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.
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”.
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.
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.
All the south midland towns declined during the fifty-year period after the Famine with the exception of Clara where the Goodbody jute factory provided employment for 700 workers in the 1880s. The towns of Birr and Banagher were most severely hit. The decline of Birr was exacerbated by the final closure of the large military barracks in Birr in 1922. The previous year the Birr workhouse was closed and amalgamated with Tullamore. At a time of depression and scarce employment opportunities it was not surprising that the county capital, Tullamore, should seek to draw to itself whatever job opportunities existed in the public service sector, but it was to cause a good deal of resentment in Birr up to the 1950s.
“Some of old stonies will hold their heads high, and carry with them to the grave the feeling that they have left their mark on many a church, and on many a building, and that in years to come, there will be people to admire the work they have left behind them, as we of this generation respect and understand the work of the men of long ago. All men hope for praise of some sort, and it is a nice thing to see a man smile when he knows you are in earnest in liking his work. We become children again, and are mightily pleased with ourselves and want to show that we can do even better.”
From the book Stone Mad by Seamus Murphy, stone carver, 1966.
In this article, I write about some of the fine buildings and monuments in other parts of Ireland built using limestone from the Ballyduff quarries. There is a section on aspects of the lives of stoneworkers in Tullamore in the 19th century, and finally I have a look at a couple of Tullamore families that were prominent in stoneworking over long time periods.
The barracks of 1716 was at the western end of Patrick Street and Hayes Hotel, dating to 1786, at the eastern end on the corner with Church Street and Bridge Street (now Boots Pharmacy). The barracks was destroyed in July 192 2on the retreat of the Republican soldiers from the town during the Civil War. Within fifteen years the site was fully taken up with urban council housing and a garda station built here in 1937 and rebuilt in 2002. The military barrack of 1716 brought about 100 soldiers to the town and is thought to have been a major factor in the town’s growth because of the increased demand for goods and services that followed its construction. After the 1870s, soldiers were stationed at Tullamore only at infrequent intervals.
The police moved into the old barracks about the year 1899. The building was occupied by the old I.R.A. in March 1922 when the British army quit the town as part of the Treaty settlement and was destroyed some four months later as the Republican soldiers left town in the course of the Civil War and before the arrival of the Free State army. Parts of the old walls survive and one can see the star-shaped fort pattern in the part of the wall opposite DNG Auctioneers.
On the 1809 map of King’s County by William Larkin, one can easily fail to spot the tiny T-shaped symbol about 1 mile northwest of the town of Tullamore. There is no description to inform the reader what the object represents. Its shape and its location, however, leave no doubt as to what it symbolizes. It is the first post-Reformation Catholic church in the parish of Tullamore. Erected in 1775 in the townland of Ballyduff, the chapel’s out of the way location some distance from the town of Tullamore seems peculiar today. Another look at the 1809 map provides at least a partial clue to its location. Not more than about a hundred metres from the chapel is a quarry, probably one of the earliest limestone quarries to be opened in the area and almost certainly the source of the stone of which the chapel was built. The chapel was presumably built by the workers and tradesmen of the local quarries. Today the ruins of the Ballyduff chapel are located in the middle of the Axis Business Park accessed from the Clara Rd.
One hundred years of Clara History:The diary of Lydia Goodbody, 1841–86; Harold Goodbody’s history of Clara, 1887–1945. Illustrated with over 200 photographs, 360 pages (Offaly History, 2021). To be launched at GAA Centre, 8 pm on 4 Nov. Orders also per shop at http://www.offalyhistory.com and to callers (from 5 Nov.) to Offaly History, Bury Quay, Tullamore 9 am to 4 30 pm Mon to Fri. Thanks to Clara Heritage Society for all their help with the launch. Strictly in accordance with Covid guidelines for events so follow directions of members of society. There will be at least four points of sale to avoid crowds and possibly outside the hall as needs. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any special wants or needs in regard to securing a copy of the book. We have copies set aside for all who ordered. On the night have €15 for soft and €20 for hardback handy so as to avoid change and delay. Enjoy and with thanks to all in Clara Heritage Society.
Clara has long been associated with the textile industry; stretching from the bleach greens of the early 1700s to development of the country’s largest jute factory, which gave employment in the district from 1864 and ran as a very successful business for the next hundred years. Reading the diaries of his Victorian great-aunt during World War II Harold Goodbody realised that she had kept a day-to-day record of how this industry had been created and how it and her family’s flour milling activities had supported the local community.
Harold made extracts of the more relevant parts of the diaries and added his own notes and recollections, creating a history of the Goodbody family in Clara and how a modest Offaly village had been turned into one of Ireland’s leading industrial centres. His work has now been edited to what will be a valuable local history source. Harold’s own historical research, covering the period from the late 1880s to the 1940s, is particularly insightful in the context of a period of significant change in Ireland and in the fortunes of Clara and its leading entrepreneurial family. The work is illustrated with over 200 carefully selected photographs.
The records of the Valuation Office stretch all the way back to the 1830s and are an invaluable source for the genealogist or local historian. They allow a researcher to trace the occupiers of land and buildings for decades. Just as importantly they give us insight into our ancestors’ lives in Ireland long ago. The enormous collection – thousands of ‘books’ and maps – cover every house and garden, field and townland, village and town in the country. These records have survived when so much of our heritage was lost. The majority of the collection was kept, organised logically, catalogued and safely stored. The records are now held in three repositories: The National Archives of Ireland, The Valuation Office of Ireland and the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, and are generally accessible for researchers. Some of the records are available free online, with plans to add more. [Laura Price will give a lecture via Zoom on this topic on Monday 1 November to Offaly History. Get the link by emailing us at email@example.com. You do not have to be a member and you are welcome.]