On January 7th this year, we raised a glass to commemorate what would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. Born in Kilcoursey Lodge, Clara, she had always said that she was born on a special day, being the day, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in the Dáil. Her explanation to me as a child was that ‘it split Ireland in two and caused a lot of trouble’.
This example of family commemoration running parallel to the national one, relates to one of the aims on The Decade of Centenaries Programme to ‘focus on the everyday experience of ordinary people living in extraordinary times, as well as on the leaders and key actors in these events’
The Decade of Centenaries Programme has led to a great variety of commemorative events and literature, both at a national and local level. The Decade has been commemorated by Offaly History through a variety of media, no longer limited to monuments and the written word, as technology has enabled visual and auditory means to be retained through the use of videos and podcasts.
The whole of Ireland will be watching Mountbolus today for perhaps the first time in its history. None would want the attention it will receive as the family of Ashling Murphy, her friends and representatives of state, gather for her final mass in the lovely church dominating the village of Mountbolus. The family who have given and suffered so much may now need privacy in their great sorrow.
We are publishing this essay of thirty-five years ago to honour all the people of the barony of Killoughy who have kept the Irish musical tradition vibrant and have a great love of their local history. It is also to mark the passing of Ashling Murphy and in support of her family and all her neighbours in the Blue Ball, Mountbolus and Kilcormac areas. Thanks to Paddy Heaney who did so much for local studies and wishing him well and a big shout out for all he and Paddy Lowry did for local studies. The barony of Ballyboy lost two-thirds of its population over the period 1841 to 1911.
If you ever stand on the summit of Knockhill on a frosty moonlight night, and if your hear voices, and the thunder of hooves coming from the direction of the mountain, don’t be afraid, it’s only the ghosts form the distant past on their way to the fair of Frankford.
This famous phrase or exclamation or some version of it has been in use for hundreds of years. There are few instances if any in the English-speaking world where a placename appears in this manner. In all cases it was used dramatically to emphasise in a humorous way what has been said or written. The phrase was seldom if ever employed in a derogatory sense. It was regularly used by public speakers such as members of parliament or lawyers and judges in court. While it was often referred in Great Britain, and indeed in other countries throughout the world, the most common usage was by people at all levels of society in Ireland and it was very much an Irishism. It appears in the works of many famous writers such as AnthonyTrollope, William Carelton, W.B.Yeats, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Plunkett’s Farewell Companions. It also featured regularly in newspapers and on other media as can be seen in the selection below:
Skating on Charleville Lake, Tullamore was a popular pastime when I was a young lad. I remember the cold icy winters of 1962, 1982 and 2010. I can recall as a young man the Tullamore people skating on Charleville Lake in 1962. I am a long time now in D 4 but I got down a few weeks before Christmas to the nice butchers in Tullamore – old Tormey’s is still going strong and now you have, Hanlon’s, Crossan’s of Main Street, Ray Dunne and Fergus Dunne, and a few more I would not know. I was sorry to see Grennan’s shop closed for now. I miss Paddy Mac’s, Cleary’s and Joe ‘the Butch’ Kearney and not forgetting Dunne’s butchers off the Square. It was Treacy’s later. Liver we got a lot of and sheep’s hearts in that fine shop. Many old friends gone to the heavenly pastures. I always like to get my turkey in Tullamore and a nice ham even though I am out of the town now for over forty years. What with the bacon factory open until 1989, and now Tullamore Meats, the town has a long tradition in fine food. Come to think of it the bacon factory did a huge business in turkeys back in the 1940s and 1950s when my father was rearing same.
Pauline Clooney’ Charlotte & Arthur, an imaginative recreation of the Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon in Wales and Ireland, is an exciting combination of fact and fiction. The extensive historical research which preceded the writing of the book is evident throughout and this coupled with the creation of less historic characters and the weaving in of more fictional nuances ensures a work that is at once refreshing and convincing. While the sources of history are comparatively plentiful for this episode due to Charlotte’s prolific letter writing and an abundance of biographies of the two main characters, it is the richness of Pauline Clooney’s writing that makes the work engrossing and appealing.
