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.
I once again visited my old friends in Tullamore in the last few weeks. I was down from D4 to sort out a charity account with Bank of Ireland in O’Connor Square. I had to make my way through the bollards with the footpath widening. I came on the train of course (thanks Charlie, nice one). I was reminded by a customer that the Bank of Ireland opened in Bridge Street in the summer of 1979. At the time of my visit I was too busy to pay attention because between money laundering forms and this new GDPR stuff I was fit to be tied. And the account is 60 years old. What is all the fuss about small money. Now the new bank of 1979 is so different to the one I remember in High Street where Hoey & Dennings are now.
Poor Law Unions from 1838
The development of local government institutions in County Offaly can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century when poor law unions under boards of guardians were established at Roscrea, Birr, Mountmellick, Edenderry and Tullamore. Each union had its workhouse financed by the striking of a poor law rate. The board of guardians, most of whom were elected by the rate payers, were entrusted with the management of the workhouse, but subject to detailed control from a central authority, the poor law commissioners. Continue reading
Columba, son of Eithne, daughter of Mac Naue, and Fedelmid mac Ferguso, is one of the most important Irish saints, and the strength of his saint’s cult in the centuries after his death on June 9th, 597 attests to this. Columba, or Colmcille, meaning the dove of the church, was born around 520 as a prominent member of the Cenél Conaill, This was a branch of the northern Uí Néill, a powerful dynastic grouping tracing its origins back to Niall of the Nine Hostages and based in north-western Ireland (Tír Chonaill takes its name from the Cenél Conaill). Columba’s influence extended into political matters as well as the religious sphere, but he is remembered as a monastic saint above all else. Like most early Irish saints, he was never formally canonised.
Tullamore gaol and a cartoon from St Stephen’s of November 1887
The remarkable story of Land Leaguer, Henry Egan and his inspired visits to Tullamore Gaol. (November 1887-May 1888)
The brothers Henry and Patrick Egan were well known in the Midlands as proprietors of the acclaimed merchant firm P. & H. Egan’s Tullamore. Both brothers were active Irish nationalists. Henry was a founding member and secretary of the Tullamore branch of the Land League. On Monday 17 October 1881 he was arrested under the Coercion Act of 1881 and imprisoned at Naas gaol. He was accused of being one of the organisers of a monster meeting held at Clara, protesting the imprisonment of Charles Stuart Parnell, the Land League President, four days earlier. Henry was released after 5 weeks.
In 1887, when the Land League leaders William O’Brien, M.P. (Mallow) and tenant farmer John Mandeville were imprisoned at Tullamore gaol, Henry Egan became a regular visitor of his fellow members. In fact, he and his brother-in-law, Dr. George A. Moorhead, visited the gaol upwards of thirteen times per day. They were not alone as hundreds of townsfolk joined them in their quest to put pressure on the authorities to release the two ‘political prisoners’. Mandeville and O’Brien refused to wear official prison garments, protesting their non-criminal status and declaring themselves ‘political prisoners’. The wardens, on instruction from the Tullamore gaol governor and the Chief Secretary of Ireland, Arthur Balfour, responded with beating them, stripping them of their clothes and putting them on a diet of coarse bread and water. Both were released on Christmas Eve 1887. Mandeville died seven months later, and an inquest found his death was because of the severe treatment received at the hands of the wardens in gaol.
In nationalist circles the two became known as ‘The Heroes of Tullamore’.
The author of this article is Dermot McAuley of Dublin who is the eldest son of the late Joan McAuley (nee Egan) of Acres Hall, Tullamore (now the offices of the Tullamore Municipal Council in Cormac Street. Patrick Egan (the “P” of P. & H. Egan) and Elizabeth Moorhead were married at the church of St. Paul’s, Arran Quay, Dublin on 31st August 1874. While Patrick’s Egan ancestors from Westmeath and Offaly are well documented, what is less well known is that Elizabeth too had Egan ancestors – her maternal grandmother Julia Humphrys (née Egan) (sometimes spelt Humphreys) was born into a prominent family of Egans in Roscrea. While the two different branches of the Egan clan may have had some common ancestor in the dim and misty past no close relationship between the two Egan branches is known (so far). Nevertheless, there are some intriguing parallels between the histories of the Tullamore and Roscrea families. And of course, any descendants of Patrick and Elizabeth carry the genes of two sets of Egans, not one.
Undoubtedly, the history of Tullamore jail would make a study in itself for besides the mundane occurrences which are themselves worthy of historical analysis there were a few extraordinary events such as the imprisonment of some of those involved in the Plan of Campaign including William O’Brien and John Mandeville in 1887-88, the women’s suffrage prisoners in 1913, the Tullamore Incident prisoners of 1916 and, of course, the executions, the last being in 1903 and of a woman, Mary Daly. A study of the jail might also involve a study of the pattern and frequency of crime in the nineteenth century and now the law was administered. These questions were raised from time to time as with the death of the Alice Dillon of Geashill, aged 79, imprisoned in Christmas Week 1861 for allegedly begging for alms; again with the botched executions of a brother and sister in 1870; and the treatment of the Plan of Campaign prisoners in 1887-8.
In the second and final instalment of the story of Mary Daly, the last woman to be hanged at Tullamore in 1903, read about her trial and execution which was a sensation at the time. She was buried three times and said to haunt the gaol building, later the Salt’s factory, for many years afterwards. A full version of this article with extensive bibliography and sources (‘The Clonbrock Murder’) can be found in our journal, Offaly Heritage, Vol 2. (Esker Press, 2009). Continue reading
For years workers at the Salts factory in Tullamore, formerly Tullamore Gaol, spoke of the ghost of Mary Daly haunting the building. Margaret Mulligan, head researcher at Offaly History, recounts the tale of the last woman to be executed at Tullamore for the murder of her husband, John Daly.
Mrs. Mary Daly was the last woman executed at Tullamore on 10th January 1903, for complicity in the murder of her husband John Daly of Clonbrock, Doonone, Co. Laois. She was the second last woman to be hanged in Ireland. Until the early nineteenth century those convicted of most felonies were liable to be executed, and serious crimes such as robbery, rape and murder, received the death penalty. Mary Daly suffered the extreme penalty of the law, as it was alleged she was involved in a conspiracy in which she was the principal participator. She is still prominent in the folk memories of Tullamore town. Joseph Taylor was also executed for the murder of John Daly on 7th January 1903. Continue reading
This is the second part of the article on Birr courthhouse. It was held over from last week to allow for an article on the 100th anniversary of de Valera’s visit to the county.
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