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…
April 16th 2023 was the 100th anniversary of the death of James Perry Goodbody, a significant figure in business and political life in County Offaly. His family were connected with the commercial life of Clara from 1825 and were by the 1900s the largest employers in the county. He was a contributor to local government and pushed forward the provision of facilities for TB patients when nobody wanted such a hospital in their neighborhood.
James Perry Goodbody. Courtesy of Michael Goodbody
James Perry Goodbody was the second son of Marcus Goodbody and Hannah Woodcock Perry (a daughter of James Perry) and a grandson of Robert Goodbody who came to Clara in 1825. He was born in 1853 and married in 1875 Sophia Richardson, a daughter of Joseph Richardson, a prominent linen merchant of Springfield, Lisburn at the Lisburn Quaker meeting house. She predeceased him in 1917. He graduated with a B.A. from Trinity College, Dublin. James Perry Goodbody was the principal partner in the Clara mills, M. J. & L. Goodbody, and also in Goodbody businesses in Tullamore and Limerick. The three main family businesses of M., J. & L. Goodbody, J. & L.F. Goodbody and T.P. & R. Goodbody (besides the peripheral businesses) probably employed about 1,500 people in the 1920s. Of this number about 700 jobs were in Clara, down from perhaps 1,000 in 1890, in the businesses, the houses and the farms. This employment figure may be conservative. He served on the King’s County Grand Jury and was high-sheriff in 1893–4. He was said to have been the only member of the old grand jury to be returned in the 1899 county council election and served as a member of the council up to 1920. He was elected by the members to the vice chair of the county council in 1912. The Midland Tribune commented at the time that his dissent from a grand jury motion in 1895 against Home Rule was noted in his favour. He was valued by the council members for his business acumen and chaired the Finance and Proposals Committee from 1899. In 1916 he was instrumental in securing a dispensary for tubercular patients in Tullamore built at no cost to the council. He served for many years as chairman of Clara Petty Sessions where his motto was ‘fair play’ to rich and poor alike and, it was noted, always disposed to temper justice with mercy.
Courtesy of Michael Goodbody
Goodbody blamed the land agitation and the driving of over 100 cattle on his large farm at Tully (Tober, County Offaly) in 1918 for the loss of his council seat in 1920, but it was one of the family’s own employees, Sean Robbins, who headed the poll for Sinn Féin, well ahead of everyone else. Prior to the election Sinn Féin supporters Charles Leonard (journalist), Fr Smith of Rahan and James Clarke, Tullamore had sought in the High Court to have the papers of local election candidates, J.P. Goodbody and John Dooly, declared invalid. Dooly withdrew his candidacy under such pressure and the application against Goodbody failed. The application to the courts does suggests that Sinn Féin was concerned that Goodbody might secure the Clara seat on the county council.
In 1902 Perry Goodbody bought the first car to be seen in the district and it was registered in 1904 as IR 1. He served as president of the Irish Flour Millers Association in 1904–05. He was a director of the flour milling firm of James Bannatyne & Sons in Limerick of which his son James P. Goodbody was managing director. He was also a member of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and of the Corn Exchange, and for twenty-one years was a director of the Great Southern and Western Railway. He was also Deputy Lieutenant of King’s County from 1897. His wife’s death, the loss of his council seat and perhaps the business downturn in 1921–3, a critical period for the survival of Goodbodys, no doubt exacerbated health problems.
IR 1 at Inchmore 1910 with newly married Reggie and Edith Goodbody setting out for Limerick. Courtesy of Michael Goodbody
When Perry Goodbody died in April 1923 his estate was worth £121,689, which put him among the wealthier men in the country. Some of this wealth came from inheritances and investments away from Clara such as his Marconi shares, but a large part came from the mills. His death, as Clara-born historian D.G. Quinn points out, marked the end of an era in Clara. This is a view shared by Michael Goodbody who noted that the death of Perry Goodbody and of his cousin Robert in December 1923 marked a watershed as – in their separate ways – they had been the two men most involved in employment in the town. It also marked the end of Inchmore as the ‘Big House’ of the town and the beginning of the end of the Goodbody ascendancy. James Perry Goodbody was survived by his three sons and three daughters.
Inchmore was built by Robert Goodbody in 1843, leaving Charlestown House free for his son Jonathan, newly married to Lydia. He lived there with his sons Marcus and Lewis until 1848, when Marcus married. Robert then moved to Tullamore and Lewis to Kilcoursey House before building Drayton Villa. Marcus left Inchmore to his son James Perry Goodbody who died in 1923, when it was taken over by his son Reginald. He died in 1933 and his widow sold it to the Franciscan Brothers the following year. It subsequently became a private house. Courtesy of Michael Goodbody
Text: Michael Byrne with thanks to Michael Goodbody for the pictures and helpful suggestions on the text.
 Northern Whig, 3 Dec. 1875.
 Michael Goodbody, The Goodbodys: millers, merchants and manufacturers, the story of an Irish Quaker family, 1630–1950 (Dublin, 2011), pp 279–80, 372. Offaly Independent, 21 Apr. 1923.
 Michael Goodbody, The Goodbodys, p. 393.
 Ibid., pp 304–5. Frank Barry, ‘The leading manufacturing firms in the Irish Free State in 1929’, Irish Historical Studies (2018), 42 (162), 293–316 put the Bannatyne conglomerate employment figure at 800. James Bannatyne & Sons had 800 employees when one includes the Bannatyne parent company, J.N Russell & Sons (Limerick), John Furlong & Sons (Cork), and Goodbody flour mills (Clara). The Dublin-based tobacco factory had 200 employees, while the Clara jute business was the largest in non-woollen textiles had 800 in 1920. Ancillary businesses, domestic staff and farm workers may have amounted to another 200 in the early 1920s. While the total employment figure might have been as high as 2,000 in 1920 it would have fallen to 1,500 by 1929. It was a rapidly changing scene with declines in most sectors from 1921, the tobacco business was liquidated in 1929 and the flour milling sold to the U.K. firm of Rank in 1930.
 King’s County Chronicle, 24 Nov. 1892, 21 June 1894.
 Offaly Independent, 21 Apr. 1923.
 Midland Tribune, 22 June 1912.
 Midland Tribune, 7 July 1900; King’s County Chronicle, 3 Oct. 1918.
 Tullamore and King’s County Independent, 17 June 1916.
 Offaly Independent, 21 Apr. 1923.
 Tullamore and King’s County Independent, 18 June 1918,
 Midland Tribune, 22 May 1920.
 Michael Goodbody, The Goodbodys, pp 320–5.
 Offaly Independent, 21 April 1923; Offaly Chronicle, 8 Sept. 1923.
 Dublin Daily Nation 4 Dec. 1897.
 Margaret Stewart, Goodbodys of Clara, 1865-1965 (Dublin, 1965), p. 18.
 Michael Goodbody, The Goodbodys, pp 427–8.
 Offaly Independent, 21 Apr. 1923; Offaly Chronicle, 6 Sept. 1923. See also Michael Goodbody, The Goodbodys, pp 428–31; D.B. Quinn ‘Clara, a midland industrial town, 1900–1923’ in William Nolan and Timothy P. O’Neill (eds), Offaly History and Society (Dublin, 1998), pp 827–9.
 Offaly Chronicle, 26 Apr. 1923.