‘A great town to get a letter from’ Early recollections of Tom Murphy (1935- 2018) ‘HOME TOWNS’ by Fergal MacCabe

Tom Murphy reduced, a drawing by Fergal MacCabe 400 dpi



One evening in the summer of 1962, in ‘The Queen’s Elm’ on the Fulham Road, Tom and I had a long conversation about our home towns. I knew Tuam reasonably well but Tom had never been to Tullamore and was curious. Who were the big men? Who the failures? What made the town tick? In Tuam patois, who were the ‘fly shams’ and the ‘rager shams’? His interrogation covered the multiple interactions and complexity of a society whose scale created a close-knit but relatively comprehensible, socio-economic unit.
We both agreed that growing up in a provincial town was a very valuable education in that it gave insights into the kind of experiences and personalities that would later be replicated in the bigger world. How things worked in small town society could be observed and understood in a way that would not be so comprehensively available to those living in a rural community or a metropolis. For us Tuam and Tullamore were the formative catalysts.

In his great works On the Outside which he wrote with his friend the solicitor Noel O’Donoghue, Conversations on a Homecoming and A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant Tom was to provide the definitive pictures of life in small town Ireland in the 50s and 60s – that peculiar era between the end of de Valera’s agrarian and authoritarian vision and the onset of Lemass’s technological and capital driven new world. We were both children of that era and therefore acutely aware of its downsides as well as its benefits. When I had finished my overview, Tom dryly observed that Tullamore, like Tuam, ‘must be a great town- to get a letter from’. In other words, while we had both got a lot from our home towns, there was no going back.


Amateur Drama
Our early friendship was based on a shared experience of the amateur drama movement. Tom had been an enthusiastic member of the Tuam Little Theatre Guild and was well known for his portrayal of Christy Mahon in their production of The Playboy of the Western World which had reached the finals of the All Ireland Drama Festival in Athlone. I had recently been involved in ’The Runners’ the Tullamore drama group who under the direction of their talented producer Noel MacMahon and with wonderful actors such as Mick Shelley and Joe Kenny, had won first prize in the Festival in 1956 and 1957 and whose earlier production of Yeats’s verse play The Dreaming of the Bones had scooped honours also.

By the early 1960s ‘The Runners’ were still a force to be reckoned, particularly for their productions of plays by contemporary European writers such as Henri Gheon and Diego Fabbri or the Anglo Irish playwright Bridget Boland. At a time when the staple diet of amateur drama groups were the kitchen comedies of T.C. Murray or Brinsley MacNamara, such productions were unfamiliar and exciting. Significantly however, all these plays had Catholic themes which made them acceptable, particularly to the Jesuits in Tullabeg who were at that time, the arbiters of more sophisticated artistic endeavours in County Offaly and who I have always suspected, suggested their production in the first instance.

This was to be proved when the company took a more independent stand and decided to put on a production of Step in the Hollow by Donagh McDonagh. Jesuit approval was not forthcoming (for reasons which escape me when I read the play today) and resulted in a split the company which led to its eventual demise and the departure of MacMahon to Dublin.


Tom Naughton
Amateur drama gossip such as this, gave Tom and I a lot to talk about and also I was now familiar with Tuam which Tom had left two years previously. In particular we shared a good friend, the handsome and charismatic businessman Tom Naughton, a Waterford native who had moved to Tuam to manage John Egan’s, the wholesale drinks suppliers and who owned the Imperial Hotel, the social centre of Tuam located in the town square. Tom had been introduced to me by Andy O’Mahony with whom I shared digs at 45 Percy Place in Dublin.
Tom Naughton had gathered around him a stimulating and colourful group of friends including Michael O’Nuallain, the artist and brother of Myles na Gopaleen, Sean Purcell, the great Galway footballer and P.J. Grealish the local businessman and talented actor. As Andy recounts in his wide ranging autobiography, Tom who had ‘the mind of a scholar and the sensitivity of an artist’, attracted all kinds of stimulating personalities into his version of Camelot.
His obsession with John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the interaction of politics and the arts was to be reflected in Tom Murphy’s bittersweet evocation of the times Conversations on a Homecoming, written after Tom Naughton’s tragic death in a car crash early on a morning in February 1973. His massive and emotional funeral was literally the end of an era and a first experience for his friends of ‘the awful fucking finality of death’ as Tom Murphy put it at the heart-breaking wake in Tuam.

