Shops and pubs designed by Michael Scott in the 1940s for D.E. Williams. By Fergal MacCabe

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.

D.E. Williams

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.

Continue reading

The limestone quarries of Ballyduff, Tullamore. Part 2. By John Wrafter.

“Some of old stonies will hold their heads high, and carry with them to the grave the feeling that they have left their mark on many a church, and on many a building, and that in years to come, there will be people to admire the work they have left behind them, as we of this generation respect and understand the work of the men of long ago. All men hope for praise of some sort, and it is a nice thing to see a man smile when he knows you are in earnest in liking his work. We become children again, and are mightily pleased with ourselves and want to show that we can do even better.”

From the book Stone Mad by Seamus Murphy, stone carver, 1966.

In this article, I write about some of the fine buildings and monuments in other parts of Ireland built using limestone from the Ballyduff quarries. There is a section on aspects of the lives of stoneworkers in Tullamore in the 19th century, and finally I have a look at a couple of Tullamore families that were prominent in stoneworking over long time periods.

Continue reading

Offaly and the Treaty Debate: widespread acceptance. Specially contributed

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Remembering Lieut. Matthew Kane, Tullamore, died 1 April 1921 in the service of his country. By Michael Byrne

‘Early April 1921.  There was an ambush outside our house, in which a Black and Tan was shot dead.  The Black and Tans forced their way into our house, searched every inch and left a huge mess.  They also left my terrified mother, father and five brothers and sisters.  Three weeks later, I was born & my mother often recounted the fact that after my birth I was a very jumpy baby.’  Nuala Holland (née Mahon, Charleville Road, Tullamore). 

Nuala Mahon was referring to the attacks on the RIC in Tullamore in April 1921 that are matter-of-factly referred to by Sean McGuinness of Kilbeggan in his witness statement, now in the Military Archives (online, p. 29 in the pdf), in what he called ‘onslaughts on Tullamore RI.C. patrols at Charleville Road, New Road, Hayes Cross and Barrack Street, all on 1 April 1921 in which policemen and I.R.A. men were wounded and killed’.

Continue reading

Sgt John Thomas Cannon of Birr

The 12 June 2020 marks the 98thanniversary of the disbandment of the historic Southern Irish infantry regiments of the British Army at Windsor Castle. Disbandment was brought on by economic cuts to the British Army and in part due to the Anglo-Irish agreement. The Royal Irish Regiment, Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Munster Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (and South Irish Horse) all surrendered their colours to King George V for safe keeping. The ceremony took place at 11:30am in St. George’s Hall in Windsor Castle. During the ceremony the King made a promise to safe guard these highly prized colours. The ceremony finished with a royal salute and God Save the King played.

The colour party detachments for each regiment consisted of the regiment’s commanding officer, then three officers and three non-commissioned officers (NCO) for the 1stand 2ndbattalion respectively. One of the NCOs on whom this honour fell was John Thomas Cannon of the Leinster Regiment’s 2nd Battalion. This is John’s story.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The spirit of the Shannon: a journey along the River Shannon in Richard Hayward’s footsteps. Offaly History Centre, Monday 17 Feb. 2020

Shannon Quest Pic 02 'Where the River Shannon flows' is the story of Richard Hayward's 1939 road trip along the river, and was published in 1940

In August 1939 the Irish travel writer Richard Hayward set out on a road trip to explore the Shannon just two weeks before the Second World War broke out. His evocative account of that trip, Where the River Shannon Flows, became a bestseller. The book, still sought after by lovers of the river, captures an Ireland of small shops and barefoot street urchins that has long since disappeared.
Eighty years on, inspired by his work, Paul Clements retraces Hayward’s journey along the river, following – if not strictly in his footsteps – then within the spirit of his trip. From the Shannon Pot in Cavan, 344 kilometres south to the Shannon estuary, his meandering odyssey takes him by car, on foot, and by bike and boat, discovering how the riverscape has changed but is still powerful in symbolism. Paul Clements will be giving an illustrated lecture on Monday 17 Feb. at 8.00 p.m. at the Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore ‘The spirit of the Shannon: a journey along the River Shannon in Richard Hayward’s footsteps’ Admission is €5 and includes tea and biscuits. So why not come along to hear and see this wonderfully illustrated talk.

Continue reading

Flour and fire: the rise and fall of Robert Perry & Co, Belmont Mills

The Perrys originated with Henry Perry, a Quaker from Shanderry, near Mountmellick in Co. Laois. He had five sons, many of whom became successful industrialists. Robert Perry, the eldest, founded Rathdowney Brewery, of Perry’s Ale fame,  and was father to the Perry Brothers who founded Belmont Mills. Another of his sons, James Perry, was a visionary in terms of transport development. He was a director of the Grand Canal Company and then turned his attentions to railway advancement. With the Pims, another Quaker family, he promoted the first railway line in Ireland, the Dublin to Kingstown line. He made a sizeable fortune investing in that company, and then became director of the Great Southern and Western Railway before leading a new group to form the Midland Great Western railway, and the two companies battled it out to win routes west of the country, finally managing to get a train line through Clara in 1859. Continue reading