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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Rathrobin and the Two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900–1920. Michael Byrne

Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the photographs taken by Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926, of Rathrobin near Mountbolus) are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was keenly aware of the plantations of the 1550s to the 1650s. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, indoor staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Biddulph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.

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Christmas Reading from Offaly History – twelve new titles of Offaly interest, one for every day of the Festive Season. Another bumper year for local studies.

All the books here can be purchased from Offaly History (Bury Quay, Tullamore and online) and at Midland Books, Tullamore. You can also view/ borrow at Offaly Libraries and consult at Offaly History Centre.

Rathrobin and the two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900-1920. Michael Byrne (Offaly History, Tullamore, 2021), 330 pages, 280×240, hardcover, €24.99.

Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the pictures of Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926) of Rathrobin near Mountbolus are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was well aware of the Plantations of the 16th and 17th centuries. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than a 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Bidduph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.

Biddulph’s story, and that of his associates and friends, is illustrated by a selection of over 300 pictures in all, of which 250 are from the Biddulph Collection in Offaly Archives, and fifty more to illustrate the introductory essay and provide the all-important context. The essay and the photographs provide a more nuanced understanding of Ireland in the revolutionary period of 1900–23. Biddulph’s wonderful house at Rathrobin that he had so carefully ‘restored’, and all his farm improvements, were lost in the Civil War in 1923. Many other big houses from Ashford, to Ballyfin, Durrow, Brookfield, Screggan Manor and Charleville are also recorded in this volume. Some such as Brockley Park in Laois are now gone thereby making this an important work of record. The photographs by Middleton Biddulph were taken at a crucial moment in Ireland’s history. Their publication now could not come at a better time. Rathrobin is the portrait of one small estate and Killoughy parish in Offaly from the 1650s to the 1920s, but the story is of national interest. T.E. Lawrence spoke of the Arab Revolt, perhaps in Ireland we can talk of the Irish Revolt and not the full circle Revolution. You decide.

Rathrobin was supported by the Decade of Commemorations Unit in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media

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‘Opening the Hidden Bridge  and A New Theory of The Early Origins of Tullamore’. By Fergal MacCabe

Introduction

Amongst the recently announced projects for the rejuvenation of the centre of Tullamore is the long promised opening of the ‘Hidden Bridge’ behind the County Library and the linking across it of O’Connor Square and Church Street by a new public park. Though the age and function of the bridge are obscure, clues may be found which shed light on not just its genesis but also those of Tullamore itself.

 Settlement Types

As humans began to leave the forests and gather together for trade and security, three distinct models of settlement began to emerge. One was the elongated village street which developed along a well travelled trail. Another was the crossroads ie. a meeting of four trails creating a junction around which housing and businesses clustered.The third was the village green form, where several trails came together around an open marketplace.

In Offaly the best examples of the first are Banagher, Shannonbridge, Daingean or Edenderry with their long main streets. Ferbane is a good example of the second type. Killeigh, Cloneygowan, Geashill and Clara which share the same feature of a triangular fair green, are good examples of the last.

Into which category therefore does Tullamore fall?

Tullamore 1838

Early Maps

The Cotton map of the mid to late 16 th century shows the central Midlands as mainly woods, trackless plains and bogs. Apart from ‘Dinian’ (Daingean), Killeigh is the only settlement noted

Tullamore first appears as a distinct settlement on the Moll Atlas of 1728 which shows the Tyrellspass to Birr road as the main route from Westmeath to Tipperary and crossing the Ballycowen River river just south of a hamlet noted as ‘Tullymore’. No other roads into this village are shown.

The first map which shows the layout of the town of Tullamore itself is Taylor and Skinner’s 1777 volume which describes the routes of all the main roads traversing Ireland at that time, but does not purport to be a reliable guide to the streets or form of the towns through which they pass. The guide shows the north -south Kilbeggan to Birr road crossing the river and  intersected by the east-west Philipstown (Daingean) to Clara road at a point just south of the present canal bridge. A small chapel is shown on Church Street and a nobleman’s seat close by. The Tyrellspass to Birr road is shown entering the town from the north east and meeting the Philipstown/Clara road at a T-junction, but does not continue further southwards. Were it to continue in a straight line however, it would arrive at the river at precisely the location of the ‘Hidden Bridge’ at the rear of the Library which suggests that this was once its destination.

William Larkin’s Survey of 1809 is a little more detailed and shows seven roads radiating out into the countryside from a central point- again presumably the river crossing. The arrival of the Grand Canal in 1798 had interrupted this road pattern north of the river.

