Traditional Architecture in Offaly: History, Materials and Furniture, 1800 to Present Day

Kitchen, parlour and bedroom – transforming a house into a home

Traditional Architecture in Offaly: History, Materials and Furniture by Rachel McKenna (Offaly County Council, 2022) is a wonderful new addition to the growing collection of quality publications on the county of Offaly and its place in Irish heritage. For long neglected by the travel writers who took the coastal route the county has made up for that oversight since the late 1970s with a whole series of publications. The writer is the county architect and well placed to observe the changing scene and to appreciate what was distinctive about the habitations of the ordinary people (the third and fourth class housing of the 1841-61 censuses) and what has survived to the present day. As the CE of Offaly County Council has written in the Preface

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Have an ‘Offaly History’ Christmas with over a dozen new books this year

It has been a good year for new publications contributing to the history of County Offaly and helping us to get to know ourselves and our place better. When the annual report of the Tullamore Credit Union is dropped in the door you know Christmas is close. Seeing the cover and that the credit union is now sixty years old set us thinking of phases in our history. The year 1923 marked the end of the civil war. After a period of growth from 1891 to 1918 things got difficult. You could write off 1923–63 in terms of the economic engine. It was mostly switched off with exceptions in Tullamore Yarns, the Bacon Factory, Tullamore and the Williams and Egan businesses serving the midlands. The emerging Bord na Mona and ESB were providing jobs in west Offaly from the 1950s and east Offaly later, but it was the 1960s before a general ‘all boats’ lift up occurred. Equally you could say that since September 2001 (and the mobile phone) we have been living with anxiety which seems to grow every year especially since Brexit 2016 and now the war and climate change. Not to mention all the things we have to do online to comply with the requirements of banks and government. These books are all available from Offaly History, Bury Quay (and online http://www.offalyhistory) and our friends in Midland Books, Tullamore.

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‘It will last for centuries’:  St. Joseph’s Convent, Tullamore

Fergal MacCabe

In 1840, the scaffolding began to come down to reveal the new convent and school of the Sisters of Mercy on Bury Quay, today Convent Road.

With the building of the County Gaol in 1830, the County Courthouse in 1835 and the Union Workhouse in 1839-41, Tullamore was rapidly acquiring substantial civic and social buildings which were adding to its prestige and promoting its new role as the capital of King’s County.

But as yet, no buildings of a religious or educational nature which might contribute equally significantly to the architectural character of the town centre had emerged. The Catholic chapel of 1802 on its backland site off Harbour Street was a relatively modest structure without a frontage presence onto a main street. Charleville School built in 1811 at the junction of Henry Street and Church Street exhibited a well-mannered but unassuming appearance. Though a most impressive structure, the siting of Francis Johnston’s St Catherine’s on Hop Hill rendered it remote from the daily life of the town.

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Who is the Birr poet John De Jean Frazer? By Terry Moylan

This question has popped up recently arising from the launch last week in Birr by Offaly History of a book containing the complete poems of John De Jean Frazer. The Tullamore launch is Thursday 24 Nov. at Offaly History Centre at 5 p.m. so the editors may get to meet you there. You are welcome to attend.

John De Jean Frazer was a poet and cabinet-maker, the son of a Presbyterian Church minister from Birr, then known as Parsonstown. He was also a quite accomplished artist.

While his exact date of birth is not known, it is pretty certain he was born in 1804 and died a young man in 1852.

He was believed to from Huguenot stock, this belief coming from the use of `De Jean` in his name. We are not sure of this, and certainly a recent DNA test by one of his descendants cast doubt on this, as it showed no French DNA but rather Scottish. Frazer is certainly a Scottish name and is quite common in Ulster. His being from a Presbyterian family tends to make me believe that a Scottish ancestry is more likely to be correct. The `De Jean` in his name could be explained by possible sympathy with the ideals of the French revolution.

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Charles W. Kelly of New York remembers Birr in the early 1900s. From the Offaly History Collection and thanks to Offaly people who emigrated many years ago for these recollections of their native place

I write in the hope that you may find space to record my memories of the town of Birr fifty or sixty years ago. The following recollections are all from memory only – no notes – and I am sure a lot of boys and girls I knew will get a thrill.

Birr, as you know, is situated in the South-West of Offaly, known then as King’s County, near the borders of Leix County – known then as Queen’s and Tipperary County. It is about one mile and a half in length and one mile in width.

