Stradbally (Irish: An Sráidbhaile, meaning "the (one) street town") is a town in County Laois, Ireland, located in the midlands of Ireland along the N80 road, a National Secondary Route, about 12 km (7 mi) from Portlaoise. It is known for the birth of motor racing, the Steam Rally and the Electric Picnic.
Stradbally comprises a long linear street with two squares on the western side – The Market Square and The Courthouse Square. Milling was an important activity in the development of the town, but has now become obsolete and the structures have been adapted to provide a quality residential development in the centre of town. The main function of the town is that of a service centre for the surrounding agricultural hinterland. It has a number of major employers, including the McKeowns and there are also a range of services including doctors, beauticians, hairdressers, public houses, garages and small shops providing employment.
The history of Stradbally reaches from the 6th century when a monastery was established at Oughaval, close to the town and within the present-day parish. Stradbally later developed under the influence of the Cosby Family, owners of Stradbally Hall located west of the main street, at the end of the 17th century.
Birth of motor racing
On Thursday, 2 July 1903 the Gordon Bennett Cup ran through Stradbally. It was the first international motor race to be held in Ireland, an honorific to Selwyn Edge who had won the 1902 event in Paris driving a Napier. The Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland wanted the race to be hosted in the British Isles, and their secretary, Claude Johnson, suggested Ireland as the venue because racing was illegal on British public roads roads. The editor of the Dublin Motor News, Richard Mecredy, suggested an area in County Kildare, and letters were sent to 102 Irish MPs, 90 Irish peers, 300 newspapers, 34 chairmen of county and local councils, 34 County secretaries, 26 mayors, 41 railway companies, 460 hoteliers, 13 PPs, plus the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Patrick Foley, who pronounced himself in favour. Local laws had to be adjusted, ergo the 'Light Locomotives (Ireland) Bill' was passed on 27 March 1903. Kildare and other local councils drew attention to their areas, whilst Queen's County declared That every facility will be given and the roads placed at the disposal of motorists during the proposed race. Eventually Kildare was chosen, partly on the grounds that the straightness of the roads would be a safety benefit. As a compliment to Ireland the British team chose to race in Shamrock green[a] which thus became known as British racing green, although the winning Napier of 1902 had been painted Olive green.
The route consisted of two loops that comprised a figure of eight, the first was a 84 kilometre loop that included Kilcullen, The Curragh, Kildare, Monasterevin, Stradbally, Athy, followed by a 65 kilometre loop through Castledermot, Carlow, and Athy again. The race started at the Ballyshannon cross-roads ( ) near Calverstown on the contemporary N78 heading north, then followed the N9 north; the N7 west; the N80 south; the N78 north again; the N9 south; the N80 north; the N78 north again. Competitors were started at seven minute intervals and had to follow bicycles through the 'control zones' in each town. The 520 kilometres (323 mi) race was won by the famous Belgian Camille Jenatzy, driving a Mercedes in German colours.
Between 2002 and 2006 the population of Stradbally reduced slightly:
- 2002 ... 1634
- 2006 ... 1554 ... -4.2%
- 2011 ... 1626 ... +4.6%
Stradbally is famous for its Steam Rally, an annual gathering of enthusiasts of steam-powered vehicles, held in the grounds of the Cosby estate at Stradbally Hall. Traction engines and other steam-powered vehicles are brought to the rally and displayed and demonstrated, and a steam railway offers rides along a short track. There is also a Steam Museum in Stradbally Town itself. One of the group of founders was Harold Condell who was an avid Steam enthusiast and owner. He along with his co-founders established the Irish Steam Preservation Society. It also operates narrow gauge steam railway in the grounds of Stradbally Hall. Stradbally is stepped in steam history since the post industrial revolution. The locale has very rich volcanic soil reputed to be the best soil in Ireland and possibly the world as the high yields in the world for barely and wheat were recorded here in the early 2000s. Steam traction engines were in abundance in Stradbally after the turn of the last century. Families who had threshing sets and steam engines included the Fennelly family of Market Square, Farrelly family, Cole's of Riverside, Condell's of Old Mills (Whitefields), and one family which is still keeping the nostalgic tradition going are the Deegan's of Kylebeg and now Brockley whom to this day perform the annual threshing at the Steam Rally.
The Electric Picnic is an annual arts-and-music festival which has been staged in late August / early September since 2004 at Stradbally Hall in Stradbally. It is organised by Pod Concerts and Festival Republic, who purchased the majority shareholding in 2009. The Electric Picnic was voted Best Medium-Sized European Festival at the 2010 European Festival Awards, and has been voted Best Big Festival in each of the last four Irish Festival Awards since they began in 2007.
- Cecil Day-Lewis late Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom and father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis
- Delaney Brothers, after whom the Leinster Senior Football Trophy is called
- Canadian politician Walter Shanly came from Stradbally.
- Kevin O'Higgins was from Stradbally
- Australian rules and Gaelic football player Colm Begley
- Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart. Gothic Revival church, completed in 1896, on a cruciform plan, designed by William Hague.
- Saint Patrick's Church of Ireland Church. Gothic Revival church, built in 1764, with tower. It was renovated about 1880, with projecting porch, chancel and vestry added.
- Stradbally GAA is the local GAA club.
- Stradbally Town A.F.C. is the local association football club.
a. ^ According to Leinster Leader, Saturday, 11 April 1903, Britain had to choose a different colour to its usual national colours of red, white and blue, as these had already been taken by Italy, Germany and France respectively. It also stated red as the color for American cars in the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup.</ref>
- "Draft Stradbally Town Plan". Laois County Council. Retrieved 2008-06-29.
- Circle Genealogic and Historic Champanellois
- Leinster Leader, Saturday, 11 April 1903
- Forix 8W - Britain's first international motor race by Brendan Lynch, based on his Triumph of the Red Devil, the 1903 Irish Gordon Bennett Cup Race. October 22, 2003
- The Gordon Bennett races - the birth of international competition. Author Leif Snellman, Summer 2001
- Bleacher report, The Birth of British motor racing