No 2, Sources for Offaly History & Society: some of the older printed books – Sir Charles Coote, General view of the agriculture and manufactures of the King’s County with observations on the means of their improvement. Dublin, 1801.

John Foster’s copy of Coote’s, King’s County Survey. Offaly Archives is collecting all the rare books on the county for the county collection. Foster was the last Speaker in the old Irish Parliament and strongly opposed the Union. He was a vice-president of the [Royal] Dublin Society until the 1820s and was ennobled as Lord Oriel. He and his father were great improvers even when it was not economic for them to do, or prudent. Foster was a great bibliophile which may have been a comfort to him in his cash-straitened latter years.

This week as a substitute for our  cancelled lectures during Covid we list some of the older books on Offaly History and some of which are still of use and must be consulted. The list is by no means complete and does not cover archaeology or geology. By older we mean studies mostly published before 1920 and many being diocesan histories. One book that is essential to look at is the Dublin Society survey of the county in 1801. This is the first book published about County Offaly/King’s County and deserves a read before moving on.  John O’Donovan when preparing the ordnance survey memoirs in the 1830s had occasion to use Coote, among other books, and considered Coote a blockhead and worse. Yet, there are some nuggets for those who are patient. Coote was trying to promote for the Dublin Society (later Royal Dublin Society) agricultural education. The farming societies were not started until the 1840s and wilted in the Famine years. It was the 1900s before countrywide education in agricultural methods began with Horace Plunkett, agricultural cooperation and the Department of Agricultural and Technical Instruction.

Charles Coote (1765-1857)

There is a short life of Coote in the Dictionary of Irish Biography which perhaps explains why Coote did five of the Society’s surveys. He was hard up and needed the money. The results were generally disappointing when compared with the later surveys of Kilkenny, Cork and Roscommon. The King’s and Queen’s County Surveys were among the earliest and are now very scarce, having a print run of no more than 150 copies. Rarity is no guide to quality. To see the book you can Google and save it for free. It is well worth adding to your local history library. It can also be bought online from Eneclann/Irish Family History Center. A name generally used by the local family history centres around Ireland. These copies are good and were made courtesy of the university libraries many years ago. The old CD copies are still obtainable from Offaly History Shop. A new printed edition of the King’s County survey is needed for the general reader.

Who was this blockhead Coote?

First of all Coote did not build the wonderful Ballyfin House. Linde Lunney in the Dictionary of Irish Biography summaries the life as follows.  Coote’s dad was a busy man with no less than twelve children, all born outside marriage by five women.

Lunney states:

Coote, Sir Charles (1765–1857), baronet and author, was the illegitimate son of Charles Coote (qv) (1738–1800), earl of Bellamont, and Rebecca Palmer. The earl, who had eleven other illegitimate children by four other women, had obtained a special remainder for his English baronetcy, and Charles Coote junior succeeded to the English title on his father’s death. His marriage to a Miss Richardson may have displeased his father; he inherited £1,000, but no share in the family’s estates. Sir Charles seems to have married secondly (November 1814) Caroline Elizabeth Whalley; they possibly had a son the following year. In 1800 he undertook on behalf of the (Royal) Dublin Society a tour through four counties of Ireland as one of a number of writers gathering information for a projected series of county surveys, and also corresponded with local landowners and industrialists. In 1801 the society published his General view of the agriculture and manufactures of the King’s County, and a similar survey of Queen’s Co.; in the same year appeared Statistical survey of the county of Monaghan with observations on the means of improvement; in 1802 a similarly titled study of Cavan, and in 1804 one of Armagh. This series of surveys was regarded by contemporaries as slightly disappointing, but Coote’s volumes are frequently cited by historians, and for some subjects provide unique evidence. He died 25 May 1857, and was succeeded by his son Charles (b. probably 1798). He should not be credited with creating the house and gardens at Ballyfin, a property owned by Sir Charles Henry Coote (1792–1864), 9th baronet (of a different family); nor should he be confused with the Charles Coote who published a number of well known historical works in the early nineteenth century.

Coote was a baronet causing some confusion when a copy of his Queen’s County Survey was bound for a a collector with the spine inscribed  BART

Coote Queen's Co 1801 (2)
Nicely bound copy of the Queen’s County Survey with the title only of Sir Charles Coote, Bt.

What we can we expect to find in Coote (1801)? The account of Tullamore is useful but could have been so much better.

Tullamore is the market for grain, and indeed the produce of many adjoining baronies is sent thither, there being the fairest sale and a good demand amongst the buyers, occasioned principally on account of the many stores, which were established by the Grand Canal extending here, and which divides this barony for some distance.  This proves the value of inland navigation, and gives the farmer in these distant parts the advantage (as we may say), of bringing Dublin market home to his door.

