Tullamore ‘in the good old coaching Days’. Tullamore 175 years ago.

Historical Notes by a contributor writing in 1912, edited by Offaly History

This contribution to local studies was made in 1912 and was based on the writer’s access to a copy of the Tullamore entry in Slater’s Trade Directory published in 1846. At the time there was no public library in Offaly and private reading rooms were few. Neither was there photocopying or digitized copies.  Books were expensive and access confined to only a few. There is unlikely to have been any bookshop in Offaly in 1912. By that time Sheppard’s in Birr, the only decent bookshop in Offaly in the mid nineteenth-century, was concentrating on stationery.

The only original comment from our contributor of the 1912 article was in reference to the coming Home Rule and the appointment of Catholics to public office. The War of 1914–18, 1916, The War of Independence and the Civil War were yet to come. The writer remarked:

Judging by the names of those filling public positions in Tullamore sixty odd years ago [in 1846], Catholics and Nationalists had very little influence in the administration of public funds. But times are changed, and even in the comparatively brief period which has elapsed since the above described state of things existed, one cannot but marvel at the immense strides made in science, mechanical engineering, and the arts generally, while the rapid development of National political ideas and aim points to the rapid approach of a golden era for our country.

What a pity the writer did not say more about 1912. That is the gap we have been trying to fill with our blogs on the Decade of Centenaries and our new Decade platform on www.offalyhistory.com. We are now working on a book to bring all these article and photographs together and to be published in late 2023. In the meantime we share this article on Tullamore in 1846. In 1912 the article was probably written out by hand from the rare book and then typeset with hot metal type for publication in the local press. To think that in those days people depended entirely on the printed newspaper for news of things past and pressing matters then current. The new telephone was first tested in Clara in 1898 and the motor car locally in the same year. It was only ten years later in 1908 that telephone services began to develop in the county and likewise with the motor vehicle. To quote the article of 1912:

 Slater’s Directory compiled so far back as the year 1846 – [over 175 years ago] – contains some interesting particulars at this distance of times regarding the towns, villages and parishes with which it deals. One frequently hears this period in our history referred to as “the good old coaching days,” though famine and pestilence wasted our land, and the exodus of our kith and kin may be said, as a consequence, to have been inaugurated amid the distressful scenes of “Black Forty – Six and Forty – Seven.” Railways had not then intersected the country, nor had the electric telegraph spreads its message-bearing network round the world. “Wireless” was unknown, and the telephone lay hatching in the cradle of its inception. Business moved in a slow and happy manner, with neither rush nor worry, such as crush the life out of our present-day business men, Heavily-laden carriers carts moving lazily along with their burdens of merchandise from town to town, were a frequent and picturesque sight along the high roads, while the sounding horn of the “Royal Mail” coach awoke the echoes in vale and mountain, as does the shrill steam-blast of its successor at the present time. Carriers’ inns were a feature of our towns, and around the fires in winter, or about the doors in the summer’s eve, many jokes were cracked, and stories told of “life on the road”

 Of deeds of valour done ‘gainst robber bold.

Or encounter with a ghostly visitant.

A Bianconi coach in Clonmel, probably 1830s by John Harris, after Michael Angelo Hayes. In 1836, Hayes produced what was to prove one of his most popular pieces of work. It was a series of four illustrations entitled “Car Driving in the South of Ireland” and featured the famous Bianconi coaches, one of the main forms of public transport in Ireland at the time. They were engraved by John Harris and published by Ackermann in 1836. Concerning them, Crookshank and Glin remarked: “They were extremely popular, were often reprinted and clearly made his name.”

The hotel from which the Royal mail coach took its departure upon its daily or nightly journey was regarded as a place of importance in the community, and was generally the scene of much animation as the coach was being prepared for the road. Ostlers bustled around their well-groomed horses, getting them into position, with loud-voiced orders to their dumb friends as to good behaviour, while the scrutinising eye of the driver beamed upon them, sometimes in anger, but more often with a look of happy approval. In a by no means softly modulated voice he gave his directions as to traces, bits, reins, swing bars etc., while porters buzzed about like a flock of bees, getting passengers’ luggage into the “boot” of the coach under the driver’s seat, paying scant need to its owner’s inquiries as to possible safety. Highwaymen were not unknown in those days. Passengers took leave of their friends and become seated inside or scrambled to the top of the coach by means of steps conveniently ‘placed for the purpose, and the “Guard, “splendidly robed in brightest of scarlet, bearing the Royal insignia on each shoulder, strutted, peacock-like, up and down the pavement, frequently consulting his watch as the hour for departure approached. At least he become seated, and a huge blunderbuss on each side of him, warned all and sundry that something unpleasant awaited those who, ventured to exhibit an impertinent curiosity as to the content of Her Majesty’s mails. A loud blast of the guard’s horn, and the driver whipped up his horses – they were off.—

Off on their journey for good or for ill,

Down thro’ the valley, up over the hill;

Some to return – some future to roam—

While fond hearts are grieving behind them at home.

TULLAMORE

The authority from which we quote says, that according to the Census of 1841 the parish of Tullamore contained 9,608 inhabitants, and the town 6,343 of that number. The post office was situated in William Street; and the post-master was John Alexander Bradley. There was a delivery of letters daily; those from Dublin and the North arriving every morning at half-past five o’clock, and those from Parsonstown, Mountmellick, and the South and West every evening at seven. Letters from Dublin and the North were dispatched every evening at half-past seven, those from Parsonstown , etc., at six o’clock every morning. A one-day delivery of letters would hardly meet present-day business requirements.

The entry for Tullamore from Slater 1846. Note the number of bakers

In the historical sketch the “Directory” says: – “Tullamore, or Tullamoore, the latter appellation said to be derived from the moor on which it stands [in fact the surname of the Moore family] is the county and Assize town of the King’s County, and a parish, in the barony of Ballycowan, 57 miles W. by S. from Dublin, 25 S.E by E from Athlone,12½ N.E. from Ballyboy, 10 west from Philipstown, and six south from Kilbeggan The Grand Canal passes the end of the town, affording water communication with Dublin and Shannon Harbour ; and the small river Clodagh (a branch of the Brosna) runs through, and is crossed by a neat bridge. The town is arranged in the form of cross and the houses being white, and the streets wide, it is in appearance airy and cleanly. The surrounding country is level, and the bogs are numerous, causing turf to be cheap and giving employment to great numbers of persons in producing and bringing it to market. The public structures, besides the places of worship and schools are a noble and admirably constructed gaol, with a graceful courthouse, market house, barracks, and a convent. The Assizes, having been removed from Philipstown, are now held here, and petty sessions every Saturday. The municipal government is vested in a Seneschal, and the local magistrates. The headquarters of the constabulary force is in this town, which is the residence of the county inspector. The principal business establishments are two breweries, the same number of tanneries, a distillery, a branch of the Bank of Ireland, and four hotels.

The savings bank was located in the former market house (centre) as was the Tullamore Charitable Loan Fund

The parish church of St. Catherine, which stands about a quarter of mile from the town, upon a lofty, sandy hill, is a new building, with a handsome pinnacled tower, conspicuous for a considerable distance round; and several finely sculptured memorials of the Charleville family adorn the interior. The Catholic chapel is a handsome building in the modern style of architecture, with two pinnacled towers at the east end: and the Methodist chapels, of which there are two, are neat structures. To the latter places of worship Sunday school are attached, and there is a valuable school, founded by the Earl of Charleville, for the education of an unlimited number of children of both sexes: a National School, the female branch of which is under the tuition of the Sisters of Mercy, and a free School, supported by their Baptist Irish Society of London, wherein public worship is held every fortnight are the other public educational establishments. A Savings Bank and a Loan Found dispenses their respective benefits here. About quarter of a mile distance, on the banks of the Canal, and near the old road leading from Dublin to Galway, art the ruins of Shragh Castle, built in 1588 by John [Bris]scoe, Esq., of Crofton Hall, in Cumberland, an officer of high rank in Queen Elizabeth’s army, and by his wife, Eleanor Kerny, and their son, Andrew Briscoe, Esq., as recorded on a tablet in the church. Within a mile of the town is the beautiful demesne of the Earl of Charleville, to whom the town is greatly indebted for its improvement. The delightfully-wooded park, with its grottos, rustic bridges, artificial caverns, cascades and lakes, constitute the demesne a terrestrial paradise. The market days are on Tuesday and Saturday. Fairs, March 19th, May 10th, July 10th, October 21st, and December 13th.

Slater 1846 on transport from Tullamore

   A mail car ran to Mountmellick every morning at six; to Mullingar every evening at seven, and to Parsonstwon every morning at six, passing through Frankford. Conveyance by water canal for goods to Dublin and Shannon Harbour was available by boats running daily-. Thomas Berry and Co., owners; and for passengers by same route, “swift boats,” started from the Quay [near Bury or Whitehall Bridge] for Dublin every morning at nine, and night at ten, passing Philipstown and Edenderry. To Shannon Harbour, swift boats left the Quay every morning at two, and afternoon at three, passing Gillen, and meeting the steamer for Limerick and Ballinasloe to Shannon Harbour. The Very Rev. James O’Rafferty, V G, was P. P. of Tullamore at this time, the curates were Rev Terence Devine, Rev Philip Callary, and Rev James Keegan. The Protestant congregation of St. Catharine’s were ministered to by Rev Edward Fleetwood Berry (Vicar), and Rev Peter Wilson, curate. Mrs Purcell was superiors of the Convent of Mercy, Bury Quay. The other religious denominations do not seem to have had any fixed pastor attached to their congregations.

