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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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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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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Exploring the family history of the Bagley family in Offaly: Clara and Toberdaly. By Fourth  great-granddaughter, Ginny Birmingham Haen

Several of my ancestral families came from Ireland in the early to mid 1800s.  They came from Counties Dublin, Armagh, Tyrone, Westmeath and King’s (now Offaly) and surrounding midlands counties.  The one common factor was that they all migrated to Quebec, settling in several small communities in the area just southeast of Quebec City across the St. Lawrence River. 

After a generation, many of those families moved to western Canada or the United States, often settling together.  Many went to Wisconsin and Michigan where they worked in the logging industry and farmed.  In the next generation, some married into other Irish families, so studying one’s family gradually evolved into studying several.  My families were among those settling in Jacksonport, Door County, Wisconsin.

I had always wondered how and when these Church of England/Ireland families got to Ireland from England and Scotland, then migrated to the same places in North America. What did they have in common?  There are no relevant ship manifest lists for British Isles migrants going to Canada since it is a part of the British Commonwealth, and it was not like going from one country to another.

I have an old family Bible with some information, but for the most part all I had to go on was Canadian census records or church records which gave a child’s birthplace and age, indicating approximately when the families left Ireland, and if I was lucky, a more specific birthplace.  Usually, specific meant only a county.   Family lore told of one or two Bagley children being born in Clara, Kings County.  Other names of the Quebec families appeared in the Irish Midlands, so I concentrated my research there. 

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Trade Directories for Offaly one hundred years ago. From Offaly History

A contribution to marking the Decade of Centenaries in Offaly and recalling the past generations and the towns and villages on the eve of the War of Independence

In marking the years from 1912 to 1923 we may think that the years around 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War were times of unmitigated strife. Not so. Normal life continued, if punctuated by violent acts, such as the shooting of policemen in Kinnitty, Kilbeggan or Tullamore. The finding of bodies of spies, ‘the disappeared’, in Mountbolus or Puttaghaun. The holding of brief gunbattles in Ballycommon or Charleville Road. Worst of all the organised state violence condoned by Churchill and Lloyd George in the form of the Black and Tans racing through towns and villages in the dead of night and taking shots at anything that moved. Yet normal life continued and no better illustrated than by the issue, almost every week, (Offaly Independent excepted as the printing works was destroyed by British forces ) of the three or four local papers in Offaly and from time to time trade supplements or special publications such as trade directories that very much illustrate local business in most of the Offaly towns. Recently Offaly History acquired the 1919 MacDonald’s Trade Directory for Ireland to add to its collection at Bury Quay, Tullamore.

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The Gill Drapery Store in High Street Tullamore, 1900–22. From Gills to Guy Clothing. Recalling also the Mills and Muller families. By Michael Byrne. Updated by John Wrafter

Marking Tullamore 400th, Decade of Centenaries and Sustaining the country towns in the 21st century

August 1922 was a wicked month with the death of two Irish leaders, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. At local level we had the death in July 1922 of the Ulster Bank manager Tullamore in the course of a robbery and at Bunaterin the death of a Free State soldier, Matthew Cullen, on 29 August 1922. Raymond Cullen wrote about this in our blog last week and in July we carried a blog on the Ulster Bank robbery by the Republican IRA. The Republicans departed Tullamore on 20 July 1922 just before the Free State army reached the town. Before leaving the barracks, courthouse and jail were burnt. Later in the month and in August it was the turn of the Big House owners including Screggan Manor, Geashill Castle and Brookfield. Thucydides (d. 400 BC) wrote of how civil war exhibited a tendency to extremism. We were fortunate in Ireland that things, while bad, was not by any means on a par with the American of Spanish Civil Wars. That said the killings in the North of Ireland were terrifying.  But enough of that lets go back to our story for today which is about shopping in Tullamore in the early 1900s, living over the shop and the tragedy of early death for the family of the owner Michal J. Gill in September 1922.

High Street late 1940s with Gill’s as a ruin, third from left

Affable is a word I find myself using to describe the business people of High Street over the last 50 years from J.J. Horan, to McGinns, Daly’s shop, John Clifford, Midland Books, Kilroys Matty Coyne, Paddy Cleary, P.J. Carragher, Tom Lawless and so many more one could mention.  In the course of a family wedding recently I had the pleasure of being ‘fitted out’ by Anthony Kearns, his ‘affable’ father, and the staff of the shop. Now I am revisiting, but today to look back at the history of the store and the building here since the 1750s, but more especially in the time of Gill’s Drapery from 1901 to c. 1922. This was a good time for drapers and opposite Gill’s (on the corner) was the Rafter drapery. In William/Columcille St. was Tullamore Drapery and Scally’s (to become a massive new store in 1912), and of course there was Morris’ shop in Patrick Street and later Church Street.

