The parish of Clonmacnoise (in the diocese of Meath and King’s County/Offaly) by Revd Patrick Fitzgerald, c. 1814–16. Presented by Offaly History

An account of  Clonmacnoise in the early years of the ninteenth century was published by William Shaw Mason (c.1774–1853), as part of his three-volume A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland, drawn up from the communications of the clergy (1814–19).  Included in this survey is one Offaly parish – that of Clonmacnoise, published as part of vol. 2 in 1816, pp 142-150.

Shaw Mason was born in  Dublin in 1774 and died there in 1853.  He was for many years involved in the pursuit of history and was secretary to the Commissioners of Public Records.  One attractive sinecure he had was Remembrancer or receiver of first fruits.

Patrick Fitzgerald

The contributer of the Clonmacnoise piece was the local vicar, Patrick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald noted that there was no town in the parish save Shannonbridge which had a few slated and 280 thatched houses.The parish had 586 families, comprising over 3,000 of a population with only eight Protestant families. Potatoes and milk were the basic foodstuffs with some fish. English was the usual tongue with only some Irish spoken.  Patron Day was 9th September as it still is but at that time 3,000 to 4,000 people would attend.  The principal owners of land in the parish were Lord Rosse, Rev. Henry Mahon, Edward Armstrong-Frazier and H. P. Lestrange. The number of Protestant families must have one of the lowest in the county and can be conrasted with Ballyboy and Killoughy in 1826 with 7,250 RC and almost 500 Protestants.

Clonmacnois* is the ancient and modern name of the parish.  It is situated in the barony of Garrycastle in the King’s County and in the diocese of Meath. Longitude 80 5 ’west; latitude 530 20’ North. (The name Clonmacnois evidently derived from the word ‘Cluain’ meaning a retired lawn, or small nook of land, free from rocks, near a river. . .) Its boundaries are on the north the river Shannon, from which it is separated from the county of Roscommon; on the east, by Kilcleagh and Lemanaghan parishes on the south, by Thesaurin parish, and on the West by part of Thesaurin parish, and by the Shannon which divides it from Galway and Clonfert.

The length of the parish from East to West is about eight Irish miles and the breadth from North to South is about three. About 3723 acres are arable and fit for pasture; the meadow ground is in general indifferent; there is a little upland meadow, as it mostly lies along the banks of the Shannon.  But it contains more than double the above named number of acres of bog, as a large branch of the great Bog of Allen runs up into the parish, including every kind of soil.  It contains upwards of 12,000 acres.

There is no river in or adjoining to this parish except the Shannon which mears it as already mentioned.  A lake called Clonsalagh, which is computed to cover ninety acres, produces good pike and perch and some eels.  This sheet of water is situated nearly in the centre of the parish, and derives its name from the townland in which it is.  On the North and East, it is surrounded by hills, which, if planted, would produce a fine effect, and on the south and west by a large bog. The parish abounds with hills, the tops of which are allotted to pasturage as all the valleys are tilled and produce fine crops of corn; though the general appearance of the soil which is very light and sandy, might lead at first view to an opposite conclusion.  There are neither mountains nor woods here, nor have there been any remarkable indigenous plants found.

                               Mines, Minerals, &c.

Limestone is the general substratum of the soil in all parts, when mixed with bogstuff and clay; it makes excellent compost for the purposes of manuring.

          Modern Buildings, &c.

The high road leading from Ballinasloe to the counties of Meath and Kildare runs through the parish, in a direction East and West. Another crosses it nearly from North to south, and there is also a third road, but this is of very little note.   It can boast but of one town that of Shannonbridge so called from a very handsome bridge built across the river. Here is a small barrack capable of accommodating a company of soldiers.  A large tower and battery are building and in a state of great forwardness on the western (or Connaught) side of the bridge. This is the great pass from that province to Leinster. A Magazine has already been erected behind the barracks.  There is no market held here, the want of which is severely felt by the soldiers, who are obliged to purchase their meat at Ballinasloe, six miles distant. 

The village contains a few slated houses of two stories high and the rest, to the number of 280 are thatched. In consequence of the great number of artificers employed in the military works house rent has increased rapidly. The average rent for building ground amounts to ten shillings per foot. Its inn is nothing more than a stopping point, but the village contains several shops for retailing spirits without licence better known throughout the country by the name of Shebeen Houses.

It is singular, that not a possessor of a fee simple estate resides in the parish, neither, if we except the glebe house, is there is more than one good slated house in it, which belongs to Mr. Coughlan who holds about 200 acres of land, on which he resides.

Ancient Buildings, &c.                      

