Anniversary of Birr poet John de Jean Frazer (1804-1852). By Padráig Turley

Today, 23 March 2022 we mark the 170th anniversary of the death of John de Jean Frazer (1804–1852). A poet and a cabinet-maker, a native of Birr county Offaly he was born into a Presbyterian family. While `J. De Jean` was his preferred nom-de-plume, he also used pseudonyms `Z`, `Y`, `F` and `Maria`.

His first major poem was Eva O`Connor published in 1826, by Richard Milliken, Grafton Street, Dublin. During the 1840s individual poems, increasingly expressing radicalised politics, appeared in newspapers and periodicals of the day including The Nation, The Dublin University Magazine, The United Irishman, The Felon and The Freeman`s Journal.

 In 1845 a substantial number of his poems were gathered together and published as Poems for the People by J. Browne, Nassau Street, Dublin. This collection contained eighty-two poems, a mixture of lyrical and polemical pieces.

[An article on de Jean Frazer appeared in the 1903 issue of Tullamore’s Ard na hEireann magazine by Sean MacCaoilte (Forrestal, d. October 1922) and as such was part of the cultural context for the Gaelic League and the Irish Cultural Revival in the Tullamore locality. Thanks to Offaly Archives which holds a copy. Ed.]

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The limestone quarries of Ballyduff, Tullamore. By John Wrafter

Introduction

On the 1809 map of King’s County by William Larkin, one can easily fail to spot the tiny T-shaped symbol about 1 mile northwest of the town of Tullamore. There is no description to inform the reader what the object represents. Its shape and its location, however, leave no doubt as to what it symbolizes. It is the first post-Reformation Catholic church in the parish of Tullamore. Erected in 1775 in the townland of Ballyduff, the chapel’s out of the way location some distance from the town of Tullamore seems peculiar today. Another look at the 1809 map provides at least a partial clue to its location. Not more than about a hundred metres from the chapel is a quarry, probably one of the earliest limestone quarries to be opened in the area and almost certainly the source of the stone of which the chapel was built. The chapel was presumably built by the workers and tradesmen of the local quarries. Today the ruins of the Ballyduff chapel are located in the middle of the Axis Business Park accessed from the Clara Rd.

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Recently nominated by the Irish Times as amongst the twenty best places to live in Ireland: A Tullamore Capriccio. By Fergal MacCabe  

Recently nominated by the Irish Times as amongst the twenty best places to live in Ireland, Tullamore earned the accolade because of its central location and its excellent recreational amenities and services. However, neither its built or natural environment figured as deciding factors in the survey.

Regrettably, my home town lacks the physical drama of Kilkenny and Lismore dominated by fortresses standing on cliffs, the waterside charms of Kinsale and Carrick on Shannon, the mystery of the mediaeval alleyways of Galway and Carlingford or the suave urban quality of Westport, Clonakilty and Birr.  Nevertheless, it’s qualities, modest as they are, have always inspired me and I have often tried to capture them in drawings. Tullamore’s few architectural setpieces were my first introduction to the notion that a town or a village could be a beautiful artefact as much as a painting or a piece of sculpture.

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A novel approach to Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon. By James Scully

Pauline Clooney’ Charlotte & Arthur, an imaginative recreation of the Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon in Wales and Ireland, is an exciting combination of fact and fiction. The extensive historical research which preceded the writing of the book is evident throughout and this coupled with the creation of less historic characters and the weaving in of more fictional nuances ensures a work that is at once refreshing and convincing. While the sources of history are comparatively plentiful for this episode due to Charlotte’s prolific letter writing and an abundance of biographies of the two main characters, it is the richness of Pauline Clooney’s writing that makes the work engrossing and appealing.

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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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Opening of Offaly Archives by Minister Malcolm Noonan, 18 Nov. 2021.

Offaly History is pleased to announce the opening of Offaly Archives at unit 1F, Cluster Two, Axis Business Park, on Thursday 18 November 2021, by minister of state at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan.

