The release of the War of Independence prisoners: Tullamore jail was deplorable. Louis Downes and Michael Grogan of Tullamore tell their story. By Michael Byrne

The release of thousands of internees from jails in Ireland and Britain followed on the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in early December 1921. Most had been imprisoned under the Restoration of Order (Ireland) Act. We carried a blog on the first phase of the releases in mid-December. Upwards of 4,000 were being held since the Truce of July 1921 in Rath Camp in the Curragh, Portlaoise Jail and Ballykinlar Camp in Co. Down as well as from Waterford, Cork, Kilmainham, Mountjoy and other prisons. The second wave of releases came in mid-January 1922 and many had been convicted and sent to English prisons.

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The Public Role of Personal Commemoration. Remarks on the Decade of Centenaries, the Great Flu and the scourge of TB. By Sylvia Turner

On January 7th this year, we raised a glass to commemorate what would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. Born in Kilcoursey Lodge,  Clara, she had always said that she was born on a special day, being the day, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in the Dáil. Her explanation to me as a child was that ‘it split Ireland in two and caused a lot of trouble’.

This example of  family commemoration running  parallel to the national one, relates to one of the aims on The Decade of Centenaries Programme  to ‘focus on the everyday experience of ordinary people living in extraordinary times, as well as on the leaders and key actors in these events’

The Decade of Centenaries Programme has led to a great variety of commemorative events and   literature, both at a national and local level. The Decade has been commemorated by Offaly History through a  variety of media, no longer limited to monuments and the written word,  as technology has enabled visual and auditory means to be retained through the use of videos and podcasts.

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Mountbolus, Ireland: the funeral mass and final resting place for Ashling Murphy, 18 January 2022. Specially contributed

The whole of Ireland will be watching Mountbolus today for perhaps the first time in its history. None would want the attention it will receive as the family of Ashling Murphy, her friends and representatives of state, gather for her final mass in the lovely church dominating the village of Mountbolus. The family who have given and suffered so much may now need privacy in their great sorrow.

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The Fair of Frankford (Kilcormac): old times in the barony of Ballyboy. By Paddy Heaney

We are publishing this essay of thirty-five years ago to honour all the people of the barony of Killoughy who have kept the Irish musical tradition vibrant and have a great love of their local history. It is also to mark the passing of Ashling Murphy and in support of her family and all her neighbours in the Blue Ball, Mountbolus and Kilcormac areas. Thanks to Paddy Heaney who did so much for local studies and wishing him well and a big shout out for all he and Paddy Lowry did for local studies. The barony of Ballyboy lost two-thirds of its population over the period 1841 to 1911.

If you ever stand on the summit of Knockhill on a frosty  moonlight night, and if your hear voices, and the thunder of hooves  coming from the direction  of the mountain, don’t be afraid, it’s  only the ghosts  form the distant  past on their way to the fair of Frankford.

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Offaly and the Treaty Debate: widespread acceptance. Specially contributed

Early 1922 saw just two local organs of public opinion in Offaly – the Midland Tribune and the King’s County Chronicle. The Tribune was owned by the long-term nationalist Mrs Fanning, widow of the late Dr Fanning and herself active in regard to Sinn Féin policy on amalgamation of the workhouses. Her editor was James Pike from Roscore, long-term supporter of Sinn Féin who was now ready to recommend acceptance of the Treaty. So also was Archie Wright, owner of the Protestant and unionist Birr-based Chronicle. The Offaly Independent was more representative of North Offaly, but its printing works had been destroyed by crown forces in November 1920 and did not re-emerge until late spring 1922. During the course of 2022 we plan to bring you articles on the evolving situation in Ireland and Offaly in 1922 and we will be looking into the Offaly Archives, Offaly History Centre and Offaly Libraries to dig deeper for the nuggets.

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Well that Beats Banagher!! A humourous expression of amazement. By Kieran Keenaghan and James Scully

This famous phrase or exclamation or some version of it has been in use for hundreds of years. There are few instances if any in the English-speaking world where a placename appears in this manner. In all cases it was used dramatically to emphasise in a humorous way what has been said or written. The phrase was seldom if ever employed in a derogatory sense. It was regularly used by public speakers such as members of parliament or lawyers and judges in court. While it was often referred in Great Britain, and indeed in other countries throughout the world, the most common usage was by people at all levels of society in Ireland and it was very much an Irishism. It appears in the works of many famous writers such as AnthonyTrollope, William Carelton, W.B.Yeats, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Plunkett’s Farewell Companions. It also featured regularly in newspapers and on other media as can be seen in the selection below:

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The parish of Clonmacnoise (in the diocese of Meath and King’s County/Offaly) by Revd Patrick Fitzgerald, c. 1814–16. Presented by Offaly History

An account of  Clonmacnoise in the early years of the ninteenth century was published by William Shaw Mason (c.1774–1853), as part of his three-volume A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland, drawn up from the communications of the clergy (1814–19).  Included in this survey is one Offaly parish – that of Clonmacnoise, published as part of vol. 2 in 1816, pp 142-150.

