ORAL HISTORY PROJECTS in LAOIS & OFFALY. By John Gibbons

In this article John Gibbons talks about the value of oral history and the importance of making the recording. John started recording in Offaly in conjunction with the Offaly History in December 2014.  Since then over forty people have volunteered to be recorded. You do have a story so why not contact John or we can put you in touch via Offaly History. John has contributed material to Offaly Archives which will prove very useful in years to come. A story worth telling is a story worth saving.

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Eat, heat and drink: piped water for Tullamore 125 years ago. A contribution to Tullamore 400th from Offaly History

Piped water for Tullamore town was first provided in 1895. In these blogs we have already looked at listings of shops since 1824, the provision of piped gas lighting in 1860 and electricity in 1921. The provision of piped water to a home is a wonderful facility and yet many homes were without it even as recently as fifty years ago. It took a while for the Irish country towns to procure the service largely because the local ratepayers were directly concerned in footing the bill. Tullamore had town commissioners from 1860 and an urban council with more sanitary powers from 1900. The waterworks was undertaken by the board of guardians with the help of loans from the Local Government Board.

Join us on Friday 30th in Millennium Square, Main Street, to see #OffalyHistory blogs presented in a picturesque timeline to celebrate #Tullamore400. We have entertainment from 2pm to 6pm in association with Up Close & Personal Promotions with thanks to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for their #LocalLivePerformance support.

A ready supply of water and of turf for the people of Puttaghan and Clontarf Road. All that was needed was the tea. Pic about 1910.
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A length of material and other memories of Clara in 1919–23 and its aftermath: some recent changes for the better By Sylvia Turner

Michael Byrne’s recent blog article ‘The Gill Drapery Store in High Street Tullamore, 1900–22’ reminded me of the significance of drapery stores in the early 20th century and the Clara of my mother’s time. Amongst the correspondence between members of her family, frequent mention is made of the buying of material. The most common form of correspondence would seem to have been the postcard. Below, on the reverse of a postcard that depicted the ruins of Geashill Castle is an example sent on 27th of May?  1924. It was to my grandmother from her sister living in Clara and concerned the buying of material for ‘M’, May, her eldest niece.

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Recalling old Bridge Street, Tullamore. By Michael Byrne. Part of the Tullamore 400th series, no. 7. A further contribution to the Heritage Council programme on living in towns.

Bridge Street, that narrow street that we rush through so many times each week, but have to stop at lights whether on foot or by car (or bike), is as old as the town itself. Here is the river that divides the town, was a source of water and power for milling and, because of this, a base for settlement. The bridge may date back to the 1720s and was in use from that time. The township of Tullamore dates back to the 1620s at least, but it was another 100 years before we learn of the first leases granted by Lord Tullamoore for buildings where the Bridge House now stands. Further on can be seen a date-stone in Douglas Jewellers giving a date of 1747. It was also at this time that the Tormey and Flynn shop properties were built by Edward Briscoe. The site of the Bank of Ireland may have been occupied by cabins, but it was in the 1780s that the houses here were built and later on that it got its Portland stone façade. Bridge Street had only six leaseholders from Lord Tullamoore/ later the earls of Charleville. The sites were generous with a large frontage. That of the Bridge House was 55 ft, followed by that of Tyrrell (now Douglas and the Foxy Bean restaurant) followed by the Vaughan leasehold (where now is the vehicular and pedestrian entrance to the Bridge Centre). Across the street was the Ridley, Acres and Briscoe leaseholds.

This article is part of our contribution to the Heritage Council’s historic towns initiative and to quote:

Many of our city, town and village centres are historic places with their own distinct identities. Sustaining these is a complex process that in many cases involves the conservation and re-use of existing buildings, the care of public spaces and the provision of community facilities. The conservation and interpretation of this heritage makes our towns interesting, unique and attractive to residents and visitors. In support of the Town Centres First policy set out in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future (2020), the Historic Towns Initiative (HTI) is a joint undertaking by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Heritage Council which aims to promote the heritage-led regeneration of Ireland’s historic towns.