A brewery and distillery are worked in this town, and two more breweries are erecting ; here is also a bolting mill if inconsiderable powers on account of the lackage of water.  This indeed is the only obstacle to its becoming a great manufacturing town; over the river Clodagh is a neat bridge, and stream nearly divides the town into two equal parts.  The barracks are spacious and very handsome, the market is well supplied with provisions, and a neat market house has been built at his Lordship’s expence.  The fairest regulations are here adopted for buyer and seller, which wise policy promises a steady resort and a sure supply of commodity to this market.  Lord Charleville gives the utmost encouragement for building, he has hitherto invariably let leases for ever of the townplots at 1s. per foot in front, and the tenant gets three lives of a reasonable proportion of the adjoining parks from 16s. to 20s. per acre; so rapidly has this town increased in wealth and consequence within these few years, and these parks now set 6 guineas per acre, and are sought for with avidity at a still more enormous rent. It is certainly a great pity this is not the assizes town, as independent of its elegance and excellent accommodations, it is considerably more central, and aptly situated than Philipstown, but the new gaol which is nearly finished there, seems now to have determined the point, which for some time past it was in the contemplation of parliament to have established at Tullamore. 

The fine demesne of Charleville extends to the suburbs of the town of Tullamore, and for an elegant display of taste, and many great and natural beauties, is a seat of the first importance, in this kingdom; it contains nearly 1500 statute acres, most delightfully wooded with fine full grown timber, and a considerable part is planted with young trees, for which Lord Charleville has received the Dublin Society’s premium; these plantations are carefully fenced from cattle, and in the utmost possible heart and vigour.

Building work was starting at Charleville, but Coote did not see anything in the way of fine houses and he was right about the lack of good public buildings in 1801. The long S for f can be confusing.

So the success of Tullamore was due in part to the cheap sites policy of Lord Charleville at only 1s. a foot in front meaning for a forty-foot frontage it was £2 per year in perpetuity . Nothing now but in the 1800s this would be at least an annual rent of £200. Townparks were also available for terms of years only, in places such as Puttaughan and Cloncollog. This at a time when people were dependent on their own produce. The description of Charleville demesne is one we are still familiar with.

So there is much to read and enjoy. Others of the old ‘primers’ for local studies include the following. If you have a shabby copy and you want to have it rebound be sure to get titles right.


The old classic printed books of use for Offaly local studies – a selection. Some of these have been reprinted including Cooke (1875) and the King’s County Directory of 1890. Above the now rare issue of the Queen’s County survey, but now available free online.


Birr said to be the best town in the county in 1801 according to Coote. This would be correct in light of trade, shopping and town planning at that time. It can be attributed to the careful management of the Parsons family from the founding of the town in 1620 – just 400 years ago.

[Cooke, T. L.], The picture of Parsonstown in the King’s County containing the history of that town from the earliest period to the year 1798, together with its description at the present day. Dublin, 1826. Reprinted Birr, 1929. Pp 259 + errata slip, nine coloured plates.

Cooke, T. L., The early history of the town of Birr, or Parsonstown with the particulars of remarkable events there in more recent times also the towns of Nenagh, Roscrea, Banagher, Tullamore, Philipstown, Frankford, Shinrone, Kinnetty and Ballyboy and the ancient septs, princes, and celebrated places of the surrounding country. Dublin, 1875. Pp 415, xxiv, ill. [reprinted   1990]

Coote, Charles, General view of the agriculture and manufactures of the King’s County with observations on the means of their improvement. Dublin, 1801. Pp 242, xiii, ill.

O’Hanlon & O’Leary, History of the Queen’s County: vol. i: history of the territory from the earliest times till it was made Queen’s County, by act of parliament in 1556. Dublin, 1907. Pp 439, xii, ill. A second volume covering the years 1556 to 1900 was published in 1914. [reprinted 1982]

Gleeson, John, History of the Ely O’Carroll territory or ancient Ormond situated in north Tipperary and north-western King’s County, Ireland. Dublin, 1915. Pp 644, xviii, ill. Gleeson’s title-page is in error, it should, of course, be south-western King’s County. [reprinted             ]

Cogan, A., The diocese of Meath: ancient and modern. Three vols, Dublin, 1862-70. [reprinted]

Brady, John, A short history of the parishes of the diocese of Meath, 1867-1941. Navan, 1940-41.

Healy, John, History of the diocese of Meath. Two volumes, Dublin, 1908.

Dwyer, Philip, The diocese of Killaloe from the reformation to the close of the eighteenth century. Dublin, 1878.  pp 602, ill.

Gwynn, A. & Gleeson, D, F.,  A history of the diocese of Killaloe vol. i (all published). Dublin, 1962. pp 562, xviii, ill.

Carrigan, William, The history and antiquities of the diocese of Ossory. Four vols, Dublin, 1905. [reprinted]

Comerford, M., Collections relating to the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. Three vols, n,d. but 1883-6.

Brenan, Martin, Schools of Kildare and Leighlin, 1775-1835. Dublin, 1935. Pp 616.

Monahan, John, Records relating to the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. Dublin, 1886, Pp 400, ix +4, ill.

Macalister R. A. S., The memorial slabs of Clonmacnois, King’s County: with an appendix on the materials for a history of the monastery. Dublin, 1909, Pp 158, xxxii, ill.

Lyons, John Charles, The Grand juries of the county of Westmeath from the year 1727 to the year 1853 with an historical appendix. Ledestown, 1853.

The King’s County Directory. King’s County Chronicle, Parsonstown, 1890, Pp 344, xxiv, ill. [reprinted 1989]

Kingston, C. P., The book of administration of King’s County. Athlone, n.d. but 1911. Pp 154.


Michael Byrne


The map attached to the King’s County Survey of 1801