The balloon fire of 10 May 1785 (235 years ago tomorrow) is perhaps the best known event in the history of Tullamore. Today we are reminded of it every time we see the town crest and in the past with the annual celebration – the Tullamore Phoenix Festival. The first premium whiskey from the new Tullamore DEW (Phoenix, 2013) was in honour of that tradition. It is hardly surprising that it should be so. The event caught the imagination at the time and was widely reported in the national newspapers and by visitors in their publications thereafter. Unfortunately, many turned to the Wikipedia of those days – the previous fellow’s account – and did not seek to get all the facts and record them. What we are left with then are the few contemporary accounts from national newspapers, the comments of a succession of visitors who seemed to rely on the diary entry of John Wesley in 1787, and the notes of Charles Coote in his published survey of King’s County (Offaly) in 1801. Wesley, the great preacher and founder of Methodism, unlike Coote, would have known the town well as he visited the place some twenty times from the late 1740s to the 1780s. Why are there so few accounts?
Ballinagar village is in the townland of Ballinagar. A small stream borders Ballinagar from its neighbouring townlands. For this article I walk along this stream to see what it can tell us about the past.
At Ballymooney bridge the stream enters the Tullamore river. The road here is called the Killeigh road. Over the years various road improvements and land reclamation works have changed this area completely. Before the late 1700s the stream entered the Tullamore River nearer to Ballycrumlin. A new road was constructed between Killeigh and Daingean and the Ballycue stream as it was known became a road drain. In 1808 local landowner’s Rev John Webb, Daniel Commins, James Digan and Rich Cleary got grants to work on drains between “the new bridge and where the old stream of Ballycue had been turned into a road drain” They also had to build five gullets or channels for water between Ballinagar and Ballina. William Steuart Trench who managed the Digby estate from 1857 to 1871 saw the potential of the land here and undertook a huge drainage scheme and redesigned the field system around Ballymooney House. He remarks after his drainage scheme that “land in Ballinagar that had previously lain in permanent water, where cattle were in constant danger of drowning were now good areas of pasture .”
I was down from Dublin last week to visit some of my Molloy nieces in the Tullamore/Killoughey and Banagher areas and I am beginning to think there are as many coffee shops in Tullamore as there are in D 4 where I have lived (mostly in flats) since the 1970s. I counted five new coffee shops open in Tullamore, or on the verge of grinding the beans and not a one by a Molloy as far as I know. Besides my old haunt of Chocolate Brown there are the new King Oak out in Cloncollig, the Foxy Bean (nearly ready in Bridge Street in Egan’s old seed and manure store), Olive and Fig (in the not so old Caffé Delicious and close to where Chip Kelly used to be), the Blue Monkey at No. 1 Bridge Street (where Foxy used to be), Mark Smith’s Little Coffee Hut (out of town) and a new one in O’Connor Square that I could not get near to handy with all the road works in the old square. It’s in the old Hibernian office where I worked for a while and was a place called Bake for a short time (near the lovely new library). In High Street there is a place called Conway & Co where I used to buy cigarettes (one or two) when I was going to the Brothers’ school when there was no free education. It was a shop called Daly’s and had a Mills and Boon lending library. It was beside Dermot Kilroy’s. Reading a piece in the Irish Times about three weeks ago about Tullamore being a magical place in the 1950s got me interested in all the new cafés and goings-on. Sure when all this ‘enhancement work’ is finished the streets will be full of coffee tables and umbrellas.
In October 2014, following an introduction by Amanda Pedlow and Stephen Callaghan, an understanding was reached with the late Stephen McNeill, the then President and Micheal Byrne Secretary of the Offaly and Archaeology Society for them to assist and source interviewees in connection with my project to record persons talking about their memories of life around and about ‘The arrival of the rural’ in Offaly, to date I have recorded over 30 persons in Offaly. Since August 2016,utilising excepts from recordngs, a 45 minute audio/slide presentation which was shown by me to members of History Societies in Edenderry, Tullamore, Rhode, in March 2019 a fourth presentation was shown to members of the Ballinteer Active Retirement Association. A fifth presentation is scheduled for showing in Bury Quay, Tullamore in early 2020.