However, before the watershed of Tom Naughton’s death, Tuam had begun to seduce me and as a student I had set out on the Galway road every Friday evening to hitch there or to Tullamore, depending on the time or traffic.
Tuam, I would have to say, had the edge over post MacMahon Tullamore, at that time. Everyone seemed to be writing plays or novels, usually about the doings of the town and their friends. It was expected at social gatherings that even the shyest person would perform a party piece a song, a poem or in the case of one particularly tongue tied gentleman-stand on his head. The drinking culture was much more intense than it was in Tullamore and violence was always just below the surface. Also, the pain of emigration was more evident in Tuam than it was in Tullamore, though in the late 1950s the crowds heading for the Holyhead boat were at their highest and the loss of friends and family was the principal feature everywhere in that dismal decade.

London in the 60s

By 1962 when we first met in London, Tom was an established playwright revelling in the success in the previous year of Whistle in the Dark, which the critic Kenneth Tynan had described as ‘the most uninhibited display of brutality that the London theatre has ever witnessed’. I had gone over with the notion of exploring a career as a stage designer and had managed to get a job with Sean Kenny, the Tipperary born architect from Portroe who had taken London by storm with his radical set designs for the Lionel Bart musical Oliver. I did some work on the sets for Blitz also by Bart, which was such a musical failure that Tynan claimed the audience came out humming the scenery.
I then worked for the charming former Guardsman Nicholas Luard on the conversion of a strip joint in Greek Street in Soho. The ground floor was to be laid out as the ‘Establishment Club’ where Nicholas, abetted by Peter Cook, would host the cabaret Beyond the Fringe with Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore and which soon became the catalyst for and inspiration of the future British satirical movement. Offices for Sean Kenny were to be located on the upper floors. However, as Sean was a bit erratic and tended to disappear for long periods, my engagement didn’t last very long, and I sought more reliable architectural employment elsewhere.
My new day job was boring but that didn’t matter very much, as for anyone interested in theatre, London at that time was the most exciting place in the world to be. The New Wave dramatists John Osborne, Arnold Wesker and Harold Pinter were at the height of their powers and critics such as Harold Hobson illuminated their works. Kenneth Tynan was running the National Theatre and Laurence Olivier starring in its numerous successes.
Meeting Tom in the ‘Elm’, there was quite enough to talk about, but one play which made a particularly strong impact on both of us was the legendary production directed by Peter Brook, of The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Its theme of the disruptive impact on a small town of the return of a vengeful exile was one which Tom would later explore in some of his own work, such as the novel The Seduction of Morality in which the former prostitute Vera returns home to claim her inheritance of the Imperial Hotel.

The ‘Queens Elm’ and ‘Finch’s
Haunt of artists, minor royalty, actors, sportsmen, journalists, Russian spies, Great Train Robbers and playwrights, the ’Elm’ (long closed and now a florist) was at that time the foremost arty pub in London, with ‘The Coach and Horses’ in Soho coming a close second.
Tom who had made it his local, was a golfing companion of the landlord, Sean Treacy, also a Galway man and from Glenamaddy. A former member of the Irish Air Corps, Sean not only tolerated fights in his pub, but actively encouraged them to the extent that they were causing damage to the furniture and fittings. When asked by the writer Laurie Lee why he permitted such mayhem, he replied ‘Because I love the smell of broken glass’- a phrase that became the title of his wonderful name-dropping biography which is essential reading for anyone exploring bohemian life in London of the 1960s.
Occasionally for the sake of variety, I would visit Sean’s former pub ‘Finch’s’ further along the Fulham Road, usually to meet my friend the architect and sculptor Eamonn O’Doherty and his girlfriend Miriam McFarlane and it was here that I got into the first and last fight of my life.
Responding over aggressively to a barman who had rudely snatched a glass out of Miriam’s hand at closing time, I swung an ineffective punch. Eamonn joined in but within seconds a coordinated and almost balletic counter attack by the staff, found us standing out on the Fulham Road. As all our belongings were still inside, we had to return and apologise, but the now courteous barmen, for whom this was a regular occurrence, bore no ill will and we were not barred.

