In Midnight Oil (London, 1971) V.S. Pritchett (1900-97) describes how The Christian Science Monitor sent him to Ireland early in 1923 to write about the Irish Civil War. The Anglo-Irish treaty had been signed, the Irish politicians split, and the two parties were killing each other. When Pritchett arrived the siege of the Four Courts in Dublin was well over and the fighting was drifting away to the south and west. In fact there was not much more than three months left before the Republicans decided to dump arms
On a misleadingly sunny day on the first of February 1923, I took the train from London to Holyhead. In a heavy leather suitcase I carried a volume of Yeats’s poems, an anthology of Irish poetry, Boyd’s Irish Literary Renaissance, Synge’s Plays, and a fanatical book called Priests and People in Ireland by McCabe [McCarthy, 1864–1926, published in 1902], lent to me by a malign Irish stationer in Streatham who told me I would get on all right in Ireland so long as I did not talk religion or politics to anyone and kept the book out of sight. Unknown to myself I was headed for the seventeenth century.
The Irish Sea was calm—thank God—and I saw at last that unearthly sight of the Dublin mountains rising with beautiful false innocence in their violets, greens, and golden rust of grasses and bracken from the sea, with heavy rain clouds leaning like a huge umbrella over the northern end of them. My breath went thin: I was feeling again the first symptoms of my liability to spells. I remember wondering, as young men do, whether somewhere in this city was walking a girl with whom I would fall in love: the harbours of Denmark gave way to Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Hills. The French had planted a little of their sense of limits and reason in me, but already I could feel these vanishing.
Growing up on Clontarf Road, Tullamore, on the banks of the Grand Canal in the 1950s and 1960s I spent many childhood hours playing beside the canal. This was where my father’s family had lived for generations in East View Terrace before he and several of his siblings had acquired houses in Frank Gibney’s new state-of-the-art housing on Clontarf Road. In early teenage years I took to walking the canal line and ventured to Kilgortin Mill and Rahan, where my mother’s people, my grandfather and uncles and a multiplicity of cousins, lived. Not surprisingly the canal got under my skin if not indeed into my bloodstream.
[James Scully is speaking at Bury Quay and via Zoom on Monday 30 Jan at 7.45 p.m. and via Zoom (details below.]
Hiking west from Tullamore the ‘canal line’ took us to exotic locations: The Metal Railway Bridge and slow-moving trains, the inaccessible Srah Castle, Molloy’s Bridge for in-season snowdrops and horse chestnuts and the hugely impressive six-chimneyed Ballycowan Castle, overlooking the imperious and impervious Huband Aqueduct. Rambling east towards Cappancur we soon explored in detail the small aqueduct which seemingly miraculously ushered the Barony River under the canal and were further allured by the rotundity of Boland’s lockhouse and a lock manned by a team of sisters. Graduating to the bicycle we set out along the towpath for far-flung towns and villages: Ballycommon and the Wood-of-O, the Kilbeggan Branch, historic Daingean and the outré but warm and welcoming church at Pollagh.
On the 29th March 1919, 20 IRA Volunteers escaped from Mountjoy jail in broad day light. This escape was planned by Michael Collins on the outside and Piaras Béaslaí on the inside. A prison strike had been taking place in the jail in support of four prisoners who were not being afforded political status. In the lead up to the escape this strike was halted because the escape plan had a better chance of success with a quieter atmosphere in the prison.
The plan was to get Piaras Béaslaí and JJ Murphy both MPs and Padraig Fleming a volunteer from the Swan, Co. Laois out, followed by the four prisoners not being afforded political status. A list of men with long sentences was created and it was decided that men serving short sentences or who had sentences close to completion would not escape. Padraig Fleming had conducted an extraordinary fight for treatment as a political prisoner in Maryborough (Portlaoise) jail, enduring hunger strike, torture and physical mistreatment for months. In Mountjoy he was the Officer Commanding the political prisoners.
The escape was planned for 3 p.m. on Saturday March 29th. On the previous Monday the four prisoners being denied political status broke away from the warders in charge of them and led them on a big chase around the field before being recaptured. As a result, they were kept in a metal cage for exercise and guarded by no less than eleven warders. If these precautions were continued their chances of escape were slight, while the presence of so many warders also presented a serious obstacle to the escape plan. On Fleming’s orders the four prisoners caused no more problems for the warders and the prison authorities were lulled into a false sense of security.
