‘Education in Tullamore down the Years.’ By Dr Moran, From Centenary records, Christian Brothers, St Columba’s Tullamore,1862-1962

Dr William Moran, a distinguished man of letters and former parish priest of Tullamore (1949–65), published the article below in 1962 and in the same year as his pamphlet on the history of Tullamore.  In many ways it was a seminal overview that has not as yet been superseded.[1]  Material has of course been published by the late Sister Dolores Walsh on the history of the Mercy schools in Tullamore while others have written of the Presentation schools in Rahan and Birr, Mercy Birr, Mount St Joseph, Tullabeg College, vocational schools in county Offaly including Tullamore, and  primary schools in Durrow (See Irishhistoryonline and the OH Library catalogue online for guidance). Dr Moran’s strongly held and trenchantly expressed views come across in this piece.

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Kathleen Cowan, Birr Suffrage Activist. By Rosemary Raughter

The name of Kathleen Cowan is virtually synonymous with accounts of the suffrage movement in Co Offaly during its most vital phase. As secretary of the Birr Suffrage Society, she reported on its activities in the local and suffrage press, organized and spoke at meetings in the town and throughout the county, and represented it at suffrage gatherings in Dublin. Beyond the fact of her involvement, however, little is known of her background. I was, therefore, particularly pleased to come on her name in the context of some unrelated research, and to realise that *my* Kathleen Cowan was the person described by historian Margaret Hogan as ‘tireless in the cause of women’s issues’ and one of the moving spirits in the campaign locally.[1] This short account of Cowan’s life is intended to fill in some of the blanks in her story.

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The Marble of Clonmacnoise: Limestone Quarrying at Clerhane, Shannonbridge, County Offaly. By Declan Ryan


About two kilometres from Shannonbridge on the Clonmacnoise road (R444), in the townland of Clerhane, a narrow laneway leads to the site of all that now remains of a once thriving industry in limestone quarrying.  While the origins of the quarries are lost in the mists of time it can be assumed that the stone for all the major building projects in the area was sourced locally.  The heyday of the operations can be regarded as being from the early nineteenth to the mid twentieth century.   While their many monuments and buildings in stone will stand for centuries, the memories of the quarries that produced them, their owners, the workforce and methods of operation are in danger of being totally forgotten. 

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The burning of the Big House at Toberdaly/ Tubberdaly, Rhode, County Offaly and the departure of E.J. Beaumont Nesbitt. By Michael Byrne

Terence Dooley in his Burning the Big House: the story of the Irish country house in a time of War and Revolution (Yale, 2022) devoted fourteen pages to a case study of the burning of Tubberdaly, Rhode. He concluded that the house was burned as a result of labour disputes, local agrarian issues and the demand to have the demesne and untenanted lands distributed to local people as the main reasons.[1]

Beaumont Nesbitt had inherited an 8,000-acre estate from his cousin Catherine Downing Nesbitt of Leixlip House in Kildare in 1886. Most of this estate was at Rhode in King’s County. Nesbitt sold all of this land (save 1200 acres) under the Wyndham Land Acts. The First World War has been said to mark the last phase of unionism in ‘Southern Ireland’ and to that can be added personal tragedies with the death of one of Nesbitt’s son in the war and Nesbitt’s wife in 1918. The same was to happen with the Digbys of Geashill Castle and the Rait Kerrs of Rathmoyle. Prices rose substantially in the latter years of the war and with that came the agrarian disturbances among the labourers who had not benefited in the way that farmers had from high prices. The labour dispute at Tubberdaly in 1919 went on for four months and when resolved saw three of the ringleaders dismissed. That would prove to be a running sore, just as with Thomas Dunne and the Geashill Cattle Drive of 1914. Land disputes, personal animosities and IRA membership all provided the ingredients in the ongoing struggle, which in the case of some of those concerned was not resolved until de Valera and Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932.

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James Perry Goodbody, Offaly’s leading industrialist and county council member for 21 years (1853–1923). By Michael Byrne

April 16th 2023 was the 100th anniversary of the death of James Perry Goodbody, a significant figure in business and political life in County Offaly. His family were connected with the commercial life of Clara from 1825 and were by the 1900s the largest employers in the county. He was a contributor to local government and pushed forward the provision of facilities for TB patients when nobody wanted such a hospital in their neighborhood.