 The public institutions were officered as follows: ____

 Constabulary Barrack, Charleville Square ____ William Henry Pearce, County Inspector ; John S. Stuart, Sub-Inspector ; James Hay, Head-Constable.

Miliary Barrack, Barrack street – Lieut. Henry Jepson, Barrack Master.

Charitable Loan Fund – Francis Berry Esq., Treasurer; John A Bradley, secretary.

County Gaol – Robert Harding, Governor; Very Rev James O’Rafferty, Catholic chaplain; Rev Edward F. Berry, Protestant chaplain; Thomas Whitfield Inspector.

County Infirmary, Church street – George Pierce, M.D., Surgeon ; Jane Henderson, Matron.

Courthouse adjoining the Goal – Laurence Parsons, Clerk of the Peace ; A.H.C. Pollock, Clerk of the Crown; Thomas Mitchell, Secretary to the Grand Jury, Parsonstown ; Thomas Whitfield, Inspector of Weights and Measure.

Town House, Charleville Square – Francis Berry, Esq., Seneschal.

 Union Workhouse Harbour Row – Thomas Prescott, Master; Ann Guirly, matron. Very Rev. James O’Rafferty, Catholic chaplain; Rev. C. F. Berry, Protestant chaplain; John Hussy Walsh, Esq., Chairman of the Board of Guardians; Francis Berry, Esq., Vice-Chairman ; Thomas P. O’Flanagan, Esq., Deputy Vice –Chairman.

There were four hotels – The Charleville Arms, Hannah Ridley, Bridge street; Garland’s Hotel, Mary Garland, Church street ; Grand Canal Hotel, Joshua Gill, Harbour; and the Shannon Hotel, John Shannon.

The medical practitioners comprised – Michael Joseph Moorhead, High Street; George Pierce, Charleville Square; John Ridley, Bridge street; and amongst the hardware and ironmongers the firm of Messrs T. P. and R. Goodbody is mentioned. Agent for the Bank of Ireland Branch, Mr. Bartholomew Maziere.

Savings Bank, Town House (open on Mondays) – Mr Anthony Molloy, treasurer; Mr. John Alexander Bradley, actuary.

Apothecaries – Philip Belton, William Street; John Quirk, Bridge street.

Attorneys – George Duigenan, John William Briscoe, Charleville Terrace; William Ridley, Bridge Street.

In addition to the four hotels mentioned above , the names of nine publicans and two spirit dealers, four pawnbrokers, three saddlers, two tallow chandlers, four tailors, two tanners, three millers, two dyers, two brewers, one distiller, while eating and lodging house keepers musters a total of nineteen. Grocers and provision dealers number thirty- one; blacksmiths, six; boot and shoe- makers, five, etc.

Note the number of hotels and eating and lodging houses

Building Improvements in Birr town since the 1850s. By Michael Byrne

Despite the low level of industrial activity in Birr in the latter half of the nineteenth century building contractors did well with a surprising amount of progress made in this area. This was in contrast to Tullamore where few new structures were erected until after the 1900s. The extent of the building activity tends to confirm the view that Birr owed its lack of industrial activity to want of entrepreneurs rather than want of capital. Among the public buildings and monuments to be erected or improved upon was St. Brendan’s Catholic Church which was completed in 1824-5. It was now remodelled and enlarged. Improvements were carried out at St. Brendan’s Church of Ireland church in 1879 under the supervision of Mr (later Sir Thomas) Drew, architect. The church was enlarged by extending the eastern gable. The organ was removed as also were the horse-box pews. In 1885 the stone was laid for a new Presbyterian church at John’s Place, beside the house of the parish priest,  Dr. Bugler.  The new church here was part of the redevelopment of the southern side of John’s Place. The old Crotty meeting house in Castle Street was sold for secular use in 1885.

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A length of material and other memories of Clara in 1919–23 and its aftermath: some recent changes for the better By Sylvia Turner

Michael Byrne’s recent blog article ‘The Gill Drapery Store in High Street Tullamore, 1900–22’ reminded me of the significance of drapery stores in the early 20th century and the Clara of my mother’s time. Amongst the correspondence between members of her family, frequent mention is made of the buying of material. The most common form of correspondence would seem to have been the postcard. Below, on the reverse of a postcard that depicted the ruins of Geashill Castle is an example sent on 27th of May?  1924. It was to my grandmother from her sister living in Clara and concerned the buying of material for ‘M’, May, her eldest niece.

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Decline and resurgence in Birr, 1850-1922. Michael Byrne

All the south midland towns declined during the fifty-year period after the Famine with the exception of Clara where the Goodbody jute factory provided employment for 700 workers in the 1880s. The towns of Birr and Banagher were most severely hit. The decline of Birr was exacerbated by the final closure of the large military barracks in Birr in 1922. The previous year the Birr workhouse was closed and amalgamated with Tullamore. At a time of depression and scarce employment opportunities it was not surprising that the county capital, Tullamore, should seek to draw to itself whatever job opportunities existed in the public service sector, but it was to cause a good deal of resentment in Birr up to the 1950s.

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The growth of middle class-owner occupied housing in Tullamore, 1900-1960. By Fergal MacCabe. A contribution to the Decade of Centenaries

The growth of middle-class housing after 1900 may be said to have begun with the building of four ‘villas’ at Clonminch in 1909 by Charles P. Kingston, the then county secretary to King’s County Council. It was preceded earlier by the substantial house of Daniel E. Williams completed at Dew Park in 1900. Were it not for the war and the scarcity of materials we might have seen more housing in the 1916–23 period. However, there was a further scarcity of building materials and high prices in the early 1920s and it was not until about 1930 that middle-class housing began to grow again and almost entirely on Charleville Road and Clonminch the period prior to the Second World War. After a slow start in the late 1920s council housing was constructed in earnest from 1933–4 and up to 1940, resuming again in the late 1940s (see my earlier blog).

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Trade Directories for Offaly one hundred years ago. From Offaly History

A contribution to marking the Decade of Centenaries in Offaly and recalling the past generations and the towns and villages on the eve of the War of Independence

In marking the years from 1912 to 1923 we may think that the years around 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War were times of unmitigated strife. Not so. Normal life continued, if punctuated by violent acts, such as the shooting of policemen in Kinnitty, Kilbeggan or Tullamore. The finding of bodies of spies, ‘the disappeared’, in Mountbolus or Puttaghaun. The holding of brief gunbattles in Ballycommon or Charleville Road. Worst of all the organised state violence condoned by Churchill and Lloyd George in the form of the Black and Tans racing through towns and villages in the dead of night and taking shots at anything that moved. Yet normal life continued and no better illustrated than by the issue, almost every week, (Offaly Independent excepted as the printing works was destroyed by British forces ) of the three or four local papers in Offaly and from time to time trade supplements or special publications such as trade directories that very much illustrate local business in most of the Offaly towns. Recently Offaly History acquired the 1919 MacDonald’s Trade Directory for Ireland to add to its collection at Bury Quay, Tullamore.

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The Gill Drapery Store in High Street Tullamore, 1900–22. From Gills to Guy Clothing. Recalling also the Mills and Muller families. By Michael Byrne

Marking Tullamore 400th, Decade of Centenaries and Sustaining the country towns in the 21st century

August 1922 was a wicked month with the death of two Irish leaders, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. At local level we had the death in July 1922 of the Ulster Bank manager Tullamore in the course of a robbery and at Bunaterin the death of a Free State soldier, Matthew Cullen, on 29 August 1922. Raymond Cullen wrote about this in our blog last week and in July we carried a blog on the Ulster Bank robbery by the Republican IRA. The Republicans departed Tullamore on 20 July 1922 just before the Free State army reached the town. Before leaving the barracks, courthouse and jail were burnt. Later in the month and in August it was the turn of the Big House owners including Screggan Manor, Geashill Castle and Brookfield. Thucydides (d. 400 BC) wrote of how civil war exhibited a tendency to extremism. We were fortunate in Ireland that things, while bad, was not by any means on a par with the American of Spanish Civil Wars. That said the killings in the North of Ireland were terrifying.  But enough of that lets go back to our story for today which is about shopping in Tullamore in the early 1900s, living over the shop and the tragedy of early death for the family of the owner Michal J. Gill in September 1922.

High Street late 1940s with Gill’s as a ruin, third from left

Affable is a word I find myself using to describe the business people of High Street over the last 50 years from J.J. Horan, to McGinns, Daly’s shop, John Clifford, Midland Books, Kilroys Matty Coyne, Paddy Cleary, P.J. Carragher, Tom Lawless and so many more one could mention.  In the course of a family wedding recently I had the pleasure of being ‘fitted out’ by Anthony Kearns, his ‘affable’ father, and the staff of the shop. Now I am revisiting, but today to look back at the history of the store and the building here since the 1750s, but more especially in the time of Gill’s Drapery from 1901 to c. 1922. This was a good time for drapers and opposite Gill’s (on the corner) was the Rafter drapery. In William/Columcille St. was Tullamore Drapery and Scally’s (to become a massive new store in 1912), and of course there was Morris’ shop in Patrick Street and later Church Street.

