About two kilometres from Shannonbridge on the Clonmacnoise road (R444), in the townland of Clerhane, a narrow laneway leads to the site of all that now remains of a once thriving industry in limestone quarrying. While the origins of the quarries are lost in the mists of time it can be assumed that the stone for all the major building projects in the area was sourced locally. The heyday of the operations can be regarded as being from the early nineteenth to the mid twentieth century. While their many monuments and buildings in stone will stand for centuries, the memories of the quarries that produced them, their owners, the workforce and methods of operation are in danger of being totally forgotten.
Standing at the bridge in Bridge Street and looking south towards the Windmill hill at Cormac Street is to observe 300 years of development comprised of three and two-storey houses and no single-storey properties or ‘cabins’. The latter were reserved for the lanes, side streets and long gardens to the rear of these large houses. When Arthur Young passed through Tullamore in 1770 he remarked that part of the town was well built. We have already looked at the intended first class development of Crow/Tara Street in an earlier article. T.W. Freeman, the geographer, noted in his 1948 article on Tullamore that there was firm ground on either side of the inconspicuous bridge and a slight rise northward to the canal, 203ft. above O.D., some ten feet higher than the river, and southwards to the courthouse, at 225ft. O.D. Near to the bridge on the west side was the town watermill drawing on the power from the Tullamore or Maiden River and at the high ground behind O’Moore Street and Cormac Street was a windmill dating from the early 1700s. One hundred years later the building of the street was almost completed.
High Street in 1821 contained eighty-four houses and 543 inhabitants. As almost all the houses were built before 1821 and there were only forty-two in 1901 this would suggest that this calculation includes the houses in Bridge Street and sub-divided properties.
In 1901 High Street with a population of 225had forty inhabited and two uninhabited houses and forty-one families of whom 158 were Roman Catholic, 50 were C of I, 4 Presbyterians and thirteen Methodists. The houses were all slated and stone-walled, twenty-six were placed in the first division and fourteen in the second. As to out buildings there were nineteen stables, five coach houses, three harness rooms, two cow houses, one calf house, one piggery and five fowl houses.
Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Slieve Bloom Mountains, Ballyboy or Baile Buí, meaning the town of the Yellow Ford, is a picturesque village of rich historical significance. Like many villages in Ireland, the modest present-day facade of Ballyboy belies a history that has seen the rise and subsequent fall of an early Christian monastery, a site visited by many historical figures in the early years, including Hugh O’Neill, the Normans and even Oliver Cromwell.
St. Brigid’s Convent & St. Mary’s Church
St. Brigid founded a convent in our village in or around the year 500 A.D. The people of the village maintain that it was the very first convent she built in Ireland. The Convent was situated on the mound still known as Abbey Rath (later becoming the site of the Norman Motte and Bailey) The convent continued until 1539. Around the same time as St. Brigid built her convent, it is said that the first church in the village, St. Mary’s Church was also built. Mass would have been celebrated in Saint Brigid’s Convent or at St Mary’s church.
From 1650, when Cromwell’s army marched to the village from Cadamstown and destroyed St. Mary’s Church, until 1704, there was no church in the parish. The old church had a round tower that came almost to the centre of the present-day road. There was also a tunnel from the church to the fort at Abbey Rath. The tunnel was 400 metres long.
During Cromwell’s attack, the precious Pieta was bravely hidden by two McRedmond women from Knockhill. When they saw Cromwell and his men approaching from Cadamstown, they rushed to the church, took the Pieta from its place just inside the door and hid it outside in a heap of rubbish. Everybody fled to the woods and caves before Cromwell and his men reached the village, in case they would be killed. In the dead of night, for Cromwell’s army was still in Ballyboy, a party of men took the statue and carried it a short way across the Silver River and over the fields to Ballybracken, also known as Ridgemount. Here they buried it 6 feet deep in the bog below Derryhoy, where it lay hidden for over 60 years. Ridgemount is the area where the Faithful Fields are now situated. These men promised not to tell anyone where the Pieta was buried. Just before the last of the men died, he told people where it was located. When it was found, the Pieta was brought to the Church of the Nativity BVM in Kilcormac, where it still remains today.
The Pieta as it presently stands inthe Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Kilcormac.