The drapers of Tullamore were all to the fore in this issue of 13 April 1912. Thanks to Irish Newspaper Archive.

GV 6 and 7 High Street, Galvin’s ladies’ drapers, now Guy Clothing

Guy Clothing in recent times

The modern Guy Clothing shop was erected in the early 1960s by P. & H. Egan Limited in a contemporary style and replaced a five-bay, two-storey house erected in 1753. Why the old house had been allowed to go to ruin in the 1940s is not known. It seems to have been a fire in the 1930s. For many years in the 1940s all that survived was a high wall. By the way the number of the shop, GV 6 and GV 7, comes from Griffith’s Valuation (GV) of 1854 and settled the numbering of these houses for many years.

The layers of transactions in regard to GV 6 & 7 certainly confirm the many layers in leasehold properties and the use they were put to in order to shore up income maintenance for investors. In April 1753 Lord Tullamore leased to Robert Mills, a farmer, the dwelling house adjoining John Nightingale. Mills also held, by a lease of three lives, twenty-six acres of arable land and four acres of bog at Spollanstown. The lives inserted were those of John Mills, Thomas Mills and James Mills, annual rent £3, and double that figure in the event of Mills selling to a papist.[1] He mortgaged the Tullamore property to John Finlay of Dublin in 1758 and in 1767 – the latter for a loan of £113.

Gill’s with the rolls of Cloth outside. Courtesy of NLI, c. 1905. Sergeant Ahern in picture.

Miss Mills and Sergeant Major Muller strike up a match

This Mills family of Tullamore were recalled in a story in 2001 in connection with the marriage of a daughter to a soldier in the King’s German Legion (KGL) some of whom are buried in Kilcruttin graveyard.That the KGL settled in Tullamore and were popular is evident from matches that were made including that of Anne Mills, a Tullamore farmer’s daughter to Sergeant Major Muller and who were married at Middleton County Cork in November 1806.  She died at Osnabruck in 1845.  The story of Anne Mills was told to the Irish Times journalist, Richard Roche in 1961 while on a press visit to Germany by his guide to Berlin, a descendant of the same Anne Mills.  He noted in his Irishman’s Diary article of 9 January 2001 that Anne Mills was still remembered in her adopted Osnabruck but wondered was she remembered in her native Tullamore?[2]  Her name does not appear in the Tullamore parish registers of the Church of Ireland but other members of KGL feature in 1807 and 1808.  A daughter was born to the ‘Germans’ in December 1806 and baptized at the old church in Church Street in July 1807 while a marriage is recorded on Feb. 29 1808.  On 30 November 1808 is recorded a birth outside marriage to a KGL captain and an Irish girl.  Was the child sent to the Foundling Hospital in Dublin as was usual at that time?[3]

In 1790 William Finlay, administrator of John Finlay’s will sold the property to Samuel Bollard of Farthingston, Westmeath.[4] By 1843 the house was subdivided, the northern end of the building was occupied by Thomas Mullen (?McMullen) and later Robert Galbraith, possibly a draper. In 1854 it was occupied by Thomas Kenny and let at £12 a year. In 1843 the southern end of the house was occupied by Matthew Warren who ran an eating house, later Mary Bolan, and in 1854 John Flanagan.[5] Flanagan had cabins to the rear as shown on the 1838 5 ft scale town plan.

The first valuation in 1843

6. (24)     Thomas McMullen to be let (Robert Galbraith) [James Kenny, James Bollard].  This house was let at £12 a year.  The rere is small, enclosed with a lock up gateway – no garden, situation good.

                F.21, H.20, Q.L. 1B – YR (£14.0.0) LR (£10.4.0)

7. (25)     Matthew Warren eating house (Mary Bolan) [Rob Flanagan from James Bollard.  Warren holds from Susanna Smith of Wm. St. – there is no rere – and the house very inconvenient – part of the lower story is occupied by a poor tenant – the rent was £14 but reduced. The situation good.

