Does anyone have a bottle of Birr whiskey now? The destruction of Birr’s last distillery in March 1889 was seen as a death blow to the town. The population of Birr in 1841 on the eve of the Famine was 6,336 persons with another 554 in Crinkill. However, the next eighty years saw a period of decline such that over the period 1861 to 1926 the population fell by 44.6 per cent or from 6,146 to 3,402. The decline was exacerbated by the closure of the distillery in 1889 and the military barracks in 1922. In 1921 the workhouse (erected c. 1840) was brutally closed and amalgamated with Tullamore.
Birr had strong associations with whiskey distilling from at least the 1800s. Probably the large military barracks at Crinkill acted as a stimulus to production. In 1818 only two distilleries were in operation in County Offaly and both were located in Birr. In competition with Birr was the Birch distillery at Roscrea. One of the Birr distilleries was that of Robert Robinson and was located at Castle Street and formed part of what was until the 1980s the Williams Waller Ltd grain handling depot (formerly Birr Maltings Ltd.), and now partly demolished with the remainder incorporated in The Maltings guest house. The second distillery, established in 1805 by the Hackett family, was located at Elmgrove on the eastern side of the town. A third distillery, described as the ‘old distillery’ in 1838 was located near what is now the Mill Island Park and part of which is incorporated in the Birr Technology Centre. Thus ample remains of all three distilleries still survive.
The summer of 1873 was marked in Tullamore with a great outpouring of support for the coming of age of Charles William Francis, the fourth earl of Charleville (1852–74). He had been an orphan for fourteen years and taken care of by his uncle Alfred Bury (1829–75). The fourth earl’s parents, Charles William George and Arabella Case, had both died at a young age in 1857 (countess of Charleville) and 1859 (the third earl). He was only 37 and left five young children of which the fourth earl was born 16 May 1852. His sister had been killed in an accident on the stairwell at Charleville Castle in 1861 and his younger brother John died in 1872 when only 21. Now the young earl had reached his maturity and his 21st year. He could mark the occasion with his two sisters Lady Katherine and Lady Emily. The celebrations ought to have been on 16 May 1873 but the party had been deferred for a few weeks so that the coming of age could be celebrated at the same time as the marriage of Lady Katherine to Captain Hutton A.D.C. The celebration in the town with triumphal arches and fireworks was the last such for the earls of Charleville. Over the period from 1782 to 1873 there had been three such Welcomes from the Tenantry. Lady Emily inherited Charleville under the will of the fourth earl who died in 1874 aged only 22. Emily came into possession on the death of her uncle Alfred in 1875 childless. She was still a minor and there was no official welcome. Lady Emily married Captain Kenneth Howard in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. The Land War began in 1879–80 and cast a shadow over landlord and tenant relationships permanently. Lady Emily died in 1931 and the estate passed to her only surviving child Lt Col. Kenneth Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80).
The address of Dr Michael Moorhead in his capacity as chairman of the town commissioners at the celebration dinner in 1873 is replete with irony given that the young earl died in a little over a year after on a fishing and hunting trip near New York.
Tullamore is a well-preserved town and is the county town of Offaly since an act of parliament in 1832 displaced Philipstown (Daingean) which had been the county town since the shiring of Offaly as part of the new colonial government policies in 1557. The new county to be known as King’s County was then comprised of the baronies reflecting the Gaelic lordships of the O’Connors and that of the O Dempseys. The king in question was none other than Philip II of Spain married at that time to the tragic Queen Mary of England (1553–58) hence the new forts of Philipstown and Maryborough (Portlaoise). The county was extended about 1570 to include the territory of the O Molloys (now to be the baronies of Ballycowan, Ballyboy and Eglish) and also that of the Foxes in Kilcoursey and the MacCoghlans in what would be called Garrycastle. In 1605 the territory of the O Carrolls (to form the baronies of Ballybritt and Clonlisk) was added, as also was the parish of Clonmacnoise (1638) at the behest of Terence Coghlan of Kilcolgan. Those looking for an exciting seventeenth-century history for Tullamore will be disappointed as the surviving evidence of town growth in that troubled century is thin. This week we continue to series to mark the 400th anniversary of Tullamore as a town.
“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.
The barracks of 1716 was at the western end of Patrick Street and Hayes Hotel, dating to 1786, at the eastern end on the corner with Church Street and Bridge Street (now Boots Pharmacy). The barracks was destroyed in July 192 2on the retreat of the Republican soldiers from the town during the Civil War. Within fifteen years the site was fully taken up with urban council housing and a garda station built here in 1937 and rebuilt in 2002. The military barrack of 1716 brought about 100 soldiers to the town and is thought to have been a major factor in the town’s growth because of the increased demand for goods and services that followed its construction. After the 1870s, soldiers were stationed at Tullamore only at infrequent intervals.