The drapers of Tullamore were all to the fore in this issue of 13 April 1912. Thanks to Irish Newspaper Archive.

GV 6 and 7 High Street, Galvin’s ladies’ drapers, now Guy Clothing

Guy Clothing in recent times

The modern Guy Clothing shop was erected in the early 1960s by P. & H. Egan Limited in a contemporary style and replaced a five-bay, two-storey house erected in 1753. Why the old house had been allowed to go to ruin in the 1940s is not known. It seems to have been a fire in the 1930s. For many years in the 1940s all that survived was a high wall. By the way the number of the shop, GV 6 and GV 7, comes from Griffith’s Valuation (GV) of 1854 and settled the numbering of these houses for many years.

The layers of transactions in regard to GV 6 & 7 certainly confirm the many layers in leasehold properties and the use they were put to in order to shore up income maintenance for investors. In April 1753 Lord Tullamore leased to Robert Mills, a farmer, the dwelling house adjoining John Nightingale. Mills also held, by a lease of three lives, twenty-six acres of arable land and four acres of bog at Spollanstown. The lives inserted were those of John Mills, Thomas Mills and James Mills, annual rent £3, and double that figure in the event of Mills selling to a papist.[1] He mortgaged the Tullamore property to John Finlay of Dublin in 1758 and in 1767 – the latter for a loan of £113.

Gill’s with the rolls of Cloth outside. Courtesy of NLI, c. 1905. Sergeant Ahern in picture.

Miss Mills and Sergeant Major Muller strike up a match

This Mills family of Tullamore were recalled in a story in 2001 in connection with the marriage of a daughter to a soldier in the King’s German Legion (KGL) some of whom are buried in Kilcruttin graveyard.That the KGL settled in Tullamore and were popular is evident from matches that were made including that of Anne Mills, a Tullamore farmer’s daughter to Sergeant Major Muller and who were married at Middleton County Cork in November 1806.  She died at Osnabruck in 1845.  The story of Anne Mills was told to the Irish Times journalist, Richard Roche in 1961 while on a press visit to Germany by his guide to Berlin, a descendant of the same Anne Mills.  He noted in his Irishman’s Diary article of 9 January 2001 that Anne Mills was still remembered in her adopted Osnabruck but wondered was she remembered in her native Tullamore?[2]  Her name does not appear in the Tullamore parish registers of the Church of Ireland but other members of KGL feature in 1807 and 1808.  A daughter was born to the ‘Germans’ in December 1806 and baptized at the old church in Church Street in July 1807 while a marriage is recorded on Feb. 29 1808.  On 30 November 1808 is recorded a birth outside marriage to a KGL captain and an Irish girl.  Was the child sent to the Foundling Hospital in Dublin as was usual at that time?[3]

In 1790 William Finlay, administrator of John Finlay’s will sold the property to Samuel Bollard of Farthingston, Westmeath.[4] By 1843 the house was subdivided, the northern end of the building was occupied by Thomas Mullen (?McMullen) and later Robert Galbraith, possibly a draper. In 1854 it was occupied by Thomas Kenny and let at £12 a year. In 1843 the southern end of the house was occupied by Matthew Warren who ran an eating house, later Mary Bolan, and in 1854 John Flanagan.[5] Flanagan had cabins to the rear as shown on the 1838 5 ft scale town plan.

The first valuation in 1843

6. (24)     Thomas McMullen to be let (Robert Galbraith) [James Kenny, James Bollard].  This house was let at £12 a year.  The rere is small, enclosed with a lock up gateway – no garden, situation good.

                F.21, H.20, Q.L. 1B – YR (£14.0.0) LR (£10.4.0)

7. (25)     Matthew Warren eating house (Mary Bolan) [Rob Flanagan from James Bollard.  Warren holds from Susanna Smith of Wm. St. – there is no rere – and the house very inconvenient – part of the lower story is occupied by a poor tenant – the rent was £14 but reduced. The situation good.

                F.17, H.20, Q.L. 1B (1.C+) Y.R –£ 9.0.0 [L.R 9.0.0]

Kevin Fergus Egan sold the Egan interest in GV 7 to the Egan company in 1927 arising from an interest acquired in 1908. It is noted on the title to the property that Robert Bollard died a bachelor farmer, aged 64, in 1898. Meanwhile the occupancy was with Patrick O’Hanrahan from 1886 and subsequently Denis Fitzpatrick of Cappancur. Fitzpatrick was adjudicated a bankrupt in 1895 and the 99-year lease from 1886 was assigned to the Egan firm in 1896.  By 1898 the property was tenanted by drapers Richard J. Ranson and Thomas J. Adams and was known as ‘The Mart’. In 1901 it was leased to Michael J. Gill for £60 a year. Gill had been a draper with Malachy Scally in Columcille Street and opened on his own account. He was from Castlerea and has worked in Fitzgibbon’s drapery. Mrs Scally was a Fitzgibbon and there is the link. Anyway it was severed in 1901 when Gill went out on his own. After his death in 1922 his widow surrendered the lease to Egan’s in 1927/ and or sold the contents of the shop to McFaddens of Patrick Street. A second part of the High Street property was tenanted by John Flanagan and James Kenny. Flanagan had a 999-year lease from 1880. Egan’s acquired this or  another 999-year interest in the property in 1940.

Strange to say the 1901 census entry was not found in High Street or Charleville Square. Michael Gill, drapery manager, was living in William Street over Scally’s shop. An entry at no, 5 may mean this property was vacant in April of 1901 at the time of the census.

The census for 1911 census High Street (no. 59), GV 6 and 7 really shows us what living over the shop meant and how the drapers of those years had inhouse staff to make suits and other clothing. The Gill Family lived in what the census people called a 1st class private dwelling in a house/Shop with seven windows to the front. The house had three out-offices which were two stables and one shed. The household was comprised of the husband, wife, four sons, one daughter, six employees (four milliners and two draper assistant) and two servants (one female nurse and one servant).  It was largely a family concern with no less than seven family members and eight support staff to help in the house and the shop.

The Gill shop on census night in 1911

GillMichael JHead of FamilyRC40DraperMCo Roscommon
GillElizabethWifeRC30MCo Longford
GillMartinSonRC7SKing’s Co
GillMargaretDaughterRC5SKing’s Co
GillEugeneSonRC3SKing’s Co
GillMichaelSonRC2SKing’s Co
GillWilliamSonRC SKing’s Co
SmythPatrickDraper’s AssistantRC19Draper’s AssistantSCo Westmeath
MarronPatrick JAssistantRC41Draper’s AssistantSCo Louth
CarolanLizzieMillinerRC17MillinerSCo Longford
ColganKateMillinerRC18MillinerSKing’s Co
BasticBridgetMillinerRC16MillinerSCo Westmeath
ButlerKateMillinerRC17MillinerSKings Co
LawlorMaryServantRC20ServantSCo Westmeath
OwensLizzieServantRC38Nurse DomesticMKing’s Co

Michael Gill died at 51 in 1922 and his family departed for the United States. Michael Gill died at 51 in 1922 and was buried in Clonminch. His obituary noted: The death took place at his residence, High St., Tullamore, of Mr. Michael J. Gill, draper.  The deceased was a native of Castlerea and served his apprenticeship in the drapery establishment of the late Mr John Fitzgibbon, in that town.  He came as assistant to the drapery establishment of Mr. Malachy Scally, Tullamore, about 35 years ago.  He was a man of kindly genial disposition, and a citizen for whom there was great regard and esteem….[6] Mrs Gill carried on the business until the mid-1920s. It was closed by 1927 when the upper floor was used by Cumann na nGaedheal for the 1927 general election. It appears that Mrs Gill sold her interest in this property to McFadden drapers of Patrick St. for £1,200 in 1929 (MT, 23/2/29) which conflicts with surrendering the key.

Gill’s wife and ten children emigrated to New York in the late 1920s. A few of the children were back in Tullamore in the 1950s and 1960s In 1953 Rita Ryan née Gill attended a dinner for friends of the Old IRA. Ten years later Michael J. Gill, a son of the draper, visited Tullamore.[7]

Gill’s site c. 1952. Bus Bar to left.

The building  appears to have been vacant from 1927 or soon after (more information needed here) and was taken down by P.& H. Egan Ltd in 1952. It was then left for eight years as a walled in yard. In 1961, and to a very modern style, a newly constructed shop was opened by that firm as a hardware store focusing on electrical goods and the new products in demand in the early 1960s for the modernised home.[8] It was sold in the late 1960s with the winding up of the Egan firm and was acquired by Joe Galvin, the auctioneer, for offices on the first floor and ladies fashions on the ground floor. The new store, Galvin’s Ladies Drapery, was under the direction of Joe Galvin’s wife, Mrs Lily Galvin, having moved to much larger premises from her former shop in Harbour Street, established in 1957 twelve years earlier.[9] Joe Galvin was from a distinguished Tullamore-based business family headed by his father Michael (of the gravel business, later Readymix), and brothers John and Andy, and Brendan (among others) also in business in Tullamore. Joe Galvin died at the early age of 54.[10] His auctioneering business was continued for a time by his brother Andy and Enda Soden.

