Internship at the Offaly Archives. By Michelle Günter

My internship at the Offaly Archives finished in March and I will go home with a suitcase full of experiences, knowledge, and impressions I gained about Irish life and heritage. I am an archivist student from the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany. In our college a practical experience of the duration of 22 weeks (5.5 months) is a mandatory element of the undergraduate degree course in Information Sciences.

After my Abitur (the German form of the Leaving Cert), I went to explore Ireland on a year abroad with the organization WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Eventually, I landed in Offaly, more precisely on Mount Briscoe Organic Farm near the village of Daingean, a place full of history. The beech-lined avenue, the country house with its walled garden and the quarry with a lime kiln are dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. Through the interest of the family in the local history I got to know about the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society and visited some of the evening lectures.

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Mount Briscoe Organic Farm, near Daingean

Back in Germany I started my college course in archiving in Potsdam close to Berlin. In the first semester break, in March 2020, I came back to Ireland for a visit on the farm here in Offaly. Naturally, I got stranded in Ireland as my flight back to Germany was cancelled due to the starting pandemic. My college courses were held online, so I was able to stay in Ireland and continue my course in Germany at the same time.

Soon I started planning for my practical experience to come, an internship semester which I started at the end of August 2021 with Offaly Archives. I started with the rearranging of boxes in one of the storage rooms. A distinctive difference to German archives came to my attention. In German archives the boxes are sorted from the bottom shelf up which is supposed to make it easier to add material afterwards.

Michelle

The first projects I got were to write box lists of the records of the solicitor offices of R. F. Barry & Sons in Birr and of Goodbody & Kennedy in Tullamore. The method of a box list is helpful groundwork for the later cataloguing especially of bigger collections to get an overview over the varying papers. Both sets of records are reaching back to the 1750s and therefore the including deeds and correspondence are addressing a wide range of clients and issues. Goodbody & Kennedy Solicitors for example served clients like Geashill Estate with Lord Digby, Fetherstonhaugh Estate and Glynwood/Hayes/Dames-Longworth Estate (?). R. F. Barry & Sons on the other hand had strong connections with the Birr Urban District Council and the Stoney/Drought Estate at Kilcormac.

I accessioned (some retrospectively) archival papers as well as outsize formats like maps, plans and prints of which some had to be removed from their frames, which decay and may cause damage to their content. In the archival practice accessioning means that all incoming records acquire an individual number and further metadata in order to be able to trace its provenance at any time.

A bigger task, covering nearly half the time of my internship, was the cataloguing of the records of the Williams Group with its origins in the opening of Tullamore Distillery in 1829 by Michael Molloy. After passing on to his nephew Bernard Daly in 1857 and with the new General Manager Daniel E. Williams, a former engineer working in the company, the growing distillery was renamed B. Daly & Co. Ltd in 1903. The most famous brand produced was the whiskey, Tullamore DEW. In 1931, the Williams family acquired all shares in the company.

The collection comprises, alongside the records of the distillery, papers relating to the grocery business D. E. Williams had established in 1891 in Tullamore under the D. E. Williams Ltd. Other papers represent the activities of the company as an important distributor for wine, spirits, general wholesale, tea, mineral waters and additionally, malting and seed/corn. In 1948 The Irish Mist Liqueur Co. Ltd was formed and in 1966, the Williams Group Tullamore Ltd.  as a holding company to control and co-ordinate the activities of the individual activities. In 1979 Quinnsworth acquired the grocery chain and in 1997 the remaining companies of the Williams Group were sold to Greencore plc.

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The entire collection, spanning from Tullamore Distillery over B. Daly & Co. Ltd., D. E. Williams Ltd., The Irish Mist Co. Ltd. and other associated companies which are held at Offaly Archives, consists of nearly 240 volumes and 70 boxes of records and the catalogue is available online.

An interesting resource for genealogy purposes are the school records. I transferred the volumes into acid free boxes and entered them into the catalogue. Most valuable for family research are the registers which contain details of the pupil’s name, the date of school entrance, the date of birth, religious affiliation, residence and occupation of parent. The school records held at Offaly Archives include those from the national schools of Birr, Eglish, KillyonGeashill, and Clara 

All in all, I had the opportunity to not only get an insight of the work of an archive in all facets but also into various aspects of the history of County Offaly with its old estates, companies, people and landmarks which I am most appreciative of.