Shaw Mason was born in  Dublin in 1774 and died there in 1853.  He was for many years involved in the pursuit of history and was secretary to the Commissioners of Public Records.  One attractive sinecure he had was Remembrancer or receiver of first fruits.

Patrick Fitzgerald

The contributer of the Clonmacnoise piece was the local vicar, Patrick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald noted that there was no town in the parish save Shannonbridge which had a few slated and 280 thatched houses.The parish had 586 families, comprising over 3,000 of a population with only eight Protestant families. Potatoes and milk were the basic foodstuffs with some fish. English was the usual tongue with only some Irish spoken.  Patron Day was 9th September as it still is but at that time 3,000 to 4,000 people would attend.  The principal owners of land in the parish were Lord Rosse, Rev. Henry Mahon, Edward Armstrong-Frazier and H. P. Lestrange. The number of Protestant families must have one of the lowest in the county and can be conrasted with Ballyboy and Killoughy in 1826 with 7,250 RC and almost 500 Protestants.

Clonmacnois* is the ancient and modern name of the parish.  It is situated in the barony of Garrycastle in the King’s County and in the diocese of Meath. Longitude 80 5 ’west; latitude 530 20’ North. (The name Clonmacnois evidently derived from the word ‘Cluain’ meaning a retired lawn, or small nook of land, free from rocks, near a river. . .) Its boundaries are on the north the river Shannon, from which it is separated from the county of Roscommon; on the east, by Kilcleagh and Lemanaghan parishes on the south, by Thesaurin parish, and on the West by part of Thesaurin parish, and by the Shannon which divides it from Galway and Clonfert.

The length of the parish from East to West is about eight Irish miles and the breadth from North to South is about three. About 3723 acres are arable and fit for pasture; the meadow ground is in general indifferent; there is a little upland meadow, as it mostly lies along the banks of the Shannon.  But it contains more than double the above named number of acres of bog, as a large branch of the great Bog of Allen runs up into the parish, including every kind of soil.  It contains upwards of 12,000 acres.

There is no river in or adjoining to this parish except the Shannon which mears it as already mentioned.  A lake called Clonsalagh, which is computed to cover ninety acres, produces good pike and perch and some eels.  This sheet of water is situated nearly in the centre of the parish, and derives its name from the townland in which it is.  On the North and East, it is surrounded by hills, which, if planted, would produce a fine effect, and on the south and west by a large bog. The parish abounds with hills, the tops of which are allotted to pasturage as all the valleys are tilled and produce fine crops of corn; though the general appearance of the soil which is very light and sandy, might lead at first view to an opposite conclusion.  There are neither mountains nor woods here, nor have there been any remarkable indigenous plants found.

                               Mines, Minerals, &c.

Limestone is the general substratum of the soil in all parts, when mixed with bogstuff and clay; it makes excellent compost for the purposes of manuring.

          Modern Buildings, &c.

The high road leading from Ballinasloe to the counties of Meath and Kildare runs through the parish, in a direction East and West. Another crosses it nearly from North to south, and there is also a third road, but this is of very little note.   It can boast but of one town that of Shannonbridge so called from a very handsome bridge built across the river. Here is a small barrack capable of accommodating a company of soldiers.  A large tower and battery are building and in a state of great forwardness on the western (or Connaught) side of the bridge. This is the great pass from that province to Leinster. A Magazine has already been erected behind the barracks.  There is no market held here, the want of which is severely felt by the soldiers, who are obliged to purchase their meat at Ballinasloe, six miles distant. 

The village contains a few slated houses of two stories high and the rest, to the number of 280 are thatched. In consequence of the great number of artificers employed in the military works house rent has increased rapidly. The average rent for building ground amounts to ten shillings per foot. Its inn is nothing more than a stopping point, but the village contains several shops for retailing spirits without licence better known throughout the country by the name of Shebeen Houses.