The new store of c. 1961. Fergal MacCabe, the architect and town planner has commented on this article and the new building: ‘A very interesting addition to the study of the urban heritage of High Street. The 1961 shopfront was the first post war building in Tullamore in a modern style. Designed by the Tullamore born architect Paul Burke-Kennedy, its simple form and use of concrete bricks as a finish is reminiscent of contemporary Scandinavian architecture which was briefly popular with younger architects at this time. The contrast between the horizontal fascia and its modern lettering with the vertical panel of projecting bricks was well executed and was a device used by the Athlone based architect Noel Heavey also.’

Galvin for Ladies closed in 2014 after forty-five years in this location of which twenty-eight years was under the direction of John Galvin. In appearance the building has been changed radically on two occasions since the time of the Gill ownership from 1901 to 1922. The first was in 1961 for Egan’s and the second about 2007.  The store was continued as a drapery for younger women in a new location. 

The lovely new consumables of the early 1960s. Tullamore was a lead town in the midlands in that decade. What Tullamore child of the 1960s has not climbed those bricks?

The High Street store got a new lease of life with the opening of Guy Clothing by Anthony Kearns and Kara Kearns in October 2014. Their fine store has brought new business to High Street after the closure of Kilroy’s (both stores in 2007). We wish them well.

 If we had letters and diaries from the 1750s what a story could be told of this one house in High Street. We did hear that some members of the Gill family from the Unites States called to the town council about ten years ago and would hope to make contact. The same can be said to the Mills Muller family in Berlin. Maurice Egan has written in two books now of the Egan family and others in Tullamore.

If you have a story to tell why not email us info@offalyhistory.com. For over 400 stories so far see Offalyhistoryblog. They are nicely organised on our website www. Offalyhistory.com. There are about sixteen houses in O’Connor Square and over forty in High Street. Every building has a story. Have you archival material, memorial cards, photographs, diaries, letters? Why not call us. Offaly history is about saving memories. Visit our website and that of Offaly Archives. Our thanks to Offaly County Council, Decade of Centenaries and the Heritage Council. Only 55 more stories for High Street  and O’Connor Square!! Thanks to Offaly History Centre for so much help with this one.


[1] Offaly Archives/4/36, 6 Apr. 1753; RD, 154/592/107558. Charleville to Robert Mills; fee farm grant, 11 June 1880, RD, 1880/40/216.

[2] Irish Times, 9 January 2001.  This article first appeared in The Irish Sword in 1971, x, p.73.  A   Mills family lived at Spollanstown and were farmers and had property in High Street, Tullamore. Lord Tullamoore granted a lease to Robert Mills of Tullamore, a farmer,  in 1753 (Registry of Deeds memorial Book 154-592-107558).  A later deed of 1773 (Registry of Deeds 308-478-206673) refers to a Spollanstown address for Robert Mills and James Mills.

[3] Church of Ireland parish registers, Tullamore.  Index with OHAS, Research Centre,  Tullamore

[4] RD, 6 April 1753, Tullamore to Mills, memorial no., 154/592/107558; 10 March 1767, Mills to Finlay, memorial no., 297/637/196497; 4 November 1758, Mills to Finlay, memorial no. 199/346/132431; 13 September 1790, Finlay to Bollard, memorial no., 416/493/277814.

[5] MS valuation, Tullamore, property nos, 24-5; Slater, Directory (1846), p. 93.

[6] Midland Tribune, 30 Sept. 1922.

[7] Offaly Independent, 8 Aug. 1953, 2 Nov. 1963.

[8] Offaly Independent, 3 June 1961.

[9] Tullamore Tribune, 29 Sept. 1979.

[10] Midland Tribune, 16 June 1984.

Geashill and the Legacy of William Steuart Trench, 150 years after his death. By Mary Delaney

“Those haters of the Celtic race

The above words appear in the poem Mucker written by the poet Patrick Kavanagh and reflects the legacy of William Steuart Trench and his two sons Thomas Weldon, and John Townsend Trench and how they managed landed estates in counties Monaghan, Offaly and Kerry in mid -Victorian Ireland.

As we reach the 150th anniversary of the death of William Steuart Trench, we must ask whether this is a true assessment of the character of the man and of the realities experienced on the estates he managed.

Trench and his two sons came from a professional type of land agent. Their roles included that of magistrate, accountant, architect, agriculturalist, engineer and innovator. Trench was also a landowner himself, as well as an author. His most famous piece of work was Realities of Irish Life which was published in London in 1868. Were his realities the same realities experienced by the people of Geashill, Monaghan and Kenmare?

James Godkin, a contemporary of Trench described Realities of Irish Life as one of the most misleading books on Ireland published for many years, claiming it had made false impressions on the public minds in England. He went on to say “The mischief would not be so great if the author did not take so much pains to represent his stories as realities, essentially characteristic of the country.”  

Trench was employed as agent on the Digby estate in Offaly (King’s County) from 1857 to 1871. Prior to and parallel to this appointment, William Steuart Trench had been employed in Co. Monaghan. He was appointed by Lord Shirley in 1843 and by Lord Bath in 1849. He also acted as agent on the Lansdowne Estate in Co. Kerry.  There are most definitely common trends in all three counties and similar memories as to how Trench is remembered on the estates he managed.

There is no doubt that he transformed and enhanced the physical landscape in all three counties. Throughout the 1860s Trench, on behalf of Lord Edward St Vincent Digby embarked upon a major project of house improvement and land drainage in the barony of Geashill. While a great number of new houses were constructed between 1857 and 1872, for example, new treble cottages were built in the village of Geashill in 1861, Trench thought it more profitable and less expensive to improve existing dwellings.

In fact, much of the present form of what is now Geashill village and its surrounding areas, owes its origin to the work carried out in the 1860s. A new school was built in 1862. New roads were constructed including one linking Geashill to Tullamore. Improvements were made to the Village Inn and to other buildings in the village and barony.

The school at Geashill, erected about 1862

The success of such schemes of house building and repairs not only enhanced the appearance of the barony and improved the living conditions of the tenants, but it also earned Lord Digby recognition both at home and abroad. His schemes proved so successful that the Digby estate won the gold medal offered by the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland for the best labourers’ cottages in the province of Leinster. The estate also boasted of holding the Duke of Leinster Challenge Cup for the best labourers’ cottages in Ireland for three successive years.

      Cottage at Geashill before and after renovation

Lord Digby was thus awarded the gold medal for the province of Leinster for six well-finished cottages which were deemed the more comfortable. He was also successful at an international level when at the Paris Exhibition of 1857 he was awarded a bronze medal for cottages constructed in Geashill.

While working for Lord Bath, Trench also had a number of farmhouses improved and a number of new schools built, all of which had carved over the door the letter “B” and the year of construction. These display similar designs to some found in Geashill.

                       

The town of Kenmare and the Lansdowne Estate were also improved which has been well documented by Gerard Lyne. He noted how Trench even had a clock erected in the main square to ensure the workers always turned up on time.

Present Day Kenmare with town clock, erected by Trench

 William Steuart Trench is also credited with land reclamation projects on the estates he managed and could be considered to be a man ahead of his time. In order to restore the land to full productivity, the land at Geashill was levelled and planted with good quality grass seed to allow it to regain it nutrients. Trench had Peruvian Guano applied to improve its fertility. This proved successful, resulting in large scale production of turnips, potatoes, wheat, oats and later, rape seed. In fact, rape seed continues to be produced on this section of land up to the present day. Although costly at the time, it seems that these schemes paid for themselves in the long run. Land which was previously let at a rent of four shillings per acre, now earned between twenty-five and thirty shillings per acre.

Trench was thrifty and perhaps well ahead of his time in maintaining workers to ensure all improvements were carried out. It was suggested at the Paris Exhibition that he construct a moveable ‘Russian Village’ to house his workers. Twelve timber cottages were constructed with timber countersunk at the corners and laid one on top of the other, thus forming walls. In this way, Trench secured a permanent well-trained workforce, who along with their cottages could be transported at a “trifling cost to any district in which they may be required”. The Russian Village, a modern day portacabin, enabled Trench to carry out work all year round with a steady supply of men.

        

William Steuart Trench and his management of the Digby Estate, King’s County 1857-1871

While Trench and his sons have been credited for such improvements by many authors over the last 150 years, one must wonder to what extent the landlords were involved. In the case of Geashill, the then Lord Digby, Edward St. Vincent Digby, was the grandson of Thomas Coke of Norfolk, who was noted for his contribution to the agricultural revolution in Britain in the eighteenth century. Like his grandfather, he was interested in renovating the appearance and improving the quality of the estate at Geashill.

