2023 will be remembered as the year in which Tullamore tried to reinvent itself: the Dream Team. By Fergal MacCabe

Last year Offaly County Council and Waterways Ireland appointed advisors to prepare regeneration plans for the town centre and for the Grand Canal Harbour at the heart of it. The consultants brief required ideas for the redevelopment of the key underused sites, proposals for linking them all within a coherent, livable, safe and attractive town centre whose crowning glory would be an accessible Harbour containing dramatic new buildings full of vibrant day and night-time attractions. A date in mid to late 2023 was set for the delivery of their proposals.

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Cormac Street, Tullamore: a significant achievement for the planning process, 1786–2020. A contribution to Tullamore 400th and the Historic Towns Initiative to support town regeneration. By Michael Byrne

Cormac Street is somewhat unique in the story of Tullamore street development with its forty houses, two major institutional buildings and a town park. Rarely is a street preserved without blemish with so many elements over a two-hundred-year period. Cormac Street was also the home of the town’s major property developer and rentier Thomas Acres (d. 1836) who built his Acres Hall in 1786 (now the home of Tullamore Municipal Council). To the earl of Charleville and Thomas Acres is due most of the credit for the transformation of a green field site with Kilcruttin Hill and cemetery to the west and the Windmill Hill to the east. Acres could thank the war with France, 1793–1815, for the boost to the local economy that provided him with tenants for the terrace of houses on the east side. The expansion of Tullamore after 1798 due to the Grand Canal connection with Dublin and the Shannon provided the impetus to secure a new county jail (1826–30), county town status in 1832 and to take effect in 1835 with the completion of the county courthouse. War, politics and pride of place all contributed to the mix. The Bury contribution was rounded off when Alfred (later the fifth earl) secured a new railway station at Kilcruttin in place of that at Clonminch in about 1865.

Cormac Street has had the benefit of careful planning in its first hundred years and has managed to survive the excesses of the post 1960 and post 1997 periods of rapid development. The saving of Acres Hall in the 1980s was a significant achievement. What are these elements that contribute to the street and how did it all come about? Here are set out twenty points and probably more could be added.

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Saint Piran – of Seir Kieran, Offaly? By John Dolan

It was a casual comment at the recent excellent Heritage Day event at Seir Kieran, Discovering Seir Kieran Monastic Site, a local mentioned that there had been a visit in recent months from a group from Cornwall, visiting the birth place of St. Piran/St. Ciarán.  Cornwall had been mentioned as a place associated with St. Ciarán by one of the speakers on the day.  It was time again to have a look at this St. Piran. Piran is by far the most famous of all the saints to have gone to Cornwall from Ireland.

St. Ciarán was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland along with Brendan of Birr. Charles Plummer’s translation of the Life of Ciarán has him arriving to Ireland before St. Patrick. He also had the title of the ‘first born of the Saints of Ireland’. He is supposed to have been born at Cape Clear in Cork where there is a church, a beach and a standing stone as memorials to him.

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Traditional Architecture in Offaly: History, Materials and Furniture, 1800 to Present Day

Kitchen, parlour and bedroom – transforming a house into a home

Traditional Architecture in Offaly: History, Materials and Furniture by Rachel McKenna (Offaly County Council, 2022) is a wonderful new addition to the growing collection of quality publications on the county of Offaly and its place in Irish heritage. For long neglected by the travel writers who took the coastal route the county has made up for that oversight since the late 1970s with a whole series of publications. The writer is the county architect and well placed to observe the changing scene and to appreciate what was distinctive about the habitations of the ordinary people (the third and fourth class housing of the 1841-61 censuses) and what has survived to the present day. As the CE of Offaly County Council has written in the Preface

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Have an ‘Offaly History’ Christmas with over a dozen new books this year

It has been a good year for new publications contributing to the history of County Offaly and helping us to get to know ourselves and our place better. When the annual report of the Tullamore Credit Union is dropped in the door you know Christmas is close. Seeing the cover and that the credit union is now sixty years old set us thinking of phases in our history. The year 1923 marked the end of the civil war. After a period of growth from 1891 to 1918 things got difficult. You could write off 1923–63 in terms of the economic engine. It was mostly switched off with exceptions in Tullamore Yarns, the Bacon Factory, Tullamore and the Williams and Egan businesses serving the midlands. The emerging Bord na Mona and ESB were providing jobs in west Offaly from the 1950s and east Offaly later, but it was the 1960s before a general ‘all boats’ lift up occurred. Equally you could say that since September 2001 (and the mobile phone) we have been living with anxiety which seems to grow every year especially since Brexit 2016 and now the war and climate change. Not to mention all the things we have to do online to comply with the requirements of banks and government. These books are all available from Offaly History, Bury Quay (and online http://www.offalyhistory) and our friends in Midland Books, Tullamore.

