The decades before the Great Famine witnessed a growing interest, in both Ireland and Britain, in the problem of Ireland’s endemic poverty. The sheer extent of poverty in the country and the very nature of that impoverishment – the relative lack of capital investment; an over-reliance on small agricultural holdings and a single staple crop; the complex and pervasive culture of mendicancy (begging) – were among the most striking characteristics of pre-Famine Irish society highlighted by foreign travellers and social inquirers. As outlined in a previous post on this blog(https://offalyhistoryblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/05/poverty-in-pre-famine-offaly-kings-county-by-ciaran-mccabe), a Royal Commission for Inquiring into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland (aka the Poor Inquiry) sat between 1833 and 1836, and examined in considerable detail, the social condition of the poorer classes throughout the island. The resulting published reports, totalling more than 5,000 pages (much of it seemingly-verbatim testimony taken at public inquiries) illuminates more than any other source the experiences of the lower sections of Irish society on the eve of the Famine; fortunately for us, the Poor Inquiry collected evidence from witnesses in King’s County.
Tullamore is still to this day a vibrant and friendly Irish market town which has never lost sight of its commercial heritage. It’s one of the very few Irish towns that still preserves that friendly main street social-commercial atmosphere that I spoke about earlier. Today, The Bridge House is one of the largest town centre hotels in the midlands and it is really great to see the way that the modern owners show their appreciation of the past by maintaining the look and utility of the building facade. With Egan’s and Tullamore D.E.W.‘s combined influence still so visible in today’s town, surely it is only a matter of time before a whiskey savvy historian develops a Tullamore Town Whiskey Walking Tour. (Stuart McNamara in a recent blog on Egan’s whiskey).
Tullamore has its town guides and an app but, as yet, no whiskey trail. What with over 50,000 visitors to Tullamore DEW Old Bonded Warehouse every year it would be good to assist those visitors to see other parts of Tullamore connected with the story of Tullamore’s whiskey traditions. The commercial heritage of Tullamore is closely linked with the town’s malting, brewing and distilling history.
Spring is in the air and I decided to tip down to Offaly during the week of St Valentine’s and see my old friends in Killoughy and Banagher. There are a still a fair number of Molloys in that part of the world. Everywhere I go now I hear about Tullamore because of the new distillery and I think back to the time when some of my ancestors had distilleries in Tullamore, Kilcormac and Banagher. As to Molonys I was told once by a Tipperary man that there are at least 22 variants of the name so good luck with the searching for this family.
I was down before Christmas and got to visit Clonony Castle where the charming woman Rebecca Armstrong resides and is the hostess for seasonal and summer events there and has the old castle open to the public. I believe she restored it herself and is there about sixteen or seventeen years. She has done a great public service and I suppose got no grants of any kind. Had the OPW done the job you can be sure it would have cost millions and be closed half of the year. De Renzi and Clonony
Anyway enough grousing. We Molloys are nothing if not resilient. I asked some of the big wigs in the Offaly Historical Society to find out more about a barrister by the name of Edmund Molony because I came across an inscription that he put up for his wife in a London church which seems to have been as ample as was her love for the same Edmund. It struck a chord because of my pre-Christmas visit to that lovely old castle which is near the Grand Canal and the town of Ferbane.
In the decades before the Great Famine of the late-1840s numerous parliamentary inquiries were held into the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland. Political and social elites wished to understand the nature of Ireland’s seemingly endemic poverty in the hope of improving the social, economic and moral condition of the peasantry, as well as quelling the country’s tendency for social upheaval and political radicalism. The most significant of these inquiries was the Royal Commission for Inquiring into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland (aka the Poor Inquiry). Chaired by the Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin Richard Whately (1787-1863), the commission sat between 1833 and 1836, holding extensive public inquiries (akin to court sittings) in parishes throughout the country, supplemented by extensive correspondence with persons of significance across the island, as to the social condition of the poor in their locality. The printed output of the commission – totalling more than 5,000 pages of detailed information, witness testimonies and statistics – constitutes an unparalleled source for the study of poverty in the pre-Famine period. The Poor Inquiry reports tell us much about County Offaly (King’s County) a decade before the Great Famine. Continue reading →
Dan Lawlor was born in 1907 and in this interview (extract – for the full interview follow the SoundCloud link) he talks about his early memories of growing up in the early 1900s, attending national school in Mount Bolus. Starting to work at the age of 14, where the wage was 3 shillings for a boy and 5 shillings for men and the working day was 8 or 9 hours at least. He also recalls growing up during very disturbed times, the 1916 rising, the Black and Tans and the First World War. Going around the rambling houses and the stories he heard about the Famine 1846 – 49, the big wind in 1903 knocking down all 13 acres of Colonel Biddulph trees, the big storm around 1803 (or was it 1839). The telling of ghost stories, attending wakes, clay pipes and match making where the father gave £100 and those who couldn’t afford it and gave nothing would say “she’s a good girl and will earn her keep”. His love of hurling in Killoughy, making their own hurleys and using a tin can if they couldn’t afford a leather ball. He also speaks about the 1920s not being great times, but the crops were good for anyone who minded them, farming all his life also all his family, the farm evictions and the Economic War. He also mentions about 80 years ago there was a brewery in Monasterevin called Cassidy’s and a monk in Clara who worked miracles with the mortar, they called him Cassidy’s Monk.Continue reading →
Thomas Prittie’s recollections of Tullamore from the Famine to the Easter Rising serve to confirm how much the town had improved both physically and in civility in that narrator’s own time. Thomas Prittie died on 29 April 1916 just at the close of Easter Week and was described by the Tullamore and King’s CountyIndependent as ‘one of the oldest inhabitants of the town’ who helped in ‘our historical sketch of Tullamore published some months ago’. He was aged 83 according to his death certificate, but the reporter put him at ninety. He lived, unmarried, in Henry/O’Carroll Street, Tullamore and, said the local press, left considerable house property. Continue reading →
Kilcruttin cemetery is located off Cormac Street and close to the boundaries of what is now Scoil Mhuire. Indeed, the original access lane and entrance to this cemetery is still to be seen. It’s the oldest cemetery in Tullamore town and dates back to the 1700s. At one time it was on the outskirts of the town and in soft poor ground close to the Tullamore river. It was not the cemetery of choice for the upper ten in Tullamore, but nonetheless has some very good monuments including that to the Methodist merchant Burgess and the German baron Oldershausen of the King’s German Legion, the heroes of Waterloo.