The Founding of the Presentation Brothers’ Schools at Birr in 1877; recollections of 1927 from J. Deering.
[Birr Historical Society meets again on Monday 4 December 2023 after a break of three…
Arthur Griffith died of a heart attack, or stroke, in Dublin on 12 August 1922. He was only 51 and had given a lifetime of service to his country at huge personal cost. To mark the centenary of his death we recall an important contribution from Richard Barry (1880–1978) in 1970 where he set out some of the cultural history of Tullamore in the period before the Rising and the War of Independence. Barry was greatly influenced by the writings of Arthur Griffith in the United Irishman and also by the earlier contributions of William Rooney (1873–1901). Rooney met Griffith probably in 1888 and both were members of the Parnellite Leinster Literary Society, and after 1892 of the Celtic Literary Society. When the United Irishman was launched in 1899, with Griffith as editor, William Rooney was the main contributor and, working together, developed Sinn Féin policy. Rooney’s early death at the age of 27 was a devasting blow to Griffith. William Murphy in the short life of Rooney in DIB cites Michael Collins as describing Rooney in terms normally associated with John the Baptist: ‘Rooney spoke as a prophet. He prepared the way and foresaw the victory’ (Path to freedom, 150).
Some of the more recent contributions to the narrative of the 1912–23 period, such as that of Ferriter and Dolan, have looked at the personal histories of the combatants and less at causation and the course of the military campaign (Hopkinson and Laffan). Others such as Foster (and earlier Thompson) examined the cultural background for what role it played in the mind-set of the young revolutionaries. These approaches can be combined in the context of at least one Tullamore family that of Barry of Earl Street, now O’Moore Street, Tullamore. Here two sons of Richard Barry, Richard jun. (Dick) and John (Sean) each played a significant role – Richard on the cultural side and Sean as a soldier Volunteer. We looked at Sean Barry’s role in the War of Independence in an earlier blog.
Members of the Tullamore G.A.A. Club photographed at Tinnycross, Tullamore about 1900. Included in the picture are Tom Barry, P. Frayne, Jim Murphy, R. Barry (with stick on shoulder), — Scully, J. Forrestal, P. Barry, J. Craven, P. MacLoughlin. Courtesy of Offaly History History.
Richard Barry, the Thurles-born smith-nail maker, and old Fenian, lived in 1901 in O’Moore Street. In the house on census night were Barry with his wife, four children, and four boarders, all Roman Catholic. This included young Richard Barry (20) then a temporary clerk with the lately established county council. His stepbrother John was three and their father was 50 and mother 40. Richard jun., with one of the boarders, spoke Irish and English, while their father made a mark over his name. Richard Barry senior was a widower who had remarried and three of the boarders were children of his first marriage. The family were ten in all, living in four rooms.
By 1911 there were only five in the house on census night of which John (Sean) was one. Richard Barry was born in 1880, emigrated to the United States in 1904 and died in New York in 1978. Sean Barry (1899–1931) remained at home and was very active in the War of Independence. He suffered bad health as a result and died in 1931 at the age of 32.
Richard (Dick) Barry was a pioneer in the Irish Ireland movement in Tullamore and his letter, written in 1970, wonderfully evokes the scene in the pre-Volunteer days. Dick Barry was able to write of the period pre-1904 and of the young men of the town in the late 1890s. Their literary society, as he observed, gave way to the Gaelic League, which was founded in Tullamore in 1902.
Dick Barry, 1880-1978
I wish to record thanks to the late Tom Lawless, Tullamore and to Hugh Digan of Spollanstown, Tullamore for assistance with this letter. The bold emphasis, footnotes and square brackets have been added by me.
Dec 3rd 1970
Sally called me up some time ago and asked me to give you an account of how the Gaelic language movement started in Tullamore. Of course we had no Gaelic in the national schools and we were brought up in total ignorance of Ireland’s history and language. At the end of the Catechism of the Diocese of Meath there were some prayers in Gaelic but we were never told what they were. The idea behind National Education System was to make us “happy English children”. It nearly succeeded and the whole country was being turned into West Britain and we were West Britons or “Shoneens”.
