Vintage Week before it was Vintage! Military sports and spectacles at Birr Barracks in August 1919. By Stephen Callaghan

For the past 51 years Birr Vintage Week has commenced around the month of August, with only in recent years it taking in the August bank holiday weekend. While the festival is in its 51st year, 100 years ago on 4 August 1919 the army at Birr Barracks had organised a program of military sports and spectacles. An  antecedent of Birr Vintage Week perhaps?!

The events took place on the military training grounds adjacent to the barracks, the ‘Fourteen Acres’. The events kicked off at two o’clock. While the weather was not desirable it held dry until the events had finished up. The program was organised and promoted by Lieutenant Noel Edward Fasken, while Lieutenant Leslie M. Codner was responsible for the ground arrangements. Both officers were members of the Royal North Devon Hussars. The day’s program consisted of 26 events which lasted beyond six o’clock. While the barracks occasionally held large events and concerts, one of this scale was likely not seen before.

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Looking south-east from cemetery road towards Leinster Villas where the military air field was located. (Photo: Stephen Callaghan)

One of the main spectacles was the air display by Captain Brooks. ‘His daring feats in the air were witnessed with interest and admiration, and showed the possibilities of a flying machine in the hand of a capable pilot.’ Captain Brooks was likely piloting an Avro 504k, a two seat trainer biplane. The airfield in Birr had only been constructed in February and consisted of a detachment of six aircraft from 106 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The airfield was dismantled in October of that same year 1919..

Men under the command of Second Lieutenant E. A. Grainger and Sergeant W. A. J. Leonard enacted a battlefield play, entitled ‘The Sacrifice’. The demonstration was reminiscent of a scene from the Great War. It was apparently not without a sense of humour! The centre of the sports ground was chosen for this display, it had been mocked up to look like ‘anywhere on the battlefield’; there were sandbagged trenches, mines, and a ‘shattered’ house. The house had been temporarily erected for the event. It is quite likely that the sandbagged trenches were in fact the practice trenches dug to training men during the Great War. These trenches were excavated during August 2018.

Second Lieutenant Grainger took command of about twelve British soldiers, while Sergeant Leonard played the role of a German officer and took command of twelve ‘enemy’ soldiers. The battle was set as if it had taken place three hours after dawn. The idea was that at dawn that morning a line of trenches had been captured from the enemy.

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Aerial view of the ‘Fourteen Acres’, looking north-west, where the day long events would have taken place

The ‘shattered’ house was occupied by a ‘British’ gun team, they had defended against a ‘German’ attack which had attempted to recapture their old trenches. The attacked opened with the explosion of mines, the ascension of rockets and the crack of rifle and Lewis gun fire.  The outpost was supplied with ammunition by courageous runners.

The lone outpost held out until the very last man gave his life in its defence, thereby giving their comrades time to prepare for a counter attack. The display was well preformed and a stark reminder of the horror of the recent Great War.

Another item of interest was the physical training exhibition by a squad of the Royal North Devon Hussars under Corporal Snwothey.

Humour was provided in the form of Corporal Hatch and Private Ash acting as gentlemen the worse for ware, another soldier acting as a lady. Hatch and Ash both competed for the affection of ‘the lady’.

The day long events were reported in the King’s County Chronicle as a ‘splendid source of entertainment’, with the events being well attended by the people of Birr and the surrounding areas. The events themselves were also well patronised by competitors. Prizes for the sports were presented by Brigadier General James Graham Chaplin.

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The pivotal role Tullamore Harriers has played in the social fabric of the midlands by Kevin Corrigan

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WHEN a group of nine young men, mainly in their 20s at the time, gathered in William Street in Tullamore on a Winter’s November night in 1953 to form a new athletics club, they could hardly have envisaged the pivotal role it would play in all facets of life, not only in the town but the wider midlands.
Invited by Eddie, known as Tobin, Clarke into the warmth of Clarke’s Hairdressers, where one of the founders and a future long serving chairman Noel Gowran worked, the formation of Tullamore Harriers was a somewhat controversial move at that time.
There was an athletics club in existence in the town, Columban, and they resisted the attempts to form a new club in competition with them. It meant that it took the casting vote of the chairman, Br Kenny, an Oblate in Daingean Reformatory, to bring Tullamore Harriers into existence when they sought permission to affiliate at a meeting of the Offaly Athletics County Board – most of the founding members worked in Salts at that time and they essentially sought permission to change the name of Salts Athletics Club, which was confined to factory workers, to Tullamore Harriers, which could take in membership from the general public.

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Frank Quirke: the boy who was abandoned to drown on Charleville Lake near Tullamore at Christmas 1901. Retold now by Cosney Molloy

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Skating at Charleville Lake in 1962

I was glad to get out of Dublin before Christmas and get down to see my friends in Tullamore, Killoughy and Banagher for a pre-Christmas visit and bask in the mildest winter for many years. Dublin is mad at this time of year and what with one restaurant telling us about steaks at €120 I had to get down to the nice butchers in Tullamore – old Tormey’s is still going strong and now you have Grennan’s, Hanlon’s and a few more I would not know. I miss Paddy Mac’s, Cleary’s and Joe ‘the Butch’ Kearney of course. All old friends gone to the heavenly pastures.
I can remember the desperate cold of December 2010 when it was as low as -20 and I can recall the winters of 1982 and 1962 when we could skate on Charleville Lake near the town of Tullamore and to the east of Colonel Bury’s Charleville Demesne. I have only a hazy memory of the long winter of 1947 when the Grand Canal was frozen over for months and some of the Egan boys of the Tullamore merchant family are said to have made it to Dublin skating on the canal for some lark or wager. All good simple fun it was. I understand that Dr Boediccker who worked at Birr Castle until the First World War kept weather records from about 1872 and was able to state that 1909, 1896, 1893 and 1890 were also very cold. Another very cold year was in 1901 when a young boy drowned at Charleville Lake, trapped by the ice, while up to 200 people looked on and did nothing.

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A day at Tullamore Pool in the 1960s and the old shops of the town recalled. By Terry Adams

Terry Adams was born in Cormac Street, Tullamore, to parents Terry and Kathleen Adams. He has spent all but two of the last 34 years living abroad. Living four years, 1984 to 1987, in the United States and, since 1990 in Luxembourg. He began writing after the death of his father in 1976 and has penned novels, collections of short stories and books of poetry. His true passion is poetry, a passion passed on to him by his father. In this essay he recalls the town of Tullamore in the 1960s – a town that has now greatly changed. The conviviality of the old pool and the leisure to spend the entire day at the pool side has vanished. Terry’s uncle, P.F.(Paddy) Adams, it was who proposed in the mid-1930s that the town council build an outdoor pool. It was completed in 1938 and opened on the same day as the new houses in O’Molloy Street. Continue reading