Sometime in the 1830s, the architect William Murray (1789-1849), best known for designing mental hospitals all around Ireland, presented a quick outline of a new public square in Tullamore which would be bounded on three sides by fine houses and dominated on the fourth by the imposing portico of the recently erected County Courthouse.
The title of his drawing’ Thoughts for a Square at Tullamore, Ireland facing the Courthouse to be called ‘The Beaujolais’ suggests that it was not an actual commission but more likely a broad brush and quickly executed response to a remark by Lady Beaujolais Bury the wife of the local grandee, perhaps exchanged at a social gathering. Architects do this a lot to get business and Murray may have been trying to reconnect commercially with the family who had given his cousin Francis Johnston such valuable and prestigious commissions as Charleville Forest and St Catherine’s Church.
Of course Murray’s elegant scheme was never realised and was to be the last proposal for a civic design set piece in Tullamore for some time. In the 1950s, the urban planner Frank Gibney suggested the creation of a parkland setting for the Church of the Assumption but this notion was eventually shelved and for the following seventy years no further interventions which would combine coherent built form with public benefits were to be advanced and the planning of the town remained firmly in the hands of engineers whose principal spatial concern was the accommodation of the motor car.
Kitchen, parlour and bedroom – transforming a house into a home
Traditional Architecture in Offaly: History, Materials and Furniture by Rachel McKenna (Offaly County Council, 2022) is a wonderful new addition to the growing collection of quality publications on the county of Offaly and its place in Irish heritage. For long neglected by the travel writers who took the coastal route the county has made up for that oversight since the late 1970s with a whole series of publications. The writer is the county architect and well placed to observe the changing scene and to appreciate what was distinctive about the habitations of the ordinary people (the third and fourth class housing of the 1841-61 censuses) and what has survived to the present day. As the CE of Offaly County Council has written in the Preface
Contributed by Offaly History to mark the occasion
The new book, St Manchan’s Shrine, by Griffin Murray and Kevin O’Dwyer was launched to great acclaim by the CEO of the Heritage Council Virginia Teehan on Friday 21 October 2022 at Offaly History Centre, Tullamore before a large and distinguished audience. Proceedings began at 5 30 p.m. with Amanda Pedlow ably acting as chair and introducing the four speakers. First was the author of the text Griffin Murray, followed by silversmith and photographer Kevin O’Dwyer. The County Offaly CE Anna Marie Delaney skillfully chartered the progress being made in regard to the county’s heritage while CEO Virginia Teehan paid tribute to the county for its wide-ranging involvement in heritage projects and availing of the funding available. The new Offaly Archives was a leading case but one among many successful projects undertaken. Another is that of the funding received to create the post of a biodiversity officer. Offaly has demonstrated its ability to secure funding for projects and that was a reflection of the work being done in the county. Ms Teehan congratulated the authors, Griffin Murray and Kevin O’Dwyer, on a job well done. Yet another exemplar.
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 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.
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.]
Recently nominated by the Irish Times as amongst the twenty best places to live in Ireland, Tullamore earned the accolade because of its central location and its excellent recreational amenities and services. However, neither its built or natural environment figured as deciding factors in the survey.
Regrettably, my home town lacks the physical drama of Kilkenny and Lismore dominated by fortresses standing on cliffs, the waterside charms of Kinsale and Carrick on Shannon, the mystery of the mediaeval alleyways of Galway and Carlingford or the suave urban quality of Westport, Clonakilty and Birr. Nevertheless, it’s qualities, modest as they are, have always inspired me and I have often tried to capture them in drawings. Tullamore’s few architectural setpieces were my first introduction to the notion that a town or a village could be a beautiful artefact as much as a painting or a piece of sculpture.
…..The soft and dreary midlands, with their tame canals,
Wallow between sea and sea, remote from adventure….’
‘Dublin Made Me’ Donagh MacDonagh
Once a month, my uncle Billy Holohan who was the Assistant County Engineer for West Offaly, would come to Tullamore to report to his superior, the County Engineer Tom Duggan, in the courthouse.
After the meeting he would sometimes pick me up from my mother’s house in Clonminch and bring me to stay with himself and his wife Nell in Gallen Lodge in Ferbane. The highlight of the journey, for both of us, was an inspection of the progress on the construction of the two cooling towers of Lumcloon Power Station.
We watched as immense rings of slim, angled columns emerged and were tied together by large circular bands to form the base from which the structures would rise. Over the next few years we marvelled at the gradual ascent of the elegantly modulated shapes, first curving inwards and then subtly outwards to form a lip. Billy tried to explain to me the structural engineering concepts behind the design, but as a small boy I could only marvel at the height and sheer scale of the undertaking.
Unusually for an engineer, Billy had a deep interest in history. He brought me along on his site inspections and introduced me to Clonmacnoise and Sier Kieran. His favourite stop on our return journey to Tullamore was Leamanaghan where we roamed amongst the remains of the Monastery. He delighted in showing me the hoof mark inside the gate of the school which marked the passage of St Manchan’s stolen cow and then brought me over the fields to St Mella’s Kell which I still believe is one of the most romantic spots in Ireland.
Then in 1959, in an act which was deeply symbolic of Ireland in that peculiar time between economic stagnation and rapid growth, Leamanaghan Castle was bulldozed to provide hardcore for works at Lumcloon Power Station. The Castle, which was derelict but still substantial, had been the ancestral home of the Mac Coghlans. Cardinal Rinuccini had stayed there (or more likely nearby Kilcolgan, also demolished) during his time as Papal Nuncio to the Confederation of Kilkenny and the Annals of Clonmacnoise were translated into English in the house. I was dumbfounded but hadn’t the courage to ask Billy whether it was the ESB or the County Council who were responsible.
