‘The town of Birr or Parsonstown, is the prettiest inland town in Ireland.’ – The Illustrated London News of 1843.

A two-page feature on Birr and its new telescope (s) was featured in the Illustrated London News of 9 September 1843. It was the first such international treatment for Birr and was combined with valuable illustrations of the town. It was also the first treatment by a national or international publisher promoting ‘Offaly Tourism’. It was the third earl of Rosse who organised the publicity for Birr and was now on the UK stage himself with his presidency of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

The window on Birr would be the first of many arising from the completion of the larger telescope in 1845. Birr town was the principal settlement in Offaly since the 1650s and was the premier shopping town, as is clear from the Pigot directory of 1824. Cooke would go on to write of the town’s significant history in his 1826 book – a first in the midlands and just six years after Hardiman’s Galway. What is interesting about the article of 1843 was the active role given to Mary Rosse in her work in the demesne and the town of Birr.

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Grand Juries in Ireland: the politics of power in the counties. By Michael Byrne

The county grand jury system will be the subject of much focus from mid-2022 with the uploading of links to the county archives records throughout Ireland by way of the Beyond 2022:Virtual Record Treasury Project. The first thing to say is that a useful and well-illustrated booklet People, Place and Power: the grand jury system in Ireland (Brian Gurrin with David Brown, Peter Crooks and Ciarán Wallace, online 2021) can now be downloaded from the Beyond 2022 website as well as useful material from the county archives in Offaly, Wicklow and Donegal. Furthermore, Brian Gurrin has published online an interim listing of the records held in each county. The scope of the records is well illustrated and draws on more detailed catalogues for counties such as Offaly and Donegal where listings are available on the online catalogues from the county archives. For more on Offaly material see the blog and presentation by Lisa Shortall now on YouTube and as a video on the Offaly History Decade of Centenaries platform on http://www.offalyhistory.com.

In summary the access position to these records will be revolutionised within the year and will greatly facilitate family historians, those interested in the workings of local government and how local elites interacted. What elite families provided the power brokers and controlled local patronage? All were men, most were landowners, representative of the county families, and, of course, most were Protestant from the early 1700s and the enactment of the Penal Laws. It was not until the Catholic Relief Act of 1793 that Catholics were admitted, and being a select club were scarce until the 1830s.

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Profitless Bog- The impact of energy generation on the landscape of the Midlands. By Fergal MacCabe

‘….The lean road flung over profitless bog,

Where only a snipe could nest…

…..The soft and dreary midlands, with their tame canals,

Wallow between sea and sea, remote from adventure….’

‘Dublin Made Me’      Donagh MacDonagh

Lumcloon

Once a month, my uncle Billy Holohan who was the Assistant County Engineer for West Offaly, would come to Tullamore to report to his superior, the County Engineer Tom Duggan, in the courthouse. 

After the meeting he would sometimes pick me up from my mother’s house in Clonminch and bring me to stay with himself and his wife Nell in Gallen Lodge in Ferbane. The highlight of the journey, for both of us, was an inspection of the progress on the construction of the two cooling towers of Lumcloon Power Station.

We watched as immense rings of slim, angled columns emerged and were tied together by large circular bands to form the base from which the structures would rise. Over the next few years we marvelled at the gradual ascent of the elegantly modulated shapes, first curving inwards and then subtly outwards to form a lip. Billy tried to explain to me the structural engineering concepts behind the design, but as a small boy I could only marvel at the height and sheer scale of the undertaking.

An impression of the proposed mills at Leamanaghan. Very high and very prolific. Our thanks to Kenneth Smyth for this picture.

Leamanaghan Castle

Unusually for an engineer, Billy had a deep interest in history. He brought me along on his site inspections and introduced me to Clonmacnoise and Sier Kieran. His favourite stop on our return journey to Tullamore was Leamanaghan where we roamed amongst the remains of the Monastery. He delighted in showing me the hoof mark inside the gate of the school which marked the passage of St Manchan’s stolen cow and  then brought me over the fields to St Mella’s Kell which I still believe is one of the most romantic spots in Ireland.