King’s County Infirmary was established under the reign of King George III with the passing of the Irish County Infirmaries Act of 1765. This act enabled the creation of infirmaries in thirty Irish counties. During the redevelopment of Tullamore town by the Earl of Charleville, a new infirmary building was erected in 1788 on Church Street and was further extended in 1812.
The County Infirmaries Act was enacted to provide healthcare to the poor which fulfilled the eighteenth century philanthropic ideals of the landed gentry who supported these institutions through donations and subscriptions. King’s County Infirmary was supported by an income consisting of parliamentary funds, grand jury presentments, governor subscriptions, donations, and patient fees. The infirmary was managed by a Board of Governors who paid subscriptions for their position on the board which gave them absolute control over the infirmary including staff appointments and patient admissions. Governors were made up of local gentry and landowners such as the Earl of Rosse, Lord Digby, and prominent business owners such as the Goodbody family.
While surviving records are limited, the Board meeting minute books provide a colourful insight into the running of an infirmary in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland. The Infirmary’s Surgeon, Dr James Ridley, was linked to a scandal that pervaded the county in 1887 and 1888. Ridley, who also acted as one of the Tullamore jail physicians was reported to have died by suicide on the morning he was due to give evidence at the inquest into the death of John Mandeville, a national league activist. Mandeville who was imprisoned under the Irish Crimes Act of 1887 was subject to harsh and cruel punishment at the hands of his jailors and died shortly after his release from prison.
Why has there been so little public interest in the conservation of the architectural heritage of Tullamore?
Sharing a pot of tea in the Brewery Tap in the early 1980s with a well-known local builder, I remarked that demolition and redevelopment rather than conservation and reuse always seemed to be the first choice option. His reply, which I have never forgotten, was that new buildings which responded to modern needs were always preferable because ‘Tullamore is a good business town’. Change had always brought benefits and the future held more attraction than the past.
I understand that sentiment. Unlike Birr or even Edenderry, Tullamore has always been seen to be go ahead and dynamic; looking forward always and never backwards. That progressive approach was sustained by active business organisations and extended to the areas of arts, culture and local history also. It created a vibrant, attractive and always interesting atmosphere.
Nonetheless, little concern was ever publicly expressed for the protection of the town’s architectural heritage and the role it might play in its advancement. This derived partly, I believe, from a perception that since there were no buildings earlier than the mid 18th century, the fabric of the town was relatively new and was therefore of little or no artistic interest or value. This attitude was reflected in the non-existence, even to the present day, of any local civic group or architectural preservation society or even an Offaly branch of An Taisce. Birr might have its Chapter of the Irish Georgian Society, Tullamore despite its large inventory of 18th c. buildings, didn’t follow.
During the summer of 1908 the 4th Earl and Countess of Rosse made their customary journey to London in order to enjoy the society ‘season.’ Sadly, this was to be their final visit together, for although the sixty-seven-year-old Earl had been in declining health for some time, soon after they returned to Birr Castle his condition began to deteriorate markedly, so much so that by Saturday 29 August he could no longer be rallied. He died later that same evening, with his wife present to the end.
What would the future hold for the dowager Countess of Rosse? She had been mistress of Birr Castle for almost four decades, having arrived in Ireland newly-married when barely eighteen years-of-age in 1870. In common with her mother-in-law, Mary Rosse (née Field), Frances Cassandra Harvey Hawke had come from a wealthy Yorkshire family, being the only child of the 4th Baron Hawke of Towton. She too had inherited property from her father – two country estates, the largest being Womersley – which naturally brought with them a measure of responsibility. However, the Earl had quickly allayed any local fears that the couple might be lured away to England. At a banquet held in his honour at the then Dooly’s Royal Arms Hotel shortly after their honeymoon, he reassured the assembled dignitaries of his firm intention to remain among them. A successful marriage requires both parties to adjust to their changed circumstances, but the Earl’s pledge meant that Cassandra’s life was destined to undergo by far the more radical transformation. Although not yet formally ‘out’ in society, she would be required to settle in a country about which she initially understood very little and find her place within an entirely new social circle.
Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the photographs taken by Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926, of Rathrobin near Mountbolus) are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was keenly aware of the plantations of the 1550s to the 1650s. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, indoor staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Biddulph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.