The Cooling Towers
The cooling towers were completed and over the years, became part of the public perception of the Midland landscape.
Driving westwards you knew you were approaching Kildare and Offaly when the Allenwood towers became visible, then Portarlington and Rhode emerged with Lumcloon in the far distance. Their harmonic shapes complemented Croghan, Endrim and Bellair hills and provided points of vertical interest in an otherwise soft and dreary plain. The bogs, which had been perceived for centuries as profitless and impassable were now a proud testimony to national energy self-sufficiency and local technological advance.
However, with the passage of time, what was originally considered a solution, became a problem and peat extraction began to be wound down with grievous personal and economic consequences which are still being felt. The Power Stations were closed, their towers and buildings demolished and their sites converted to other uses.
Portarlington was the second last to go. At 10.30 on the morning of the 4th of April 1997, the cooling tower that had taken three years to build and stood for forty seven years, vanished in three seconds at the hands of an English demolition expert who already had many redundant cooling towers on his c.v..
Futile last minute efforts to save it were led by the Heritage Council and a local preservation group organised by Progressive Democrat Senator, Cathy Honan. Architect Gerard Carty of Clonbullogue, now a director of the world famous Grafton Architects, wrote in protest that the Power Station was ‘A monument to those visionaries who grafted a semi-industrial outlook onto the principally agricultural psyche of the Midlands’. Their protests crumbled in the face of the ESB’s assertion that ’ It was built for power generation and that function is over’.
The crowds watching the spectacle of the demolition were serenaded by local accordionist Louis Melia who played his composition ’The Tower I Loved So Well’ during the countdown to the explosion.
An era had ended and the advent of wind power was at hand.
Because of the absence of nearby dwellings but with existing connections to the national grid, the Midland bogs were identified very early on as first choice locations for large scale wind energy generation. But, whatever about their ecological impacts, the visual impacts of turbines can be a lot more substantial than those of cooling towers.
Unlike one or two isolated towers, turbines spread haphazardly over large areas of the landscape. Though man-made, their scale and large array results in their being read as part of the natural landscape itself- which can be visually disturbing. As the blades rotate in different cycles, they can often cause visual irritation, even from very far away. The scale of the turbines can be incongruous and though they are generally no higher than the former cooling towers, there are a lot more of them. All in all, their visual impacts are significant and often unassimilable. But then, maybe the cooling towers were also, but in the 1950s any development was welcome, while today’s affluence allows us to make choices.
But whether it is cooling towers or turbines, the greatest sensitivity should always be shown when their development impinges on historic sites. Leamonaghan paid a price for the construction of Lumcloon and shouldn’t be put in the firing line a second time.
With the imminent lodgement by Bord na Mona of its proposal for a 17-turbine wind farm with blade heights of up to 220 m, the bogland island of Leamanaghan with its ancient monastery and graveyard will be in the forefront of the conflict between architectural heritage and power generation. Preliminary images show turbines dominating its surrounding landscape on its northern side.
However, just as in the 1950s, the likelihood is that national energy needs will trump all other considerations- particularly in the light of the recent correspondence from the Office of the Planning Regulator directing the Council to dramatically increase Offaly’s megawatt production.
This should not mean that the vulnerable character of Leamanaghan be disregarded, but that the most careful consideration needs to be given to the interface between it and the future wind farm. As one of the most sensitive locations in Offaly (and also to make restitution for the shameful razing of the Castle) the balance of the argument should favour the protection of its history and beauty.
A Return to Profitless Bog?
As wind replaces peat extraction, it is not unthinkable that it may in turn be replaced by a less visually obtrusive or ecologically harmful form of energy production.Turbines last for about twenty years before they need replacement and a point may come when this is no longer economical.
In March of this year the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe declared that ‘Nuclear energy can be a critical component of a decarbonised energy system for those member states that choose to consider it as a part of their sustainable development and climate change strategy’. It will be interesting to see how other European countries respond to the technological advances which are now delivering safer nuclear energy.
I wonder if in seventy- or eighty-years’ time, as the last of the turbines come down and the land gently recedes back into its ancient role of profitless bog abounding in nesting snipe, will a small and nostalgic group emerge to campaign for the preservation of the remaining few of these iconic structures?
‘Catherine Maria Bury and the design of Charleville Castle’ is the title of an online lecture via Zoom provided by Offaly History for Mondy 20 September at 7. 30 p.m. Our speaker is Dr Judith Hill. She has kindly provided this note for Offalyhistoryblog readers on her forthcoming lecture.
When I started researching my PhD on Gothic revival architecture in Ireland after the Union I had no idea that Charleville Castle, one of the first and most impressive of the castles of this period, owed its inspiration to a woman. I wanted to compare the castles at Birr and Charleville, and was very much aware that their (male) owners had voted on different sides for the Union and that they came from different political traditions. Would this play any part in the designs for the castles that they built, or in the case of Sir Laurence Parsons, remodelled in the very first years of the nineteenth century?
Women at that time played no direct role in politics. They are also relatively (though not entirely) invisible in the historical record. It is only when you can look at family papers that you might find some evidence of what a woman might have done. Catherine Maria Bury’s letters have survived; some of these were published in 1937. They tell us about Catherine (later Lady Charleville) as a person, her friends, her interest in literature. They are tell us that she was close Charles William Bury, and that when he (for it was he) went to see how the building of the castle was progressing he would send detailed descriptions to her. Although he does not ask her directly for her advice, it is clear that when they were together they discussed the project.