A ’roundy’ birthday tribute to John Flanagan, builder, Tullamore

We seldom write a blog on a living person but we are making an exception for John Flanagan, the modest man from the Meelaghans, Puttaghan and New Road, Tullamore who has invested his whole life (so far) in making Tullamore a better place for people to live, work, bank and even pray in. We in Offaly History occupy offices at Bury Quay rebuilt for us in 1991-2 by the John Flanagan firm and now we also occupy Offaly Archives, another Flanagan development located at Axis Business Park, Tullamore. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the building of Tullamore Court Hotel. Great in that it was against the odds and had been talked about in Tullamore for thirty years but nothing was done.

As long ago as 1977 the Midland Tribune in a review of Tanyard Industrial Estate commented that John Flanagan was a man whose vision and initiative has given the Tanyard its new lease of industrial life. John Flanagan had by then been 24 years a-building so successfully that John Flanagan and Sons Ltd. was one of the best known contracting firms in the Midlands.

He purchased the Tanyard from Messers. P. and H. Egan in the late 1960s, established his own offices there (modest of course with no frills) and almost immediately set about using some of the six-acre site to provide facilities for other local people to set up business and projects of various kinds. Some of the buildings on the property were suitable for conversion to new usage but John Flanagan also embarked on his own programme of factory construction. He subsequently purchased other premises in the same area from Messrs Tarleton. With about eleven firms thriving in the Tanyard already, about 3³/8 acres remain available for further development and Mr. Flanagan will be ready to respond to demand as it arises. The whole area was redeveloped in the 1990s and is now emerging as a retail sector in Tullamore, well adapted to the changing economy.

John Flanagan extreme right and beside him is loyal foreman Jim Larkin – in late 1984 after the fire of 31 10 1983 at Tullamore Church.

While his industrial estate has been steadily expanding, so too had his own business as a contractor. In the 1970s his major undertaking included construction of R.T.E transmitting Station at Ballycommon; Tullamore Vocational School; the Post Office in Portlaoise; Farm Centres in Edenderry and Portlaoise; Housing Carlow (a scheme of 57 houses); factories for Messrs Paul and Vincent; in Tullamore and Irish Cables, Athlone.

The old Tanyard Lane c 1996 with the first block of apartments on the right completed and a new carpark under construction

Jobs in hands in the late 1970s included a scheme of 40 houses in Clara for Offaly County Council; the Bank of Ireland premises at Bridge St. O’Connor Sq., a Welfare Home in Edenderry; reconstruction work at St. Loman’s Hospital, Mullingar.

‘Mr Flanagan – who incidentally is Chairman of Banagher Concrete was actively in recent formation of a Chamber of Commerce in Tullamore and is the inaugural President of a body which is expected to make a very significant impact on the industrial and commercial life of the town and district.’

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James Lyle Stirling Mineral and Medicinal Water Manufacturing, Importer of Wines and Brandies, Athy and Tullamore. By Noel Guerin

James Lyle Stirling was born 16 May 1858 to Thomas Lyle and Anne Stirling of Tullamore. He was a business man who ran several businesses in Tullamore, between the years of 1880 and 1898, and is best remembered for his mineral water manufacturing company.

His father, Thomas Lyle Stirling, was a brewer and merchant in King’s County, who ran most of his business in Church St., Tullamore. He was also an active Tullamore town Commissioner and sometime acted as an agent for Mary Anne Locke of Locke’s Distillery Kilbeggan. Thomas Lyle Stirling married Anne Jane, daughter of William and Catherine Commins of Cappincur, Tullamore, they had six children, all born in Tullamore except the youngest, Thomas who was born in Dublin. The children were Margaret (born 1857), James Lyle (1858), William (1860), Catherine (1862), Isabella Elizabeth (1863) and Thomas (1866).

James Lyle Sterling and family

Anne Jane, James’s mother died shortly after Thomas was born in 1866 and his father Thomas remarried later the same year to Helena Reamsbottom, widow of Thomas Reamsbottom Esq. of Bellair Lodge, after she had lost a child and her husband early that year. Thomas Lyle and Helena Stirling, now married, lived in Bellair Lodge, Ferbane, and they went on to have two more children: Elizabeth Helena (born c.1869) and Thomas Francis Lyle (1872). In 1876 Thomas Lyle died, leaving a young James as his heir. As James was too young to take charge of his businesses, his estate was run by his executors, John Tarleton and Constantine Quirke. It would be another four years in 1880 before Stirling was old enough to take over his father’s business.

James Lyle Stirling married in Dublin to Gertrude Bridget Murphy (born c.1864), a daughter of Patrick Murphy a trader from Athy, Co. Kildare. They had six children at Church Road, Tullamore: Genevieve, Mary Margaret (born 1888), Eithel Mary (1889), Blanche Loretto Lyle (1891), Ida Mary Gertrude (1892), Joseph Allen (1893), and Raymond Gordon (1896). The family later moved out to Cloonagh House, just outside Tullamore.