                F.17, H.20, Q.L. 1B (1.C+) Y.R –£ 9.0.0 [L.R 9.0.0]

Kevin Fergus Egan sold the Egan interest in GV 7 to the Egan company in 1927 arising from an interest acquired in 1908. It is noted on the title to the property that Robert Bollard died a bachelor farmer, aged 64, in 1898. Meanwhile the occupancy was with Patrick O’Hanrahan from 1886 and subsequently Denis Fitzpatrick of Cappancur. Fitzpatrick was adjudicated a bankrupt in 1895 and the 99-year lease from 1886 was assigned to the Egan firm in 1896.  By 1898 the property was tenanted by drapers Richard J. Ranson and Thomas J. Adams and was known as ‘The Mart’. In 1901 it was leased to Michael J. Gill for £60 a year. Gill had been a draper with Malachy Scally in Columcille Street and opened on his own account. He was from Castlerea and has worked in Fitzgibbon’s drapery. Mrs Scally was a Fitzgibbon and there is the link. Anyway it was severed in 1901 when Gill went out on his own. After his death in 1922 his widow surrendered the lease to Egan’s in 1927/ and or sold the contents of the shop to McFaddens of Patrick Street. A second part of the High Street property was tenanted by John Flanagan and James Kenny. Flanagan had a 999-year lease from 1880. Egan’s acquired this or  another 999-year interest in the property in 1940.

Strange to say the 1901 census entry was not found in High Street or Charleville Square. Michael Gill, drapery manager, was living in William Street over Scally’s shop. An entry at no, 5 may mean this property was vacant in April of 1901 at the time of the census.

The census for 1911 census High Street (no. 59), GV 6 and 7 really shows us what living over the shop meant and how the drapers of those years had inhouse staff to make suits and other clothing. The Gill Family lived in what the census people called a 1st class private dwelling in a house/Shop with seven windows to the front. The house had three out-offices which were two stables and one shed. The household was comprised of the husband, wife, four sons, one daughter, six employees (four milliners and two draper assistant) and two servants (one female nurse and one servant).  It was largely a family concern with no less than seven family members and eight support staff to help in the house and the shop.

The Gill shop on census night in 1911

GillMichael JHead of FamilyRC40DraperMCo Roscommon
GillElizabethWifeRC30MCo Longford
GillMartinSonRC7SKing’s Co
GillMargaretDaughterRC5SKing’s Co
GillEugeneSonRC3SKing’s Co
GillMichaelSonRC2SKing’s Co
GillWilliamSonRC SKing’s Co
SmythPatrickDraper’s AssistantRC19Draper’s AssistantSCo Westmeath
MarronPatrick JAssistantRC41Draper’s AssistantSCo Louth
CarolanLizzieMillinerRC17MillinerSCo Longford
ColganKateMillinerRC18MillinerSKing’s Co
BasticBridgetMillinerRC16MillinerSCo Westmeath
ButlerKateMillinerRC17MillinerSKings Co
LawlorMaryServantRC20ServantSCo Westmeath
OwensLizzieServantRC38Nurse DomesticMKing’s Co

Michael Gill died at 51 in 1922 and his family departed for the United States. Michael Gill died at 51 in 1922 and was buried in Clonminch. His obituary noted: The death took place at his residence, High St., Tullamore, of Mr. Michael J. Gill, draper.  The deceased was a native of Castlerea and served his apprenticeship in the drapery establishment of the late Mr John Fitzgibbon, in that town.  He came as assistant to the drapery establishment of Mr. Malachy Scally, Tullamore, about 35 years ago.  He was a man of kindly genial disposition, and a citizen for whom there was great regard and esteem….[6] Mrs Gill carried on the business until the mid-1920s. It was closed by 1927 when the upper floor was used by Cumann na nGaedheal for the 1927 general election. It appears that Mrs Gill sold her interest in this property to McFadden drapers of Patrick St. for £1,200 in 1929 (MT, 23/2/29) which conflicts with surrendering the key.

Gill’s wife and ten children emigrated to New York in the late 1920s. A few of the children were back in Tullamore in the 1950s and 1960s In 1953 Rita Ryan née Gill attended a dinner for friends of the Old IRA. Ten years later Michael J. Gill, a son of the draper, visited Tullamore.[7]

Gill’s site c. 1952. Bus Bar to left.

