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…
Kinnitty is very much on the tourist trail in Offaly and is arguably the finest planned village in the county. In this piece first published in 2011 in Paddy Lowry’s Kinnitty my home in the Slieve Bloom (2011) Paddy Lowry looks back to almost 100 years ago. Courtesy of Kilcormac Historical Society. Offaly History has some copies of this now scarce title for sale.
I first began to take notice of things in the village when I started school in 1926. Kinnitty was very different then to what it is now and indeed even twenty years after I started school there were already many changes taking place. It was a very busy and prosperous place in those times and it had a great array of businesses and personnel.
the late Paddy Lowry at Seir Kieran
There were two priests then where there is only one now; there was also a Rector. Kinnitty had a sergeant and three guards who would be out walking or on their bikes, now there is only one guard and he is only here now and again. There were six shops – grocery, drapery, hardware and light grocery. Just before my time there had also been three bakeries here. Cleeres had grocery, drapery and hardware businesses, they were also undertakers with a horse drawn hearse. P.H. Egan had a grocery and a hardware shop and you could get anything from a needle to an anchor. There were two pubs and they always did a good business there was Fanny Giltrap’s (now Percy Glendenning’s) and Donnelly’s, now the Slieve Bloom Bar. You also had a resident tailor, Joe Molloy, and his wife was a seamstress or “manty-maker” as she was known at that time. There were other small grocery shops and one of them had the post office. Peavoys had a hardware and a grocery shop and they also had a car for hire as had Tom Leahy. Ryans had a grocery shop and also sold animal feed. Johnny Grimes also had a small shop. People didn’t go to Birr or Roscrea very often to shop. They hadn’t the money and they hadn’t the way to travel unless a car was hired. Even bicycles were comparatively expensive. The blacksmith was Johnny Guilfoyle and before him Jimmy Holligan. Tom Feighery was a carpenter and owner of a sawmill. He might make a cart wheel and then it would be brought to the blacksmith to be “shoed” that is to have an iron band put around it using the binding wheel. Paddy Feighery, Lackaroe, and Paddy Bergin, Glendine, were two other men who were expert at making wooden wheels. Kinnitty also had a resident doctor and a nurse, or sometimes two nurses. I can remember Nurse Rigney from near Knockhill and also Nurse Talbot from Birr. So Kinnitty was a thriving place, even if there wasn’t much employment until the forestry came in 1935. There were usually about seven or eight working at the castle. The castle did most of their trading in Birr.
Kinnitty and district from the one-inch c. 1900
There was a sheet iron shed at Cleeres and it was known as Cleere’s Ballroom. It wasn’t fancy but it did its job. The hurlers held a dance there on the 6th January every year. An odd time some organization might hold something there. The first play I ever saw was performed by Rath Conradh na Gaeilge. It was The Croppy Boy and I remember it well, it made a huge impression on me. I was only about ten at the time and I can still see them shooting the Croppy Boy. The new school was built in 1929 and the old one was used as a hall a couple of years after that. Fr. Martin Ryan, from the Silvermines organized the enlarging of the building. Tom Feighery, Church Street, had the job and I actually worked with him the first day. We all had to give a hand, maybe work a day a week to help to get it built. A dramatic class started up later and lasted a few years, but they’re all dead now. In fact there is only one person still living in Kinnitty from my early years, that’s Mary Dunne and there are only two families who have survived in the village from 1920 – Cleeres and Pat Mitchell.
The Church of Ireland school
The Church of Ireland School was built 1815 and it was known as Castlebernard National School. Andrew Duncan from Scotland was the first teacher. Some other teachers there were Miss Halpin, Miss Ensor, Miss Beaumont, Miss Thorpe, Mr. Sharpe, Miss Woods, Mrs. Downes, Miss Buttimer, Miss Mulcare and Mrs. Glendenning who was the last teacher there when the school closed in 1958.
Up to thirty pupils would have attended at any one time.
