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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Who is the Birr poet John De Jean Frazer? By Terry Moylan

This question has popped up recently arising from the launch last week in Birr by Offaly History of a book containing the complete poems of John De Jean Frazer. The Tullamore launch is Thursday 24 Nov. at Offaly History Centre at 5 p.m. so the editors may get to meet you there. You are welcome to attend.

John De Jean Frazer was a poet and cabinet-maker, the son of a Presbyterian Church minister from Birr, then known as Parsonstown. He was also a quite accomplished artist.

While his exact date of birth is not known, it is pretty certain he was born in 1804 and died a young man in 1852.

He was believed to from Huguenot stock, this belief coming from the use of `De Jean` in his name. We are not sure of this, and certainly a recent DNA test by one of his descendants cast doubt on this, as it showed no French DNA but rather Scottish. Frazer is certainly a Scottish name and is quite common in Ulster. His being from a Presbyterian family tends to make me believe that a Scottish ancestry is more likely to be correct. The `De Jean` in his name could be explained by possible sympathy with the ideals of the French revolution.

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Charles W. Kelly of New York remembers Birr in the early 1900s. From the Offaly History Collection and thanks to Offaly people who emigrated many years ago for these recollections of their native place

I write in the hope that you may find space to record my memories of the town of Birr fifty or sixty years ago. The following recollections are all from memory only – no notes – and I am sure a lot of boys and girls I knew will get a thrill.

Birr, as you know, is situated in the South-West of Offaly, known then as King’s County, near the borders of Leix County – known then as Queen’s and Tipperary County. It is about one mile and a half in length and one mile in width.

It was a military town. The Military Barracks were in the village of Crinkle, which is about one-half mile outside the town. The main thoroughfare was from the high path of Drumbawn to the New Line. You passed Moorpark Street, Bridge, Market Square, Main Street, Duke Square, Cumberland, Melsop and Townsend Street, – that is the length. Now the breadth was from Clonoghill Cemetery through Newbridge or Crinkle and the Military Road, John’s Mall, John’s Place, The Green and some of the Lusmagh Road to the back of the Castle.

[On Friday and Saturday 18 and 19 Nov. 2022 the annual heritage seminar will be held in Birr. The programme started on Friday at Birr Library at 5 p.m. with the launch of the collected poems of J De Jean Frazer and will be followed on Saturday with walks in the morning and talks in Oxmantown Hall (1889) in the afternoon. The exile here was Charles Kelly who wrote to the Offaly Chronicle from New York in 1952. It appears that his children moved to the United States. These memoirs give an insight into life that is so valuable. Well done to the Birr Annual Review who have published many such memoirs since 2001. Back issues of the Birr Annual Review have been uploaded to http://www.offalyhistory.com Ed]

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The Irish Land Commission Records, 1881-1992: the most important state body operating out of rural Ireland. When will it be open for research?

First established under the 1881 Land Act, the Irish Land Commission began as a regulator of fair rents, but soon evolved into the great facilitator of land transfer. However, over emphasis on these aspects of its work can sometimes camouflage its equal significance as the main instigator and architect of rural reform. There is no doubt that for most of its existence from 1881 to 1992 the Land Commission was the most important state body operating out of rural Ireland where its long tentacles spread into every nook and cranny.  [Come to Professor Dooley’s lecture on Monday in Tullamore – see details below.

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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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Clara’s contribution to the birth of radio. By Michael Goodbody

#DecadeofCentenaries @DeptCultureIRL @DepartmentofCultureIRL Tourism-Culture-Gaeltacht @offalyheritage @offalylibraries

The B.B.C.’s centenary celebrations and John Bowman’s recent feature on RTÉ’s Sunday morning broadcast which included a recording of my late father, Llewellyn Marcus Goodbody, bring to mind the important part that Clara played in the development of radio, the scientific discovery which transformed communications and is now part of everyday life. Without the backing of Irish capital it is possible that Guglielmo Marconi’s invention would never have got off the ground.

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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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Huge Crowd Gather in Bracknagh Community Hall for viewing of Film on Ballynowlart Martyrs and Turf Cooperative 101. By Mary Delaney

Huge Crowd Gather in Bracknagh Community Hall for viewing of Film

Bracknagh Community Hall was full to capacity on Thursday last for the viewing of a film on the Ballynowlart Martyrs and the Turf Co Operative 101. The event was organised and hosted by the newly formed Bracknagh Heritage Group (A sub group of the Bracknagh Community Association). The guest speaker was Larry Fullam, local historian and researcher from Rathangan. Tony Donnelly extended a warm welcome to the large gathering. Mary Delaney, on behalf of the heritage group introduced and welcomed both Larry Fullam and Amanda Pedlow (Offaly Heritage Officer). Amanda addressed the audience on the supports provided by the Heritage Council for viable local projects.

Larry spoke on how in 1917 a local priest Fr Kennedy with the help of Fr O’ Leary from Portarlington had the remains of the victims of a fire at Ballynowlart church in 1643 exhumed and reburied in the grounds of the St. Broughan’s church. The story of Ballynowlart attributes the setting alight of the church on Christmas Day in 1643 to Cromwell’s forces. A congregation of 108 people, who were attending Christmas Mass all died, with the exception of two, who were said to have escaped.  The film produced by Pathe showed Fr Kennedy handling the exhumed skulls of the victims and preparing them for reinternment in Bracknagh in 1917.
The second part of the film centered on how in 1921 (one hundred and one years ago), as part of the Government’s selling of bonds and fundraising, the Bracknagh Turf Co Operative exported sacks of turf to New York to raise money to fund the then, newly formed, Dail Eireann.
Larry donated a number of photographs of the stills from the film to the Bracknagh Heritage Group.

The last time a film on Ballynowlart was shown was in 1964 in the cinema in Portarlington. This event was organised by the late Harry Milner of Walsh Island and was attended by a huge crowd from the Bracknagh area, many of whom are still part of the community of Bracknagh today.
The Bracknagh Heritage group are very grateful to Larry for his in-depth research and knowledge and for providing us with a great insight into Bracknagh’s past.

The members also expressed their appreciation to all those who attended Thursday evening’s event and are delighted to see the interest and enthusiasm for local history in the area.

The group intend to pursue the following projects in the near future.
The real story of the Ballynowlart Martyrs.
The monastic site of Saint Broughan at Clonsast.
The Impact of Bord na Mona in the area.
The Story of John Joly and the extended Joly family.

Lord Ashtown and his role in evicting tenants from the  Bracknagh area in the mid 19th century, and how some Bracknagh emigrants were banished to places like Oneido in New York..
The RIC Barracks in Ballynowlart and
The Mill at Millgrove.
It was highlighted at the conclusion of the meeting how the Catholic Church, built at the peak of the Irish Famine celebrates 175 years this year.
The group extend;’/ thanks to Lisa Quinn, Chairperson of the BCA for facilitating the event.

Mary Delaney

(on behalf of the
Bracknagh  Heritage Group, which include.
Francis Cunningham,
Mary Crotty, Mary Briody, Barry Cunningham, Tony Donnelly & Aidan Briody).

People from Bracknagh gather outside Portarlington Cinema 1964 after  watching a film on the Ballynowlart Martyrs (Photo courtesy of Larry Fullam)
Bag of Turf from the Bracknagh Turf Co-Operative destined for New York            1921

                                         (Photo courtesy of Larry Fullam)

Turf from Bracknagh Co Operative being transported from Rathangan 1921

                                           (Photo courtesy of Larry Fullam)

                        

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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