Decorations and Dinners in Tullamore in 1873 for the coming of age of the fourth earl of Charleville and the marriage of his sister Katherine Bury. No 7 in the Tullamore 400th series. The oldest surviving wedding photograph of an Offaly family?  By Michael Byrne

Charles William Francis Bury, the fourth Earl of Charleville, came of age on the 16th of May 1873. Celebrations were delayed to the end of May so as to confine the party and the guests staying at the castle to one week and ending with the marriage of the earl’s sister to Captain Edmund Hutton on 5 June 1873. As stated in article no. 5 in this series the young earl died in New York on 3 November 1874 without marrying and was succeeded as fifth earl by his uncle Alfred. The latter died childless on 28 June 1875 and so the Charleville title died with him. The fourth earl’s sister, Lady Emily, succeeded to the estate while yet a minor. She married in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. Lady Emily died in 1931 having spent much of her widowed life abroad and was succeeded by her only surviving child Lt Col. Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80). He inherited Belvedere, Mullingar from his cousin Brinsley Marlay in 1912 and sold the contents of Charleville Castle in 1948. As Lt Colonel Bury died childless the estate went back up the line to the children of Lady Katherine Hutton née Bury (died 1901). The celebrations of 1873 were poignant and the speeches full of irony. That the family had an excellent relationship with the Tullamore townspeople is clear from the speech of the parish priest Fr McAlroy who had succeeded O’Rafferty in 1857. Alas so little material has survived by way of letters or diaries of the speech makers of that exciting week in the history of Tullamore. As noted in the no. 5 blog the original address of Dr Moorhead on behalf of the town commissioners was donated by Professor Brian Walker to Offaly History. The late Brigadier Magan donated an important photograph of the 1873 wedding and pictures of the Hastings of Sharavogue in what we now call the Biddulph Collection in Offaly Archive.

The Hastings and Westenras of Sharavogue were among the guests at the Charleville wedding as also was Lord Rosse (the fourth earl) and the Bernards. Lords Digby and Downshire, the other big landowners in the county were absentees. This copy from Rathrobin and the two Irelands (Tullamore, 2021) available from Offaly History.
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The Magnificent Mansions of Tullamore. By Fergal MacCabe. A contribution to the Tullamore 400th series, no. 6

Today, the most enduring reminders of the economic prosperity of Tullamore in the mid to late eighteenth century are the commodious stone town houses built by its prominent and successful citizens. Seven in particular are notable, all but one of which line High Street, the entry to the town from the south and also the approach road to the seat of the local landowner, Lord Tullamore.

Though one has been demolished and one significantly altered, the remaining  ‘palazzi’  today represent a unique architectural feature of the town and all are included on the Register of Protected Structures. Several display the distinguishing features of the finest Georgian townhouses of the period, being set back from the street behind railings and with central imposing door cases reached by a flight of steps. Though displaying differences in design, the plot widths of each mansion are remarkably similar, probably reflecting the leasing policy of Lord Tullamore.

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The Visit of the Hon. Hugh Mahon to Ireland in 1922 and the Mahon family reunion in Charleville Demesne, Tullamore in August 1922. By Dr Jeff Kildea

As the decade of centenaries draws to a close, one centenary not on the government’s list of official commemorations is the 1922 visit to Ireland of the Hon. Hugh Mahon, a former cabinet minister in the Australian government. Nevertheless, at a local level, the people of County Offaly may find more than a passing interest in this event from one hundred years ago.

Born in 1857 at Killurin, six kilometres south of Tullamore, Mahon was forced to leave his native land in 1882 and emigrate to Australia to avoid being arrested for his activities in the Land League. Forty years later he returned to Ireland for the first time, visiting family and friends in and around Tullamore. The years in between had been eventful for Mahon, leading to one of the most contentious episodes in Australia’s political history. And the return visit to his homeland also was not without controversy.

