Have an ‘Offaly History’ Christmas with over a dozen new books this year

It has been a good year for new publications contributing to the history of County Offaly and helping us to get to know ourselves and our place better. When the annual report of the Tullamore Credit Union is dropped in the door you know Christmas is close. Seeing the cover and that the credit union is now sixty years old set us thinking of phases in our history. The year 1923 marked the end of the civil war. After a period of growth from 1891 to 1918 things got difficult. You could write off 1923–63 in terms of the economic engine. It was mostly switched off with exceptions in Tullamore Yarns, the Bacon Factory, Tullamore and the Williams and Egan businesses serving the midlands. The emerging Bord na Mona and ESB were providing jobs in west Offaly from the 1950s and east Offaly later, but it was the 1960s before a general ‘all boats’ lift up occurred. Equally you could say that since September 2001 (and the mobile phone) we have been living with anxiety which seems to grow every year especially since Brexit 2016 and now the war and climate change. Not to mention all the things we have to do online to comply with the requirements of banks and government. These books are all available from Offaly History, Bury Quay (and online http://www.offalyhistory) and our friends in Midland Books, Tullamore.

When you can relax for a moment and close down admin screens it can be good to read and look back, not in anger, but at all that was achieved in the face of adversity and tough times. The new books noticed below all cover different aspects of our local history. We celebrate craftsmanship with the making of the shrine of St Manchan and equally so with Rachel McKenna’s book when she examine the traditional material used in building houses and making the domestic interior before the 1960s and the plywood era that followed.

Vincent Henry writes of Durrow and Clara and the travelling shop – a time when Williams and Egan had branch shops and before the transformation in retailing with supermarkets and self-service. Michael Dalton has pulled together stories of the early Garda Siochana and Denise Dunne has collected reminiscences of thirty-one Offaly contributors.

Offaly History has availed on an international team to provide us with the collected poems of John De Jean Frazer, a Birr-born Young Irelander who lived through the Famine and wrote of it.  Another international team reflected on the column in Birr and its place in the changing world of commemoration.

In a more prosperous vein is the story of Alderborough Nursery, Geashill. This family and a business history is well presented with clearly years of research. The same can be said of the Westmeath History and Society volume edited by Seamus O’Brien.  A big launch with essays by our Rory Masterson (among others) and addresses from Revd Dermot Farrell, now archbishop of Dublin, and Pat Gallagher, the CE in Westmeath. Brendan Ryan has a new book on Belmont, another in a magnificent series of histories he has penned of West Offaly.

Sporting memoirs succeed like no other. The Dooley brothers memoir of gallant days had a launch recently on a par with that of Michael Duignan’s book and Martin Furlong’s. These are big sellers and are great for the reading public.

The annuals are wonderful. That for Birr is with us since 2001 and Tullamore Annual since 2011. They are a tremendous record of the happenings in each town and presented to a very high standard. Tony McCormack and his team have brought high quality printing of books to Tullamore and the editors of both volumes have been resilient.

A good year for local books but we must not forget our friends in Grub Street who edit and present the weekly paper the Tullamore Tribune and Midland Tribune. In business now since 1881we depend on both newspapers so much and should not take hard copy newsfeed for granted in these changing times. Remember 100 years ago we had no bookshop and the first public library was only in 1921. We had no reporting media other than the printed newspaper.

Long live the book and the newspaper. One hundred years ago we depended on the newspaper entirely for news and hence the importance of the old files now mostly digitised.

Traditional Architecture in Offaly – history, materials and furniture 1800 to present day, Rachel

McKenna (Offaly County Council, 2022), hardback, €30.00, ISBN 978-1-91963287-6-1.

This wonderful new book will very much complement the author’s previous works on Geashill and also The follies, families and demesnes of Offaly. Offaly History will have copies for sale at Offaly History Centre and online at www.offalyhistory.com. This book was printed by Brosna and is to the usual very high standard.

Annals of Clonmacnoise, Nollaig Ó Muraíle, (Edmund Burke, Dublin, 2022), hardback 679 pp, €125.00, ISBN 978-1-

A new edition has long been called for, and this Nollaig Ó Muraíle has now undertaken. The edition is based on a manuscript which is deemed to be superior to the other surviving manuscripts, BL Additional MS 4817. This was written in 1661 by a native of Tralee, Domhnall Ó Súilleabháin. (Occasional words, and sometimes longer phrases, omitted by Ó Súilleabháin have been inserted from TCD MS 673 – the manuscript on which Murphy based his edition.)

Saint Manchan’s Shrine – Art and Devotion in twelfth – century Ireland,  Griffin Murray and Kevin O’Dwyer (Silver River Studios, 2022, hardback, 128 pp, €45.00, ISBN 978-1-8383513-1-1

Saint Manchan’s shrine is one of the most remarkable survivals from Ireland’s medieval past, having been safely kept and venerated in the same locality since its creation in the early twelfth century. This masterpiece of medieval art is now proudly and reverently displayed in the rural parish church of Boher in County Offaly, not far from its original home at the ancient church site of Lemanaghan. St Manchan’s shrine is a gabled-reliquary, taking the shape of steeply pitched roof or tent, and is fitted with carrying rings, which enabled it to be carried in procession by two bearers using poles. It is not only the largest reliquary surviving from medieval Ireland but is also the only remaining example of its type. It enshrines what are believed to be the bones of its eponymous saint, St Manchan, whose death is recorded in AD 664.One Last Bend – a personal history of Peter Henry’s travelling shop, Vincent Henry, (Clara, 2022), softback 320 pp. pb, €20.00.