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Clara at the time of General Vallancey’s Report (1771) on the proposed Grand Canal to Tullamore and the Shannon. By Michael Byrne

Clara’s engagement with the textile industry may go back 100 years before the Goodbody jute factory. As one of the smaller towns and villages in the county places such as Clara, Ferbane, Kilcormac and Shinrone are less clearly associated with the early plantations by contrast with Daingean, Tullamore and Birr. Clara was prosperous in the 1770s and from the weakening of textiles in the 1820s must have suffered a good deal until the hand loom business progressed after the mid-1850s and the jute factory from the mid-1860s.The Goodbody firm continued as a prosperous concern for another hundred years. Clara was the only town in Offaly to see expansion of its population in the second half of the nineteenth century. And so in the economic cycle it may be that the post 1820s to the 1860s were lean years as has been the period since the 1970s. These are generalisations and will need to be revised in the context of detailed research on Clara businesses, employment, housing and infrastructure.

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New history in old Tullamore bottles – Egan’s, Tullamore DEW, Stirling and more besides. By Noel Guerin

I started collecting bottles a little over a year ago, interested in their origins and local history. I’ve picked a small collection of the type of breweriana bottles that were used in the day to day lives of the people of Tullamore and surrounding towns in the late 19th and early 20th century. I’ve provided a brief description of the types of bottles I’ve mentioned. Most of the dates provided are approximate and offered with the best knowledge I have at this moment. As I get more accurate information, the dates will be reviewed. I started off with some basic background information on bottles.

Carbonised mineral bottle   It is widely known amongst bottle collectors that Joseph Priestly discovered how to make carbonised mineral water in 1772. It was prepared by dissolving carbon dioxide in water. By 1860, it had become easier to manufacture and was being flavoured with fruit syrups, lemons and limes. It was retailed by grocers, wine and spirit merchants, as well as chemists. At first the new drink was stored in earthenware bottles, but the gas escaped through the skin and so the drink became flat. Manufacturers switched to glass bottles. However, corks were still used to seal the carbonised mineral water drinks, and if they were allowed to dry out, they tended to loosen which allowed the gas to escape. If the bottles were stored on their side, this was less likely to happen.

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Salts/Tullamore Yarns, 1937–82: the largest employer in Tullamore for thirty years. By John Carroll and Offaly History

In the week of 23 December 1978, the Tullamore Tribune published an interview with the late John Carroll on the history of Salts/Tullamore Yarns. He had been with the company for its full forty years in Tullamore. The Tribune noted that John Carroll might be called the ‘Bill Riley of Tullamore Yarns’ – which means, as fans of the popular television serial of that time ‘The Brothers’ will realise, that he came into the firm at the bottom, without any special advantages, and worked his way up on merit alone. He made his appearance on the scene as a young teenager, helping to unpack and clean the machinery arriving for setting up of the Salts textiles factory in 1938. By 1978 he was works manager. He took a keen interest in Tullamore and was for many years a director of Tullamore Credit Union.

Salt’s spinning mill, erected on the site of old Tullamore jail, was the largest employer in Tullamore for about thirty years. Prior to its completion in 1938 there had been no major factory in the town from with the loss of the Goodbody tobacco factory due to a fire in 1886.  Any tradition the town had in textiles was gone since the 1820s. A linen factory building had been constructed in 1754 but was out of use by 1800. Salts decided on Tullamore after making a short list of suitable towns, interviewing the town council and satisfying themselves in regard to the site at the old jail which had been largely destroyed in 1922 during the civil war. Nothing could have been done without the support of the townspeople, William Davin, TD and the Minister for Industry and Commerce Sean Lemass.

Salts/Tullamore Yarns 1937-82

    The owner of the new woollen mill was Salts of Saltaire in Yorkshire and employed 3,500 workers in the textile industry. Salts (Ireland) Ltd. was established in 1937 to supply the requirements of the Irish market in worsted yarns both weaving and hosiery. The leading figure on Salts’ side was R. W. Guild who was from Scotland. At about the same time as  Guild was establishing Salts (Ireland) William Dwyer, the founder of the Cork-based Sunbeam Wolsey,  was working to  develop his own plant.