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Partying in Tullamore in 1873 for the coming of age of the fourth earl of Charleville and the marriage of his sister Katherine Bury. By Michael Byrne. No.5 in the Tullamore 400th series

The summer of 1873 was marked in Tullamore with a great outpouring of support for the coming of age of Charles William Francis, the fourth earl of Charleville (1852–74). He had been an orphan for fourteen years and taken care of by his uncle Alfred Bury (1829–75). The fourth earl’s parents, Charles William George and Arabella Case, had both died at a young age in 1857 (countess of Charleville) and 1859 (the third earl). He was only 37 and left five young children of which the fourth earl was born 16 May 1852. His sister had been killed in an accident on the stairwell at Charleville Castle in 1861 and his younger brother John died in 1872 when only 21. Now the young earl had reached his maturity and his 21st year. He could mark the occasion with his two sisters Lady Katherine and Lady Emily. The celebrations ought to have been on 16 May 1873 but the party had been deferred for a few weeks so that the coming of age could be celebrated at the same time as the marriage of Lady Katherine to Captain Hutton A.D.C. The celebration in the town with triumphal arches and fireworks was the last such for the earls of Charleville. Over the period from 1782 to 1873 there had been three such Welcomes from the Tenantry. Lady Emily inherited Charleville under the will of the fourth earl who died in 1874 aged only 22. Emily came into possession on the death of her uncle Alfred in 1875 childless. She was still a minor and there was no official welcome. Lady Emily married Captain Kenneth Howard in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. The Land War began in 1879–80 and cast a shadow over landlord and tenant relationships permanently. Lady Emily died in 1931 and the estate passed to her only surviving child Lt Col. Kenneth Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80).

The address of Dr Michael Moorhead in his capacity as chairman of the town commissioners at the celebration dinner in 1873 is replete with irony given that the young earl died in a little over a year after on a fishing and hunting trip near New York.

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The grant of Tullamore in 1622 to Sir John Moore of Croghan: the 400th anniversary of the beginning of township in Tullamore. By Michael Byrne

Tullamore is a well-preserved town and is the county town of Offaly since an act of parliament in 1832 displaced Philipstown (Daingean) which had been the county town since the shiring of Offaly as part of the new colonial government policies in 1557. The new county to be known as King’s County was then comprised of the baronies reflecting the Gaelic lordships of the O’Connors and that of the O Dempseys. The king in question was none other than Philip II of Spain married at that time to the tragic Queen Mary of England (1553–58) hence the new forts of Philipstown and Maryborough (Portlaoise). The county was extended about 1570 to include the territory of the O Molloys (now to be the baronies of Ballycowan, Ballyboy and Eglish) and also that of the Foxes in Kilcoursey and the MacCoghlans in what would be called Garrycastle. In 1605 the territory of the O Carrolls (to form the baronies of Ballybritt and Clonlisk) was added, as also was the parish of Clonmacnoise (1638) at the behest of Terence Coghlan of Kilcolgan. Those looking for an exciting seventeenth-century history for Tullamore will be disappointed as the surviving evidence of town growth in that troubled century is thin. This week we continue to series to mark the 400th anniversary of Tullamore as a town.

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Support for the Belgian Refugees in County Offaly and in Portarlington following the outbreak of the First World War. By Offaly History and the late Ronnie Mathews

When we in Offaly History set out early in 2021 to mark the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland in our eighty plus contributed blogs on the Decade last year little did we think that an article on Belgian refugees to Ireland and the First World War would have resonance in the Ireland of 2022. Now we are talking of at least three million people forced out of Ukraine and have concerns about a third world war. Our efforts for the Belgians in 1914 look very slight when put beside what is needed today. In 1914 we were wholly reliant on the printed newspaper with no radio or social media.

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Demolish or Preserve?  The dilemma for the future of the architectural  heritage of Tullamore and of many other Irish towns. By Fergal MacCabe

The Architectural Heritage of Tullamore

Our architectural heritage may be defined as those structures which by their very great beauty, important historical connotations or unique scientific value contribute to creating a memorable experience.

