making of a town
The Grand Canal was eventually completed as far as Philipstown
in early 1797 and to Tullamore a year later. The woollen
industry was already in decline and when Coote surveyed
the county in 1801 for his report to the Royal Dublin Society
This county is very thickly inhabited; Philipstown which
is the county town, and the only one in the barony, has
hitherto sent two members to parliament, it has till lately
been in a wretched state, and was rapidly fallen to ruin:
now there is but little to recommend it. This town was originally
part of the Molesworth estate, and through family connections,
is now divided into three properties; the most considerable
part of it is enjoyed by the Right Honourable Mr Ponsonby.
The new leases now given are encouraging, and several new
houses are erecting.
The Grand Canal passes at the northern end of the town,
and before this navigation, was complete to Tullamore, it
was of very material service to this town, but now of inconsiderable
advantage. A new county goal is also erecting at the rear
of the barracks, which are extensive, and commands the town;
it is almost entirely surrounded with bog, consequently
fuel must be cheap and abundant; and provisions are in plenty,
yet no manufacture of any kind is carried on. It had formerly
a garrison, and the ruins of lofty castle are situated on
the brink of the river. This town is thirty-eight miles
distant from Dublin.
The most colourful and comprehensive account of the former
county town of Philipstown is that of Jonathan Binns based
on a survey in 1836. Binns was commissioned to survey the
barony of Philipstown and wrote:
From Dublin to Philipstown the road is uninteresting. On
our arrival at the latter place, after issuing notices,
and adopting the necessary preliminaries, we inspected the
district and the farms in the neighbourhood.
The town is well built, and was formerly a place of note.
It contains a capital Court-house and Prison, a large Catholic
chapel, and a small Protestant church.
The Grand Canal, on which two passage-boats ply daily between
Dublin and the Shannon Harbour, adjoins the town. Previously
to the Union, (1800) Philipstown returned two members to
parliament, and was a place of considerable trade. Lamentably,
however are things changed now. It is robbed of its representatives
- the assizes are removed to Tullamore - its trade has disappeared
- many of its houses are in ruins, it shops are falling
into decay, and its population, as these signs sufficiently
indicate, are poor and wretched. Although surrounded by
miles of unreclaimed bog land, its inhabitants wander about
the streets in search of employment, and find none. Nor
is the desolation confined to the town. There are several
places, which bear the name of Inns or Hotels.
We took up our abode at the south end of the town, at a
hotel kept by Mrs. Ellis, the post-mistress. Here after
sufficient time to procure tea and coffee from Dublin had
elapsed, we lived very comfortably, regaling ourselves in
the meantime with excellent cream and eggs, and a joint,
occasionally, of good beef or mutton. The chickens, like
the generality of Irish Poultry, were half starved.
My bed-room was part of the Barristers dinning-room, in
the palmy days of Philipstown: the sitting room which we
occupied, looked out upon the street, and the windows were
frequently crowded with miserable women, carrying children
upon their backs, and soliciting charity with pitiful lamentations.
To relieve all was impossible and to relieve only a few
increased the number of those who begged. Under such distressing
circumstances, my consolation was, that I was engaged in
preparing a full and honest statement of their wretched
condition, with a view to the introduction of legislative
measures of relief. ( Presumably the Poor Law legislation
of 1838 which established the workhouse.)
Lord Tullamore had hoped to avoid the need for a parliamentary
bill to transfer the assizes this is clear from a letter
to his mother of 3 September 1830.
I have had great pleasure in meeting Hardinge on the subject
he is a quick , clear sighted man of business - and it is
a great thing for Ireland to have got such a man in place
of the last drowsy pompous, poetical humbug of a secretary.
He had promised me the entire and cordial support of Government
to remove the assizes to Tullamore.
This is the first attempt to alter an assize town in Ireland
and it is next to impossible to discover in whom the authority
and right is vested. He is much anxious as we are also,
to avoid the necessity of an Act of Parliment of which we
have great fears it will be necessary to resort to that
course in which case the wishes of the county members to
bring in the bill and I will support it - with all the Govt.
The county town contest was also fought out at estate level
with Lord Tullamore able to use his Croghan Hill tenants
Tullamore to Countess of Charleville (29th September 1829)
I spent five days at Croghan. Barry Fox came with me. The
people lighted five bonfires on the top of the hill, in
defiance of the Philipstown people who had two, on the occasion
of the judgement in the Court of Kings Bench. The
people drank your health. I sent them a few barrels of beer
and we rode up on to the hill at 10 oclock at night.
They came in a state of great enthusiasm and drank destruction
Tullamore wrote on 30 August 1832, again to his mother,
I ought to go to Ireland in the course of the winter about
the courthouse by not going to the assizes they lost the
presentments and the expenses of the Bill will, I suppose
fall on me.
