Welcome to this our 48th blog for the Decade of Centenaries. All of them will soon be posted to the Decade of Centenaries site hosted on www.offalyhistory and with thanks to all our contributors and partners and especially Offaly County Council, Offaly Libraries, the heritage office and Offaly Archives. We have now posted 302 blogs since 2016 and reached 304,000 views. Our contributors grow in number and so does this body of knowledge, free to use and enjoy across the globe. We welcome new contributors via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The coming into force of the Truce in the war with England on 11 July 1921 marked the end of an era in that the struggle with our powerful neighbour was to cease. The editor of the Midland Tribune, James Pike, of Roscore, Tullamore, saw it as grounds for optimism. The Offaly Independent was burned out by the British security forces the previous November. The Chapman family paid a heavy price for their advocacy of Sinn Féin. The Birr King’s County Chronicle, as a staunchly loyalist newspaper, cannot have been much pleased with the outcome but it was accepted.
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.
There is so little of the undercurrent and gossip of a town in a local newspaper and yet we rely on them so much to tell us ‘what really happened’. Will we ever know from the reportage? We are grateful to have the lately published witness statements in the Depositions of 1642–53, or those in the pension records of the 1916–23 conflict. Yet we are advised to be cautious in using such records. What we do know of what ‘right-thinking people’ were saying about sexual morality in Birr, during the years of the First World War, we have from a sermon preached in Birr Catholic church in November 1917. It was one of the Birr curates who was the most outspoken while the then recently appointed 65-year old parish priest of Birr, Canon Ryan, had little to say. Or if he had it was not recorded. ‘Delicate’ subjects then as now, were seldom spoken of from the pulpit or the newsroom except in generalisations. In the case of the Laois-Offaly depositions it has taken over 300 years for the sworn affidavits to reach the public arena. For the witness statements provided by War of Independence veterans near enough sixty years. Is it any wonder that court cases with their mostly contemporary renditions are so popular? It is the same with sermons that touch on local sexual life – the subject being almost taboo except in the abstract. Seldom spoken of in the church and hardly ever recorded in the local news media before 1970. The press reports of court case evidence can be more satisfying as contemporary first-hand accounts, but for the public and no less for the judges, it can often be hard to know what the real story is. The reports of public morality debates or pulpit declamations in the years before and after 1922 are hugely important in helping to understand the concern (and who was raising it) over unmarried mothers and their children that would feed away, as if an unspoken of cancer in society, over the years from 1922 to the early 1970s.
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 email@example.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.
The report of the Commission of Investigation into the mother-and-baby homes has received huge coverage in the British media, reflecting, no doubt, the number of survivors of the homes who settled in Britain. This is the third and final blog looking at this important report for Irish social history in the 20th century. Here Declan McSweeney looks at the reception of the Report in Britain
Mother and Baby Homes: State paid for 2,400 pregnant women to be repatri… Aoife Moore and Elaine Loughlin Many pregnant single women that travelled to Britain found it was less welcoming than they had hoped
It is also a salutary reminder of the fact that Britain, for all its faults, has long been a haven for Irish people from ill-treatment of one kind or another.
The recent announcement by the Irish Government of its Diaspora Strategy has featured a recognition that many were effectively forced out of Ireland down the years.
Shannonbridge A History of Raghra c.1600-c.1900 was published in 2019. Research for it began many years ago when I decided to learn more about my family and family home in Shannonbridge, County Offaly. That interest spread to other houses in the village. When Brendan Ryan and I decided to write a book about Shannonbridge I concentrated on the genealogy of those who lived there in the past. Gradually the history and stories of families emerged. My main goal in writing the book was to pull the names of the people of Shannonbridge out of the past. Sometimes we found interesting stories but often we just learned their names and the bare facts of their lives. However it felt wonderful to put those names in a book, to prove those people had been there, to acknowledge their existence. They all played a part in the story of a village. Oh, they had hard lives! And yet, many survived and thrived. Their descendants span the globe. What struck me most in learning about them was that often their stay in the village was short-lived. Many of the families who settled in the village only stayed for a generation or two and are long gone now. Keeping track of people moving in and out was a challenge.
