Offaly History have a vacancy for a qualified archivist at Offaly Archives (see our blog of 6 Jan. 2023 in regard to the post). Arriving for interview by air balloon would strike a chord. Speaking of which the balloon fire of 10 May 1785 is perhaps the best-known event in the history of Tullamore and yet there are few surviving accounts.
First there were almost no local newspapers serving the midlands at the time. Neither have diaries or letters survived of any of the townspeople of that period save one letter of 12 May 1785 published by way of reportage in the Hibernian Magazine of the fire that occurred on the fair day. This would have been on Tuesday 10 May 1785. The letter from the Tullamore correspondent is clearly the most useful and more informed than similar reports in Finn’s Leinster Journal and Faulkner’s Dublin Journal. Some of these reports put the loss at 130 houses and not 100 as advised to us by the letter writer. One other short note was penned by Molly Burgess (née Pennington) of the Methodist Community who lost their church (dated to 1760) in Swaddling Lane off Barrack/Patrick Street. This lane was also known as Ruddock’s Lane and post 1905 as Bride’s Lane. After the fire the Methodists build a new chapel or preaching house on the site of the present-day church. The current church was build 101 years after the first
In 1910, about six weeks before the first successful powered flight in Ireland by Harry Ferguson in Co Down, the King’s County Chronicle reported as follows, ‘Mr Michael Carroll, cycle mechanic, conducted experiments in aviation in the hills adjoining Birr reservoir. An apparatus constructed from calico and bamboo made one or two fitful attempts to ascend. The incredulous may laugh at his efforts but it should not be forgotten that every great invention has its beginning in failure.’ One week later it was noted that the Engineering and Scientific Association of Ireland [founded in Dublin in 1903] had been discussing aviation, ‘The opinion was expressed that flying through the air was not an accomplished fact, though eventually it would be, that flying was not of any practical use and that men now engaged in a series of experiments in aviation would not die in their beds.’
Offaly had a small but significant part in the early years of military aviation. In September 1913 Offaly was an important base for some of the earliest uses of aircraft in the annual British Army manoeuvres; some of the Royal Flying Corps’ earliest crashes took place in Offaly during those operations. Approximately 85 men who served in the Allied flying services were born or from Offaly, but their impact was far greater than would be expected. Ferbane hosted an operational wartime base at ‘RAF Athlone’, and there was a landing ground at Birr during the 1918-1920 mobilisation period.