To be frank, the town centre of Tullamore  contains few buildings or spaces which meet these criteria but it does have its own distinct local qualities and is a decent if unpretentious town whose stock of late 18th and early 19th c. buildings are worthy of consideration.

Yet, over the past eighty years many fine buildings which contributed to the architectural heritage of Tullamore have been lost. The removal of the Tarleton House in 1936 radically changed the spatial character of O’Connor Square. The Grand Canal Hotel which closed the vista on the Daingean Road and the wonderful Tudor style castellated Mercy Convent were removed in the 1960s and early 1970s. The architectural quality of both the former Charleville Estate office by Richard Castle and the facade of D.E. William’s shop on Patrick Street by Michael Scott was compromised and the wonderful Modernist Ritz Cinema partially demolished. The landscaped setting of the County Hospital was built over.  Many original shop fronts were replaced.

 As Andrew Tierney has observed in his ‘Buildings of Leinster’ a lot of the original features of Protected Structures around the town have now been removed or insensitively altered.

The building behind the Mr Price facade in High Street, dating to about 1750. This picture in 1959
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Recently nominated by the Irish Times as amongst the twenty best places to live in Ireland: A Tullamore Capriccio. By Fergal MacCabe  

Recently nominated by the Irish Times as amongst the twenty best places to live in Ireland, Tullamore earned the accolade because of its central location and its excellent recreational amenities and services. However, neither its built or natural environment figured as deciding factors in the survey.

Regrettably, my home town lacks the physical drama of Kilkenny and Lismore dominated by fortresses standing on cliffs, the waterside charms of Kinsale and Carrick on Shannon, the mystery of the mediaeval alleyways of Galway and Carlingford or the suave urban quality of Westport, Clonakilty and Birr.  Nevertheless, it’s qualities, modest as they are, have always inspired me and I have often tried to capture them in drawings. Tullamore’s few architectural setpieces were my first introduction to the notion that a town or a village could be a beautiful artefact as much as a painting or a piece of sculpture.

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Some bridges of Ireland and of Offaly

We are so delighted to see Offaly feature in this week’s episode of Droichid na hÉireann. Lochlann Ó’Mearáin will visit one of Europe’s oldest surviving suspension bridges at Birr Castle before stopping off at Shannonbridge to learn all about the historical importance of the bridge in the villag

All this and more on Monday the 31st of January at 7:30pm on RTÉ One. #visitoffaly #offalyhistory #droichidnahÉireann #RTÉOne

 Having looked at the programme check out the bridges of Offaly. You can download Fred Hamond’s study of the bridge of Offaly from the Heritage Section of the Offaly County Council website.

More on Monday night

Fred Hamond writes in the first of his two books:

Bridge builders

4.1 From the early 1600s until the late 1800s, the Grand Jury financed most of Offaly’s road bridges. In 1898, responsibility was transferred to Offaly County Council. In the more recent past, the National Roads Authority has assumed responsibility for bridges along the national primary routes.

4.2 In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Grand Canal Company erected numerous bridges in connection with the cutting of a canal from Dublin to Shannon Harbour via Tullamore. Bridges are also associated with the Edenderry and Kilbeggan branches of the Grand Canal. The Shannon Commissioners also erected a number of bridges during improvements to the navigability of the River Shannon in the 1830s. 4.3 In the 1850s, major drainage schemes throughout the county led to the construction of many bridges by the Board of Public Works. A second phase of drainage and bridge construction was undertaken by the Office of Public Works in the 1950s.

4.4 Various railway companies also erected bridges in the later 1800s, notably the Great Southern & Western Railway with lines from Portarlington to Athlone (1854-59), from Ballybrophy to Limerick (1863), and a branch to Banagher (1884). The Midland Great Western Railway opened a branch to Clara in 1863 and to Edenderry in 1877. There were also two minor companies: the Roscrea & Parsonstown Railway (1858) and Parsonstown & Portumna Bridge Railway (1868). Iarnród Éireann is now responsible for all railway bridges along the lines still in use and has recently been engaged in the replacement of level crossings with bridges

. 4.5 Since the 1950s, Bord na Mona has been extracting peat from bogs in the northern half of the county. This necessitated the construction of mineral railways for the transfer to the peat to power stations and briquette factories, and the erection of bridges over rivers and under roads.

