of the old town fountain of the 1890s and before that a solitary gas lamp stood there from the 1860s. It was the first public memorial erected in Tullamore and was centrally placed for obvious reasons.

021 High Street, 1960's
Tullamore in the early 1960s with the original doorcase still to be seen at G. N. Walshe. Also Ritz Cinema and the original facade and exterior ironwork at what is now Sambodino etc. The Egan hardware can be seen beyond Conway & Kearney at what is now Anthony Kearn’s shop.

Picture: O’Connor Square and High Street about 1900 and changes thereafter.

Banagher in the Seventeenth Century: some interesting Historical Titbits Cosney Molloy

 

 

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Banagher convent schools

I was fortunate to be invited to visit Banagher during Heritage Week in August 2018. Unfortunately I missed the presentation by Messrs Keenaghan and Scully but am told that all went swimmingly or, as we say up here in BAC, it was a hoot. Anyway I have many relations in the Banagher district and some of my ancestors were distillers and engineers about that town and in Kilcormac. I always like to visit Houghs when in Banagher. It was beloved by my old friend Hugh Leonard. I have had a pint or two with ‘admiralty men’ in Pawky Flynn’s and in the Railway Bar.

Not so many years ago we had fine restaurants in Brosna Lodge, the Shannon Hotel (a disgrace now) and we had Valerie Landon’s pottery. I remember the great Waller firm and Ray O’Donovan up in the Midland Maltings. It’s a fine old town and deserves a right good clean up and boost to its business. If Mrs Quirke was alive now what would she say not to mention the late R.H. Moore who my father and grandfather told me was one of nature’s gentlemen. I wonder how is the Vocational School going now. The late Elsie Naugton even had the boys playing hockey. I read somewhere that La Sainte Union had the first flush toilet in Offaly for the new French order of nuns there. It was a great place for the young ladies of the midlands. The old Royal School was long closed in my time but a bit of it survived up to when I left the area. There was always a bit of quality about Banagher and it would be a shame to lose it. Anyway my piece this week is culled from the Birr bastion of unionism, the Chronicle. I know Trollope and Charlotte Bronte would have liked its sentiments but it would not sit so easy with the Sinn Féin men of more recent times.

Ruin of Cuba House Banagher
Cuba Court, Banagher, late the Royal School and host for a night or two for Charlotte Bronte

From the Kings County Chronicle, 18 July 1918
Banagher, well known for its celebrated annual fair, held on the 15th, 16th and 17th of September, is in the Rynagh Parish, Garry Castle Barony, six miles north-west of Parsons town (Birr), 82, miles from Dublin, on the east bank of the Shannon, near the confluence of the Little Brosna, and just in the angle of three of the four provinces, being within Leinster, and divided by the Shannon from Connaught, while lower down the river, a little distance, is the juncture of the Brosna, on the other shore of which is Munster. It returned two MPs to the Irish Parliament from Charles 1 to 1800. It is mainly one long street stretching for nearly a mile from the top of the hill at the church to the bridge, near which is the old barrack and the railway terminus.

The Distillery What was one of the largest whiskey distilleries in Ireland was worked by a private company of a few gentlemen, the former and originating company having abandoned it as a failure. It was formerly a mill, but a limited liability company, about the year 1870, reconverted it. Owing to the capital being reduced by the building charges of about £70,000, the enterprise was closed after a few years, and so remained until, owing to the energetic efforts of the former manager, a new company was formed; and the enterprise was at once placed on a firm financial basis. In its first season, such was the fine quality, the distillery was obliged to continue working up to August. Unfortunately, however, this prosperous condition of things did not continue, and the place has since been almost idle, except for malting carried on by Messrs D. E. Williams, Ltd which firm, within the past few years, also started a cabinet factory in the premises. The distillery itself is a splendid pile, heavy sums, years ago, having been expended on buildings and plant.

003 (spare)- St (1). Rynagh Church, Banagher

Public Buildings The Roman Catholic Church is a fine structure, and a clock placed in the tower through the enterprise of a few. Mr. Patrick Hynes, an energetic inhabitant, taking the lead. Here is also an ancient endowed Royal School, but the Government having decided on discontinuing it, a Commission sat to consider, among other matters, the cause of its decline in the number of pupils. The school endowment is very ancient, dating back to the time of Elizabeth, and is on the foundation of the Royal Schools of Ireland. In its time the school sent forth into the world many eminent men, the late Sir William Wilde being one of its pupils.