The modern official street-names of Tullamore town were adopted by the Tullamore Urban District Council in the early 1900s, replacing earlier street-names which were used in the nineteenth century and often adopted in honour of the town’s principal landlord, Charles William Bury (1764–1835), the first earl of Charleville (second creation). He presided over the fortunes of the town in its most formative phase from 1785 until his death in 1835. These honorific names replaced in some cases other more functional names used in the eighteenth century.
The street-names are generally as follows: first the functional name, e.g. Pound Street, secondly the landlord’s choice of name (post 1785 to c. 1905) such as Charles Street, William Street and Bury Quay. After 1905 the choice of Tullamore Urban District Council, i.e. Columcille Street, Clontarf Road and Benburb Street, O’Carroll Street, O’Connor Square. The council, at the behest of the Gaelic League, adopted names based on local saints, families and famous Irish battles where the Irish won, or put up a good fight. The only example of a marketing name is that of Main Street (2003) and formerly known as Water Lane.
Some of the nineteenth-century names are still in use, for example, William Street. Whereas, Patrick Street is now seldom called Barrack Street as it was up to the 1960s. Henry Street (1820s) is after Henry Bury, a child of the second early of Charleville, who died in 1830 at a young age. Henry Street is still much used instead of the post-1905 official name of O’Carroll Street. The earliest names were related to the function served such as Market Place from about 1713 for the present O’Connor Square, Pound Street for the present Columcille Street. These functional names were later replaced by names paying homage or regard to the owner of the town, the Moore family and post 1764, the Bury family. Even the name of the town was amended to read Tullamoore instead of Tullamore, something that came into common use during the time of Charles Moore, first earl of Charleville (of the first creation of this title) and who died childless in 1764.
The name Tullamore can be documented back to 1571 and there is an earlier reference in a Life of Colmán. The great resource for Irish placenames in now online at logainm/placenames.ie. Here is a copy of the archival record for Tullamore, also called Tullamoore from the 1670s to the 1850s.
So where is the big hill – Hophill or Windmill Hill behind O’Moore Street?
Enter the Gaelic League
The matter of the new names for the streets had come up at town council meetings in December 1904 and again in January 1905 and February of the same year. It was the Gaelic League (founded as to the Tullamore branch in 1902) who suggested to the council the appropriateness of new names reflecting the local saints, local native families and episodes in Irish history, and to be erected bilingually. On the proposal of John Wrafter and seconded by James Maher the changes were adopted. It was not difficult to see why the choice of names of the landlord or his agent should be disposed of. The good standing of landowners, had diminished during the Land War of the 1880s. Lady Bury had succeeded her uncle as owner of the Charleville estate in 1875, but being a woman and after 1885 a widow she was at a disadvantage. Furthermore she was very much an absentee and left matters to her agent, Ernest Hamilton Browne. Following the pattern set at national level in the 1890s the language, history and traditions of ‘Irish Ireland’ came again to be appreciated as a culturally distinguishing feature that separated the native from the foreigner. In Tullamore the Gaelic League enjoyed a strong period of growth after 1902 and during the tenure as president of local solicitor Henry James Egan, the delicate second son of Henry Egan, the town’s leading nationalist and merchant of the firm of P. & H. Egan Limited. Henry James Egan qualified a solicitor in 1900 and as coroner and county solicitor from 1903 was prominent for his few remaining years. He died in 1907 at the age of 29.
Among the streets and lanes closed before 1900 were: Emmet’s Lane, Willis’s Lane, Flanagan’s Lane, Molloy’s Lane and Sally Grove. The availability of the 1901 and 1911 censuses online makes all this information on families and streets so accessible.
