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…
Some background reading for our outing on 8 July, Sunday, to Kilcormac and Ballyboy
Meet in grounds of Catholic church at 3 pm (ample parking) The historic sites of Kilcormac and Ballyboy to include the Catholic church, the parochial grounds, the Mercy Convent, Bord na Mona housing and on to Ballyboy, the village, church, cemetery and old hall concluding with refreshments in Dan and Molly’s celebrated historic pub at 5 p.m. Our thanks to Agnes Gorman, John Butterfield and the other history enthusiasts in the historic barony of Ballyboy. A few members of the committee will be at Offaly History Centre from 2 15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. for members needing a lift.
In 1917 Michael McDermott Hayes, ardent nationalist and editor of the King’s County Independent, visited Kilcormac to interview its parish priest, Revd Edward O’Reilly. The meeting took place at the same time as an address to the local farmers by Fr O’Reilly, Hayes and soon-to-be Sinn Féin organiser in the county T.M. Russell. Russell was possibly still with the I.A.O.S. at this time. O’Reilly had been parish priest since 1901. He was a strong figure and was chair of the county agriculture and technical committee among many other things. The visit was during the war years and with the pressure on food supplies the demand for tillage was increasing, as was the intense pressure to break up the so called grazing ranches and distribute the land to the farm labourer and small farmer. A row about ‘feudalism versus food production’ centred on the Handy 447-acre farm at Croghan Hill and Fr Burbage, the curate in Geashill was warning of famine conditions.
Kilcormac was a busy town in the 1900s. Its population in 1911 was 518 and that of Ballyboy was only 85 with 19 inhabited houses in the townland. The population of the town and the village was half that in 1851 (Ballyboy 219, Kilcormac, 956). Kilcormac was the site of an old Carmelite monastery whose lands passed to the settler Leycester family in the sixteenth century and later to the Magawlys of Westmeath. After the Treaty of Limerick this family lost some of its lands, held on to the Kilcormac estate and went to military and diplomatic service for Catholic Spain and its empire. The pieta in Kilcormac church may have been a gift of the Magawlys. The family has a fine memorial stone in the church, but their old house at Temora of c. 1750s is gone since the 1930s save the gate piers. The castles at Broughall and Ballyboy likewise. Kilcormac must have presented a prosperous appearance in the 1900s with its Williams (1901) and Egan branch houses (later Gath’s), the new church of the 1860s and the Mercy convent of the 1880s. Ballyboy had the Protestant church and Mount Bolus, also in the parish, the R.C. chapel of ease to Kilcormac.
The change of name from Frankford back to Kilcormac came earlier than that from King’s County to Offaly and Philipstown to Daingean. It was back in 1903 at the time of the cultural revival. It was Councillor James Moran who proposed it blaming the change of name on ‘Mr McGawley who got the name changed in order to be the same as the place situated on the Rhine’. Others say the name-change to Frankford was in the early 1700s and after a certain Frank McGawley. Curiously, the name Frank in Spain is often applied to foreigners.
In 1905 the issue of change of name was mentioned before county court Judge John Adye Curran who was none too pleased and took the county secretary Charles P. Kingston to task. All would change in a few short years. Curran retired from the bench in December 1913; the sixth County Magawly was killed in the war in 1917, McDermott Hayes’s job went with the burning of the Athlone Printing Works by the British military in the late 1920 while Kingston got the push from the new Sinn Féin dominated county council in 1921. O’Reilly welcomed the Free State army to Kilcormac in July 1922 and died there on 15 March 1932.
From the Tullamore and Kings County Independent, 20 January 1917
Many years ago I remember a royal row in the King’s County Revision Courts. The principals were our much esteemed County Court Judge, John Adye Curran, K.C., who carried a very warm heart under a very severe and stern manner, and, I think, the present secretary of the King’s County Council, Mr Charles Kingston. It was the fighting days of the Gaelic League, and most of us were carried away on the crest of the new National movement. “I’ll stop all this nonsense,” thundered the dear old Judge, “It’s Frankford I say.” The official stuck to his guns and assured his Honor Kilcormac was the more ancient name of the town. The wordy arguments continue and subsided -in tune. But Kilcormac remained. Nobody now speaks of the pretty, romantic and historic village by the Silver River as Frankford, a name given it by one James Frank, whose only claim to graft his patronymic on the ancient piece of territory of the O’Molloy’s was that he founded a charter school there. We know what poor Ireland was looking like when these, and kindred seats of learning were springing up in every town, village, and hamlet of the country. There was not then much regard for the old faith and the old race Kilcormac, or Kilcormuck, as it is more anciently written, has an honoured story unnecessary to go into. Those who, like myself, never saw the place until this week knew it was once the home of
THE WHITE FRIARS IN THE MIDLANDS,
who had a monastery founded for them at Kilcormac by, Odo Molloy, son of the dvnast of Fearcall. That was some hundreds of years before Frank was heard of. Why not Kilcormac by all means.
The village of to-day, is a very interesting little place. The community live as happy and contented together as bees in a hive. It is largely self-contained. It is the first village in Ireland in which I came across a successful co-operative society. It has a dramatic hall, a recreation club, social and religious societies, technical classes, an excellent Convent of Mercy, and an exceedingly neat, if not highly decorated church. One looked with pleasure to see in a village church an organ loft and organ. I have seen many of them that had neither. The church, however, differs little from the rural churches – with one exception. On the Gospel side altar stands a beautiful Mater Dolorosa. It has a history that is interesting. The figures, nobly carved, were struck from one piece of wood. It is a monument to the craft and ability of the artist who fashioned it centuries ago. It is believed to be of Spanish origin. It has not always rested on that little altar. For long years it lay rolled up in the turf of the Bog of Allan. It was in turn discovered and presented to this successor of the great Carmel church by a member of the Magawly family, who succeeded to the monastery lands and adjoining estates by marriage, after the suppression of the monasteries, in the days of good Queen Bess, or perhaps later. I have outlined enough to show that the Kilcormac of today, after all its vicissitudes, is a bright little spot in the Kings County.