When examining the demographic patterns in Offaly, Monaghan and Kerry during the Trench era, there was a dramatic decrease in the population of all three counties. Trench and his two sons considered the poorer classes, especially those who lived in mud huts or those tenants in arrears or tenants who demanded a reduction in rents to be a burden to the estates he managed. He also saw them as a barrier to the improvements he wished to carry out.

Trench was noted for the implementation of assisted emigration schemes, regarding such schemes as an economical and efficient way to improve the estate.

According to him, “this clearing process would stabilise rates, consolidate holdings, and improve the life changes of the people themselves”.

Did such a scheme benefit those who were forced to leave Ireland or were they merely to facilitate Trench’s plans at improving the estates he managed? In some cases, people were lucky. Others were less fortunate.

While acting as an agent for Lord Lansdowne in Kenmare, Trench embarked upon a policy of what he called ‘voluntary’ emigration. He cleared Kenmare workhouse by offering the occupants their full passage to America. In fact, by 1869 there was a ward in a New York hospital called the Lansdowne ward because so many impoverished people from Kenmare died in it.  According to the Geographer, Dr. Paddy Duffy they had arrived there half-starved, disease-ridden and penniless. Trench introduced similar plans on the Bath and Shirley estates. He admitted in his book Realities that it was cheaper for him to pay for their emigration than to support them at home in Monaghan. Trench maintained that depending on how much the tenant could afford they were given their full passage or a contribution towards their passage and money towards food and clothes. Duffy also points out that many of the tenants who left Monaghan for America or Australia had to go through the port of Liverpool. The agent there commented on the appearance and condition of the tenants who arrived from Monaghan. In fact, it seems they were such an embarrassment to the estate in 1849 that Trench was reprimanded by the Carrickmacross clerk who hoped that such ‘a ragged pack may never appear here again’. Trench, of course, claimed that the tenants’ chief device was to hide their good clothes which had been furnished to them and to appear in their worst rags. 

It seems that in Monaghan the tenants were not leaving as quickly as Trench would have wished, so by the late 1840s he began to speed up the process by forced evictions, where mud huts and cabins were knocked and tenants were left without food or shelter. In some cases, people were threatened and bribed to knock down their own dwellings or that of their neighbours.

Did the agency of William Steuart Trench alter the population trends on the Digby Estate? An examination of the census of both 1851 and 1871 suggests that the population totals and distribution altered significantly during the two decades. In fact, the total population declined from 6,221, in 1851 to 3,712 in 1871 resulting in a percentage decline of 40.3 per cent for the period. Many of those who left emigrated to Australia and some to America. They may not have secured their fare from Trench as he claimed. In fact, in the 1864 annual report to Lord Digby, he admitted that sons and daughters of small farmers and labourers had emigrated to America having had their passage paid by friends and relatives who had gone before them. Other emigrants from the barony were aided by a scheme introduced by a Fr. Paddy Dunne, a native of Daingean parish, who liaised with the Queensland Emigration authorities.  Dr. Jennifer Harrison in her work titled From King’s County to Queensland, explains how Fr. Dunne became aware that “the able-bodied poor with their families were being evicted from the estate at Geashill and were crowding into the streets of Tullamore for shelter”. They were homeless, penniless and near starvation. The parish and community were powerless to help them in their plight. Fr. Dunne addressed meetings and ascended pulpits whenever he was allowed, as sometimes there was strong opposition from the clergy. He arranged the funding and the safe passage of many tenants from the Geashill area by chartering ships such as Erin go Breagh, which brought many emigrants from Geashill and its surrounding hinterland to the new world.

 Dr. Harrison attributes easy access to the Midland and Great Western Railways, as well as access to the Northern Railway as a major factor in facilitating movement to Queenstown (Cobh) from where many emigrant ships set sail. The Midland and Great Western Railway passed through Geashill and a railway station was opened just outside the village in 1854 which operated for passenger travel until 1963.

   Population Decrease in Geashill during the Trench Era.

Trench believed that many of the social problems at Geashill could be attributed to the peasants, whom he saw as ‘lazy and thriftless’ and who acted as a barrier to his plans for improvement. As a result, he adopted a hardline authoritarian style of estate management.

 Some of the following strategies employed by both William and Thomas Trench seem to back up this theory. Their first task was aimed at eliminating the numerous squatters, who under previous regimes had been allowed to establish themselves on the estate and who had not paid rent for more than twenty years. Their names, in fact, had never appeared on a rent book. These people had usually squatted along the side of the roads and lived in mud hovels with no windows and a hole in the roof, out of which stuck a piece of wickerwork, which made a chimney. These vulnerable people put up little or no resistance and according to Trench were less difficult to remove than he had anticipated. He claimed, he enticed them to leave by offering them money. He suggested that they were quite happy with this arrangement. However, certain sources suggest that the Trenches adopted ruthless tactics to clear the estate of small tenants and beggars, in order to create larger holdings with better drainage and more advanced farming methods.

Thomas Weldon Trench’s treatment of a woman in Geashill village on Christmas Eve, 1861 illustrates this fact. While he was working on his estate in the village and acting in his capacity as local magistrate, he had an elderly woman, Jane Egan, aged seventy- two, arrested for begging for a halfpenny. It seemed that Trench constantly kept watch for vagrants and even carried a Bible in his pocket in order to put under oath anyone whom he might wish to interrogate on suspicion of begging. The case of Alice Dillon (Delin), well documented by Michael Byrne, illustrates just how ruthless Trench was. On the same day as Jane Egan was arrested, he noticed another elderly woman entering a local premises. On questioning the householder, he learned that the woman had asked for a cup of sugar. He immediately had the woman, Alice Dillon, who was seventy-nine years old, arrested and incarcerated in Tullamore gaol, where she died a few days later while serving her sentence. An inquest into her death followed. The inquest was held in Tullamore gaol on 3 January 1862.

It is worth noting that all members of the jury were tenants at will (yearly tenants) on the Digby Estate and perhaps a more objective jury would have found Trench guilty of misdemeanour in this matter. Mary Pilkington quotes how the Dublin Morning News called on parliament to intervene in order to secure Trench’s dismissal as a magistrate. She suggests that his strong links with Dublin Castle ensured that he remained a Justice of the Peace. Interestingly, Trench failed to mention the Dillon case in any correspondence to Lord Digby nor did he refer to it in Realities of Irish Life.

Forced emigration was the main method Trench used on the Bath, Shirley, Lansdowne and Digby Estates for those he deemed a threat to his management. However, in Monaghan he also ordered public hangings. In fact, in his book, he refers to how a man named Traynor on the Bath Estate had narrowly escaped hanging for not paying his rent and refusing to give up his land. It seems the man escaped from the local gaol before Trench had time to execute him.

The other common methodology of Trench’s style of management was his use of spy networking. He specialised in spying on the Ribbonmen in Geashill and the Molly Maguires in Monaghan. He had similar spies operate in Kenmare. It seemed that the actions of the Trenches swiftly led the tenants at Geashill and in Carrickmacross to turn to societies such as the “Ribbonmen”. This was a Catholic association set up in 1808. It was particularly active in the middle of the nineteenth century. The main aims of this society were firstly, to prevent any landlord, under any circumstance whatever, from depriving any tenant of his land and secondly, to deter, “on pain of almost certain death” any tenant from taking land from which any other tenant was evicted. Their actions were carried out with great severity and aimed at wealthy landlords and humble cottiers alike. The local Ribbonmen in Geashill began to devise a method of getting rid of Trench. In his annual reports to Lord Digby, he writes that “Conspiracies for various subscriptions were set on foot to pay for the murder of myself and my son”. William Trench and his son were to be made aware of this fact by informers or as he put it himself “secret friends”.

Godkin attributes many of Trench’s victories over his tenants on the Geashill estate to the spy network he had created. Ribbon activity had increased and seemed rife in the district in 1860.

Trench also feared for his life in Monaghan and as in Geashill became aware through his spy network of a plot to murder him.  This became more worrying after an event in Magheracloone.

In 1843, the tenants on the Shirley Estate, of which Magheracloone was a part, refused to pay their rent until their complaints had been addressed by the landlord. Attempts by the bailiffs to seize cattle or goods from the tenants, who would not pay, were stopped by the activities of local Ribbonmen known as ‘The Molly Maguires’. 

Trench, along with the bailiff on the Shirley Estate and escorted by local police, marched towards the church in Magheracloone. The intention was to post a notice of eviction to several tenants on the door of the church. They were met by a large crowd who tried to block their path. As the troops tried to advance they were met by a shower of stones. The troops began to shoot at the crowd which resulted in the death of a young servant boy. This episode resulted in a Coroner’s inquiry. Unsurprisingly, the enquiry could not establish who shot the boy nor could it prove that the police were in danger at the time of the shooting.

