Offaly Archives: an overview of the local government archival collections. By Erin Sears

Offaly Archives’ local government collections cover an extensive range of local government organisations – from grand juries, infirmaries, rural district councils, town commissioners, poor law unions, county councils, committees of agriculture and urban district councils. The material from the collections was acquired since the 1950s and covers roughly two hundred years of history.

Recently, the local government collections, as well as a number of donated collections of private origin, have been relocated from Offaly County Library to purpose built archival facilities at Offaly Archives, Unit 1F, Axis Business Park, Clara Road, Tullamore. Offaly Archives is the joint archival repository of Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society (Offaly History) and Offaly County Library, and is administered by Offaly History.

During the summer of 2019, I worked on providing online catalogue descriptions for the local government collections in preparation for their move. Descriptions for the collections were created using Michael Murphy, Anne Coughlan and Gráinne Doran’s 2003 publication Grand Jury to Áras An Chontae, which provides breakdowns of Offaly Archives local government collections, as well as detailed information relating to the formation of Offaly’s local government structures, their various duties, lists of members and historical points of interest.

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A Victorian Romance: Charlotte Bronte and her association with Banagher. Offaly History event, 5 December at 8 pm

Royal School 2

Arthur & Charlotte: A Victorian Romance Remembered is the title for a dramatic evening to be presented by Offaly History in Hugh Lynch’s Pub, Tullamore on Thursday 5th December at 8 p.m. The event will chronicle the story of Arthur Bell Nicholls of Banagher and his romance with and marriage to the famous Victorian novelist, Charlotte Brontë of Haworth in Yorkshire. Using contemporary source material the presentation will narrate this intriguing love story in written word and song. Readings will recall Arthur’s early years when he lived in Cuba House with his uncle the Reverend Alan Bell, Master of the Royal School of Banagher, his subsequent ordination and appointment as curate to the Reverend Patrick Brontë in Haworth.

A victorian romance

Extracts from Charlotte’s letters will describe her marriage to Arthur and her honeymoon in Ireland. The production will close with an account of Arthur’s life following Charlotte’s death in 1855 and his return from Haworth to Banagher in 1861, up to his death in 1906.The event will be performed by the Martello Tower Players from Banagher, All proceeds from the evening will go towards the new Offaly Archives recently completed in the Axis Business Park, Clara Road Tullamore. Tickets are €12 each and can be obtained from Offaly History Centre. Telephone: 05793 21421 or email: info@offalyhistory.com and James Scully, Banagher

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Renovation of a 210-year-old Tullamore house in Store Street. By Bernard and Melissa Westman

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Over three years later and we are settled in our 210-year-old house in the heart of Tullamore, far from finished but we are happy to date. We tried to keep as much character as possible within the house with the stone walls. We also kept the original height of the ceilings in the bedrooms which are over 14 feet. Two of the bedrooms have the old iron cast fireplace and we restored them by sanding and spraying them back to their original look.

1880s map of part of Tullamore - Copy
Store Street and the old church  in the mid- 1880s with two or three of the big houses demolished . O’Connell Hall is now the Parish Centre.

Store Street is one of the quieter streets in Tullamore now, but from 1800 to the 950s it was a busy place with the canal stores in use beside the busy harbour. The passenger boat traffic finished in the 1850s with the advent of the railway and the canal hotel became a parochial house for the Catholic clergy. Besides the bustle of draymen was that boys heading up to the old St Brigid’s School from the late 1870s to 1961 while the younger children attended the convent primary school on the corner of Thomas Street and Store Street. Like Harbour Street the new Store Street of the early 1800s owed its origins to the building of the Grand Canal to Tullamore in 1798. The new chapel on the site of the present one was completed in 1802 and the CYMS hall (later St Mary’s Hall) and now the Parish Centre was in use from 1860 to the 1960s for meetings and dancing. If Store Street was quiet as to houses (only 12 to 15) it was still a busy spot at mass and school times and with the comings and goings of horses and drays to the canal stores (burned about 1960).

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Stories and traditions from the historic ruins in Ballinagar. Specially Contributed by John Malone

030176 Ballinagar RC Church

‘At Ballinagar a large and handsome R.C. chapel was in the course of erection in the ancient English style of architecture’.

Samuel Lewis in 1837 remarks that ‘at Ballinagar a large and handsome R.C. chapel was in the course of erection in the ancient English style of architecture’. This church replaced an earlier thatched building on the same site which probably dated back to the latter half of the 18th century on the relaxing of penal laws. When the present day church was reopened after being burnt in 2004, the wooden tabernacle of the original church was gifted by the Hackett family to the church and is now kept in the sacristy.
Lewis also remarks that near Ballinagar are the ruins of a church. There is local tradition that there was a church on Hackett’s lane on the Geashill road in Ballyduff south. There was a church in Clonmore called Balleen Lawn church and there also was a reference by Dr Comerford in his history of Kildare and Leighlin to a church graveyard in Clonadd which is between Ballinagar and Daingean.

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Central Leinster: some reflections on the architecture of County Offaly by Andrew Tierney

 

Medieval architecture
In a region crowded with fine buildings, County Offaly has a lot of significant works of architecture of which to be proud. It is rich in early Christian and Romanesque remains at Kinnitty, Durrow and Rahan, while the monastic settlement at Clonmacnoise is one of the outstanding survivals of this period in Ireland.

1. Clonony Castle
PHOTO 1. Clonony Castle, a seat of the MacCoghlan clan. From 1612 the home of German planter Mathew de Renzi

The county is less fortunate in its late medieval ecclesiastical buildings, but of the three Central Leinster counties (Laois, Offaly and Kildare) retains perhaps the most extensive architectural legacy of its Gaelic lordships – notably in tower houses such as Leap, Cloghan and Clonony, among others.

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Tanyard Lane, Tullamore: a hive of economic activity. Michael Byrne

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).

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The Harbour of my Dreams – Tullamore’s very grand canal dock by Fergal MacCabe

Aerial View Canal Harbour 2002

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.

Tullamore Habour 1950s
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.

Whithall Bridge July 1994

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.

Convent View, spring

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?

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Old friends in Bank of Ireland, Tullamore: forty years on, 1979–2019 by Cosney Molloy

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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.

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Local Government in Offaly: The county council and marking 120 years of local democracy. Michael Byrne

 

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

Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela from the Irish midlands in the fifteenth century by Bernadette Cunningham

 

Santiago de Compostela became an international pilgrimage destination in the twelfth century, at a time when the doctrine of purgatory was widely promulgated and the idea of indulgences was gaining popularity. The local archbishop, Diego Gelmírez (d.1140), promoted the cult of St James and the shrine in the Cathedral of Santiago became one of the three major pilgrimage destinations of the Christian world. This offered those living on the Atlantic edge of Europe an accessible alternative to Rome and Jerusalem.
There were two separate phases of the Santiago pilgrimage from medieval Ireland. The earlier phase, beginning in the thirteenth century, was a distinctly Anglo-Norman one, with pilgrims drawn from towns on the east and south coast. During the second phase – in the fifteenth century – Gaelic pilgrims from throughout Ireland, including the midlands, displayed a strong interest in going to Santiago. They almost invariably made the pilgrimage in jubilee years, when the feast of St James (25 July) fell on a Sunday and special indulgences could be earned.

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