The police moved into the old barracks about the year 1899. The building was occupied by the old I.R.A. in March 1922 when the British army quit the town as part of the Treaty settlement and was destroyed some four months later as the Republican soldiers left town in the course of the Civil War and before the arrival of the Free State army. Parts of the old walls survive and one can see the star-shaped fort pattern in the part of the wall opposite DNG Auctioneers.
The first article in this recent series to mark the 400th anniversary of the grant to Sir John Moore of Croghan and Tullamore of a licence to hold fairs and markets and establish manorial government was about Tullamore in 1804–7 and was based on two surviving Grand Canal maps. The earliest surviving comprehensive map of Tullamore is that of 1838 and can conveniently be found at osi.ie and its Geohive platform. The purpose of this article is to review the street plan and buildings of the town of Tullamore as shown on part of the Ordnance Survey six-inch sheet no. 17 of which the first edition was published in 1838. It will take three or four blogs to view the 1838 map of Tullamore and in OS fashion and matching the design of Tullamore town from the 1790s we can proceed in gridiron format from the north west of the town to the south east.
The memorial to the Offaly Volunteers who fought in the War of Independence was unveiled on the lawn of the county courthouse, Tullamore in 1953. It was Peadar Bracken (1887–1961) former OC Offaly Brigade and from 1922-3 the Tullamore district court clerk who ensured that the IRA Volunteer monument was placed on the lawn of the courthouse. Besides, a site in O’Connor Square was not an option from 1926 when the war memorial was completed. Given that it was principally to the Tullamore courthouse that the feared judges of the assizes would arrive it has strong symbolism. The Volunteer monument was completed in 1939 but not unveiled until 1953 due to the difference between the Free Staters (National Army) and the Republicans.
As noted in an earlier article in Offalyhistoryblog the last of the assizes was held in July 1921 with Judge Wiley presiding and a large force of military to protect him as the symbol of the British state. Now with the marking the 100th anniversary of the Treaty and the departure of Crown forces from Ireland it seems appropriate to look again at the twice-annual display of British power in the assize towns of Ireland.
On the 1809 map of King’s County by William Larkin, one can easily fail to spot the tiny T-shaped symbol about 1 mile northwest of the town of Tullamore. There is no description to inform the reader what the object represents. Its shape and its location, however, leave no doubt as to what it symbolizes. It is the first post-Reformation Catholic church in the parish of Tullamore. Erected in 1775 in the townland of Ballyduff, the chapel’s out of the way location some distance from the town of Tullamore seems peculiar today. Another look at the 1809 map provides at least a partial clue to its location. Not more than about a hundred metres from the chapel is a quarry, probably one of the earliest limestone quarries to be opened in the area and almost certainly the source of the stone of which the chapel was built. The chapel was presumably built by the workers and tradesmen of the local quarries. Today the ruins of the Ballyduff chapel are located in the middle of the Axis Business Park accessed from the Clara Rd.
When we in Offaly History set out early in 2021 to mark the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland in our eighty plus contributed blogs on the Decade last year little did we think that an article on Belgian refugees to Ireland and the First World War would have resonance in the Ireland of 2022. Now we are talking of at least three million people forced out of Ukraine and have concerns about a third world war. Our efforts for the Belgians in 1914 look very slight when put beside what is needed today. In 1914 we were wholly reliant on the printed newspaper with no radio or social media.
This short article is the first in a series designed to look at the growth of Tullamore over the period from 1622 and to take key dates in the development of the town. Suggested dates will include 1622, 1716, 1764, 1785, 1804, 1835, 1900, 1923, 1948, 1966 and 2000. These dates coincide with particular events, or the availability of documentary sources that may allow us to draw some conclusions about the state of Tullamore at varying times over the last four centuries. Rather than take matters in chronological order we are going to look for some key moments in the stages of growth. One such was the completion of the canal to Tullamore in 1798 and its extension to Shannon Harbour in 1804. During that six years Tullamore had served as the depot and terminus for the new waterway to the west and south. The opening to Shannon Harbour and the link to the Shannon may have been seen by some as marking the end of the new canal hotel and harbour in Tullamore with business moving further west and travellers no longer having to stop over in the town. That was not the case. The hotel client base weakened to almost nothing by the 1840s and so did passenger traffic. Commercial traffic was continued on until 1960.