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

 

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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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AN ENLIGHTENED ELITE, Art and Architecture in Offaly in the 1940s – the Architect, the Priest and the Businessman. Fergal MacCabe

 

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Michael Scott’s Williams shop in Patrick Street from 1942 and lost with the move of Five Star to what was later Quinnsworth and  Tesco .

The contemporary arts scene in Ireland from the 1940s to the 1970s and to a certain degree in Offaly also, was dominated by the friendship between the architect Michael Scott and the Jesuit priest Fr. Donal O’Sullivan. Both Scott and O’Sullivan were close friends of Desmond Williams, the managing director of Irish Mist and a director of Williams’s whose commercial interests extended beyond the famous whiskey brand to a chain of grocery shops and pubs in Offaly and Westmeath. Williams and his wife Brenda, whose father Oliver St John Gogarty had been an early supporter of the painter Jack B. Yeats, owned many superb works by the artist.

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Fr Michael Kelly of Tullamore and Zambia is honoured on a new stamp. His reflections this Easter 2020. Inspired by Shelley’s lines -“O wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

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Fr Michael Kelly features on the stamp alongside two other Irish emigrants: the accomplished author and Tuamgraney, County Clare-born Edna O’Brien and Mary Elmes (1908-2002) from Cork, the humanitarian worker particularly renowned for saving the lives of 200 Jewish children in France during the Holocaust.

We are bringing you a special Easter Sunday blog to celebrate the work of Fr Michael Kelly, the Tullamore man who appears on a new Irish stamp marking the work of emigrants and providing his personal reflection at this time. Fr Kelly has been in the Jesuit ministry for 65 years working in Zambia. His family lived in O’Connor Square and his father was a director of P. & H. Egan, Tullamore. Two of his brothers were also with the Jesuits. Fr Michael writes of the current virus difficulties and reflects on his time growing up in Tullamore. Continue reading

The Papers of St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg. By Damien Burke and Lisa Shortall

Offaly Archives is pleased to announce the publication of the catalogue of the Papers of St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, the result of a collaboration with the Irish Jesuit Archives, Leeson St, Dublin, where the papers are permanently housed. This blog outlines the history of the college at Tullabeg, the scope of what is contained in the archives and how to access the online catalogue.

The Jesuit community at Tullabeg (St Stanislaus College), Offaly was established in 1818, four years after they were restored as an order. Tullabeg was initially intended to function as a novitiate (training centre for Irish Jesuits) and a suitable site was offered in 1815 by Ms Marie O’Brien (1765-1827), of Rahan Lodge. She had also helped the Presentation Sisters establish a convent nearby at Killina. When the Tullabeg building was complete, the idea of novitiate was abandoned and the new foundation served as a feeder school for Clongowes Wood College, Kildare. Tullabeg rarely counted more than forty pupils, all of them below early teens and the pace of life was unhurried. Drama, debates and sport (gravel football and cricket) were encouraged, and facilities followed. The appointment of Fr William Delany SJ (1835-1924) as rector, transformed the College educationally. Pupils were matriculated and examined successfully for BA degrees at the University of London, and later at the Jesuit-run University College, Dublin.

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