The D.E. Williams branch shops in the midlands, 1884–1921: A revolution in retailing. By Michael Byrne

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 Williams head office with the Barrack Patrick Street shop to the right before more intensive motorised transport from 1915. Branch house managers were appointed of which the last under the old system (before the switch to supermarkets) was T.V. Costello.

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.

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Agriculture in Offaly on the eve of the Great Famine. By Ciarán Reilly

On the eve of the Great Famine in 1845 the backwardness of Irish agriculture was seen by many as the reason for much of the country’s economic woes. About Irish farmers, it was stated that they knew nothing of the ‘English’ method of farming or indeed welcomed its arrival. However, there was amongst many Irish landlords, and their agents, a growing understanding of the benefits of the ‘science’ of agriculture and many had willingly adopted such methods in the management of their estates. In particular, many land agents were the leading pioneers of better agricultural practice. The employment of agriculturalists; the establishment of agricultural societies and the trips undertaken to observe foreign models of agriculture all highlight the progression of Irish agriculture by the early 1840s.

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Dancing in Ireland since the 1920s: Your recollections needed. Maria Luddy

Many readers and their parents will have great recollections of the dancing scene in Ireland. You can help write the history. Share your thoughts and send on the stories needed to build a picture of the dancing scene in Ireland. Many will recall Je t’aime played in the 1960s in St Mary’s Hall, or the Harriers, Tullamore. But what about the County Ballroom and the parish halls in Clara, Birr, Rahan, Killeigh and so many more. Did dancing bring about the ‘ruin of virtue’?

Dancing has always been a source of expression, fun and entertainment in Ireland.  People danced at the crossroads, in each other’s houses, at social events, festivals, and in licensed dancehalls all around the country.  From the early twentieth century the Catholic hierarchy became particularly concerned with the opportunities that might arise for sexual immorality in dancehalls.  In October 1925 the bishops and archbishops of Ireland issued a statement which was to be read at ‘the principal masses, in all churches on the first Sunday of each quarter of the ecclesiastical year.’ The statement referred to the ‘evils of dancing’ and it was ‘a grave and solemn warning to the people with regard to the spiritual dangers associated with dancing’.  The statement noted: ‘We know too well the fruit of these [dance] halls all over the country. It is nothing new, alas, to find Irish girls now and then brought to shame, and retiring to the refuge of institutions or the dens of great cities. But dancing halls, more especially, in the general uncontrol of recent years, have deplorably aggravated the ruin of virtue due to ordinary human weakness. They have brought many a good innocent girl into sin, shame and scandal, and set her unwary feet on the road that leads to perdition’.  The behaviour of the men did not elicit much comment. From the mid-1920s and throughout the early 1930s there were constant references in the newspapers to the problems of dancehalls and motor cars.  In 1931 Cardinal McRory combined the two and saw a growing evil in ‘the parking of cars close to dancehalls in badly lighted village streets or on dark country roads.  Cars so placed are used … by young people for sitting out in the intervals between dances’.  ‘Joy-riding’ had a very different connotation in the period than it does now.  Reporting on a sermon by the bishop of Galway, the Irish Independent noted that ‘joy-riding’ was conducted by ‘Evil men – demons in human form come from outside the parish and outside the city – to indulge in this practice.  They lure girls from the town to go for motor drives into the country, and you know what happens… it is not for the benefit of the motor drive.  It is for something infinitely worse’.

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The Egans of Moate and Tullamore. By Maurice Egan

Who were the Egans and where did they come from? What national and international impact did they have on nineteenth century Irish political reform? How did they become successful lawyers and businesspeople? For many years, my cousin David and I would pose and tease out these and many other unanswered questions. Too often the anecdotal and evidential answers were vague at best and often hearsay or random recollections from family members. We both eventually concluded that there was enough intrigue to pique our interest into doing proper research on the period of social history of the 1800s and early 1900s. We discovered a treasure trove of fascinating stories which we felt warranted publishing.

Why write this book now, one may ask? The surviving older Egan generation have fond memories of the days past and several of them learned the business of business and held their first jobs in the family firm. Many local people also retain fond memories of the firm and the employment offered to themselves and their antecedents. Continue reading

AN TOSTAL  Art and Archaeology in Tullamore in the 1950s. Fergal MacCabe

 

19540424 OI historical display

 

A Golden Age

Consumed by political and economic turmoil, the first half of the 20th century was a fallow period for the visual arts and archaeological scholarship in Ireland and certainly Offaly was no different. The post-war period dominated by scarcity and emigration, was particularly stifling.