During Penal Times Catholics were forbidden to practise their religion and resorted to celebrating mass in secluded places. There is still a corner field in Ballinacarrig called ‘The Mass Pit’. According to Rev. A Cogan’s “The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern”, a priest was arrested in his vestments for saying mass near the Motte in Ballyboy.
St. Mary’s Church Ballyboy
St. Mary’s Church Ballyboy
Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was taken over by the Church of Ireland between the dates 1709 and 1715 when there was renewed persecution of Catholics. The present church was built in 1815 with a loan of £900. Several years later, it was repaired with a grant of £279. In 1874, a very bad thunderstorm hit Ballyboy and the tower of the church was struck by lightning. It is said that the flash ripped a body that had been buried a few days before out of its grave. Two years after Griffith’s Valuation, the women of Ballyboy got together and subscribed a sum of money to purchase a chalice for the Church. This chalice is still in use in Kilcormac and on its base is inscribed ‘Pray for the Matrons of Ballyboy, 1856’.
Seán Lambe, Aran Kelly, Andrea Feighery, Kyle Jennings, Harry Bracken, Rory Grennan
The Normans in Ballyboy
In 1175, the Normans arrived in Ballyboy and built a Motte and Bailey in the village on Abbey Rath, on the banks of the Silver River. The Castle was initially built as a secure garrison for the Anglo-Norman army as they advanced through this region using the routeways in Fir Cheall. Once the region of Fir Cheall had been secured by the Anglo-Normans, the castle acted as a focus for settlement which grew up around and under the protection of the earth and timber castle. At the base of the mound are the remains of old walls, said by some to be the ruins of St. Brigid’s Convent.
Towards the end of the 14th century, the O’Malley’s took possession of the Anglo-Norman castle. The lands and castle of Ballyboy remained in the hands of the O’Malley’s until the Irish War of 1641-53. After this war the lands and castle of Ballyboy were confiscated by the Commonwealth government and granted to Sir William Petty. During the Williamite Wars in Ireland of 1688-91, the village and castle of Ballyboy became a garrison for Williamite soldiers. In 1690 the Jacobite forces attacked and burnt the town and the Williamite forces took refuge in the castle located on the ‘Mount’ in the centre of the village.
The earth and timber Norman Castle in Ballyboy by Grace Guinan
The Norman Castle in Ballyboy by Anna Doolan
The archaeological remains of the earth and timber castle consist of a large D-shaped bailey that lies to the southwest of the low motte and survives today as a well-defined curving field boundary. The poorly preserved remains of a wall belonging to a stone structure can be seen standing on the summit of the motte. This wall may belong to the stone castle depicted standing on the summit of the motte on the 1654 Down Survey map.
In the post-medieval period, the castle was in ruins and the stone from it was probably reused in the construction of the present houses in the village. During this time, a stone wall was constructed along the base of the motte on the southern side. The church and castle with its associated settlement can be seen depicted on the 1654 Down Survey map of Ballyboy Barony. The Church of Ireland ruins are located on the site of the medieval church.
This photograph shows the motte or mound of the Anglo-Norman earth and timber castle. A later post-medieval wall cuts across the base of the motte which is visible on the left side of the photo. The footings of the stone structure can be seen on the top of the motte.
Grace Guinan, Luke Guinan, Anna Doolan, Aaron Coady
Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy
Our school, Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy is named after St. Brigid.The site of our present-day school was originally a hat and glove factory. During Penal Times, it was against the law for Catholic children to be educated, so a hedge school was set up to secretly educate local children. For a short period during the early 1700’s, the ruins of the old church in Ballyboy was used as a hedge school also.
The site of the Hedge School in Ballyboy
When Penal Laws ended in 1782 it was no longer illegal to have hedge schools so there was a school built in the village. There is little known about the school other than it had a thatched roof.
In 1820 a new school with a thatched roof was built by Lord Lansdowne’s wife. It is said that the school was also aided by an annual donation of £6 from the Marquess of Lansdowne. This school had a Protestant Schoolmaster and provided Catholic and Protestant children with an education. In 1832, the school was taken over by the Board of Education. The roof was slated and a Catholic Schoolmaster appointed. Griffith’s Valuation tells us that there was a dwelling house where the master would have lived. There was no piped water and the ditch was used as a toilet.