Sometime in the early 80s, Tom rang me and to my surprise asked if I had ever been in a fight. I had presumed that the author of Whistle in the Dark would have been able to draw on his own personal experiences, but nevertheless proudly recounted my scrap in ‘Finch’s. I was astonished therefore at the first night of Conversations on a Homecoming, to find that Tom had transcribed our conversation almost word for word into the mouth of Michael, who, home from America, is trying to impress his friends with his involvement in a pub brawl in the States. Possibly because it was such an inconsequential affair which fails to impress Michael’s friends that my own pathetic tussle hit the spot. However, any pride that I might have had in furnishing Tom with material, was diminished by the line- ‘this buddy of mine-and he’s only a little guy-took a swing at the barman….’

Tom’s Music
At his funeral in the Mansion House, Dublin on the 18th of May, Fintan O’Toole observed that had Tom been a slightly better singer, Ireland might have lost a great playwright and during the service we were treated to renditions of his favourites such as ‘Macushla’, I’ll Walk Beside You’ and in particular, that great favourite at funerals in the west of Ireland and appropriate for the month that was in it, ‘Queen of the May’.
Tom’s sweet tenor voice could silence a room. Staple songs for after dinner sessions at which I would sometimes accompany him ineptly on the guitar, were ‘Carrickfergus’, ‘All in an April Evening’ and in particular ‘Silent Worship’ by Handel, sung as a duet with his wife Mary. As the night progressed, the hymns of Catholic boyhood would inevitably emerge- ‘Hail Queen of Heaven’, followed, if things were getting a bit out of hand, by ‘Tantum Ergo’.
After one party, a record producer who was present, was so impressed by Tom’s singing that he and I were invited together to do a demo tape the following week in his studio. We turned up and went through our repertoire. I was to hear nothing further about our efforts until almost fifty years later.
When we met for the last time in March of this year, I asked him about that trial recording we had made many years ago and whether it had ever gone anywhere. With his characteristic wry humour which lasted to the very end, he told me that he didn’t want to tell me until now but that he had had a call from the producer the following week who said ‘That went very well Tom and I’m sure we can do something with it- if only we can get rid of your man with the guitar.’

Small Town Theatre
I was extremely lucky in growing up in Tullamore in the 1950s at a time when there was a vivid cultural scene. Bunny Kennedy was organising exhibitions in the Market House which brought the most advanced painters of the time such as Louis Le Brocquy, Patrick Scott, Gerard Dillon, George Campbell and many others to our attention. An Realt and the Patrician Society presented serious debates on the topics of the day and organised archaeological exhibitions. There was a well-stocked local library and an enthusiastic county librarian. Cultural standards were high and second rate was not lightly accepted.

It was in drama however, that Tullamore excelled in that brief period and it certainly took hold of my young imagination as it had Tom’s in Tuam. Why the social structures or economic circumstances of provincial Ireland in that peculiar time were so conducive to a ready opening to the arts, particularly drama, is an interesting question. Possibly because it was the era just before television and a reliance on self-entertainment meant that more people could sing, play an instrument or act. Incomes were rising in the towns at least, and younger people were beginning to have more leisure time, so that involvement in local musical and dramatic societies was at its height. Certainly it was the era in which playwrights from provincial towns such as John B. Keane in Listowel and John Murphy in Charlestown made their mark while Brian Friel was immortalising his quintessential small town of Ballybeg.
The work of all of these writers attracted enthusiastic local audiences, because nothing can ever rival the intensity of engagement and emotion that immersion in a great theatrical performance can bring. I was aware and proud that Tom was a talented dramatist, but did not realise how great those talents were until the opening night of The Gigli Concert in the Abbey Theatre in September 1983. On that first night, when the final curtain had dropped, the audience sat totally silent in their seats for eight (I counted) seconds. They then stood to their feet as one and roared their appreciation of the advent of one of the greatest plays in the Irish theatrical repertoire. I will never forget that moment.



KILCORMAC ‘A BRIGHT SPOT IN KING’S COUNTY’ From Kilcormac to Frankford and back again, Michael McDermott Hayes, editor King’s County Independent First published in 1917 and introduced by Michael Byrne

0492 Main St., Kilcormac

Some background reading for  our outing on 8 July, Sunday, to Kilcormac and Ballyboy
Meet in grounds of Catholic church at 3 pm (ample parking) The historic sites of Kilcormac and Ballyboy to include the Catholic church, the parochial grounds, the Mercy Convent, Bord na Mona housing and on to Ballyboy, the village, church, cemetery and old hall concluding with refreshments in Dan and Molly’s celebrated historic pub at 5 p.m. Our thanks to Agnes Gorman, John Butterfield and the other history enthusiasts in the historic barony of Ballyboy. A few members of the committee will be at Offaly History Centre from 2 15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. for members needing a lift.