The judges, if they were consulted, approved of the assize
transfer to Tullamore. But it was necessary to have enabling
legislation passed at Westminster. Lord Tullamore as M.P.
for Carlow (1826-31) moved the Second Reading of the Bill
on 23 May 1832 telling the members that Philipstown was
The former town, his Lordship observed, was completely inconvenient,
whether with regard to its position, for it was in the centre
of the Bog of Allen, or as to its means of accommodation.
The town was very small, and the Bar, Judges, and Jurors
felt great inconvenience for the want of sufficient accommodation.
A new Courthouse had been recently erected in Tullamore,
at considerable expense; and independently of the reasons
he had already assigned, which in themselves were sufficiently
powerful,he thought that this was an additional argument
in favour of the proposed Bill, for it would be most desirable
that the Courthouse and gaol should be as close as possible
to each other, as very great inconvenience attended the
removal of prisoners from one town to another. He moved
that the Bill be read a second time.
Mr Ponsonby moved an Amendment, that the Bill be read that
day six months, on the ground that the removal of the Assizes
from Philipstown would be a severe injury to the inhabitants
of that town.
Lord Oxmantown supported the original Motion, and for the
reasons which has been stated by the noble Lord who introduced
the Motion. That noble personage, he added, could not be
supposed to be influenced by any personal motive in this
transaction, for he possessed property in the vicinity of
both towns, and he could have no object or interest in favouring
one beyond the other. He was satisfied that the noble Lord
was influenced by the most pure and praiseworthy motives
- namely a wish to facilitate the administration of justice.
Mr Crampton supported that Amendment. he conceived that
sufficient grounds had not been stated for changing the
Assizes. There was another class of persons besides the
Bar and Grand Jury, whose interests should be consulted
- namely, the farmers of the county; besides, the building
of a new Courthouse would entail a very heavy expense on
the county, and these were not times in which such burdens
could be borne.It would appear that the new goal had been
built with the view of affording an argument for the removal
of the Assizes.
Mr Spring Rice support the original Motion, because he was
of opinion that any measure which might be calculated to
facilitate the administration of justice, should not be
rejected merely on account of the expense of a new Courthouse.
He thought sufficient had been stated to induce the House
to support this Bill, and he should accordingly vote for
the second reading.Mr Shaw also supported the Motion.
Mr Ruthven, from his geographical knowledge of the county,
felt that the proposed measure would be a great benefit.
Tullamore was eight miles distant from Philipstown, and
it would be a monstrous inconvenience to bring persons such
a distance for trail; besides, Philipstown did not afford
sufficient accommodation. Individual interests should not
be preferred to the public good. Bill read a second time.
Further comment was heard in the House on 30 May 1832 when
Lord Tullamore moved that the House resolve itself into
a Committee on the Kings County assizes bill.
Mr OFerrall said, that bill would be a great injustice
in Philipstown, and he moved that the bill be referred to
a Committee. Ever since 1786 there had been a family dispute
between the noble Lord connected with Philipstown, and the
noble Lord connected with Tullamore, and the whole business
seemed to him a sort of family job. The question ought to
be left to the Chancellor and the Judges. If the bill were
carried, a considerable expense would be entailed on the
county. Lord Tullamore said, that the bill was necessary
for the convenience of the Kings County, and he could
assure the House he did not take it up as a family affair.
He was ill abroad when the gentlemen of the county began
Mr Crampton thought the bill ought not to be passed without
inquiry as to the existence of the inconvenience which it
proposed to remove.
Mr OConnell thought that the transfer of the courthouse
of Tullamore was necessary.
Mr Henry Grattan said that the removal of the courthouse
Mr Baring thought that, to prevent wranglings in that house
on local and personal questions, the best course would be,
to extend to Ireland the law, which in England leaves it
to the Lord Chancellor and the Judges to determine where
the assizes should be held.
Mr Robert Grant did not think that there was any occasion
for a Committee. The facts which were admitted showed the
necessity of removal.
