Decorations and Dinners in Tullamore in 1873 for the coming of age of the fourth earl of Charleville and the marriage of his sister Katherine Bury. No 7 in the Tullamore 400th series. The oldest surviving wedding photograph of an Offaly family?  By Michael Byrne

Charles William Francis Bury, the fourth Earl of Charleville, came of age on the 16th of May 1873. Celebrations were delayed to the end of May so as to confine the party and the guests staying at the castle to one week and ending with the marriage of the earl’s sister to Captain Edmund Hutton on 5 June 1873. As stated in article no. 5 in this series the young earl died in New York on 3 November 1874 without marrying and was succeeded as fifth earl by his uncle Alfred. The latter died childless on 28 June 1875 and so the Charleville title died with him. The fourth earl’s sister, Lady Emily, succeeded to the estate while yet a minor. She married in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. Lady Emily died in 1931 having spent much of her widowed life abroad and was succeeded by her only surviving child Lt Col. Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80). He inherited Belvedere, Mullingar from his cousin Brinsley Marlay in 1912 and sold the contents of Charleville Castle in 1948. As Lt Colonel Bury died childless the estate went back up the line to the children of Lady Katherine Hutton née Bury (died 1901). The celebrations of 1873 were poignant and the speeches full of irony. That the family had an excellent relationship with the Tullamore townspeople is clear from the speech of the parish priest Fr McAlroy who had succeeded O’Rafferty in 1857. Alas so little material has survived by way of letters or diaries of the speech makers of that exciting week in the history of Tullamore. As noted in the no. 5 blog the original address of Dr Moorhead on behalf of the town commissioners was donated by Professor Brian Walker to Offaly History. The late Brigadier Magan donated an important photograph of the 1873 wedding and pictures of the Hastings of Sharavogue in what we now call the Biddulph Collection in Offaly Archive.

The Hastings and Westenras of Sharavogue were among the guests at the Charleville wedding as also was Lord Rosse (the fourth earl) and the Bernards. Lords Digby and Downshire, the other big landowners in the county were absentees. This copy from Rathrobin and the two Irelands (Tullamore, 2021) available from Offaly History.
Continue reading

The Birr Whiskey Distilleries. Specially contributed.

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.

Continue reading

Alderborough Nursery Geashill, Offaly: Reamsbottom & Co., Geashill and West Drayton & Alderborough St. Brigid Anemones.

The story of Alderborough Nursery, Geashill is a must have for delightful summer reading. This book tells the story of Reamsbottom & Co., Alderborough and West Drayton, and the development of the Alderborough strain of the St Brigid Anemone which made it famous around the world. Geashill was for decades at the center of Irish horticulture with an international reputation for the quality of its plants. Alderborough Nursery competed with the best nurseries in the world, winning awards, medals and accolades from judges and gardening publications. From 1890 to the 1980’s Anemones and a wide range of plants were exported from Geashill. Archives of all the important horticultural shows in Ireland and Britain record that Reamsbottom & Co. exhibited their produce and won prizes, particularly for their St. Brigid Anemones. By 1907, Reamsbottom & Co., had won 33 medals for Alderborough St. Brigid Anemones, including four gold. [This is a beautiful book and adds to the growing Geashill library of attractive volumes reaching a wide and enthusiastic market.]

Continue reading

A new chapter in Westmeath historiography: the recent publication of Westmeath History and Society, an address by Dr Harman Murtagh at the launch in Athlone.’ Without doubt, this is the greatest book ever published on Westmeath. It’s a monument to our county’s culture, history, society and creativity – and an expression of Westmeath’s very distinctive identity.’

The Mullingar and Athlone launches of Westmeath History and Society have provided two interesting and original addresses on the status of local history in Westmeath, our neighbouring county. The Offaly History and Society volume was published in 1998 and is long out of print. A few copies were secured by Offaly History some years ago and are offered for sales as scarce titles. We thank our friend Dr Harman Murtagh for a copy of his address on 31 3 2022 and we have added some pictures for our readers. Enjoy the address in Athlone and you can get the book at Offaly History Centre and online at www.offalyhistory.com, over 900 pages, hardback, €60.

My friends,

This is the south Westmeath launch of this magnificent volume, Westmeath history and society.

A week ago it was launched in north Westmeath by the archbishop of Dublin, the very Reverend Dr Farrell; south Westmeath must make do with the most irreverent Dr Murtagh.

The book is 900 pages long. As the archbishop observed in Mullingar, it’s about the size of a concrete block: in my view, its only fault is that it’s rather heavy to hold in bed.

Westmeath history and society is one of a series of county books – incredibly it’s the twenty-ninth in the series. The series has been appearing at the rate of a volume a year since 1985.

