Irish Sporting Lives (Royal Irish Academy, 2022) brings to life sixty figures who in their individual ways illustrate the drama and diversity of Irish sporting history.
This collection of biographical essays draws from the Dictionary of Irish Biography (DIB) and spans 200 years from the early nineteenth century. It is edited by DIB researchers Terry Clavin and Turlough O’Riordan, with an introductory essay by former Tullamore GAA clubman and Offaly Gaelic football coach, Ireland’s foremost sports historian, Professor Paul Rouse.
The biographies in Irish Sporting Lives encompass serial winners and glorious losers, heroes and villains, role models and rogues, enduring legends and forgotten or overlooked greats. Trailblazing women feature prominently, and their stories highlight the adversity they had to overcome in pursuing their sporting dreams. Aside from household names such as George Best, Jack Kyle, Christy Ring, Lady Heath, Alex Higgins and Jack Charlton, the volume will also inform readers about less well-known but equally fascinating figures. These include Vere Goold, the only Wimbledon tennis finalist ever convicted of murder; Dave Gallaher, New Zealand’s most revered rugby captain; and Martin Sheridan, the winner of nine Olympic medals for the USA.
Despite being out of the town for more years than I care to count I still get a kick out of telling people “I’m from Tullamore”. This often leads to “are you from the Town”? To which I readily reply in the affirmative, mentioning that I grew up on Patrick St. This invariably brings back memories of those happy days long ago. As a youngster in the 50s and early 60s I felt – and still do! – that Patrick St was the centre of the universe, a fantastic microcosm of daily life at the crossroads of the known world (well, High Street and William Street). To my young eyes it was Times Square, Piccadilly and the Istanbul souk all rolled into one. I remember the great variety of shops, with all kinds of enticing and exotic goodies, and behind the counters a wonderful collection of “grown-ups”, friendly but also each a source of curiosity to this young shopper. There was Talbots, definitely first among equals, where all your sweet fantasies could be fulfilled: ice creams (“wafers”) went from 2 pennies to 6 pennies (though I also remember a one penny half portion), while every cavity inducing confection was available from big glass jars. Particularly good value was the two-penny chocolate covered Trigger toffee bar. Turning right out of our house, you came to Cathy Dunne’s sweet shop, cousins of my dad, and always with an encouraging word for the “little fella”.
Historical Notes by a contributor writing in 1912, edited by Offaly History
This contribution to local studies was made in 1912 and was based on the writer’s access to a copy of the Tullamore entry in Slater’s Trade Directory published in 1846. At the time there was no public library in Offaly and private reading rooms were few. Neither was there photocopying or digitized copies. Books were expensive and access confined to only a few. There is unlikely to have been any bookshop in Offaly in 1912. By that time Sheppard’s in Birr, the only decent bookshop in Offaly in the mid nineteenth-century, was concentrating on stationery.
The only original comment from our contributor of the 1912 article was in reference to the coming Home Rule and the appointment of Catholics to public office. The War of 1914–18, 1916, The War of Independence and the Civil War were yet to come. The writer remarked:
Judging by the names of those filling public positions in Tullamore sixty odd years ago [in 1846], Catholics and Nationalists had very little influence in the administration of public funds. But times are changed, and even in the comparatively brief period which has elapsed since the above described state of things existed, one cannot but marvel at the immense strides made in science, mechanical engineering, and the arts generally, while the rapid development of National political ideas and aim points to the rapid approach of a golden era for our country.
What a pity the writer did not say more about 1912. That is the gap we have been trying to fill with our blogs on the Decade of Centenaries and our new Decade platform on www.offalyhistory.com. We are now working on a book to bring all these article and photographs together and to be published in late 2023. In the meantime we share this article on Tullamore in 1846. In 1912 the article was probably written out by hand from the rare book and then typeset with hot metal type for publication in the local press. To think that in those days people depended entirely on the printed newspaper for news of things past and pressing matters then current. The new telephone was first tested in Clara in 1898 and the motor car locally in the same year. It was only ten years later in 1908 that telephone services began to develop in the county and likewise with the motor vehicle. To quote the article of 1912:
Slater’s Directory compiled so far back as the year 1846 – [over 175 years ago] – contains some interesting particulars at this distance of times regarding the towns, villages and parishes with which it deals. One frequently hears this period in our history referred to as “the good old coaching days,” though famine and pestilence wasted our land, and the exodus of our kith and kin may be said, as a consequence, to have been inaugurated amid the distressful scenes of “Black Forty – Six and Forty – Seven.” Railways had not then intersected the country, nor had the electric telegraph spreads its message-bearing network round the world. “Wireless” was unknown, and the telephone lay hatching in the cradle of its inception. Business moved in a slow and happy manner, with neither rush nor worry, such as crush the life out of our present-day business men, Heavily-laden carriers carts moving lazily along with their burdens of merchandise from town to town, were a frequent and picturesque sight along the high roads, while the sounding horn of the “Royal Mail” coach awoke the echoes in vale and mountain, as does the shrill steam-blast of its successor at the present time. Carriers’ inns were a feature of our towns, and around the fires in winter, or about the doors in the summer’s eve, many jokes were cracked, and stories told of “life on the road”
Of deeds of valour done ‘gainst robber bold.
