All over the world, as maritime trade moves downstream and heavy goods are transported by motorway, redundant docks and harbours have become prime targets for urban redevelopment. In my work as a town planning consultant, I visited renewal schemes from Buenos Aires to Barcelona and from Boston to Bilbao. Some have been very successful – others less so. Two common problems with many schemes is that they are either remote from the centre of the city with consequent costs and difficulties in integrating them seamlessly into the urban fabric or else they have to be developed as stand-alone districts; which can tend to have a rather soulless character- particularly if the dominant use is commercial offices.
With a few notable exceptions (Liverpool and Galway certainly, but even these are on the edge rather than within the centre of the city) the opportunity to integrate a large waterbody into the very heart of an urban area is rare, if not unique. That is why the now mooted redevelopment of Tullamore’s canal harbour is of such significance and offers such extraordinary opportunities.
The Old Harbour
When I was growing up in Tullamore in the 1950s, commercial traffic on the Grand Canal was at its height as barges brought Guinness to Limerick and turf to Dublin. Recreational boating was rare but increasing and the arrival of a visiting cruiser was still an event. Though it was a busy place, my recollection of the harbour is that it was relatively open and accessible and was so public that some of us kids made rafts and sailed or swam around it.
Sometime in the 1960s, the harbour became the central depot for the maintenance and repair of the waterways network in the Midlands. Surrounded on all sides by high walls and rendered virtually invisible, it became an enclosed commercial property and public access or activity was discouraged. Over the years the memory of it as an attractive and vibrant part of the town gradually died.
A New Quarter for the Town
Gladly, change is at last at hand. The redevelopment and reintegration of the harbour into the heart and life of the town has become a priority project for the bodies that matter. Identified by the recently adopted Eastern and Midlands Regional Strategy as a key driver in the renewal of the centre of Tullamore, it will be eligible for renewal funding from the Regeneration and Development Fund. Offaly County Council and the owners of the harbour, Waterways Ireland are combining their skills and powers to deliver the project.
Though it may have to await the next tranche of funding in 2027, it is now possible for the people of Tullamore to begin to imagine the enjoyment of a development of hopefully world class quality. Like any major but worthwhile project, there will inevitably be setbacks and disappointments, but by making it a designated objective in the regional and local plans, the right initial steps have been taken and it is now only a matter of time before things begin to happen. What are the likely next steps?
Poor Law Unions from 1838
The development of local government institutions in County Offaly can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century when poor law unions under boards of guardians were established at Roscrea, Birr, Mountmellick, Edenderry and Tullamore. Each union had its workhouse financed by the striking of a poor law rate. The board of guardians, most of whom were elected by the rate payers, were entrusted with the management of the workhouse, but subject to detailed control from a central authority, the poor law commissioners. Continue reading →
The Brigade Activity Reports (BAR) series of the Military Service (1916–1923) Pensions Collection, released by the Military Archive recently were compiled from 1935 onwards to assist in the verification of individual applications for pensions; nearly all of the reports include brief descriptions of particular operations undertaken or planned including some in Tullamore, the attacks on Clara barracks, Kinnitty, Raheen and more. A new publication, a Guide to the Brigade Activity Reports is available from the Military Archive and a copy can be downloaded there free of charge (hard copy in Offaly History Centre Library). The published guide contains useful essays together with listings of Brigade activity in Offaly, the diversionary attack at Geashill, the killing of Sgt Cronin and the death of Matthew Kane, IRA Volunteer. Last week we looked briefly at the killing of Sergeant Cronin and this week the aftermath. But first a mention of what else is contained in the BAR for Offaly.
Offaly had a small but significant part in the early years of military aviation. In September 1913 Offaly was an important base for some of the earliest uses of aircraft in the annual British Army manoeuvres; some of the Royal Flying Corps’ earliest crashes took place in Offaly during those operations. Approximately 85 men who served in the Allied flying services were born or from Offaly, but their impact was far greater than would be expected. Ferbane hosted an operational wartime base at ‘RAF Athlone’, and there was a landing ground at Birr during the 1918-1920 mobilisation period.
At the beginning of the centenary commemorations for the War, at the Theatre of Memory Symposium at the Abbey Theatre in 2014, President Higgins spoke of the commemorative activities in terms of myth-making and ethical remembering. He remarked that ‘for years the First World War has stood as a blank space in memory for many Irish people – an unspoken gap in the official narratives of this state’. He suggested that ‘literary memoirs written during or after the War can be enabling sources for ethical remembering’ and advocated using the commemorative period to create ‘opportunities to recollect the excluded, to include in our narratives the forgotten voices and the lost stories of the past’. In the aftermath of the death in the last few years of all the veterans of the War, to find these stories and these voices we must go back to the archives and seek out the diaries, memoirs letters and photographs of those who served. The Library in Trinity has a fascinating collection of this kind of material, gifted and bequeathed over the decades and, to mark the centenary of the War, the Library decided to publish this material online.
Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails is the name given to the online project which allows free access not only to digitised images of over 1500 pages of WW1 letters and diaries from the Library’s special collections, but transcriptions of the texts are also provided. There are nine war-time authors involved – almost all officers – and altogether they produced three sets of letters, four diaries (including a very brief home-front diary by the single female author among them) and three memoirs (two of which are prisoner-of-war accounts). The authors served on both Western and Eastern fronts, and ranged in age from twenty years of age to thirty-three. Two of them won Military Crosses, and one of them received the DSO having been mentioned in despatches seven times. This was Charles Howard-Bury – the oldest of our authors; he was born in Charleville Castle, Co. Offaly in 1881 and was a career military man who went with the British army to India in 1904. He was present at the Battle of the Somme and was eventually taken prisoner in 1918.
In the decades before the Great Famine of the late-1840s numerous parliamentary inquiries were held into the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland. Political and social elites wished to understand the nature of Ireland’s seemingly endemic poverty in the hope of improving the social, economic and moral condition of the peasantry, as well as quelling the country’s tendency for social upheaval and political radicalism. The most significant of these inquiries was the Royal Commission for Inquiring into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland (aka the Poor Inquiry). Chaired by the Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin Richard Whately (1787-1863), the commission sat between 1833 and 1836, holding extensive public inquiries (akin to court sittings) in parishes throughout the country, supplemented by extensive correspondence with persons of significance across the island, as to the social condition of the poor in their locality. The printed output of the commission – totalling more than 5,000 pages of detailed information, witness testimonies and statistics – constitutes an unparalleled source for the study of poverty in the pre-Famine period. The Poor Inquiry reports tell us much about County Offaly (King’s County) a decade before the Great Famine. Continue reading →
As Patrick Kavanagh might have put it, I was ten Christmasses of age and living in a place called Clerhane, a townland some two miles south of Clonmacnoise.
We were farmers, and there were five of us residing on the farm, my maternal grandparents, my uncle Joe, my mother and I. My father for economic reasons worked in Dublin, and I would only see him three times a year, the Easter break perhaps three days, his summer holidays that took place during the first two weeks in August, and of course for Christmas break which generally lasted two or three days depending, on how Christmas fell. You can imagine the excitement that built up in me as a child with the prospect of the approaching Christmas.
The Christmas I am talking about was 1954, indeed as time would prove, my last Christmas residing in west Offaly, as the following summer my mother and I moved to Dublin to live with my father, who had just purchased a house.
1954 is best remembered for the floods, the river Shannon reaching the highest level since 1925. I remember soldiers from Athlone assisting the farmers that year with the harvest. Folk were really looking forward to the bit of Christmas cheer.
Congratulations to the people of Offaly in having secured as their member Ireland’s Ambassador to America. Their unanimous endorsement of his mission is particularly opportune. Dr McCartan will voice a united Ireland’s demand that the Irish people be given the right of self-determination and will tell the world that Irishmen will not fight as England’s slaves.
De Valera telegram to Dan MacCarthy, Dr Patrick McCartan’s election agent for the North King’s County by-election, April 1918. Irish Independent, 20 April 1918.
This week we publish a day earlier to mark the 100th anniversary of the General Election of 14 December 1918 – a watershed in the history of politics in Ireland. It should be noted that apart from the by-election of 1914 in North King’s County (Banagher-Tullamore-Edenderry district) no opportunity arose for the north King’s County parliamentary voters to go to the ballot box between 1885 and 1922. Notwithstanding all the excitement in 1918 for both the by-election in April and the general election in December Dr McCartan was unopposed. Women who had fought so much for the vote in the pre-war years did not get a chance to exercise the parliamentary franchise in north Offaly until 1922.
The Parker Brothers of Clara and John Martin of Tullamore. One of the Parker boys was killed as was John Martin on 8 October 1918.
There was very little published work relating to Offaly in World War I until recent times. The 1983 essay by Vivienne Clarke was a first and rare examination of the period in Offaly, until Tom Burnell’s Offaly War Dead in 2010, and 2014’s Edenderry in the Great War by Catherine Watson. And so nearly every essay published in Offaly and the Great War which was launched to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War represents new and original historical research and findings, a very exciting prospect in the world of history publishing.The seventeen contributors have submitted essays that cover every aspect of the war and from almost all corners of the county.
In July 2018 an interesting Great War campaign medal appeared on eBay, a single 1914–15 Star awarded to Private Frederick McDonald of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The description provided by the seller stated that Frederick was born in Birr, and that he had been killed in action during the war.
Further research unravels a forgotten story, which gives insight into the life of Frederick and his family. It is a story not too dissimilar among the many working class Catholic families in Birr, because serving in the British Army was a source of steady employment and a means to support a family.