Thomas Mitchell, Ulster bank manager, shot dead in Tullamore, 3 July 1922: an episode in the Civil War. By Michael Byrne Contributed by Offaly History to mark the Decade of Centenaries

It was a quiet afternoon on Monday 3 July 1922 when Thomas Mitchell, the manager of the Ulster Bank in High Street, Tullamore was shot dead by the IRA in the course of a robbery carried out by the Republican IRA (often then called the Irregulars to distinguish them from the Free State’s National Army). Sometimes these events are called ‘daring raids but in this case and for three months previously there were no RIC policemen and the town of Tullamore was  in July under the control of the Republican IRA. The Four Courts had been evacuated on 30 June and the battle for Dublin would soon be determined in favour of the Free State army. By 20 July Tullamore would be under the control of the Free State, but with pockets of Republican forces still in the countryside including in some of the bigger houses such as Rathrobin, near Mountbolus. A report of the Mitchell shooting by way of the inquest was published on 8 July by the Offaly Independent which was based in what was by then Free State territory. The issue of the Midland Tribune for 8 July is not available and both it and the Offaly Chronicle were published in Birr in the heart of Republican army territory. Both papers were censored and afraid to offend.

The Offaly Chronicle 20 July 1922

The Offaly Independent issues of early July were burned by the Republicans in Tullamore. The Independent had been a fearless supporter of Sinn Féin from 1916 to its destruction by the British military in November 1920. It reappeared in February 1922, but its owner Thomas Chapman was unwell and died in April 1922. It was now staunchly Free State whereas the Midland Tribune sought to have unity under its editor James Pike, also a staunch Sinn Féin supporter. The Chronicle after the death of John Wright in 1915 lost any unionist gusto it had and would have been afraid to be outspoken from the time of the Truce and the departure of the British in March 1922. July 1922 was a time when wise counsel was to remain silent. The Christian Brothers used to say it was a trait ingrained in Offaly people!

The old Ulster Bank house in High Street. To the right is Adams, Bank of Ireland, Ulster and J.A. Kilroy hardware.
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The ‘flamboyant three-storey Ruskinian Gothic warehouse’ in Tullamore. Tullamore 400th series, no. 6. By Michael Byrne

As part of the Tullamore 400th series and also in the context of research as part of a survey of Tullamore’s heritage in O’Connor Square and High Street, Tullamore we are pleased to present this article on one of the most attractive of the buildings of O’Connor Square. This is the building described by Andrew Tierney in Central Leinster in the Buildings of Ireland series (Yale 2019, p. 628) as ‘a ‘flamboyant three-storey Ruskinian Gothic warehouse’. The number 12 is from that in Griffith’s printed valuation of 1854 (GV 12). The number 71 (noted below) was part of the running series for the entire town of Tullamore in the manuscript valuation of 1843. the brick building was the first in Tullamore to be restored as to the facade (but not the interior) and incorporated in the Bank of Ireland Tullamore branch in 1979. It set a high standard for such work and wile not residential at least is well used and contributes to the streetscape, and very much so since one-third of O’Connor Square has now been pedestrianised.

O’Connor Square in 2020

To cite the Heritage Council’s own words on the Historic Towns Initiative:

Many of our city, town and village centres are historic places with their own distinct identities. Sustaining these is a complex process that in many cases involves the conservation and re-use of existing buildings, the care of public spaces and the provision of community facilities. The conservation and interpretation of this heritage makes our towns interesting, unique and attractive to residents and visitors. In support of the Town Centres First policy set out in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future (2020), the Historic Towns Initiative (HTI) is a joint undertaking by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Heritage Council which aims to promote the heritage-led regeneration of Ireland’s historic towns.

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The Magnificent Mansions of Tullamore. By Fergal MacCabe. A contribution to the Tullamore 400th series, no. 6

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

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

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Waterloo and some Birr connections. By Stephen Callaghan

Those not overly familiar with military history will be still aware of famous battles, probably none more than Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated by Wellington and his allies in 1815. As today is the 207th anniversary of this decisive battle, we will look at some of the men who were present at this battle who now lie buried in Birr. There are at least four men buried in the town who were present at the battle with many more who fought during the Peninsular Wars, which is a topic for another post. A sad observation is that other than the officers, the other brave men mentioned below are all buried in unmarked graves.

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Disbandment of the Leinster Regiment based at Birr Barracks 100 years ago. By Stephen Callaghan

The 12th of  June 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the disbandment of the historic Southern Irish infantry regiments of the British Army at Windsor Castle. Disbandment was brought about by economic cuts to the British Army after World War One (Army Order No. 78 dated 11 March 1922 “reduction of establishment”) and in part due to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State. The Royal Irish Regiment, Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Munster Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (and South Irish Horse) were all earmarked for disbandment and would surrender their colours to King George V.