Or encounter with a ghostly visitant.
The hotel from which the Royal mail coach took its departure upon its daily or nightly journey was regarded as a place of importance in the community, and was generally the scene of much animation as the coach was being prepared for the road. Ostlers bustled around their well-groomed horses, getting them into position, with loud-voiced orders to their dumb friends as to good behaviour, while the scrutinising eye of the driver beamed upon them, sometimes in anger, but more often with a look of happy approval. In a by no means softly modulated voice he gave his directions as to traces, bits, reins, swing bars etc., while porters buzzed about like a flock of bees, getting passengers’ luggage into the “boot” of the coach under the driver’s seat, paying scant need to its owner’s inquiries as to possible safety. Highwaymen were not unknown in those days. Passengers took leave of their friends and become seated inside or scrambled to the top of the coach by means of steps conveniently ‘placed for the purpose, and the “Guard, “splendidly robed in brightest of scarlet, bearing the Royal insignia on each shoulder, strutted, peacock-like, up and down the pavement, frequently consulting his watch as the hour for departure approached. At least he become seated, and a huge blunderbuss on each side of him, warned all and sundry that something unpleasant awaited those who, ventured to exhibit an impertinent curiosity as to the content of Her Majesty’s mails. A loud blast of the guard’s horn, and the driver whipped up his horses – they were off.—
Off on their journey for good or for ill,
Down thro’ the valley, up over the hill;
Some to return – some future to roam—
While fond hearts are grieving behind them at home.
The authority from which we quote says, that according to the Census of 1841 the parish of Tullamore contained 9,608 inhabitants, and the town 6,343 of that number. The post office was situated in William Street; and the post-master was John Alexander Bradley. There was a delivery of letters daily; those from Dublin and the North arriving every morning at half-past five o’clock, and those from Parsonstown, Mountmellick, and the South and West every evening at seven. Letters from Dublin and the North were dispatched every evening at half-past seven, those from Parsonstown , etc., at six o’clock every morning. A one-day delivery of letters would hardly meet present-day business requirements.
In the historical sketch the “Directory” says: – “Tullamore, or Tullamoore, the latter appellation said to be derived from the moor on which it stands [in fact the surname of the Moore family] is the county and Assize town of the King’s County, and a parish, in the barony of Ballycowan, 57 miles W. by S. from Dublin, 25 S.E by E from Athlone,12½ N.E. from Ballyboy, 10 west from Philipstown, and six south from Kilbeggan The Grand Canal passes the end of the town, affording water communication with Dublin and Shannon Harbour ; and the small river Clodagh (a branch of the Brosna) runs through, and is crossed by a neat bridge. The town is arranged in the form of cross and the houses being white, and the streets wide, it is in appearance airy and cleanly. The surrounding country is level, and the bogs are numerous, causing turf to be cheap and giving employment to great numbers of persons in producing and bringing it to market. The public structures, besides the places of worship and schools are a noble and admirably constructed gaol, with a graceful courthouse, market house, barracks, and a convent. The Assizes, having been removed from Philipstown, are now held here, and petty sessions every Saturday. The municipal government is vested in a Seneschal, and the local magistrates. The headquarters of the constabulary force is in this town, which is the residence of the county inspector. The principal business establishments are two breweries, the same number of tanneries, a distillery, a branch of the Bank of Ireland, and four hotels.