The series founder, general editor and manager from the start is Dr Willie Nolan, aided and abetted by his wife, Theresa. Their contribution to Irish  society and to local studies  is without equal. In France they would undoubtedly be awarded the Legion of Honour; in Britain surely Sir Willie and Dame Theresa? In Ireland, and here in Athlone, we can offer at least our enormous admiration for their magnificent achievement – twenty-nine county volumes of this size down, and only three to go!   Wow!

Continue reading

Lt Col. Middleton Westenra Biddulph of Rathrobin, Tullamore (1849–1926). An illustrated presentation of his local photographs on Monday 21 Feb. at 8 p.m. By Michael Byrne

On Monday 21 February 2022 Offaly History will host a public lecture on the photographic work of Middleton Westenra Biddulph (1849–1926) of Rathrobin, Tullamore. The lecture will also be streamed via Zoom and will start at 8 p.m. at/from Offaly History Centre. Biddulph’s photographs of Offaly and midlands interest together with Big Houses in Ireland have been published in Michael Byrne, Rathrobin and the two Irelands (Tullamore, 2021). For the link to Zoom email info@offalyhistory.com. There is no charge.

The new large format book has over 300 photographs with context and captions and is available for €25 in hardback. The publication was supported by the Decade of Centenaries and took fourteen months to prepare.

Middleton Westenra Biddulph was born on 17 August 1849 at Rathrobin, Mountbolus, King’s County. He was one of six children and the eldest surviving son of Francis Marsh Biddulph (1802–1868) and Lucy Bickerstaff (d. 1896). She was born in Preston, Lancashire and they married in 1845 when F.M.B. was 45 and Lucy 24.[1] The Bickerstaff connection was to be an important one for the surviving sons of F.M.B. and led to a substantial inheritance in the 1890s for Middleton W. Biddulph (M.W.B.) and his brother Assheton who lived at Moneyguyneen, Kinnitty. F.M.B. was of a large family of eleven children. All were girls save their one surviving brother. F.M.B. lived with at least three of his sisters at Rathrobin, few of whom married and at least three emigrated to Australia or the United States.

In person and online. For link email info@offalyhistory.com
Continue reading

The Fair of Frankford (Kilcormac): old times in the barony of Ballyboy. By Paddy Heaney

We are publishing this essay of thirty-five years ago to honour all the people of the barony of Killoughy who have kept the Irish musical tradition vibrant and have a great love of their local history. It is also to mark the passing of Ashling Murphy and in support of her family and all her neighbours in the Blue Ball, Mountbolus and Kilcormac areas. Thanks to Paddy Heaney who did so much for local studies and wishing him well and a big shout out for all he and Paddy Lowry did for local studies. The barony of Ballyboy lost two-thirds of its population over the period 1841 to 1911.

If you ever stand on the summit of Knockhill on a frosty  moonlight night, and if your hear voices, and the thunder of hooves  coming from the direction  of the mountain, don’t be afraid, it’s  only the ghosts  form the distant  past on their way to the fair of Frankford.

Continue reading

The internees released from the camps following the Treaty of 6 December 1921. A time of ferment in politics. By Michael Byrne

The scene at the railway station [Tullamore] will long be remembered. Long before the hour for arrival of the train, the stream of people to the station premises and surroundings was continuous. There was joy everywhere and the light and hope that the glad tidings brought were seen in the faces of the huge gathering. The railway station premises were thronged while from every point of vantage round about it people awaited the home-coming of the boys whose familiar faces they yearned to see once more. 

Ballykinlar autograph courtesy Offaly Archives. For further on this see Offaly History and Decade of Centenaries/ gallery. ‘Autograph books were an important aspect of the material culture of the camps and the internees signed each other’s books with political quotes, inspirational messages, and artwork depicting the camps or political ideals. Although prisoners were released from the camps following the Truce in 1921, anti-treaty republicans were again interned in prison camps such as Tintown in the Curragh during the Civil War.‘ – Offaly Archives

Late 1921 was a time of ferment in Offaly. Once the Truce was announced in July 1921 attention turned to matters such as reforms in public health that would see the county infirmary along with the workhouses at Edenderry and Birr closed. The former workhouse at Tullamore was now to serve as county hospital and ‘county home’. It was a major reform pushed through by Sinn Féin who dominated much of local government, save in the urban councils of Birr and Tullamore. As more people were pushed out of the institutions and the economic situation deteriorated the demand for home help grew. Some of the ratepayers were concerned but not the Midland Tribune which was then owned by Mrs Margaret Powell who was one of the few women involved in the Birr local health committees.[1] Her editor from 1912 to late 1940s was James Pike from Roscore, Screggan. Four women sat on the Tullamore Hospitals and Homes Committee chaired by Mrs Wyer. Pike in an editorial on 17 December 1921 was to describe it as a momentous week with the secret debates in the Dáil. Offaly Technical Committee did not wait for the outcome of the Dáil debate and supported the Treaty almost immediately.[2] Supporters included the chairman Fr O’Reilly, Kilcormac, Revd John Humphreys and James Rogers as did Revd R.S. Craig.

