For Offaly History Mapping Offaly began as a project to map the archaeological sites in Offaly in the mid-1970s. The state archaeological survey was in progress but nothing had been published and some members of the society decided to embark on a project they knew little about but were excited about the prospects. The then president of the Society, Monsignor Denis Clarke, allowed a sum of £50 out of the Society’s savings of £120 to buy a full set of the county ordnance maps of 47 sheets at £1 each from the Stationery Office. This was almost half of the society’s capital and led to the quiet resignation of Society secretary Fr Conor McGreevy. When he saw that the young students joining up at that time were serious he came back to his history flock and went on to publish a history of Killoughy with the PP of Kilcormac. Continue reading
I was fortunate to be invited to visit Banagher during Heritage Week in August 2018. Unfortunately I missed the presentation by Messrs Keenaghan and Scully but am told that all went swimmingly or, as we say up here in BAC, it was a hoot. Anyway I have many relations in the Banagher district and some of my ancestors were distillers and engineers about that town and in Kilcormac. I always like to visit Houghs when in Banagher. It was beloved by my old friend Hugh Leonard. I have had a pint or two with ‘admiralty men’ in Pawky Flynn’s and in the Railway Bar.
Not so many years ago we had fine restaurants in Brosna Lodge, the Shannon Hotel (a disgrace now) and we had Valerie Landon’s pottery. I remember the great Waller firm and Ray O’Donovan up in the Midland Maltings. It’s a fine old town and deserves a right good clean up and boost to its business. If Mrs Quirke was alive now what would she say not to mention the late R.H. Moore who my father and grandfather told me was one of nature’s gentlemen. I wonder how is the Vocational School going now. The late Elsie Naugton even had the boys playing hockey. I read somewhere that La Sainte Union had the first flush toilet in Offaly for the new French order of nuns there. It was a great place for the young ladies of the midlands. The old Royal School was long closed in my time but a bit of it survived up to when I left the area. There was always a bit of quality about Banagher and it would be a shame to lose it. Anyway my piece this week is culled from the Birr bastion of unionism, the Chronicle. I know Trollope and Charlotte Bronte would have liked its sentiments but it would not sit so easy with the Sinn Féin men of more recent times.
From the Kings County Chronicle, 18 July 1918
Banagher, well known for its celebrated annual fair, held on the 15th, 16th and 17th of September, is in the Rynagh Parish, Garry Castle Barony, six miles north-west of Parsons town (Birr), 82, miles from Dublin, on the east bank of the Shannon, near the confluence of the Little Brosna, and just in the angle of three of the four provinces, being within Leinster, and divided by the Shannon from Connaught, while lower down the river, a little distance, is the juncture of the Brosna, on the other shore of which is Munster. It returned two MPs to the Irish Parliament from Charles 1 to 1800. It is mainly one long street stretching for nearly a mile from the top of the hill at the church to the bridge, near which is the old barrack and the railway terminus.
The Distillery What was one of the largest whiskey distilleries in Ireland was worked by a private company of a few gentlemen, the former and originating company having abandoned it as a failure. It was formerly a mill, but a limited liability company, about the year 1870, reconverted it. Owing to the capital being reduced by the building charges of about £70,000, the enterprise was closed after a few years, and so remained until, owing to the energetic efforts of the former manager, a new company was formed; and the enterprise was at once placed on a firm financial basis. In its first season, such was the fine quality, the distillery was obliged to continue working up to August. Unfortunately, however, this prosperous condition of things did not continue, and the place has since been almost idle, except for malting carried on by Messrs D. E. Williams, Ltd which firm, within the past few years, also started a cabinet factory in the premises. The distillery itself is a splendid pile, heavy sums, years ago, having been expended on buildings and plant.
Public Buildings The Roman Catholic Church is a fine structure, and a clock placed in the tower through the enterprise of a few. Mr. Patrick Hynes, an energetic inhabitant, taking the lead. Here is also an ancient endowed Royal School, but the Government having decided on discontinuing it, a Commission sat to consider, among other matters, the cause of its decline in the number of pupils. The school endowment is very ancient, dating back to the time of Elizabeth, and is on the foundation of the Royal Schools of Ireland. In its time the school sent forth into the world many eminent men, the late Sir William Wilde being one of its pupils.