We got a good drilling in classes in the three R’s (“Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic”). We had all the famous English poets, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Cowper, Byron, Scott, Campbell, Johnson and other lesser poets. Of course we had Goldsmith, and Moore, Lover and Lever, but none of the nationalistic poems of Davis, Mangan, O’Hagan, Barry, or other poets of the Nation. John Mitchell and his Jail Journal, Charles Kickham and Knocknagow, Wolfe Tone and his Autobiography did not even get “honorable mention.” Thos B Macaulay did of course. Ireland was not the only country that was more or less ignored. Only two Americans were mentioned, Longfellow and Franklin. Authors of the “Village Blacksmith” and the sayings of Poor Richard respectively. Washington, Jefferson Adams, the Revolution, the Civil War, the Declaration of Independence, Bunker Hill, Lexington or any other great event in American history was never referred to.
They never existed as far as the schoolbooks supplied to us were concerned. We had no public library at the time to enlighten us as to how the world wagged and was wagging. [See the blog on the first library in 1921.] We had the Freeman’s Journal, the United Ireland and local papers to give us news of the doings of Parnell, Michael Davitt, William O’Brien and John Dillon in the British House of Commons. Gladstone had disestablished the Irish church and had taken up Home Rule, had a bill passed three [1886, 1893] times to be thrown out by the Lords. Parnell died in 1891 and the Irish party split into fragments. People began to lose faith in parliamentarianism and look for other means of persuading the Government to do justice to Ireland. The Gaelic League was non-political, a new party called Cumann na nGaedil was advocated by Arthur Griffith in his paper The United Irishman. It eventually became known as the Sinn Féin movement. It was based, more or less, on a book by Griffith called the Resurrection of Hungary, the setting up of an Irish Parliament in opposition to the British, support home manufactures etc.
‘Until the end of the negotiations [London, Dec. 1921] Griffith had fought hard for a degree of independence greater than that which was ultimately obtained. But, although the term was not used in 1921, what he and his colleagues secured in the treaty was remarkably close to the dual monarchy which he had advocated in The resurrection of Hungary; Ireland would share a king with Britain but would otherwise be effectively independent. This achievement of his long-term aims had been brought about largely by the violent methods that he had always believed could not succeed.’ Laffan on Griffith in DIB
It had very few adherents in the beginning, but they were very enthusiastic and all advocates of the Irish language and the Gaelic League. In 1898 the County Council bill was passed by the Government. No one paid much attention to it at the time but it was the death knell of the Queen’s days. It became operative about 1900 and you might call it a home rule for each county. For the first time since James the Second Catholics had a say in their own affairs. Under the English all the good jobs (appointive) were in the hands of the Protestants supporters of the British Raj, and were appointed by the Castle and the Grand Juries. Now the county councils had the appointments in their hands and none but Nationalists had a chance of being appointed, but there was no religious barrier or test for the candidates for the positions. Shortly after this came the Land Act of 1903, which broke the back of Landlordism, gave the farmers back the land and revoked “The Conquest”.
A big seller – this was Henry McNally’s copy. McNally was one of the Tullamore thirteen charged in connection with the Tullamore Incident of 1916. This is a later edition of the best-seller. McNally worked as an Estates Clerk in Hoey & Denning for many years.
In the 1890s things and life were much different from what they are now. There were no electricity, lights or gadgets to lighten the burdens of mankind, no motor cars, no flying machines, no radio or television, few dances except in a neighbours’ house, no hurling or football fields. No swimming pools, no handball courts, no playgrounds for the young who were chased from one field to another by indignant farmers. But we had a good time, we used to congregate at the railway station and see the trains go out at night. Naturally we who read the United Irishman and believed in an Irish Ireland bonded together and formed a little clan of our own. We started a manuscript journal, which we brought out once a month or so. Some very patriotic articles appeared in it which were more or less treasonable and which might have landed us in Botany Bay. Alas they are lost to posterity. This patriotic group which were the founders of the Gaelic Language Society in Tullamore were – Gerald O’Loughlin, John Forrestal, Hugh Digan, Patrick McLoughlin, Harry Ruxton, Denis Davin, Tom Moroney, Pat Murphy, Joe Aylmer and Richard Barry.