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Healthcare in Ireland – pre and post Partition. By Sylvia Turner

Since the early 18th century public healthcare in Ireland had been funded by  voluntary donations. The first hospitals in Ireland were founded in the 1720s. The dispensary doctor was formally established by legislation in 1805 under an Act of Parliament.  The amount from voluntary donations was matched by county grand juries from local taxation. The Poor Law Act of 1838 improved the distribution of dispensaries and divided Ireland into 130 administrative units known as Poor Law Unions, with their own workhouse, governed by the Poor Law Guardians, who were elected by the local rate payers.

The Poor law unions at the end of the nineteenth century. Courtesy Wiki Commons

The dispensary doctor became the mainstay of healthcare in rural Ireland as many people lived too far from medical help in workhouses. The position of the dispensaries was clarified in the 1851 Medical Charities Act, which introduced a state-funded dispensary system to provide free medical aid to the poor. These were to be funded from local taxation and were subsidised by the Poor Law Commission. To attend the dispensary, a person needed to have a colour-coded ticket, dispensed by the committee. The Poor Law Commission was replaced by the Local Government Board in 1872.

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Partying in Tullamore in 1873 for the coming of age of the fourth earl of Charleville and the marriage of his sister Katherine Bury. By Michael Byrne. No.5 in the Tullamore 400th series

The summer of 1873 was marked in Tullamore with a great outpouring of support for the coming of age of Charles William Francis, the fourth earl of Charleville (1852–74). He had been an orphan for fourteen years and taken care of by his uncle Alfred Bury (1829–75). The fourth earl’s parents, Charles William George and Arabella Case, had both died at a young age in 1857 (countess of Charleville) and 1859 (the third earl). He was only 37 and left five young children of which the fourth earl was born 16 May 1852. His sister had been killed in an accident on the stairwell at Charleville Castle in 1861 and his younger brother John died in 1872 when only 21. Now the young earl had reached his maturity and his 21st year. He could mark the occasion with his two sisters Lady Katherine and Lady Emily. The celebrations ought to have been on 16 May 1873 but the party had been deferred for a few weeks so that the coming of age could be celebrated at the same time as the marriage of Lady Katherine to Captain Hutton A.D.C. The celebration in the town with triumphal arches and fireworks was the last such for the earls of Charleville. Over the period from 1782 to 1873 there had been three such Welcomes from the Tenantry. Lady Emily inherited Charleville under the will of the fourth earl who died in 1874 aged only 22. Emily came into possession on the death of her uncle Alfred in 1875 childless. She was still a minor and there was no official welcome. Lady Emily married Captain Kenneth Howard in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. The Land War began in 1879–80 and cast a shadow over landlord and tenant relationships permanently. Lady Emily died in 1931 and the estate passed to her only surviving child Lt Col. Kenneth Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80).

The address of Dr Michael Moorhead in his capacity as chairman of the town commissioners at the celebration dinner in 1873 is replete with irony given that the young earl died in a little over a year after on a fishing and hunting trip near New York.

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A new chapter in Westmeath historiography: the recent publication of Westmeath History and Society, an address by Dr Harman Murtagh at the launch in Athlone.’ Without doubt, this is the greatest book ever published on Westmeath. It’s a monument to our county’s culture, history, society and creativity – and an expression of Westmeath’s very distinctive identity.’

The Mullingar and Athlone launches of Westmeath History and Society have provided two interesting and original addresses on the status of local history in Westmeath, our neighbouring county. The Offaly History and Society volume was published in 1998 and is long out of print. A few copies were secured by Offaly History some years ago and are offered for sales as scarce titles. We thank our friend Dr Harman Murtagh for a copy of his address on 31 3 2022 and we have added some pictures for our readers. Enjoy the address in Athlone and you can get the book at Offaly History Centre and online at www.offalyhistory.com, over 900 pages, hardback, €60.

My friends,

This is the south Westmeath launch of this magnificent volume, Westmeath history and society.

A week ago it was launched in north Westmeath by the archbishop of Dublin, the very Reverend Dr Farrell; south Westmeath must make do with the most irreverent Dr Murtagh.