The Schoolhouse in Ballyboy, built by Lord Lansdowne’s wife
Ballyboy Schoolhouse 1820-1962 by MJ Hynes
The school was originally very close to the road but in 1960 it was knocked and a new one, seen below, built further back. This new school design was typical of the time being a large one storey building with tall windows. All the children were taught in two rooms. There was a small solid fuel stove in each classroom for heat, and the children would fetch turf from the shed which is now our boiler house.
Ballyboy School in the late 1960’s with the central chimney used to heat both classrooms. This central chimney is no longer present in our current school.
The school has been extended twice since it was built, in 1996 and in 2004. We now have a big playing pitch outside where we can play. We have a safe environment, and we are building a set down area so our parents can drop us off safely to school. For a such a small village we have a lot of history.
The First extension in 1996
Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy September 2022
Back in Time….the steps in our school wall that once led to the Hatter’s Factory
The old water pump outside our school. This pump would have been used as a source of water on the night of the fire in the hall.
Daniel Lambe, MJ Hynes, Theo Kilmartin, Sean Russell, Bryan Feighery, Aaron Grimes McDermott
Dan and Molly’s
Dan and Molly’s pub was built in the 1800’s. It has been a pub for over 150 years. Originally the Redmond’s owned the pub, then the Molloy’s, the Petits, the Lynch’s and then the Ryan’s. The Ryan’s moved into the building in 1863 and Jack Ryan passed it down to his daughter Molly, who married Dan Boland. The pub then became known as Dan and Molly’s. Dan and Molly’s daughter Catriona now runs the pub alongside her husband Fergal. Dan and Molly’s still has the thatched roof because there was a preservation order put on the building in the 1970’s which does not allow it to be removed. Dan and Molly’s is the only straw thatched pub left in Offaly. The pub is used for music sessions, set dancing, card games, music lessons and general community events. The lessons are run by Ballyboy CCÉ. The family have a keen interest in the arts as the music has been passed down through four generations – namely Jack Ryan, his daughter Molly, grand-daughters Catriona and Stella and now the great grand-children John, Anna, Daniel, Séan and Katie. On April 12th, 2011, the pub went on fire, when a spark from the chimney ignited the straw on the thatched roof. This was a devastating evening for the family and for the community. It took many units of the fire brigade to bring the fire under control. Luckily the roof was restored to its original condition soon after.
Dan & Molly’s Ballyboy by Anna McDonald
Anna McDonald, Fiadhna Leamy, AJ Bracken, Daniel Heffernan, Cára Guinan, Mark Dolan
Ballyboy Hall was built in 1954 by the Young Farmers Association. It was built by voluntary labour mostly in the evenings, after the work of the day was done. In 1690, more than 250 years before this, King William of Orange had spent a night in the hotel which had stood on this very site. (The new hall was built on the site of the old hotel.) In 1967, there was a fire in the hall during a Whist Drive. The calamity happened because an oil heater caught fire. Local people who were there, said that it was an awful tragedy and many people got very badly burnt. On the night, water was pumped from the village pump, located outside the school to treat the injured. Luckily nobody died in the fire. The hall has remained derelict for many years until recently, when several locals came together and formed a group called Ballyboy Community Development Group. The group are fundraising to build a new community hall on the same site as the old one. They plan to develop a green space and recreational area in the village including landscaped area with seating, lighting and amenity car parking area.
Ballyboy Hall by Cian Brunswick
Cian Brunswick, Adam Coady, Lochlann Fletcher, Alice Molloy, Sophie McGarry, Michael Clavin
Great work from the children of 5th and 6th class at Ballyboy School. This is our first blog from a school. Many of our blogs are used by schools and we look forward to more contributions from your area. Congratulations to Ballyboy, all the children who wrote and illustrated. A special thanks to the staff and in particular to their teacher Ms Michelle Egan, and also to Ms G. Clendennen.
Offaly History welcomes contributions by way of articles on all aspects of the history of County Offaly
So we are soon reaching the day when the new Esker Arts Centre building will open in Tullamore. Is it the first public building since 2013 and the new bridges on the canal. Before that we had the town library (2011), the regional hospital, the town park, bypass, courthouse and the swimming pool. When Revd Dean Craig performed the opening ceremony for the newly built courthouse in June 1927 (after its burning in 1922) he could not remember when such an opening had taken place of a public building and that stretched back to his father’s coming to Tullamore in 1869. So these openings are important and give rise to a good deal of pleasure, pride in our place and hope for the future.