This Blog seeks to briefly explain aspects of the Rural Electrification Scheme in Ireland and what Michael Shiel in his book called The Quiet Revolution (Dublin 1984) [JPG0292]
WHEN a group of nine young men, mainly in their 20s at the time, gathered in William Street in Tullamore on a Winter’s November night in 1953 to form a new athletics club, they could hardly have envisaged the pivotal role it would play in all facets of life, not only in the town but the wider midlands. Invited by Eddie, known as Tobin, Clarke into the warmth of Clarke’s Hairdressers, where one of the founders and a future long serving chairman Noel Gowran worked, the formation of Tullamore Harriers was a somewhat controversial move at that time. There was an athletics club in existence in the town, Columban, and they resisted the attempts to form a new club in competition with them. It meant that it took the casting vote of the chairman, Br Kenny, an Oblate in Daingean Reformatory, to bring Tullamore Harriers into existence when they sought permission to affiliate at a meeting of the Offaly Athletics County Board – most of the founding members worked in Salts at that time and they essentially sought permission to change the name of Salts Athletics Club, which was confined to factory workers, to Tullamore Harriers, which could take in membership from the general public.
To be invited to participate in the Biennale is one of the highest accolades for an architect – to be asked to curate it, set the theme and organise the gigantic assemblage into a coherent whole, is simply stratospheric and lifts the reputation of the organisers into the top most rank.
This year’s show is entitled ‘FREE SPACE’ and runs from May to November. It is curated by Grafton Architects who have established their international reputation with new university buildings in Milan and Lima. Grafton is the creation of two remarkable women, Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell who are recognised as among the most important female architects of our time. Critics have marvelled at the bravura, confidence and muscularity of the architecture of the quietly spoken, almost excessively modest pair
. Views of the Boconi building in Milan (Universita Luigi Bocconi, Milan, Italy).
Yvonne Farrell is, of course, from Tullamore (Clara Road and St. Philomena’s Convent School) and acknowledges the formative experiences of growing up in the town on her subsequent career. She sees architecture as an essentially collaborative process produced by the entire team at Grafton, which includes her fellow director Ger Carty from Walsh Island. The Offaly tinged firm is now engaged in work in London, Toulouse and Paris but in particular have two important projects in Dublin, the redevelopment of the former ESB offices and the new City Library in Parnell Square. Early sketches suggest that these will be exciting additions to the capital city.
The Biennale exhibition which is spread over three different locations around Venice has fifty five national pavilions and individual projects/presentations by one hundred architects. All are stimulating and I wish I had the space to discuss them in detail, but would single out just one entry that appealed to me. For the first time ever, the Holy See was invited to participate and responded by commissioning seven well known architects to create seven chapels (or contemplative spaces, as the more secular might call them) on the island of St. Giorgio and each is delightful yet profound in its own way.
The scale of the whole exhibition can be overwhelming and I would not be the first to observe that while architects can be fluent in their visual presentations, the impenetrability of the language used to describe their projects can often be daunting. The Irish Pavilion is devoted to an exhibition entitled ‘FREE MARKET’ which is a study of the market square as a place of social, cultural and commercial exchange in smaller Irish towns. Fifty examples are cited including those in Edenderry, Portarlington and Mountmellick. This entry has attracted a lot of attention and has featured in reviews in the international media, attesting to the universality of this seemingly Irish typology. Regrettably, while offering comprehensive surveys and a degree of analysis, no case studies are supplied of successful transformations. Indeed, the only example given is that of Dungarvan in which the sole change would appear to be that of providing a better quality of paving under an otherwise unaltered carpark.