The Abbey of Clonmacnois is situated near the river Shannon. It was built about the year of our Lord 561 at which time it was held in high veneration. The Churchyard annexed to it contains nearly two Irish acres; it is one of the greatest burial places in Ireland, upwards of four hundred corpses are supposed to be buried there annually. There are also the remains of ten other chapels of lesser note, now totally in ruins. A door of one of them is very curiously and very beautifully carved. About half quarter of a mile thence, are the remains of a Bishop’s palace, now wholly in ruins, some of the walls are the only parts that have as yet escaped the ravages of time. In the church-yard are two large Round Towers one about 62 feet high, and 56 in circumference; its walls are 3 feet 8 inches thick, and the other is 5 feet 6” high, 7 feet in diameter and three feet thick.  Here are also two large crosses, one of which is marked with some rude carving and bears an inscription in antique and unknown characters. At a small distance stands what appears to have been a religious house for nuns; it is also in ruins, no part of the building remains, except a single arch. A full account of this interesting place may be found in Archdall’s Monasticum and Ledwidge’s Antiquities of Ireland.

The landowners in the parish, none of whom was resident. From Shaw Mason, ii (1816), p. 150.

Present and Former State of Population &c.

From every information that could be procured it appears that there are 586 families in the parish, comprising of 1618 males and 1558 females. Eight only of these families are Protestant, the rest Roman Catholic. The people in general are very comfortable and dress neatly, some in grey frize, and some in coarse blue cloth. Potatoes and milk form the general food, to which is often added fish procured from the Shannon and the lake. The poorest keeps one cow, and some have three or four. There are very few who do not keep one horse for work, and some have two.

The fuel is turf. This is plentiful and of good quality. The houses are in general very neat and comfortable, mostly built of stone and mortar. One person only is named here as having lived to 90 years of age. Few arrive to 70.

The Disposition and Genius of the Poorer Classes

The people here are very industrious. They are courteous to strangers but have a stubborn disposition in their intercourse with each other.  Their general language is English, although they sometimes speak Irish to one another.

There is but one patron day held here, on 9th of September in honour of St. Kieran their tutelary saint and this is numerously attended.  From 3000 to 4000 people assemble there to do penance from different parts of Ireland, even from the county of Donegal.  Tents and booths are erected round the churchyard for the accommodation of the people.  This assemblage continues for two days and often ends in quarrels. Its abolition would be a desirable circumstance. Some persons have been obliged to keep to their beds for weeks in consequence of beatings received at such meetings.

     The Education and Employment of Children.

The children are brought up to husbandry. Some parents send their children to the petty schools in the neighbourhood, during the idle season of the year. When asked why they did not send them regularly and constantly, their answer was that they could not spare them from the work. The girls are generally employed in spinning.

There are no public schools. The parish clerk keeps a licensed Protestant school, which is very badly attended, not more than fifteen children receiving instructions from him. There are, however, three Roman Catholic schools, whose average number of pupils fluctuates from forty to eighty. In harvest time and spring, the number sinks much lower, in consequence of the children being kept to assist in the agricultural labours.  The quarterly salary for tuition is 1s. 8d. for reading and spelling 3.s 4d. for writing and arithmetic.  There is no public library nor any collection of Irish or other manuscripts relating to Ireland.

Religious Establishments; Tythes &c.

Clonmacnois is a vicarage in the gift of the Bishop of Meath, and is not united to any other parish. About two miles and a half from the church stands the glebe house, where the vicar resides on a glebe of about forty acres.  All sorts of grain pay tythes. Wheat, bere and barley are set at from 10s. to 12s. per acre; oats and flax at eight shillings, neither meadow, potatoes, nor rape pay tythes.  Sheep pay at the rate of £1.13s. 4p. per hundred. The tythe is but indifferently collected. Some indeed pay punctually, but others very badly.  There are two Catholic chapels in the parish, with a priest to each.

IX Modes of Agriculture Crops Etc.

The inhabitants adhere very tenaciously to the old modes of agriculture.  Burning for manure is much practiced, it is called ‘boiting’. The ground when thus prepared, is planted with potatoes, then wheat, barley and oats.  The wages of the labourers are 10d. per day in summer and 3d. in winter without victuals but is somewhat higher in harvest.  The stock is chiefly cows, horses and sheep of the old Irish breed. The general acreable rent, particularly for late takes is from a guinea and a half to two guineas, but on old takes, from 15s. to a pound. No duty services or payments are exacted from the tenants.  Most of the land is set in small farms of from about 10 to 15 acres but there are a few of 25 acres. There is neither market nor fair, nor even a pound or a constable in the parish.

X Trade, Manufactures, Commerce, &c.

None

                               XI. NATURAL CURIOSITIES

The list of incumbents from the First Fruits’ Records.