Larkin 1809

Some indication of the age of these radial roads may be drawn from an examination of the first really reliable map of Tullamore-the Ordnance Survey of 1838. Field boundaries which are not continuous across road lines suggest land ownerships of some antiquity and therefore longer established routes. The clearest example of newer roads interrupting established field boundaries is visible in Bachelors Walk, laid out in 1815 while the relatively recent vintage of Tanyard Lane and the road to Geashill are evident also. However, the Killeigh, Kilbeggan, Rahan and Charleville radial roads which have differing boundaries on either side, are clearly much older.

The North Eastern Radial

Of particular interest however is the north eastern entry to the town from the Tyrrellspass direction and the former direct route to Birr according to Moll.  Having cut through the esker at Derrygolan, the road  takes a direct and straight line to enter Tullamore at Puttaghan along a route formerly known locally as Rapparee Alley; at which point (according to Taylor and Skinner) it suddenly meets the east-west Philipstown-Clara road and proceeds no further. The discontinuous boundaries on either side northwards of this junction suggests a route of some antiquity. We can only speculate as to why it does not continue further to its projected and natural  destination point -the river crossing suggested by Moll’s map.

Roads evolve along desire lines of movement and historically the focus of all the other radial roads entering Tullamore was the river crossing. As there were no physical obstacles to interrupt the original line of the Puttaghan Road, we can only surmise as to the reasons for its discontinuance or abandonment.

Combining the Moll Atlas and Taylor and Skinner’s Map it would appear that the road originally ran past the ruined castle recorded in 1620 as being in the ownership of Sir John Moore and which was located somewhere in the Church Street/O’Carroll Street area. Indeed the castle may have originally been built to ensure the security of that ancient road.

In 1710 Sir John moved the family seat of the O’Moores from Croghan to Tullamore and built a new house somewhere near the old castle. It is possible but conjectural that some years later the Puttaghan road was decommissioned by Sir John to increase and protect the pleasure grounds around his new residence. Traffic from the north east would now meet a T-junction at the northern edge of his estate and travel westwards along the Philipstown- Clara road to meet with what was by then, the main Kilbeggan-Birr road and then proceed southwards along it to ford the river.

Though this diversion might have inconvenienced travellers, it should be noted that in 1786 Sir John’s successors rerouted the Tullamore- Birr road around their new demesne at Charleville for this very reason.

Tullamore c. 1912

The Old Bridge

What then was the function of the bridge between O’Connor Square and Church Street and which has been hidden out of sight for many years? The sharp cutting of the stonework of its central abutment suggests that it is not an ancient structure, but we have no precise information as to when it was erected; in particular we don’t know if it predates or succeeds the bridge to the west which was provided on the site of the former ford sometime around 1775.

The eminent chronicler of the history of the town, Dr. William Moran conjectures that  ‘It was probably about the time (early 18c.) the fair green and the cornmarket were opened, that the first bridge over the river was built to enable farmers from the south side of the river to bring their produce to market’. He then goes on to surmise that ‘Two short stretches of road, one each side of the river, connected this bridge with the already existing Philipstown-Birr road.The inconvenience of having to make this little detour, in order to cross the river by the bridge was soon felt; and the present bridge was built to replace the old one’

The provision of the western bridge to replace the ford at present day Bridge Street does not explain why the eastern bridge should have been enclosed and abandoned. It would still have been the more direct route between the two market places of the town and of greater convenience to cattle drovers and wheeled traffic.

The other eminent chronicler of the history of Tullamore Michael Byrne, suggests that property records indicate that the eastern bridge is of a later date than 1775  and was a private facility and an internal link within a single business premises-as was common in the other brewing, tanning and distilling businesses of the town that utilised the river as a source of water or for the discharge of effluent.

I think it is possible to argue that neither Dr. Moran nor Michael Byrne have fully explained the genesis of the bridge and that we have to go back to an earlier date to understand the reason for its location; whatever about the date of its construction.

I believe that, as in the case of its companion to the west, the natural extension of the radial line of the approach roads into Tullamore suggests that it may have been built on the site of an earlier ford-indeed that the entire river between both bridges may have originally been shallow enough to have been fordable. The drainage scheme of the early 1950s deepened this section of the river between Church Street and Bridge Street by removing the rocky outcrop which facilitated the fording of the river at this point.

If this earlier crossing point existed, it is probable that prior to the construction by Sir John Moore of his new house in 1710, all of the radial roads met together at a point to the south of the river. If I am correct in this, a triangular fair green with the fordable river running through and surrounded by houses on the three sides (Church Street being its northern side)  would have been the most likely original urban form.

