‘Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails'[Howard Bury of Charleville and Belvedere] by Jane Maxwell

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Charles Kenneth Howard Bury of the Royal Irish Rifles, probably c. 1914. Courtesy of David Hutton Bury.

At the beginning of the centenary commemorations for the War, at the Theatre of Memory Symposium at the Abbey Theatre in 2014, President Higgins spoke of the commemorative activities in terms of myth-making and ethical remembering. He remarked that ‘for years the First World War has stood as a blank space in memory for many Irish people – an unspoken gap in the official narratives of this state’. He suggested that ‘literary memoirs written during or after the War can be enabling sources for ethical remembering’ and advocated using the commemorative period to create ‘opportunities to recollect the excluded, to include in our narratives the forgotten voices and the lost stories of the past’. In the aftermath of the death in the last few years of all the veterans of the War, to find these stories and these voices we must go back to the archives and seek out the diaries, memoirs letters and photographs of those who served. The Library in Trinity has a fascinating collection of this kind of material, gifted and bequeathed over the decades and, to mark the centenary of the War, the Library decided to publish this material online.

Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails is the name given to the online project which allows free access not only to digitised images of over 1500 pages of WW1 letters and diaries from the Library’s special collections, but transcriptions of the texts are also provided. There are nine war-time authors involved – almost all officers – and altogether they produced three sets of letters, four diaries (including a very brief home-front diary by the single female author among them) and three memoirs (two of which are prisoner-of-war accounts). The authors served on both Western and Eastern fronts, and ranged in age from twenty years of age to thirty-three. Two of them won Military Crosses, and one of them received the DSO having been mentioned in despatches seven times. This was Charles Howard-Bury – the oldest of our authors; he was born in Charleville Castle, Co. Offaly in 1881 and was a career military man who went with the British army to India in 1904. He was present at the Battle of the Somme and was eventually taken prisoner in 1918.

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Poverty in pre-Famine Offaly (King’s County) By Ciarán McCabe

 

In the decades before the Great Famine of the late-1840s numerous parliamentary inquiries were held into the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland. Political and social elites wished to understand the nature of Ireland’s seemingly endemic poverty in the hope of improving the social, economic and moral condition of the peasantry, as well as quelling the country’s tendency for social upheaval and political radicalism. The most significant of these inquiries was the Royal Commission for Inquiring into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland (aka the Poor Inquiry). Chaired by the Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin Richard Whately (1787-1863), the commission sat between 1833 and 1836, holding extensive public inquiries (akin to court sittings) in parishes throughout the country, supplemented by extensive correspondence with persons of significance across the island, as to the social condition of the poor in their locality. The printed output of the commission – totalling more than 5,000 pages of detailed information, witness testimonies and statistics – constitutes an unparalleled source for the study of poverty in the pre-Famine period. The Poor Inquiry reports tell us much about County Offaly (King’s County) a decade before the Great Famine. Continue reading

Frank Quirke: the boy who was abandoned to drown on Charleville Lake near Tullamore at Christmas 1901. Retold now by Cosney Molloy

145 Hanly - Charleville Lake winter scene
Skating at Charleville Lake in 1962

I was glad to get out of Dublin before Christmas and get down to see my friends in Tullamore, Killoughy and Banagher for a pre-Christmas visit and bask in the mildest winter for many years. Dublin is mad at this time of year and what with one restaurant telling us about steaks at €120 I had to get down to the nice butchers in Tullamore – old Tormey’s is still going strong and now you have Grennan’s, Hanlon’s and a few more I would not know. I miss Paddy Mac’s, Cleary’s and Joe ‘the Butch’ Kearney of course. All old friends gone to the heavenly pastures.
I can remember the desperate cold of December 2010 when it was as low as -20 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. 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 merchant family are said to have made it to Dublin skating on the canal for some lark or wager. All good simple fun it was. I understand that Dr Boediccker who worked at Birr Castle until the First World War kept weather records from about 1872 and was able to state that 1909, 1896, 1893 and 1890 were also very cold. Another very cold year was in 1901 when a young boy drowned at Charleville Lake, trapped by the ice, while up to 200 people looked on and did nothing.

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My childhood memory of a Christmas in west Offaly over sixty years ago by Padraig Turley

 

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1. Father’s Ford Anglia with yours truly.

As Patrick Kavanagh might have put it, I was ten Christmasses of age and living in a place called Clerhane, a townland some two miles south of Clonmacnoise.
We were farmers, and there were five of us residing on the farm, my maternal grandparents, my uncle Joe, my mother and I. My father for economic reasons worked in Dublin, and I would only see him three times a year, the Easter break perhaps three days, his summer holidays that took place during the first two weeks in August, and of course for Christmas break which generally lasted two or three days depending, on how Christmas fell. You can imagine the excitement that built up in me as a child with the prospect of the approaching Christmas.
The Christmas I am talking about was 1954, indeed as time would prove, my last Christmas residing in west Offaly, as the following summer my mother and I moved to Dublin to live with my father, who had just purchased a house.
1954 is best remembered for the floods, the river Shannon reaching the highest level since 1925. I remember soldiers from Athlone assisting the farmers that year with the harvest. Folk were really looking forward to the bit of Christmas cheer.

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Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela from the Irish midlands in the fifteenth century by Bernadette Cunningham

 

Santiago de Compostela became an international pilgrimage destination in the twelfth century, at a time when the doctrine of purgatory was widely promulgated and the idea of indulgences was gaining popularity. The local archbishop, Diego Gelmírez (d.1140), promoted the cult of St James and the shrine in the Cathedral of Santiago became one of the three major pilgrimage destinations of the Christian world. This offered those living on the Atlantic edge of Europe an accessible alternative to Rome and Jerusalem.
There were two separate phases of the Santiago pilgrimage from medieval Ireland. The earlier phase, beginning in the thirteenth century, was a distinctly Anglo-Norman one, with pilgrims drawn from towns on the east and south coast. During the second phase – in the fifteenth century – Gaelic pilgrims from throughout Ireland, including the midlands, displayed a strong interest in going to Santiago. They almost invariably made the pilgrimage in jubilee years, when the feast of St James (25 July) fell on a Sunday and special indulgences could be earned.

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KILBEGGAN AND WORLD WAR 1 Stan McCormack

Kilbeggan War Memorial 1916
2. Kilbeggan War Memorial 1916, includes Stan McCormack and Kitty Flynn

The conversation about the 100th anniversary of World War 1 this last month is on-going, with reference to poppys and Easter lilies, as part of the story. It should be a lot simpler as it has always been about remembering the people who died or who were injured in World War 1 and during the 1916-21 period in Irish history, without exclusion. In Kilbeggan we have two small memorials on the Green remembering World War 1 and Ireland between 1916-21, almost beside each other, as it’s the same history, the same nation, and in many ways the same ideals.

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The new book, Offaly and the Great War, represents new and original historical research on the 1914-18 period. Lisa Shortall

 

The Parker Brothers of Clara and John Martin of Tullamore. One of the Parker boys was killed as was John Martin on 8 October 1918.

There was very little published work relating to Offaly in World War I until recent times. The 1983 essay by Vivienne Clarke was a first and rare examination of the period in Offaly, until Tom Burnell’s Offaly War Dead in 2010, and 2014’s Edenderry in the Great War by Catherine Watson. And so nearly every essay published in Offaly and the Great War which was launched to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War represents new and original historical research and findings, a very exciting prospect in the world of history publishing.The seventeen contributors have submitted essays that cover every aspect of the war and from almost all corners of the county.

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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.