James Perry Goodbody. Courtesy of Michael Goodbody

James Perry Goodbody was the second son of Marcus Goodbody and Hannah Woodcock Perry (a daughter of James Perry) and a grandson of Robert Goodbody who came to Clara in 1825. He was born in 1853 and married in 1875 Sophia Richardson, a daughter of Joseph Richardson, a prominent linen merchant of Springfield, Lisburn at the Lisburn Quaker meeting house.[1] She predeceased him in 1917. He graduated with a B.A. from Trinity College, Dublin. James Perry Goodbody was the principal partner in the Clara mills, M. J. & L. Goodbody, and also in Goodbody businesses in Tullamore and Limerick.[2] The three main family businesses of M., J. & L. Goodbody, J. & L.F. Goodbody and T.P. & R. Goodbody (besides the peripheral businesses) probably employed about 1,500 people in the 1920s.[3] Of this number about 700 jobs were in Clara, down from perhaps 1,000 in 1890, in the businesses, the houses and the farms.[4] This employment figure may be conservative. He served on the King’s County Grand Jury and was high-sheriff in 1893–4.[5] He was said to have been the only member of the old grand jury to be returned in the 1899 county council election and served as a member of the council up to 1920.[6] He was elected by the members to the vice chair of the county council in 1912. The Midland Tribune commented at the time that his dissent from a grand jury motion in 1895 against Home Rule was noted in his favour.[7] He was valued by the council members for his business acumen and chaired the Finance and Proposals Committee from 1899.[8] In 1916 he was instrumental in securing a dispensary for tubercular patients in Tullamore built at no cost to the council.[9] He served for many years as chairman of Clara Petty Sessions where his motto was ‘fair play’ to rich and poor alike and, it was noted, always disposed to temper justice with mercy.[10]

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Kenny’s ballroom, GV 12 High Street, Tullamore now forms part of the Esker Arts Centre. Another story in the Tullamore 400th series contributed by Offaly History

Today, 14 April 2023, will see the first event in the new Esker Arts Centre at High Street, Tullamore. Part of the new arts building was once ‘a ballroom of romance’ when owned by the Kenny family of musicians with their own dance hall to the back of their house at no. 12 High Street. Memories of that hall and the Kenny Band were recalled almost forty years ago in reports compiled by the Tullamore Tribune. We had no county archives at that time and wonder have the precious posters and scrapbook mentioned in the articles survived. In an earlier blog we looked at the story of no. 13 High Street. No. 12 dates to 1790 and nos 13 (Esker Arts) and  GV 14 (Ulster Bank) may well be 1750s in date although the head lease to 13 and 14 High Street was to Elizabeth Crofton and dates from only 1801.

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The burning of the Biddulph ‘Big House’ at Rathrobin, Mountbolus, County Offaly, Ireland during the Civil War, 18 April 1923. By Michael Byrne

Rathrobin House, Mountbolus was the most modern and one of the finest of the ‘Big Houses’ burnt by the anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War of 1922-3. Its loss was a tragedy for the district and for its owner and builder Lt Col Middleton Biddulph. Today the house is a ruin and the intended tomb of the old colonel in Blacklion churchyard remains empty. Biddulph was a generous man of independent means and was not dependent on exacting high rents from his tenants and employees with whom he was on the best of terms. Much has been written of the trauma experienced by participants in the Civil War, of the needless killings and the executions (81). It was a shocking time for the two sides and many innocent people suffered also. Perhaps some of the post-Civil War trauma and the silence can be attributed to the consideration that the war may have been an unfortunate and costly mistake. It may have seemed so to some of the participants following the success of the Free State and Fianna Fáil governments in rolling back on the oath, dominion status and the ports in the 1930–38 period. Thus confirming the ‘stepping stone’ thesis. As with the Spanish Civil War (much more violent) there is, even now, a kind of Pact of Forgetting (Pacto del Olvido) with people wanting to move on and forget about something that should not have happened. Yet, it is important to record the events of that period and what brought about the shocking atrocities especially in Kerry. County Offaly had its share in these tragedies.

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Sean MacCaoilte (John Forrestal): a Tullamore man on the delegation to Irish America, March 1922. By Dr Anne Good

With preparations for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement now underway, and especially with the historic visit of President Joe Biden to Ireland fast approaching, I find myself thinking again about the crucial importance of Irish America throughout our recent history. This is true not only with regards to current events, but also to the earlier part of the 20th Century whose decisions and conflicts so profoundly shaped the challenges we still face, as we work to maintain peace, stability and democracy across our island.