It is singular, that not a possessor of a fee simple estate resides in the parish, neither, if we except the glebe house, is there is more than one good slated house in it, which belongs to Mr. Coughlan who holds about 200 acres of land, on which he resides.

Ancient Buildings, &c.                      

The Abbey of Clonmacnois is situated near the river Shannon. It was built about the year of our Lord 561 at which time it was held in high veneration. The Churchyard annexed to it contains nearly two Irish acres; it is one of the greatest burial places in Ireland, upwards of four hundred corpses are supposed to be buried there annually. There are also the remains of ten other chapels of lesser note, now totally in ruins. A door of one of them is very curiously and very beautifully carved. About half quarter of a mile thence, are the remains of a Bishop’s palace, now wholly in ruins, some of the walls are the only parts that have as yet escaped the ravages of time. In the church-yard are two large Round Towers one about 62 feet high, and 56 in circumference; its walls are 3 feet 8 inches thick, and the other is 5 feet 6” high, 7 feet in diameter and three feet thick.  Here are also two large crosses, one of which is marked with some rude carving and bears an inscription in antique and unknown characters. At a small distance stands what appears to have been a religious house for nuns; it is also in ruins, no part of the building remains, except a single arch. A full account of this interesting place may be found in Archdall’s Monasticum and Ledwidge’s Antiquities of Ireland.

The landowners in the parish, none of whom was resident. From Shaw Mason, ii (1816), p. 150.

Present and Former State of Population &c.

From every information that could be procured it appears that there are 586 families in the parish, comprising of 1618 males and 1558 females. Eight only of these families are Protestant, the rest Roman Catholic. The people in general are very comfortable and dress neatly, some in grey frize, and some in coarse blue cloth. Potatoes and milk form the general food, to which is often added fish procured from the Shannon and the lake. The poorest keeps one cow, and some have three or four. There are very few who do not keep one horse for work, and some have two.

The fuel is turf. This is plentiful and of good quality. The houses are in general very neat and comfortable, mostly built of stone and mortar. One person only is named here as having lived to 90 years of age. Few arrive to 70.

The Disposition and Genius of the Poorer Classes

The people here are very industrious. They are courteous to strangers but have a stubborn disposition in their intercourse with each other.  Their general language is English, although they sometimes speak Irish to one another.

There is but one patron day held here, on 9th of September in honour of St. Kieran their tutelary saint and this is numerously attended.  From 3000 to 4000 people assemble there to do penance from different parts of Ireland, even from the county of Donegal.  Tents and booths are erected round the churchyard for the accommodation of the people.  This assemblage continues for two days and often ends in quarrels. Its abolition would be a desirable circumstance. Some persons have been obliged to keep to their beds for weeks in consequence of beatings received at such meetings.

     The Education and Employment of Children.

The children are brought up to husbandry. Some parents send their children to the petty schools in the neighbourhood, during the idle season of the year. When asked why they did not send them regularly and constantly, their answer was that they could not spare them from the work. The girls are generally employed in spinning.

There are no public schools. The parish clerk keeps a licensed Protestant school, which is very badly attended, not more than fifteen children receiving instructions from him. There are, however, three Roman Catholic schools, whose average number of pupils fluctuates from forty to eighty. In harvest time and spring, the number sinks much lower, in consequence of the children being kept to assist in the agricultural labours.  The quarterly salary for tuition is 1s. 8d. for reading and spelling 3.s 4d. for writing and arithmetic.  There is no public library nor any collection of Irish or other manuscripts relating to Ireland.

Religious Establishments; Tythes &c.

Clonmacnois is a vicarage in the gift of the Bishop of Meath, and is not united to any other parish. About two miles and a half from the church stands the glebe house, where the vicar resides on a glebe of about forty acres.  All sorts of grain pay tythes. Wheat, bere and barley are set at from 10s. to 12s. per acre; oats and flax at eight shillings, neither meadow, potatoes, nor rape pay tythes.  Sheep pay at the rate of £1.13s. 4p. per hundred. The tythe is but indifferently collected. Some indeed pay punctually, but others very badly.  There are two Catholic chapels in the parish, with a priest to each.

IX Modes of Agriculture Crops Etc.

The inhabitants adhere very tenaciously to the old modes of agriculture.  Burning for manure is much practiced, it is called ‘boiting’. The ground when thus prepared, is planted with potatoes, then wheat, barley and oats.  The wages of the labourers are 10d. per day in summer and 3d. in winter without victuals but is somewhat higher in harvest.  The stock is chiefly cows, horses and sheep of the old Irish breed. The general acreable rent, particularly for late takes is from a guinea and a half to two guineas, but on old takes, from 15s. to a pound. No duty services or payments are exacted from the tenants.  Most of the land is set in small farms of from about 10 to 15 acres but there are a few of 25 acres. There is neither market nor fair, nor even a pound or a constable in the parish.