As to the names we will have to come back to review them in more detail. Names such as Bachelors Walk, Chancery Lane and Swaddlin Lane. The latter is accessed between the two Italian restaurants in Patrick Street. The first Methodist church was in this lane until destroyed in the Balloon Fire of 1785. Every street and its name have a detailed history such as this paragraph on Brides Lane formerly Ruddock’s Lane or Swaddling Lane. The early Methodists were often called Swaddlers.
Bride’s Lane (Patrick St N.). Swaddling Lane 1821 (FDJ). Ruddock’s Lane 1838, 1890; Brides Lane 1912 (OS). One-storey houses each side (OSN 1885).The home of the first Methodist chapel c. 1762 (Craig, 1907; see Methodist chapel). Ruddock was a property owner with a dwelling house to the front of the street (OHA, 24 Mar. 1786, lease, Bury to William Ruddock). Described as Ruddock’s Lane (RD, 18 Mar. 1833, Ruddock to Wade, 1833/9/73). 38 cabins in 1843–54 (Val.1, Val. 2). 87 inhabitants in 1901 with 27 houses and 27 families (Census). The modern name is derived from the name of the parish, Kilbride. In giving evidence to a housing inquiry in 1910 it was described as a very congested district surrounded by a high wall with no thoroughfare through it (MT, 3.9.1910). It later became known as the Wade estate and was sold in 1912 (TKI 2.11.1912). The name Ruddock’s Lane was still in use in 1918 when twenty-five cottages here were offered for sale of which twenty-four were weekly tenants paying 1s. 4d. per week (TKI 30.3.1918). Clearance order published for demolition of dwellings (MT 21.12.1935). Now it the home to the name provided by the developers – Haviland Court.
Another interesting name is that beside the Bridge Centre known as Distillery Lane.
Distillery Lane: This lane is now greatly changed and was made into a wide street in 1992 as part of the construction of the Bridge Centre. It was known as Parvin’s Lane in 1783 and later Still Yard Lane. It connected Bridge Street with the distillery in use from the 1780s to 1954. In 1995 the lane was greatly widened to facilitate access to the new Bridge Centre. The widening followed on the demolition of the former Hoey & Denning premises in 1992 and was carried on to Water Lane off Patrick Street and after 2000 to Main Street.
The old street names coming down in 2000 courtesy of Michael Hayden
The Molloy family in Tullamore have distinguished antecedents and can include among their number two of the town’s most prominent citizens in the 1820s to the 1840s, Michael Molloy and Anthony Molloy. Michael Molloy founded the Tullamore Distillery in 1829 and from it came the Bernard Daly distillery and that of Tullamore DEW. Michael Molloy was a patron of schools and of the new Mercy convent of 1838-40. The family were the owners of Tullamore up to the 1620s and were the principal landowning family in the baronies of Ballycowan, Ballyboy and Eglish until the Jacobite and Cromwellian plantations. Some such as Charles Molloy had extensive landholdings at Greatwood in Killoughy up to the 1850s. Constantine is a recurring name in the family and one of our regular contributors to this blog, Cosney Molloy, is proud to be called after an early king of Cornwall. Kilcormac and Rahan are strongholds of the family.
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?
Consumed by political and economic turmoil, the first half of the 20th century was a fallow period for the visual arts and archaeological scholarship in Ireland and certainly Offaly was no different. The post-war period dominated by scarcity and emigration, was particularly stifling.
The first glimmerings of change came with the national festival of An Tóstal in 1953. Emulating the very successful Festival of Britain two years earlier, its primary intention was to boost tourism in the Easter off peak period – or as the poet Patrick Kavanagh called it ‘The Monsoon Season’.
Whether or not the festival brought any tourists to Ireland or not is debatable but it certainly had a dynamic cultural impact, particularly outside of Dublin. Local societies emerged to organise exhibitions of arts, crafts and heritage. An awareness of the need for civic improvements led to the Tidy Towns movement. Most importantly, a spirit of optimism and openness was created.
This sense of a new beginning was particularly evident in Tullamore where a small local elite led by individuals with connections to the Dublin art and theatrical world were beginning to promote a more open and less traditional approach.