Lemanaghan Castle, top left. This was where the Annals of Clonmacnoise was completed. The castle was demolished in the 1950s as was Kilcolgan nearby to provide filler. Courtesy of Offaly Archives

Then in 1959, in an act which was deeply symbolic of Ireland in that peculiar time between economic stagnation and rapid growth, Leamanaghan Castle was bulldozed to provide hardcore for works at Lumcloon Power Station. The Castle, which was derelict but still substantial, had been the ancestral home of the Mac Coghlans. Cardinal Rinuccini had stayed there (or more likely nearby Kilcolgan, also demolished) during his time as Papal Nuncio to the Confederation of Kilkenny and the Annals of Clonmacnoise were translated into English in the house. I was dumbfounded but hadn’t the courage to ask Billy whether it was the ESB or the County Council who were responsible.

Cooling towers of the old economy, so succesful for Offaly from the 1950s to the 2000s in regard to employment.

The Cooling Towers

The cooling towers were completed and over the years, became part of the public perception of the Midland landscape.

Driving westwards you knew you were approaching Kildare and Offaly when the Allenwood towers became visible, then Portarlington and Rhode emerged with Lumcloon in the far distance. Their harmonic shapes complemented Croghan, Endrim and Bellair hills and provided  points of vertical interest in an otherwise soft and dreary plain. The bogs, which had been perceived for centuries as profitless and impassable were now a proud testimony to national energy self-sufficiency and local technological advance.  

However, with the passage of time, what was originally considered a solution, became a problem and peat extraction began to be wound down with grievous personal and economic consequences which are still being felt. The Power Stations were closed, their towers and buildings demolished and their sites converted to other uses. 

Portarlington was the second last to go. At 10.30 on the morning of the 4th of April 1997, the cooling tower that had taken three years to build and stood for forty seven years, vanished in three seconds at the hands of an English demolition expert who already had many redundant cooling towers on his c.v..

Futile last minute efforts to save it were led by the Heritage Council and a local preservation group organised by Progressive Democrat Senator, Cathy Honan.  Architect Gerard Carty of Clonbullogue, now a director of the world famous Grafton Architects, wrote in protest that the Power Station was  ‘A monument to those visionaries who grafted a semi-industrial outlook onto the principally agricultural psyche of the Midlands’.  Their protests crumbled in the face of the ESB’s assertion that  ’ It was built for power generation and that function is over’.

The crowds watching the spectacle of the demolition were serenaded by local accordionist Louis Melia who played his composition ’The Tower I Loved So Well’  during the countdown to the explosion. 

An era had ended and the advent of wind power was at hand.

Wind Turbines

Because of the absence of nearby dwellings but with existing connections to the national grid, the Midland bogs were identified very early on as first choice locations for large scale wind energy generation. But, whatever about their ecological impacts, the visual impacts of turbines can be a lot more substantial than those of cooling towers.

Unlike one or two isolated towers, turbines spread haphazardly over large areas of the landscape. Though man-made, their scale and large array results in their being read as part of the natural landscape itself- which can be visually disturbing. As the blades rotate in different cycles, they can often cause visual irritation, even from very far away. The scale of the turbines can be incongruous and though they are generally no higher than the former cooling towers, there are a lot more of them. All in all, their visual impacts are significant and often unassimilable. But then, maybe the cooling towers were also, but in the 1950s any development was welcome, while today’s affluence allows us to make choices.

But whether it is cooling towers or turbines, the greatest sensitivity should always be shown when their development impinges on historic sites. Leamonaghan paid a price for the construction of Lumcloon and shouldn’t be put in the firing line a second time.

The old world that was partly destroyed in the 1950s.But the shrine at Lemanaghan survived in its original locus. A remarkable survival in its locale. Ballycumber castle was used for filler as was Kilcolgan. So much for heritage in 1920s to 1960s Ireland. Heritage was in a linguistic form only and divorced from real life. So much empty platitudes.

A Flashpoint

With the imminent lodgement by Bord na Mona of its proposal for a 17-turbine wind farm with blade heights of up to 220 m, the bogland island of Leamanaghan with its ancient monastery and graveyard will be in the forefront of the conflict between architectural heritage and power generation. Preliminary images show turbines dominating its surrounding landscape on its northern side.

However, just as in the 1950s, the likelihood is that national energy needs will trump all other considerations- particularly in the light of the recent correspondence from the Office of the Planning Regulator directing the Council to dramatically increase Offaly’s megawatt production.

This should not mean that the vulnerable character of Leamanaghan be disregarded, but that the most careful consideration needs to be given to the interface between it and the future wind farm. As one of the most sensitive locations in Offaly (and also to make restitution for the shameful razing of the Castle) the balance of the argument should favour the protection of its history and beauty.