The first agent of the Bank of Ireland was Mr. W. Scott, and through the energy of the Roman Catholics a fine convent was erected. Three miles off is the ancient historic town of Cloghan Castle. The town is inconveniently, though pleasantly, situated on a rather steep hill sloping to the Shannon. The ancient name was Beandcar, from the pointed eminence on which it is built. It was known as Fortfalk-land and Bannagh. St. Reynach, sister of St. Finian, who died in 563 founded a religious house here called Kill- Rignaighe, and gave her name to the parish. The site of the house is now a burial ground. Amongst its ruins there was a shaft of a stone cross erected in memory of Bishop O’Duffy, of Clonfert, who was killed by a fall from his horse in 1297. This cross was removed to Clonmacnoise, and it represents the Bishop on horseback bearing a crozier. Here the great Felin MacCoghlan was slain in 1539 by the sons of O’Madden after Mass on Sunday. The castle was rebuilt by Teige O’Carroll in spite of the opposition of the O’Maddens. But in 1584 they demolished it, lest it should come into possession of the English.
The Markets Sir John Mac Coghlan, in 1612, obtained a grant to hold a market here on Thursday, but it was afterwards changed to a Monday and is now held on Friday. It was constituted a corporate town by charter of Charles 1 is 1628, the corporation being styled. “The Sovereign, Burgeases and Free Commons of the Borough and Town of Bannacher alias, Banagher.” “The Sovereign” was appointed a justice of the peace, coroner, and a clerk of the market, and had an extended jurisdiction. These offices, as well as to send two members to parliament, lapsed at the Union
Banagher Besieged Banagher gave considerable trouble to the Birr garrison, and often sent out marauding parties who foraged for themselves pretty freely in the surrounding district. However, when Birr Castle surrendered to General Preston, the natives evacuated Banagher. Dr Warren describes what happened then in his words: “There being no opposition made to Preston, he sat down before Fort Falkland (Banagher), a place of strength enough to have held out against him longer then he could have stayed in that season of the year, and for want of provisions. But though those within were numerous, yet many of them were not serviceable, and they were much encouraged by a long and vain expectation of succour from the monastery which had entirely neglected them. It would have been impossible, indeed, that they should have done, had it not been for the relief, which was sent, then, from time to time, by Lord Clanricarde but as he was himself, then surrounded with too many difficulties to afford them a prospect of succour, and as Preston had granted an honourable capitulation to the garrison in Birr, the besieged were inclined to surrender to him, for fear of falling into worse hands. Therefore, the next day after he came up to Fort falkland, before any battery was raised. Lord Castleward, the Governor, capitulated and was to be conveyed safe, with all his people to the fort of Galway.” It seems this garrison was finally delivered at the castle of Athlone.
Sarsfield at Banagher “All the island called Enisbreary, alias Island MacCoghlan, in the barony of Garrycastle, and also the two ruinous castles of Banagher and Belanaley,” with “liberty of fishing in the Shannon, in the aforesaid barony” were about 1671 granted to John Blysse. A right to establish a ferry was also given, the annual rent for the lands being 10s and for the ferry 5s. As appears by Sarsfield’s operations that he repeatedly crossed a bridge here, the old bridge at Banagher must have been built before then, and the ferry discontinued. From Harris we learn that when Sarsfield attacked Birr in 1690, the English generals – Douglas, Kirk and Lanier – advanced, reliving Birr, and driving Sarsfield across the Shannon to Banagher. The attempt by the English to destroy the bridges was too dangerous, as the Irish were strongly posted on the Connaught side, besides defending the bridge with a castle and other works. The present bridge is on the site of the ancient one.”
The Armstrong Family At Mount Cartaret is the seat of a very old and universally respected family, the Armstrongs, of Scottish extraction. They have resided about Banagher for over two centuries. A mural tablet, dated 1680, records “Here lies the body of Gerald Armstrong.” On another is “Armstrong, four brothers, 1700.” Their first ancestor in Ireland was Thomas Armstrong, who came over in 1657. The present representative is Major T.P. St. G. Armstrong, J.P., and a constant resident with his family.
A Masonic Lodge, No. 306, was by warrant, dated 1758, from the Earl of Drogheda, G.M. of Ireland, founded in Banagher.
[I read somewhere that Trollope was a member of this lodge and had great high jinks when the new bridge was opened. A big bill for the bottles but at least they paid for themselves.]
