History Recalled: Bianconi and Boherlahan


Isn't it significant that Bianconi should have chosen as his final resting place Boherlahan, the wide road? Surely it was a fitting place for the Father of the Irish Transport System to have his last rest! Or, for a man who started his Irish saga as a pedlar of holy pictures, to leave his last remains!

Recently, Boherlahan has been celebrating the connection between the parish and one, Joachim Carlo Guiseppe Bianconi, who was born near Lake Como on Sept. 24, 1786. There hasn't been the same publicity around these celebrations as that given to a re-run of the first Bianconi coach service between Clonmel and Cahir on October 2. Nevertheless, the Boherlahan connection is avery strong one and it possesses two very impressive and durable monuments to this extraordinary Italian, Longfield House and the Mortuary Chapel Bianconi built for himself and his family in the parish.

Longfield

Charles Bianconi purchased Longfield House from Captain Richard Long, the former owner in March 1846. The residence was surrounded by 623 Irish acres and the cost was £21,000. How could a pedlar of holy pictures acquire the wealth to make such a purchase?

Bianconi had arrived in Ireland in 1802 to start his apprenticeship to a fellow-Italian, Andrea Faroni, who carried on a picture-selling business in Dublin. When he completed his apprenticeship he invested his money in a wide assortment of pictures and frames and set out on the roads of Ireland pedalling his wares.

For a number of years he trudged the roads of Ireland and prospered at his laborious work. In the course of time he started different kinds of shops in Carrick-on-Suir, Waterford and Clonmel.

Transport

From his travels he came to recognise the need for a cheap and efficient transport system on the roads of Ireland. He began to turn his mind in that direction and got his opportunity at the end of the Napoleonic Wars when a large number of horses came on the market. Bianconi bought some and started his first scheduled car service from Clonmel to Cahir in July 1815. The business succeeded from the word go and in the course of time Bianconi became a wealthy businessman. His success was recognised when he was made Mayor of Clonmel.

Bianconi came to live at Longfield on September 16, 1846, his sixtieth birthday. He got a fine reception from the people. Bonfires were lit on the roads near the house and a triumphal arch was erected over the avenue gates. The grounds were thronged with tenants and labourers. A band came out from Cashel and there was a dance that night.

In the course of an address thanking the people for their warm reception Bianconi quoted the famous phrase: 'Property has its duties as well as its rights'. They should all, according to their state in society, have their rights. The landlord should have his and the mechanic and the labourer as well. He thought that the poor man, who earned a shilling a day has as good a right to enjoyment and to his cabin as the queen on her throne.

Whenever they wanted anything in his power to grant they should ask him and it would afford him much pleasure to assist them by every means in his power. Much of the improvement in the country in the preceding years was due, he said, t the temperate habits of the people, thanks in large measure to his respected friend, Fr. Theobald Matthew and to the advice of the Liberator.

A Friend in Need

Bianconi was to prove a great friend to the people in the district during the terrible years of the Famine. He helped them with loans of money and gave others, who could not continue the struggle, passages to America. In 1848 he started a large scheme of drainage works. At that time a labourer could earn only 8d a day but the drainage workers were paid by piece work and could earn up to nine shillings a week. For a considerable time more than one hundred men were employed around Longfield and no one died there from hunger. When potatoes were sold in the market at 8d to 10d a stone he sold them to the people for 4d.

Disliked by Gentry

Naturally, this kind of behaviour towards the men of no property did not endear Bianconi to the neighbouring gentry. They did not like that a new and self-made man should make such innovations and be an example to them in their duties to their tenants: "The gentry were inclined to look coldly on him and hold themselves aloof but he had a great independence of character and cared little for their antagonism. He followed his own way and in the end achieved his purpose' and became increasingly respected.'

Mortuary Chapel

Bianconi wasn't long settled in his estate when he decided to build a mortuary chapel on his estate as a last resting place for himself and his family. It was built of limestone and sandstone and cost £1,000. Bianconi was his own architect and the work was carried out with the help of a few artisans in the neihgbourhood. It has a flat-roofed bell tower with a Gothic roof. The Archbishop of Cashel, Most Rev. Dr. Leahy, presided at the consecration ceremony.

Not very long afterwards his daughter, Kathleen Henrietta, who had died in Italy was brought home to be buried there. As well the chapel is also the burial ground of the following: Bianconi's daughter, Charlotte, Morgan John O'Connell, Bianconi himself, his wife Eliza,. his daughter Mary Anne. 0'Connell, his grandson, John Coppinger 0' Connell Bianconi and his great-grand daughter Mollie Watson.

Extensive Estates

During his time at Longfield Bianconi extended his original property with extensive purchases in the neighbourhood. They included property in Ballygriffin, Road, Glanagile, Cashel, Ballinard, Knockamore, Liss, Lower Pallas and Upper Pallas. These purchases involved a total outlay of about £48,000, bringing the total cost of all his property to over $70,000. The total area amounted to nearly 5,000 Irish acres.

Bianconi had his own ideas about farming. He did a lot. of doctoring on his own horses and always had a large number of them in various states of sickness or injury on the Longfield lands. He went in for the breeding of sheep and Berkshire pigs on a big scale. Despite the number of horses at his disposal he went in for ploughing with horned cattle. The reason may have been a throwback to his early days in Italy. For three or four years he kept two teams of horned cattle but gave up ploughing with them when he found they were slow and wasted the time of the men.

Manure

Bianconi agreed with the axiom that 'the manure is the farmer'. He believed in manuring his lands heavily. At one time he took a fancy to covering his grass with soot from the chimneys. He invested almost all his life's savings in land. He used to quote the old saying: 'Money melts, land holds, while grass grows and water runs'.

Charles Bianconi's end finally came at Longfield at a quarter-to-five on the morning of Wednesday, September 22, 1875, two days before entering his 90th year. According to his great granddaugher and biographer, Mollie Watson: "All night long his family, together with James Sweetman and the rest of his household, had gathered about his bed to await the end. Then suddenly so it is said, there came the unmistakeable sounds of galloping horses on the gravel below. Everyone looked up startled and the grooms went running to the stables; the gates of the yard were closed and none of the horses had broken loose. They could still hear the clatter; alternately loud and faint like the surging waves of an ebbing tide, just as though all the horses in Bianconi's long life had come to be with him at the last.'


Post Advertiser, October 18, 1986, Vol 2 No 7