The parish church of St. Catherine, which stands about a quarter of mile from the town, upon a lofty, sandy hill, is a new building, with a handsome pinnacled tower, conspicuous for a considerable distance round; and several finely sculptured memorials of the Charleville family adorn the interior. The Catholic chapel is a handsome building in the modern style of architecture, with two pinnacled towers at the east end: and the Methodist chapels, of which there are two, are neat structures. To the latter places of worship Sunday school are attached, and there is a valuable school, founded by the Earl of Charleville, for the education of an unlimited number of children of both sexes: a National School, the female branch of which is under the tuition of the Sisters of Mercy, and a free School, supported by their Baptist Irish Society of London, wherein public worship is held every fortnight are the other public educational establishments. A Savings Bank and a Loan Found dispenses their respective benefits here. About quarter of a mile distance, on the banks of the Canal, and near the old road leading from Dublin to Galway, art the ruins of Shragh Castle, built in 1588 by John [Bris]scoe, Esq., of Crofton Hall, in Cumberland, an officer of high rank in Queen Elizabeth’s army, and by his wife, Eleanor Kerny, and their son, Andrew Briscoe, Esq., as recorded on a tablet in the church. Within a mile of the town is the beautiful demesne of the Earl of Charleville, to whom the town is greatly indebted for its improvement. The delightfully-wooded park, with its grottos, rustic bridges, artificial caverns, cascades and lakes, constitute the demesne a terrestrial paradise. The market days are on Tuesday and Saturday. Fairs, March 19th, May 10th, July 10th, October 21st, and December 13th.
A mail car ran to Mountmellick every morning at six; to Mullingar every evening at seven, and to Parsonstwon every morning at six, passing through Frankford. Conveyance by water canal for goods to Dublin and Shannon Harbour was available by boats running daily-. Thomas Berry and Co., owners; and for passengers by same route, “swift boats,” started from the Quay [near Bury or Whitehall Bridge] for Dublin every morning at nine, and night at ten, passing Philipstown and Edenderry. To Shannon Harbour, swift boats left the Quay every morning at two, and afternoon at three, passing Gillen, and meeting the steamer for Limerick and Ballinasloe to Shannon Harbour. The Very Rev. James O’Rafferty, V G, was P. P. of Tullamore at this time, the curates were Rev Terence Devine, Rev Philip Callary, and Rev James Keegan. The Protestant congregation of St. Catharine’s were ministered to by Rev Edward Fleetwood Berry (Vicar), and Rev Peter Wilson, curate. Mrs Purcell was superiors of the Convent of Mercy, Bury Quay. The other religious denominations do not seem to have had any fixed pastor attached to their congregations.
The public institutions were officered as follows: ____
Constabulary Barrack, Charleville Square ____ William Henry Pearce, County Inspector ; John S. Stuart, Sub-Inspector ; James Hay, Head-Constable.
Miliary Barrack, Barrack street – Lieut. Henry Jepson, Barrack Master.
Charitable Loan Fund – Francis Berry Esq., Treasurer; John A Bradley, secretary.
County Gaol – Robert Harding, Governor; Very Rev James O’Rafferty, Catholic chaplain; Rev Edward F. Berry, Protestant chaplain; Thomas Whitfield Inspector.
County Infirmary, Church street – George Pierce, M.D., Surgeon ; Jane Henderson, Matron.
Courthouse adjoining the Goal – Laurence Parsons, Clerk of the Peace ; A.H.C. Pollock, Clerk of the Crown; Thomas Mitchell, Secretary to the Grand Jury, Parsonstown ; Thomas Whitfield, Inspector of Weights and Measure.
Town House, Charleville Square – Francis Berry, Esq., Seneschal.
Union Workhouse Harbour Row – Thomas Prescott, Master; Ann Guirly, matron. Very Rev. James O’Rafferty, Catholic chaplain; Rev. C. F. Berry, Protestant chaplain; John Hussy Walsh, Esq., Chairman of the Board of Guardians; Francis Berry, Esq., Vice-Chairman ; Thomas P. O’Flanagan, Esq., Deputy Vice –Chairman.
There were four hotels – The Charleville Arms, Hannah Ridley, Bridge street; Garland’s Hotel, Mary Garland, Church street ; Grand Canal Hotel, Joshua Gill, Harbour; and the Shannon Hotel, John Shannon.
The medical practitioners comprised – Michael Joseph Moorhead, High Street; George Pierce, Charleville Square; John Ridley, Bridge street; and amongst the hardware and ironmongers the firm of Messrs T. P. and R. Goodbody is mentioned. Agent for the Bank of Ireland Branch, Mr. Bartholomew Maziere.