X Trade, Manufactures, Commerce, &c.

None

                               XI. NATURAL CURIOSITIES

The list of incumbents from the First Fruits’ Records.

The Reverend Philip Barret, Clerk, was collated on 26th day of May 1743 to the vicarage of Clonmacnois in the King’s County, and Diocese of Meath.

Stephen Bootle, 14th July 1762, Vicarage Clonmacnois, King’s County.

Joseph Pasley, 4th February 1763, Vicarage Clonmacnois, King’s County

William Donaldson, 7th November, 1764 Vicarage, Clonmacnois King’s County

John Baily instituted 15th December 1778, Vicarage Clonmacnois, King’s County – episcopally united to the Rectory of Ballygart in County Meath.

John Fitzgerald, instituted 10th October 1799 Vicarage, Clonmacnois, County Westmeath.

The ‘Elite’ of Tullamore skating at Charleville Lake on St Stephen’s Day 1864. By Cosney Molloy

Skating on Charleville Lake, Tullamore was a popular pastime when I was a young lad. I remember the cold icy winters of 1962, 1982 and 2010. I can recall as a young man the Tullamore people skating on Charleville Lake in 1962. I am a long time now in D 4 but I got down a few weeks before Christmas to the nice butchers in Tullamore – old Tormey’s is still going strong and now you have, Hanlon’s, Crossan’s of Main Street, Ray Dunne and Fergus Dunne, and a few more I would not know. I was sorry to see Grennan’s shop closed for now. I miss Paddy Mac’s, Cleary’s and Joe ‘the Butch’ Kearney and not forgetting Dunne’s butchers off the Square. It was Treacy’s later. Liver we got a lot of and sheep’s hearts in that fine shop. Many old friends gone to the heavenly pastures. I always like to get my turkey in Tullamore and a nice ham even though I am out of the town now for over forty years. What with the bacon factory open until 1989, and now Tullamore Meats, the town has a long tradition in fine food. Come to think of it the bacon factory did a huge business in turkeys back in the 1940s and 1950s when my father was rearing same.

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A novel approach to Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon. By James Scully

Pauline Clooney’ Charlotte & Arthur, an imaginative recreation of the Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon in Wales and Ireland, is an exciting combination of fact and fiction. The extensive historical research which preceded the writing of the book is evident throughout and this coupled with the creation of less historic characters and the weaving in of more fictional nuances ensures a work that is at once refreshing and convincing. While the sources of history are comparatively plentiful for this episode due to Charlotte’s prolific letter writing and an abundance of biographies of the two main characters, it is the richness of Pauline Clooney’s writing that makes the work engrossing and appealing.

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King’s County Infirmary – its closure in 1921 in an era of change. By Aisling Irwin

King’s County Infirmary was established under the reign of King George III with the passing of the Irish County Infirmaries Act of 1765. This act enabled the creation of infirmaries in thirty Irish counties. During the redevelopment of Tullamore town by the Earl of Charleville, a new infirmary building was erected in 1788 on Church Street and was further extended in 1812.

The County Infirmaries Act was enacted to provide healthcare to the poor which fulfilled the eighteenth century philanthropic ideals of the landed gentry who supported these institutions through donations and subscriptions. King’s County Infirmary was supported by an income consisting of parliamentary funds, grand jury presentments, governor subscriptions, donations, and patient fees. The infirmary was managed by a Board of Governors who paid subscriptions for their position on the board which gave them absolute control over the infirmary including staff appointments and patient admissions. Governors were made up of local gentry and landowners such as the Earl of Rosse, Lord Digby, and prominent business owners such as the Goodbody family.   

While surviving records are limited, the Board meeting minute books provide a colourful insight into the running of an infirmary in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland.  The Infirmary’s Surgeon, Dr James Ridley, was linked to a scandal that pervaded the county in 1887 and 1888. Ridley, who also acted as one of the Tullamore jail physicians was reported to have died by suicide on the morning he was due to give evidence at the inquest into the death of John Mandeville, a national league activist. Mandeville who was imprisoned under the Irish Crimes Act of 1887 was subject to harsh and cruel punishment at the hands of his jailors and died shortly after his release from prison. 

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