The Reverend Philip Barret, Clerk, was collated on 26th day of May 1743 to the vicarage of Clonmacnois in the King’s County, and Diocese of Meath.

Stephen Bootle, 14th July 1762, Vicarage Clonmacnois, King’s County.

Joseph Pasley, 4th February 1763, Vicarage Clonmacnois, King’s County

William Donaldson, 7th November, 1764 Vicarage, Clonmacnois King’s County

John Baily instituted 15th December 1778, Vicarage Clonmacnois, King’s County – episcopally united to the Rectory of Ballygart in County Meath.

John Fitzgerald, instituted 10th October 1799 Vicarage, Clonmacnois, County Westmeath.

King’s County Infirmary – its closure in 1921 in an era of change. By Aisling Irwin

King’s County Infirmary was established under the reign of King George III with the passing of the Irish County Infirmaries Act of 1765. This act enabled the creation of infirmaries in thirty Irish counties. During the redevelopment of Tullamore town by the Earl of Charleville, a new infirmary building was erected in 1788 on Church Street and was further extended in 1812.

The County Infirmaries Act was enacted to provide healthcare to the poor which fulfilled the eighteenth century philanthropic ideals of the landed gentry who supported these institutions through donations and subscriptions. King’s County Infirmary was supported by an income consisting of parliamentary funds, grand jury presentments, governor subscriptions, donations, and patient fees. The infirmary was managed by a Board of Governors who paid subscriptions for their position on the board which gave them absolute control over the infirmary including staff appointments and patient admissions. Governors were made up of local gentry and landowners such as the Earl of Rosse, Lord Digby, and prominent business owners such as the Goodbody family.   

While surviving records are limited, the Board meeting minute books provide a colourful insight into the running of an infirmary in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland.  The Infirmary’s Surgeon, Dr James Ridley, was linked to a scandal that pervaded the county in 1887 and 1888. Ridley, who also acted as one of the Tullamore jail physicians was reported to have died by suicide on the morning he was due to give evidence at the inquest into the death of John Mandeville, a national league activist. Mandeville who was imprisoned under the Irish Crimes Act of 1887 was subject to harsh and cruel punishment at the hands of his jailors and died shortly after his release from prison. 

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Tullamore: ‘A good business town’. By Fergal MacCabe

Why has there been so little public interest in the conservation of the architectural heritage of Tullamore?

Sharing a pot of tea in the Brewery Tap in the early 1980s with a well-known local builder, I remarked that demolition and redevelopment rather than conservation and reuse always seemed to be the first choice option. His reply, which I have never forgotten, was that new buildings which responded to modern needs were always preferable because  ‘Tullamore is a good business town’. Change had always brought benefits and the future held more attraction than the past.

I understand that sentiment. Unlike Birr or even Edenderry, Tullamore has always been seen to be go ahead and dynamic; looking forward always and never backwards. That progressive approach was sustained by active business organisations and extended to the areas of arts, culture and local history also. It created a vibrant, attractive and always interesting atmosphere.

Nonetheless, little concern was ever publicly expressed for the protection of the town’s architectural heritage and the role it might play in its advancement. This derived partly, I believe, from a perception that since there were no buildings earlier than the mid 18th century, the fabric of the town was relatively new and was therefore of little or no artistic interest or value. This attitude was reflected in the non-existence, even to the present day, of any local civic group or architectural preservation society or even an Offaly branch of An Taisce. Birr might have its Chapter of the Irish Georgian Society, Tullamore despite its large inventory of 18th c. buildings, didn’t follow.

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Rathrobin and the Two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900–1920. Michael Byrne

Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the photographs taken by Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926, of Rathrobin near Mountbolus) are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was keenly aware of the plantations of the 1550s to the 1650s. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, indoor staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Biddulph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.

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The 14th and 15th earls of Huntingdon of Sharavogue, Shinrone and the Birr barracks scandal. By Stephen Callaghan

Warner Francis John Plantagenet Hastings was born on 8 July 1868 at 54, St Stephen’s Green Place, Dublin. He was the son of Francis Power Plantagent Hastings, 14th Earl of Huntingdon, and Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra. The title of Earl of Huntingdon was an English peerage title originally created in 1065, the current title is its seventh incarnation which was created in 1529.

The 14th Earl married Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra 15 August 1867, who was the only daughter of Colonel Honourable John Craven Westenra, of Sharavogue, King’s County – a member of the Irish Whig party.

The family acquired lands in Waterford and King’s County. In the latter they lived in Sharavogue House. The house was originally built in the 1820s and was described as containing drawing and dining rooms of the finest proportion, a library, seven bedrooms, servant apartments, stables, coach houses and offices. A walled garden and 100 acres of land. Later additions to the house were made by notable Irish architect Sir Thomas Deane.

