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…
To mark Heritage Week 2023 we have two articles on St Catherine’s Church, Hop Hill, Tullamore. This week the background from the 1700s to the completion of the new church in 1815. When coming to Tullamore by boat or rail the two most prominent sites to greet the visitor are the spire of the Catholic church completed in 1906 and that of St Catherine’s church, built on the mound known as Hop Hill and completed in August 1815.
We take the presence of the Cof I churches of St Catherine’s, Clara, Shinrone, Geashill, Edenderry and St Brendan’s in Birr (to name a few) for granted. The upkeep is great and the contributors few. More will need to be done to structure support for the upkeep of these buildings.
A Francis Johnston plan with the burial crypt of c. 1808-10. Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive
Hop Hill site a brave choice
The Hop Hill site was a brave choice as there was work to be done to make it suitable for building and the adjoining ground was soft and prone to flood, especially in the years before the two Brosna drainage schemes of 1850 and 1950. The Tullamore town landlord, Charles William Bury (1764-1835), had reserved the large distillery plot (now the Granary apartments in Market Square) for a church, from about 1800 to 1806. In the latter year then rector, Ponsonby Gouldsbury, and the vestry opted for the Hop Hill site and the new church was largely completed in August 1815. Soon after the old church off Church Street, erected in 1726, was demolished and the site of the church and, possibly an adjoining graveyard, were used for the Shambles or meat market and the remaining land incorporated into the new Market Square or Corn Market. The new Bachelors Walk was worked on from about 1812 as an attractive avenue to the new church from the High Street and from the town’s owner’s new residence, Charleville Castle. The architect for the church was Francis Johnston and for the new avenue, or Bachelors Walk was John Claudius Loudon, the distinguished landscape architect and designer of demesnes.
The young Charles William Bury when aged 28 and just seven years into his estate. He married in 1798 and died in 1835. His best years were up to the completion of the castle. He contributed about £4,000 of the £8,000 it cost to build St Catherine’s.
The site at Hop HIll – a natural mound more pointed before 1808 when work started on St Catherine’s. This picture about 1890.
Planning in Tullamore on a grand scale, 1785-1815
A new avenue to the church in place of that in the narrow part of Church Street or Tanyard Lane was an essential appendage to the new grandeur in the town associated with its lately ennobled proprietor, Charles William Bury, Lord Tullamore (1797), Viscount Charleville (1802) and earl of Charleville (1806). If the earl’s coronet surmounted the pedimented break-front of the market house in the town square it was fitting that a new church be built and an avenue cut to it from the Clonminch Road at the end of Windmill Street (soon to be called Earl Street) and bringing the earl from his demesne through Charleville Road, Charleville Street to Earl Street and Bachelors Walk. It would mean that the Charleville family would not have to negotiate the dirty streets of the town on the way to Sunday service. Even though, in time, the lower part of Church Street was built and a fine terrace completed between the thatched preaching house (now Methodist church) and the county infirmary (now Library Hall apartments), and in which Johnston may have had a hand as to the general configuration of the tiered roofline of the terrace. An added bonus for the new avenue or Bachelors Walk was that its sight-line, standing at the western end (beside what is now Clonminch House) opened a vista to Croghan Hill, the ancestral home of the Moore family. The Moores had come to Ireland as soldier-settlers in the latter half of the sixteenth century and secured a grant of lands at Croghan and acquired more lands by mortgage and grant including the lands of Tullamore after the 1600s. The family built a house in Tullamore after 1700 in the vicinity of would later be the harbour (1799) and a church nearby in 1726 in what would be called Church Street and was then Church Lane. The town had something of an east-west orientation until the 1740s with the barracks of 1716 at the western end of the town and what might be called ‘the Irish town’ all in the vicinity of the lanes of what is now Patrick Street and Kilbride Street and was then Barrack Street, lower and upper. Within a hundred years of the family coming to live in Tullamore from Croghan everything would be on a much grander scale with the new big house or castle, the fine streets and the new Protestant church on the hill overlooking the town.
Date for the old church in the Shambles – now in Offaly History Centre
Intimations of such grandeur would come with the ennoblement of John Moore in 1715 as the first Lord Tullamore or Tullamoore as the family liked their town to be called. He was the builder of the house near what was later the harbour in about 1700 and was a supporter of the Hanoverian succession. Tullamore and his town were rewarded in 1715–16 with a title for him and the locating of a barracks in what came to be called Barrack Street and is now Patrick Street. After his death in 1725 Ellen Moore had a church built in 1726 in what would later be called Church Street.
The ‘communion’ table was said to have been in Kilbride, next the church in Church Street and now in St Catherine’s.
The parish church was at Durrow with Kilbride as a chapel of ease. But Kilbride was in ruins in 1641 (and probably since the 1560s), and Durrow probably the same until put into repair by Mrs Fox (the last of the Ballycowan-Durrow Herberts of Ballycowan Castle) after 1700. The new barracks and church were all signs of growing stability and confidence. Such was the growth of the town in the years 1700 to 1800 that a new church was deemed necessary. The Catholics had already completed a new building in 1802 and the Methodists had a small chapel in Swaddling Lane (behind what are now the Italian restuarants in Patrick St) from the 1760s. This church was destroyed in the notorious ‘balloon fire’ of 1785 and a new preaching house erected in Church Street in 1788. This was rebuilt perhaps in the 1820s and rebuilt in 1889. There was no Presbyterian church in Tullamore until 1865 when the present building was completed.
The parish magazine from 1893 to c. 1920 – perhaps it finished when the Athlone Printing Works was destroyed by the British military in Nov. 1920
What was surprising was that the old church in Church Street had lasted so long and had not been replaced with a finer church as had happened in Clara in 1770 with the church there located on rising ground near the fair green. Tullamore expanded rapidly after the coming of age of Charles William Bury in 1785. By 1798 the canal had been completed to the town from Dublin and Tullamore would remain the terminus for a vital six years. All these changes brought about the elevation of Tullamore to a rectory in about 1800 supporting its own person rather than relying on a curate from Durrow parish.
The 150th anniversary in 1965.
New Tullamore buildings provide the context of change
The period after 1785 and up the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 was a time of substantial progress in Ireland and in the town of Tullamore as witness the new streets and public buildings:
New streets completed in the thirty years to 1815 included William Street, Harbour Street, Upper Church Street, the Corn Market, Offaly Street (with less success), Store Street, Canal Place, Benburb Street, Bury Quay (Convent View) and Bachelors Walk
The hotel of 1786 – later known as Hayes’ Hotel (demolished in 2000, now Boots pharmacy)
The county infirmary in Church Street in 1788
The market house in 1789 in Charleville Square
Canal bridges (3), a new canal hotel, canal stores, canal houses and a harbour, 1798-1809
Building of Charleville Castle, 1800–12
A new Catholic chapel, 1794–1802.
A military magazine on the canal side at what is now Tyrrell’s Road in 1808
Charleville School in 1811
St Catherine’s Church in 1815
Tullamore Gaol 1830
Tullamore Courthouse 1835
Mercy Convent and schools, 1836–40
Tullamore workhouse, 1841
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St Catherine’s was very much out of town until the 1960s