6 Sources for Offaly History and Society. ‘Offaly one hundred Years Ago’: A compendium by John Wright and published in 1890 as ‘The King’s County Directory’ was reprinted in 1989 as ‘Offaly one hundred years ago’.

Written and compiled by John Wright- owner/editor of the King’s County Chronicle, Birr, from 1872 until his death in 1915 – the book was published early in 1890 as ‘The King’s County Directory’.  His son Archie succeeded and died in 1954. Increasingly, over the intervening years, it has been treasured as an invaluable source of reference for local historians but it has long been out of print and only a few copies remain extant.  It was reprinted in 1989 now in hard back form, in a facsimile edition which reproduces its 368 pages – including 24 pages of advertisements and a number of drawings of noteworthy buildings. Since then it has also been made available on CD.

Cumberland House, Birr home of John Wright and the printing house to the side on Cumberland/Emmet Street

Connections with Author

The late Antonia Healy nee Wright, late Mrs Joyce McInerney and late publisher Willie Ralph at Moorhill , Tullamore for the launch of the reprint in 1989.

The reprint was launched by a daughter-in-law of John Wright, now Mrs Joyce McInerney, and by his granddaughter, Mrs Antonia Healy, Dublin.

 Hosted with sponsorship by Messrs Hoey and Denning, Solicitors, and Oliver and Jean Toner, Moorhill House, the re-launch was attended by a representative gathering of people interested in local history from all over the Country.  There too was Judge Matthew Deery who was in Tullamore for the Trinity sitting of the Circuit Court. 

  If John Wright were able to comment on their proceedings he would be agreeably and pleasantly surprised to see his photograph on his own book and so much fuss being made of him.

Sean McCartan with the late John and Mrs Sweeney, Moorhill, Tullamore 1989

  An Armagh man by birth, he spent over 40 years in journalism in the South, first with the Nenagh Guardian and from 1872 with the King’s County Chronicle, which became known as the Offaly Chronicle after 1922 and ceased publication in the 1963 after being purchased by ‘The Midland Tribune’.

  As editor of a county newspaper John Wright was at the centre of affairs and well qualified to write a county guide.  He saw the Land War, the birth of ‘The Midland Tribune’ in 1881 – this paper growing out of the Land League – and the resistance to these changes from Birr Orange Lodge and the county unionist association.  John Wright was familiar also with the workings of the courts, and the most interesting parts of his book were his anecdotes and recollections of famous murder cases, famous trials, and of lawyers and judges.

John Wright as a young man (died 1915)

Pioneer in Photography

  John Wright was a pioneer in the use of photography and his was the first provincial newspaper – possibly in the whole of Ireland and certainly in the Midlands – to use photographs (from 1885).  He had his son Archie trained in London in the skills of photography and the use of photography in the printing process.

  If Wright was a true-blue unionist, he was also a business man and he would not have objected too much to the change in the name of his book from ‘The King’s County Directory’ to ‘Offaly One Hundred Years Ago’ to reflect its contents more accurately for present day readers. Save, of course, that is is now 130 years old!

First of a Series

  This publication was the first in a series of five reprints so far of old books of Offaly interest – and is the best of them as a source, given the burning of official records in 1922 both in Tullamore and Dublin.  It is a great ‘dip-in’ book, which had something to interest everyone who had any feel for the past and for what circumstances were behind present-day developments.

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The original issue of 1890 in the red boards with the map decorating the CD issued by Eneclann .

A Most Splendid Book

  Mrs Antonia Healy said that her mother and herself were strangely moved and very grateful at being asked to come to that function.  They never dreamed anything like this would happen to the book they sometimes dipped into just for fun.  It was a most splendid book, she said – beautifully done.

From the directory

  Mrs Healy agreed that her grandfather had been a fierce unionist and a business man – but he also was a Gaelic speaker and was fascinated by all forms of history. This, she went on, was not the first time that a book had been presented in Tullamore.  Some 1,400 years ago, not so far from there, the great Book of Durrow had been produced by one of the three glories of Ireland, St Columcille.  She remembered going to Durrow with her father (the late Archie Wright) who made history live.  He would say ‘you must feel the stones, it’s not enough to look at them’.  He told you the stories, and it was like seeing a cinema in the mind.

  He also had taken her to the Slieve Bloom mountains, Mrs Healy recalled, and she found them fascinating.  He told her the story of Finn’s youth, and she felt she ran with Finn.

  History could be in the grand style, or it, could be in the local style, and you could have funny history.  In illustration of the lighter side of history, she recounted how her father told her he was christened as Rachael – a female – and that this was on his birth certificate.  She thought this was one of his strange tales.  Years later, she had reason to get a passport and went to the Custom House.  She had a date of birth, 22nd January 1855 and she couldn’t see any Archibald.

Offaly History would like to acknowledge the support of the late Mrs McInerney and Mrs Healy. They presented photographs to us us including that of the taking down of the Duke of Cumberland in 1915. Sadly both passed away in the 1990s. Our wonderful Moorhill is gone too. So important to record and archive.

The gleanings in the 1890 directory

[The first edition of this book sells at up to €300 and the reprint for just €55 and available from Offaly History. Stocks are very limited and less than 50 so when it’s gone it’s gone. ON ABE it can sell for a lot more.]

Michael Byrne

25 8 2020

The jacket of the 1989 reprint