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Scallys of Kilbeggan and Tullamore: the height of fashion, mechanics and aviation. By Maurice Egan

One could only marvel at the grandness of the shopfront, its curved plate glass display windows, its fine chiselled limestone three-story edifice, as well as the coming and goings of customers. This was what was on view to the townsfolk and visitors to Tullamore when coming across the shop owned and operated by proprietor Malachy Scally of Kilbeggan. In 1901, for his thirty first birthday he visited London and picked up retailing insights, ideas on cash handling systems, and street facing window placings from the likes of Selfridges and Harrods retail establishments.1 He completed the magnificent frontage, between 1912 and 1914 at a cost of £5,000-.

            In the 1960s, I remember putting my back against Noel O’Brien’s shop on the opposite side of the street and watched the same comings and goings to the famed shop under new owners, the Melville group. The most intriguing sight was seen from within, the mesmerising swishing sound and rapid movement of the railway wire line carriers with its overhead mechanical system. It was just fascinating to watch. (Mrs Jo. Morris and her sons Philip and Kenneth, had a similar but smaller version, at their family shop, J Morris draper on Church Street).

Fig 1. The magnificent edifice of Malachy Scally’s drapery on Columcille Street (Pound Street), Tullamore. Designed by architect T F McNamara (who also designed the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore), it was completed between 1912 and 1914. Courtesy NLI and set here in the jacket of Maurice Egan’s new book to be published in mid-December by Offaly History.

While my mother bought her items from the various departments, she chatted at length to the attendants, I was only too happy to sit all day and watch the mechanics of the ‘rapid wire’ system. In fact, I recall pleading with her to buy each item for cash, so I could observe the railway workings in detail. The Lamson ‘rapid wire’ system was developed in 1888 and consisted of a cylindrical wooden cup with screw-on base which was projected by a catapult mechanism along a taut wire, travelling on grooved wheels suspending the cup from the wire. These cups would travel a good distance, including around corners, without the need of gravity by incline.At Malachy Scally’s this system would travel to and from the ground floor centrally located, elevated cash office.

Fig 2. The Lamson Store Service                 Fig 3. From Anscombe’s in the UK, the cashier                                                                       returning the customers change along the ‘rapid                                                              wire’ system.

The Scallys of Rahugh, Kilbeggan and Tullamore

The Tullamore drapery store Scallys were originally farmers who hailed from Attyconnor, Rahugh, close to the Westmeath/Offaly border. The farm is still owned and worked by the family and lies between Kilbeggan and Tullamore.

            Loughlin Scally (b c 1808, d 16 October 1896) and his wife Rose (b c 1809 d 21 August 1885) had three sons and one daughter that we know of: James, Patrick, Daniel, and Clara Scally. James Scally (b c 1841 d 8 December 1903) was a Kilbeggan merchant and licenced premise owner based on Main Street Upper, Kilbeggan, and was a leading local member of the Land League. He married Clara Christina Horan (b c 1846 d 13 January 1917), a prosperous farmers daughter from Muiniagh, Tullamore. They were married at Durrow church on 17 January 1868 by Tullamore curate Fr Joseph Flood C C. The bridesmaid was Clara Scally. They had ten children. James was an enterprising entrepreneur and with the assistance of his father-in-law, Mathew Horan, James expanded his business to Tullamore. Luke Horan, second eldest son of Mathew (b c 1841 m Bedelia Clavin of Clara on 18 April 1866, b c 1846 d 4 November 1896), was a merchant tailor by trade, and was set up in business on Tullamore’s Colmcille Street (Pound Street) in a shop leased to him by his father. They had one son Mathew Joseph Horan who died of TB in early childhood (b 16 September 1867 d 24 March 1871). Sadly, Luke did not escape the ravages of TB, and suffered from its effects for many years.

_________________________________________________________________________________Footnote: Muiniagh is the townland (218a) that extends from Tullamore’s Axis business park north to the Silver River and includes a portion of the residential estate called, Norbury Woods.

It is believed James Scally, his brother-in-law, took over the lease of the Horan shop and established it as James Scally draper in 1876.3 Luke died at the Whitworth Hospital in Drumcondra (a hospital for the chronically ill) on 30 November 1879. He was 38 years of age. His bereft widow Bedelia moved to Castletown, Clara to live with her two brothers.

Fig 4. Extract from the last will and testament of Mathew Horan 1880. Courtesy NLI.

Fig 5. Will and testament of Mathew Horan 1880. Courtesy NLI.

Fig 6. Clara (née Horan) and James Scally. Courtesy Malachy Scally.                                    