Next time I get the OK to contribute to Offaly History I may do something on Raleen near Mount Bolus where I believe the last of the chiefs of my clan was located. But then I might recall Kieran Molloy of Clonmacnoise. Do any of you remember them when they looked the monastic site. Some of them were teachers there. I think Clonmacnoise has 150,000 visitors a year now at near €10 each and that cannot be bad. Good to see my old friends in Lukers getting a few visitors from it, not to mention Birr Castle.
Our thanks to our contributor Cosney Molloy for this piece. He is the perfect gentleman and sometime we will get him to accept Honorary Membership. He says he is not old enough yet. Like the whiskey he gets better as he gets older. If Galways wins tomorrow he will have a few.
I see my friends in the Offaly History Centre have organised a tour of the old industries of Tullamore to start at 2 pm from O’Connor Square on Sunday the 19th. It all part of this new idea Heritage Week. I am down for Clonminch Cemetery but I might skip the end of that and head up the Tanyard. I might skip a bit of Michael Byrne’s tour too as I want to head to one of the pubs to see the hurling. It should be great. I believe some of the Egan family will be there too. I remember when Frank and the family lived in Acres Hall and the bell at Christmas time down at Bridge House. Paddy Egan was up in Charleville Road with the minerals and Harry was down in Egan-Tarleton. That’s called the Granary now and must have forty apartments where the heaps of grain used to be.
During the late years of the Second War the town was a hive of industry. Egan’s had their Bridge House shop in full swing and at one time had coach building, saw mills and, of course, the famous brewery and they bottled whiskey too and like Williams had salesmen on the road six days a week. Joe Kenny used to tell me about it when I left the town. Himself and Pat Carty and all the teachers in town were great buddies and used to stay in lodgings with plenty of free time.
The Tullamore Distillery was going strong most of time and my namesake started it in 1829. That will be 190 years ago next year. Over in the Tanyard was the old tanning business. In fact I read somewhere that Marrons shoe shop in town could trace its history right back to the time when a certain Mulready man had a tannery business where Rattigan’s/ Wrafter’s Copper Urn was later. Then we had the bacon factory from about 1929 until 1989. The later Mr Quill told me that it gave work to nearly 100 people and that you could hear the roars of the pigs and sometimes the river turned red. OMG as my daughter would say. I think Lidl are going in to some of that old place soon. It will 30 years next year since they locked the gates.
Up the town my sister had work in Salts in the early days. I remember a John Carroll worked there and my old friend the late Michael Dowling. Sure it had nearly 1,000 people at one time. I think it closed about 1982. It’s hard to believe it now. Bill Proctor I knew and I remember to see Arthur Greene when he ran the place in the sixties.
Its great to see all the old pubs in town, Wrafter’s Harbour Bar, Hugh Lynch’s (my son tells me he is having a burlesque tonight. Sounds interesting but I will go down early maybe and have one of his nice rare whiskies. I met Paul Bell a few times. He always has the hand out to welcome everybody and has a fine place. I remember Kevin Adams in it and getting coffee in with my mother in Egan’s time. Behind it was the brewery and Seed and Manure and what not. Lumleys went in there after and I think they packed sugar over in the Tanyard where that funny man Oisin Sullivan is now. He is a character. Years ago that is where a man from Waterford, Aylward, I think, had bacon curing and later there was tea packing.
Come to think of it does anyone have the old tins with the Williamses Red Cup tea. And you remember the PAK orange and Egan’s great lemonade and orange. I am told that is still going on with a man called Harney, somewhere up in Spollanstown near the hotel where I often stay when I come down to Tullamore. Years ago Paul and Vincent were up there with a farm business. I think the Co-op moved there after. Come to think of it my old friend Martin Bracken tells me the Co-op will be 100 years old this year. I suppose they will have a dance. I remember all the great dancing in Tullamore and Christy May in his younger days. I hear he was one of the big men behind the show that I came down for a few times.
You know Tullamore has a lot going for it
Coming back to the whiskey it’s wonderful to see the new place out on the by-pass and I hear there are nearly 100 people working there. What would all the salesmen say who used to be in Williamses head office. I remember Paddy Hennessy worked there and Mick Casey and a Bill Igoe was in the Pak. Great Times. O’Donovan I think was the taster of the tea and the whiskey. Of course he was a Cork man – free tea and whiskey what more could you want.
