A group of volunteers, supporting the work of Renew Kilbeggan, got together some time ago with the idea of cleaning up St Beccan’s Church of Ireland graveyard. The result of this work has recovered 28 gravestones and a booklet has been produced showing the inscriptions. However, there is much more to this event, as the  gravestones reveal stories that travel from Ireland to Australia, a young woman described as the first female paediatrician in Ireland, events like the 1798 rebellion, the founding of Kilbeggan Distillery,  the famous Knighthood of a local innkeeper,  Ribbonmen and  Secret Societies, cattle driving, a rector who had an affair with the wife of  Kilbeggan MP John Philpott Curran, and a Wesleyan who provided the first building for the  Sisters of Mercy in Kilbeggan in 1879.

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Visiting Kilebeggan old cemetery


Some of the above stories have an Offaly connection including Abraham Sandy’s, rector (died 19 November 1832), who had an eye for the ladies. His daughter Louisa married John Berry of Eglish. They lived in Chesterfield House outside Birr. The Berry family famously claimed to be directly descended from Oliver Cromwell but it was disproved. The bold rector had an affair with Sarah the separated wife of John Philpott Curran, Kilbeggan MP the most famous barrister in Ireland, and father of Sarah Curran the girlfriend of Robert Emmet. The case ended up in court in 1795.Curran won the case but only received small compensation from the judge, because of his own reputation with the ladies. Thomas Booth died on 8 February 1799 and he was part of a large family, who were involved in many events in Kilbeggan, including the 1798 rebellion, when Jeremiah Booth defended the town against the Catholic rebels and ended up with a pike sticking out of his thigh. The family set up a Wesleyan Community in the town and ironically, James Booth, a Protestant, leased a building (Kelly Brothers) to the Sisters of Mercy when they set up a foundation in 1879. When he heard it was for the nuns he tried to withdraw it but eventually relented. James Booth (1802-1895) married Anne Wilson (1810-1890) of Tullamore. The Booths were later associated with pneumatic tyres in Dublin. James went with three brothers to Dublin and later opened a business in Golden Lane as a timber merchant. Vincent Hetreed was a District Inspector (DI) in Kilbeggan and his wife Ellen Margaret Costello was from Springfield, Co Offaly. He died in 1893 and  is buried in Kilbeggan. Hetreed as a DI was part of events in the Donore , Horseleap Cattle drives in the early 1900s , which went on for many years and ended up in the House of Commons in 1913 and all national newspapers. In May 1913 around 1,000 people demonstrated on Kilbeggan racecourse and 50 policemen had to cycle from Tullamore to help control crowds (three gravestones relate to this story).

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St Beccan’s, Kilbeggan


Dr Katherine (Katharine) Maguire, who is buried in Kilbeggan, was the daughter of Rev John Mulock Maguire, rector of Boyle and sister of James F. Rochfort Maguire MP.  Her father was a quiet well-respected rector who is buried in Kilbeggan graveyard and her brother James was an Irish MP who represented North Donegal (1890-92) and West Clare (1892-95). He was a great friend of Cecil Rhodes and ended up as President of the South Africa Railway Company.  Dr Katherine Maguire has been described as the first female pediatrician when she graduated in 1891 and the first female doctor in Dublin.  She became a Professor at Alexandra College in 1898 and her paper on Social Conditions of the Dublin Poor” motivated the Guild to establish model tenement houses. Aside from her private practice, she also opened a Free Dispensary at Harold’s Cross for the poor with particular reference to women & children. As part of her interest in alleviating the causes of illness, she bought four tenement houses in Tyrone Street, Dublin, managing them herself and let them at the minimum rate to the poor. Dr Maguire was enthusiastic about women’s rights and was described as a non-militant suffragette. She had a close relationship with Kathleen Lynn, Chief Medical Officer during the Easter Rising and Dr Dorothy Stopford Price (who was the first person to introduce the BCG vaccination to Ireland in January 1937). She died at the residence of her sister Mrs Hornidge, in Tyrrellspass, Co Westmeath in August 1932.



Kilbeggan distillery in the mid-1880s

The Kilbeggan Knighthood Festival was based on the knighting of an innkeeper Thomas Cuffe and his wife Mary in the late 18th century by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, after he enjoyed their good food and famous Kilbeggan Whiskey. Two people associated with this event are buried in St Beccan’s Graveyard. Thomas Quinn who died on 4 April 1904 and Rev. Edward Wilson who died on 17 February 1885. Rev. Wilson married Elizabeth Cuffe the granddaughter of the Lord and Lady and Quinn married Rev Wilson’s daughter Margaret. It was his son Edward Wilson (1835-1915) who brought an international element to the story. He left for Melbourne in 1857 to start a new life in the great outdoors, where he tried gold digging, cattle, sheep and horses. He had many adventures including the loss of 13,000 sheep in floods in 1864. He got his love of horses in Kilbeggan and later when he settled in Rockhampton on the east coast of Australia, he became Chairman of the Jockey Club. Amongst the many descendants in Rockhampton, who trace back to the Lord and Lady are the Wilsons, Coates, Stephensons, and Hockings (Research Teresa Dunne, Kilbeggan).

Thomas Quinn was a land agent for the Malones of Baronstown, therefore he was not popular in the area, but he was a great cricket player and described as “the best bowler in Ireland”, when cricket was very popular in the mid-19th century. He played for the Phoenix Club in Dublin and was on an All-Ireland team that played England in 1860.


 On 4 January 1867 William (14), son of William Morris Reade magistrate, died. Between 1850 and 1870, over 40 murders occurred in Westmeath and Kilbeggan was considered the main stronghold of a Secret Society called the Ribbonmen, with 120 incidents and 3 murders over a few years. Reade was the magistrate for Kilbeggan and dealt with these cases and when a Select Committee for Westmeath was set up in 1871 he was one of the leading investigators. In 1878/79 twenty people died in the town from smallpox (7 children) and the town was left isolated, as even Goodbodys in Clara couldn’t risk taking people or sacks made in the town. Reade wrote a letter to the Irish Times stating that the stories were exaggerated and it was affecting trade in the town. Rev Thomas Faulkner (Falkiner) who died on 20 June 1801 was part of a family, who contributed very much to Kilbeggan with another Thomas selling the Volunteer Inn to Cuffe. He was vicar of Durrow in 1799 before coming to Kilbeggan. William Faulkner was a distiller in Kilbeggan in 1756 and, arguably, this distillery relates to Kilbeggan having the oldest pot still distillery in the world (1757).

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Stan on tour in Kilebeggan in 2011

 I hope this brief article illustrates that history that can be brought to life from names on a gravestone. Renew Kilbeggan are hoping to produce a book on the gravestone inscriptions in the Kilbeggan area, which might open up new possibilities in the future.