In One Last Bend; A personal history of Peter Henry’s travelling shop, Peter’s son Vincent, a former civil servant, school teacher and footballer, recounts the remarkable story of his family’s enterprise.  Henry charts the van’s history from staple of rural life to a vestige of a bygone era.  Readers will also encounter the many colourful characters who populated these Irish hinterlands; including Razor Devine, the gifted footballer and unrepentant thief; Junior, the hapless bachelor farmer; and Nannie Stanton, famous for her legendary country butter.

The Complete Poems of John De Jean Frazer – The workman poet from Birr edited by Padraig

Turley, Terry Moylan and Laurel Grube (Esker Press for Offaly History, 2022), softback, 458 pp, pb, €20.00, ISBN 978-1-909822-30-6.

In the middle of the 19th century the name of the Birr poet J. De Jean (John De Jean Frazer) was familiar to everyone in Ireland with a nationalist frame of mind.  Nowadays, although occasional poems of his continue to be published, he is almost forgotten.  His poetry deserves rediscovery.  On the political plane, he skillfully articulated Irish outrage at the British response to the campaign for Repeal of the Union, land tenure, and other historical injustices.  His poems appeared in The Nation and many other periodicals of the day, supporting the policies of the Young Irelanders.

Duties Long Forgotten, compiled by the Offaly Branch of the Garda Siochana Retired Members Association, edited by Michael Dalton, (Printplus 2022), 68 pp, pb, €10.00

The aim of this book is to give the reader of today and the future a flavour of what life was like for members of An Garda Siochana over the last century and the duties they carried out which would be long forgotten but for this record. The problem was where to start so that the reader would get a true picture of the difficulties that faced the new Garda force in opening new Garda Stations and facing acceptance by the population.  From living conditions, Noxious weeds duties, delivery of pension books this is an insightful and often humorous read.

The way we were memories from the people of Offaly, Denise Curtin Dunne, ed. 135 pp, softback, €10.00 Reminiscences from the past by the people of Offaly 31 contributors honour the lives of hard working and loving parents and grandparents, teachers they admired, friends and partners.  They write about lives that were busy but also recall that people had more time for each other than we have today. You will notice in these memories that people weren’t judged by what they had, but by their character and kindness.

Alderborough Nursery, Geashill, Offaly, Reamsbottom & Co., Geashill and West Drayton & Alderborough St. Brigid Anemones, Anne & Tim O’Rourke, (Offaly County Council & Creative Ireland, Print Plus 2022), 288 pp, softback, €20.00 ISBN: 978-1-9163287-5-4

Alderborough nursery, Geashill, Offaly became famous around the world for producing plants, especially St. Brigid Anemones. In 1890 William and Mary Reamsbottom set up the nursery which provided employment over decades and led to the development of other nurseries at Wesr Drayton, Middlesex and Streamstown County Westmeath. Commercial growing of plants had a positive and stabilising influence on social and economic activity, including during times of war and uncertainty. The story of the nurseries gives an insight into the lives and challenges faced by people. It also celebrates our enduring relationship with plants and the joy that growing them brings to people everywhere

Empty Columns are a place to dream, text by Ric Kasini Kadour, Kolaj Institute & Maison Kasini Canada, 2022, 142 pp, softback, €12.00  ISBN 978-1-927587-55-3

Monuments are ubiquitous on the landscape. Common and omnipresent, they blend into the background and go unnoticed until someone points them out. In recent years, monuments have become flashpoints of cultural controversy. It wasn’t that these monuments weren’t being seen, it’s that some people in the community weren’t hearing what others in the community were saying about them.

In Empty Columns Are a Place to Dream, Ric Kasini Kadour unpacks what monuments are and their role in our communities. He takes the reader on a tour from the Megalithic Temples of Malta to Brú na Bóinne in Ireland to the Confederate monuments of Obion County, Tennessee to the empty column in the centre of Birr, County Offaly, Ireland. Kadour asks us to consider monuments as sites of collective memory and as places to reflect upon history, even when that history is false or misleading. He then shows us what happens when collage artists reimagine these spaces as sites of truth and reconciliation.

Empty Columns Are a Place to Dream features the collages of eighteen artists from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Poland, South Africa, the United States, and the United Kingdom made a series of collages that reimagined the empty column in the centre of Birr, County Offaly, Ireland, which, from 1747 to 1915, commemorated the Duke of Cumberland’s 1745 victory over the Scots at Culloden, as 21st century beacons of hope and reconciliation.

