Tullamore in words and pictures Illustrated history brings the town to life

 

With its planned streets laid out by the earl of Charleville and its rich stock of period buildings, Tullamore is architecturally among the most interesting of Irish towns. It has some strikingly elegant town houses and an impressive range of public buildings, and its frontages to the Grand Canal retain the cut-stone warehouses and bonding houses that once supported the Co Offaly town’s whiskey and malting industries.

Michael Byrne, a Tullamore solicitor, is a prolific historian of the town and of Co Offaly. Fergal McCabe, also a Tullamore native, is a well-known architect and town planner. In Tullamore: A Portrait(Esker Press for Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society €30) they have collaborated to produce a book that would be the envy of many a larger municipality, combining Byrne’s lively text and McCabe’s sketches, watercolours and architectural drawings.

What makes the book a delight is the creative juxtaposition of Byrne’s narrative with McCabe’s drawings of stone bridges, elegant door cases, places of worship, old memorials, narrow back lanes and broad, bustling commercial streets (including a watercolour drawing of the Market House of 1789, right).

There are many photographs as well, but it often requires the combined skill of architect and artist to bring out the hidden detail in a parapet or a pillar.

Neither Byrne nor McCabe belongs to the “touch nothing and change nothing” school of conservation. This is not a nostalgic portrait of the 19th-century industrial town that is gone but of a town and a people who appreciate their heritage in a 21st-century setting.


Conor Brady is a former editor of The Irish Times