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…
Dan Lawlor was born in 1907 and in this interview (extract – for the full interview follow the SoundCloud link) he talks about his early memories of growing up in the early 1900s, attending national school in Mount Bolus. Starting to work at the age of 14, where the wage was 3 shillings for a boy and 5 shillings for men and the working day was 8 or 9 hours at least. He also recalls growing up during very disturbed times, the 1916 rising, the Black and Tans and the First World War. Going around the rambling houses and the stories he heard about the Famine 1846 – 49, the big wind in 1903 knocking down all 13 acres of Colonel Biddulph trees, the big storm around 1803 (or was it 1839). The telling of ghost stories, attending wakes, clay pipes and match making where the father gave £100 and those who couldn’t afford it and gave nothing would say “she’s a good girl and will earn her keep”. His love of hurling in Killoughy, making their own hurleys and using a tin can if they couldn’t afford a leather ball. He also speaks about the 1920s not being great times, but the crops were good for anyone who minded them, farming all his life also all his family, the farm evictions and the Economic War. He also mentions about 80 years ago there was a brewery in Monasterevin called Cassidy’s and a monk in Clara who worked miracles with the mortar, they called him Cassidy’s Monk.
The Catholic church in Mount Bolus, built on the eve of the Famine
From the Tullamore Tribune 24 Jan. 1998
THE death took place on Wednesday evening last of the late Mr Daniel (Dan) Lawlor, Rathkerrigan, Mountbolus. Dan was Killoughey’s oldest resident and would have been 90 next March 6th. Deceased was the last member of an old established family that lived for generations in the lower end of the main street in Mountbolus. Dan, who was predeceased by his brother Pat and sister, Margaret, was renowned in the area as its greatest historian. Up until recently he could recall the day and date of every birth, marriage and death of every person in the general area for over 80 years. He had vivid memories of all the priests who had served in the parish this century was well as historic figures like the late Colonel W.M. Biddulph, sporting heroes and events surrounding “The Troubles’ in the early part of the century. Dan also had a great store of old sayings, country wisdom and verse. Whenever returned exiles of the third and fourth generations visited the area it was invariably to Dan Lawlor that they went and were sure to be told where the old place was, when the family had gone and what relations were still around.
Dan was buried in the old cemetery, adjacent to Mountbolus Church and within a few yards of the house where he had lived all his life. Dan was very familiar with this cemetery and knew every plot and everyone contained therein.
Stoning Col. Biddulph’s car as boys would
(The extract below is from the Offaly History transcript of the recording made by Jim Kenny)
Jim: Now Dan, we talked in your own mind we’ll go back, to test your memory
Dan: do test me now!
Jim: we’ll talk about Dan Lawlor as a child go back to your earliest memories of your childhood, your parents
Dan: I was born in 1907 and I lived in Mountbolus all my lifetime and I’ve one memory that I never forget the Col. Biddulph, there was a big estate in Mountbolus called Rathrobin and he was after buying a car, a scenery on the road a ‘Deedene Booden’ [Dion-Bouton] car
Jim: what was that now?
Dan: a make of motor-car
Jim: oh yes, a make of a motor-car, a French car, that was the first one you ever saw
Dan: that was the first one I ever saw and me and me brother was standing by the side of the road and we hadtwo stones in our hand and Paul Wallace was a chauffeur, you know Paul Wallace?
Jim: I do of course.
Dan: he was driving by and he was passing where we were standing and the two of us, you’d think we were put up to it, anyway, we fired a stone and broke the windscreen on his car, the Colonel stopped the car – he says, I’ll have to get an explanation for that!
Jim: yes, well, what explanation did you give him?
Dan: well, we gave him nothing and it was and we had an ‘oul uncle and he says “it’s against my will, Colonel if anything happened to my car, we were always very friendly towards you and if there’s any damage done I’ll have it repaired immediately,” he said, it didn’t matter, so long as I know it wasn’t malicious so we got free.
Jim: Do you remember what year that was or how far back?
Dan: Ah ’twas before the war, before the First World War, say 1912, 1915
Memories of School
School children in Mount Bolus, about 1904
Jim: well, what other memories have you now, going to school?
Dan: I went to school in the National School, it was in Mountbolus, there was a school there. I was taught by a man named Jeremiah O’Neill, he was a Skibbereen man, yes, from Cork and he was only passing you by, he was a great teacher, but he was very severe, he hit us now [and then]
Jim: he always had the stick handy
Dan: aye – he would hit you with the fist as well, he was a Cork man and we used to sing a little song for him to vex him, we were hardy fellas at the time, “Ye starvin’ victims of Skibbereen arise and welcome their gracious Queen ” He used to go mad at that, I’ll hold that song about Skibbereen,
Jim: and who was the Queen that they welcomed, Victoria was it?
Dan: Victoria, yes, she was on the penny, did you ever see her?
Jim: I did yes, indeed
Dan: she had a bonnet on her head.
Jim: she came to visit this country one time
Dan: she did, yes, it was above in the Park, I was going to go, I was only a child at the time and me Father went up and nearly 1 quarter of a million, I think it was in the Phoenix Park
Jim: to see Queen Victoria was it?
Dan: oh yes, yes
Jim: Of course, ye were all loyal subjects that time?