The building  appears to have been vacant from 1927 or soon after (more information needed here) and was taken down by P.& H. Egan Ltd in 1952. It was then left for eight years as a walled in yard. In 1961, and to a very modern style, a newly constructed shop was opened by that firm as a hardware store focusing on electrical goods and the new products in demand in the early 1960s for the modernised home.[8] It was sold in the late 1960s with the winding up of the Egan firm and was acquired by Joe Galvin, the auctioneer, for offices on the first floor and ladies fashions on the ground floor. The new store, Galvin’s Ladies Drapery, was under the direction of Joe Galvin’s wife, Mrs Lily Galvin, having moved to much larger premises from her former shop in Harbour Street, established in 1957 twelve years earlier.[9] Joe Galvin was from a distinguished Tullamore-based business family headed by his father Michael (of the gravel business, later Readymix), and brothers John and Andy, and Brendan (among others) also in business in Tullamore. Joe Galvin died at the early age of 54.[10] His auctioneering business was continued for a time by his brother Andy and Enda Soden.

The new store of c. 1961. Fergal MacCabe, the architect and town planner has commented on this article and the new building: ‘A very interesting addition to the study of the urban heritage of High Street. The 1961 shopfront was the first post war building in Tullamore in a modern style. Designed by the Tullamore born architect Paul Burke-Kennedy, its simple form and use of concrete bricks as a finish is reminiscent of contemporary Scandinavian architecture which was briefly popular with younger architects at this time. The contrast between the horizontal fascia and its modern lettering with the vertical panel of projecting bricks was well executed and was a device used by the Athlone based architect Noel Heavey also.’

Galvin for Ladies closed in 2014 after forty-five years in this location of which twenty-eight years was under the direction of John Galvin. In appearance the building has been changed radically on two occasions since the time of the Gill ownership from 1901 to 1922. The first was in 1961 for Egan’s and the second about 2007.  The store was continued as a drapery for younger women in a new location. 

The lovely new consumables of the early 1960s. Tullamore was a lead town in the midlands in that decade. What Tullamore child of the 1960s has not climbed those bricks?

The High Street store got a new lease of life with the opening of Guy Clothing by Anthony Kearns and Kara Kearns in October 2014. Their fine store has brought new business to High Street after the closure of Kilroy’s (both stores in 2007). We wish them well.

 If we had letters and diaries from the 1750s what a story could be told of this one house in High Street. We did hear that some members of the Gill family from the Unites States called to the town council about ten years ago and would hope to make contact. The same can be said to the Mills Muller family in Berlin. Maurice Egan has written in two books now of the Egan family and others in Tullamore.

If you have a story to tell why not email us info@offalyhistory.com. For over 400 stories so far see Offalyhistoryblog. They are nicely organised on our website www. Offalyhistory.com. There are about sixteen houses in O’Connor Square and over forty in High Street. Every building has a story. Have you archival material, memorial cards, photographs, diaries, letters? Why not call us. Offaly history is about saving memories. Visit our website and that of Offaly Archives. Our thanks to Offaly County Council, Decade of Centenaries and the Heritage Council. Only 55 more stories for High Street  and O’Connor Square!! Thanks to Offaly History Centre for so much help with this one.


[1] Offaly Archives/4/36, 6 Apr. 1753; RD, 154/592/107558. Charleville to Robert Mills; fee farm grant, 11 June 1880, RD, 1880/40/216.

[2] Irish Times, 9 January 2001.  This article first appeared in The Irish Sword in 1971, x, p.73.  A   Mills family lived at Spollanstown and were farmers and had property in High Street, Tullamore. Lord Tullamoore granted a lease to Robert Mills of Tullamore, a farmer,  in 1753 (Registry of Deeds memorial Book 154-592-107558).  A later deed of 1773 (Registry of Deeds 308-478-206673) refers to a Spollanstown address for Robert Mills and James Mills.

[3] Church of Ireland parish registers, Tullamore.  Index with OHAS, Research Centre,  Tullamore

[4] RD, 6 April 1753, Tullamore to Mills, memorial no., 154/592/107558; 10 March 1767, Mills to Finlay, memorial no., 297/637/196497; 4 November 1758, Mills to Finlay, memorial no. 199/346/132431; 13 September 1790, Finlay to Bollard, memorial no., 416/493/277814.

[5] MS valuation, Tullamore, property nos, 24-5; Slater, Directory (1846), p. 93.

[6] Midland Tribune, 30 Sept. 1922.

[7] Offaly Independent, 8 Aug. 1953, 2 Nov. 1963.

[8] Offaly Independent, 3 June 1961.

[9] Tullamore Tribune, 29 Sept. 1979.

[10] Midland Tribune, 16 June 1984.

John Wrafter writes from the United States

Enjoyed reading your recent blog re the Gill’s of High Street. Surprised that anybody remembered them.

The Gill family were longterm friends of my own family (Wrafter) – resident at 9 Church St. in those days
and the connection continued for decades after their departure to the U.S.