 After this, it seems the “Molly Maguires” upped their activity by staging surprise attacks on the “grippers, keepers and drivers”. The grippers were the people who were directed by Trench to arrest tenants, the keepers were employed to watch the crops for fear the tenants would remove them, and drivers were those who drove the livestock to the pounds until the tenants paid up their rent. As in Geashill, Trench was made aware by informers of a plot to murder him. Large subscriptions were being collected to pay the murderer who would consent to shoot him. Two men were appointed, Hodgens from Castleblaney and an individual called Thornton, who was described as a good for nothing who lived between Carrickmacross and Inniskeen. If fact, the Ribbonmen went as far as putting up a notice in a local church which read “Trench considered a doomed man”. After this episode, Trench never left the house unless accompanied by two men, one of whom was his son. All three were well armed and ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Both Hodgens and Thornton along with a third man called Breen were later arrested for attempting to murder the bailiff, Paddy MacArdle. Trench had both Hodgens and Breen executed by public hangings in Carrickmacross, while Thornton who had informed on his friends walked free.

So how do Trench and his sons deserve to be remembered over the last one hundred and fifty years?

 The folktales of Co. Monaghan paint a dark picture of Trench. For example, they tell how when Trench died, the rats devoured his corpse before it could be buried.

They are remembered in much the same way by the people of Geashill. A local man, Thomas Davis, remembers a rhyme told by his grandmother.

There’s grace on the pulpit

There’s wit on the bench

But there’s nothing but dirt,

Can be found on Trench.

From such stories, it is fair to say that the Trenches exercised huge control over the lives of their tenants, not only economically but also socially. It is claimed that in both Monaghan and Kerry no tenant could marry without the consent of Trench.  This is reflected in a ballad about the Shirley Estate:

Oh Girls of Farney it is true

That each true hearted wench

Before she weds, must get consent

From Pious Father Trench.

Both Trench and his son Thomas Weldon died within a few days of each other in 1872 and were buried in Dunamoyne cemetery in Co. Monaghan.

Their legacy is reflected in the fact that their headstone has been vandalised and defaced.

The Defaced Headstone of William Steuart Trench, Dunamoyne Cemetery, Co. Monaghan

William Steuart Trench’s physical legacy in Offaly, Monaghan and Kerry is that of an agent who created a golden age of prosperity in the barony. Down through the years this physical legacy has been greatly overshadowed by the REALITIES of an agent who systematically broke leases, demolished people’s homes and banished the poor from the countryside. It is clear that  his management style was ruthless in the extreme. The legacy of William Steuart Trench, his two sons and many other land agents of the time, including Trench’s nephew George Adair are aptly epitomised by Patrick Kavanagh as

 “Those haters of the Celtic race”.

Mary Delaney

Local Historian & Author of William Steuart Trench and his management of the Digby Estate, King’s County 1857-1871

We have added some Geashill books [ed.]

We have added this blog to our Decade of Centenaries because of the profound influence the legacy of Trench had IRA leader and county councillor Tommy Dunne. See also some further reading. Some copies of Mary Delaney’s book and that of Rachel McKenna are available from Offaly History and Midland Books. The Photographic record is out of print and hard to get.

Troops ambushed near Tullamore, 29 August 1922: death of my granduncle Matthew Cullen. By Raymond Cullen

The Lieutenant featured in this article was my granduncle Matthew Cullen and Monday the 29th of August 2022 will mark the 100th anniversary of his death, when he, along with a small party of National Troops [Free State army] from Tullamore Barracks were attacked by about fifty Irregulars [Republican IRA) at Bonaterrin [Bunaterin] Hill, near Blueball, Tullamore.

Lieutenant Matthew Cullen, (3rd Southern Division Óglaigh na hÉireann) was only 21 years old. Born 25th May 1901 in Ballymorris, Portarlington County Laois, he was one of five boys born to Timothy and Mary Cullen. Matthew joined the Free state Army on 16th of March 1922 as did his two brothers Thomas and James (my grandfather) and by August 1922 were all stationed at Tullamore barracks. Matthew was also an ex-internee of the Rath Camp in the Curragh of Kildare and was there in Hut 9 on the 9th of September 1921 when the great escape happened.

Before he was stationed in Tullamore Barracks [the barracks was at High Street – now Donal Farrelly’s house/ and Charleville Castle] Matthew spent over five months in the Nenagh Barracks, and since the opening of the Civil War was involved in almost every engagement in the Nenagh area. He was only a week in Tullamore when the fatal ambush happened.


On Sunday morning the 21st of August 2022 at ten, an anniversary mass will be said for him in the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore, the very same church where 100 years ago Requiem Mass was held for him by the Rev. Father Lynam CC.

(The Midland Tribune, Tipperary Sentinel and Offaly Vindicator Saturday 2nd September 1922)

TROOPS AMBUSHED

NEAR TULLAMORE

LIEUT CULLEN KILLED AND LIEUT LEAHY SERIOUSLY

WOUNDED

DEADLY AND FIERCE ENFILADE FIRE AT BONATERRIN

MEDICAL TESTIMONY AS TO THE USE OF AN

EXPANDING BULLET

Coroner’s Jury Commend Motor Driver’s Bravery.

News reached Tullamore on Tuesday evening about 7.30 p. m, of a very painful and distressing character, which cast a gloom of sorrow and depression over the town and district. It was that a party of National troops had been ambushed at Bonaterrin, some four miles from Tullamore, and about a mile from Blueball, and that Lieut Cullen, a native of Portarlington, an ex-internee had been killed, and that Lieut Leahy, a native of Listowel, Co. Kerry, had been seriously wounded. Both were officers in the Tullamore garrison headquarters, were very well known, and much esteemed by the townspeople. Particulars to hand state that three cars carrying a party of about 20 officers and men from Tullamore, had been out in the neighbourhood of Kilcormac and Mountbolus engaged in clearing road obstructions.

When the work of clearing obstructions was finished they proceeded to return homewards about 6 p.m. The first car – they were all open cars – was driven by Capt. Donnelly, O C of the local garrison, with Lieut Cullen on his left, there also being in the car Capt. Wm Egan, son of Mr John Egan, Croghan, Rhode, with Lieutenants Lawlor, Leahy, and Volunteer Dunne. The second car, which was driven by Mick O’Neill, was in charge of Sergeant Reilly, a native of Tullamore who had with him a party of five men.

Bunaterin townland north of Blueball. So when you are whizzing past think of Matthew Cullen and that day 100 years ago. Map courtesy of Townlands.ie – one great site

The third car was driven by Driver Ennis and contained a party of five men, in charge of Corporal Collins. Everything went well with the party until Bonaterrin was reached, when fire was suddenly poured on the first car, which was a considerable distance ahead of the other, by attackers who were in places concealment and who fired at close range. It is stated that they must not have been more than 80 or 100 yards distant. It was enfiladed fire of a very deadly character, and maintained with great fierceness. Lieut Cullen was struck with a bullet which pierced his heart, and he died immediately. It rent his uniform in the region of the heart,  and appears to have been one of an explosive kind. Lieut Leahy was hit on the back and the bullet passed through his stomach, his spine being seriously injured. He lies in a critical condition, and at the time of writing, 11p. (Tuesday) is still unconscious.

St Vincent’s Hospital, Tullamore about 1930 where the body was taken

The attackers appeared to have fired from both sides of the road at the point indicated, one crowd of them being evidently concealed in a wood and the other near a farmyard adjacent, at the opposite side of the road. The remaining occupants of the first car now replied vigorously to the attacker’s fire. Lieut Cullen had been killed and Lieut Leahy wounded, but the survivors Capt. Donnelly, O C, Capt William Egan, Lieut Lawlor, and Volunteer Dunne gallantly fought against great odds, until the other cars came along to their assistance. When the other two cars came on, a general engagement developed which lasted over half an hour but the National troops eventually, with the aid of a withering fire, scattered the attackers, who fled. Lieut Leahy was removed to Tullamore while the fight proceeded in the third car driven by driver Ennis passing under a hail of bullets. It was seen that he was bleeding profusely from the wounds he received in the attacks, and therefore little time was lost in bringing him away for treatment. He was promptly treated by Dr Moorhead on arrival at Tullamore Garrison headquarters. The doctor pronounced his injuries to be of a very grave character. Subsequently he was taken in a Tullamore Co Hospital ambulance to the Co Hospital, accompanied by Dr Meagher, who further treated him, and where he lies in an unconscious and critical state, under the care of the Nuns and nursing staff. The body of Lieut Cullen was removed to the morgue of the Co Hospital where it lies. His clothes were saturated with blood, and there are evidences of a terrible wound. The body was viewed by Rev Fathers Daly, Lynam, and O’Keeffe C C’s. The last rites of the church were administered to Lieut Leahy by Father O’Keeffe CC, before he had been removed from the garrison headquarters. Captain Donnelly received a slight wound in the course of the engagement.

Service sheet for Matthew Cullen (courtesy of the Military Archive)

Capt. Egan had a providential escape a bullet having swept the pince-nez he was wearing, without however doing him any injury. Lieut. Matt Cullen, killed, was a First Lieutenant and a native of Portarlington and was an ex-internee. Lieut. Leahy, wounded, was a native of Listowel, Co. Kerry, and was up to the time he joined the National Forces a chemist in the employment of Mr. Shiels at his pharmacy in Tullamore. He had been in town for a year or two and was well known to the townspeople, both in his professional and military capacity, and his kindly and gentle qualities rendered him a general favourite. Lieut. Cullen was about 28 years of age, and Lieut. Leahy about 32 years. When the news of the attack reached Tullamore, the local troops were mobilised, and proceeded to the scene immediately, but the attackers had fled before they arrived, as a result of the searching and with suing fire of Captain Donnelly, his officers, and men. It is stated that even though well protected by cover, the attackers must have suffered casualties. A visit to the scene of the irregular’s position disclosed to the troops the fact that the attack had been carefully planned. There was many evidence of the conflict around in the shape of empty cartridge cases etc.

