Carlo (Charles) Bianconi was born in Tregolo, in the Lombard Highlands, near Como, Italy on September 24th. 1786. A wild youth and showing no real talent at school, his father paid for him to be sent on an eighteen month apprenticeship to art dealer Andrea Faroni. Faroni with Bianconi and three other apprentice boys in tow, Giuseppe Castelli, Girolamo Camagni and his friend Giuseppe Ribaldi crossed the French Alps and France on foot in 1801, eventually arriving in Dublin in 1802.
They set up shop near Essex Street Bridge in the now Temple Bar area of Dublin and the young Bianconi continued to serve his apprenticeship as a street picture-seller equipped with just one word of the English language, the word “buy“. The price of his wares he demonstrated by holding up his fingers to prospective clients, one finger represented one penny.
Later the same year he was sent, weekly, with four pence to cover his expenses, down into rural Ireland. Leaving Dublin on a Monday morning with his pictures he travelled on foot through Munster and Leinster selling his wares and organising his route, thus ensuring to be back in Dublin, to his employer, by late Saturday night. From actual records, we know he was arrested in Passage East, Co Waterford and held in jail, over night, for selling pictures of, the then British number one enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte.
In 1804, on the termination of his eighteen month apprenticeship, he decided not to return home but took to the road selling pictures and frames for himself, carrying his wares in a large box, strapped to his shoulders. The box according to Bianconi himself weighed approximately thirty pounds in weight.
He set up his own shop two years later in Carrick in 1806, but later transferred this business to Waterford and later still to Clonmel Co. Tipperary, where in 1809 he opened at No.1 Gladstone Street as a first class “Carver and Guilder”.
He was a frequent visitor to the Ursuline Convent in Thurles where he admits to being well fed by Reverend Mother Tobin.It was during his travels he met the first love of his life and with the permission of her father sent her to be educated in the Ursuline Convent, Thurles. This love however was never to fully blossom, as his student fell in love with another and Bianconi sadly was forced to give up all pretensions to ever making her his wife.
It is said that ‘necessity is the mother of invention‘ and surely Bianconi is evidence of this fact. Travelling on foot around Ireland, carrying his heavy materials, and often walking twenty to thirty miles each day in the course of this work, quickly demonstrated to Bianconi the great need for a cheap and reliable integrated transport system. It therefore came as no surprise that in July 6th 1815 the first Bianconi two-wheel horse drawn cart, carrying three or four passengers went into commission from Clonmel to Cahir, thus introducing the beginnings of the first ever integrated transport system, into Ireland.
Travel on one of these “Bians” as they were to become known, cost one-penny farthing a mile. Such demand was there for his transport that over the next 30 years a huge network of communications were established, with Clonmel, Co Tipperary as its hub. Huge employment was also now created from this growing transport business. The year 1833 saw the “long car” go into production from his coach building premises in Clonmel which enabled him to carry up to twenty passengers, plus cargo and mail deliveries for both British and Irish Post Offices. Here in Thurles, his depot was situated in O`Shea`s Hotel which today trades as McLoughneys, a ladies clothing boutique. The stables where he fed and changed his horses between journeys still exists, relatively unchanged, to this very day and are situated at the rear of Ryan’s Jewellers shop, Liberty Square, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
In 1832 Charles Bianconi married Eliza Hayes the daughter of a wealthy Dublin stockbroker. They begot one son, Charles and two daughters Kate and Mary Anne. Kate died in 1854 and her brother Charles ten years later in 1864. The other surviving daughter Mary married Morgan John O`Connell. In 1864 Morgan O’Connell, nephew of Daniel O`Connell (The Liberator), had succeeded to his mother’s property in Clare known as the McMahon Estate. On February 21st. 1865 he married Mary Anne Bianconi, then aged twenty five (died 1908). Mary Anne, in her own right, was the authoress and compiler of several books including the life story of her father (Charles Bianconi, A Biography). Her new husband Morgan was a regular companion of William M.Thackeray, both, indeed, were members of the “Old Fielding’s Club” as was Charles Dickens.
The advent of railway in 1834 brought home to Bianconi the realisation that his coaching business had now only a limited future. He immediately began to buy shares in the different rail lines as they were being built. He began to sell his coaches and long carts to his employees who had worked for him. He, himself, became a director in Daniel O`Connall`s newly founded National Bank and between 1843 and 1846 he became a Councillor and was twice elected Mayor of Clonmel, co. Tipperary.
It was at this time, also, he purchased the one thousand acre property known then and now as Longfield House, in the parish of Boherlahan, Cashel, Co. Tipperary, where he resided for twenty nine years and died in 1875 aged 89, a millionaire. He is buried in the family mortuary chapel in Boherlahan, Cashel, which he designed and partially constructed himself.
Legend states that as he breathed his last breath a phantom coach and horses were heard coming up the drive of his much loved Longfield House.