Established in 1876, this became the start of a great trot for the Scally drapery business, which was to continue for an uninterrupted eighty-five years. It is believed that James and Clara Scally lived at Bank House (alias Step House), on Main Street Upper North, Kilbeggan since around 1868. They later resided at their  fine hardware, grocery, provision, and licenced merchant house which continued as Scally’s for over sixty years until 1928. Malachy, their eldest son was born 8 April 1870. They had ten children, five boys and five girls. James now a successful businessperson, continued to grow his business and leased lands, some known as Towns Park, as well as property, including the Crescent store and Market Square store, Kilbeggan.

Fig 7. James Scally, grocer, provisions merchant and licenced premises, Main St, Kilbeggan. Their residence ‘Step House’ was six doors up the street to the right of picture. Courtesy the NLI.

Unbearable tragedy was not too far around the corner for James and Clara Scally. In 1884, in the space of just nineteen days they lost six (four daughters and two sons) of their ten children to scarlet fever and typhoid.

Malachy Scally

Malachy Scally (b 8 April 1870 d 3 October 1935) married Mary Anne Fitzgibbon (25 June 1874 d 9 May 1935), at St Michaels church, Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire). She was daughter of well-known M P in the House of Commons for Castlerea County Roscommon, John Fitzgibbon and his wife Marion, née O’Carroll. John Fitzgibbon (1845–1919) was also a merchant draper in Castlerea. John was a supporter of Home Rule and unity with Britain, as well as a member of the Gaelic League. He started his working life in his father’s drapery business in Castlerea. Seen as a spokesperson for the tenant, Fitzgibbon exercised his powers of persuasion and oratory at meetings across Roscommon. His political life spanned 30 years, from the land war to the ranch war.Mary Anne’s brother Michael Fitzgibbon (b 2 August 1886 d 15 August 1915, was an apprentice at the solicitors’ firm, Hoey & Denning, Tullamore) joined the British army during the First World War as a second lieut with the 7th Dublin Fusiliers. In July 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Captain and the regiment was shipped to the Dardanelles. One week into the disastrous Allied Gallipoli campaign, the popular twenty-nine-year-old Capt Fitzgibbon was killed in action on Turkish soil.

__________________________________________________________________________________Footnote: The ten children of James and Clara Scally were: Rose Mary (b 3 April 1869 d 25 September 1919 of TB, m 15 September 1892 Peter Joseph Joyce of Leenane Galway b 1859, a commercial traveller from Edgeworthstown and Longford d 9 September 1926), Malachy (b 8 April 1870 d 3 October 1935 m 19 June 1895 Mary Anne Teresa Fitzgibbon of Castlerea b 25 June 1874 d 9 May 1935), Joseph (b 29 September 1873), Mathew James Scally (b 20 July 1875 d 31 October 1884), John Frances Scally (b 4 December 1877 d 1 March 1907 m 1906 Annie White, daughter of P J White of Clara, widowed she later married James Kelly 17 June 1912), Bridget Christina (b 21 December 1878 d 3 November 1884), Mary Joseph (b 29 February 1880 d 24 October 1884), James Scally jnr (b 20 July 1881 d 24 October 1884), Agnes Scally (b 28 January 1883 d 11 November 1884), Clara Christina (b 18 July 1884 d 4 November 1884).5

Fig 8. Malachy Scally, merchant draper and entrepreneur. Courtesy Malachy Scally.

Malachy was deemed an astute and quick learner, and was schooled at the Christian Brothers, Tullamore and later at Navan. He finished his schooling at Rockwell College. He quickly learned the drapery business and was constantly looking out for new ideas in the world of fashion and retailing. He and Mary Anne had eleven children, the three eldest were born above the drapery store on William Street (todays Colmcille Street) . The businesses in both Kilbeggan and Tullamore were thriving, and he took out a lease on the architecturally impressive residential property Moore Hall on Earl Street (O’Moore St, Tullamore) in 1900. He learned much on his travels and brought back and implemented new ideas from a 1901 trip to visit Selfridges and Harrods, London. Malachy formally took over the running of the family business when his father James died in 1903.

          In April 1902, as his business expanded he took over the lease of the former Bradley boot and shoe warehouse next door (today’s AIB bank). Malachy Scally, grandson of Malachy snr recalls: ‘Around 1903, Malachy took a lease on number 2 and 3 Colmcille Street from Lady Emily Alfred Julia Howard Bury of Charleville Forest. Earlier, it was called William Street after Charles William Bury First Earl of Charleville.

          In 1912 he commissioned the office of architect William Hague (1836-1899) to design the magnificent shop and façade for 2 and 3 Colmcille Street. His daughter Philomena (Phlo) also had an input in the design. While accompanying her father on a buying trip to Brussels, she made sketches of shop fronts, which influenced the outcome. After Hague’s death, his wife took over the firm’s partnership with their managing assistant, the renowned architect T F McNamara (1867-1947) who had worked on the Church of the Assumption, Grand Central Cinema, and the Co-Operative Society premises in Tullamore. The shop was completed in 1914.’