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MEMOIRS OF AN EMPLOYEE OF THE MIDLAND BUTTER AND BACON COMPANY, TULLAMORE. By TARA and Offaly History

The well-known geographer, T. W. Freeman, provided us with a useful summary of the work in the Tullamore bacon factory in his geographical survey of Tullamore published in 1948:

An advert of 1965

The Midlands Co-Operative Society began its career as a creamery in 1928, and was at first intended to absorb the milk supplies of the neighbourhood for butter – making, but as these were never sufficiently great the trade in eggs and poultry became more important. Like the two private firms mentioned above [Williams’s and Egan’s], the Co-Operative Society buys and sells over a wide area, which includes the two counties of Leix and Offaly, the whole of Co. Galway, and parts of Tipperary, Roscommon, and Meath . Altogether the Society handles some 30,000 cases of thirty dozen eggs, of which three-quarters are exported to Britain, and approximately 24,000 turkeys, 5,000 geese, and 18,000 hens per annum, mainly for export or the Dublin market. Butter is bought from other creameries, made into one – pound rolls, and sold. In 1945, a bacon factory was added; the pigs are bought in Co, Offaly, and the produce sold in much the same area as that covered by the eggs and poultry trade. The scarcity of pigs at present means that the factory is working below capacity. The Society also has a sawmill using local timber for making cases and firewood and runs retail shops in Tullamore town and at Clonaslee: in all, it employs 180 workers, with 80 extra in the Christmas turkey season, and 20 extra in the main egg season, from February to May: most of this labour is drawn from the towns.

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Tullamore Gas Company: the missing archives. By Michael Byrne Sources for Offaly History no. 11

Now where is this in Tullamore ?

So here we are talking about sources that have been lost. We have a new Offaly Archives since March 2020 and we are working to fill it, but yet we have to regret what has been lost. There are many such collections in Offaly – grand jury records (some) mostly pre-1820 are missing, county infirmary records (very little surviving), the records of Tullamore town commission ( all gone). We should do a list of what we are missing. Somebody out there may have them.  The writer of 1915 had access to the minute books of the Tullamore Gas Company, but where are they now.? Where are the books for Birr?

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The Egans of Moate and Tullamore. By Maurice Egan

Who were the Egans and where did they come from? What national and international impact did they have on nineteenth century Irish political reform? How did they become successful lawyers and businesspeople? For many years, my cousin David and I would pose and tease out these and many other unanswered questions. Too often the anecdotal and evidential answers were vague at best and often hearsay or random recollections from family members. We both eventually concluded that there was enough intrigue to pique our interest into doing proper research on the period of social history of the 1800s and early 1900s. We discovered a treasure trove of fascinating stories which we felt warranted publishing.

Why write this book now, one may ask? The surviving older Egan generation have fond memories of the days past and several of them learned the business of business and held their first jobs in the family firm. Many local people also retain fond memories of the firm and the employment offered to themselves and their antecedents. Continue reading

DRAYTON VILLA, CLARA: ‘a handsome residence, a good home neatly furnished’. By Michael Goodbody

 

It was lately announced that Drayton Villa, Clara and some lands adjoining are to be acquired by Offaly County Council for public purposes. Offaly History asked Michael Goodbody to contribute this piece on the story of this important house. He is currently working on ‘One Hundred years of Clara History’ to be published later this year and from a preview we can say that it will represent an important contribution to the story of Clara from the 1840s to the 1940s. Thanks to Michael Goodbody for the article and the pictures. We have added the subheadings.

Drayton Villa 1920s (courtesy Stephen Williamson)
Drayton Villa (courtesy Stephen Williamson)

Drayton Villa, built by Lewis Frederick Goodbody in the mid-nineteenth century, is largely untouched by more recent additions and alterations, so that many of its original features are intact. The main block of three bays, with a basement underneath, dates from 1849. There can be no disputing this date for it is recorded by Lydia Goodbody – future sister-in-law of Lewis – in her diary entries for that year.

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A D. E. Williams Limited Tullamore maltster for fifty years tells his story. By the late Michael Power of Marian Place, Tullamore

057262 Williams Traditional floor malting
The old floor malting process for hundreds of years ceased in Tullamore in 1969. Cover pic is of Water Lane now entrance to Main Street, Tullamore. Courtesy of Fergal MacCabe.

The Williams company of Tullamore (1884–1996) was in the malting business from 1892. Other Tullamore firms included Egan, Tarleton and B. Daly, the Tullamore distillery. In this article Michael Power tells his story. This piece was first published in Jip-cat, pig’s head, petticoats and combinations: our lives, our times in Tullamore and surrounding districts; editor Feargal Kenny. Tullamore: Tullamore Active Retirement Association, 2002 (available from Offaly History Centre).

064723 Williams brochure picture
Modernisation of agriculture in the 1970s

As a seasonal worker in the Maltings, you started in September when the harvest came in and wound up in May when the malting was over. I became a permanent worker [at Williams/B Daly/Tullamore Distillery [in 1932 and remained there for fifty years. The work was hard, labouring work, carrying sacks, working in the malthouse, screening malt and barley and carrying sacks of grain.

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