In 1917 Michael McDermott Hayes, ardent nationalist and editor of the King’s County Independent, visited Kilcormac to interview its parish priest, Revd Edward O’Reilly. The meeting took place at the same time as an address to the local farmers by Fr O’Reilly, Hayes and soon-to-be Sinn Féin organiser in the county T.M. Russell. Russell was possibly still with the I.A.O.S. at this time. O’Reilly had been parish priest since 1901. He was a strong figure and was chair of the county agriculture and technical committee among many other things. The visit was during the war years and with the pressure on food supplies the demand for tillage was increasing, as was the intense pressure to break up the so called grazing ranches and distribute the land to the farm labourer and small farmer. A row about ‘feudalism versus food production’ centred on the Handy 447-acre farm at Croghan Hill and Fr Burbage, the curate in Geashill was warning of famine conditions.
Kilcormac was a busy town in the 1900s. Its population in 1911 was 518 and that of Ballyboy was only 85 with 19 inhabited houses in the townland. The population of the town and the village was half that in 1851 (Ballyboy 219, Kilcormac, 956). Kilcormac was the site of an old Carmelite monastery whose lands passed to the settler Leycester family in the sixteenth century and later to the Magawlys of Westmeath. After the Treaty of Limerick this family lost some of its lands, held on to the Kilcormac estate and went to military and diplomatic service for Catholic Spain and its empire. The pieta in Kilcormac church may have been a gift of the Magawlys. The family has a fine memorial stone in the church, but their old house at Temora of c. 1750s is gone since the 1930s save the gate piers. The castles at Broughall and Ballyboy likewise. Kilcormac must have presented a prosperous appearance in the 1900s with its Williams (1901) and Egan branch houses (later Gath’s), the new church of the 1860s and the Mercy convent of the 1880s. Ballyboy had the Protestant church and Mount Bolus, also in the parish, the R.C. chapel of ease to Kilcormac.
The change of name from Frankford back to Kilcormac came earlier than that from King’s County to Offaly and Philipstown to Daingean. It was back in 1903 at the time of the cultural revival. It was Councillor James Moran who proposed it blaming the change of name on ‘Mr McGawley who got the name changed in order to be the same as the place situated on the Rhine’. Others say the name-change to Frankford was in the early 1700s and after a certain Frank McGawley. Curiously, the name Frank in Spain is often applied to foreigners.
In 1905 the issue of change of name was mentioned before county court Judge John Adye Curran who was none too pleased and took the county secretary Charles P. Kingston to task. All would change in a few short years. Curran retired from the bench in December 1913; the sixth County Magawly was killed in the war in 1917, McDermott Hayes’s job went with the burning of the Athlone Printing Works by the British military in the late 1920 while Kingston got the push from the new Sinn Féin dominated county council in 1921. O’Reilly welcomed the Free State army to Kilcormac in July 1922 and died there on 15 March 1932.
Michael Byrne

593 Main Street, Kilcormac

From the Tullamore and Kings County Independent, 20 January 1917
Many years ago I remember a royal row in the King’s County Revision Courts. The principals were our much esteemed County Court Judge, John Adye Curran, K.C., who carried a very warm heart under a very severe and stern manner, and, I think, the present secretary of the King’s County Council, Mr Charles Kingston. It was the fighting days of the Gaelic League, and most of us were carried away on the crest of the new National movement. “I’ll stop all this nonsense,” thundered the dear old Judge, “It’s Frankford I say.” The official stuck to his guns and assured his Honor Kilcormac was the more ancient name of the town. The wordy arguments continue and subsided -in tune. But Kilcormac remained. Nobody now speaks of the pretty, romantic and historic village by the Silver River as Frankford, a name given it by one James Frank, whose only claim to graft his patronymic on the ancient piece of territory of the O’Molloy’s was that he founded a charter school there. We know what poor Ireland was looking like when these, and kindred seats of learning were springing up in every town, village, and hamlet of the country. There was not then much regard for the old faith and the old race Kilcormac, or Kilcormuck, as it is more anciently written, has an honoured story unnecessary to go into. Those who, like myself, never saw the place until this week knew it was once the home of

