As the decade of centenaries draws to a close, one centenary not on the government’s list of official commemorations is the 1922 visit to Ireland of the Hon. Hugh Mahon, a former cabinet minister in the Australian government. Nevertheless, at a local level, the people of County Offaly may find more than a passing interest in this event from one hundred years ago.
Born in 1857 at Killurin, six kilometres south of Tullamore, Mahon was forced to leave his native land in 1882 and emigrate to Australia to avoid being arrested for his activities in the Land League. Forty years later he returned to Ireland for the first time, visiting family and friends in and around Tullamore. The years in between had been eventful for Mahon, leading to one of the most contentious episodes in Australia’s political history. And the return visit to his homeland also was not without controversy.
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.
The story of Alderborough Nursery, Geashill is a must have for delightful summer reading. This book tells the story of Reamsbottom & Co., Alderborough and West Drayton, and the development of the Alderborough strain of the St Brigid Anemone which made it famous around the world. Geashill was for decades at the center of Irish horticulture with an international reputation for the quality of its plants. Alderborough Nursery competed with the best nurseries in the world, winning awards, medals and accolades from judges and gardening publications. From 1890 to the 1980’s Anemones and a wide range of plants were exported from Geashill. Archives of all the important horticultural shows in Ireland and Britain record that Reamsbottom & Co. exhibited their produce and won prizes, particularly for their St. Brigid Anemones. By 1907, Reamsbottom & Co., had won 33 medals for Alderborough St. Brigid Anemones, including four gold. [This is a beautiful book and adds to the growing Geashill library of attractive volumes reaching a wide and enthusiastic market.]
On Monday 21 February 2022 Offaly History will host a public lecture on the photographic work of Middleton Westenra Biddulph (1849–1926) of Rathrobin, Tullamore. The lecture will also be streamed via Zoom and will start at 8 p.m. at/from Offaly History Centre. Biddulph’s photographs of Offaly and midlands interest together with Big Houses in Ireland have been published in Michael Byrne, Rathrobin and the two Irelands (Tullamore, 2021).For the link to Zoom email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no charge.
Middleton Westenra Biddulph was born on 17 August 1849 at Rathrobin, Mountbolus, King’s County. He was one of six children and the eldest surviving son of Francis Marsh Biddulph (1802–1868) and Lucy Bickerstaff (d. 1896). She was born in Preston, Lancashire and they married in 1845 when F.M.B. was 45 and Lucy 24. The Bickerstaff connection was to be an important one for the surviving sons of F.M.B. and led to a substantial inheritance in the 1890s for Middleton W. Biddulph (M.W.B.) and his brother Assheton who lived at Moneyguyneen, Kinnitty. F.M.B. was of a large family of eleven children. All were girls save their one surviving brother. F.M.B. lived with at least three of his sisters at Rathrobin, few of whom married and at least three emigrated to Australia or the United States.
In the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Treaty Birr Barracks in Offaly was one of the first to be evacuated by the British military. It was also the largest in the county. Stephen Callaghan takes up the story.
Wednesday, 2 February 2022 marked the centenary anniversary of the departure of the Leinster Regiment from Birr Barracks. A historically significant event which little is known about. The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 effectively saw the withdrawal of the British Army from Ireland which would take place over the coming months, with British military barracks around the country being handed over to the newly created National Army. This mass exodus included the Leinster Regiment depot staff based in Birr Barracks, which it had called home for the past 41 years.
King’s County Infirmary was established under the reign of King George III with the passing of the Irish County Infirmaries Act of 1765. This act enabled the creation of infirmaries in thirty Irish counties. During the redevelopment of Tullamore town by the Earl of Charleville, a new infirmary building was erected in 1788 on Church Street and was further extended in 1812.
The County Infirmaries Act was enacted to provide healthcare to the poor which fulfilled the eighteenth century philanthropic ideals of the landed gentry who supported these institutions through donations and subscriptions. King’s County Infirmary was supported by an income consisting of parliamentary funds, grand jury presentments, governor subscriptions, donations, and patient fees. The infirmary was managed by a Board of Governors who paid subscriptions for their position on the board which gave them absolute control over the infirmary including staff appointments and patient admissions. Governors were made up of local gentry and landowners such as the Earl of Rosse, Lord Digby, and prominent business owners such as the Goodbody family.
While surviving records are limited, the Board meeting minute books provide a colourful insight into the running of an infirmary in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland. The Infirmary’s Surgeon, Dr James Ridley, was linked to a scandal that pervaded the county in 1887 and 1888. Ridley, who also acted as one of the Tullamore jail physicians was reported to have died by suicide on the morning he was due to give evidence at the inquest into the death of John Mandeville, a national league activist. Mandeville who was imprisoned under the Irish Crimes Act of 1887 was subject to harsh and cruel punishment at the hands of his jailors and died shortly after his release from prison.
During the summer of 1908 the 4th Earl and Countess of Rosse made their customary journey to London in order to enjoy the society ‘season.’ Sadly, this was to be their final visit together, for although the sixty-seven-year-old Earl had been in declining health for some time, soon after they returned to Birr Castle his condition began to deteriorate markedly, so much so that by Saturday 29 August he could no longer be rallied. He died later that same evening, with his wife present to the end.
What would the future hold for the dowager Countess of Rosse? She had been mistress of Birr Castle for almost four decades, having arrived in Ireland newly-married when barely eighteen years-of-age in 1870. In common with her mother-in-law, Mary Rosse (née Field), Frances Cassandra Harvey Hawke had come from a wealthy Yorkshire family, being the only child of the 4th Baron Hawke of Towton. She too had inherited property from her father – two country estates, the largest being Womersley – which naturally brought with them a measure of responsibility. However, the Earl had quickly allayed any local fears that the couple might be lured away to England. At a banquet held in his honour at the then Dooly’s Royal Arms Hotel shortly after their honeymoon, he reassured the assembled dignitaries of his firm intention to remain among them. A successful marriage requires both parties to adjust to their changed circumstances, but the Earl’s pledge meant that Cassandra’s life was destined to undergo by far the more radical transformation. Although not yet formally ‘out’ in society, she would be required to settle in a country about which she initially understood very little and find her place within an entirely new social circle.
Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the photographs taken by Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926, of Rathrobin near Mountbolus) are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was keenly aware of the plantations of the 1550s to the 1650s. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, indoor staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Biddulph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.
Take the good and bad in life as it comes; be satisfied with your fate; if you find yourself in an argument, get out of it as quickly as possible. This was the philosophy of Mr Michael Coughlin (or Coughlan), of Rapp, Tullamore, who celebrated his 107th birthday in November 1929. I am told by Offaly History that he was the oldest man to die in Tullamore in the history of record keeping. He and his wife ‘who is nearing her century, have based 80 years of married life on this happiness recipe and he guarantees that if this advice is followed it will bring contentment to thousands of married couples.’ News of their recipe for ’80 years of marriage and never having quarreled’ went around the world and is said to have featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Michael Coughlin was a native of Eglish and had worked for Malachy Scally as a gardener at Moore Hall, Tullamore in his later years. Rapp is the road to Tyrrellspass from the canal at Whitehall and was the main road from Tullamore to Westmeath until the canal was completed in 1798. Housing there was decimated in the Famine years.
In mid-December we publish a book by Maurice Egan, ‘Merchants, Medics, and the Military Commerce and Architecture’ It provides an exciting insight on the social history of Ireland from 1875 to 1925, as seen through the lives of influential Irish families. We are now taking orders and expect to be able to fill them from 13 December. You can order online or call to Offaly History at Bury Quay and at Midland Books in High Street, Tullamore. Email email@example.com