SEMI-OFFICIAL REPORT.

A semi-official account of the fighting states:-“We left Tullamore on Tuesday about 3 o’clock in three Ford cars, containing five officers and ten men, and we went to Mountbolus, and from there went to clear some trees off the main road to Kilcormac. We were joined at Blueball by troops stationed there and proceeded afterwards to Kilcormac. We entered Kilcormac, and saw the Officer there in charge, and we left Kilcormac about 6.30 p.m, returning to Tullamore via Blueball.

The first car was the Brigade car which was about 40 yards ahead of the others at the time. In the car were Captain Donnelly, O C; Lieut. Cullen, Lieut. Leahy, Lieut. Lawlor, Staff CaptainEgan, and Private Dunne. When we came to the face of Bonaterrin Hill, about a mile from Blueball on the Tullamore side, fire was opened on us from two points, one on our right and partly in front, and on the other side from concealed positions in a shrubbery on the hill, about 60 yards from the road-that was on the left, or Rahan side. When the firing of the attackers opened Captain Donnelly turned the car into the ditch towards the left hand side, to give the occupants a chance of getting out without being exposed to fire or caught in the fall of the car, which turned over. There were four of us in the lower side of the car which had turned over when it was run into the ditch. We managed to get clear before the car turned. The car was then across the road. Lieuts Cullen and Leahy were on the upper or Tullamore side of the car: they had got off it, and were taking cover under a wall from the fire directed on them from the flank. That fire was coming from the scrub. There were only about two or three attackers on the other side of the road, but it was they who did all the damage. They held a position in a little grove near Bradley’s house, and we subsequently examined the position there. Just after we got out of the car and had taken up positions facing the flank fire, Lieut. Cullen was shot dead while in the act of ramming a cartridge into the breach of his rifle. He still held the bolt of the rifle in his hand when we got him. Immediately after Lieut. Cullen was shot Lieut. Leahy was struck on the side by a bullet fired from the same point-the grove near Bradley’s house- as he was crouching under a wall watching the flank fire from the other side.

The four remaining occupants of the car continued to fire in the directions from which theshots came – on the flank towards the scrub-and also in the other direction. We knew that there was fire coming up the road from the other direction, but we could not locate it exactly at the time. When the second car arrived its occupants dismounted and took cover, and we then poured a steady fire on both positions of the attackers-the scrub on the flank and the grove near Bradley’s on the other side of the road, from which the fatal shots came. When the third car came the soldiers it contained got out and took up positions about 120 yards away from the first car, and joined vigorously in the attack.

In the meantime, while firing was still hot, Lieut. Leahy, who was bleeding profusely from the wound on his side, was taken into Driver’s Ennis’s car; and Driver Ennis drove with thewounded officer through a heavy hail of lead from the attackers, to Tullamore. Lieut. Cullen’s death was practically instantaneous.

When the second and third cars came along and poured fire into the attacker’s positions the fire of the latter died out. Just before it ceased one of the attackers was heard to moan and shout on the left hand side of the road in the scrub, where his cap was afterwards found. The place was searched subsequently, and a large quantity of empty cartridge cases were found there – about 50 or 60 of them with some live cartridges. In the attack from Bradley’s grove side dum-dum bullets were used by the attackers. They cut holes the size of half-a-crown in the metal work of the car. Capt. Donnelly who was in charge of the party, had a narrow escape at the outset. A bullet went through the glass screen of the car he was driving, and if he had remained in his original position he would have got it straight; it came the moment he was swerving the car, and this movement saved him. All the occupants of this, the first car or Brigade car, had miraculous escapes, and the mystery is how any of them survived the terrible hail of lead concentrated on the car and its occupants.

The road at Bunaterin, near Blueball and Screggan, today

When reinforcements arrived from Tullamore the attackers had disappeared, and no trace of them could be found. They had three miles of wood cover under which they were enabled to retreat. Lieut. Cullen was struck on the chest with two bullets, which made a terrible gash. The military are communicating with Lieut. Cullen’s family conveying the sad news, and with a view to arrangements for his interment.

They are also trying to get in touch with Lieut. Leahy’s people (who live on or near Listowel, Co. Kerry). Lieut. Leahy was Brigade Chemistry Officer to the Offaly No.1 Brigade. Lieut. Cullen took part in recent fighting in Tipperary, and was only a week in Tullamore.

THE SCENE OF THE SHOOTING.

The scene of the attack, Bonaterrin is on rising ground, a short distance from Blueball – about a mile or a mile and a half. There is a grove near Bradley’s house, and almost directly opposite, but more on the Blueball side – the scrub, with extensive wood tract behind it. The grove portion commands the road, and that of the scrub overlooks it; the situation of the place favoured the operations of the attackers. From the scrub on the left, the troops as they were coming along to Tullamore, there was flanking fire, but the fire ftom the grove on their right, was partly frontal; from this point the most deadly and destructive fire came. Considering the advantages the attackers had in position and numbers, the fight put on by the troops, who had no time for selecting or preparing positions was a wonderfully plucky one. The small party, under capable leadership, handled the situation with great skill and bravery and rendered the positions of the attackers untenable, even before the Tullamore garrison reinforcements arrived.

EVIDENCES OF THE CONFLICT

A gentleman who passed from Kilcormac to Tullamore about an hour after the fighting, informed our Tullamore reporter that there were various evidence of the conflict at the scene of the battle. A number of cars from Kilcormac and Kinnitty side were held up on the road for a pretty long interval. The National troops have drawn a kind of cordon about the place. The point at which the attack took place is on one side a wooded eminence overlooking the road on the right hand side going from Tullamore to Kilcormac and on the left it also raised country, but with a few houses. The place is about half a mile from Tullamore Golf Links, [ the old links at Screggan] and is on the main road from Tullamore to Birr, four and a half miles from Tullamore and eight and a half miles from Kilcormac. The point from which the shots were fired was according to an account, only about forty yards from the main road along which the troops were proceeding. It was dusk and the conditions were favourable to the attackers, who were of course in a position to select their own ground. It is a fairly populated part of the country. Two cars riddled with bullets were seen after the fight on the roadside.

Prayers were offered up by the celebrant of the morning Mass in the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore on Wednesday morning, for the repose of the soul of Lieut. Cullen, who, he said, was murdered the previous evening.

INQUEST HELD

An inquest was opened on the body of Lieut. Matt Cullen in the Co. Hospital Board Room, Tullamore, on Wednesday, at 3 p.m. Mr. Malachy Scally was foreman and the other jurors sworn were – Messes T English, John Kelly, Harbour; Sg: P W Keaveney do; R Nugent, P J O’Meara, James Walsh, Barrack St, Joseph McGlinchey, P J Dunne, Barrack St, John Branet, Michael McGinn , Daniel Larkin, Geo N Walshe. The coroner (Mr. Conway, Solr) said – This is an inquiry into a tragic and serious occurrence, which I am glad to say, is the first of its kind that happened in this county, and I hope it will be the last. It happened yesterday evening, about 6 p.m. as the troops were returning from Kilcormac. They were attacked at a place called Bonaterrin, at the opposite side of Pallas, from the hills, and the wounds received by Lieut. Cullen practically meant instantaneous death. They were caused by what I am told is now a great favourite – dum-dum bullets – and they were fired from above, and practically his whole sheet was torn away; but I don’t want to distress you with any sermonising, as you can all form your own opinion when you have heard the evidence. I have received a circular from the Minister of Home Affairs as recently as Monday, and he directed that in the case of any person being shot that a telegram should be sent to him, so that there was a possibility of the Ministry sending down an inspector to attend this inquiry. I wired to the Minister for Home Affairs about this stating that I would open the inquiry at 3 p. m. today, but would take only evidence of identification, so as to allow the removal of the remains. The inquiry will be resumed at 12 o clock tomorrow, if that hour suits the convenience of everybody – Mr. English (juror) – I want to get away by the first train in the morning, and I would be grateful if you would excuse me. – Coroner – I will excuse you. The jury viewed the body lying in the morgue, Co Hospital. James Cullen deposed – I am a brother of the deceased officer. This is his body the jury have seen. He was 21 1⁄2 years old last birthday – last May. He was unmarried, and a native of Ballymorris, Portarlington. – Coroner – That is the only evidence I can produce today on account of the receipt the circular from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and I will adjourn the inquiry to 12 o’clock tomorrow (Thursday). I wired that information already. – Foreman – Does the morning train arrive here by 12 o’clock?. – Coroner – Yes or earlier. The representative of the Ministry may come down this evening. The reason I started the inquiry today was because the military wanted to remove the remains. – Foreman – We would wish to express our sincere sorrow at the sad occurrence. – Chairman – We can do that, and add it as a rider to the verdict later on. – Mr. McGlinchy (Juror) – Will Mr. Cullen (witness) be required tomorrow? – Coroner – No. – The proceedings then adjourned until 12 o’clock the following day.