It’s my understanding that four of the Gill boys served, during WW2, in the U.S. army.  All survived.
Attached is a photo of Michael Joe Gill at Montecassino in Italy. You will be familiar with that famous
battle I am sure !.

Here also are a couple of photos of Michael Joe in later life. One chatting with my late mother (Mona W.),
the other with my uncle, P.A. Wrafter, late of 9 Church Street, where the Gills would usually stay during
their occasional visits to Tullamore.   Both photos were taken at Michael Joe’s residence in New York
sometime in the late 1960’s.

Best regards,
John Wrafter,
(Late of O’Moore St, Kilbride St, Church St, and Ballyduff.)

Waterloo and some Birr connections. By Stephen Callaghan

Those not overly familiar with military history will be still aware of famous battles, probably none more than Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated by Wellington and his allies in 1815. As today is the 207th anniversary of this decisive battle, we will look at some of the men who were present at this battle who now lie buried in Birr. There are at least four men buried in the town who were present at the battle with many more who fought during the Peninsular Wars, which is a topic for another post. A sad observation is that other than the officers, the other brave men mentioned below are all buried in unmarked graves.

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The limestone quarries of Ballyduff, Tullamore.  Part 3: From Tullamore to Tasmania. By John Wrafter

In the second article on the quarries and stonecutters of Tullamore, I wrote about members of the Bracken family that left Ireland with their stonecutting skills and brought them to Australia. That was around 1910. However, stonecutters from the Ballyduff quarries had been emigrating and practicing their trade abroad for many years before that. Australia, in particular, was the destination for many. In this article, I will focus on two families, the Molloys and the Cronlys, and their involvement in stonecutting both at home and abroad.

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The Visit of the Hon. Hugh Mahon to Ireland in 1922 and the Mahon family reunion in Charleville Demesne, Tullamore in August 1922. By Dr Jeff Kildea

As the decade of centenaries draws to a close, one centenary not on the government’s list of official commemorations is the 1922 visit to Ireland of the Hon. Hugh Mahon, a former cabinet minister in the Australian government. Nevertheless, at a local level, the people of County Offaly may find more than a passing interest in this event from one hundred years ago.

Born in 1857 at Killurin, six kilometres south of Tullamore, Mahon was forced to leave his native land in 1882 and emigrate to Australia to avoid being arrested for his activities in the Land League. Forty years later he returned to Ireland for the first time, visiting family and friends in and around Tullamore. The years in between had been eventful for Mahon, leading to one of the most contentious episodes in Australia’s political history. And the return visit to his homeland also was not without controversy.

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Partying in Tullamore in 1873 for the coming of age of the fourth earl of Charleville and the marriage of his sister Katherine Bury. By Michael Byrne. No.5 in the Tullamore 400th series

The summer of 1873 was marked in Tullamore with a great outpouring of support for the coming of age of Charles William Francis, the fourth earl of Charleville (1852–74). He had been an orphan for fourteen years and taken care of by his uncle Alfred Bury (1829–75). The fourth earl’s parents, Charles William George and Arabella Case, had both died at a young age in 1857 (countess of Charleville) and 1859 (the third earl). He was only 37 and left five young children of which the fourth earl was born 16 May 1852. His sister had been killed in an accident on the stairwell at Charleville Castle in 1861 and his younger brother John died in 1872 when only 21. Now the young earl had reached his maturity and his 21st year. He could mark the occasion with his two sisters Lady Katherine and Lady Emily. The celebrations ought to have been on 16 May 1873 but the party had been deferred for a few weeks so that the coming of age could be celebrated at the same time as the marriage of Lady Katherine to Captain Hutton A.D.C. The celebration in the town with triumphal arches and fireworks was the last such for the earls of Charleville. Over the period from 1782 to 1873 there had been three such Welcomes from the Tenantry. Lady Emily inherited Charleville under the will of the fourth earl who died in 1874 aged only 22. Emily came into possession on the death of her uncle Alfred in 1875 childless. She was still a minor and there was no official welcome. Lady Emily married Captain Kenneth Howard in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. The Land War began in 1879–80 and cast a shadow over landlord and tenant relationships permanently. Lady Emily died in 1931 and the estate passed to her only surviving child Lt Col. Kenneth Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80).

The address of Dr Michael Moorhead in his capacity as chairman of the town commissioners at the celebration dinner in 1873 is replete with irony given that the young earl died in a little over a year after on a fishing and hunting trip near New York.

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