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Offaly History (short for Offaly Historical & Archaeological) was first formed in 1938 and re-established in 1969 and is located at Bury Quay, Tullamore, Co. Offaly since 1993(next to the new Tullamore D.E.W Visitor Centre).

We are about collecting and sharing memories. We do this in an organised way though exhibitions, supporting the publication of local interest books, our website , Facebook, open evenings, our library and offices at Bury Quay.

Our Mission
To promote Offaly History including community and family history

What we do:

  • Promote all aspects of history in Co. Offaly.
  • Genealogy service for counties Laois and Offaly.
  • Co. Offaly photographic records for study and sale in addition to a limited number of publications on Laois and Irish general historical interest.
  • Purchase and sale of Offaly interest books though the Society’s book store and website.
  • Publication of books under the Society’s publishing arm Esker Press.
  • The Society subscribes to almost all the premier historical journals in Ireland.

Our Society covers a diverse range of Offaly Heritage:

  • Architectural heritage, historic monuments such as monastic and castle buildings.
  • Industrial and urban development of towns and villages.
  • Archaeological objects and artifacts.
  • Flora, fauna and bogs, wildlife habitats, geology and Natural History.
  • Landscapes, heritage gardens and parks, farming and inland waterways.
  • Local literary, social, economic, military, political, scientific and sports history.

Offaly History is a non-profit community group with a growing membership of some 150 individuals.

The Society focuses on enhancing educational opportunities, understanding and knowledge of the county heritage while fostering an inclusive approach and civic pride in local identity. We promote these objectives through:

  • The holding of monthly lectures, occasional seminars, exhibitions and film screenings.
    Organising tours during the summer months to places of shared historical interest.
  • The publication of an annual journal Offaly Heritage – to date nine issues.
  • We play a unique role collecting and digitising original primary source materials especially photographs and oral history recordings
  • Offaly History is  the centre for  Family History research in Counties Laois and Offaly.
  • The Society is linked to the renowned Irish Family Foundation website and Roots Ireland where some 900,000 records of Offaly/Laois interest can be accessed on a pay-per-view basis worldwide. Currently these websites have an estimated 20 million records of all Ireland interest.
  • A burgeoning library of books, CD-ROMs, videos, DVDs, oral and folklore recordings, manuscripts, newspapers and journals, maps, photographs and various artifacts.
  • OHAS Collections
  • OHAS Centre Facilities

The financial activities of the Society are operated under the aegis of Offaly Heritage Centre Limited, a charitable company whose directors also serve on the Society’s elected committee. None of the Society’s directors receive remuneration or any kind. All the company’s assets are held in trust to promote the voluntary activities of the Society. Our facilities are largely free to the public or run purely on a costs-recovery basis.

Acting as a policy advisory body –  Offaly History endeavors to ensure all government departments, local authorities, tourism agencies and key opinion formers prioritise heritage matters.

Meet the current committee:

Our Committee represents a broad range of backgrounds and interests. All share a common interest in collecting and promoting the heritage of the county and making it available to the wider community.

2017 Committee

  • Helen Bracken (President)
  • Pat Wynne (Vice President and Joint Treasurer)
  • Niall Sweeney (Vice President)
  • Michael Byrne (Secretary)
  • Lisa Shortall (Deputy Secretary)
  • Dorothee Bibby (Record Secretary)
  • Charlie Finlay (Joint Treasurer)
  • Darrell Hooper
  • Brian Pey
  • Fred Geoghegan
  • Noel Guerin
  • Henry Edgill
  • Peter Burke
  • Angella Kelly
  • Rory Masterson
  • Shaun Wrafter
  • Ronnie Matthews
  • Oliver Dunne
  • Ciara Molloy
  • Stephen Callaghan (Heritage Items)

If you would like to help with the work of the Society by coming on a sub-committee or in some other way please email us or let an existing member know.