The windmills of the past or a message of hope. Lemanaghan 120 years ago before the data centres and when most things were in the head of the local person and not in the Cloud. Courtesy of Offaly Archives

A Return to Profitless Bog?

As wind replaces peat extraction, it is not unthinkable that it may in turn be replaced by a less visually obtrusive or ecologically harmful form of energy production.Turbines last for about twenty years before they need replacement and a point may come when this is no longer economical.

In March of this year the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe declared that ‘Nuclear energy can be a critical component of a decarbonised energy system for those member states that choose to consider it as a part of their sustainable development and climate change strategy’. It will be interesting to see how other European countries respond to the technological advances which are now delivering safer nuclear energy.

I wonder if in seventy- or eighty-years’ time, as the last of the turbines come down and the land gently recedes back into its ancient role of profitless bog abounding in nesting snipe, will a small and nostalgic group emerge to campaign for the preservation of the remaining few of these iconic structures?

With thanks to Fergal MacCabe

Fergal MacCabe 

September 2021

Text: Fergal MacCabe

Pics and captions: Offaly History

Geoff Oakley, newspaperman, Birr and Tullamore, died 21 September 2021, editor of the Tullamore Tribune, 1978-94. By Seamus Dooley and Offaly History

We were sorry to hear of the death of that great newspaperman Geoff Oakley who died on 21 September in his 93rd year. Geoff and his late wife Dorothy, who died in March 2020, had no immediate family but that is only in the narrow sense. Their children were the people of Offaly and both, in their respective occupations, provided care and nourishment on a 24 7 basis to all, but especially those who needed care and a kind word. Dorothy and Geoff married in 1972. They had met after a service in their local Church of Ireland and it was a case of love at first sight and lifelong companionship.

The launch of the Tullamore Tribune in May 1978: Geoff Oakley (G.V.) seen here second from left. From l to r: Buddy Burke, Geoff, Phyllis Byrne, and James I. Fanning.

Geoff started in the local press about 1945 with the old Offaly Chronicle and when it was purchased by James I. Fanning in 1948 moved to the Midland Tribune. As such he was the last link with this newspaper that was started in Birr in 1845 and was owned by the Wright family from the 1870s. In 1978 Geoff became the editor of the new Tullamore Tribune and remained at the helm until Ger Scully took over in 1994.  Geoff made a singular contribution to the saving of the hospital in Tullamore in the mid-1970s with the help of the Offaly Committee to save the Hospital. Week after week the articles poured out and the pressure that was piled on secured the hospital and paved the way for the new hospital from the late 1990s.

The first office of the Tullamore Tribune in Church Street, Tullamore. Beside Mrs Dalton’s, then the only used clothes shop in Tullamore. Picture about 1980. Tullamore Superstars on the poster may help to date this one. It be may be Ray Quinn’s music store to the left.

Geoff saw in groups such as Junior Chamber all that was good about civic life and reported its doings and that of so many other voluntary bodies. A lover of music he was a strong member of the Tullamore Gramophone Society and often gave the recital. He and Dorothy were keen travellers across the globe as backpackers. They were both pivotal members of OSPCA and many animals found good homes as a result of their work. This writer had the pleasure of meeting him in August in Shinrone. How well he was. Asking how everything was in Tullamore and about Birr Vintage Week which was then in progress.

He was greatly missed from the time of his retirement but up to recent years was a regular visitor with Dorothy to the Saturday market in Tullamore and to his beloved Offaly Historical Society and the Tullamore Gramophone Society How important it will be for us to get back from November to meetings and lectures offline so that we can again meet our members who have supported our causes over many years.

Geoff and the late Dorothy at an NUJ event in Tullamore 2007. Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary NUJ to the extreme left, Michelle Stanistreet, then President and now General Secretary, NUJ on the right. Thanks to Seamus Dooley for this picture.

Geoff’s work as a newspaper man will stand to him well into the future. All the more so in this digital age when his articles can be so easily accessed. Those in the Tullamore Musical Society have reason to thank him for his fine published history and all his reviews of their annual show. Now Offaly History can get to do a short review of GVO, but it can only be paltry beside that of the quiet sincere man who made such a great impact in County Offaly and all of it was for good. Geoff was also a national figure in amateur musical circles as an adjudicator for AIMS and editor of the AIMS newsletter. His reviews of local plays were awaited with terror one expects. While never harsh he did not confuse journalism with parochialism.