The house divided on the Original Motion Ayes 50; Noes 38-
The house resolved into a Committee; the Bill having been
considered the house resumed. The Act allowing for the holding
of the assizes at Tullamore instead of Philipstown was passed
on 4 July 1832 with provision for its taking effect from
1 July 1835 when Tullamore would become the shire town.
Mr OFerrall in his address to the House of Commons,
was referring to a petition,which had been presented to
the Irish parliament in February 1786 for the removal of
the assizes to Tullamore. This petition would have been
strongly supported by Lord Tullamores father, Charles
William Bury ( later earl of Charleville), who on his coming
of age in 1785 had set about improving Tullamore and had
set aside a site for a courthouse at the junction of William
St. with what later became Harbour St. (post 1798). The
site selected for the goal in 1826 and the courthouse (1829-30)
adjoined each other on high ground on the southern side
of the town. The fact that both buildings were on the road
from the landlords demesne to the town of Tullamore would
mean that both the earl of Charleville and his son, Lord
Tullamore, could look with pride at their involvement in
these handsome buildings they had done so much to bring
about. As for the transfer of the assizes it represented
the end of a fifty-year struggle by Lord Charleville coinciding
with his own involvement in the management of improvement
in Tullamore. He had come to the town as a 21 year old youth
soon after the ballon fire in 1785 and died in 1835, the
same year as the courthouse was opened.
In a scrapbook kept by Lord Tullamore and containing among
other things, newspaper cuttings, is a reference to a report
on the agreement of the Grand Jury to proceed with the new
building at Tullamore.
KINGS COUNTY ASSIZES - REMOVAL OF THE COUNTY COURTS
The very important question of transferring the assizes
of Philipstown to Tullamore, has at length been decided,
and the grand jury who assembled at these assizes, perhaps
one of the most respectable that ever met in the county,
and composed of gentlemen of the highest rank and greatest
wealth in the county, came unanimously to the resolution
of presenting for a new courthouse, to be built at Tullamore,
in the immediate vicinity of the splendid new county goal.
We cannot refrain from expressing our surprise at the manner
in which the presentiment was opposed by agents of Lord
Ponsonby, evidently against the general sense of the public.
The present courthouse is most incommodious and in a state
of ruinous decay, the roof has been found defective, and
sums of money have been squandered at various times in the
vain hope of making it tenable. The town of Philpstown is
a wretched village, affording no accommodation - no inn,
no houses of entertainment, and situated in so remote a
part of the county, that it has been found impossible to
conduct the public business there with advantage. No attempt
has been made by the proprietor to remedy any of the many
defects, or provide decent accommodation for those whose
duty and business oblige them to attend at assizes and sessions.
It is upwards of fifty miles from one end of the county
, and within twelve of the other! - and yet Lord Ponsonby,
an absentee landlord, who we believe has never visited this
estate, has though proper to offer every resistance in his
power to the unanimous wishes of the governors, magistrates,
grand jurors, and freeholders of the county. We heartily
congratulate these gentlemen on their success, and know
not whether most to admire their liberality or their independence.
In the same scrapbook is an original requisition for a meeting
at the Tullamore town hall of 23 July 1833.
We, the undersigned request a meeting of the inhabitants
of the town of Tullamore, at the Town House, on Saturday
the 27th instant, at two oclock pm for the purpose
of returning our thanks to the Lord Tullamore, for his talented
and successful exertions in having a bill passed the Legislature
making this the Assize Town of the County and also to thank
the Earl of Charleville, for his Lordships free grant
of the ground upon which the building of the Courthouse
has already commenced; and likewise to take into consideration
a Petition to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, to enfranchise
this rising and populous town, in order that it should return
a member to represent it in the Imperial Parliament, in
case the Town of Carrickfergus should be disfranchised ,
which has been recommended by a Committee of the House of
Notwithstanding Lord Tullamore efforts for his own town
it did not secure him a seat for the county at Westminister
in 1832. He had to content himself with representation on
behalf of the electors of Falmouth and Penryn.
Regarding the design of the new courthouse it would appear
from the letter of Lord Tullamore to Leveson Gower of 1829,
already referred to, that Lord Tullamore was fully in favour
of the Grecian design which is somewhat surprising given
the Gothic style of Charleville Castle (1801-1812) and the
county goal (1826-29). Writing from London, to his father,
the Earl of Charleville, at Tunbridge Wells on 10 September
1832 Tullamore said:
I shall go to Tunbridge Wells to take leave of you before
I set out for Ireland - I am busy with Sir Robt. Smirke,
preparing for the courthouse but fear we must change our
A further letter to his mother of 17 January 1833 elaborates
on the choice of design.
We have selected a capital plan of courthouse as far as
internal accommodation and convenience, but with Grecian
elevation, which I fear will clash with the goal, but I
couldnt get them to give a decent Saxon, Norman, rustic
or Elizabethan plan and the democratic party runs so high
that out of all the plans, all Grecian, we chose the plainest
exterior, fearing a traverse at the assizes. On the 29th
we meet to declare a contractor.