Continue reading

The D.E. Williams branch shops in the midlands, 1884–1921: A revolution in retailing. By Michael Byrne

There are only a few studies available on the development of retailing in Ireland, either of a general nature or in connection with particular firms. It is well known that in the first half of the nineteenth century and up to the Famine years retail outlets were not widely available and many in the smaller towns were no better than huxter shops. There were exceptions and that is clear from the photographs of c. 1900 of shops such as Williams. Egan, Goodbody and Lumley (in Tullamore); O’Brien in Edenderry and O’Meara and Fayles in Birr. In looking at the revolutionary period from 1912 to 1921 to mark the decade of centenaries it is also worth looking at revolutions in other areas such as transport, energy and shopping. Like the political revolution retailing exhibited signs of stress after 1921 and did not recover until the coming of the supermarkets to the provincial towns in the 1960s.

The Williams head office with the Barrack Patrick Street shop to the right before more intensive motorised transport from 1915. Branch house managers were appointed of which the last under the old system (before the switch to supermarkets) was T.V. Costello.

The trade directories, and from the 1840s the valuation records, will facilitate investigation of retail outlets. By the 1860s living standards had improved and this is reflected in the increasing number of shops; per capita tobacco consumption rose to English standards about 1870 and per capita consumption of tea was not far off the English level by the end of the 1870s. The considerable economic progress of the early 1870s, began to slow down by the end of that decade. The 1880s is looked on as a period of industrial crisis with industries closing down in all the principal towns, or destroyed by fire as with the Goodbody tobacco factory in Tullamore and the Birr distillery in 1889.The railways and the canals (especially in the midlands) facilitated the easy removal of heavy goods and livestock from towns all over Ireland, but it also left it easier to import foods easily and cheaply. As a result, the Irish industrial base (such as it was, especially in southern Ireland) receded while the retail and services sector began to grow albeit slowly.

Continue reading

The moving bog at Kilmaleady near Clara: the account of Richard Griffith in 1821. By Michael Byrne

Bogs are in the news again and were very much so 200 years ago this month because of the phenomenon known as ‘the moving bog at Kilmaleady [Kilmalady big] near Clara’. It was reported in the national press (there was no local press back then) and in 1825 in Brewer’s account of Ireland. It had earlier appeared in the Freeman’s Journal for 21 July 1821.  The Freeman’s Journal for 29 June 1821 reported that : On the 26th June great confusion was caused in the district of Clara by the south front of Ballykillion bog (a large and extensive of one of about one and a half square miles, and a depth of about 25 feet) moving with great violence and carrying before it everything in its way. It tore up the meadowlands and carried it along on its surface. Its direction was across an extensive valley. It dislodged a river and ran with extensive violence against an opposite hill, then recoiled and ran down the valley until it met another hill and road that checked its progress, after which it piled up in large broken fragments an immense heap of bog from 20 to 40 feet deep and covered about 150 acres of choice meadow and pasture land. This land was let from £2 to £3 an acre and was the property of the representatives of the late George Clibborn of Moate. ‘Its progress was awful and the noise tremendous. The people were enabled with difficulty to drive off their stock. The water is now confined and the river is stopped up, and the most serious apprehensions are entertained that the water will again put the huge mass in motion. It is estimated that a thousand acres of meadow will be destroyed unless timely prevented by immense labour.[Here the writer advocated the need for drainage of bogs and the want of employment.] . .

Continue reading

Agriculture in Offaly on the eve of the Great Famine. By Ciarán Reilly

On the eve of the Great Famine in 1845 the backwardness of Irish agriculture was seen by many as the reason for much of the country’s economic woes. About Irish farmers, it was stated that they knew nothing of the ‘English’ method of farming or indeed welcomed its arrival. However, there was amongst many Irish landlords, and their agents, a growing understanding of the benefits of the ‘science’ of agriculture and many had willingly adopted such methods in the management of their estates. In particular, many land agents were the leading pioneers of better agricultural practice. The employment of agriculturalists; the establishment of agricultural societies and the trips undertaken to observe foreign models of agriculture all highlight the progression of Irish agriculture by the early 1840s.

Continue reading