As the controversial pedestrianisation of both Emmet Square in Birr and O’Connor Square in Tullamore has shown, the role of market squares and the approach necessary to converting them in whole or part to public spaces is a lot more complex than the Irish entry suggests. I believe that such initiatives can only be realised in the context of well laid overall plans which consider, traffic, parking, land uses, retail needs, urban design, architectural conservation and a myriad list of other issues which can justify their future scale and nature. Standalone building projects just don’t work.
These minor quibbles should not diminish our pride in the prestige which Yvonne and Shelley have brought to Irish architecture and to their own roots. In a commentary on the Biennale, the distinguished architectural critic Shane O’Toole has written of how Irish architects of the past ‘would have been amazed to learn that less than half a century after we ‘joined’ Europe, Irish architects have resolutely clambered to the top of the international architecture mountain range, and that Shelley and Yvonne have planted our flag of values at its very summit’.
Department of Finance, 7-9 Merrion Row, Dublin 2: top left.
Right: University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, Peru, won the RIBA’s inaugural International Prize last December
How marvellous it would be if they were commissioned to design an important building here in Offaly! The imminent redevelopment of the Harbour in Tullamore would present an excellent opportunity here in Offaly!
One hundred blogs is a reason to celebrate this September day in 2018. Yes 100 articles, 150,000 words, at least 400 pics – and the 100 stories have received 64,000 views and climbing every week. In 2018 alone we have received over 32,000 views. The list of all that has been published can be viewed on Offalyhistoryblog. We have lots more lined up. We welcome contributors, so if you have a history story you want to share contact us. The other big story is happening on Monday night with the launch of Offaly History 10. Continue reading →
Our thanks to our contributor Cosney Molloy for this piece. He is the perfect gentleman and sometime we will get him to accept Honorary Membership. He says he is not old enough yet. Like the whiskey he gets better as he gets older. If Galways wins tomorrow he will have a few.
I see my friends in the Offaly History Centre have organised a tour of the old industries of Tullamore to start at 2 pm from O’Connor Square on Sunday the 19th. It all part of this new idea Heritage Week. I am down for Clonminch Cemetery but I might skip the end of that and head up the Tanyard. I might skip a bit of Michael Byrne’s tour too as I want to head to one of the pubs to see the hurling. It should be great. I believe some of the Egan family will be there too. I remember when Frank and the family lived in Acres Hall and the bell at Christmas time down at Bridge House. Paddy Egan was up in Charleville Road with the minerals and Harry was down in Egan-Tarleton. That’s called the Granary now and must have forty apartments where the heaps of grain used to be.
During the late years of the Second War the town was a hive of industry. Egan’s had their Bridge House shop in full swing and at one time had coach building, saw mills and, of course, the famous brewery and they bottled whiskey too and like Williams had salesmen on the road six days a week. Joe Kenny used to tell me about it when I left the town. Himself and Pat Carty and all the teachers in town were great buddies and used to stay in lodgings with plenty of free time.
The Tullamore Distillery was going strong most of time and my namesake started it in 1829. That will be 190 years ago next year. Over in the Tanyard was the old tanning business. In fact I read somewhere that Marrons shoe shop in town could trace its history right back to the time when a certain Mulready man had a tannery business where Rattigan’s/ Wrafter’s Copper Urn was later. Then we had the bacon factory from about 1929 until 1989. The later Mr Quill told me that it gave work to nearly 100 people and that you could hear the roars of the pigs and sometimes the river turned red. OMG as my daughter would say. I think Lidl are going in to some of that old place soon. It will 30 years next year since they locked the gates.
Up the town my sister had work in Salts in the early days. I remember a John Carroll worked there and my old friend the late Michael Dowling. Sure it had nearly 1,000 people at one time. I think it closed about 1982. It’s hard to believe it now. Bill Proctor I knew and I remember to see Arthur Greene when he ran the place in the sixties.
