The contemporary arts scene in Ireland from the 1940s to the 1970s and to a certain degree in Offaly also, was dominated by the friendship between the architect Michael Scott and the Jesuit priest Fr. Donal O’Sullivan. Both Scott and O’Sullivan were close friends of Desmond Williams, the managing director of Irish Mist and a director of Williams’s whose commercial interests extended beyond the famous whiskey brand to a chain of grocery shops and pubs in Offaly and Westmeath. Williams and his wife Brenda, whose father Oliver St John Gogarty had been an early supporter of the painter Jack B. Yeats, owned many superb works by the artist.
The balloon fire of 10 May 1785 (235 years ago tomorrow) is perhaps the best known event in the history of Tullamore. Today we are reminded of it every time we see the town crest and in the past with the annual celebration – the Tullamore Phoenix Festival. The first premium whiskey from the new Tullamore DEW (Phoenix, 2013) was in honour of that tradition. It is hardly surprising that it should be so. The event caught the imagination at the time and was widely reported in the national newspapers and by visitors in their publications thereafter. Unfortunately, many turned to the Wikipedia of those days – the previous fellow’s account – and did not seek to get all the facts and record them. What we are left with then are the few contemporary accounts from national newspapers, the comments of a succession of visitors who seemed to rely on the diary entry of John Wesley in 1787, and the notes of Charles Coote in his published survey of King’s County (Offaly) in 1801. Wesley, the great preacher and founder of Methodism, unlike Coote, would have known the town well as he visited the place some twenty times from the late 1740s to the 1780s. Why are there so few accounts?
A new book comprising a selection of fifty of the poems and ballads of Edward Egan of the Meelaghans, Tullamore has just been published by Offaly History. The book was edited by Michael Byrne, Anne O’Rourke and Tim O’Rourke and is a fitting tribute to a man who died 80 years ago and in his time was revered throughout the midlands for his timely poetic commentaries on the social and political scene in his native county and his appreciation of all that was beautiful within a day’s walk of his home place.
We welcome a new contributor to the blog this week with this article by John Stocks Powell. Enjoy and remember we have almost 190 articles to read at http://www.offalyhistoryblog. Like to get it each week and share to your friends.
There is a hierarchy of sources for the historian, local historians and those with the wider landscapes. The principal material is the written word; evidences from the time, written archives, and later written published assessments such as county histories, church memoirs, Ph.D. studies gone to print. On-line developments have made for more in quantity, and more exciting revelations, from the checking of dates on Wikipedia, or the digitised sources such as Irish and British newspapers online, and directories. Yet we know the old cliché that history is written by the winners, and that is especially true when trying to write about the history of the losers, the poor, and the illiterate. Every source has its importance.
Last week’s article on the cholera outbreak in Offaly in 1832 attracted a huge readership. This week Dr O’Neill (a Mucklagh, Tullamore native) contributes this piece on Pandemics in Ireland. The Offaly History research team has added some local material on the effects of the Spanish Flu (1918–19) in the county and some pictures by way of further reading. Enjoy and stay positive. Read our 179 articles posted to offalyhistoryblog and catch up on Camus.
On Wednesday last we said goodbye to a dear friend, Hugh Carr as he was buried in Clonaslee graveyard beside his beloved wife Máire Eibhlín, who predeceased him in 1982. We joined Hugh’s family and friends as mummers – travelling actors who traditionally visited houses in disguise, singing and rhyming. We did not go in disguise but went in memory of and tribute to, Hugh’s great play The Mummers of Reilig. In 1979 Hugh and Máire Eibhlín gathered a large cast and we started rehearsals for what was to become an 18 month journey together – culminating in winning best play at Listowel Writers’ Week in 1980. Continue reading →
Tullamore is still to this day a vibrant and friendly Irish market town which has never lost sight of its commercial heritage. It’s one of the very few Irish towns that still preserves that friendly main street social-commercial atmosphere that I spoke about earlier. Today, The Bridge House is one of the largest town centre hotels in the midlands and it is really great to see the way that the modern owners show their appreciation of the past by maintaining the look and utility of the building facade. With Egan’s and Tullamore D.E.W.‘s combined influence still so visible in today’s town, surely it is only a matter of time before a whiskey savvy historian develops a Tullamore Town Whiskey Walking Tour. (Stuart McNamara in a recent blog on Egan’s whiskey).
Tullamore has its town guides and an app but, as yet, no whiskey trail. What with over 50,000 visitors to Tullamore DEW Old Bonded Warehouse every year it would be good to assist those visitors to see other parts of Tullamore connected with the story of Tullamore’s whiskey traditions. The commercial heritage of Tullamore is closely linked with the town’s malting, brewing and distilling history.
I left Tullamore years ago but I enjoy reading the Offaly History blogs. A friend of mine died there recently and it brought back many memories of my time in a flat in Church St, Tullamore. I was there in the late 1960s and 70s and it had certainly changed when I saw it lately. I came to work in the hospital from a small farm near the Mayo Sligo border and found the midlands a bit strange at first. I came to love Tullamore. I lived in hospital accommodation at first but eventually a friend and I branched out into a flat. There were lots of flats in Church St in those days. Nobody called them apartments! We were down near Merrigan’s furniture store in the terrace below the Methodist church. There were two of us. We had one bedroom and a living room. Our kitchen was actually little more than the passage between the two rooms with a two ring cooker and oven, a sink and a little press. Ikea eat your heart out! We shared a bathroom and toilet with the girls across the corridor and it was fine .We took turns to clean it and we never fought! We also took turns to answer the phone in the hall and answer the front door. We all certainly knew each other’s business! There were lots of people living in similar flats right along Church St and we knew each other well to see. You could set you watch by one lad who used to drive his car around from Church St to Harbour St every morning to collect his paper from Francie Gorry ! I think he was one of the teachers from near the Manor.
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.
As Patrick Kavanagh might have put it, I was ten Christmasses of age and living in a place called Clerhane, a townland some two miles south of Clonmacnoise.
We were farmers, and there were five of us residing on the farm, my maternal grandparents, my uncle Joe, my mother and I. My father for economic reasons worked in Dublin, and I would only see him three times a year, the Easter break perhaps three days, his summer holidays that took place during the first two weeks in August, and of course for Christmas break which generally lasted two or three days depending, on how Christmas fell. You can imagine the excitement that built up in me as a child with the prospect of the approaching Christmas.
The Christmas I am talking about was 1954, indeed as time would prove, my last Christmas residing in west Offaly, as the following summer my mother and I moved to Dublin to live with my father, who had just purchased a house.
1954 is best remembered for the floods, the river Shannon reaching the highest level since 1925. I remember soldiers from Athlone assisting the farmers that year with the harvest. Folk were really looking forward to the bit of Christmas cheer.