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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‘It will last for centuries’:  St. Joseph’s Convent, Tullamore

Fergal MacCabe

In 1840, the scaffolding began to come down to reveal the new convent and school of the Sisters of Mercy on Bury Quay, today Convent Road.

With the building of the County Gaol in 1830, the County Courthouse in 1835 and the Union Workhouse in 1839-41, Tullamore was rapidly acquiring substantial civic and social buildings which were adding to its prestige and promoting its new role as the capital of King’s County.

But as yet, no buildings of a religious or educational nature which might contribute equally significantly to the architectural character of the town centre had emerged. The Catholic chapel of 1802 on its backland site off Harbour Street was a relatively modest structure without a frontage presence onto a main street. Charleville School built in 1811 at the junction of Henry Street and Church Street exhibited a well-mannered but unassuming appearance. Though a most impressive structure, the siting of Francis Johnston’s St Catherine’s on Hop Hill rendered it remote from the daily life of the town.

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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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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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Moorock House, Ballycumber: the first Big House burned in Offaly in the 1919–23 period. By Eamon Larkin

Thomas Armstrong, son of Andrew Armstrong and Lucy Charnock, was born on 22nd August 1702 and when he retired from his position as First Director of his Majesty’s Engineers, Chief Engineer of Minorca and Senior Engineer in the service, purchased the estate of Moorock and built a house there. He died in 1747, unmarried and the estate passed to his brother Warneford Armstrong.

On the 9th October 1793, Warneford Armstrong (1699- 1780) made a lease agreement for three lives and thirty one years of the House, Gardens and Land of Moorock to Richard Holmes, a gentleman of an old King’s County family based in nearby Prospect House. The 390 acres had been leased to James and John Reamsbottom. In 1795 Warnesford Armstrong demised the whole estate of Moorock to Richard Holmes of Prospect House for “lives renewable forever”. 

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How did the word `Shinroneism` enter the lexicon? A story of police corruption in Shinrone in the 1840s and a poem from Birr poet John de Jean Frazer. By Pádraig Turley

While reading the poems of the Birr poet John de Jean Frazer recently  I came across this satirical poem `The Gallant Police of Shinrone` which raised my curiosity levels a bit. You can read more about the Birr-born poet in a article issued on OffalyHistoryblog on 23 March to mark the 170th anniversary of the death of Frazer.

The following is the text of the poem:

THE GALLANT POLICE OF SHINRONE

Air- `The Widow Malone.`

Oh! The gallant police of Shinrone!

`Tis they have a knack of their own,

        To find beyond doubt,

         The Ribbonmen out!

Oh! They are the props of the throne,

                                                   Alone,

The gallant police of Shinrone`!

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Mountbolus, Ireland: the funeral mass and final resting place for Ashling Murphy, 18 January 2022. Specially contributed

The whole of Ireland will be watching Mountbolus today for perhaps the first time in its history. None would want the attention it will receive as the family of Ashling Murphy, her friends and representatives of state, gather for her final mass in the lovely church dominating the village of Mountbolus. The family who have given and suffered so much may now need privacy in their great sorrow.

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The Fair of Frankford (Kilcormac): old times in the barony of Ballyboy. By Paddy Heaney

We are publishing this essay of thirty-five years ago to honour all the people of the barony of Killoughy who have kept the Irish musical tradition vibrant and have a great love of their local history. It is also to mark the passing of Ashling Murphy and in support of her family and all her neighbours in the Blue Ball, Mountbolus and Kilcormac areas. Thanks to Paddy Heaney who did so much for local studies and wishing him well and a big shout out for all he and Paddy Lowry did for local studies. The barony of Ballyboy lost two-thirds of its population over the period 1841 to 1911.

If you ever stand on the summit of Knockhill on a frosty  moonlight night, and if your hear voices, and the thunder of hooves  coming from the direction  of the mountain, don’t be afraid, it’s  only the ghosts  form the distant  past on their way to the fair of Frankford.

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Centenarian philosopher: Tullamore Man’s Recipe for Happiness “Take Life as it comes” – 80 years married and never quarrelled’ – Michael and Mary Coughlin of Rapp Road, Puttaghan, Tullamore. By Cosney Molloy

Take the good and bad in life as it comes; be satisfied with your fate; if you find yourself in an argument, get out of it as quickly as possible. This was the philosophy of Mr Michael Coughlin (or Coughlan), of Rapp, Tullamore, who celebrated his 107th birthday in November 1929. I am told by Offaly History that he was the oldest man to die in Tullamore in the history of record keeping. He and his wife ‘who is nearing her century, have based 80 years of married life on this happiness recipe and he guarantees that if this advice is followed it will bring contentment to thousands of married couples.’ News of their recipe for ’80 years of marriage and never having quarreled’ went around the world and is said to have featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Michael Coughlin was a native of Eglish and had worked for Malachy Scally as a gardener at Moore Hall, Tullamore in his later years. Rapp is the road to Tyrrellspass from the canal at Whitehall and was the main road from Tullamore to Westmeath until the canal was completed in 1798. Housing there was decimated in the Famine years.

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