The book is 900 pages long. As the archbishop observed in Mullingar, it’s about the size of a concrete block: in my view, its only fault is that it’s rather heavy to hold in bed.

Westmeath history and society is one of a series of county books – incredibly it’s the twenty-ninth in the series. The series has been appearing at the rate of a volume a year since 1985.

The series founder, general editor and manager from the start is Dr Willie Nolan, aided and abetted by his wife, Theresa. Their contribution to Irish  society and to local studies  is without equal. In France they would undoubtedly be awarded the Legion of Honour; in Britain surely Sir Willie and Dame Theresa? In Ireland, and here in Athlone, we can offer at least our enormous admiration for their magnificent achievement – twenty-nine county volumes of this size down, and only three to go!   Wow!

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Moorock House, Ballycumber: the first Big House burned in Offaly in the 1919–23 period. By Eamon Larkin

Thomas Armstrong, son of Andrew Armstrong and Lucy Charnock, was born on 22nd August 1702 and when he retired from his position as First Director of his Majesty’s Engineers, Chief Engineer of Minorca and Senior Engineer in the service, purchased the estate of Moorock and built a house there. He died in 1747, unmarried and the estate passed to his brother Warneford Armstrong.

On the 9th October 1793, Warneford Armstrong (1699- 1780) made a lease agreement for three lives and thirty one years of the House, Gardens and Land of Moorock to Richard Holmes, a gentleman of an old King’s County family based in nearby Prospect House. The 390 acres had been leased to James and John Reamsbottom. In 1795 Warnesford Armstrong demised the whole estate of Moorock to Richard Holmes of Prospect House for “lives renewable forever”. 

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Demolish or Preserve?  The dilemma for the future of the architectural  heritage of Tullamore and of many other Irish towns. By Fergal MacCabe

The Architectural Heritage of Tullamore

Our architectural heritage may be defined as those structures which by their very great beauty, important historical connotations or unique scientific value contribute to creating a memorable experience.

To be frank, the town centre of Tullamore  contains few buildings or spaces which meet these criteria but it does have its own distinct local qualities and is a decent if unpretentious town whose stock of late 18th and early 19th c. buildings are worthy of consideration.

Yet, over the past eighty years many fine buildings which contributed to the architectural heritage of Tullamore have been lost. The removal of the Tarleton House in 1936 radically changed the spatial character of O’Connor Square. The Grand Canal Hotel which closed the vista on the Daingean Road and the wonderful Tudor style castellated Mercy Convent were removed in the 1960s and early 1970s. The architectural quality of both the former Charleville Estate office by Richard Castle and the facade of D.E. William’s shop on Patrick Street by Michael Scott was compromised and the wonderful Modernist Ritz Cinema partially demolished. The landscaped setting of the County Hospital was built over.  Many original shop fronts were replaced.

 As Andrew Tierney has observed in his ‘Buildings of Leinster’ a lot of the original features of Protected Structures around the town have now been removed or insensitively altered.

The building behind the Mr Price facade in High Street, dating to about 1750. This picture in 1959
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The Decade of Centenaries –  Independence and its  legacy for women’s role in society. By Sylvia Turner

One of the ironies during the first two decades of the 20th century is as women were beginning to gain equality with men, it was taken away during the next two decades by the Government under Éamon de Valera. Such inequality between men and women has led to repercussions across Irish society until the present day. According to Amnesty International , violence against women is both a consequence and a cause of inequality between men and women. There is widespread concern that this has now reached endemic levels, as acknowledged in the debate in Parliament following Ashling Murphy’s murder on 12th January 2022. Reasons why the situation has developed in a predominantly rural country of just five million people needs to be addressed if it is to be resolved.

The promise of equality for women with men had been included in the 1916 Proclamation. This was realised and the new Irish Free State enshrined equal voting rights into its Constitution in 1922. Following Independence and the ensuing Civil War, Éamon  de Valera, who opposed the Treaty, broke away from Sinn Féin and formed a new party called Fianna  Fáil  and led it into the  Dáil  in 1927.  He gained popularity and won elections in 1932. An example of his popularity can be seen in the Midland Counties Advertiser on 28th June 1934.

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