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…
One could only marvel at the grandness of the shopfront, its curved plate glass display windows, its fine chiselled limestone three-story edifice, as well as the coming and goings of customers. This was what was on view to the townsfolk and visitors to Tullamore when coming across the shop owned and operated by proprietor Malachy Scally of Kilbeggan. In 1901, for his thirty first birthday he visited London and picked up retailing insights, ideas on cash handling systems, and street facing window placings from the likes of Selfridges and Harrods retail establishments.1 He completed the magnificent frontage, between 1912 and 1914 at a cost of £5,000-.
In the 1960s, I remember putting my back against Noel O’Brien’s shop on the opposite side of the street and watched the same comings and goings to the famed shop under new owners, the Melville group. The most intriguing sight was seen from within, the mesmerising swishing sound and rapid movement of the railway wire line carriers with its overhead mechanical system. It was just fascinating to watch. (Mrs Jo. Morris and her sons Philip and Kenneth, had a similar but smaller version, at their family shop, J Morris draper on Church Street).
Fig 1. The magnificent edifice of Malachy Scally’s drapery on Columcille Street (Pound Street), Tullamore. Designed by architect T F McNamara (who also designed the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore), it was completed between 1912 and 1914. Courtesy NLI and set here in the jacket of Maurice Egan’s new book to be published in mid-December by Offaly History.
While my mother bought her items from the various departments, she chatted at length to the attendants, I was only too happy to sit all day and watch the mechanics of the ‘rapid wire’ system. In fact, I recall pleading with her to buy each item for cash, so I could observe the railway workings in detail. The Lamson ‘rapid wire’ system was developed in 1888 and consisted of a cylindrical wooden cup with screw-on base which was projected by a catapult mechanism along a taut wire, travelling on grooved wheels suspending the cup from the wire. These cups would travel a good distance, including around corners, without the need of gravity by incline.2 At Malachy Scally’s this system would travel to and from the ground floor centrally located, elevated cash office.
Fig 2. The Lamson Store Service Fig 3. From Anscombe’s in the UK, the cashier returning the customers change along the ‘rapid wire’ system.
The Scallys of Rahugh, Kilbeggan and Tullamore
The Tullamore drapery store Scallys were originally farmers who hailed from Attyconnor, Rahugh, close to the Westmeath/Offaly border. The farm is still owned and worked by the family and lies between Kilbeggan and Tullamore.
Loughlin Scally (b c 1808, d 16 October 1896) and his wife Rose (b c 1809 d 21 August 1885) had three sons and one daughter that we know of: James, Patrick, Daniel, and Clara Scally. James Scally (b c 1841 d 8 December 1903) was a Kilbeggan merchant and licenced premise owner based on Main Street Upper, Kilbeggan, and was a leading local member of the Land League. He married Clara Christina Horan (b c 1846 d 13 January 1917), a prosperous farmers daughter from Muiniagh, Tullamore. They were married at Durrow church on 17 January 1868 by Tullamore curate Fr Joseph Flood C C. The bridesmaid was Clara Scally. They had ten children. James was an enterprising entrepreneur and with the assistance of his father-in-law, Mathew Horan, James expanded his business to Tullamore. Luke Horan, second eldest son of Mathew (b c 1841 m Bedelia Clavin of Clara on 18 April 1866, b c 1846 d 4 November 1896), was a merchant tailor by trade, and was set up in business on Tullamore’s Colmcille Street (Pound Street) in a shop leased to him by his father. They had one son Mathew Joseph Horan who died of TB in early childhood (b 16 September 1867 d 24 March 1871). Sadly, Luke did not escape the ravages of TB, and suffered from its effects for many years.
_________________________________________________________________________________Footnote: Muiniagh is the townland (218a) that extends from Tullamore’s Axis business park north to the Silver River and includes a portion of the residential estate called, Norbury Woods.
It is believed James Scally, his brother-in-law, took over the lease of the Horan shop and established it as James Scally draper in 1876.3 Luke died at the Whitworth Hospital in Drumcondra (a hospital for the chronically ill) on 30 November 1879. He was 38 years of age. His bereft widow Bedelia moved to Castletown, Clara to live with her two brothers.
Fig 4. Extract from the last will and testament of Mathew Horan 1880. Courtesy NLI.
Fig 5. Will and testament of Mathew Horan 1880. Courtesy NLI.
Fig 6. Clara (née Horan) and James Scally. Courtesy Malachy Scally.
Established in 1876, this became the start of a great trot for the Scally drapery business, which was to continue for an uninterrupted eighty-five years. It is believed that James and Clara Scally lived at Bank House (alias Step House), on Main Street Upper North, Kilbeggan since around 1868. They later resided at their fine hardware, grocery, provision, and licenced merchant house which continued as Scally’s for over sixty years until 1928. Malachy, their eldest son was born 8 April 1870. They had ten children, five boys and five girls. James now a successful businessperson, continued to grow his business and leased lands, some known as Towns Park, as well as property, including the Crescent store and Market Square store, Kilbeggan.
Fig 7. James Scally, grocer, provisions merchant and licenced premises, Main St, Kilbeggan. Their residence ‘Step House’ was six doors up the street to the right of picture. Courtesy the NLI.
Unbearable tragedy was not too far around the corner for James and Clara Scally. In 1884, in the space of just nineteen days they lost six (four daughters and two sons) of their ten children to scarlet fever and typhoid.