Kinnitty looking towards Peavoys and the terrace of which it forms a part
I remember back then there were two petrol pumps in the village and there were not many cars around. I can remember my first drive in a car. It was about 1932 and it belonged to Tom Leahy who ran a hackney car. He got it from Canon Hogan who was transferred to Kilrush. The car had a soft roof on it like a pram. It was a great experience at the time. Most of the traffic in the village was horses or asses and carts. Bicycles were precious enough. I remember getting a new one when I was about fifteen or sixteen but things didn’t go too well the first day. I was flying down the road when a dog ran out after me. I drew a kick at him but I missed him. Unfortunately a stone got caught between the mudguard and the fork of the bike and it threw me out over the handlebars. I landed about ten yards down the road and it shook me so badly that my nose and mouth bled. I didn’t know my bike when I went back. My front wheel was a figure eight. I took it down next day to Patsy Dunne at the garage and he spent the whole day trying to straighten it but he couldn’t because the rim was cracked and a lot of the spokes were broken. So I had to get a new wheel.
Montgomery Hitchcock was a famous rector here in the early twentieth century but the first rector I remember was Mr. Hedley Webster. He was followed by Canon Boyle and then there was Canon Lockheed, who was a broadcaster with Radio Eireann. He did a programme on Sunday evenings about rural life and he put Kinnitty on the map. Then there was Mr. Fisher, a real down to earth man. He would do a bit of farming and would go around to the thrashings and take off the coat and pitch straw. He was popular. There was also a young man Mr. Lockheed, a son of the Canon, whose mother was a fluent Irish speaker .He came back for the opening of the church in Cadamstown. These were followed by Rev. Haire, Rev. Hawthorne Twaite, Rev. Arthur Minnion and Rev. Johnson. Other rectors during the nineteenth century were Rev. John Maude in the 1820s; Rev. Henry Tyrell during famine times and Rev. John Russell.
Peavoys in the 1970s
There was a pound in the village, in front of Kennedys across the road from the rectory. Water flows through it and this was important for feeding the animals.
The pound keeper was a man called Mick Kennedy. If you didn’t pay the rent, the bailiff would come and seize the cattle and hold them in the pound until rent was paid. Sometimes the animals were got out of the pound by devious means!
Another very unpopular man was the process server who had to serve a process on someone if, for example they hadn’t paid a bill. One stood at the church gate when the copper collection was being taken up and served a process on a poor unfortunate in front of his neighbors as he went in to mass.
The fair days were the big days in the village. Originally there were two fairs each year, one in April and one in October. Then there were two extra ones, in June and August. The rates were collected at the October fair, often in the pubs. Jim Ryan and Joe Dooley were the collectors. The October fair was the one where the lambs were sold. They were about six months old and, having been reared on the mountains, they weren’t the easiest to manage on a fair day. You’d have to make a tether, like a halter around their necks, and tie them together to keep them in the one place. You could have great hardship trying to mind them, usually it was a job for a young fellows. You would spend the two days before the fair rounding up of sheep and then you would have to leave early in the morning to try to get them to the fair. As bad luck would have it, nearly every gate along the way would be open and running around the field after a bullock was no fun. But I suppose you’d have to say that the fair was a day out for people and a lot of drink would be consumed. Buyers or jobbers came from Roscrea and further afield but local farmers would also be buying. They might want some cattle to rear on or they would be very keen to buy the mountain lambs because they were used to the terrain and they knew what they were getting. They might pay 5 shillings more for them because they were good business men they knew they had the makings of good ewes. The village would be a right mess after the fair but the shops did a great trade so they put up with the mess. The School would close for the day and the children would have to help. Prices were very different compared to today. I saw Lambs sold for fifteen shillings that would fetch 50e now. I remember a ten hundred weight bullock being sold for 4 pounds and it was the talk of the fair; now 400e might not be enough to buy a similar one. Bonhams were nearly the best seller of the lot. All the locals wanted a few to fatten and they would sell for about 25 shillings which was a very good price in the 1930s. The fairs died out around the 1960s when the cattle marts opened.
To be continued