In a letter of the 21 January 1833 Tullamore stated that
what they had done at the last assizes was illegal and that
the grand jury could not go on with the courthouse without
He again wrote on the 3rd September 1833 to say:
I agree with you in regretting that the facade of the courthouse
is not more in unison with the goal, as the juxta-position
of both makes the difference in either more striking. I
had a plan prepared from an idea of mine own of a Saxon
Elevation and I had been able to accomplish it, I think
whilst it would have been unique, it would have also been
handsome but we have had many things to consider - economy,
usage at to get the most accommodation at least cost - the
accommodation at least cost - the plan we adopted accomplished
that object and if an Elizabethan elevation had cost the
same, the ignorant, the vicious, and the radicals in these
Reform times, wd say Ldt- spent public money in ornamenting
his town and squandered and frittered it away in pinnacles,
carvings, to indulge in his taste regardless of the misery
the poor endured in paying the tax for it. The present plan
is bold and simple and the front in so intended and the
height exceeding by at least 25 feet the jail walls. I am
inclined to hope that it will command attention and attract
it from the jail gate, which after all is of doubtful and
spurious Gothic and is the only thing that can complete
with it... Keanes design for Tullamore which it would
seem Lord Tullamore reluctantly adopted, was awarded first
place in a competition, which exceeded twenty candidates.
Among those who submitted designs were W. D Butler (awarded
a premium), Williams Murray and William Vitruvius Morrison.
Morrison had designed the courthouse at Tralee (1828) and
Carlow (1830) both in the Grecian style. McParland comments
that in William Morrisons design for Carlow he most
likely followed the design of Smirke at Gloucester Shire
Hall and provided access to Semicircular courtrooms from
corridors surrounding them. He used this arrangement again
in Tralee. Keane had competed with Morrison at Tralee and
Carlow and now at Tullamore defeated him with a design,
which was very similar to Morrisons own. Morrison had made
both Gothic and Greek suggestions for Tullamore courthouse
but the Greek style had been favoured from the beginning.
Besides this the commissioners for the building of the courthouse
at Tullamore seem to have agreed that it was a design similar
to Smirkes Gloucester that they wanted. Lord Tullamores
letter to Lord Leveson Gower, said as much. This point was
reiterated by Francis Berry, agent to the earl of Charleville
and a commissioner, in a letter to William Murray of 15
November 1832: the overseas think the plan of Gloucester
(and Kerry courthouse) a good model, lately erected by Sir
Robert Smirke. The reference to Kerry courthouse was added
as a marginal note. William Vitruvius Morrison had designed
The semi circular courtrooms were, apparently ultimately
French in derivation but had an Irish precedent in Richard
Morrisons hall in Sir Patrick Dunis Hospital, but more immediate
in Gloucester Shire Hall with its Illissus-style partico
and semi- circular courts.
Keane later designed a courthouse for Nenagh (1833-), Ennis
(1845) and Waterford (1849), all in the Grecian style. McParland
in reviewing Keanes contribution stated that his courthouse
formed a distinctive group of monumental Greek buildings,
which though they lack the imaginative grandeur of Morrisons
work, worthily answered the demands of their grand juries.
McParland comments that in many cases the new courthouses
were not given central sites, but were built on the outskirts
where they benefited from the openness of their surroundings
as at Tullamore, Waterford, Galway, Ennis and Cork. It may
also have reflected the hectic building growth of the 1780s
to the 1820s in Irish towns and the scarcity of suitable
ground in more central situations.
And finally McParland has noted that the conservative
attitude to the architecture of classical antiquity in the
1840s belongs to a neo-classical tradition in public building
that had been first significantly formulated by James Gandon
in Waterford in the 1780s. More than any other type of building
nineteenth-century courthouses had sustained, consistently
over the whole country, a native Greek revival in architecture.
John B. Keane (d.1859) worked for Richard Morrison at Ballyfin
in 1822. Apart from his courthouse he designed a number
of churches, including Longford Cathedral and the churches
of St. Laurence OToole and St. Francis Xavier in Dublin
. He also designed the Queens College, Galway and
several country houses. By a curious irony he was himself
imprisoned in the Marshalsea goal after falling into debt.
Craig reproduces a plan of Tullamore courthouse and comments:
Keane was a resourceful planner. Most of his court houses
stick to the Waterford I formula of a transverse
hall crossed on its shorter axis, but now with staircases
to right and left. From there inwards there is great variety:
copious and convenient accommodation (including sanitary
accommodation) for judges, juries, barristers and witnesses,
all beautifully integrated into the plan. By this time,
also, there was a considerable demand for office accommodation,
and this, too is satisfied within the overall design, so
that so this day many county councils still have their offices
in the court house.
Copies of Keanes drawings for Tullamore courthouse,
dated 1833 are now in the Irish Architecture Archive, a
set having been found in Lismore Castle c1989. A front elevation
was possibly in the Charleville Castle auction of 1948 and
is now in the possession of the author.
By Michael Byrne
Courtesy of the Midland Tribune