The neighbouring villages, Killeigh, Clonygowan, Geashill and Clara, display such triangular layouts. As may be seen from comparative plans, the form and dimensions of their central village greens are almost identical to each other. (illus.). The village green which I submit may have been the form of Tullamore up to the end  of the 17th c. would have been similar to them in scale and shape.

It is possible also that Frankford (Kilcormac) originally formed around a Fair Green of similar scale though the triangular block is now much compromised by infill housing.

A New Theory

As ‘Tullymore’, Geashill, Killeigh, Clonygowan and Clara appear on Moll’s map of 1728 it is possible therefore that all five or even six villages all formed in the mid to late 16th c, as the plantation of Leix-Offaly began to transform the economy and settlement pattern of this particular area of the Midlands.

It is also possible that some time in the early 18th c. the direct route into Tullamore from the north east and which crossed the river to culminate in the fair green of Tullamore-today O’Connor Square- was enclosed into the estate of Sir John Moore and the connection discontinued.

Over the years, the triangular form of the original village green evolved into ‘The Market Place’ and later into Charleville Square. From 1740 onwards it was reduced in scale and became more rectangular and formal. Eventually the land on its northern side, between it and the river was enclosed to build the Market Hall in 1789.

Meanwhile, the lands on either side of the river at the location of the former crossing had come into the ownership of the Quaker Thomas Wilson, who together with his partner Thomas Pim conducted a wool combing and tannery business at the rear, backing on to the river. The lands then passed through the hands of Gideon Tabuteau and on to Joseph Manly who operated a brewery and maltings. They were later acquired by the Tarletons who operated a milling business. It is possible that any of these commercial families may have erected the private stone cut bridge.

I suggest therefore that the bridge behind the County Library is relatively new but that it is located on an earlier crossing point of the river which existed up to the end of the 17 th. century and which gave direct access from the farming hinterland on the north east to the central marketplace of Tullamore.

If I am right, the long promised and eagerly awaited opening to the public of the ‘Hidden Bridge’ will reestablish part of an ancient route which was once an integral part of the original village of ‘Tullymore’.

The courts of assize in King’s County/Offaly in the years from 1914 and the last assizes of July 1921. By Michael Byrne

The administration of law in Ireland in 1914–19 was pervasive with petty sessions’ courts across the county in the smallest villages and towns. These were attended to by paid resident magistrates and on a voluntary basis by local gentry and merchants, both Protestant and Catholic, who had been deemed suitable by Dublin Castle for the conferring of a commission of justice of the peace. After 1916 it was becoming a doubtful honour and many nationalists, including P.J. Egan of Tullamore (chairman of the town council 1916-24 and managing director of a large business), resigned the commission when the War of Independence in 1919-21 intensified. The country had been subject to the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) since 1914 but it was not much invoked in Offaly before 1916 and the civil courts of petty sessions, quarter sessions and assizes (usually held in Tullamore, but often held in Birr from mid-1916 to 1921) continued in the county. The Sinn Féin courts will be the subject of a later blog.

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Keeping your head down – Protestant identity in 20th century Ireland. By Sylvia Turner

Ethel Kerin was born on 11 January 1922 in Clara, County Offaly. Her mantra in life was to ‘keep your head down’ learned from her parents who worked as servants on the estates of affluent Protestants. Ethel kept her head down in terms of her parents’ employers as she depended on them for food and shelter. When she came to live in England in the 1940s, she kept her head down as she was Irish.

Ethel Kerin was my mother. She was born into a family of Protestants who worked in service. Little I have read or seen in Ireland relates to the type of life she and her family led. It was a hand to mouth existence, of feeling inferior and beholden to her father’s employers who were Protestant business families or landed gentry. In the post Partition decades of the 1920s and 30s, the lives of the family were frequently interrupted by termination of service and relocation. Apart from the Quaker families they worked for, their employers treated them with little regard, deciding to close down their houses and leave Ireland at short notice, returning to properties they held in England. My grandmother kept in touch by letter with the many friends she made, both Catholic and Protestant, across the Midlands and east of the country till the end of her life. The correspondence gives a sense of sadness of having to move and set up home again as well as the vagaries of their employers. However, simple pleasures of going out for picnics and evenings with neighbours that involved laughter and fiddle playing were clearly high points in their lives. Overall, there is a sense of making the best of things under difficult circumstances. Despite church and school attendance at the Church of Ireland, the family’s lives were more related to their neighbours, regardless of religion, than they were to that of their Protestant employers.

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The origins of the Leix-Offaly Plantation. By Dr Diarmuid Wheeler.