The arts in Tullamore was never a strong point when compared with towns like Birr and Athlone. That is in the past and we now look forward to a programme of events for 2023 and beyond. The arts centre project in Tullamore has gone through vicissitudes since it was first planned in the 2000s and dropped as late as 2014 when the budget was too high but less than it is today. . Now the new building is in the former Kilroy’s store in High Street and not in Kilbride Park as was once intended. Before that the library district was considered in a €20 million plan that was dropped after 2007. In its style, as to the exterior, the new arts center bears more resemblance to the Wexford opera house (2010). Unlike the great local public buildings, such as the courthouse (1835-1922-1927-2007) or the jail of 1830 (destroyed in 1922 by the retreating Republicans during a disastrous civil war) the new arts centre is built on the site of a shopping precinct since the 1880s and earlier.
The now arts building occupied three generations of the Kilroy family in the years 1908-2007. It was a great hardware store and early made a reputation that was consolidated under the young Dermot Kilroy whose coming into full management of the business coincided with the start-up of RTE Television. He and his father, James A. and son Derry Kilroy were all master marketeers – something that will not be lost on the news arts administration whose job it will be to make the new Esker Arts Centre a viable and attractive proposition. And no doubt it can be.
The new arts centre is in Tullamore central with a strong location in the High Street where so much business was done in the past and good parking in public and private carparks nearby. No doubt it will have coffee and liquor facilities. It would make sense to secure the adjoining Ulster Bank building if the bank would be disposed to sell at a reasonable price in recognition of its contribution to Tullamore since 1893. We say this because the bank and Kilroy’s (now the arts centre) were part of one property from the 1800s and had a common landlord in the Crofton family, long associated with Tullamore. Their main home was at Merryfield – a lost demesne on the site of what is now Charleville Lake (1809-12), but they also had 29 High Street (from the 1930s the Roberts garage).
I dreamed of someday going to Ireland and exploring my ancestry. But I am afraid to fly; not only because of feeling trapped in a plane high in the sky over the ocean but because of the pain I have experienced in my ears on domestic flights.
Can you believe it, this past November my husband got me on an airplane? And it did not require knocking me out. Just painkillers, nasal spray, decongestant, chewing gum, hard candies, a small teddy bear to clutch, and a prescription for an anxiety pill, nothing drastic. The ear pain was still present, and the nervous shaking was only subdued by continuous prayer.
This was my first trip outside the United States, and I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the people of Ireland.
We took this journey to launch a book I co-edited with two gentlemen from Dublin, Terry Moylan, and Padraig Turley. I met them through the internet when double-checking a fact about my ancestor, John De Jean Frazer, for the novel I am writing about him and his son-in-law, Thomas Clarke Luby.
Terry and Padraig were starting a book to republish the poems of Frazer, my third great-grandfather. My novel includes some of those poems and I had wanted to honor him myself and bring him out of the cobwebs and into the light. I was happy to accept the invitation to join these gentlemen on an eye-opening adventure.
Sometime in the 1830s, the architect William Murray (1789-1849), best known for designing mental hospitals all around Ireland, presented a quick outline of a new public square in Tullamore which would be bounded on three sides by fine houses and dominated on the fourth by the imposing portico of the recently erected County Courthouse.
The title of his drawing’ Thoughts for a Square at Tullamore, Ireland facing the Courthouse to be called ‘The Beaujolais’ suggests that it was not an actual commission but more likely a broad brush and quickly executed response to a remark by Lady Beaujolais Bury the wife of the local grandee, perhaps exchanged at a social gathering. Architects do this a lot to get business and Murray may have been trying to reconnect commercially with the family who had given his cousin Francis Johnston such valuable and prestigious commissions as Charleville Forest and St Catherine’s Church.
Of course Murray’s elegant scheme was never realised and was to be the last proposal for a civic design set piece in Tullamore for some time. In the 1950s, the urban planner Frank Gibney suggested the creation of a parkland setting for the Church of the Assumption but this notion was eventually shelved and for the following seventy years no further interventions which would combine coherent built form with public benefits were to be advanced and the planning of the town remained firmly in the hands of engineers whose principal spatial concern was the accommodation of the motor car.
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.
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.
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.
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