Geoff and Dorothy pictured at a reception in Tullamore Town Hall marking the NUJ Delegate Conference in 2007. Included in the picture are: Standing: Eamon McCann, Derry, Jim Eadie, former Irish Secretary, NUJ, Tim Gopsill, Editor, the Journalist, Martin Fitzpatrick, Sunday Independent. Seated are Eddie Rogers (RIP, Tullamore) and Cllr Sean O’Brien.

Seamus Dooley has provided an appreciation which will also be published in Offaly Heritage 12 next year.

Geoff Oakley: An appreciation. By Seamus Dooley

Geoff Oakley was something of an enigma. In a distinguished career  he was passionate about news: cultured, wise and opinionated his integrity and sense of honour defined Geoff in his public role as Editor of the Tullamore Tribune.
Yet Geoff was in many ways a shy man who shunned the limelight, seldom   speaking in public or giving interviews to the national media on issues of local interest.
For many years Geoff was the Tullamore Tribune and his vision and commitment were key ingredients in the success of the paper. J. I. Fanning, proprietor and editor of the Midland Tribune was nominally editor when the sister newspaper was founded in 1978 but from the beginning Geoff was the guiding spirit – his formal appointment as editor merely confirmed his status.
From   a dark pokey two desk  newsroom. in Church Street   Geoff churned out reams of copy on a noisy, battered manual typewriter which, like the office itself, had seen better days.
David Pate had never been in Tullamore before Fanning offered him the job of reporter on the fledgling title. A young Scot reared in Dublin and educated at TCD Dave was an unlikely recruit but Pate, who took early retirement as as a senior producer with CBC Nova Scotia last year, and Oakley made a formidable team. Mary T Bracken made up the office triumvirate for much of his rein.
When  David moved to pursue a successful career in the national media I succeeded him in the Tribune having worked during breaks from college.
Geoff was a mentor to me and to many young journalists, insisting on the highest standards of accuracy.
He had flawless shorthand and placed a premium on attention to detail. His report on the inquest into the death of Fr Niall Molloy is an outstanding example of his reporting while his profile of Thomas MacDonagh in the Midland Tribune’s supplement to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, “A noble life and a proud death” serves as a reminder of his elegant writing style.
A young journalism student on placement in Tullamore was once severely chided for failing to ask the name of a family dog who featured in a Richard May photograph which accompanied a well , written human interest story.
“Are you joking” he declared as Geoff instructed him to ring the family, “that’s just crazy”.
Geoff firmly but patiently explained that the dog was a family member and must be named.
Years later I met the now matured journalist in a Dublin pub. Then working in London he said the dog episode had taught him a valuable life lesson!
Social historians have reason to appreciate Geoff’s obsession with fully captioned pictures, something which sometimes challenged the patience of Richard May, Joe O’Sullivan and Mary Dunne but he always appreciated their professionalism.
As an editor Geoff showed leadership in challenging the consensus. He was a champion of constitutional politics and abhorred violence, often courageously challenging the IRA.
While supportive of the campaign to save the then Tullamore General hospital he incurred the wrath of some activists by his refusal to oppose every proposal for redevelopment of specialist facilities at regional level, preferring a more nuanced and strategic analysis.

His editorial stance on social issues, such as the divorce and 8th amendment referendums, was equally courageous while his absolute commitment to fairness meant that all sides were accorded coverage.
All who knew him, including his readers, knew of his love for and devotion to Dorothy.
Despite his natural reserve their holidays were the subject of endless quirky features, always written with style and humour.


Geoff and Dorothy made a wonderful couple and enriched the lives of so many, humans and animals through the OSPCA.
As an editor Geoff Oakley ‘s greatest contribution was to develop a paper which, despite limited resources, reflected the diversity of life in the community.
For him, local news mattered. It still does!

Catherine Maria Bury and the design of Charleville Castle. By Judith Hill

Charleville Demesne and district c,. 1900

‘Catherine Maria Bury and the design of Charleville Castle’ is the title of an online lecture via Zoom provided by Offaly History for Mondy 20 September at 7. 30 p.m. Our speaker is Dr Judith Hill. She has kindly provided this note for Offalyhistoryblog readers on her forthcoming lecture.