Ever the moderniser with a keen interest in mechanics, he was the first to install the mesmerising Lamson overhead cash wire carriers in the town. He was fascinated with aeroplanes and encouraged his sons Manco and Frank in their pursuit to become qualified pilots.

            He continued to run the original family business on Main Street, Kilbeggan, and employed his first cousin Patrick Scally of Attyconner and later Moyvore, as an assistant shop hand. He thereafter put his son Manco in charge of the Kilbeggan store from around 1920. James A Scally the eldest son, worked with and was trained in the retail trade by his father, having completed his schooling at Clongowes. Together they introduced a new sales incentive at Scally’s drapery where paying customers were entered into Scally’s draw for their unique prize scheme. Uncollected monetary prizes were donated to charity. Increasingly James A was taking over more of the running of the business, assisted by his youngest brother Brendan and youngest sister Eithne Scally.

            Manco decided to spend more and more time engaged as a professional aviator, spending considerable time in Coventry, England. In 1928 Malachy decided to sell the old established Kilbeggan business inherited from his father James Scally. It was advertised for auction by the Kelly Brothers, Auctioneers at Kilbeggan on the 29 September that year.

            The free-spirited Manco had planned a huge adventurous solo flight from Ireland to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) via Baghdad. It would be the first private individual flying out of the new Irish Free State. His tiny plane (EI AAL) he called ‘Shamrocket’ and flew via Paris and then onto Marseilles. He was tragically killed while trying to land at nearby Berre on 21 February 1932.

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‘Opening the Hidden Bridge  and A New Theory of The Early Origins of Tullamore’. By Fergal MacCabe

Introduction

Amongst the recently announced projects for the rejuvenation of the centre of Tullamore is the long promised opening of the ‘Hidden Bridge’ behind the County Library and the linking across it of O’Connor Square and Church Street by a new public park. Though the age and function of the bridge are obscure, clues may be found which shed light on not just its genesis but also those of Tullamore itself.

 Settlement Types

As humans began to leave the forests and gather together for trade and security, three distinct models of settlement began to emerge. One was the elongated village street which developed along a well travelled trail. Another was the crossroads ie. a meeting of four trails creating a junction around which housing and businesses clustered.The third was the village green form, where several trails came together around an open marketplace.

In Offaly the best examples of the first are Banagher, Shannonbridge, Daingean or Edenderry with their long main streets. Ferbane is a good example of the second type. Killeigh, Cloneygowan, Geashill and Clara which share the same feature of a triangular fair green, are good examples of the last.

Into which category therefore does Tullamore fall?

Tullamore 1838

Early Maps

The Cotton map of the mid to late 16 th century shows the central Midlands as mainly woods, trackless plains and bogs. Apart from ‘Dinian’ (Daingean), Killeigh is the only settlement noted

Tullamore first appears as a distinct settlement on the Moll Atlas of 1728 which shows the Tyrellspass to Birr road as the main route from Westmeath to Tipperary and crossing the Ballycowen River river just south of a hamlet noted as ‘Tullymore’. No other roads into this village are shown.

The first map which shows the layout of the town of Tullamore itself is Taylor and Skinner’s 1777 volume which describes the routes of all the main roads traversing Ireland at that time, but does not purport to be a reliable guide to the streets or form of the towns through which they pass. The guide shows the north -south Kilbeggan to Birr road crossing the river and  intersected by the east-west Philipstown (Daingean) to Clara road at a point just south of the present canal bridge. A small chapel is shown on Church Street and a nobleman’s seat close by. The Tyrellspass to Birr road is shown entering the town from the north east and meeting the Philipstown/Clara road at a T-junction, but does not continue further southwards. Were it to continue in a straight line however, it would arrive at the river at precisely the location of the ‘Hidden Bridge’ at the rear of the Library which suggests that this was once its destination.

William Larkin’s Survey of 1809 is a little more detailed and shows seven roads radiating out into the countryside from a central point- again presumably the river crossing. The arrival of the Grand Canal in 1798 had interrupted this road pattern north of the river.

Larkin 1809

Some indication of the age of these radial roads may be drawn from an examination of the first really reliable map of Tullamore-the Ordnance Survey of 1838. Field boundaries which are not continuous across road lines suggest land ownerships of some antiquity and therefore longer established routes. The clearest example of newer roads interrupting established field boundaries is visible in Bachelors Walk, laid out in 1815 while the relatively recent vintage of Tanyard Lane and the road to Geashill are evident also. However, the Killeigh, Kilbeggan, Rahan and Charleville radial roads which have differing boundaries on either side, are clearly much older.