It was a military town. The Military Barracks were in the village of Crinkle, which is about one-half mile outside the town. The main thoroughfare was from the high path of Drumbawn to the New Line. You passed Moorpark Street, Bridge, Market Square, Main Street, Duke Square, Cumberland, Melsop and Townsend Street, – that is the length. Now the breadth was from Clonoghill Cemetery through Newbridge or Crinkle and the Military Road, John’s Mall, John’s Place, The Green and some of the Lusmagh Road to the back of the Castle.

[On Friday and Saturday 18 and 19 Nov. 2022 the annual heritage seminar will be held in Birr. The programme started on Friday at Birr Library at 5 p.m. with the launch of the collected poems of J De Jean Frazer and will be followed on Saturday with walks in the morning and talks in Oxmantown Hall (1889) in the afternoon. The exile here was Charles Kelly who wrote to the Offaly Chronicle from New York in 1952. It appears that his children moved to the United States. These memoirs give an insight into life that is so valuable. Well done to the Birr Annual Review who have published many such memoirs since 2001. Back issues of the Birr Annual Review have been uploaded to http://www.offalyhistory.com Ed]

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Serious fires at Birr Castle in 1832 and 1919. Serious Tourism now. Specially contributed to mark the decade of centenaries in County Offaly

Two serious fires took place at Birr Castle within the hundred years from 1832 to 1919. Thankfully there has been nothing like it since and the castle was fortunate to survive the burnings of country houses in the county in the period from June 1922 to April 1923. Birr Castle is the only large house in the county to have survived in the same family since the 1620s. Its Gothic exemplar Charleville Castle, Tullamore also survived the destruction of the Civil War period. Both houses were occupied by the Free State Army from late July 1922.

The fire of 1832, ninety years earlier, was perhaps the most destructive and in its aftermath Laurence Parsons, the second earl of Rosse took the opportunity to add a third storey to the great house that had been substantially rebuilt in 1801–03. Its comrade in Tullamore is dated 1800 to 1812, or 1809 the grand opening – if not quite finished.

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Having fun collecting interesting books, rare and common, but often equally satisfying. Specially contributed

Collecting books on your favourite topics is an ever present challenge that can give great satisfaction  and broaden as well deepen one’s knowledge of a subject. On 8 October 2022 Offaly History Centre is hosting a book fair, such as not seen in the town for three or four years. Many dealers are coming so why not call and talk books from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but don’t get caught in the callows! Bring money and enthusiasm.

Book fair day 8 Oct. The Society has over 50,000 books of which 25,000 are for sale comprising about 3,000 titles. The Society’s 13,000 titles in its library can be viewed on http://www.offalyhistory.com as to the titles. Call if you want to read something including many of the latest Irish history publications.
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Eat, heat and drink: piped water for Tullamore 125 years ago. A contribution to Tullamore 400th from Offaly History

Piped water for Tullamore town was first provided in 1895. In these blogs we have already looked at listings of shops since 1824, the provision of piped gas lighting in 1860 and electricity in 1921. The provision of piped water to a home is a wonderful facility and yet many homes were without it even as recently as fifty years ago. It took a while for the Irish country towns to procure the service largely because the local ratepayers were directly concerned in footing the bill. Tullamore had town commissioners from 1860 and an urban council with more sanitary powers from 1900. The waterworks was undertaken by the board of guardians with the help of loans from the Local Government Board.

Join us on Friday 30th in Millennium Square, Main Street, to see #OffalyHistory blogs presented in a picturesque timeline to celebrate #Tullamore400. We have entertainment from 2pm to 6pm in association with Up Close & Personal Promotions with thanks to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for their #LocalLivePerformance support.

A ready supply of water and of turf for the people of Puttaghan and Clontarf Road. All that was needed was the tea. Pic about 1910.
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Tullamore – Places to visit to mark Tullamore’s 400th anniversary. Contributed by Offaly History with water colours courtesy of Fergal MacCabe

Township could be said to have begun in Tullamore in 1622. On 30 September the anniversary will be marked with an outdoor exhibition of drawings by Fergal MacCabe and a Timeline of Events showing the story of the town since the earliest times. We have covered many stories of Tullamore in over 420 blogs published in this series. All can be accessed on www.offalyhistory.com. For a quick link to all these resources see @offalyhistory

[Offaly Heritage Office writes on 24 9 2022]

Offaly Heritage identifies the wonderful engaging blogs by Offaly History outlining how the town of #Tullamore has developed.

Join us on Friday 30th in Millennium Square, Main Street, to see #OffalyHistory blogs presented in a picturesque timeline to celebrate #Tullamore400. We have entertainment from 2pm to 6pm in association with Up Close & Personal Promotions with thanks to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for their #LocalLivePerformance support.

Visit Offaly Tullamore Chamber

#Offaly #SpaceToExplore #SpaceToGrow ]

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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