Offaly History has organised a walking tour of Tanyard Lane on Sunday 18 August as part of Heritage Week at 2.30 pm meeting at the Library. The place has changed over 270 years right up to 25 July when the new Lidl store opened largely on site of the laundry, glass factory/wholesale and part of the creamery/bacon factory – the latter all post 1907.
Passing through Tanyard Lane, Tullamore today is to see almost total change since the 1970s. At that time it was full of old malting and grain stores the last of which to be built was also the first ferro-concrete building in Tullamore and one of the earliest in Ireland – that of Tarleton’s and now Oisin O’Sullivan Furniture, in about 1908. Beside it is another later grain store and now Robbins Limited of 1901. Below them is the plumbing store of zz, also housed in a former grain building. These are the only old buildings left now of an industrial legacy stretching back to 1750. Older photgraphs show the malting houses there with their louver chimneys (4).
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?
I once again visited my old friends in Tullamore in the last few weeks. I was down from D4 to sort out a charity account with Bank of Ireland in O’Connor Square. I had to make my way through the bollards with the footpath widening. I came on the train of course (thanks Charlie, nice one). I was reminded by a customer that the Bank of Ireland opened in Bridge Street in the summer of 1979. At the time of my visit I was too busy to pay attention because between money laundering forms and this new GDPR stuff I was fit to be tied. And the account is 60 years old. What is all the fuss about small money. Now the new bank of 1979 is so different to the one I remember in High Street where Hoey & Dennings are now.
The flat countryside around Tullamore left a deep impression on the future writer’s mind. And when, 20 years later, he wrote an existentialist murder mystery called The Third Policemen, set mainly in a nether afterworld, he used Offaly as his model.
Flann O’Brien (1911-66) was the well-known Irish novelist and political commentator. He was born in County Tyrone as Brian O’Nolan and raised mostly in Dublin. The writer spent about four years in Tullamore where his father, Michael V. Nolan, worked with the Revenue keeping an eye to the duty or taxes to be collected on Tullamore whiskey when it was removed from the bonded warehouse. From 1940 until his death, Flann wrote a political column called ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ for The Irish Times under the pseudonym of Myles na Gopaleen; his biting, satiric commentaries made him the conscience of the nation. As Flann O’Brien, he published three novels, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), The Dalkey Archive (1964), and The Third Policeman (1967). He also published a play, Faustus Kelly (1943). The Third Policeman is now considered his best and it was possibly in Tullamore he got his poky and spooky ideas for this quirky book which after a struggle in the late 1930s was published in 1967 after his death. Continue reading →
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 →
Tullamore is still to this day a vibrant and friendly Irish market town which has never lost sight of its commercial heritage. It’s one of the very few Irish towns that still preserves that friendly main street social-commercial atmosphere that I spoke about earlier. Today, The Bridge House is one of the largest town centre hotels in the midlands and it is really great to see the way that the modern owners show their appreciation of the past by maintaining the look and utility of the building facade. With Egan’s and Tullamore D.E.W.‘s combined influence still so visible in today’s town, surely it is only a matter of time before a whiskey savvy historian develops a Tullamore Town Whiskey Walking Tour. (Stuart McNamara in a recent blog on Egan’s whiskey).
Tullamore has its town guides and an app but, as yet, no whiskey trail. What with over 50,000 visitors to Tullamore DEW Old Bonded Warehouse every year it would be good to assist those visitors to see other parts of Tullamore connected with the story of Tullamore’s whiskey traditions. The commercial heritage of Tullamore is closely linked with the town’s malting, brewing and distilling history.
It is good to see an initiative on the part of Coláiste Choilm, Tullamore (1912- in progress) and, in particular, Ray O’Donovan and his team of students building a special collection of books in the school library written by former students of the school. It will throw up surprises not just for the current cohort, but indeed for old boys as well. The collection was unveiled in the school on Friday evening 17 May by Conor Brady who was a pupil in the school until the untimely death of his father in 1962 and his subsequent departure for the Cistercian College, Roscrea. Conor has always been a great champion of Tullamore.
The first school history was published in 1962 but has not been updated. It will be a difficult task to do other than list all the students and teachers. Giving a flavour of the school as distinct from a recital of classes over the years can be contentious. The formation of this library is a step in the right direction. Collecting the memories of those who were in the school in the 1950s and 1960s would be good.
Reunion of the boys of the 1969 and 1970 classes
It was Pat Hennessy formerly of Patrick Street, Tullamore (retired from Foreign Affairs and ambassador to several countries including Israel, Italy and UAE), who recently suggested that a get together of the boys of the 1969 and 1970 Leaving Certificate classes be held by way of a 50th anniversary. A date has now been fixed for the Tullamore Court Hotel on Friday 7 June at 7 p.m.
The old Catholic church at Ballyduff was erected in 1775 and was the first post-Reformation church in Tullamore parish. It was erected in the remote townland of Ballyduff near the centre of Tullamore parish to minimise upset to the authorities at a time when the Penal Laws were still in force. It appears to have been on the boundary of the Coote estate at Srah and that of the Herbert estate (later Norbury) at Durrow –again designed so as to minimize upset to the authorities.
Now the ruin old church is the location for the celebration of a vigil mass early on Easter Sunday morning.
For Offaly History Mapping Offaly began as a project to map the archaeological sites in Offaly in the mid-1970s. The state archaeological survey was in progress but nothing had been published and some members of the society decided to embark on a project they knew little about but were excited about the prospects. The then president of the Society, Monsignor Denis Clarke, allowed a sum of £50 out of the Society’s savings of £120 to buy a full set of the county ordnance maps of 47 sheets at £1 each from the Stationery Office. This was almost half of the society’s capital and led to the quiet resignation of Society secretary Fr Conor McGreevy. When he saw that the young students joining up at that time were serious he came back to his history flock and went on to publish a history of Killoughy with the PP of Kilcormac. 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.