The North Eastern Radial

Of particular interest however is the north eastern entry to the town from the Tyrrellspass direction and the former direct route to Birr according to Moll.  Having cut through the esker at Derrygolan, the road  takes a direct and straight line to enter Tullamore at Puttaghan along a route formerly known locally as Rapparee Alley; at which point (according to Taylor and Skinner) it suddenly meets the east-west Philipstown-Clara road and proceeds no further. The discontinuous boundaries on either side northwards of this junction suggests a route of some antiquity. We can only speculate as to why it does not continue further to its projected and natural  destination point -the river crossing suggested by Moll’s map.

Roads evolve along desire lines of movement and historically the focus of all the other radial roads entering Tullamore was the river crossing. As there were no physical obstacles to interrupt the original line of the Puttaghan Road, we can only surmise as to the reasons for its discontinuance or abandonment.

Combining the Moll Atlas and Taylor and Skinner’s Map it would appear that the road originally ran past the ruined castle recorded in 1620 as being in the ownership of Sir John Moore and which was located somewhere in the Church Street/O’Carroll Street area. Indeed the castle may have originally been built to ensure the security of that ancient road.

In 1710 Sir John moved the family seat of the O’Moores from Croghan to Tullamore and built a new house somewhere near the old castle. It is possible but conjectural that some years later the Puttaghan road was decommissioned by Sir John to increase and protect the pleasure grounds around his new residence. Traffic from the north east would now meet a T-junction at the northern edge of his estate and travel westwards along the Philipstown- Clara road to meet with what was by then, the main Kilbeggan-Birr road and then proceed southwards along it to ford the river.

Though this diversion might have inconvenienced travellers, it should be noted that in 1786 Sir John’s successors rerouted the Tullamore- Birr road around their new demesne at Charleville for this very reason.

Tullamore c. 1912

The Old Bridge

What then was the function of the bridge between O’Connor Square and Church Street and which has been hidden out of sight for many years? The sharp cutting of the stonework of its central abutment suggests that it is not an ancient structure, but we have no precise information as to when it was erected; in particular we don’t know if it predates or succeeds the bridge to the west which was provided on the site of the former ford sometime around 1775.

The eminent chronicler of the history of the town, Dr. William Moran conjectures that  ‘It was probably about the time (early 18c.) the fair green and the cornmarket were opened, that the first bridge over the river was built to enable farmers from the south side of the river to bring their produce to market’. He then goes on to surmise that ‘Two short stretches of road, one each side of the river, connected this bridge with the already existing Philipstown-Birr road.The inconvenience of having to make this little detour, in order to cross the river by the bridge was soon felt; and the present bridge was built to replace the old one’

The provision of the western bridge to replace the ford at present day Bridge Street does not explain why the eastern bridge should have been enclosed and abandoned. It would still have been the more direct route between the two market places of the town and of greater convenience to cattle drovers and wheeled traffic.

The other eminent chronicler of the history of Tullamore Michael Byrne, suggests that property records indicate that the eastern bridge is of a later date than 1775  and was a private facility and an internal link within a single business premises-as was common in the other brewing, tanning and distilling businesses of the town that utilised the river as a source of water or for the discharge of effluent.

I think it is possible to argue that neither Dr. Moran nor Michael Byrne have fully explained the genesis of the bridge and that we have to go back to an earlier date to understand the reason for its location; whatever about the date of its construction.

I believe that, as in the case of its companion to the west, the natural extension of the radial line of the approach roads into Tullamore suggests that it may have been built on the site of an earlier ford-indeed that the entire river between both bridges may have originally been shallow enough to have been fordable. The drainage scheme of the early 1950s deepened this section of the river between Church Street and Bridge Street by removing the rocky outcrop which facilitated the fording of the river at this point.

If this earlier crossing point existed, it is probable that prior to the construction by Sir John Moore of his new house in 1710, all of the radial roads met together at a point to the south of the river. If I am correct in this, a triangular fair green with the fordable river running through and surrounded by houses on the three sides (Church Street being its northern side)  would have been the most likely original urban form.

The neighbouring villages, Killeigh, Clonygowan, Geashill and Clara, display such triangular layouts. As may be seen from comparative plans, the form and dimensions of their central village greens are almost identical to each other. (illus.). The village green which I submit may have been the form of Tullamore up to the end  of the 17th c. would have been similar to them in scale and shape.

It is possible also that Frankford (Kilcormac) originally formed around a Fair Green of similar scale though the triangular block is now much compromised by infill housing.