When I started researching my PhD on Gothic revival architecture in Ireland after the Union I had no idea that Charleville Castle, one of the first and most impressive of the castles of this period, owed its inspiration to a woman. I wanted to compare the castles at Birr and Charleville, and was very much aware that their (male) owners had voted on different sides for the Union and that they came from different political traditions. Would this play any part in the designs for the castles that they built, or in the case of Sir Laurence Parsons, remodelled in the very first years of the nineteenth century?

Women at that time played no direct role in politics. They are also relatively (though not entirely) invisible in the historical record. It is only when you can look at family papers that you might find some evidence of what a woman might have done. Catherine Maria Bury’s letters have survived; some of these were published in 1937. They tell us about Catherine (later Lady Charleville) as a person, her friends, her interest in literature. They are tell us that she was close Charles William Bury, and that when he (for it was he) went to see how the building of the castle was progressing he would send detailed descriptions to her. Although he does not ask her directly for her advice, it is clear that when they were together they discussed the project.

Catherine Maria Bury and Charles William Bury
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Turning on the electric light in Tullamore and Birr: 100 years ago – September 1921. By Michael Byrne

Tullamore made the switch from gas lighting to public lamps powered by electricity on 27  September 1921 and Birr about a week earlier. The change in Tullamore was coming for over twenty years and Charleville Castle and D. E. Williams both had electric light from about 1900 and earlier. Lord Rosse had it in Birr Castle in the 1880s. Birr was earlier to have public lighting by gas lighting than Tullamore and had a town supply and town commissioners in 1852.

Tullamore elected its town commissioners and adopted gas lighting in 1860. Before that public lighting was non-existent in Tullamore with just one candle lamp in Charleville/O’Connor Square in 1854.  By the beginning of the First World War the number of gas lamps in Tullamore was almost 80 and the lighting system had been greatly improved with ‘the illuminating power of the lamps having been greatly increased by the adoption of inverted incandescent burners’ (1915). The gas was supplied by a private company comprised of local merchants who were the owners and directors. Change was flagged in 1913 but little progress could be made during the war. In 1918 Birr registered a company to take charge of the local public lighting undertaking and Tullamore did likewise in 1920-21. Birr business contributed £9,000 and Tullamore £13,000 to the new undertakings. The lighting was switched on in Birr in 1920 but only for short time and was not finally in place until a week before Tullamore in mid September 1921. Roscrea had electricity at least a year earlier via a tender from Roscrea Bacon Factory.   The Tullamore investors included D.E. Williams £5,000, P.J. Egan €1,000, P & H Egan Ltd £1,000, Fr Callary £500, Sisters of Mercy £200 and others. What is striking about the list of promoters of public lighting is that where Quaker and Methodists businessmen led the way in 1860 (Goodbody and Lumley), in 1921 it was Catholic merchants and Catholic institutions (Egan, Williams, the parish priest and the Mercy nuns). The 1921 directors were all Catholics save the Methodist W.C. Graham.

Tullamore’s High Street with Sergeant Ahern talking in what is now the Dew Inn (former Bus Bar), about 1910. Courtesy of NLI.

A Tullamore school boy records the date in his diary

Patrick Wrafter, better known in later life as P. A. Wrafter, kept a short diary relating to national and Tullamore events during the War of Independence and the Civil War. For its simplicity and directness, it is attractive and provides an insight into how crucial events in Ireland’s history impacted on the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy. Most of the diary entries were about the War of Independence and the Civil War. The move to electricity began during the War of Independence and was completed during the Truce period, i.e. when negotiations had started but before the delegation went to London. Wrafter wrote:

Started to build the Electric Light Shed over in the square on the 3rd January 1921. The same day as we went back to school.  [This was the shed used to house the electricity generating equipment in the Market Square. The ESB acquired the Tullamore Electric Light Company in 1930 and the shed was demolished in 1999.]

Alo Brennan, Church St., Tullamore, was arrested on the 18 January 1921.  [Later of Cormac Street, he was prominent in the Volunteers.]

Masked and armed men entered the Post-Office in Tullamore on the 20th January 1921 and took away the mails for the R.I.C.

Peace Conference started on July the 3rd 1921, in the Mansion House, Dublin.

Mr D. E. Williams, Tullamore died on the 3rd July 1921 aged 72 years.  R.I.P.

Truce declared in Ireland in July 1921.  [9th July.]

At least 80 prisoners escaped from the Rath Camp, Curragh by a subterranean tunnel 50 ft. long dug by themselves with pieces of iron etc.  Sept. 1921 [LE, 17 Sept. 1921.]

