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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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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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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ORAL HISTORY PROJECTS in LAOIS & OFFALY. By John Gibbons

In this article John Gibbons talks about the value of oral history and the importance of making the recording. John started recording in Offaly in conjunction with the Offaly History in December 2014.  Since then over forty people have volunteered to be recorded. You do have a story so why not contact John or we can put you in touch via Offaly History. John has contributed material to Offaly Archives which will prove very useful in years to come. A story worth telling is a story worth saving.

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A tale of two houses: that of Barrack Master Crawford and Revd Dr Wilson, High Street, Tullamore. By Michael Byrne

This article on house numbers GV 43 and GV 44 High Street, Tullamore (Farrelly’s and Mr Price) looks at the family history and the social history surrounding the building and occupation of two of the finest  houses in Tullamore, which for convenience, we can call Barrack Master Crawford’s and Dr Wilson’s. They are numbered (from the valuation associated with Richard Griffith) GV 43 and GV 44 in the printed Griffith valuation of 1854. The study is over the period from the mid-eighteenth century in regard to the Crawford house and from the 1780s in regard to Dr Wilson’s. The plan is to take the architectural assessment of both houses first, based on the work of William Garner, Andrew Tierney and Fergal MacCabe. This will be followed by looking at the building history of each house. The departure of the Crawford family from High Street by 1810 and that of Mrs Wilson in the 1830s facilitated taking the story separately of each house from the 1830s and 1840s up to recent times. The full text of this article will be published in Offaly Heritage 12 later this year.

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Building Improvements in Birr town since the 1850s. By Michael Byrne

Despite the low level of industrial activity in Birr in the latter half of the nineteenth century building contractors did well with a surprising amount of progress made in this area. This was in contrast to Tullamore where few new structures were erected until after the 1900s. The extent of the building activity tends to confirm the view that Birr owed its lack of industrial activity to want of entrepreneurs rather than want of capital. Among the public buildings and monuments to be erected or improved upon was St. Brendan’s Catholic Church which was completed in 1824-5. It was now remodelled and enlarged. Improvements were carried out at St. Brendan’s Church of Ireland church in 1879 under the supervision of Mr (later Sir Thomas) Drew, architect. The church was enlarged by extending the eastern gable. The organ was removed as also were the horse-box pews. In 1885 the stone was laid for a new Presbyterian church at John’s Place, beside the house of the parish priest,  Dr. Bugler.  The new church here was part of the redevelopment of the southern side of John’s Place. The old Crotty meeting house in Castle Street was sold for secular use in 1885.

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A length of material and other memories of Clara in 1919–23 and its aftermath: some recent changes for the better By Sylvia Turner

Michael Byrne’s recent blog article ‘The Gill Drapery Store in High Street Tullamore, 1900–22’ reminded me of the significance of drapery stores in the early 20th century and the Clara of my mother’s time. Amongst the correspondence between members of her family, frequent mention is made of the buying of material. The most common form of correspondence would seem to have been the postcard. Below, on the reverse of a postcard that depicted the ruins of Geashill Castle is an example sent on 27th of May?  1924. It was to my grandmother from her sister living in Clara and concerned the buying of material for ‘M’, May, her eldest niece.

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