From the mid 19thCentury  the Irish Independence movement was always closely connected with the huge Irish American population dispersed across many parts of the USA during and after the Famine, and those struggling for Independence benefitted from Irish America’s long standing and vital support for positive change in the country which so many Americans still called home. This dynamic was as true in the volatile situation of early 1922, of which I have written in my recent book, Fierce Tears, Frail Deeds, as it is now.  

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Remembering Sean Mac Caoilte/John Forrestal of Tullamore (1885–1922). Great talent we lost during the revolutionary period. By Michael Byrne

Happy St Patrick’s Day to all our followers. A good day to recall a talented young man who died all too early. Sean Mac Caoilte/John Forrestal of Henry (now O’Carroll) Street, Tullamore is forgotten in his home town. Why is that? For one thing he died in Dublin at the age of only 37 having spent almost half his life there. He was from a strongly nationalist family with his father Andrew and sister Emily very much associated with the move for independence as was his brother Dick. Séan was a literary man from a young age. Richard (Dick) Barry (born 1880, emigrated to New York 1904) recalled him as prominent in the early days of the Irish Ireland movement in Tullamore.[1] He was also associated with the first historical and literary publication. In the Christmastide of 1903 appeared for the first time Ard na h-Eireann: An Irish Ireland Magazine,  published under the auspices of the St. Columkille branch of the Gaelic League at Tullamore. A second and final issue appeared in 1904. This was to be the last such publication from Tullamore until Offaly Heritage in 2003 and Tullamore Annual in 2012.[2] Forrestal was very much the editor of the 1903 magazine and his literary leanings ensured that he was a prime mover in having the new street names for Tullamore recommended by the Gaelic League and adopted by the urban district council. An associate of Forrestal’s and very much in the same mould was the solicitor James Rogers, who in 1903–4 was still a law clerk in A. & L. Goodbody’s Tullamore office. Rogers lived on until 1967 and could have told us much but no one asked.

John Forrestal/ Sean Mac Caoilte (1880-1922). From Fierce Tears Frail Deeds (with permission).

The young Tullamore solicitor James Rogers was busy after 1908 with his own legal practice, but went on to found the Offaly Archaeological and Historical Society in 1938 and had the support of Tribune editor James Pike. The Society suffered during the war years because of transport difficulties, but in 1943 Pike was kind enough to call attention to the contribution of Rogers to the Gaelic League early in the century with his friends John Forrestal and the young Henry Egan.[3] We can return to this in a later blog. But now we want to hand over to an excellent short life of Forrestal published in ainm.ie and reprinted here with authority. The later blog will tell you of  a new novel based partly on the life of our Sean Mac Caoilte who died in 1922 in the same year as the Free State was founded. His brother Richard (Dick) was part of the new National army. Emily worked with Mrs Wyer of Church Street another ardent nationalist. The Ainm.ie site is a must for historians and lay people and has lives not to be found in the DIB.

Forrestal homes raided by British military forces in Dublin and Tullamore in 1920 and Wyer’s in Church St where Emily Forrestal worked.
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A Civil War Ambush Centenary at Raheen, Geashill, County Offaly, January 1923-2023. By P.J. Goode

Oliver Mulpeter was heard to say he ‘would not miss it for the world’ and carrying the national flag which he proudly bore as the nephew of one of the wounded soldiers, he was among the first to arrive.

The commemoration was to honour soldiers of the National Army who were wounded in a Civil War ambush, two of whom died some weeks later. Relatives of all four casualties gathered for a roadside ceremony on a bitterly cold January day with traffic thundering past inches away on that busy road between Raheen and Geashill in North Offaly.

An honour guard of soldiers of The Irish Defence Forces Veterans group was present led by Declan Sheridan. They came to attention and gave the salute as the ceremony progressed – a poignant mark of respect to their comrades-in-arms of a century ago, their presence there an important and vital element of the event.

It was one hundred years to the day that the ambush took place at that spot, within sight of old Raheen chapel, on a bend of the road overlooked by rising ground. The ambush party opened fire with rifles and a Lewis gun from both sides of the road on a platoon of fourteen soldiers marching from their Geashill garrison to Sunday mass. Luckily the Lewis gun jammed, otherwise casualties would have been much higher.

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