who had a monastery founded for them at Kilcormac by, Odo Molloy, son of the dvnast of Fearcall. That was some hundreds of years before Frank was heard of. Why not Kilcormac by all means.
The village of to-day, is a very interesting little place. The community live as happy and contented together as bees in a hive. It is largely self-contained. It is the first village in Ireland in which I came across a successful co-operative society. It has a dramatic hall, a recreation club, social and religious societies, technical classes, an excellent Convent of Mercy, and an exceedingly neat, if not highly decorated church. One looked with pleasure to see in a village church an organ loft and organ. I have seen many of them that had neither. The church, however, differs little from the rural churches – with one exception. On the Gospel side altar stands a beautiful Mater Dolorosa. It has a history that is interesting. The figures, nobly carved, were struck from one piece of wood. It is a monument to the craft and ability of the artist who fashioned it centuries ago. It is believed to be of Spanish origin. It has not always rested on that little altar. For long years it lay rolled up in the turf of the Bog of Allan. It was in turn discovered and presented to this successor of the great Carmel church by a member of the Magawly family, who succeeded to the monastery lands and adjoining estates by marriage, after the suppression of the monasteries, in the days of good Queen Bess, or perhaps later. I have outlined enough to show that the Kilcormac of today, after all its vicissitudes, is a bright little spot in the Kings County.

Into the making of it so one name chiefly caters that of the beloved Parish Priest, the Rev. Edward O’Reilly. What a fine type you exclaim, as you meet him for the first time. Age has slightly bowed the shoulders of a once powerful man, standing well over six feet. It has not dimmed the twinkling eye nor loosened the touch with every-day affairs, while it has mellowed and rendered more agreeable an old world courtesy and kindliness of heart which the cynical say is leaving the stoney faced existence of us moderns not to return again. Under the hospitable roof of Father O’Reilly one soon forgets that the severities of the world are greater than its virtues. Personally I believe nothing of the kind. This big statured, big-hearted priest one sees at a glance, is no ordinary man. He was cast in a heroic mould. All his life he has been a fighter in the National cause. A fighter for the people about him. Back in the disastrous days of the Parnellite split Father O’Reilly was one of the controlling spirits of the organisation of the succeeding colleagues of the fallen statesman the National Federation. How names and stories of struggles and contentions paraded themselves as we discussed the events of these now far off days. Poor Justin McCarthy, Mr. William Martin Murphy, to whose patriotic worth Father O’Reilly paid a very sincere tribute, Mr. Arthur O’Connor, Mr. Tim Healy, Mr. William O’Brien, and Mr. John Dillon. But they were not for long a happy family. Tim Healy, of whom Father O’Reilly is an ardent admirer, did not like the way things were going. He was doing his best for the country. He fell foul of Dillon. A memorable fight, lasting from noon until 1 a.m. next morning, and Healy and others, with Father O’Reilly, left the headquarters of the Federation in Rutland Square never to enter them again. Once a politician always a politician. Today Father O’Reilly follows the fortunes of Ireland with if not equal keenness to the vigorous days well over a quarter of a century ago with very great keenness. He is not enamoured with the political outlook, few Irishmen are. His hope is in the young men of Ireland. The self-reliant, well educated, unselfish young workers, of whom there are many and who are prepared to make great sacrifices for the motherland, as recent events proved.

031929 Procession 1960s, Kilcormac
One would expect that this Patriot Priest, now approaching, the autumn of a vigorous life, would be inclined to take public affairs easy, to sit on his ease and dignity, as the old Latin tag has it. Nothing of the kind. The other day he was elected for fourteenth year Chairman of the King’s County Agricultural and Technical Committee, which in turn has many other committees. Technical work in the King’s County has been brilliantly successful. But it means that the Chairman living ten miles away, has to be repeatedly in the county town. To do this he travels over possibly the worst roads in Ireland. Father O’Reilly thinks nothing of it. And before my departure he was off to another agricultural meeting. This time in his local hall. I could not resist the invitation to be present, nor could my friend, Mr. T. M. Russell of Tullamore, a gentle man no less energetic in the agricultural movement that is Father O’Reilly. Sacrificing all prospect of returning home that night we went to the meeting. Here I think I saw all the sight and shade of the kindly, deeply affectionate soggarth among his people. It was evident he simply lived to promote their interests. The new Tillage Scheme was the matter to be considered. The official programme had not yet been fashioned. There was his reverence full of facts and figures, explaining and expounding in what was at once a conversation and a speech from which eloquence and oratory peeped out here and there. It was delighted to listen. The outwardly simple, amiable priest among his people was obviously a cultured and gifted speaker did occasion summon up the use of there accomplishments. The facts. There are a thousand acres of untenanted land in the district. The owners are willing to sell. There are plenty of small farmers, farmers’ sons, and agricultural labourers ready to step on to these lands in the morning. But the Department, oh’ that Department! has not yet submitted any scheme indicating how the waiting farmers and the untenanted land are to be bought together. Are these men to go on the land without saying to the owners “By your leave,” or are they to offer six or seven pounds an acre for temporary accommodation? Where is theagricultural equipment needed, the seeds to be put into the ground? The whole thing left the impression on me that, true to character, the Department was again making a mess of it and that the golden harvest fields of the later on would live principally in our imaginations. Let me hope I’m a mere pessimist.