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‘It will last for centuries’:  St. Joseph’s Convent, Tullamore

Fergal MacCabe

In 1840, the scaffolding began to come down to reveal the new convent and school of the Sisters of Mercy on Bury Quay, today Convent Road.

With the building of the County Gaol in 1830, the County Courthouse in 1835 and the Union Workhouse in 1839-41, Tullamore was rapidly acquiring substantial civic and social buildings which were adding to its prestige and promoting its new role as the capital of King’s County.

But as yet, no buildings of a religious or educational nature which might contribute equally significantly to the architectural character of the town centre had emerged. The Catholic chapel of 1802 on its backland site off Harbour Street was a relatively modest structure without a frontage presence onto a main street. Charleville School built in 1811 at the junction of Henry Street and Church Street exhibited a well-mannered but unassuming appearance. Though a most impressive structure, the siting of Francis Johnston’s St Catherine’s on Hop Hill rendered it remote from the daily life of the town.

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Serious fires at Birr Castle in 1832 and 1919. Serious Tourism now. Specially contributed to mark the decade of centenaries in County Offaly

Two serious fires took place at Birr Castle within the hundred years from 1832 to 1919. Thankfully there has been nothing like it since and the castle was fortunate to survive the burnings of country houses in the county in the period from June 1922 to April 1923. Birr Castle is the only large house in the county to have survived in the same family since the 1620s. Its Gothic exemplar Charleville Castle, Tullamore also survived the destruction of the Civil War period. Both houses were occupied by the Free State Army from late July 1922.

The fire of 1832, ninety years earlier, was perhaps the most destructive and in its aftermath Laurence Parsons, the second earl of Rosse took the opportunity to add a third storey to the great house that had been substantially rebuilt in 1801–03. Its comrade in Tullamore is dated 1800 to 1812, or 1809 the grand opening – if not quite finished.

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The Mulock family of Bellair/Baile Ard, Ballycumber, County Offaly. By Eamonn Larkin

Specially contributed to mark the Decade of Centenaries in Offaly #DecadeofCentenaries @DeptCultureIRL @DepartmentofCultureIRL Tourism-Culture-Gaeltacht @offalyheritage @offalylibraries

Bellair or Ballyard is in the Parish of Lemanaghan, in the Barony of Garrycastle and has an area of 1,198 acres and borders Hall, Westmeath in the north, Cappanalosset in the west, Moorock to the east and Springpark to the south. The dominant feature is the Hill of Bellair, which is visible from adjoining counties. The most striking feature of the Hill is the wonderful plantation of Beech and Fir trees which were planted on the instructions of Rev. Doctor Mulock. The Mulock or Mullock family were not planters, but were Irish landowners, who originated in the North of Ireland in the lands of Dal Araide.

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Ballyduff and Tullamore post-Reformation Catholic churches 1775-1902. By John Wrafter and Michael Byrne

The first post-reformation Catholic Church in Tullamore parish was completed in 1775. Recently an architectural fragment from that church was presented to the Society. Ballyduff chapel was a small T-shaped building the remains of which are still standing and used to be glimpsed from the roadway between the former Wrafter’s farmhouse and the Carroll Meats factory. It is now in the grounds of Axis Business Park and easy to access.

The architectural fragment from Ballyduff first RC post-Reformation church of 1775 presented to Offaly History by John Wrafter.
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Remembering Patrick Street, Tullamore in the 1950s and 1960s. By Patrick Hennessy

A contribution to our Heritage Town series

Despite being out of the town for more years than I care to count I still get a kick out of telling people “I’m from Tullamore”. This often leads to “are you from the Town”? To which I readily reply in the affirmative, mentioning that I grew up on Patrick St. This invariably brings back memories of those happy days long ago. As a youngster in the 50s and early 60s I felt – and still do! – that Patrick St was the centre of the universe, a fantastic microcosm of daily life at the crossroads of the known world (well, High Street and William Street). To my young eyes it was Times Square, Piccadilly and the Istanbul souk all rolled into one. I remember the great variety of shops, with all kinds of enticing and exotic goodies, and behind the counters a wonderful collection of “grown-ups”, friendly but also each a source of curiosity to this young shopper. There was Talbots, definitely first among equals, where all your sweet fantasies could be fulfilled: ice creams (“wafers”) went from 2 pennies to 6 pennies (though I also remember a one penny half portion), while every cavity inducing confection was available from big glass jars. Particularly good value was the two-penny chocolate covered Trigger toffee bar. Turning right out of our house, you came to Cathy Dunne’s sweet shop, cousins of my dad, and always with an encouraging word for the “little fella”.

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