We welcome this week Dr Diarmuid Wheeler on an important subject for Ireland and for the midlands, being the colonial experiment known as the Leix-Offaly Plantation. For those interested in the Decade of the Centenaries, the resurgence of interest in the Irish language, 1916 and the War of Independence, knowing the roots of the conflict is essential. The fort of Philipstown would soon be adopted as the county town for the new King’s County of the 1550s. The courts of assize to display the might and power of English law continued to be held in King’s County until 1921 while the name of the county was changed only in 1920 to Offaly. The Civil War of 1922–3 would witness the burning of houses such as Ballyburly, owned by the Wakely family, who had come to Ireland as soldier settlers in the time of Elizabeth.

Dr Wheeler will give his lecture on the Leix-Offaly Plantation to Offaly History from his home in the United States on Monday night 22 March at 7.30 p.m. Email us at info@offalyhistory.com with the subject heading  ‘Zoom Wheeler’ for the access code [Ed.]

The beginnings of the midlands colonial project can be traced back to the early sixteenth century when the Tudor government, who firmly believed that Ireland rightfully belonged to the English crown and that the country’s keeping was essential to England’s overall safety, sought to restore the island to its twelfth century “conquered” state from which the crown hoped to profit. Brendan Bradshaw argues that the Tudors and the Old English of Ireland were heavily influenced by Renaissance humanism that encouraged them to bring reform to Ireland. But the administration lacked significant knowledge and experience of the country, particularly during Henry VIII’s reign and quickly realised that reforming the island would take significantly more military and financial resources than they had anticipated. By the final years of the 1530s, it was apparent that a certain degree of coercion and military force would be necessary to bring about wide scale reform. Yet the Tudors were also aware that they could not employ outright force to achieve their objectives, lacking the necessary resources to do so. Instead, the Tudor administration recognised that they would need to accommodate the natives of Ireland, at least somewhat, in order to make their aspiration a reality.

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Placenames and folklore from the townlands of Ballinagar district and the 1550 Survey of Offaly. By John Malone

An often-overlooked heritage is that of our townlands, even the few unassuming townlands that surround Ballinagar village are a treasure trove of folklore and history. These places were once full of ‘rambling houses’ where locals gathered to play cards or enjoy music and stories. There were stile-ways through the countryside, used when crossing fields was more common than using roads.

Work by John O’ Donovan in the 1840s and later P.W. Joyce, and more recently Thomas Lee along with a survey in conducted by the English in 1550 give some understanding of the townland names and how they have developed over the years.

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Hunstanton Norfolk to Hunston Offaly and the L’Estrange family. By Sylvia Turner

Hunston is the name of a townland in the west of Offaly, close to where the Brosna and Shannon rivers meet. It is unlike many place names in Ireland which relate to an anglicised geographical description. It originates from a planter family who came to Ireland from England in the 16th century during the first plantation of Ireland.

Following Henry VIII claimed of kingship over all of Ireland in 1541, the English wished to extend their control further than the area called the Pale around Dublin to the whole of Ireland. One way was to drive the Irish landowners off their land and replace them with English or Scottish settlers, called ‘planters’. The first plantation took place in the region now known as Offaly and Laois in 1556. It was from this area that the O’Connor and O’Moore clans had invaded the Pale. The Government divided the land into Counties. Present day Laois was named Queen’s County, after Queen Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and present-day Offaly was named King’s County after Mary’s husband King Philip of Spain. Forts were built at Maryborough (Portlaoise) and Philipstown (Daingean).

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Lady Beaujolois Bury, the prayerful artist of Charleville Castle, Tullamore. By Michael Byrne

Charleville from the east by Fergal MacCabe, architect. From essays in honour of Maurice Craig.

The prayer book of Lady Beaujolois Bury of Charleville Castle, Tullamore was donated to the Offaly History Centre by the late Jane Williams some years ago. Like some family bibles it contains on two of the blank pages scraps of the family lineage of her ladyship and her siblings, the third and fifth earls of Charleville. The information recorded agrees with what is provided in Burke’s Irish Family Records (1976 edition), but like every family there is more to it than the bland recital of names and dates. Lady Beaujolois Bury (1824–1903) was the talented daughter of the second countess of Charleville (1803–48) and granddaughter of Lady Charlotte Susan Maria Campbell. Her Bury in-laws, the first earl and countess, were the builders of the great castle, known as Charleville Forest, and which was commenced in 1800 and completed in 1812. According to Mark Girouard it is ‘perhaps the finest Gothic Revival Castle in Ireland’.

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