Featured Artists: Inas Al-soqi (USA), Simon Blake (USA), Kevin Geronimo Brandtner (Austria), Danielle Cole (Canada),

Caroline F. Conway (Ireland), David Crunelle (Belgium), Lynne Hoare (Ireland), Marta Janik (Poland), Ric Kasini Kadour (Canada/USA), Anthony D Kelly (Ireland), Christopher Kurts (USA), Duduetsang Lamola (South Africa), Rashad Muhammad (USA), Mark Murphy (United Kingdom), Ashley Pryor (USA), Elyana Shamselangeroodi (Iran), Avi Yair (Israel), Denise Zygadlo (United Kingdom).

Tullamore Annual 2023, Tullamore Lions Club, (Print Plus 2021), 160 pp, paperback, €15.00 ISBN: 978-1-9162823-2-2

 A wonderful collection of Stories, Interviews, Profiles and much more in this issue with funds raised from its sale going back into so many local worthy causes.

Birr Year Review 2022 Volume 21, c. 176 pp, paperback, €12 to €15..

This publication continues to catalogue much material on the town not to be found elsewhere.This is the 22nd issue of this fine journal with so much quality material not to be found elsewhere.

Belmont: the story of a West Offaly townland, Brendan Ryan (Ferbane, 2022), paperback, €20.

This is the story of Belmont, a small but significant townland in West Offaly. In medieval times and earlier it was known by its Gaelic name of An Lios Dearg. With the arrival of the Hollow Sword Blades Company and of Baldwin Crow the name was changed to Bellmount and then to Belmont or the anglicised Lisderg. The conquest of Garrycastle barony by the MacCoghlans of the Fair Castles was superseded by the plantations of Cromwell, King James and the Williamite settlements.  Some settlers, the Holmes and the L’Estranges, founded the Belmont Mill which helped local employment and was continued with great success by the Perry family. This is an effort to broadbrush the history of the townland from medieval times to the present.

Westmeath History and Society: Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county, Seamus O’Brien, ed. (Geography Publications 2022), 938 pp, hardback, €60.00 ISBN 9780906602980

This is the twenty-ninth volume in the acclaimed county History and Society series Contents:  1. The Physical Endowment of County Westmeath, Robert Meehan. 2. Prehistoric Barrows in Westmeath, David McGuinness. 3. Gaelic political assemblies and power-display in borderlands of Westmeath Lordships, Elizabeth Fitzpatrick. 4. Crossing the Brosna at Mullingar: the early topography of the town and district, Paul Gosling. 5. The Anglo-Norman Conquest and Settlement, Rory Masterson. 6. St. Féichín of Fore and his monastery, Rory Masterson. 7. Survey of the Holy Wells in Moycashel Barony, Caimin O’Brien. 8. Westmeath Bardic Poetry, Cathal Ó Háinle. 9. Besiegers without guns: Athlone 1641-43, Pádraig Lenihan. 10. The 1641 Rebellion in County Westmeath, John Cunningham. 11. A county in transition: cartographic evidence for landscape and social change in early modern Westmeath, Arnold Horner. 12. War and society in Westmeath, 1689-91, Harman Murtagh. 13. The Irish Language in Westmeath c.1600-1900, Aengus Ó Fionnagáin. 14. Westmeath: literary ‘stories so far’, Mary Shine Thompson. 15. Local Government in County Westmeath (1542-2019), Matthew Potter. 16. Class and Conflict in Pre-Famine Westmeath, John Kenny. 17. Gigginstown and Crown Lands in Westmeath in the early 1800s, Timothy P. O’Neill. 18. Famine in the county town – Mullingar 1845-49, Seamus O’Brien. 19. Assisted Emigration from Clonmellon Parish to South Australia in 1847, Eugene Sheridan. 20. Between happiness and distress: Erskine Nicol’s paintings of rural life in Westmeath in the 1860s, Amelie Dochy-Jacquard. 21. The Corn and Flour Mills of County Westmeath, Seamus Mimnagh. 22. Church of Ireland parish and people in Westmeath, 1897-1996, Lesley Whiteside. 23. ‘A disgrace to a civilised country’; making sense of Westmeath at Westminster, 1871, Michael Kenny. 24. Religion and politics: the Parnellite split in Westmeath, Michael Nolan. 25. The decline of the aristocratic estates of County Westmeath, 1879-1923, Eugene Dunne. 26. Post-Famine Athlone, Gearoid O’Brien. 27. The Gaelic Athletic Association in Westmeath 1884-1905, Tom Hunt. 28. The Midland Volunteers Force and the Irish Volunteers: towards reconciling history and historiography, John Burke. 29. Barrack and community in a time of revolution: the East Yorkshire Regiment in Westmeath, 1919-21, Paul Hughes. 30. Westmeath Elections 1918-1970, Adrian Kavanagh and Caoilfhionn D’Arcy. 31. Modern Mullingar: 1923-1993, Ruth Illingworth. 32. Some aspects of vernacular culture and oral history in Co. Westmeath: Jim Delaney and his work with Patsy Johnson, Bairbre Ní Fhloinn. 33. From Cregganbaun, Co. Mayo to Kiltoom, Co. Westmeath: a case-study of a Land Commission group migration scheme, Mary Burke and John Burke. 34. Westmeath Elections 1970-2020, William Durkan. 35. Westmeath’s Archives, Gretta Connell.