Dealing with time periods that trace back thousands and hundreds of thousands of years can be difficult to handle because of the range of dating systems used such as BC, AD, CE etc. For this blog dates will be recorded as BP – before present. This is to avoid conflicting terminology and confusion.
Simplistic timelines for early Irish human occupation up to the historic period are:
Mesolithic (Hunter Gatherers) 10,000 – 6,000 Before Present
Neolithic (Farming) 6,000 – 4,500 BP
Copper and Bronze Age 4,500 – 2,500 BP
Iron Age 2,500 BP – 400 AD
What mechanisms are there for identifying dates that trace back into the distant past? A number of research mechanisms are used. Firstly, land base studies include Greenland ice analysis, then lake sediment analysis and lastly radiocarbon dating. Newer research methods include undersea marine geological data which would include marine landforms and sediment cores. It is not possible to extract dates from stone tools/weapons unless there are associated artefacts that can be radiocarbon dated.
The Homan Potterton sale on 7 September 2021 at Adam’s, Dublin features three painters with Offaly connections. But first a word about Potterton. After secondary education at Kilkenny College and Mountjoy School he began studying to be a solicitor, but (great for him ) he switched to art history at Trinity with the formidable Anne Crookshank. He was the youngest director of the National Gallery of Ireland ever appointed (1979) but stayed for only eight years. He retired in 1988 out of frustration with the bureaucracy, the bullying Charlie Haughey, and his being unable to secure much needed funds for the gallery. That was back in the difficult 1980s. Had Potterton remained he would have been able to oversee the wonderful gallery there is today. All the great institutions saw money flow in from the 1990s with the support of EC funds and the lift in the economy from 1993. While he took over the editorship of the Irish Arts Review in the 1990s (then an exciting annual event) he later moved to France and we heard no more of him save for several family histories, a memoir and a novel.
Starting in Tullabeg as a boarder in September might mean not getting home until the following June. Tullabeg, the Jesuit boarding school near Tullamore was opened in 1818 and closed in 1886 as a boarding school, following amalgamation with Clongowes Wood. This account of the four years spent there as a schoolboy was written in 1951 and published almost seventy years after the event.
On the 2nd of September, 1882, close on seventy years ago (almost 140 now), my father left me at St. Stanislaus’ College, Tullabeg. At that time Fr. Sturzo, an Italian, was Rector ; he was succeeded later by Fr. George Kelly. Fr. Wisthoff was Higher Line Prefect, Fr. Vincent Byrne, who lived to be ninety years of age, was Third Line Prefect. I forget who was Lower Line Prefect, though I remember that Mr. Charles Farley, S.J., held that position sometime later; whoever it was, I am sure that he had a hard time. The captain of the Third Line, known to us then as Billy O’Leary, was afterwards the famous seismologist at Rathfarnham Castle, Fr. William O’Leary. The youngest and, I think, smallest boy in the house at that time was Paddy Rath, who became Captain of the House in Clongowes in 1890. The oldest person in the house was, strange to say, Fr. Young, S.J.
The film made of the 1966 Commemoration parade on Easter Monday 1966 may be the first film made of a public civic event in Tullamore. It was commissioned by the organising committee for the parade and was made by Eamonn O’Connor Studios, Limerick. The cost was £265. In 2015 funds were provided under the aegis of the 2016 commemoration committee to have the film restored and digitised (Midland Tribune, 2/7/2015). The script was by Denis Wrafter and the commentator was Padraic O Raghallaigh who worked with Raidió Teilifís Éireann (which commenced broadcasting on 31 December 1961). The Offaly committee had been chaired by Alo O’Brennan and the secretary was Paddy Minnock of Offaly County Council (Midland Tribune, 14/1/1967). The film was later deposited in the Offaly County Library and was shown on a few occasions since the 1970s. It was made available to the public in 2016 and has now been uploaded to the Decade of Centenaries site on the platform provided by Offalyhistory.com on behalf of the contributors to the project. Our thanks to Offaly County Library. See also our discussion on the film with John Flanagan – On YouTube Offaly History. The film is about twenty minutes long and in black and white.
Over the years, Tullamore has been known as ’Towllaghmore’,‘Tullaghmore’ or ‘Tullymore’ -all anglicizations of ‘Tulach Mhór’ and most likely deriving from the high land to the south of the river. By the middle of the 19th c. the name of the now extensive town had morphed into ‘Tullamoore’- reflecting the influence of the Moore and later the Bury families and their ownership of all the lands around.
As urban developers, these skilled entrepreneurs with cultural pretensions reached their highest point during the overlordship between 1785 and 1835 of Charles William Bury, the first Earl of Charleville. Whether motivated by commercial considerations, a desire for social prestige and the admiration of his peers or by pure aesthetic sensibility, the development of Tullamore as promoted by Charles William, resulted in a coherent urban form which survived without much amendment into the middle of the 20th c., largely still exists today and will influence any future reconfiguration of the town centre.
This is the second of two Heritage Week 2021 blogs by Dr Perry McIntyre AM, a Sydney-based historian, who has used the Birr Workhouse registers to research the lives of workhouse girls who emigrated to Australia under the ‘The Earl Grey Scheme’ during the Great Famine. An accompanying podcast featuring Perry in conversation with Lisa Shortall, Offaly Archives, is available here. The Heritage Council has generously supported the conservation of the Birr Workhouse registers by way of a Community Grant.
My previous blogs have told some stories of these girls and the last one related the sad fate of Elizabeth Walsh. This time we hear about two sisters who remained together for their lives in Australia and had a good outcome.
Sisters, Eliza and Catherine Dooley arrived in Sydney from the Parsonstown (Birr) Workhouse on the Tippoo Saib on 29 July 1850. They were two of the 35 young ‘orphan’ girls who left that workhouse in on 27 March 1850 and travelling by train to Dublin to catch the steamer to Plymouth to meet the sailing of the ship on 8 April 1850.
Our favourite week of the year has rolled around again – Heritage Week 2021 – and we are delighted to publish the first of two blogs by Dr Perry McIntyre AM, a Sydney-based historian, who has used the Birr Workhouse registers to research the lives of workhouse girls who emigrated to Australia under the ‘The Earl Grey Scheme’ during the Great Famine. An accompanying podcast featuring Perry in conversation with Lisa Shortall, Offaly Archives, is available here. The Heritage Council has generously supported the conservation of the Birr Workhouse registers by way of a Community Grant.
In Ireland, once a person emigrated they were often lost to local memory, but records in Australia can provide wonderful details of their lives in their new homes. This blog gives an outline of the life of one of the thirty-five young women aged between 13 and 18, who were selected from the Birr workhouse for emigration to Australia as discussed in a previous blog in January 2020. Thirty of the thirty-five were listed in that blog, the others being more difficult to identify because of the nature of their native places enumerated on the shipping list of the Tippoo Saib. This was the last of twenty ships which conveyed young women from Ireland to Australia during the Famine years of 1848-1850 under what has become to be known as ‘The Earl Grey Scheme’.
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.