In a new guest post on the site, I am delighted to share a contribution from historian Stephen Callaghan. Stephen and I worked together many years ago at the National Museum of Ireland. Since then he has done fantastic work on a range of topics, ranging from investigations of First World War training trenches to explorations of graveyards in the Irish Midlands. His latter work has especially focused on Co. Offaly, and it was during work in Birr that he came across the grave he discusses below- one of the very few in Ireland associated with a man who saw service in the Confederate military. Stephen takes up the story…
Thomas Molloy was born in Seffin, Birr in 1834. His father was Michael, a stone mason (his mother has not been traced). Not much is known about Thomas’ early life growing up in Birr. In 1851 Thomas and his brother John moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they were involved in the contracting business. Despite being in a Union state, Thomas enlisted in the Louisiana Tigers in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.*
After the Civil War Thomas returned to Cincinnati where he is recorded on the 1870 census as a stone mason. He moved home to Birr in 1878 due to ill health. The following year he married Margaret Guinan on 27th June 1879 in St Brendan’s Catholic Church, Birr. Thomas and Margaret had the following children; Margaret Mary (23rd June 1881); Annie Catherine (20th September 1882); Bernard (23rd October 1884); and John (5th April 1886), all of whom were born in Birr. Slaters Royal National Directory of 1881 records Thomas as a Provision Dealer on Birr’s Cumberland Street. He is also listed on the 1894 directory. The 1901 and 1911 census records the Molloys as living on Cumberland Street, by which time Thomas was a grocer.
Thomas was vice chairman of Birr Urban District Council for a number of years. The reporting on one particular special meeting of the council provides an insight into some of Thomas’ views and opinions. In 1904 the council was discussing a proposal to erect a memorial to the members of the local militia who had died during the Second Boer War in South Africa. Major Francis Duggan of Birr Barracks wrote to the council asking if such a memorial could be erected in John’s Place. After the major’s letter was read, Thomas proposed that it be consigned to the waste paper basket. He expressed the view that he had never seen the barracks in Birr as an advantage, feeling that the local community would be better off without it and with some sort of factory instead. He viewed the soldiers in the barracks as an injury to the town, and felt that the barracks itself degraded the young men who joined the army there. In his response, the council chairman, John Dooley, revaled Thomas’s Confederate past. Dooley said that he found the remarks sad, coming as they did from a former soldier who had fought ‘for the continuation of slavery in America’. The fact that this information was not widely known in Birr was made apparent by another council member, who indicated that he hadn’t known that Molloy had once been in service.
Thomas remained active in local circles, and served as a member of Birr Town Commissioners, a Poor Law Guardian, and was even co-opted as a member of the county council for short period of time. He died of chronic phthisis (tuberculosis) in St Brendan’s Hospital, Birr on 24th June 1927. His residence at that time was recorded as Oxmantown Mall. While his obituary in the Midland Tribune mentions that he spent a significant amount of time in the United States, it doesn’t mention his service in the Confederate Army. This, when combined with his comments in 1904, suggests he may not have been proud of his service- or perhaps he had a bad experience of army life. Either way, it seems he didn’t want people to know he had been a Confederate soldier. The old Rebel was interred in Clonoghill Cemetery on 26th June, 1927.
*As is apparent, we lack a significant amout of detail about Thomas’s service. The precise regiment that he served in is unclear, but it may have been the 2nd Louisiana Infantry. If readers have any further information on his life between 1861 and 1865, please drop the site a line!
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1870 Census (United States)
1901 and 1911 Census (Ireland)
King’s County Chronicle
Slaters Royal National Directory of Ireland 1881
Slaters Royal National Directory of Ireland 1894