Electric light was lit in the streets and houses on September the 27, 1921.

The electricity generating shed in Market Square, Tullamore, 1921-1999. It was to the rear of the old gas company buildings

Young Patrick Wrafter might have added that the poles to carry the electric cable were in course of erection in the streets of the town from July 1920. These were not the first of many poles to ‘grace’ the streets as those for telephones had been provided from about 1908–11. Of the 80 or so gas lamp standards in Tullamore only one survives at Moore Hall, O’Moore Street. The Truce of 11 July 1921 was holding with a Truce dance in the Foresters new hall over the co-operative bakery in September and a big meeting in Tullamore on 2 October to welcome Dr McCartain. In the same month a young girl of 20 was tied to the railings of Tullamore church with the word ‘Immorality’ written on a card attached to her. Two more girls were chained to the new electric poles near the church with the card attached ‘Beware of I. . . There are others too’. Presumably these were girls who had been overfriendly with the occupying forces, or it may have been the highly moral new republican police acting on possible sentencing in the Dáil courts.

The provision of public utilities in a town is a measure of its civility. Here we are talking of lighting, water, sewerage, roads, footpaths, a market house, and nowadays a public library (see OH blog of May 2021), and a swimming pool. Arts centres, public archives and museums would be down the list, but even here we are well on the way with only the county museum missing from the galaxy of facilities. Hospitals, courthouses and jails were early on the list of institutional facilities with a county hospital of sorts in Tullamore from 1767.

In a blog on 20 October 2020, we wrote that the start-up of the Tullamore Gas Company was in 1859 and the company survived until September 1921. Gas lighting for Tullamore had been mooted as early as 1845 but it took sustained pressure from the local press and the business acumen of the Goodbody brothers of the Tullamore tobacco factory to get it done. Others who helped were Alfred Bury of Charleville (later fifth earl) and the young Tullamore-born barrister Constantine Molloy. Initial opposition had come from the parish priest Fr O’Rafferty (died 1857), and later from the ratepayers led by the Acres family – the principal tenement property owners in Tullamore. Birr had street lighting from 1852 and Mullingar and Newbridge by 1859. The completion of the new railway connection to Tullamore in September 1859 was another boost to forward thinking about the status of Tullamore and its potential. The opening of the streets for lamps meant the adoption of a small measure of local government and the provision of town commissioners – the first town council in Tullamore from 1860. It did not mean that buildings were to be lighted and places such as Tullamore courthouse were still without gas lighting in 1868, as was much of the workhouse in 1897. The latter was using 36 lbs of candles per week in the late 1890s. Gas was later provided but as late as of 1910 the infirmary section of the workhouse was still lit by oil lamps.

The question of lighting Tullamore by electricity surfaced as early as early as 1897. Daniel E. Williams, who was the first to have a motor car in Offaly, introduced electrical generation in his own business in the 1890s. In 1909 the Tullamore town clerk, E.J. Graham, estimated that it would cost £4,000 to bring electricity to Tullamore. At the time the town was serviced by 69 lamps at £2 each per year. This would increase to 78 lamps by 1916. By this time the council had spent large sums on waterworks and housing but less so on sewerage. Economy was a watchword and, as noted, the gas lamps were not activated on moonlit nights. The Tullamore rector, R.S. Craig wrote to the press in early 1914 in the aftermath of the rejection of electric light for Tullamore in 1913 on the grounds of the need for a town sewerage system needed to have a prior call on local expenditure.

The public lighting of Tullamore is not in the hands of the Urban Council as it should be. It is farmed out to the local Gas Company, and one of the conditions – economic conditions – is that there is no occasion to light the lamps on moonlight nights. This is a condition , as the Rev Mr. Craig very aptly says, has nothing to commend it, but ancient precedent. The same bad precedent in the matter of this arrangement is followed in Athlone, and many of the other provincial towns. On the nights when we should have moonlight, but very often have not, there is no public lighting, and pedestrians and visitors or strangers doing business within our gates move about to the imminent danger of breaking their necks. There was the recent case in Tullamore when on the occasion of the great National Demonstration many thousands of people were gathered in the town. Before they could get out of it nightfall overtook them. The business houses were, of course, closed, and there was no assistance to be had from friendly shop windows. The moon was expected that night to give light to the wayfarer, but was in no particular hurry in coming to our help. The Gas Company economised according to their arrangement with the Urban Council and did not light the gas lamps. The inconvenience of the situation need not be emphasised.