Malachy Scally (b 8 April 1870 d 3 October 1935) married Mary Anne Fitzgibbon (25 June 1874 d 9 May 1935), at St Michaels church, Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire). She was daughter of well-known M P in the House of Commons for Castlerea County Roscommon, John Fitzgibbon and his wife Marion, née O’Carroll. John Fitzgibbon (1845–1919) was also a merchant draper in Castlerea. John was a supporter of Home Rule and unity with Britain, as well as a member of the Gaelic League. He started his working life in his father’s drapery business in Castlerea. Seen as a spokesperson for the tenant, Fitzgibbon exercised his powers of persuasion and oratory at meetings across Roscommon. His political life spanned 30 years, from the land war to the ranch war.4 Mary Anne’s brother Michael Fitzgibbon (b 2 August 1886 d 15 August 1915, was an apprentice at the solicitors’ firm, Hoey & Denning, Tullamore) joined the British army during the First World War as a second lieut with the 7th Dublin Fusiliers. In July 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Captain and the regiment was shipped to the Dardanelles. One week into the disastrous Allied Gallipoli campaign, the popular twenty-nine-year-old Capt Fitzgibbon was killed in action on Turkish soil.
__________________________________________________________________________________Footnote: The ten children of James and Clara Scally were: Rose Mary (b 3 April 1869 d 25 September 1919 of TB, m 15 September 1892 Peter Joseph Joyce of Leenane Galway b 1859, a commercial traveller from Edgeworthstown and Longford d 9 September 1926), Malachy (b 8 April 1870 d 3 October 1935 m 19 June 1895 Mary Anne Teresa Fitzgibbon of Castlerea b 25 June 1874 d 9 May 1935), Joseph (b 29 September 1873), Mathew James Scally (b 20 July 1875 d 31 October 1884), John Frances Scally (b 4 December 1877 d 1 March 1907 m 1906 Annie White, daughter of P J White of Clara, widowed she later married James Kelly 17 June 1912), Bridget Christina (b 21 December 1878 d 3 November 1884), Mary Joseph (b 29 February 1880 d 24 October 1884), James Scally jnr (b 20 July 1881 d 24 October 1884), Agnes Scally (b 28 January 1883 d 11 November 1884), Clara Christina (b 18 July 1884 d 4 November 1884).5
Fig 8. Malachy Scally, merchant draper and entrepreneur. Courtesy Malachy Scally.
Malachy was deemed an astute and quick learner, and was schooled at the Christian Brothers, Tullamore and later at Navan. He finished his schooling at Rockwell College. He quickly learned the drapery business and was constantly looking out for new ideas in the world of fashion and retailing. He and Mary Anne had eleven children, the three eldest were born above the drapery store on William Street (todays Colmcille Street) . The businesses in both Kilbeggan and Tullamore were thriving, and he took out a lease on the architecturally impressive residential property Moore Hall on Earl Street (O’Moore St, Tullamore) in 1900. He learned much on his travels and brought back and implemented new ideas from a 1901 trip to visit Selfridges and Harrods, London. Malachy formally took over the running of the family business when his father James died in 1903.
In April 1902, as his business expanded he took over the lease of the former Bradley boot and shoe warehouse next door (today’s AIB bank). Malachy Scally, grandson of Malachy snr recalls: ‘Around 1903, Malachy took a lease on number 2 and 3 Colmcille Street from Lady Emily Alfred Julia Howard Bury of Charleville Forest. Earlier, it was called William Street after Charles William Bury First Earl of Charleville.
In 1912 he commissioned the office of architect William Hague (1836-1899) to design the magnificent shop and façade for 2 and 3 Colmcille Street. His daughter Philomena (Phlo) also had an input in the design. While accompanying her father on a buying trip to Brussels, she made sketches of shop fronts, which influenced the outcome. After Hague’s death, his wife took over the firm’s partnership with their managing assistant, the renowned architect T F McNamara (1867-1947) who had worked on the Church of the Assumption, Grand Central Cinema, and the Co-Operative Society premises in Tullamore. The shop was completed in 1914.’
Ever the moderniser with a keen interest in mechanics, he was the first to install the mesmerising Lamson overhead cash wire carriers in the town. He was fascinated with aeroplanes and encouraged his sons Manco and Frank in their pursuit to become qualified pilots.
He continued to run the original family business on Main Street, Kilbeggan, and employed his first cousin Patrick Scally of Attyconner and later Moyvore, as an assistant shop hand. He thereafter put his son Manco in charge of the Kilbeggan store from around 1920. James A Scally the eldest son, worked with and was trained in the retail trade by his father, having completed his schooling at Clongowes. Together they introduced a new sales incentive at Scally’s drapery where paying customers were entered into Scally’s draw for their unique prize scheme. Uncollected monetary prizes were donated to charity. Increasingly James A was taking over more of the running of the business, assisted by his youngest brother Brendan and youngest sister Eithne Scally.
Manco decided to spend more and more time engaged as a professional aviator, spending considerable time in Coventry, England. In 1928 Malachy decided to sell the old established Kilbeggan business inherited from his father James Scally. It was advertised for auction by the Kelly Brothers, Auctioneers at Kilbeggan on the 29 September that year.
The free-spirited Manco had planned a huge adventurous solo flight from Ireland to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) via Baghdad. It would be the first private individual flying out of the new Irish Free State. His tiny plane (EI AAL) he called ‘Shamrocket’ and flew via Paris and then onto Marseilles. He was tragically killed while trying to land at nearby Berre on 21 February 1932.
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