The first agent of the Bank of Ireland was Mr. W. Scott, and through the energy of the Roman Catholics a fine convent was erected. Three miles off is the ancient historic town of Cloghan Castle. The town is inconveniently, though pleasantly, situated on a rather steep hill sloping to the Shannon. The ancient name was Beandcar, from the pointed eminence on which it is built. It was known as Fortfalk-land and Bannagh. St. Reynach, sister of St. Finian, who died in 563 founded a religious house here called Kill- Rignaighe, and gave her name to the parish. The site of the house is now a burial ground. Amongst its ruins there was a shaft of a stone cross erected in memory of Bishop O’Duffy, of Clonfert, who was killed by a fall from his horse in 1297. This cross was removed to Clonmacnoise, and it represents the Bishop on horseback bearing a crozier. Here the great Felin MacCoghlan was slain in 1539 by the sons of O’Madden after Mass on Sunday. The castle was rebuilt by Teige O’Carroll in spite of the opposition of the O’Maddens. But in 1584 they demolished it, lest it should come into possession of the English.

021 Banagher Fair, 1904
Fair day in Banagher about 1904

The Markets Sir John Mac Coghlan, in 1612, obtained a grant to hold a market here on Thursday, but it was afterwards changed to a Monday and is now held on Friday. It was constituted a corporate town by charter of Charles 1 is 1628, the corporation being styled. “The Sovereign, Burgeases and Free Commons of the Borough and Town of Bannacher alias, Banagher.” “The Sovereign” was appointed a justice of the peace, coroner, and a clerk of the market, and had an extended jurisdiction. These offices, as well as to send two members to parliament, lapsed at the Union

Banagher Besieged Banagher gave considerable trouble to the Birr garrison, and often sent out marauding parties who foraged for themselves pretty freely in the surrounding district. However, when Birr Castle surrendered to General Preston, the natives evacuated Banagher. Dr Warren describes what happened then in his words: “There being no opposition made to Preston, he sat down before Fort Falkland (Banagher), a place of strength enough to have held out against him longer then he could have stayed in that season of the year, and for want of provisions. But though those within were numerous, yet many of them were not serviceable, and they were much encouraged by a long and vain expectation of succour from the monastery which had entirely neglected them. It would have been impossible, indeed, that they should have done, had it not been for the relief, which was sent, then, from time to time, by Lord Clanricarde but as he was himself, then surrounded with too many difficulties to afford them a prospect of succour, and as Preston had granted an honourable capitulation to the garrison in Birr, the besieged were inclined to surrender to him, for fear of falling into worse hands. Therefore, the next day after he came up to Fort falkland, before any battery was raised. Lord Castleward, the Governor, capitulated and was to be conveyed safe, with all his people to the fort of Galway.” It seems this garrison was finally delivered at the castle of Athlone.

Sarsfield at Banagher “All the island called Enisbreary, alias Island MacCoghlan, in the barony of Garrycastle, and also the two ruinous castles of Banagher and Belanaley,” with “liberty of fishing in the Shannon, in the aforesaid barony” were about 1671 granted to John Blysse. A right to establish a ferry was also given, the annual rent for the lands being 10s and for the ferry 5s. As appears by Sarsfield’s operations that he repeatedly crossed a bridge here, the old bridge at Banagher must have been built before then, and the ferry discontinued. From Harris we learn that when Sarsfield attacked Birr in 1690, the English generals – Douglas, Kirk and Lanier – advanced, reliving Birr, and driving Sarsfield across the Shannon to Banagher. The attempt by the English to destroy the bridges was too dangerous, as the Irish were strongly posted on the Connaught side, besides defending the bridge with a castle and other works. The present bridge is on the site of the ancient one.”