Bill Jaffray was up the yard in Williamses where they made the Irish Mist, a lovely drink. It was like the Winter’s Tale sherry only stronger. You could open it and maybe not finish the bottle for a year.
The old Tullamore distillery with Seamus Flanagan looking into the mash tun. Not sure who is feeding the furnace unde one of the pot stills.
MAKING TULLAMORE WHISKEY
The late Desmond Williams (the man with the green Bentley) use to say that the harvesting and collecting of the grain in Tullamore, was like vintage time in French villages. For the manufacture of the Dew was, and is again, one of the town’s largest industries. Many extra hands were taken on during the working season in the war years, and all were involved in the magic transformation of the ears of the barley sheaf into the finished whiskey in the cask. And once the season started the Distillery worked day and night. The best whiskey, it is said, runs in the dim darkness of the night! The late Jack Clune told me that. He used to play cards with the Excise men (Redmond I think) well into the night. They were down in Water Lane where the Seed and Manure was after.
It’s hard to believe that the old Distillery covered an area of about twelve acres. Its where Maye built the shopping centre after. And then he built the hotel at the back of Egan’s old shop. The granaries of the distillery Seamus Flanagan told me could hold forty thousand barrels of grain—all purchased from the local farmers. There were special malting floors, a feature of the Distillery being the old style pagoda like kiln for the drying of the malt. The grinding of the grain into meal was done as of old, by means of a water wheel and grinding stones—this is said to make the best “mash.” People live now in apartments in one of the old mills. They used to say the place was haunted by man called Cooke. And what about all the chickens they reared after in those old warehouses.
To produce the perfect whiskey, the late Jack Wrafter (his father worked for Williams at the time of the pipe business – Sin Scéal eile) told me that four things were essential —sound barley, mountain air, pure water and distilling craft. Here in the centre of Ireland, he used to say in his gentlemanly way that nature had provided ‘all the requisites’ for Whiskey making. Well/ripened golden grain from the fertile fields of Offaly, fresh air from the Slieve Bloom hills, water laden with essences from local peat mosses, and a distilling tradition going back to the days of the illicit stills (we still have a few)—all these combine to make “Tullamore” a classic whiskey. It is, indeed, fit usquebaugh for connoisseurs. And you know they have an 18-year old now but its big money. They have a fancy one called Phoenix after the burst up with the balloonitics in Tullamore when Grattan was still in College Green. They say now it was the first air disaster in history, but I am sure someone will top it.
Now the old Tullamore was only Pot Still for a long time. Then Williamses got in the Coffey Still—invented by an Irishman, needless to say. Under one roof—so to speak—they can now produce all the ingredients for blends of pot, malt, and patent still ‘Whiskey. Very soon they will be in a position to sell at home and abroad, “vintage” Tullamore-made whiskey to compete on equal terms with anything produced on either side of the Atlantic and that includes Midleton, the Scotch boys and the Americans. Very soon because they started making the new Tullamore whiskey in 2014 and last year put in a massive Coffey still. I heard it cost €25 million. Old Mr DEW himself would be pleased that his name is now on 12 million bottles of whiskey every year.
I read somewhere that Sam Beckett used to drink only Tullamore. I was always interested in him because he wrote a book called Molloy years ago. I got a present of it but could make neither head nor tail of it.
I suppose you know that Tullamore distillery had three copper pot stills. John Teeling got them after for Kilbeggan about thirty years ago and they are still over in Locke’s place. A grand place to bring visitors and sure you can call into Durrow on the way to see the old high cross. Of course it was the monks who started it all and now there are three distillers buried in Durrow. Three Stills you could say.
I used to dread some of the priests calling to my mother’s house years ago because they just would not go home until the bottle was finished. My mother got clever though and started to keep a special bottle that would be three-quarters empty. Now you can’t beat the Molloys. Sure how could you when we started it all in Tullamore nearly 200 years ago and that was before Egans came or any other crowd, even Danny Williams who got a hold on the distillery because Daly was too fond of the good life with his horses and gentry friends.
That’s life, easy come easy go. The third generation nearly always breaks it.
Sure may be I will go tomorrow on this and have the ball of malt and a half-one if Galway wins. If Charlie Finlay is there on the tour tomorrow I might splash out on account of the old days when Guinness used to send the porter by train when the canal was finished. Charlie was always there to see everything went smoothly.