Dan: oh yes, we had to be, but we weren’t relying on that when we broke the window, however the hell I don’t know
Jim: To get back to going to school – what were conditions in the school like in those days?
Dan: every man brought a load of turf and black turf, and on a cold frosty morning ye had to go out in the cold and break blackthorn sticks and, and come in and give it to the ‘oul rascal from Skibbereen
Jim: I suppose, many a time you had to go to school in your bare feet
Dan: oh God, we did, the roads wasn’t made at all over the cut stones, we’d run races on your hardy feet and we were hardy at the time
Jim: well, you had to be hardy to survive
Dan: it was only the best that lived
Jim: only the fittest survived, well growing up as a young boy what were conditions like?
Dan: ah, they were getting better, of course, and then the war came, and things got dearer a little bit, you know,
Jim: and what stage did you start to work?
Dan: oh I started to work very young, I was at the age of 14.
Jim: what sort of a day would you work then, long days?
Dan: ah, we worked on the land, when the day was fine we worked until dark
Remembering 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War
Jim: when you came into your teens, you were growing up in a very disturbed time in the country you were coming in, you lived through 1916
Dan: oh yes, the 1916 rising,
Jim: what were your recollections of that period?
Dan: oh that was a dangerous time, and the Black ‘n Tans came after them
Jim: do you remember them?
Dan: I remember them, fired at me, one day, when I run from them, they were horrid blackguards them oul’ Black ‘n Tans
Jim: what age would you be at the time?
Dan: I was about 14 and I seen, I seen them coming and I said I’d go and I run and did’nt I see them coming to a gate, and I seen them, and didn’t I run to a stile about 100 yards I got under it into cover and I lay on the ground and they fired three rounds of a Lee Enfield Rifle, I could be sleeping in the clay only I lay down quick
Jim: well, was there much activity of that nature around?
Dan: ah, there was ambushes, there was ambushes. There was an ambush at the Cole Gap did you ever hear of that?
Jim: I know where the Cole Gap is
Dan: Doolan’s, at the Cole Gap, there was an ambush there, I was picking potatoes below where the ambush was goin’ on, and the bullets was goin’ like hell.
Jim: is that right. How much of the history of that do you know?
Dan: well, there was a good dale of robberies going on too, people took advantage at the time though, and went to people’s houses and held them up and took the money and robbed them coming from fairs
Jim: Of course, there was no law and order in the country that time?
Dan: well, there was an R I C Barracks in Mountbolus and there was an R I C Barracks at Killoughey Cross, do you know where that is?
Beahan’s pub Mount Bolus (left about 1904).
Jim: I do, of course, yes
Dan: I seen ten police there, there where Keyes of Rahan sent these men into battle, there was a big battle there in 1849 in October 1849 at the Barracks in Killoughey, 500 men – ah I have it forgot.
Jim: but you say Keyes from Rahan, was related to me, (quote) His name was Johnny
Dan: Keyes took the Sergeant by the hand, my cops are on the run, as you may understand, and he went 500 men rode on, we loaded hay and corn on the lands in Clonaslee and when we were loaded, and to our great surprise, the sky went dark and dreary and dismal was the sky, 500 men.
Jim: and what were they doing, capturing the Barracks?
Dan: they were on what was called a rack rent to arms, and Keyes took it, he was a postman from Rahan and got away despite Police attention, a Royal battle there, 8 policemen shot and Keyes leg was broke in the meantime the right place to hide was at the Barrack Door – they hid him at the Barrack Door in a Hay Rick,
Jim: I know where it is well – up there in Killoughey,
Dan: up there in Killoughey Cross and he was there for – until he was held up and then he went to Cobh in Cork (Queenstown) – no one ever knew he was there – there was no informers then
Jim: were they fighting against some of the landlords at that stage?
Dan: well they meant that
Jim: who was the landlord in the area at the time?
Dan: Captain Fox was landlord in Annaghmore and there was other landlords, Colonel Bernard at Kinnitty Castle and they were collecting high rents oh they were exaggerating on the rents were high,
Jim: of course, that would have been sometime around the famine 1848 – 49, did you ever hear any stories about the famine, I’m sure you must have heard some stories about the famine
Dan: oh yes, they died by the side of the road, we have a field by the side of the road, we were digging an old bank and came across a whole load of skulls where they died with the hunger, died with the hunger! In Mountbolus.
Jim: well, was there any stories circulating in the area about the famine,
Dan: oh I did, the cousin now was O’Connor, O’Connor was here in Tullamore, one time, did you ever hear tell of Sterling’s corner in Tullamore, the story, there was a man by the name of Sterling there and he was chatting this man’s wife and he said “I’ll get an ‘oul scut of you, so, I’ll tell you now where it happened, do you know where Stephen Quinn lived below outside of Ballycumber.
Jim: in Moorock
Dan: that’s right, put him sitting in a chair and they welded it in?
Jim: (JAMES KENNY COMMENT) this is a garbled account of a story about a cuckolded husband cutting of the nose of the culprit male- and, story continues,
some families survive
Dan: aye they were hardier and they were fit for it – others were sickly kind of weak people and they died of malnutrition
Below the Beehive, Mount Bolus. ‘In this hive we’re all alive, good liquor makes us funny’ It was a Williams licensed grocery in Dan’s early years and up to about 1965.