+353-5793-21421 [email protected] Open 9am-4.30pm Mon-Fri

A tale of two houses: that of Barrack Master Crawford and Revd Dr Wilson, High Street, Tullamore. By Michael Byrne

This article on house numbers GV 43 and GV 44 High Street, Tullamore (Farrelly’s and Mr Price) looks at the family history and the social history surrounding the building and occupation of two of the finest  houses in Tullamore, which for convenience, we can call Barrack Master Crawford’s and Dr Wilson’s. They are numbered (from the valuation associated with Richard Griffith) GV 43 and GV 44 in the printed Griffith valuation of 1854. The study is over the period from the mid-eighteenth century in regard to the Crawford house and from the 1780s in regard to Dr Wilson’s. The plan is to take the architectural assessment of both houses first, based on the work of William Garner, Andrew Tierney and Fergal MacCabe. This will be followed by looking at the building history of each house. The departure of the Crawford family from High Street by 1810 and that of Mrs Wilson in the 1830s facilitated taking the story separately of each house from the 1830s and 1840s up to recent times. The full text of this article will be published in Offaly Heritage 12 later this year.

Both houses are central to the history of Tullamore. The Crawford house served as the first police barrack from the 1830s to the 1840s and was thereafter associated with the land agency business especially that connected with Charleville Estate (the owners of Tullamore). The Crawford building housed the land records of Browne and Bourchier until about 1958. The building was sold in 1959 and used to display television and electrical goods from 1960 until 2007. The Wilson house was always a private residence save for a short period in the 1980s and 1990s when the basement was used as a solicitor’s office. The Wilson family occupied the house for the first forty years to the mid-1830s and thereafter it was the home of leading Tullamore business people up to 1951 when it was sold the Christian Brothers with its extensive grounds. The Brothers lived in the house and the grounds were used for the new boys’s secondary school erected in 1960 and expanded thereafter. The large field off New Road was once part of the Crawford farm but was later acquired by the Christian Brothers and is now the location of the new school erected in 2011.

Crawford and Wilson houses High Street, Tullamore, 1740s-50s . Barrack Master Crawford’s’ house at High Street, Tullamore, c. 1959 to the left and Dr Wilson’s to the right

All those who shopped in Kilroy’s and now Mr Price together with those who passed through St Columba’s (now Coláiste Choilm) will be familiar with the locale. The planning decisions of 1960 permitting the Crawford house conversion to a shop display and the grounds of the Wilson house to a school have a continuing impact.

Mr Price front in 2020.

Architectural assessment of the Crawford and Wilson houses (GV 43 and GV 44 High Street)

The first Tullamore town plan was published in 1967 and was less ambitious than the plan of Frank Gibney of 1950. MacCabe has written of these plans and of the work of Gibney.

Along with Acres Hall in Cormac Street (now offices for the Tullamore Municipal Council) Tullagh House (GV 43, Wilson), is one of the most important houses in Tullamore. Garner described the home of the Wilson family in High Street in 1980 (GV 43, now the home of Donal and Anne Farrelly) as follows:

An impressive, cliff-like house, built in 1789, which is set back from the street-line to emphasise its importance. It has a very tall, five-bay, three-storey facade of rough-cut limestone ashlar over a basement. There is a distinct batter to the facade which is topped by a parapet and a simple cornice. … The house is of considerable distinction and is preserved in its original condition.

The house has a limestone ashlar facade similar to that of the market house Acres Hall. Andrew Tierney wrote:

Five bays and three storeys of squared and ribbon-pointed limestone rubble, raised over a half-sunk basement behind cast-iron railings. … The flat-arched Gibbsian windows set flush and the Gibbsian doorcase with round-headed fanlight recall Acres Hall.

Tierney was in agreement with Fergal MacCabe’s assessment in his publication Casting shadows (2014) and went on:

a fine early c.18 house built for Nicholas Crawford.  Now obscured by a shopfront, it was of five bays and two storeys over a basement with advanced end bays lit by Palladian windows and Diocletian windows in the upper storey. Gibbsian doorcase with pediment over a pulvinated frieze. Prominent quoins, platband. Plausibly attributed by Fergal MacCabe to Richard Castle.