 4.6 Several of Offaly’s many demesnes also have significant bridges, notably at Birr, Kinnitty Castle and Charleville. Birr boasts the earliest surviving wire suspension bridge in Ireland (c.1825). Ardara Bridge, near Cadamstown, is the oldest surviving bridge in the county and possibly dates from the 15th century. 5. Heritage assessment and protectio

In Tullamore alone there are so many: that at Bridge Street may date from the early 1700s. Then there is one at Church Road known as Pound Bridge that may date to 1795. Clara Road is a canal bridge called after an owner of land at Tinnycross  – Cox just at that at Whitehall is after Charles William Bury. Who has not heard of Digby bridge in recent weeks. In Birr there is the suspension bridge in the demesne and Oxmantown Bridge of 1817.

Anyway, take a look at the series on Monday 31 Jan. and read your Hamond.

Birr Castle and the suspension bridge to the right

The old Kilbeggan bridge in the distance over the Grand Canal at Tullamore, about 1910. Well before the new bridges of 2013.

In a new six-part series for RTÉ One, Droichid Na hÉireann tells the story and history of Ireland’s beloved bridges. Presented by actor Lochlann Ó Mearáin, the series explores the history, architecture, landscape and above all the people behind these extraordinary bridges and the pivotal role they have played in historic events and in modern day society. 

From road to railway bridges, viaducts to footbridges, these man-made structures have long been an integral part of our country’s infrastructure. But beyond their primary function, how much do we really know about these structures? 

Travelling across the length and breadth of the country, Lochlann explores century old stone bridges to modern contemporary designs from natural geological formations to great engineering feats, to reveal their hidden history and impact, far greater than just bricks and mortar.  

He rediscovers the remarkable tales behind our bridges through a wealth of fascinating human stories told through expert commentary and local storytelling.

On his breath-taking visual journey through some of Ireland’s most beautiful landscapes, Lochlann ventures to the hills of Donegal to Poisoned Glen under the shadow of Mount Errigal, visits the beloved Shakey Bridge in Cork City, walks across Ireland’s longest rope bridge in Kells Bay and explores one of Europe’s first examples of a suspension rope bridge in Birr Castle.  In the walled city of Derry he visits a structure that bridged communities together, he listens to a unique musical performance at Bellacorrick Musical Bridge in Mayo and travels to Connemara to visit the iconic Quiet Man Bridge. While in the midlands he explores one of Europe’s finest examples of a suspension bridge in Birr Castle and travels to the Drogheda to visit a Victorian bridge supposedly built on foundations of cotton wool. 

Droichid na hÉireann explores the rich architectural and historical heritage of Ireland’s most fascinating and visually spectacular bridges

A new attraction on Offaly’s Shannon boundary

Uncivil engineers at Meelick weir relief bridge


Episode 1: Dublin

In the first leg of his expedition around Ireland, Lochlann O’ Mearáin explores some of Dublin’s iconic bridges.  Starting of in the leafy suburbs in the Strawberry Beds, Lochlann visits Farmleigh Bridge and learns about the inventiveness of the Guinness Family. He ventures to Lucan to discover what wildlife live under the shadow of Lucan bridge.  He travels to Clontarf to learn more about Dublin Bay and biosphere. Back in the bustling city, along the River Liffey, he takes a trip to the elegant and iconic Ha’Penny Bridge. He visits the striking and contemporary harp shaped Samuel Beckett Bridge and takes to the water to marvel at the design of Spencer Dock Bridge. 


Episode 2: Mayo/Galway

From the soft and craggy bog lands of Mayo to the vibrant City of Tribes, Lochlann ventures West this week. He will discover the history behind the construction of Newport Railway Viaduct, listen to a unique musical performance in Bellacorrick and learn about the famine at Bunlahinch Clapper Bridge. Lochlann travels to wild and beautiful Connemara to visit Carricklegaun Bridge in Leitir Mor and follows in the footsteps of American actor John Wayne as he visits the iconic Quiet Man Bridge in Oughterard before finishing his travels in the heart of Galway city at O Brien’s Bridge.   