We used to meet in the evenings and talk about freeing Ireland, get in some lonely place, sing national songs and discuss articles in the United Irishman. Hurling was dead in the town so we started a club to try and revive it. We used to go to Ballinamere on Sundays to practice with the fellows there. Finally we amalgamated and joined the G.A.A and won the county championship. We had no knowledge of Gaelic but were aware of the Gaelic League and Cumann na nGaedheal movements and decided to start a branch of either one. G. O’Loughlin who had learned some Irish in the Celtic Literary Society in Dublin under the poet William Rooney said he’d take the matter up with his father who also belonged to the Celtic Literary Society. His father consulted Donal O’ Connor, also a member and Gaelic writer and teacher. In a short time we were launched as the Celtic Literary Society of Tullamore affiliated with Cumann Na nGaedheal housed in Moroney’s Temperance Hotel in High St. opposite Moran’s [later Lawless, now Spollen’s]. P.F. O’Loughlin was elected President, D. O’Connor, V.P., Tom Barry Treasurer, John Forrestal and R. Barry secretaries. G. O’Loughlin, assistant teacher. We met on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. We made good progress and in the Cumann Festival in 1903 G. O’Loughlin, J. Forrestal and myself took first, second and third places respectively in the beginner’s competition. The majority of us were in our teens but later we attracted more mature members such as Wm. Kennedy, James Egan one of the executives of Cumann na nGaedheal, Micheal Birrell, Owen Weir, Denis Sweeney, James Pike and many others. I left for America in 1904 so I cannot give you any information from that on. The Gaelic League started shortly after we did as far as I remember (70 years ago). The founders were young Henry Egan, John Mahon, James Rogers, James Brennan, Pat Mc Manus, Rosaleen Egan, Mary Adams, Rose Brennan, and Messrs Gillece and Delahunty whose first names I forget. Both societies had as many girls as boys. So we learned to dance jigs and reels and figure dancing and had ceilis once and a while which tended to break down a lot of the snobbishness with which Irish towns are infested. We were all in favour of joining the Gaelic League but P.F. O’Loughlin frowned on it as he said it might break up our society. But we were always their supporters and allies. G. O’Loughlin and John Forrestal became fluent Gaelic speakers. O’ Loughlin (who died in July ) became an actor and writer of Gaelic plays, Forrestal, a journalist and book reviewer. James Pike also became a newspaperman [editor of the Midland Tribune], Forrestal and Brennan (Peadar Bracken I think) were elected to the Dublin Corporation. Forrestal ran for Lord Mayor on the Sinn Fein ticket against Larry O’Neill but was defeated by a small majority. We had only two in the fight (in Dublin) in 1916. Séamus Brennan and Peadar Bracken, but many more would have been there except for MacNeill’s countermand. From the time we started till I left there we were never interfered with by Church or State. We asked no one’s permission though we made ourselves obvious to some people by our advocacy of Irish manufacture, Irish songs, dances etc. The man in the street looked upon us as idealists and dreamers, the politicians believed our party would never be a rival of theirs, so ignored us. (We had few votes) Who can foresee the future? Not the rulers of nations or politicians all of those I have mentioned have passed to their reward, Frank Slattery is the only one of the “old guard” left in Tullamore. We were the Pioneers of Irish Ireland in Offaly and as Hugh Digan used to sing “We lit the fire”. I would be remiss if I did not mention some of the girls who supported us from the start – Mary Ann Murphy who taught us singing, Kitty Murphy, Hannah Ruxton, Bridget Byrne, Mary Byrne, Annie Wynne, Emily Thomas, Anne and Mary Cleary, and many more whose names I can’t remember. Ta siad o marbh go leor anois.