Offaly History completed the building of its second premises in 2019 to coincide with its 50th anniversary. The new repository is a state-of-the-art archives building managed by a professional archivist, Lisa Shortall, and houses the collections of Offaly History and Offaly County Library. The mix of the voluntary and the public sectors, under professional management, provides a unique blend of enthusiasm, specialist knowledge and continuity that can only enhance Offaly Archives over time.

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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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Catherine Maria Bury and the design of Charleville Castle. By Judith Hill

Charleville Demesne and district c,. 1900

‘Catherine Maria Bury and the design of Charleville Castle’ is the title of an online lecture via Zoom provided by Offaly History for Mondy 20 September at 7. 30 p.m. Our speaker is Dr Judith Hill. She has kindly provided this note for Offalyhistoryblog readers on her forthcoming lecture.

When I started researching my PhD on Gothic revival architecture in Ireland after the Union I had no idea that Charleville Castle, one of the first and most impressive of the castles of this period, owed its inspiration to a woman. I wanted to compare the castles at Birr and Charleville, and was very much aware that their (male) owners had voted on different sides for the Union and that they came from different political traditions. Would this play any part in the designs for the castles that they built, or in the case of Sir Laurence Parsons, remodelled in the very first years of the nineteenth century?

Women at that time played no direct role in politics. They are also relatively (though not entirely) invisible in the historical record. It is only when you can look at family papers that you might find some evidence of what a woman might have done. Catherine Maria Bury’s letters have survived; some of these were published in 1937. They tell us about Catherine (later Lady Charleville) as a person, her friends, her interest in literature. They are tell us that she was close Charles William Bury, and that when he (for it was he) went to see how the building of the castle was progressing he would send detailed descriptions to her. Although he does not ask her directly for her advice, it is clear that when they were together they discussed the project.

Catherine Maria Bury and Charles William Bury
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Homan Potterton sale features three painters with Offaly connections. By Michael Byrne

The Homan Potterton sale on 7 September 2021 at Adam’s, Dublin features three painters with Offaly connections. But first a word about Potterton. After secondary education at Kilkenny College and Mountjoy School he began studying to be a solicitor, but (great for him ) he switched to art history at Trinity with the formidable Anne Crookshank. He was the youngest director of the National Gallery of Ireland ever appointed (1979) but stayed for only eight years. He retired in 1988 out of frustration with the bureaucracy, the bullying Charlie Haughey, and his being unable to secure much needed funds for the gallery. That was back in the difficult 1980s. Had Potterton remained he would have been able to oversee the wonderful gallery there is today. All the great institutions saw money flow in from the 1990s with the support of EC funds and the lift in the economy from 1993. While he took over the editorship of the Irish Arts Review in the 1990s (then an exciting annual event) he later moved to France and we heard no more of him save for several family histories, a memoir and a novel.

The jacket of Potterton’s memoir of 2017 with the arresting painting in the great classical style by Festing.
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Founding families: the Legacy of the Moores and the Burys. By Fergal MacCabe

‘Tullamoore’

Over the years, Tullamore has been known as ’Towllaghmore’,‘Tullaghmore’ or ‘Tullymore’ -all  anglicizations of ‘Tulach Mhór’ and most likely deriving from the high land to the south of the river. By the middle of the 19th c. the name of the now extensive town had morphed into ‘Tullamoore’- reflecting the influence of the Moore and later the Bury families and their ownership of all the lands around.

As urban developers, these skilled entrepreneurs with cultural pretensions reached their highest point during the overlordship between 1785 and 1835 of Charles William Bury, the first Earl of Charleville. Whether motivated by commercial considerations, a desire for social prestige and the admiration of his peers or by pure aesthetic sensibility, the development of Tullamore as promoted by Charles William, resulted in a coherent urban form which survived without much amendment into the middle of the 20th c., largely still exists today and will influence any future reconfiguration of the town centre. 

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