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
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
A contribution to marking the Decade of Centenaries in Offaly and recalling the past generations and the towns and villages on the eve of the War of Independence
In marking the years from 1912 to 1923 we may think that the years around 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War were times of unmitigated strife. Not so. Normal life continued, if punctuated by violent acts, such as the shooting of policemen in Kinnitty, Kilbeggan or Tullamore. The finding of bodies of spies, ‘the disappeared’, in Mountbolus or Puttaghaun. The holding of brief gunbattles in Ballycommon or Charleville Road. Worst of all the organised state violence condoned by Churchill and Lloyd George in the form of the Black and Tans racing through towns and villages in the dead of night and taking shots at anything that moved. Yet normal life continued and no better illustrated than by the issue, almost every week, (Offaly Independent excepted as the printing works was destroyed by British forces ) of the three or four local papers in Offaly and from time to time trade supplements or special publications such as trade directories that very much illustrate local business in most of the Offaly towns. Recently Offaly History acquired the 1919 MacDonald’s Trade Directory for Ireland to add to its collection at Bury Quay, Tullamore.
This weekend sees the start of Heritage Week 2022 and a very welcome return to exploring the county in person with some great material coming on-line too from Offaly History. We are launching six new videos via Offaly History YouTube and Heritage Week 2022. Our thanks to Amanda Pedlow, county heritage officer for all who work in coordinating the programme. She writes:
With over 30 events here is a reminder for Saturday’s events as a starter’…@offalyheritage @HeritageHubIRE Our thanks to Fergal MacCabe for the use of three of his wonderful watercolours of Srah Castle (1588), Ballycowan (1626) and Bury Bridge (1801).
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. 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.
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.
Early 1922 saw just two local organs of public opinion in Offaly – the Midland Tribune and the King’s County Chronicle. The Tribune was owned by the long-term nationalist Mrs Fanning, widow of the late Dr Fanning and herself active in regard to Sinn Féin policy on amalgamation of the workhouses. Her editor was James Pike from Roscore, long-term supporter of Sinn Féin who was now ready to recommend acceptance of the Treaty. So also was Archie Wright, owner of the Protestant and unionist Birr-based Chronicle. The Offaly Independent was more representative of North Offaly, but its printing works had been destroyed by crown forces in November 1920 and did not re-emerge until late spring 1922. During the course of 2022 we plan to bring you articles on the evolving situation in Ireland and Offaly in 1922 and we will be looking into the Offaly Archives, Offaly History Centre and Offaly Libraries to dig deeper for the nuggets.
On the road to Birr, and not far from Kilcormac, are the classical gate piers of Temora – all that is left now of the home of the family of Magawly family. This Catholic family owned much of Kilcormac and, after a long legal battle, had the benefit of the articles of the Treaty of Limerick and were able to retain some of their lands. Temora may have been built in the 1750s or 1760s and the naming of the house possibly had an eye to the poem, Temora, of 1763 by James Macpherson. The illustrious history of the Magawly family can be recalled in the memorial inscription in the Catholic church in Kilcormac, placed there a few years after the completion of that church in 1867. The family had been obliged to sell the last of their landholding in 1852, but the pressure was on from the mid-1840s when the process servers were sniffing about. Money problems may have gone back at least 100 years earlier to the 1740s and 1750s when much of the Magawly landholdings were sold by way of long leases. The house itself was occupied by the Free State army in the early 1920s and destroyed by arson about 1930.
There are only a few studies available on the development of retailing in Ireland, either of a general nature or in connection with particular firms. It is well known that in the first half of the nineteenth century and up to the Famine years retail outlets were not widely available and many in the smaller towns were no better than huxter shops. There were exceptions and that is clear from the photographs of c. 1900 of shops such as Williams. Egan, Goodbody and Lumley (in Tullamore); O’Brien in Edenderry and O’Meara and Fayles in Birr. In looking at the revolutionary period from 1912 to 1921 to mark the decade of centenaries it is also worth looking at revolutions in other areas such as transport, energy and shopping. Like the political revolution retailing exhibited signs of stress after 1921 and did not recover until the coming of the supermarkets to the provincial towns in the 1960s.
The trade directories, and from the 1840s the valuation records, will facilitate investigation of retail outlets. By the 1860s living standards had improved and this is reflected in the increasing number of shops; per capita tobacco consumption rose to English standards about 1870 and per capita consumption of tea was not far off the English level by the end of the 1870s. The considerable economic progress of the early 1870s, began to slow down by the end of that decade. The 1880s is looked on as a period of industrial crisis with industries closing down in all the principal towns, or destroyed by fire as with the Goodbody tobacco factory in Tullamore and the Birr distillery in 1889.The railways and the canals (especially in the midlands) facilitated the easy removal of heavy goods and livestock from towns all over Ireland, but it also left it easier to import foods easily and cheaply. As a result, the Irish industrial base (such as it was, especially in southern Ireland) receded while the retail and services sector began to grow albeit slowly.
Change is always about but perhaps more so since ‘Nine Eleven’ 2001 and March 2020 than we care to appreciate. Changes in eating out in Tullamore’s streets in recent days would have come as a shock to our predecessors of 1914. We are not Spain as Brewery Tap owner, Paul Bell, recently remarked but the fine weather and the adoption of coffee over tea are all helping. In the interior things are changing too. The love of banking halls is gone and now it is all doors and screens as new ways of working come in. The new county offices inTullamore (2002), and in many other buildings, may yet have to be reconfigured, and as for nightclubs what are we to do. On top of that some Tullamore municipal councillors are talking of revisiting our list of Protected Structures to remove those buildings that cannot be sold and are falling down.
All this talk of change, inside and out, suggests that we look again at what we had in the way of streetscapes before that period of great turbulence when Ireland was on the verge of Home Rule and Partition was unmentionable. It was ‘The Sunday before the War’ time. Thanks to the work of photographer Robert French (1841–1917) and the Lawrence Studio (1865–1942) we can look back, not in anger or nostalgia, but in awe at what was achieved in our towns over the period from the 1740s to 1914, but more especially in the years of growth and prosperity from 1891 to the First World War.
The Lawrence Collection of some 40,000 photographs are well known. Perhaps less so that the online catalogue from the National Library (nli.ie) is in large format, high resolution, for the Offaly towns, allowing us to dig down/zoom in to see the detail that escapes one looking at the ubiquitous printed photograph in the pub or the tablemat. There are almost 200 Lawrence photographs for the Offaly towns and villages. For Tullamore there are at least 17, for Birr over 70, Banagher 3, Clara 20, Edenderry over 16, Portarlington 18, Kilcormac 12 including four placed in County Cavan, Clonmacnoise at least 33, Kinnitty 3, Mountbolus 1, and perhaps more to be identified. These figures are estimates and likely to change such as one of the earliest for Tullamore (late 1890s perhaps) that became available in recent years, or at least better known and the subject of this blog.