There’s no shortage of very ordinary towns in Ireland but Tullamore certainly isn’t one of them. How could it be? After all it has its proud legacy as one of the original trading and transport hubs on the Grand canal from its arrival in the town in 1798. That early advantage over competing centres like Birr and Daingean was reinforced with the coming of the railway in 1854, allowing Tullamore to build on its status as an important transport hub and retail, administrative and merchant centre. On this basis, the town maintained at least the appearance of prosperity up to the present era. This early pre-eminence is reflected in the town’s exceptionally fine architectural legacy including an assemblage of late Georgian town houses, the civic space at O’Connor Square and individual gems such as the Tullamore Dew Whiskey Heritage Centre along with J.B. Keane’s Neo-Classical Courthouse.
So, while future prospects are certainly influenced by the legacy of the past, for urban centres like Tullamore factors such as economic performance and civic leadership will figure as the more immediate drivers.
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 welcome Pat McLoughlin this week as a new contributor writing about attacks on trains in the Clara-Ballycumber area during the War of Independence. Pat writes: I grew up between Clara and Ballycumber in the townland of Clonshanny. Thomas Bracken who was Adjunt Officer 1st Battalion, Offaly No. 2 Bde. is my grandfather, Brigid Bracken (née Reilly) Cumann na mBan is my Grandmother. The Bracken family who at that time lived in Erry, Clara were all involved on the War of Independence. My neighbours Tommy and Annie Berry (née Morris) and John Minnock were among many veterans in that community. The War of Independence I grew up with was fought in Clara, Ballycumber, The Barney Bridge, The Island, on the Banagher line, the people who fought it were the people we lived alongside. The people and stories were part of our lives, then came funerals with Tricolour draped coffins, Military honours for Irish War Heroes and life moved on. 100 years on the Military Archive maintained by the Irish Defence Forces gives me an opportunity to recreate some of the history of the community where I grew up.
Long, long ago, a rocky outcrop on the bed of the river allowed local farmers to herd their livestock across to graze on the small hill on its southern bank. Over time, longer distance routes began to converge on the ford and a small village grew up to cater for travellers, an inn to change horses perhaps, a blacksmith possibly, but this is all conjectural as no traces or records remain.
In 1609 the soldier/settler John Moore bought a half share in the nearby but now long vanished castle and watermill of the Molloys and began to hold an annual fair. By the late 17th. century, ‘Tullymore’ as the old maps called it, was most likely a rural scene of some thatched cottages, an unpaved track and maybe one or two substantial houses (illus.).
In time the ford was replaced by a bridge. This gave the small village a certain strategic importance, so in 1716, a military outpost was established to guard it. The security this brought and the provisioning needs of its garrison, attracted new settlers whose residences and businesses were facilitated by the ability of the river to receive household and commercial waste and provide a source of raw material and power. Soon, several flour mills, tanneries, breweries, distilleries and a linen industry had been established. Downstream of the bridge, the river channel was diverted into a large semi-circle, creating a mill stream to power even more industries.
The first hotel constructed in Tullamore in 1786 cost £200. The second in 1801 about £4,5,00. Even by multiplying by 200 for the cost of living today, this expenditure was light in the context of the three new hotels in Tullamore in 1997- 2008 which may possibly represent a total expenditure of €25 million for 270 beds. And yet the canal hotel of 1801 was a major investment and may have never made a return to the Grand Canal Company. The need for it disappeared within five years of its construction. By contrast the deprecated Bury Arms (Hayes/Phoenix Arms) in the centre of town was in business for over 200 years.
The first hotel (that we know of) to be constructed in Tullamore was the Bury Arms Hotel (later the Phoenix Arms, demolished 2000, now Boots Pharmacy), erected in 1786 as an inn for Tullamore at a cost to the landlord, Charles William Bury, of £200. We know that in 1798 it had 13 beds for letting. The hotel was first leased to John Tydd at a yearly rent of £20. John Tydd and his son Benjamin were both dead by 1798 at which point the innkeeper was one Mr Doherty. Captain William Evans, who had been a director of the Grand Canal Company until c.1796, but remained with the Company providing engineering advice until 1805, was critical of the Bury Hotel on his visit there in 1798. His departure from the company in 1805, possibly following soon after the completion of the works to Shannon Harbour in 1804. Notwithstanding Evans’ criticism of the Bury Arms hotel Sir Richard Colt Hore who stayed at the hotel in 1806 wrote: ‘At Tullamore I found a good inn and accommodation at Doherty’s (the Bury, later Charleville Arms) near the Bridge’ (Tour, p. 32). The hotel had changed its name in line with that of the ennobling of the town’s landlord who became Lord Tullamore in 1797, Viscount Charleville in 1800 and earl of Charleville in 1806. It should be mentioned that there was at least one earlier inn in Tullamore, that of Hugh Clough in the 1760s and other smaller hotels post 1800.
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?
On 4 May 2017 Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society archivist, Lisa Shortall, brought up the Parsonstown Union Letter Book [Reference OHS 71] for me to consult at Bury Quay. (This item is now available to consult at Offaly Archives). My interest was to see what clues may have been recorded about any of the 136 young women who left King’s County for Australia during 1848-1850 as part of the Famine emigration to Australia, now often referred to as ‘Earl Grey’s workhouse orphan scheme’. During these three years 4114 young women aged between 13 and 18 were selected as healthy, suitable domestic servants and potential marriage partners and they were given a free passage from Ireland to one of three Australian colonies: two in New South Wales (Sydney and Port Phillip) and Adelaide in South Australia. Continue reading →
Jane W. Shackleton’s Ireland compiled by Christiaan Corlett (Cork, 2012) is an attractive large format publication from the growing stable of books issued by Collins Press and consists of 180 well produced photographs by Jane Shackleton. Jane Shackleton (nee Edmundson) was born in 1843 and in 1866 married Joseph Fisher Shackleton of the famous Ballitore, County Kildare family of Quakers. Thirteen Shackletons are included in Richard S. Harrison’s, Dictionary of Irish Quakers (second edition, Dublin, 2008) including Jane’s husband, Joseph Fisher Shackleton. Like his father he was a miller and in 1860 took over the Anna Liffey Mills in Lucan.
How many people have died in road fatalities since the first to occur in Ireland at Birr in county Offaly (then known as King’s County) on 31 August 1869, just 150 years ago next week? Few of us have not been touched by some sad incident involving collision with a motor vehicle. That in Birr involved a steam-powered carriage possibly constructed by the fourth earl of Rosse, a brother of Charles Parsons, later famous for his steam turbine. Perhaps the making of the engine was the work of the two brothers. The fatal accident occured at the corner of Oxmantown Mall and the junction with Cumberland/Emmet Street near the church and close close to where the theatre is today. It was here that the young Mary Ward, then aged 42, a woman of talent and a mother of a large family (11 pregnancies), was killed on the last day of August 150 years ago.