Its great to see all the old pubs in town, Wrafter’s Harbour Bar, Hugh Lynch’s (my son tells me he is having a burlesque tonight. Sounds interesting but I will go down early maybe and have one of his nice rare whiskies. I met Paul Bell a few times. He always has the hand out to welcome everybody and has a fine place. I remember Kevin Adams in it and getting coffee in with my mother in Egan’s time. Behind it was the brewery and Seed and Manure and what not. Lumleys went in there after and I think they packed sugar over in the Tanyard where that funny man Oisin Sullivan is now. He is a character. Years ago that is where a man from Waterford, Aylward, I think, had bacon curing and later there was tea packing.
Come to think of it does anyone have the old tins with the Williamses Red Cup tea. And you remember the PAK orange and Egan’s great lemonade and orange. I am told that is still going on with a man called Harney, somewhere up in Spollanstown near the hotel where I often stay when I come down to Tullamore. Years ago Paul and Vincent were up there with a farm business. I think the Co-op moved there after. Come to think of it my old friend Martin Bracken tells me the Co-op will be 100 years old this year. I suppose they will have a dance. I remember all the great dancing in Tullamore and Christy May in his younger days. I hear he was one of the big men behind the show that I came down for a few times.
You know Tullamore has a lot going for it
Coming back to the whiskey it’s wonderful to see the new place out on the by-pass and I hear there are nearly 100 people working there. What would all the salesmen say who used to be in Williamses head office. I remember Paddy Hennessy worked there and Mick Casey and a Bill Igoe was in the Pak. Great Times. O’Donovan I think was the taster of the tea and the whiskey. Of course he was a Cork man – free tea and whiskey what more could you want.
Bill Jaffray was up the yard in Williamses where they made the Irish Mist, a lovely drink. It was like the Winter’s Tale sherry only stronger. You could open it and maybe not finish the bottle for a year.
The old Tullamore distillery with Seamus Flanagan looking into the mash tun. Not sure who is feeding the furnace unde one of the pot stills.
MAKING TULLAMORE WHISKEY
The late Desmond Williams (the man with the green Bentley) use to say that the harvesting and collecting of the grain in Tullamore, was like vintage time in French villages. For the manufacture of the Dew was, and is again, one of the town’s largest industries. Many extra hands were taken on during the working season in the war years, and all were involved in the magic transformation of the ears of the barley sheaf into the finished whiskey in the cask. And once the season started the Distillery worked day and night. The best whiskey, it is said, runs in the dim darkness of the night! The late Jack Clune told me that. He used to play cards with the Excise men (Redmond I think) well into the night. They were down in Water Lane where the Seed and Manure was after.
It’s hard to believe that the old Distillery covered an area of about twelve acres. Its where Maye built the shopping centre after. And then he built the hotel at the back of Egan’s old shop. The granaries of the distillery Seamus Flanagan told me could hold forty thousand barrels of grain—all purchased from the local farmers. There were special malting floors, a feature of the Distillery being the old style pagoda like kiln for the drying of the malt. The grinding of the grain into meal was done as of old, by means of a water wheel and grinding stones—this is said to make the best “mash.” People live now in apartments in one of the old mills. They used to say the place was haunted by man called Cooke. And what about all the chickens they reared after in those old warehouses.
To produce the perfect whiskey, the late Jack Wrafter (his father worked for Williams at the time of the pipe business – Sin Scéal eile) told me that four things were essential —sound barley, mountain air, pure water and distilling craft. Here in the centre of Ireland, he used to say in his gentlemanly way that nature had provided ‘all the requisites’ for Whiskey making. Well/ripened golden grain from the fertile fields of Offaly, fresh air from the Slieve Bloom hills, water laden with essences from local peat mosses, and a distilling tradition going back to the days of the illicit stills (we still have a few)—all these combine to make “Tullamore” a classic whiskey. It is, indeed, fit usquebaugh for connoisseurs. And you know they have an 18-year old now but its big money. They have a fancy one called Phoenix after the burst up with the balloonitics in Tullamore when Grattan was still in College Green. They say now it was the first air disaster in history, but I am sure someone will top it.