Rector Craig’s letter was an expression of his frustration at the council not being able to proceed with the change over to electricity in 1913. The big shops already had electric power and were in no rush to suffer a possible rates increase from the council to provide the funds for the new scheme. It was only in 1917 that Griffith of the new Turf Works in Pollagh agreed to give his expertise to assisting in getting electricity going in Tullamore.

The provision of electric lighting in the smaller towns and villages was slow in coming. A Banagher writer in late 1921 noted that the town was in the dark: ‘The only bit of light we have had for the past three or four years was that provided on the night of Dr McCartan’s arrival’. McCartan was the last MP elected for King’s County/Offaly and the first for the Sinn Féin Party (April and December 1918). Electricity for Banagher lighting had been mooted as early as 1911 by the local improvement association. The visit of Dr McCartain to Tullamore on 2 October 1921 may have been the incentive to get the electric light installation completed in time for the big welcome.

From the Midland Tribune, 1 October 1921

No less than six Offaly based private companies were taken over by the ESB over the period 1928 to 1956. The Tullamore company with 240 customers in 1930 (about one-third to one quarter of the number of houses) was taken over by ESB in that year. In 1929 Birr had 342 customers, rising to 596 in 1947 when transferred to ESB. The Edenderry business was transferred in June 1928, but the number of customers is not now known. Banagher obtained the ESB Shannon supply in 1930 and Clara in the same year.

The offer for subscribers for shares in the new Tullamore company. It was alongside the obituary for Terence MacSwiney. Sgt Cronin of Tullamore was shot a few days later in reprisal. Ordinary life and the War of Independence coexisted side by side in a strange way.

Disputes with staff working for the Tullamore Electric Light Company started within months of the light being switched on and a strike was called off in November 1921 when the three men employed by the company agreed to accept £3 7s. 6d. per week for a 56-hour week, in lieu of the £3 10s. demanded. The town council was the main customer and was paying up to £300 per year for 75 lamps. No great change in public provision from the days of gas. We do not know at this point what was the take up of power from the private and domestic sector. In the home it would have been for lighting only and that sparingly in many houses up to the 1960s. At the time of the move to ESB in 1930 and the takeover of the local provider it was reported that ESB men were preparing posts to replace existing standards where necessary. Also that ‘Mechanics are affixing electric fittings in several houses’. The firm of Siemens Schuckert was finishing the installation of electric light in the Catholic church and that Oppenheimer was finishing mosaic work to sanctuary. Dreamy altar boys will recall these mosaics with St Brendan navigating the billowing sea and which were destroyed in the fire of 1983.

A 1901 advert for a supplier featuring Charleville Castle. By 1912 the castle had been largely vacated by its owner Lady Bury. Courtesy of Irish Times

 It is hard to believe now that before the 1850s there was no public lighting in any of the Offaly towns. Neither was there any on moonlit evenings up to 1921, or after 12 midnight up to the early 1960s. Visitors to the Aran Islands will recall walking on its pitch-black roads, and, nearer home, those living in the countryside experience it every evening if making a short journey on foot. Rural electrification did not follow the towns until the late 1940s in many areas in Offaly and this has been documented in lectures at Bury Quay and the records of interviews now in Offaly Archives. See also a useful piece on the arrival of ESB provided electricity on http://www.esbarchives). Surprisingly there is nothing surviving of the minutes of the local gas companies in Offaly or the private electricity companies that were taken over by ESB in c. 1930. The company’s dealings with the urban council can be followed in the local press and in the minute books of the council (now in Offaly Archives). The Tribune was the only Tullamore newspaper in 1921 as the printing works of the Offaly Independent had been destroyed by the British military in November 1920. It reported the switch-on while the Birr Chronicle did likewise a week earlier.

Sales of electrical goods took off only in the 1960s. Here the well-known Tom Gilson’s shop, Tullamore

Next blog is on Saturday 18 on Charleville by Dr Judith Hill. Email info@offalyhistory.com for the link to the Monday lecture.

On 25 Sept. Dr Mary Jane Fox on Columcille and copyright disputes

Clonmacnoise parish, County Offaly supports Charles S. Parnell in his defamation action against The Times in the late 1880s. By Padráig Turley

While perusing some late 19th century newspapers a reference to The National Indemnity Fund 1888 caught my eye. The object of this fund was to provide an indemnity for Parnell against an Order for costs in the event of him loosing a defamation action against the Times.