The Armstrong Family At Mount Cartaret is the seat of a very old and universally respected family, the Armstrongs, of Scottish extraction. They have resided about Banagher for over two centuries. A mural tablet, dated 1680, records “Here lies the body of Gerald Armstrong.” On another is “Armstrong, four brothers, 1700.” Their first ancestor in Ireland was Thomas Armstrong, who came over in 1657. The present representative is Major T.P. St. G. Armstrong, J.P., and a constant resident with his family.

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Anthony Trollope from a Spyt Cartoon in Vanity Fair, 5 Apr. 1873.

A Masonic Lodge, No. 306, was by warrant, dated 1758, from the Earl of Drogheda, G.M. of Ireland, founded in Banagher.
[I read somewhere that Trollope was a member of this lodge and had great high jinks when the new bridge was opened. A big bill for the bottles but at least they paid for themselves.]
Next time I get the OK to contribute to Offaly History I may do something on Raleen near Mount Bolus where I believe the last of the chiefs of my clan was located. But then I might recall Kieran Molloy of Clonmacnoise. Do any of you remember them when they looked the monastic site. Some of them were teachers there. I think Clonmacnoise has 150,000 visitors a year now at near €10 each and that cannot be bad. Good to see my old friends in Lukers getting a few visitors from it, not to mention Birr Castle.

OFFALY AT THE ARSENALE- Yvonne Farrell, Grafton Architects and the Venice Biennale. By Fergal MacCabe

To be invited to participate in the Biennale is one of the highest accolades for an architect – to be asked to curate it, set the theme and organise the gigantic assemblage into a coherent whole, is simply stratospheric and lifts the reputation of the organisers into the top most rank.

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This year’s show is entitled ‘FREE SPACE’ and runs from May to November. It is curated by Grafton Architects who have established their international reputation with new university buildings in Milan and Lima. Grafton is the creation of two remarkable women, Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell who are recognised as among the most important female architects of our time. Critics have marvelled at the bravura, confidence and muscularity of the architecture of the quietly spoken, almost excessively modest pair

 

.                     Views of the Boconi building in Milan (Universita Luigi Bocconi, Milan, Italy).

Yvonne Farrell is, of course, from Tullamore (Clara Road and St. Philomena’s Convent School) and acknowledges the formative experiences of growing up in the town on her subsequent career. She sees architecture as an essentially collaborative process produced by the entire team at Grafton, which includes her fellow director Ger Carty from Walsh Island. The Offaly tinged firm is now engaged in work in London, Toulouse and Paris but in particular have two important projects in Dublin, the redevelopment of the former ESB offices and the new City Library in Parnell Square. Early sketches suggest that these will be exciting additions to the capital city.

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The exhibition hall in Venice

The Biennale exhibition which is spread over three different locations around Venice has fifty five national pavilions and individual projects/presentations by one hundred architects. All are stimulating and I wish I had the space to discuss them in detail, but would single out just one entry that appealed to me. For the first time ever, the Holy See was invited to participate and responded by commissioning seven well known architects to create seven chapels (or contemplative spaces, as the more secular might call them) on the island of St. Giorgio and each is delightful yet profound in its own way.

The scale of the whole exhibition can be overwhelming and I would not be the first to observe that while architects can be fluent in their visual presentations, the impenetrability of the language used to describe their projects can often be daunting. The Irish Pavilion is devoted to an exhibition entitled ‘FREE MARKET’ which is a study of the market square as a place of social, cultural and commercial exchange in smaller Irish towns. Fifty examples are cited including those in Edenderry, Portarlington and Mountmellick. This entry has attracted a lot of attention and has featured in reviews in the international media, attesting to the universality of this seemingly Irish typology. Regrettably, while offering comprehensive surveys and a degree of analysis, no case studies are supplied of successful transformations. Indeed, the only example given is that of Dungarvan in which the sole change would appear to be that of providing a better quality of paving under an otherwise unaltered carpark.

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Boconi building,  Milan

As the controversial pedestrianisation of both Emmet Square in Birr and O’Connor Square in Tullamore has shown, the role of market squares and the approach necessary to converting them in whole or part to public spaces is a lot more complex than the Irish entry suggests. I believe that such initiatives can only be realised in the context of well laid overall plans which consider, traffic, parking, land uses, retail needs, urban design, architectural conservation and a myriad list of other issues which can justify their future scale and nature. Standalone building projects just don’t work.