The Crawford building as it was in 2014

The Wilson House (GV no. 43), now Donal and Ann Farrelly

The qualities of the Crawford house have been largely hidden from view since its conversion for use for window display in 1960. By contrast the appearance of its neighbour, the Wilson house, is striking and impressive. This house, built in 1789, has a limestone ashlar facade similar to that of Acres Hall in Cormac Street constructed by the property speculator Thomas Acres in 1786. At the same time the market house was completed in Charleville Square (probably to the design of the architect John Pentland) and was certainly finished when John Wesley preached there in 1789. The original lease of the Wilson property was made on 23 November 1789 between the ground landlord of Tullamore, Charles William Bury of Charleville (later Lord Tullamore and first earl of Charleville) and Revd Dr Thomas Wilson. The street frontage was one of the most generous on any of the streets in Tullamore. At 92 ft it was two feet more than Crawford’s.

GV 44 High Street, a substantial private house of the Crawford family, later Dawson French, the Charleville Estate Company, Kilroy T.V. Rentals and stores, more recently that of Expert and now Mr Price.

Barrack Master Crawford’s house is even more interesting, but its history is a little more obscure and no lease has been found for it prior to what is certainly a new lease in 1786. Neither does the Crawford name feature in the 1763 list of tenants of Charles Moore the first earl of Charleville, who died without issue in 1764. Yet, Crawford was one of the chief tenants called to attend the first meeting of the town’s manor court in 1765 and was a regular attender up to his death in 1808. 

In 1786 Bury demised to Nicholas Crawford, the Tullamore barrack master, a house and plot in High Street, but this is a new lease only as the house may date to about 1740 or 1750. It is unlikely to have been built much earlier than 1740, unless in some way connected with Lord Tullamore, or that the house was surrendered back to the landlord prior to Crawford taking possession. Crawford died in 1808 and his wife in 1809 and was buried at Lynally.

The valuers of 1843 noted that the Crawford house was occupied by Neal Browne J.P. who was said to be paying £70 a year for it to a Major Crawford who lived in Naas. It was at the time described as an old house, but well finished. It was out of use as a police barrack and residence for the magistrate by 1854.  At that time it was occupied by land agent Dawson French J.P who died in 1889. He and some of his family are buried in Clonminch Church of Ireland cemetery.  By the 1840s the police barracks had been moved to GV No. 4 High Street (later G. N. Walshe shop, south of Brewery Tap) and appears to have been located there until the 1890s.

Ushering in the 1960s Reporting on the last days of the old Charleville Estate Office, Offaly Independent.

The closing of the former Charleville Estate Office did not go unnoticed. In an unsigned article in the Offaly Independent its passing was introduced by reference to Michael Davitt’s 1906 book The fall of Feudalism in Ireland. ‘For almost 200 years it [the Crawford house] stood a seemingly impregnable fortress. Now it has passed and soon will take its place as a proud commercial emporium.’ The author of the article was probably Patrick Fanning, who may have contributed pieces in a similar vein on the demolition of the Tarleton building in O’Connor Square in 1936 and the Howard Bury auction of the contents of the castle in 1948. Fanning (d. 1962) did some research for his article and reference was made to the 1812 deed from the Crawford executors to Berry. He also told the story of a ninety-year old woman by the name of Crawford coming from Glasgow in July 1959 to see ‘the big house’ in High Street and finding accommodation with the help of Guard Errity. Having accomplished her mission, he said, she returned to Glasgow and died in hospital shortly after. The other cut stone building, also owned by the Charleville Estate Company, the old market house, was sold in 1960 and was converted to café use and offices. Both conversions ushered in the 1960s in an emphatic way.

Crawford’s by Fergal MacCabe and courtesy of Fergal MacCabe


Was Jack C. thinking about the new arts centre or the restoration of Crawford’s as he stood on the parapet of Kilroy’s TV Showrooms, formerly Crawford’s?