The various detachments of the six regiments made their way to Windsor Castle via the 9:55 am train from Paddington Station, London. The historic ceremony took place at 11:30 am in St. George’s Hall in Windsor Castle with each battalion of the various regiments consisting of a colour party of three officers and three other ranks, with the respective colonel of each regiment also present.

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The limestone quarries of Ballyduff, Tullamore.  Part 3: From Tullamore to Tasmania. By John Wrafter

In the second article on the quarries and stonecutters of Tullamore, I wrote about members of the Bracken family that left Ireland with their stonecutting skills and brought them to Australia. That was around 1910. However, stonecutters from the Ballyduff quarries had been emigrating and practicing their trade abroad for many years before that. Australia, in particular, was the destination for many. In this article, I will focus on two families, the Molloys and the Cronlys, and their involvement in stonecutting both at home and abroad.

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Remembering Bridget O’Neill (née Conroy) of Greatwood, Cloonagh and Mucklagh, Tullamore, with a note on attending at ‘the French nuns’ Convent’, Ferbane, and the Banagher Royal School prize. By Timothy P. O’Neill.

My grandmother was Margaret Lambe from Greatwood, Killoughy. Her sister married Thomas Lawless of the pub at the Blue Ball. Margaret married Timothy Conroy of Cloonagh. My mother Bridget(1904-87 , was her eldest child. She was the eldest of nine sisters and one brother, the youngest of the family who died in his infancy, and she was reared by her grandmother in Greatwood from a very young age. Margaret, my grandmother, died in 1916 after childbirth from postpartum bleeding. My mother was sent as a boarder to the convent in Ferbane run by “The French nuns” as they were known [The French missionary order of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny who came to Ferbane in 1896.] In my mother’s time some of the nuns in residence were born in France and still spoke French to each other. The records of her time there survive and she was an outstanding student. In November 1918, Stanislaus Murphy, Secretary to the Commissioners of Education in Ireland wrote to her, “Miss Bridget M. Conroy, The French Nuns Convent, Ferbane”, informing her that she had won, what was known as, the Banagher prize. The money paid her fees for that year in the school in Ferbane. The full title of the prize was the Diocesan Schools and Banagher Royal School Endowments.[1] My mother was very proud of her Banagher prize and she retained the letter from the Department as a prized reminder. In her old age she did put the laconic comment; “She must have had brains once!” on the back of the letter telling her of the award.

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The First Technical Education Scheme in King’s County/Offaly, 1902–30: a time of exciting innovation and experiment. By Michael Byrne

In these days when there is so much of war and pestilence it is good in looking at the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland to focus on the positive. Things that were done the good of which is still with us. So it is with technical education. Today we look at the early efforts and how positive and innovative were the early pioneers. Our own founder of Offaly History in 1938-9, James Rogers, was one who contributed. So too did those unsung heroes E. J. Delahunty and Willie Robbins. In regard to technical, or what is sometimes referred to as practical education, the earliest attempt in the county to provide such a facility was made at Birr about 1841 when the Parsonstown Mechanics Institute was established in, or to the rear, of the memorial hall at John’s Mall.[1] It was not a success. There were other experiments in agricultural education and model schools, but the first real attempt to provide children and adults with opportunities for technical or practical education came with the passing of the Technical Instruction Act, 1889. A further important stimulus was the passing of the Agricultural and Technical Instruction Act. 1899, which led to the setting up of a new department of agriculture and technical instruction. As a result of the two acts over fifty committees throughout Ireland were working to promote agriculture and technical instruction by early 1900.[2]

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Shops and pubs designed by Michael Scott in the 1940s for D.E. Williams. By Fergal MacCabe

At a time of economic stringency, the architect Michael Scott delivered several elegant retail buildings for a prominent midlands business family. These were executed in a Modernist style and incorporated natural materials in an innovative fashion.

D.E. Williams

In a recent Offaly History blog, Michael Byrne described the expansionary retail strategy of the notable Offaly commercial firm of D. E. Williams in installing high quality shops and pubs in virtually every town and village across the county in the period 1884-1921.

This courageous approach had not deserted the go ahead commercial family when during the Second World War, then modestly referred to as ‘The Emergency’, they ambitiously embarked on the redevelopment of their most prominent retail outlets in Dublin, Athlone and Birr and and most importantly, delivered a flagship shop and public bar in Patrick Street in Tullamore. To implement their progressive strategy they turned to Michael Scott.

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

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

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

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