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…
Take the good and bad in life as it comes; be satisfied with your fate; if you find yourself in an argument, get out of it as quickly as possible. This was the philosophy of Mr Michael Coughlin (or Coughlan), of Rapp, Tullamore, who celebrated his 107th birthday in November 1929. I am told by Offaly History that he was the oldest man to die in Tullamore in the history of record keeping. He and his wife ‘who is nearing her century, have based 80 years of married life on this happiness recipe and he guarantees that if this advice is followed it will bring contentment to thousands of married couples.’ News of their recipe for ’80 years of marriage and never having quarreled’ went around the world and is said to have featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Michael Coughlin was a native of Eglish and had worked for Malachy Scally as a gardener at Moor Hall, Tullamore in his later years. Rapp is the road to Tyrrellspass from the canal at Whitehall and was the main road from Tullamore to Dublin until the canal was completed in 1798. Housing there was decimated in the Famine years.
“A great deal of nonsense is talked nowadays about brides not wishing to take the “obey” vow, but I’m thinking they are making a poor start in life by arguing before they have properly set out,” said Mr Coughlan. There is my wife, now. She never would have thought of a thing like that, and we have lived agreeably all our married life. Maybe a ruffle here and there but we always got out of an argument before it went too far. A reporter noted that:
‘When I called at the home of Ireland’s Darby and Joan I was told Mr Coughlin was in Tullamore and might not be back until evening. I found him in the town walking fairly briskly. He carried a stout stick, and was apparently oblivious that it was a bitterly cold day, with a keen wind and hailstones dancing on the pavement, for he wore no overcoat.’
Michael and Mary Coughlin of Rapp Road, Puttaughan. Probably in the late 1920s.
I’m Only 107.
“Talk has got round that I am 109,” he complained, after walking a mile for the second time that day back to his cottage, “but I am ‘only’ 107.” Mr Coughlin has had scarcely a day’s illness , and the reason, he thinks, is due to his moderation in all things, especially tobacco, and food.
He takes a peculiar pride that a few of his front teeth are broken in two rows that are otherwise perfect. These broken teeth remind him of the glorious youthful days when he was s champion bog barrel-lifter. He might have been a boy in his ‘teens telling of how he had lifted barrels and of how he left the tailoring trade for gardening and forsook all to start on a 48 years career of rabbit-catching.
His eyes gleamed and he chuckled delightfully to himself over thoughts of days, and nights, too, of following the “game.” “Memories of the “Big Wind.” When I was not able to stay out at nights (he added) I had to leave the rabbit catching and go back to gardening. I left that two years ago (he sighed), for my hands are not as steady as they used to be. Yet I can still do a little, so I can’t complain. Mr Coughlin remembers a big storm in Ireland nearly a century ago, when as a lad he helped to rescue people from houses blown down by the gale. He can recall the potato famine of 1845-46, and the excitement of famous elections. The diet of the present generation is not to Mr Coughlin’s liking. He thinks that the right kind of food is not eaten and that too much tea is drunk.
Unlike some centenarians, he does not use glasses, his hearing is good, his brain is clear, and his hair, although white, is plentiful.
In 1930 the Mercury reported the story as
Irish Couple Married 80 years. Only one holiday.
Probably the oldest married couple in the British Isles are Mr. and Mrs Michael Coughlin, of Rapp House, Tullamore. King’s County who claimed to be aged 109 and 106 respectively. They have just celebrated the 80th anniversary of their marriage. During this long period they haven’t taken only one holiday – on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of their wedding day.
“Who are known through the length and breadth of Ireland as the Irish Darby and Joan” remarked the old man, as he was returning home from a walk to the town to get domestic supplies. “I will challenge you to beat me in a race home” he added with a smile. .
Mrs. Coughlin attends to her domestic duties with ease and ability. “It seems but the other day when Michael and I married.” She said “although that was in the 40s. I always practised the adage “Early to bed early to rise”
I am afraid that the modern young lady! I’d be too keen on amusements, a high life, and a late hours !” I am not in love with her fashions.”
The old couple’s eldest son John, is 78.
The walk to Michael Coughlin’s house on the left
In September 1931 the Offaly Independent reported that Michael Coughlin had died at the age of 110. Mary Coughlin died at the age of 86 in 1930 (was it 70 years married or 80!). For the 1911 census given to Sergeant Ahern they stated they were 49 years married and had 10 children and all living. He gave his age as 85 and she as 72. Two sons Michael (41) and James (27) were living with them. A third son, Patrick, was killed in a collision with a car at the Kilbeggan Bridge in 1916. He was retired from the Connaught Rangers due to injuries and his death is recorded in a memorial in Clonminch cemetery. A 1936/37 Voters List puts the surviving and intending to vote members of the family living at Rapp as Christina, James, Joseph and Michael.
Michael Coughlin’s obituarist noted that Michael remembered when men worked for four pence a day and when the working day continued from dawn to dark. One of his most vivid recollections was in connection with a big fire in Birr when the people in the countryside were call upon to help in extinguishing the flames (Was this the 1889 distillery fire?). He and his companions had to work under difficulties conveying the water long distances in every available kind of vessel. He was industrious and hard-working all his life, and, as be used to remark, hard work was one of the things which kept him interested and made him happy. At an age when most men had passed the allotted span he would be seen, day after day, in the early morning, proceeding to his work, and passing kindly salutations to those he met on the way, “as was the custom,” he would say, “in the good old days.” He attributed his long life to simplicity of living and hard work. He enjoyed good health to the last. Up to five or six, years ago he carried out his duties as a gardener for Mr M. Scally, Tullamore, and within the last few weeks was out and about chatting with his friends to whom his visits were always welcome. He was a man of fine physique and retained his faculties unimpaired to the end.
It is good to see Mr Cosney Molloy back with us after a long break due to the Covid crisis. A pity he missed seeing all the bunting in O’Molloy Street, Tullamore last year. We hope he will not stay away as long and wish him well and good health. Ed.
Next week the earls of Huntingdon of Shinrone by Stephen Callaghan