Catherine Wilson (née Crawford, 1753–1835) and Tullamore in the eighteenth century

The little we know of Barrack Master Crawford’s house and family is based on the memoir of his grandson W.J. O’Neill Daunt (1807–94). Daunt’s mother was Jane Wilson, one of three daughters of Catherine Wilson (née Crawford). His grandmother, Catherine Crawford, had married Thomas Wilson who was born about the year 1727 in County Donegal – his father being John Wilson, perhaps also a clergyman.  However, the particular reason for Wilson’s coming to live in Tullamore was his marriage to Catherine Crawford, the eldest daughter of Nicholas Crawford, the Tullamore barrack master and their decision to  build a substantial house beside his wife’s parents in High Street. Tullamore from 1785 had a new, young and energetic landlord eager to improve the appearance of Tullamore. After the balloon fire in May of that year, and, as noted, the coming of age of the new owner, the leasehold titles in the town were largely reconstituted on favourable terms and there were opportunities for builders to provide housing and shops. It was expected that the canal would be built to Tullamore making travel easier for the better off and this was an incentive to investors and ultimate buyers.

The Wilson house of 1789

The Daunt marriage connection has thus facilitated the survival of some interesting material about Tullamore in the eighteenth century some of which was published in the memoirs of W.J. O’Neill Daunt and which journals, or rather extracts, were published in London in 1896 as A Life Spent for Ireland.

Catherine Wilson (née Crawford), the eldest daughter of the barrack master, was widowed in 1799 when she was in her mid-forties but continued to reside in ‘a large and handsome house which her husband had built in 1789 in the High Street of Tullamore, next to the ‘Spanish looking mansion’ so long inhabited by Nicholas Crawford. Tullamore was in those days an important military station, and she frequently received the officers of the garrison at evening parties’. After Dr Wilson’s death his library was sold by James Vallance of Eustace Street, Dublin for £800.

GV 43 High Street, Dr Wilson’s house from the death of Catherine Wilson to recent times

After Mrs Wilson’s death in 1835 her son-in-law, Thomas Grier, secured full title to the house in High Street and let it from 1 September of that year to Lord Charleville’s agent, Francis Berry, for three lives and thereafter, at the option of the Wilson family and provided he paid an annual rent of £63 to Thomas Grier and Eliza Maria Grier (née Wilson), his wife and Catherine Ann Wilson. Berry renewed the lease on the same terms in October 1848 and the following month sold it to Robert Goodbody of Clara, subject to the rent and an additional sum of £300 profit. 

When the first valuation was completed in 1843 it was noted that Berry was renting for reportedly sixty guineas a year. The valuer of 1843 noted that Berry in addition to paying a substantial rent for the house has paid a large fine, or ‘key money’ to the previous owner.  The dwelling was said to be well finished inside. Robert Goodbody, senior, the founder of the Clara and Tullamore dynasty, purchased the house outright probably in 1848. It was a good time to buy as house property was at a low ebb after the Famine years.

Francis Berry lived in the Wilson house for ten years from mid 1830s. A Berry from Eglish he was agent to Lord Charleville, d. 1864.

The Goodbody family at Tullagh House

Robert Goodbody purchased Tullagh House for in all £1,200 in 1848–49.  He was the founder of the Clara dynasty of Quaker merchants and was born at Mountmellick in 1781 and died at Drayton Villa, Clara (from the late 1930s to recent times the Parochial House) in 1860.  In 1825 he moved to Clara to set up his sons in business at the Brosna mills.  He built Inchmore, Clara in 1843 and for a time lived at Tullagh House. During the Famine years he practised as an amateur doctor.  He had six sons by his first wife:  Marcus, Jonathan, Thomas Pim, Robert James, Richard (died 1835) and Lewis Frederick.  Thomas Pim and Robert James carried on business in Tullamore as T.P. and R. Goodbody from about the year 1836 (see GV 1 High Street) and were described as general dealers.  About the year 1848 the tobacco and snuff factory were built to the rear of the shop and was an extensive Tullamore business until destroyed by fire in 1886 when the entire business was moved to Greenmount, Harold’s Cross, Dublin. The Tullamore shop closed in 1929–30.