The first glimmerings of change came with the national festival of An Tóstal in 1953. Emulating the very successful Festival of Britain two years earlier, its primary intention was to boost tourism in the Easter off peak period – or as the poet Patrick Kavanagh called it ‘The Monsoon Season’.

Whether or not the festival brought any tourists to Ireland or not is debatable but it certainly had a dynamic cultural impact, particularly outside of Dublin. Local societies emerged to organise exhibitions of arts, crafts and heritage. An awareness of the need for civic improvements led to the Tidy Towns movement. Most importantly, a spirit of optimism and openness was created.

This sense of a new beginning was particularly evident in Tullamore where a small local elite led by individuals with connections to the Dublin art and theatrical world were beginning to promote a more open and less traditional approach.

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DRAYTON VILLA, CLARA: ‘a handsome residence, a good home neatly furnished’. By Michael Goodbody

 

It was lately announced that Drayton Villa, Clara and some lands adjoining are to be acquired by Offaly County Council for public purposes. Offaly History asked Michael Goodbody to contribute this piece on the story of this important house. He is currently working on ‘One Hundred years of Clara History’ to be published later this year and from a preview we can say that it will represent an important contribution to the story of Clara from the 1840s to the 1940s. Thanks to Michael Goodbody for the article and the pictures. We have added the subheadings.

Drayton Villa 1920s (courtesy Stephen Williamson)
Drayton Villa (courtesy Stephen Williamson)

Drayton Villa, built by Lewis Frederick Goodbody in the mid-nineteenth century, is largely untouched by more recent additions and alterations, so that many of its original features are intact. The main block of three bays, with a basement underneath, dates from 1849. There can be no disputing this date for it is recorded by Lydia Goodbody – future sister-in-law of Lewis – in her diary entries for that year.

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How did we cope with Cholera in Offaly in the 1830s? Edited from an article by Dr Tim O’Neill in Offaly Heritage (2003).

005a Library
The Offaly County Hospital, Church Street, Tullamore, had 50 beds while the population in 1841 was twice what is is now.

Cholera was the epidemic disease most feared around the world in the nineteenth century.A letter from Tullamore of 1832 describes the devestating disease of cholera. ‘We had 165 deaths. All bridges to the town are cut and broken. Every house is shut up and there is no such thing as business. Men who would eat their breakfact in perfect health would be buried before dinner.’

In the eighteenth century neighbouring countries began to suffer from the disease and in the nineteenth century it attacked Europe. Cholera spread around the world in great epidemics from its traditional base in the Indian sub-continent and carried with it high mortality rates, severe suffering and terrifying symptoms. These began in 1817 but the first wave did not reach Europe and was halted temporarily at the shores of the Caspian Sea. From there in 1829 it spread rapidly through Europe. It arrived in Ireland around St Patrick’s Day 1832. This was the most serious cholera outbreak in Ireland in the nineteenth century and it has been estimated that 25,378 people died during that epidemic. The Irish death rate was high when compared to other countries for the same period.

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Some Egan family members enter the church: Brothers, Sisters and Cousins: Ireland 1850-1918. By Maurice Egan

 

Background: Ireland 1850 to 1918
The emergence of an Irish Catholic religious revival can be traced back to mid-1770s. Tony Fahey writes of the ‘Catholic Revival in Ireland’, being a major feature of 19th century Irish history affecting politics, culture and social structure.
The punitive Penal Laws discriminated against and marginalised the Catholic church and were instrumental in ensuring that the 18th century Irish Catholic church was in disarray. Certainly, it was disorganised, had few priests and often places of worship and human internment, were by law, positioned away from places of population density. Continue reading

The Midlands of Ireland 50 Years Ago. Closure of P & H. Egan Limited 31 July 1968. By Maurice Egan

Patrick Egan senior, was born in 1805, at Moate, County Westmeath. He was an alumnus of the King’s Inns, Dublin and a lifelong friend of fellow alumni, The Emancipator, Daniel O’Connell. During a heated discussion in the House of Commons, in February 1835, O’Connell proposed Patrick Egan as candidate for the position of Sessional Crown Solicitor, County Westmeath. This position Egan subsequently held for forty years. Additionally, Patrick Egan was a successful merchant and trader, with extensive buildings and stores on Main Street, Moate.

Trading under the name P. Egan and Sons, the business thrived. Patrick married Eliza Barton of Clara and they had six sons and two daughters. In 1852 he decided to expand and to set up his sons, Patrick and Henry, in business, and called the business, P. & H. Egan. He bought the Bridge House premises and extensive yards, on Bridge Street, Tullamore. Continue reading

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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