Episode 3: Clare/Kerry/Limerick

Starting off at the most westerly point of County Clare on the Loop Head Peninsula, Lochlann learns about the geological formation and power of the Atlantic Ocean at the Bridges of Ross.  He makes a short trip to the village of Bunratty where he discovers the significance of the renowned Durty Nelly’s pub and Studdert Bridge. He learns about the Treaty Stone at Thomond Bridge in Limerick City and heads to the Kingdom County to marvel at Lios Póil Viaduct and visit Ireland’s longest rope bridge in the sub-tropical gardens of Kells Bay.   


Episode 4: Cork/ Waterford

This week Lochlann heads to Ireland’s most southerly point to view the spectacular Mizen Head Footbridge and then heads to the Rebel County to learn how the Shakey Bridge acquired its name.  Over the River Finisk, Lochlann visits the Hindu-Gothic Bridge at Dromana. Hopping on his bicycle he gets a taste of the Waterford Greenway whilst crossing over the Ballyvoyle Viaduct and finishes his epic adventure at the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge, the longest bridge on the island of Ireland. 

The suspension bridge in Birr demesne. Courtesy of Paul Moore


Episode 5: Offaly, Westmeath, Meath, Louth

On this week’s episode, Lochlann will reveal some of the most breath-taking bridges in the heart of Ireland. Starting off by viewing one of Europe’s oldest surviving suspension bridges in Offaly, he will sail along the River Shannon to gaze upon The Athlone Railway Bridge before walking across the Joe Dolan Memorial Bridge. Finishing his travels on the River Boyne where he marvels at the great engineering feat of the Boyne Viaduct and discovers if there is any truth behind the viaduct being built on a foundation of cotton wool. 

Shannon bridge about 1897. A beautiful Lawrence composition from the bumper published volume.


Episode 6: Donegal/Derry 

This week Lochlann heads north to picturesque Donegal. He will try his hand at the traditional game of handball at Bundoran Bridge, take a look at the history behind the disappearance of the Donegal railway line and catch up with musician Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh under the shadow of Mount Errigal. He will then travel to the walled city of Derry where he will sail along the River Foyle to learn about how one modern structure has built bridges between two communities. 

We hope to have a full blog on Shannonbridge of the 1750s very soon and also the ‘oldest bridge in Ireland’ at Clonmacnoise. After that we have Banagher of 1690 and that of 1843. We have also to do the suspension bridges at Kinnitty and Birr and, of course, that at Cadamstown. We need more contributors please.

The ‘Elite’ of Tullamore skating at Charleville Lake on St Stephen’s Day 1864. By Cosney Molloy

Skating on Charleville Lake, Tullamore was a popular pastime when I was a young lad. I remember the cold icy winters of 1962, 1982 and 2010. I can recall as a young man the Tullamore people skating on Charleville Lake in 1962. I am a long time now in D 4 but I got down a few weeks before Christmas to the nice butchers in Tullamore – old Tormey’s is still going strong and now you have, Hanlon’s, Crossan’s of Main Street, Ray Dunne and Fergus Dunne, and a few more I would not know. I was sorry to see Grennan’s shop closed for now. I miss Paddy Mac’s, Cleary’s and Joe ‘the Butch’ Kearney and not forgetting Dunne’s butchers off the Square. It was Treacy’s later. Liver we got a lot of and sheep’s hearts in that fine shop. Many old friends gone to the heavenly pastures. I always like to get my turkey in Tullamore and a nice ham even though I am out of the town now for over forty years. What with the bacon factory open until 1989, and now Tullamore Meats, the town has a long tradition in fine food. Come to think of it the bacon factory did a huge business in turkeys back in the 1940s and 1950s when my father was rearing same.

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