Robert Goodbody’s son, Robert James, inherited the Tullagh House property. His brother Thomas Pim Goodbody lived at Elmfield, Charleville Road, Tullamore from 1852 until c. 1878. Robert James was born on 23 December 1815 and died in 1893, having had six children.  His father had died in 1860 and by his will of 1858 had not specifically devised the High Street house to Robert James, but to the eldest son and heir-at-law. Marcus, was satisfied that it was his father’s intention to devise all his estate in Tullagh House to Robert James. In 1862 Robert James Goodbody used the house by way of charge on the payment of an annual premium of £35 on a £1,500 life policy the proceeds of which was settled on the five children of his first marriage. In 1885, the freehold interest in Tullagh House was acquired by Robert James Goodbody from Lady Emily Howard Bury successor to the original lessor, Charles William Bury.

The Williams family and Tullagh House

From the records currently available Tullagh House was sold by the Goodbody family to Alexander Robert McMullen in 1890, let to a succession of occupiers, and sold again in 1919 to Edmund Williams. Among the lessees/occupiers in the 1890–1919 period was William Power, the managing director of P. & H. Egan. He had been with the Hibernian Bank as the manager in Tullamore and was asked to move to Egan’s after the sudden death of Patrick Egan in 1897. Power died of cancer in 1907. His son Cyril was a well-known Jesuit, distinguished mathematician, and wrote some poetry. He entered St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg at the age of seventeen and in the year of his father’s death.

James Hayes was a shareholder in Hayes’ Hotel (later the Phoenix Arms and where Boots Pharmacy is now located, GV 1 Church Street) from c. 1907 until 1913. He died in 1913.

Edmund Williams, the owner of the freehold from 1919, was one of the three sons of Daniel E. Williams, the founder of the Williams Group.  He spent his early life in Tullamore but moved to Dublin about 1920 giving the use of Tullagh House to his brother Daniel.  Edmund Williams was an active promoter of new business projects – he was connected with the founding of the Irish Press newspaper and was chairman from 1932 until his death.  He was a founder director of the Irish Sugar Company (now part of Greencore) and was its managing director in 1940. Edmund Williams died on 6 December 1949, aged 71 and was buried at Durrow. Edmund Williams probably spent little or no time in Tullagh House. While he attended most of the board meetings of the Williams firm in Tullamore he otherwise spent most of his time in Dublin.

Tullagh House was taken over by the pro-Treatyite ‘National Army’ in August 1922.

Dr Thomas Wilson, D.D., late professor of Natural Philosophy at Trinity College would have been pleased at the outburst of learning in the gardens of his old house.  So also would his convert and nationalist son-in-law, W.J. O’Neill Daunt, at the progress of Tullamore’s young men.  Francis Berry would be pleased that no one was hungry and Robert Goodbody that work (if not plentiful) was available. So also would Edmund Williams, whose family did so much to promote employment in Tullamore. Tullagh House (as extended) is now a solicitor’s office and a family home. Like ‘6 High Street’ now home to the Ross family (and formerly the dwelling of the Kilroy family) GV 43 continues as a family home. The two houses, GV 43 and GV 45, neighbour the house once  owned by Barrack Master Crawford which may be the finest of the three, but is greatly in need of a champion for its restoration. The Crawford house was used by Kilroy’s hardware for largely window display purpose from 1959 to 2007. Across the street was the principal store of Kilroy’s, now developed as the first Tullamore Arts Centre. The fate of these important houses in High Street is interlinked over the last three centuries and for Crawford’s its future hangs in the balance.

The opening in 1960. Out with the 1950s during which 400,000 emigrated.

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