Tullamore & Environs (Co. Offaly)

Tullamore (Tulach Mhór – “The Big Mound”) (pop. 15,000), a major regional commercial and industrial centre and lively cultural hub, is on the Tullamore River and served by the Grand Canal.

  (Photo by Kman999)

Tullamore is a fine example of late C18th provincial town planning at its best, with spacious streets and well finished public, commercial and residential buildings, most notably around O’Connor Square. There are several good pubs, eateries and accommodation options available in the town and attractive rural surroundings.

Tullamore History

 

Tullamore’s name derives from an ancient tumulus razed many years ago. It was first settled in the mid-C16th during the Tudor Plantation, when Queen Mary created King’s County.

 

It was for a time also called Tullamoore in honour of the descendants of Thomas Moore, an Elizabethan soldier who settled in Croghan in the  C16th.

 

John Moore, created 1st Baron Moore in 1715, died in 1725; his son Charles was made Earl of Charleville in 1758, but both titles died with him in 1764. His property was inherited by his infant grandnephew Charles William Bury, and development slowed until he reached the age of majority.

 

A hot air balloon crashed on Tullamore on 10th May 1785, burning down about 100 houses and making it the site of the world’s first aviation disaster, only two years after the first ascent in Paris.

 

Fortunately, the advent of the Grand Canal led to a boom in the local milling and distilling industries, and the town expanded rapidly. The municipal coat-of-arms aptly depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes.

 

Charles William Bury, (1764 – 1835), an amiable antiquarian and sometime president of the RHA, with a penchant for French erotica, was the landlord largely responsible for the construction of  modern Tullamore. He was   was made Lord Tullamoore in 1797, Viscount Charleville in 1800 and Earl of Charleville  (2nd creation) in 1806.

 

Although still smaller than Birr, Tullamore was larger than Philipstown (Daingean) and replaced the latter as County Town in 1833, overcoming resistance from the influential Ponsonby family.

Tullamore Town Hall (1786), a handsome edifice originally named Acres Hall after Thomas Acres, a developer who constructed a large number of  local houses before 1810, is now the headquarters of  the Urban District Council.

tullamore markethouse_lgeTullamore’s former Market House, designed by John Pentland and completed in 1789, still bears the Charleville escutcheon on the pediment; it is unfortunate that the original open arcade has been filled in. (Photo – www.archiseek.com)

St Catherine’s church (CoI), designed by Francis Johnston, was inaugurated in 1815.

The gothic style gaolhouse (1826), designed bythe Pain Brothers, was where the last public execution in Ireland took place in 1865 and the second last woman to be hanged in this country went to her death in 1903. The prison facility was closed in 1924, and is now the Kilcruttin Centre, housing small industrial units.

The neo-classical County Courthouse (1833), designed by JB Keane, retains one of its two semicircular courtrooms still intact.

The Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre, on Bury Quay beside the Grand Canal, celebrates Tullamore Dew, a whiskey distilled from 1829 to 1953 by Tullamore Distillery, now closed, and still produced by Irish Distillers Ltd in Midleton (Co. Cork), while Irish Mist liqueur continued to be blended locally. The centre focuses on the distilling, canal and urban history of the town. (Photo by Joe Butler)

The Offaly Exhibition & Research Centre, a refurbished wine warehouse also situated on Bury Quay, is the home of the Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society and Irish Midlands Ancestry. Look out for publications by local historians Michael Byrne and Fergal McCabe.  

Tullamore Railway Station, founded in 1854, is on the Intercity line linking Westport (Co. Mayo) with Ireland’s capital. It has won several awards in recent years.

Tullamore’s Presbyterian church founded in 1856, is still in use.

The church of the Assumption (RC) was consecrated in 1906, replacing a smaller edifice (1802) of which nothing remains. Rebuilt at vast expense after a fire in 1983, the church features some fine Harry Clarke stained glass windows.

O’Connor Park (1934) is an important regional GAA stadium, with capacity for 20,000 spectators.

Lloyd Town Park is a recent development with a spectacular Water Feature, landscaped paths and a dedicated skateboarding area.

Aras an Chontae, the modern headquarters of Offaly County Council on the Charleville Road, has an atrium used for interesting art exhibitions.

Charleville Forest Castle

 

Charleville Forest Castle is a spectacular Gothic mansion designed by Francis Johnston for Charles William Bury, Earl of Charleville, and built between 1800 and 1812, with a massive dining room added by Sir William Morris. (Photo by debill72)

 

The 5th and last Earl of Charleville, Alfred Bury, died in 1875. The property was inherited by his grandniece’s husband, Capt Kenneth Howard, who assumed the additional surname Bury. Their son, the renowned botanist and Himalayan explorer Col. Charles Kenneth Howard Bury (1883 – 1963), unwitting originator of the Abominable Snowman myth (due to a mistranslation of a Sherpa term by a journalist) and leader of the 1921 Everest Reconnaissance Expedition, had the house stripped of its contents at a notorious 1948 auction.

 

The estate, situated on the edge of Tullamore, features beautiful parkland with oak woods of botanically important primeval stock.

 

The famous Charleville / King’s Oak, one of the biggest and oldest trees of its kind in the country, is believed to have stood for some 900 years. The Bury family believed that if a branch fell one of them would die, so they supported the great boughs with wooden props. In May 1963 a thunderbolt splintered the main trunk from top to bottom. The tree survived, but Col. Bury dropped dead a few weeks later at nearby Belvedere House near Mullingar (Co. Westmeath).

 

The mansion and demesne passed to his cousin, Major William Bacon Hutton, who assumed the surname Bury in 1964, and whose son David Hutton Bury is the current owner of Charleville Forest.

 

Castle Palooza is a 2-day boutique music & arts festival held in the grounds every August Bank Holiday weekend.

 

The demesne also regularly hosts events such as international Shakespeare festivals, bikers’ conventions and World Peace Camps.

 
  Srah / Sragh Castle, a ruined Tower House in the townland of Ballydrohid on the western outskirts of Tullamore, was built in 1588 by John Briscoe from Cumberland. An interesting article about the family can be read here. (Photo by Heygalicious)

The Tullamore Agricultural & Livestock Show, one of the most important annual events of it kind in Ireland, held every August, used to take place in the grounds of Charleville Forest Castle, but has moved in recent years to a better drained venue south of the town, near Blue Ball.

The Phoenix Festival, held every summer since 2000, features a fire parade, street entertainment, live concerts, fireworks, sky diving and, appropriately, hot air balloons.

The Queen of the Land Festival is a popular annual Macra na Feirme feminine beauty / personality contest  that takes place in Tullamore on the third weekend of every November.

The national Fleadh Ceoil (traditional music competition) has been regularly held  in Tullamore in recent years.

A prominent former resident of Tullamore was Gerald Gardner (1922 – 2009), a geophysicist social analyst responsible for the statistical evidence that led the US Supreme Court to ban classified advertising segregated by gender in 1973.

The Sea Dew Guesthouse, purpose-built by chatty and welcoming hosts Frank and Claire Gilsenan, has lovely gardens with mature trees.

Annaharvey Farm, just outside the town, is a top class equestrian centre with excellent B&B accommodation facilities.

Tullamore also has three well-reviewed modern hotels.

Tullamore is close to Killeigh, Killurin and Blue Ball on ByRoute 12.

 

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