Like a good general, Father O’Reilly has in all his public work his little staff about him. I met two of them at tea. Mr. O’Callaghan, a valued member of the King’s County Council, who has not a great deal to say but thinks a lot, and strikes you at once as an excellent type of the younger public man we are meeting more frequently now on our county bodies, and Mr. Clavin, full of energy, who is Secretary of the Co-operative Society. I was very anxious for the story of that society when I heard it was a success. Father O’Reilly acquainted me with it. As a matter of form the society affiliated with the Organisation Society, but there the connection ended. The society was a success because of the efforts Mr. Clavin put into it, and through his instrumentality was doing a good deal of useful work among the local farmers. Needless to say it avoided the huckstering in household necessities which would render any society of the kind contemptible.
One came away from this little corner of King’s County delighted with all that was seen and heard and deeply moved by the experience of what one good man, earnest and unselfish, can accomplish towards putting a new face on Rural Ireland.
M’D. H

031937 Kilcormac Gath Grocery Shop

Kilcormac and its traditions as a place of worship. By Agnes Gorman

On Sunday 8 July, Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society will be visiting sites of historical interest in the Ballyboy and Kilcormac area. This outing has been greatly facilitated by local Agnes Gorman, who recounts here the history of the church in Kilcormac. 

About 1,500 years ago, Cormac O’ Liathain, a priest, left Cobh, in Co Cork and travelled to Durrow, in Co Offaly to meet with Columcille, who was Abbot and a priest in the monastery. A short time later, Columcille left for Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland. Cormac received the “Durrow Crozier” a symbol of authority, but he had a burning sense to become a hermit – his dream site was where the sound of the river would lull him to sleep, the bird song in the daytime and a vista towards the south, with Knockhill and the Slieve Blooms mountains, acting as his ‘satnav’, and that spot chosen is right here in Kilcormac. Continue reading

The City Assembly House, South William St, Dublin. By Róisín Lambe

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

A Parnellite, James Joyce and a Quid of Tullamore. Michael Byrne

Today, Bloomsday, 16 June 2018, let’s take a look at Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and his use of Tullamore tobacco in the opening chapter.

The Tullamore based businessman Daniel E. Williams took the side of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91) in the great divide in Irish politics in 1890-91. Parnell had been the greatest leader in Irish politics in the nineteenth century bringing Home Rule centre stage in 1886. Although a quiet and reserved man he could always put in a commanding performance in the House of Commons. Gladstone said of him that he had the rarest of qualities in a speaker – measure. He brought about a ‘Union of Hearts’ between the Liberals and Ireland, a union that was shattered in 1890 when Parnell was cited as co-respondent in the Katharine O’Shea divorce case. Parnell died a year later, a broken man. Nonetheless he had brought to Ireland a sense of Irish statehood, Ireland was a nation.

Continue reading

The first ever recorded tornado in Europe was recorded in Ireland in 1054 AD at Rosdalla near to Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath. By Stan McCormack

The history of Ireland from the ninth to the twelfth century covers the first Viking raids in Ireland up to the Norman invasion. The most significant event in the eleventh century in Irish History was on 23 April 1014 when at the famous Battle of Clontarf, the Vikings and the men of North Leinster were defeated by King Brian Boru, who was murdered in his tent by Danish king Brodar after the victory. Just 40 years later another significant event took place when the first ever tornado in Europe was recorded on 30th April 1054 in Ireland at Rosdalla, Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath. Continue reading

Lord  Edward Digby, Minterne, Dorset (former owner of the Digby Estate, Geashill)  (1924-2018). An appreciation for his kindness and support to Offaly History and Archives, by Mary Delaney with Amanda Pedlow and Lisa Shortall

The death has occurred in Dorset England of Lord Edward Henry Kenelm Digby, 12th Baron Digby on the 1st of April 2018, aged 93. Lord Digby was born 24 July 1924. He was the son of Edward Kenelm Digby, 11th Baron Digby of Geashill and Hon. Constance Pamela Alice Bruce.