Savings Bank, Town House (open on Mondays) – Mr Anthony Molloy, treasurer; Mr. John Alexander Bradley, actuary.
Apothecaries – Philip Belton, William Street; John Quirk, Bridge street.
Attorneys – George Duigenan, John William Briscoe, Charleville Terrace; William Ridley, Bridge Street.
In addition to the four hotels mentioned above , the names of nine publicans and two spirit dealers, four pawnbrokers, three saddlers, two tallow chandlers, four tailors, two tanners, three millers, two dyers, two brewers, one distiller, while eating and lodging house keepers musters a total of nineteen. Grocers and provision dealers number thirty- one; blacksmiths, six; boot and shoe- makers, five, etc.
A contribution to marking the Decade of Centenaries in Offaly and recalling the past generations and the towns and villages on the eve of the War of Independence
In marking the years from 1912 to 1923 we may think that the years around 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War were times of unmitigated strife. Not so. Normal life continued, if punctuated by violent acts, such as the shooting of policemen in Kinnitty, Kilbeggan or Tullamore. The finding of bodies of spies, ‘the disappeared’, in Mountbolus or Puttaghaun. The holding of brief gunbattles in Ballycommon or Charleville Road. Worst of all the organised state violence condoned by Churchill and Lloyd George in the form of the Black and Tans racing through towns and villages in the dead of night and taking shots at anything that moved. Yet normal life continued and no better illustrated than by the issue, almost every week, (Offaly Independent excepted as the printing works was destroyed by British forces ) of the three or four local papers in Offaly and from time to time trade supplements or special publications such as trade directories that very much illustrate local business in most of the Offaly towns. Recently Offaly History acquired the 1919 MacDonald’s Trade Directory for Ireland to add to its collection at Bury Quay, Tullamore.
A PowerPoint presentation narrated by Michael Byrne explores the identities of O’Connor Square, Tullamore as part of a project to know and appreciate our distinctive town centres. This Streetscape project is in partnership with Offaly County Council and part funded by the Heritage Council.
The Making of O’Connor Square, Tullamore since the 1700s: the buildings, business and people
O’Connor Square is Tullamore’s most impressive open space and the gradual development of this area into its principal square is reflected in its fine houses, market house and the variety of names it has had. Despite the course of building for over some fifty years, from 1740 to 1790, it has a uniformity of scale even with the much later vocational school of 1936–37, now the Tullamore Library. In 1713 this area was simply known as the Market Place and, with the opening of one-third of the square in 2019 to pedestrian access only, is now enjoying a comeback to its original function as a meeting place, albeit now to barter ideas and stories and not agricultural produce. Our thanks to the Heritage Council and Offaly County Council for supporting this project and rejuvenation of the square. A special thanks to Fergal MacCabe for his watercolours that bring out so much of what is wonderful about townlife.
Tomorrow, we look at Castle Street, Birr over 400 years of history in that one street.
At a time of economic stringency, the architect Michael Scott delivered several elegant retail buildings for a prominent midlands business family. These were executed in a Modernist style and incorporated natural materials in an innovative fashion.
In a recent Offaly History blog, Michael Byrne described the expansionary retail strategy of the notable Offaly commercial firm of D. E. Williams in installing high quality shops and pubs in virtually every town and village across the county in the period 1884-1921.
This courageous approach had not deserted the go ahead commercial family when during the Second World War, then modestly referred to as ‘The Emergency’, they ambitiously embarked on the redevelopment of their most prominent retail outlets in Dublin, Athlone and Birr and and most importantly, delivered a flagship shop and public bar in Patrick Street in Tullamore. To implement their progressive strategy they turned to Michael Scott.
There are only a few studies available on the development of retailing in Ireland, either of a general nature or in connection with particular firms. It is well known that in the first half of the nineteenth century and up to the Famine years retail outlets were not widely available and many in the smaller towns were no better than huxter shops. There were exceptions and that is clear from the photographs of c. 1900 of shops such as Williams. Egan, Goodbody and Lumley (in Tullamore); O’Brien in Edenderry and O’Meara and Fayles in Birr. In looking at the revolutionary period from 1912 to 1921 to mark the decade of centenaries it is also worth looking at revolutions in other areas such as transport, energy and shopping. Like the political revolution retailing exhibited signs of stress after 1921 and did not recover until the coming of the supermarkets to the provincial towns in the 1960s.