These minor quibbles should not diminish our pride in the prestige which Yvonne and Shelley have brought to Irish architecture and to their own roots. In a commentary on the Biennale, the distinguished architectural critic Shane O’Toole has written of how Irish architects of the past ‘would have been amazed to learn that less than half a century after we ‘joined’ Europe, Irish architects have resolutely clambered to the top of the international architecture mountain range, and that Shelley and Yvonne have planted our flag of values at its very summit’.

 

Department of Finance, 7-9 Merrion Row, Dublin 2: top left.

Right: University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, Peru, won the RIBA’s inaugural International Prize last December

 

How marvellous it would be if they were commissioned to design an important building here in Offaly! The imminent redevelopment of the Harbour in Tullamore would present an excellent opportunity here in Offaly!

 

Cures for the Whooping Cough circa 1950. By Pádraig Turley

If I may paraphrase Dylan Thomas , I am not sure if I was six years of age when I had the misfortune to get the whooping cough that lasted five weeks or I was five years of age and it lasted six weeks. I was then living in Clerhane, a townland near Shannonbridge with my mother, her parents and my uncle. My father was living in Dublin, where he worked as a mechanic. He and his father had run a public house in Shannonbridge in the hungry thirties, and when it did not do very well he was forced to go to Dublin to seek work.

Margaret Turley Nee Claffey
Margaret Turley (nee Claffey)

So to set the scene for the little generational tug of war I am about to relate, my grandfather Michael Claffey was from Bloomhill, Ballinahown and was born in 1868. His wife, my grandmother was an Elizabeth Molloy from Parkwood, Moote, County Offaly and was born in 1880. My uncle Joe was born in 1918 , and my mother Margaret had been born in 1914. We all lived in a three roomed thatched cottage, which did not have electricity or piped water, on a farm which also included a quarry. Continue reading

Terra Incognita: Offaly, Fercall and the Tullamore district of the O’Molloys in the 1550s. By Cosney Molloy

Laois Offaly 1560s
Laois Offaly in the 1560s

The 1540s and the 1550s was a turning point in what we now know as the county of Offaly. It was a time of colonising wars when the administrative county, then known as King’s County, was established by force and expropriation of the lands of the native families. It was in the time of Henry VIII of the Tudors and Wolf Hall television series fame that serious inroads began to be made into the area we now call County Offaly. The actual shiring into an administrative county of the territory of the O’Connors, O’Molloys and the other native families went on over sixty years from the 1550s to the 1610s. The O’Connors had been allies of the Kildare family of FitzGeralds, whose leaders were all killed in the 1530s, after the revolt of Lord Offaly, Silken Thomas. From then on the conquest of the midlands was the firm policy of a reinvigorated English administration under Henry V111 and the administrative expertise of Thomas Cromwell. Continue reading

A day at Tullamore Pool in the 1960s and the old shops of the town recalled. By Terry Adams

Terry Adams was born in Cormac Street, Tullamore, to parents Terry and Kathleen Adams. He has spent all but two of the last 34 years living abroad. Living four years, 1984 to 1987, in the United States and, since 1990 in Luxembourg. He began writing after the death of his father in 1976 and has penned novels, collections of short stories and books of poetry. His true passion is poetry, a passion passed on to him by his father. In this essay he recalls the town of Tullamore in the 1960s – a town that has now greatly changed. The conviviality of the old pool and the leisure to spend the entire day at the pool side has vanished. Terry’s uncle, P.F.(Paddy) Adams, it was who proposed in the mid-1930s that the town council build an outdoor pool. It was completed in 1938 and opened on the same day as the new houses in O’Molloy Street. Continue reading

MacCoghlans, De Renzy and West Offaly Castles.

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So it’s Heritage Week and Saturday 25 August 2018 was given over to a tour of the West Offaly castles in the company of Kieran Keenaghan and James Scully. It was a full day starting at the lovely Crank House, Banagher at 10. a.m. This house is a tourist facility and a community endeavour from a community co-operative society. Banagher needs all the support it can get in the form of incentives and tax relief schemes to bring the older houses, including the Shannon Hotel, back into use. Continue reading