At the unveiling of the memorial at the Tullamore courthouse to the old IRA in 1953 were -, Joe Ryan, Richard Barry, Hugh Digan, Pat Molloy and Jim Clarke. Courtesy of Offaly History
If you want to get more information ask Alo Brennan for the loan of the Scrap Book I gave him. [This is now in the Offaly History Archives, thanks to the O’Brennan family.] It has a lot of information relating to the Gaelic movement in Tullamore, especially an article written by Jim Pike. It also contains the photos of some of us taken on Sticky Backs about the beginning of the century. It also contains the hosting of the Volunteers in Tullamore and the pictures of some of the boys who fought the “good fight for the cause of the right to give Ireland her place in the sun”.
A programme from 1906
I expect you could get all our pedigrees in Dublin Castle. I started this letter on the 3rd, now it is the 7th, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour which Rossevelt called “A Day of Infamy” [‘A date which will live in infamy’]. My sight and my memory are not so good as they used to be, so you will have to excuse all errors and omissions as I am beginning to forget names and things of 70 or 80 years ago. I will be 90 years old on the 19th December. I was born in 1880, am 66 years in America, and not a millionaire yet. Have one daughter, two granddaughters, four great-daughters, two great-grandsons, and one great-great-grandson. The Barry name I hope will be perpetuated (I hope) by my two grand-nephews Kevin and Richard Barry in Dublin.
Tullamore is a bigger and better town now than it was in my time. I saw only three new houses built before I left. There has been a whole new town built since then and good work is still continuing. I was sorry to hear Egans and Scallys going out of business, the two principal places of business in the town. (Sic transit gloria mundi) “time marches on”. P. & H. Egan and William Adams were the leading employers and Nationalists in the town. William Adams was the first representative from Tullamore on the County Council. I helped count the votes at the election (I was a fair counter). Four churches in town. No mixing, no trouble. Someday I’ll write about the town as it was in my day just for the record.
Happy Christmas to all,
The 1906 programme. Joe Wrafter was prominent among the members in the ‘affray’ or Incident in Tullamore in 1916. Here he was acting as a magistrate!
 National Archive, 1901 census, Barry family entry at Earl Street/O’Moore Street.
James Pike was appointed to the Tribune in 1912. Pike was born in 1878 at Roscore, Screggan, Tullamore, had qualified as a teacher in 1900, but went into journalism by joining the Westmeath Independent. From there he moved to Navan to become associate editor of The Irish Peasant and later the Peasant and the Irish Nation. Imbued with such nationalist fervour, Pike was an ideal choice and remained with the Tribune until his retirement in 1946. He was said to have been a member of the IRB and the Irish Volunteers and was later in Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. He died in 1948 and was buried in Mucklagh cemetery near Tullamore. He appears to have been unmarried and had dedicated thirty-four years to the Midland Tribune. See Michael Byrne, ‘1916 and the politics of the Midland Tribune and Tullamore and King’s County Independent’ in Offaly Heritage 9.
 Midland Tribune, 20 Mar. 1920, 29 May, 1920, and 7 Oct. 1922 for the death of John Forrestal (Sean MacCaoilte, aged 37, in Dublin. His father was Andrew Forrestal and his brother Dick. He was in Mountjoy jail in March 1920. In May 1920 he represented Dáil Éireann in Rome for the beatification of Oliver Plunkett.
 Frank Slattery
 Offaly Independent, 8 July 1961. Death of Hugh Digan Cormac Street, Tullamore, aged 84. He was a member of the Tullamore club that won the first Offaly championship in 1896, a Forester, his coffin was draped in the tricolour [born in 1877].
 The Scally store was sold to Melville’s in 1961 and the Egan firm went into voluntary liquidation in 1968.