REMOVAL OF REMAINS.

The remains of the late Lieut. Cullen were removed from the Co. Hospital, Tullamore, on Wednesday evening at 7 p. m, and were conveyed to the Church of the Assumption, where they lay overnight. At the church door they were received by the Very Rev. Father Callary, PP V G and Rev. Father Lynam, C C and placed on a catafalque in front of the high altar. The transference of the remains to the church was marked by a remarkable demonstration of public sorrow and sympathy. They were accompanied by an immense gathering of the people of all classes and creeds, blinds were drawn, and business places closed as a mark of respect to the memory of the gallant officer. A guard of honour composed of troops of the local garrison, with rifles reversed, marched beside the hearse, in which the remains were carried enclosed in a beautiful coffin, which was wrapped in the tri-colour. Rev. Father Lynam C C, accompanied them the Co. Hospital. Deceased’s brother, with officer comrades of the deceased, followed immediately behind the hearse.

Fr Callary (front row) and above Matthews and Fr Eugene Daly

At the Church Rev. Father Callary announced that Requiem Mass would be celebrated for the repose of the soul of the deceased at 7.30 the following morning (Thursday) in the Church of the Assumption, and that the remains would be conveyed to the morning train for Portarlington afterwards.

REQUIEM MASS

The Requiem Mass on Thursday morning was celebrated by Rev. Father Lynam C C, a large congregation assisting, including a number of officers and men of the National Army. The coffin was removed from catafalque in church, where it rested overnight, and when the cortege proceeded to the station business in shops was again suspended, and the employees, as well as the general public of all classes, accompanied the remains to the station. The guard of honour, as on the previous evening, when the remains were removed to the church, consisted of the men who were in the fatal ambush with the deceased officer. This body of men also proceeded with the remains to Portarlington today (Thursday) and were the firing party at the graveside. The Pipers Band led the cortege from the Church of the Assumption to Tullamore railway station, playing “Flowers of the Forest” and Lord Lovatt’s Lament.

Beautiful floral tributes included one from the officers of the Tullamore garrison, and one from the men of the Tullamore garrison. The interment took place at 3 o’clock at Portarlington on Thursday with the Dublin Guards Band in attendance, when there was a remarkable demonstration of public sympathy. The chief mourners were – James and Tom Cullen (brothers), with the following officers – Brig General Gallagher, Capt. Forrestal, Quarter Master: Capt. Egan and Second Lieut. McMunn. Brigadier Transport Officers, all of Brigade staff; also Lieut Comdt O’Leary, Capt. S Irvine, Capt. Donnelly, Lieut Barry, O. C. Daingean; Lieut Keogh, O. C. Kilcormac; Lieut Lawlor, and Lieut Hughes of the Divisional Staff. Lieut. Cullen had been interned in Rath for eight months. He was stationed at Nenagh Barracks for a long time, and had seen much service since the opening of the present hostilities having been almost in every engagement in the Nenagh area. He was in Tullamore only about eight days when the fatal ambush took place.

FROM LEIX AND KERRY.

Lieut. Leahy is a native of Lisselion Cross a place between Ballybunion and Listowel, Co. Kerry, and belongs to the farming class, his people been extensive farmers. He is a young man of fine- physique.

Lieut. Cullen was a native of Portarlington, and was well over six feet – a tall, athletic young man and during the short time he had been in Tullamore a conspicuous figure, because of his size and fine soldierly bearing.

LIEUT LEAHY’S CONDITION

Lieut Leahy recovered consciousness on Wednesday morning and spoke now and again. The medical and nursing staff of the Co. Hospital are most assiduous in their attention to him, but his condition is still critical.

INQUIRY RESUMED

At the resumed inquest on Lieut Cullen at Tullamore on Thursday, Coroner Conway said he was glad to say that the inquiry would be shortened. He had got a telegram from the Minister of Home Affairs, and it was not proposed to send down any officer from headquarters. Consequently they wanted only one military witness and the doctor who examined the body. The proceedings would therefore, be comparatively brief.

CAPT. DONNELLY’S EVIDENCE

Capt. Wm. Donnelly deposed – We, military party, were coming along the road on Tuesday evening, 29th; I was driving the first car, and was not expecting anything to happen, but a few bullets came through the windscreen of the car. Whoever fired at us had positions on both sides of the road. There were six of us (military) in the car including myself. Immediately the fire opened I blocked the car to the left, and it ran into the ditch; the car toppled over on its side. The inside of the car was facing up the road towards Tullamore. Lieut. Leahy and Lieut. Cullen, who were now on the road, took cover kin the car. They had been thrown out onto the road and got back into the car. Fire opened then from Tullamore direction on the right-hand side of the road. Lieut Cullen was first hit, and I believe he died at once. About a minute afterwards Lieut Leahy got wounded by a shot from same direction, which came down the road. We got into position and started firing on the wood at left hand side going towards Tullamore. We could not see anyone at the time or at any time. The firing from both sides of the road continued for about ten minutes. There were two cars carrying military which came up to us in the meantime, and got into position, and joined in the defence. We had no casualties, but the two Lieutenants. Lieut. Leahy was only wounded about a minute when he was removed. The driver of the last car came up under fire,  and took Lieut. Leahy and brought him straight on to Tullamore to the barracks. He was sent after a short time to the Co. Hospital – after our doctor had seen him. The whole affair lasted only ten minutes. It was about 6.45 p m when the occurrence took place – Mr. G A Walshe (juror) – What was the driver’s name? – Witness – Tommy Ennis was the driver of the Ford car that picked up and drove in the wounded officer, Lieut. Leahy, under fire.

DOCTOR’S EVIDENCE

Dr. Timothy Meagher deposed – I am medical officer for the military in Tullamore. I inspected the body of Lieut. Cullen (dead officer) on Wednesday morning, in the Morgue, Co/ Hospital. There were four bullet wounds in the chest, and one in the abdomen. Death must have been practically instantaneous. – Coroner – Were the wounds all caused by the same class of bullet? – Witness – It was obvious that all the wounds were not caused by the same class of bullet. There was one wound running from the right shoulder at the back, evidently coming out at the

left shoulder in front. This seemed to have been produced by an ordinary service bullet fired at fairly close range. There were two wounds on the breast bone, one of them about the size of half a crown and the other about the size of the palm of one’s hand. These I think were not produced by an ordinary service bullet – Coroner – Were they caused by soft nosed or Dum Dum bullets? – Witness – By an expanding bullet. The intestines were protruding through the stomach wound. I don’t think the stomach wound was caused by an ordinary service bullet. If it were the intestines would not have been protruding. The cause of death was shock and haemorrhage, due to gunshot wounds.

Tom Conway, solicitor and coroner (d. 1931)

VERDICT

The jury brought in the following verdict – “We agree with the medical evidence that the cause of death of Lieut. Matt Cullen was due to shock and haemorrhage, caused by gunshot wounds received in an ambush at Bonaterrin, Screggan, on Tuesday 29th August, about 6.45 p m, shots wilfully and maliciously fired by persons unknown. We offer to the relatives of the deceased officer, and his comrades, our sincere sympathy, and commend to special note Driver Thomas Ennis for his bravery on the occasion. – The Coroner said that he concurred with the verdict. He thought it was an atrocity to have it occur in a country free from such things up to the present, and he hoped that freedom from such occurrences would continue, and that there would be no more investigations of this kind to carry out. He might add that as far as the sympathy of the public was concerned it was shown last night on removal of the remains from the church. Evidently deceased had the sympathy of the vast majority of the people of Tullamore. – After the jury produced their verdict Capt. Donnelly was called in, and the coroner, in explaining it to the officer, said it amounted to one of wilful murder practically against persons unknown. He would give the officer copy of it if necessary. – Capt. Donnelly – I don’t think it is necessary. _ Coroner – Any time you want it we will give it to you.

Offaly History wishes to thank Raymond Cullen for this article. If you have a story to tell get in touch info@offalyhistory.com. Our blogs reach 2,000 every week and are retained in our online archive at http://www.offalyhistory.com. Subscribe and get note of our stories with extra this week to mark Heritage Week 2022.

A presentation of the Birr poet John Frazer (J. de Jean). By Terry Moylan, Pádraig Turley and Laurel Grube

J. de Jean’ was the nom-de-plume of John Frazer (c. 1804–1852), a Presbyterian of Huguenot extraction, cabinet-maker and a native of Birr. As a young man he started writing poetry, and his first work – a lengthy poem entitled ‘Eva O’Connor’ was published in 1826 (Richard Milliken, Grafton Street, Dublin). During the 1840s individual poems, increasingly expressing radicalised politics, appeared in the newspapers and periodicals of the day, many of which were featured in his collected works `Poems For The People` 1845 and `Poems` 1851.

This online presentation is to promote the first complete edition of his poems, edited by Terry Moylan, Pádraig Turley and Laurel Grube, which will be published in October of this year. The society would like to thank Offaly County Council and Creative Ireland for support for this important publication.

A presentation of the Birr poet John Frazer (J. de Jean)