THE BUILDER OF HAPPINESS.
Into the making of it so one name chiefly caters that of the beloved Parish Priest, the Rev. Edward O’Reilly. What a fine type you exclaim, as you meet him for the first time. Age has slightly bowed the shoulders of a once powerful man, standing well over six feet. It has not dimmed the twinkling eye nor loosened the touch with every-day affairs, while it has mellowed and rendered more agreeable an old world courtesy and kindliness of heart which the cynical say is leaving the stoney faced existence of us moderns not to return again. Under the hospitable roof of Father O’Reilly one soon forgets that the severities of the world are greater than its virtues. Personally I believe nothing of the kind. This big statured, big-hearted priest one sees at a glance, is no ordinary man. He was cast in a heroic mould. All his life he has been a fighter in the National cause. A fighter for the people about him. Back in the disastrous days of the Parnellite split Father O’Reilly was one of the controlling spirits of the organisation of the succeeding colleagues of the fallen statesman the National Federation. How names and stories of struggles and contentions paraded themselves as we discussed the events of these now far off days. Poor Justin McCarthy, Mr. William Martin Murphy, to whose patriotic worth Father O’Reilly paid a very sincere tribute, Mr. Arthur O’Connor, Mr. Tim Healy, Mr. William O’Brien, and Mr. John Dillon. But they were not for long a happy family. Tim Healy, of whom Father O’Reilly is an ardent admirer, did not like the way things were going. He was doing his best for the country. He fell foul of Dillon. A memorable fight, lasting from noon until 1 a.m. next morning, and Healy and others, with Father O’Reilly, left the headquarters of the Federation in Rutland Square never to enter them again. Once a politician always a politician. Today Father O’Reilly follows the fortunes of Ireland with if not equal keenness to the vigorous days well over a quarter of a century ago with very great keenness. He is not enamoured with the political outlook, few Irishmen are. His hope is in the young men of Ireland. The self-reliant, well educated, unselfish young workers, of whom there are many and who are prepared to make great sacrifices for the motherland, as recent events proved.
A STILL ACTIVE WORKER.
One would expect that this Patriot Priest, now approaching, the autumn of a vigorous life, would be inclined to take public affairs easy, to sit on his ease and dignity, as the old Latin tag has it. Nothing of the kind. The other day he was elected for fourteenth year Chairman of the King’s County Agricultural and Technical Committee, which in turn has many other committees. Technical work in the King’s County has been brilliantly successful. But it means that the Chairman living ten miles away, has to be repeatedly in the county town. To do this he travels over possibly the worst roads in Ireland. Father O’Reilly thinks nothing of it. And before my departure he was off to another agricultural meeting. This time in his local hall. I could not resist the invitation to be present, nor could my friend, Mr. T. M. Russell of Tullamore, a gentle man no less energetic in the agricultural movement that is Father O’Reilly. Sacrificing all prospect of returning home that night we went to the meeting. Here I think I saw all the sight and shade of the kindly, deeply affectionate soggarth among his people. It was evident he simply lived to promote their interests. The new Tillage Scheme was the matter to be considered. The official programme had not yet been fashioned. There was his reverence full of facts and figures, explaining and expounding in what was at once a conversation and a speech from which eloquence and oratory peeped out here and there. It was delighted to listen. The outwardly simple, amiable priest among his people was obviously a cultured and gifted speaker did occasion summon up the use of there accomplishments. The facts. There are a thousand acres of untenanted land in the district. The owners are willing to sell. There are plenty of small farmers, farmers’ sons, and agricultural labourers ready to step on to these lands in the morning. But the Department, oh’ that Department! has not yet submitted any scheme indicating how the waiting farmers and the untenanted land are to be bought together. Are these men to go on the land without saying to the owners “By your leave,” or are they to offer six or seven pounds an acre for temporary accommodation? Where is theagricultural equipment needed, the seeds to be put into the ground? The whole thing left the impression on me that, true to character, the Department was again making a mess of it and that the golden harvest fields of the later on would live principally in our imaginations. Let me hope I’m a mere pessimist.
Like a good general, Father O’Reilly has in all his public work his little staff about him. I met two of them at tea. Mr. O’Callaghan, a valued member of the King’s County Council, who has not a great deal to say but thinks a lot, and strikes you at once as an excellent type of the younger public man we are meeting more frequently now on our county bodies, and Mr. Clavin, full of energy, who is Secretary of the Co-operative Society. I was very anxious for the story of that society when I heard it was a success. Father O’Reilly acquainted me with it. As a matter of form the society affiliated with the Organisation Society, but there the connection ended. The society was a success because of the efforts Mr. Clavin put into it, and through his instrumentality was doing a good deal of useful work among the local farmers. Needless to say it avoided the huckstering in household necessities which would render any society of the kind contemptible.
One came away from this little corner of King’s County delighted with all that was seen and heard and deeply moved by the experience of what one good man, earnest and unselfish, can accomplish towards putting a new face on Rural Ireland.