Now the old Tullamore was only Pot Still for a long time. Then Williamses got in the Coffey Still—invented by an Irishman, needless to say. Under one roof—so to speak—they can now produce all the ingredients for blends of pot, malt, and patent still ‘Whiskey. Very soon they will be in a position to sell at home and abroad, “vintage” Tullamore-made whiskey to compete on equal terms with anything produced on either side of the Atlantic and that includes Midleton, the Scotch boys and the Americans. Very soon because they started making the new Tullamore whiskey in 2014 and last year put in a massive Coffey still. I heard it cost €25 million. Old Mr DEW himself would be pleased that his name is now on 12 million bottles of whiskey every year.
I read somewhere that Sam Beckett used to drink only Tullamore. I was always interested in him because he wrote a book called Molloy years ago. I got a present of it but could make neither head nor tail of it.
I suppose you know that Tullamore distillery had three copper pot stills. John Teeling got them after for Kilbeggan about thirty years ago and they are still over in Locke’s place. A grand place to bring visitors and sure you can call into Durrow on the way to see the old high cross. Of course it was the monks who started it all and now there are three distillers buried in Durrow. Three Stills you could say.
I used to dread some of the priests calling to my mother’s house years ago because they just would not go home until the bottle was finished. My mother got clever though and started to keep a special bottle that would be three-quarters empty. Now you can’t beat the Molloys. Sure how could you when we started it all in Tullamore nearly 200 years ago and that was before Egans came or any other crowd, even Danny Williams who got a hold on the distillery because Daly was too fond of the good life with his horses and gentry friends.
That’s life, easy come easy go. The third generation nearly always breaks it.
Sure may be I will go tomorrow on this and have the ball of malt and a half-one if Galway wins. If Charlie Finlay is there on the tour tomorrow I might splash out on account of the old days when Guinness used to send the porter by train when the canal was finished. Charlie was always there to see everything went smoothly.
Róisin Lambe is the Membership and Events Administrator with the Irish Georgian Society. A Blueball native, she is member of Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society, and has happily agreed to host the Society in the newly refurbished City Assembly House during its summer outing to Dublin on 30 June.
The Irish Georgian Society
In 1957, Desmond Guinness wrote to the Irish Times to notify them of his intentions to revive the Georgian Society. The original aims were to ‘bring the photographic records up to date, publish further volumes of the Georgian Society books, and fight for the preservation of what is left of Georgian architecture in Ireland.’ Distressed by the neglect of Ireland’s architectural heritage and the demolition of two Georgian townhouses in Kildare Place, Desmond and Mariga Guinness were spurred into action and called interested volunteers together at their home Carton House. The Irish Georgian Society was founded on 21 February 1958. Their first conservation project was the restoration of Conolly Folly which is now the logo of the Irish Georgian Society. Continue reading →
The lost archives series: no 1, the original diaries of Bishop Plunket of Meath (1738-1827) and the Meath Diocesan Archive
An Offaly History Project for 2016-22
Offaly History has embarked on the provision of an archive for the housing of historical records for County Offaly. A building has been acquired and the work of renovation and fitting out will soon begin. Partners will be needed and financial support for a capital project that will cost €300,000 at least. The Society opened its present offices in 1992 at Bury Quay, Tullamore. That building is an historical research centre, comprising a public reading room, a bookshop, library of 15,000 volumes (catalogue on line at offalyhistory.com), exhibition space and a lecture hall. Archival material has been collected by the society since the 1990s and now needs a safe home. Each item needs to be catalogued and housed properly. The work of bringing it to the notice of the public has started, and for this see http://www.offalyhistoryarchives.com, where an ever increasing amount of material is now being placed online. This weekly blog is intended to keep you informed of historical matters in the county. If you would like to contribute a piece email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have papers to donate be sure to call us. We will visit, assess and advise on retention or not (in itself a big decision).