He was educated at Eton College, Windsor, Trinity College Dublin, and Oxford University. He also studied at Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Berkshire. He fought in the Second World War and in the Malayan Emergency between 1948 and 1950. He was Aide-de-Camp to the Commander-in-Chief, Far East Land Forces between 1950 and 1951 and Aide-de-Camp to the Commander-in-Chief, British Army of the Rhine between 1951 and 1952. He held the office of Deputy Lieutenant of Dorset between 1957 and 1965. He held the office of Justice of the Peace for Dorset in 1959. He was invested as a Knight, Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (K.St.J.) in 1985. He was invested as a Knight Commander, Royal Victorian Order (K.C.V.O.) in 1998.

He succeeded to the title of 12th Baron Digby of Geashill, King’s County on 29 January 1964 and to the title of 6th Baron Digby of Sherborne. Continue reading

Wright and the other Volunteers: Birr, the Boer War and the Lindley connection. By Rosemary Raughter

This week’s blog is by Rosemary Raughter, an independent scholar, who has published widely on women’s and on local history. Her discovery of a collection of love letters, written 1898-1901, from her grandmother, Sarah Whelan, originally of Roscrea, to her grandfather, Thomas Eades of Birr, led her to research aspects of life in Birr at the turn of the twentieth century.

In the autumn of 1899 my twenty-one year old grandmother, Sis Whelan, was living in Newtownbarry (now Bunclody), Co Wexford. Far from home and friends, she kept up a regular correspondence with the young man whom she had met while working in Birr, and whom she would eventually marry.[1]  Like Sis, Tom Eades was a shop assistant: reared in Fortal, since his early teens he had been employed in Fayle’s hardware shop on the Main Street. Sis’s life was a narrow one, confined for the most part to the drapery shop in which she worked, to her lodgings above it, to the Methodist chapel across the square where she worshipped, and to the riverside paths and woods just outside the town where she walked on occasional free afternoons. Current national and international events impinged hardly at all on her consciousness, which was not surprising: as she told Tom, ‘we never see a paper here’.[2] Continue reading

Nellie Scully (née Craven) of Kilgortin, parish of Rahan and Kilbeggan Bridge, Tullamore, July 1922 – May 2018. James Scully with thanks to the Tullamore Tribune

001 east view Terrace, taken from Kilbeggan Bridge 1948
East View, Terrace beside the Kilbeggan Bridge in the 1940s

James Scully on the life and times of his mother Nellie at her funeral oration on Monday 7 May 2018 in Clonminch Cemetery, Tullamore.  Mrs Scully, her late husband Jimmy (died 2000) and their friends and neighbours represented the life and times of another generation and many of our readers overseas will be happy to recall these days. The importance of housing can be seen too and of having good and appreciated neighbours.

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The ‘Other Egans’ from Birr and Roscrea By Dermot McAuley

The author of this article is  Dermot McAuley of Dublin who is the eldest son of the late Joan McAuley (nee Egan) of Acres Hall, Tullamore (now the offices of the Tullamore Municipal Council in Cormac Street. Patrick Egan (the “P” of P. & H. Egan) and Elizabeth Moorhead were married at the church of St. Paul’s, Arran Quay, Dublin on 31st August 1874. While Patrick’s Egan ancestors from Westmeath and Offaly are well documented, what is less well known is that Elizabeth too had Egan ancestors – her maternal grandmother Julia Humphrys (née Egan) (sometimes spelt Humphreys) was born into a prominent family of Egans in Roscrea. While the two different branches of the Egan clan may have had some common ancestor in the dim and misty past no close relationship between the two Egan branches is known (so far).  Nevertheless, there are some intriguing parallels between the histories of the Tullamore and Roscrea families. And of course, any descendants of Patrick and Elizabeth carry the genes of two sets of Egans, not one.

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