A New Theory

As ‘Tullymore’, Geashill, Killeigh, Clonygowan and Clara appear on Moll’s map of 1728 it is possible therefore that all five or even six villages all formed in the mid to late 16th c, as the plantation of Leix-Offaly began to transform the economy and settlement pattern of this particular area of the Midlands.

It is also possible that some time in the early 18th c. the direct route into Tullamore from the north east and which crossed the river to culminate in the fair green of Tullamore-today O’Connor Square- was enclosed into the estate of Sir John Moore and the connection discontinued.

Over the years, the triangular form of the original village green evolved into ‘The Market Place’ and later into Charleville Square. From 1740 onwards it was reduced in scale and became more rectangular and formal. Eventually the land on its northern side, between it and the river was enclosed to build the Market Hall in 1789.

Meanwhile, the lands on either side of the river at the location of the former crossing had come into the ownership of the Quaker Thomas Wilson, who together with his partner Thomas Pim conducted a wool combing and tannery business at the rear, backing on to the river. The lands then passed through the hands of Gideon Tabuteau and on to Joseph Manly who operated a brewery and maltings. They were later acquired by the Tarletons who operated a milling business. It is possible that any of these commercial families may have erected the private stone cut bridge.

I suggest therefore that the bridge behind the County Library is relatively new but that it is located on an earlier crossing point of the river which existed up to the end of the 17 th. century and which gave direct access from the farming hinterland on the north east to the central marketplace of Tullamore.

If I am right, the long promised and eagerly awaited opening to the public of the ‘Hidden Bridge’ will reestablish part of an ancient route which was once an integral part of the original village of ‘Tullymore’.

The records of the Valuation Office in local and family history. By Laura Price.

The records of the Valuation Office stretch all the way back to the 1830s and are an invaluable source for the genealogist or local historian. They allow a researcher to trace the occupiers of land and buildings for decades. Just as importantly they give us insight into our ancestors’ lives in Ireland long ago. The enormous collection – thousands of ‘books’ and maps – cover every house and garden, field and townland, village and town in the country. These records have survived when so much of our heritage was lost. The majority of the collection was kept, organised logically, catalogued and safely stored. The records are now held in three repositories: The National Archives of Ireland, The Valuation Office of Ireland and the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, and are generally accessible for researchers. Some of the records are available free online, with plans to add more. [Laura Price will give a lecture via Zoom on this topic on Monday 1 November to Offaly History. Get the link by emailing us at info@offalyhistory.com. You do not have to be a member and you are welcome.]

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‘The town of Birr or Parsonstown, is the prettiest inland town in Ireland.’ – The Illustrated London News of 1843.

A two-page feature on Birr and its new telescope (s) was featured in the Illustrated London News of 9 September 1843. It was the first such international treatment for Birr and was combined with valuable illustrations of the town. It was also the first treatment by a national or international publisher promoting ‘Offaly Tourism’. It was the third earl of Rosse who organised the publicity for Birr and was now on the UK stage himself with his presidency of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

The window on Birr would be the first of many arising from the completion of the larger telescope in 1845. Birr town was the principal settlement in Offaly since the 1650s and was the premier shopping town, as is clear from the Pigot directory of 1824. Cooke would go on to write of the town’s significant history in his 1826 book – a first in the midlands and just six years after Hardiman’s Galway. What is interesting about the article of 1843 was the active role given to Mary Rosse in her work in the demesne and the town of Birr.

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Grand Juries in Ireland: the politics of power in the counties. By Michael Byrne

The county grand jury system will be the subject of much focus from mid-2022 with the uploading of links to the county archives records throughout Ireland by way of the Beyond 2022:Virtual Record Treasury Project. The first thing to say is that a useful and well-illustrated booklet People, Place and Power: the grand jury system in Ireland (Brian Gurrin with David Brown, Peter Crooks and Ciarán Wallace, online 2021) can now be downloaded from the Beyond 2022 website as well as useful material from the county archives in Offaly, Wicklow and Donegal. Furthermore, Brian Gurrin has published online an interim listing of the records held in each county. The scope of the records is well illustrated and draws on more detailed catalogues for counties such as Offaly and Donegal where listings are available on the online catalogues from the county archives. For more on Offaly material see the blog and presentation by Lisa Shortall now on YouTube and as a video on the Offaly History Decade of Centenaries platform on http://www.offalyhistory.com.

In summary the access position to these records will be revolutionised within the year and will greatly facilitate family historians, those interested in the workings of local government and how local elites interacted. What elite families provided the power brokers and controlled local patronage? All were men, most were landowners, representative of the county families, and, of course, most were Protestant from the early 1700s and the enactment of the Penal Laws. It was not until the Catholic Relief Act of 1793 that Catholics were admitted, and being a select club were scarce until the 1830s.

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