Irish Sporting Lives (Royal Irish Academy, 2022) brings to life sixty figures who in their individual ways illustrate the drama and diversity of Irish sporting history.
This collection of biographical essays draws from the Dictionary of Irish Biography (DIB) and spans 200 years from the early nineteenth century. It is edited by DIB researchers Terry Clavin and Turlough O’Riordan, with an introductory essay by former Tullamore GAA clubman and Offaly Gaelic football coach, Ireland’s foremost sports historian, Professor Paul Rouse.
The biographies in Irish Sporting Lives encompass serial winners and glorious losers, heroes and villains, role models and rogues, enduring legends and forgotten or overlooked greats. Trailblazing women feature prominently, and their stories highlight the adversity they had to overcome in pursuing their sporting dreams. Aside from household names such as George Best, Jack Kyle, Christy Ring, Lady Heath, Alex Higgins and Jack Charlton, the volume will also inform readers about less well-known but equally fascinating figures. These include Vere Goold, the only Wimbledon tennis finalist ever convicted of murder; Dave Gallaher, New Zealand’s most revered rugby captain; and Martin Sheridan, the winner of nine Olympic medals for the USA.
Arthur Griffith died of a heart attack, or stroke, in Dublin on 12 August 1922. He was only 51 and had given a lifetime of service to his country at huge personal cost. To mark the centenary of his death we recall an important contribution from Richard Barry (1880–1978) in 1970 where he set out some of the cultural history of Tullamore in the period before the Rising and the War of Independence. Barry was greatly influenced by the writings of Arthur Griffith in the United Irishman and also by the earlier contributions of William Rooney (1873–1901). Rooney met Griffith probably in 1888 and both were members of the Parnellite Leinster Literary Society, and after 1892 of the Celtic Literary Society. When the United Irishman was launched in 1899, with Griffith as editor, William Rooney was the main contributor and, working together, developed Sinn Féin policy. Rooney’s early death at the age of 27 was a devasting blow to Griffith. William Murphy in the short life of Rooney in DIB cites Michael Collins as describing Rooney in terms normally associated with John the Baptist: ‘Rooney spoke as a prophet. He prepared the way and foresaw the victory’ (Path to freedom, 150).
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.
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.
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.
Tullamore is a well-preserved town and is the county town of Offaly since an act of parliament in 1832 displaced Philipstown (Daingean) which had been the county town since the shiring of Offaly as part of the new colonial government policies in 1557. The new county to be known as King’s County was then comprised of the baronies reflecting the Gaelic lordships of the O’Connors and that of the O Dempseys. The king in question was none other than Philip II of Spain married at that time to the tragic Queen Mary of England (1553–58) hence the new forts of Philipstown and Maryborough (Portlaoise). The county was extended about 1570 to include the territory of the O Molloys (now to be the baronies of Ballycowan, Ballyboy and Eglish) and also that of the Foxes in Kilcoursey and the MacCoghlans in what would be called Garrycastle. In 1605 the territory of the O Carrolls (to form the baronies of Ballybritt and Clonlisk) was added, as also was the parish of Clonmacnoise (1638) at the behest of Terence Coghlan of Kilcolgan. Those looking for an exciting seventeenth-century history for Tullamore will be disappointed as the surviving evidence of town growth in that troubled century is thin. This week we continue to series to mark the 400th anniversary of Tullamore as a town.
Today, 23 March 2022 we mark the 170th anniversary of the death of John de Jean Frazer (1804–1852). A poet and a cabinet-maker, a native of Birr county Offaly he was born into a Presbyterian family. While `J. De Jean` was his preferred nom-de-plume, he also used pseudonyms `Z`, `Y`, `F` and `Maria`.
His first major poem was Eva O`Connor published in 1826, by Richard Milliken, Grafton Street, Dublin. During the 1840s individual poems, increasingly expressing radicalised politics, appeared in newspapers and periodicals of the day including The Nation, The Dublin University Magazine, The United Irishman, The Felon and The Freeman`s Journal.
In 1845 a substantial number of his poems were gathered together and published as Poems for the People by J. Browne, Nassau Street, Dublin. This collection contained eighty-two poems, a mixture of lyrical and polemical pieces.
[An article on de Jean Frazer appeared in the 1903 issue of Tullamore’s Ard na hEireann magazine by Sean MacCaoilte (Forrestal, d. October 1922) and as such was part of the cultural context for the Gaelic League and the Irish Cultural Revival in the Tullamore locality. Thanks to Offaly Archives which holds a copy. Ed.]