This fund received contributions from virtually every parish in Ireland, and also from outside Ireland. I found records of fundraising events in England, Scotland, U.S.A., New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere.

However, I was more interested in the small contributions made by the ordinary people of Ireland, the vast majority of whom would not have been in any way well off. They would have been tenant farmers who lived a very precarious life due to their lack of security of tenure and volatile rents. Reflecting their means some the contributions are very small reminding us of the story of the widow`s mite in the gospel of St. Mark.

I was very pleased to find contributions from my own neck of the wood in west Offaly. I found a fascinating letter from Michael Reddy of Shannonbridge in the Freeman’s Journal of 26th October 1888.

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The Midland Tribune was 140 years old in September 2021. By Michael Byrne

The Midland Tribune and King’s County Vindicator was first published at Birr on 15th September, 1881. The aim of its promoters, three Birr Catholic priests of the Killaloe diocese,  was to provide a ‘thoroughly independent organ of popular opinion in a district hitherto without the semblance of national journalism’.  In politics it declared itself as a supporter of Home Rule.  Its tone would be Catholic while at the same time endeavouring to promote ‘the union of Irishmen of every class and creed.’  On the land question the Tribune adopted the programme of the Land League and on education the views of the Catholic hierarchy

Seamus Dooley, Geoff Oakley, the late Dorothy Oakely and an NUJ function in Tullamore in recent years. Geoff was editor of the Tullamore Tribune from 1978 to 1994. Seamus was a well-known reporter with the newspaper.

The Tribunewas founded in what is generally considered the most exciting decade of the nineteenth century.  The 1880s saw the development of the most powerful democratic movement in Irish history, based at first on the struggle of tenant farmers to wrest the land they tilled from the landlords and later the right of Ireland to manage her own affairs.  These twin aims, Home Rule and a solution to the land question were welded together into a popular mass movement led by Parnell, Davitt, and O’Brien. But, in the 1880s the masses came on the political stage as leading players rather than as extras. 

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Homan Potterton sale features three painters with Offaly connections. By Michael Byrne

The Homan Potterton sale on 7 September 2021 at Adam’s, Dublin features three painters with Offaly connections. But first a word about Potterton. After secondary education at Kilkenny College and Mountjoy School he began studying to be a solicitor, but (great for him ) he switched to art history at Trinity with the formidable Anne Crookshank. He was the youngest director of the National Gallery of Ireland ever appointed (1979) but stayed for only eight years. He retired in 1988 out of frustration with the bureaucracy, the bullying Charlie Haughey, and his being unable to secure much needed funds for the gallery. That was back in the difficult 1980s. Had Potterton remained he would have been able to oversee the wonderful gallery there is today. All the great institutions saw money flow in from the 1990s with the support of EC funds and the lift in the economy from 1993. While he took over the editorship of the Irish Arts Review in the 1990s (then an exciting annual event) he later moved to France and we heard no more of him save for several family histories, a memoir and a novel.

The jacket of Potterton’s memoir of 2017 with the arresting painting in the great classical style by Festing.
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My four years as a boarder at Tullabeg/ St Stanislaus College, Tullamore, 1882–86 recalled seventy years later in 1951. By Senex and Offaly History.

Starting in Tullabeg as a boarder in September might mean not getting home until the following June. Tullabeg, the Jesuit boarding school near Tullamore was opened in 1818 and closed in 1886 as a boarding school, following amalgamation with Clongowes Wood. This account of the four years spent there as a schoolboy was written in 1951 and published almost seventy years after the event.

On the 2nd of September, 1882, close on seventy years ago (almost 140 now), my father left me at St. Stanislaus’ College, Tullabeg. At that time Fr. Sturzo, an Italian, was Rector ; he was succeeded later by Fr. George Kelly. Fr. Wisthoff was Higher Line Prefect, Fr. Vincent Byrne, who lived to be ninety years of age, was Third Line Prefect. I forget who was Lower Line Prefect, though I remember that Mr. Charles Farley, S.J., held that position sometime later; whoever it was, I am sure that he had a hard time. The captain of the Third Line, known to us then as Billy O’Leary, was afterwards the famous seismologist at Rathfarnham Castle, Fr. William O’Leary. The youngest and, I think, smallest boy in the house at that time was Paddy Rath, who became Captain of the House in Clongowes in 1890. The oldest person in the house was, strange to say, Fr. Young, S.J.

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