The trade directories, and from the 1840s the valuation records, will facilitate investigation of retail outlets. By the 1860s living standards had improved and this is reflected in the increasing number of shops; per capita tobacco consumption rose to English standards about 1870 and per capita consumption of tea was not far off the English level by the end of the 1870s. The considerable economic progress of the early 1870s, began to slow down by the end of that decade. The 1880s is looked on as a period of industrial crisis with industries closing down in all the principal towns, or destroyed by fire as with the Goodbody tobacco factory in Tullamore and the Birr distillery in 1889.The railways and the canals (especially in the midlands) facilitated the easy removal of heavy goods and livestock from towns all over Ireland, but it also left it easier to import foods easily and cheaply. As a result, the Irish industrial base (such as it was, especially in southern Ireland) receded while the retail and services sector began to grow albeit slowly.
We seldom write a blog on a living person but we are making an exception for John Flanagan, the modest man from the Meelaghans, Puttaghan and New Road, Tullamore who has invested his whole life (so far) in making Tullamore a better place for people to live, work, bank and even pray in. We in Offaly History occupy offices at Bury Quay rebuilt for us in 1991-2 by the John Flanagan firm and now we also occupy Offaly Archives, another Flanagan development located at Axis Business Park, Tullamore. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the building of Tullamore Court Hotel. Great in that it was against the odds and had been talked about in Tullamore for thirty years but nothing was done.
As long ago as 1977 the Midland Tribune in a review of Tanyard Industrial Estate commented that John Flanagan was a man whose vision and initiative has given the Tanyard its new lease of industrial life. John Flanagan had by then been 24 years a-building so successfully that John Flanagan and Sons Ltd. was one of the best known contracting firms in the Midlands.
He purchased the Tanyard from Messers. P. and H. Egan in the late 1960s, established his own offices there (modest of course with no frills) and almost immediately set about using some of the six-acre site to provide facilities for other local people to set up business and projects of various kinds. Some of the buildings on the property were suitable for conversion to new usage but John Flanagan also embarked on his own programme of factory construction. He subsequently purchased other premises in the same area from Messrs Tarleton. With about eleven firms thriving in the Tanyard already, about 3³/8 acres remain available for further development and Mr. Flanagan will be ready to respond to demand as it arises. The whole area was redeveloped in the 1990s and is now emerging as a retail sector in Tullamore, well adapted to the changing economy.
While his industrial estate has been steadily expanding, so too had his own business as a contractor. In the 1970s his major undertaking included construction of R.T.E transmitting Station at Ballycommon; Tullamore Vocational School; the Post Office in Portlaoise; Farm Centres in Edenderry and Portlaoise; Housing Carlow (a scheme of 57 houses); factories for Messrs Paul and Vincent; in Tullamore and Irish Cables, Athlone.
Jobs in hands in the late 1970s included a scheme of 40 houses in Clara for Offaly County Council; the Bank of Ireland premises at Bridge St. O’Connor Sq., a Welfare Home in Edenderry; reconstruction work at St. Loman’s Hospital, Mullingar.
‘Mr Flanagan – who incidentally is Chairman of Banagher Concrete was actively in recent formation of a Chamber of Commerce in Tullamore and is the inaugural President of a body which is expected to make a very significant impact on the industrial and commercial life of the town and district.’
Teresa Wyer was born in Ballykeenaghan, Rahan, Tullamore, County Offaly on 29 November 1868. She was the third youngest of eleven children of Michael and Anne Mary Wyer. Teresa Wyer went to Rahan National School and thereafter to Killina Secondary School. She joined the Convent of Mercy Athy, County Kildare on 22 February 1890 where she was called Sr Mary Baptist. She left the convent in 1900 and ran a shop and public house at No 6 Church Street bought by the first author’s grandfather, Owen Wyer, brother of Teresa Wyer, from Abraham Colton, the Tullamore auctioneer and hotelier in early 1901. Owen Wyer was also a Sinn Féin activist and chaired a great Sinn Féin meeting in Rahan in September 1917.
Church Street was a busy commercial street at that time with at least five public houses, a hotel and a number of private residences. Wyer’s neighbours included the long-established Warren family drapery stores with two shops. In 1901 Teresa Wyer (then describing herself as 30) was living with her brother over the public house and they had a shop assistant and servant living with them. Owen Wyer was a maltster with the Egans of Tullamore and she a publican. By 1911 she described herself as a grocer and aged only 36, single and with four assistants living over the shop. Teresa Wyer married James Wyer from Ard, Geashill on 24 February 1914.
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.