The Fair of Frankford (Kilcormac): old times in the barony of Ballyboy. By Paddy Heaney

We are publishing this essay of thirty-five years ago to honour all the people of the barony of Killoughy who have kept the Irish musical tradition vibrant and have a great love of their local history. It is also to mark the passing of Ashling Murphy and in support of her family and all her neighbours in the Blue Ball, Mountbolus and Kilcormac areas. Thanks to Paddy Heaney who did so much for local studies and wishing him well and a big shout out for all he and Paddy Lowry did for local studies. The barony of Ballyboy lost two-thirds of its population over the period 1841 to 1911.

If you ever stand on the summit of Knockhill on a frosty  moonlight night, and if your hear voices, and the thunder of hooves  coming from the direction  of the mountain, don’t be afraid, it’s  only the ghosts  form the distant  past on their way to the fair of Frankford.

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A novel approach to Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon. By James Scully

Pauline Clooney’ Charlotte & Arthur, an imaginative recreation of the Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon in Wales and Ireland, is an exciting combination of fact and fiction. The extensive historical research which preceded the writing of the book is evident throughout and this coupled with the creation of less historic characters and the weaving in of more fictional nuances ensures a work that is at once refreshing and convincing. While the sources of history are comparatively plentiful for this episode due to Charlotte’s prolific letter writing and an abundance of biographies of the two main characters, it is the richness of Pauline Clooney’s writing that makes the work engrossing and appealing.

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Grand Juries in Ireland: the politics of power in the counties. By Michael Byrne

The county grand jury system will be the subject of much focus from mid-2022 with the uploading of links to the county archives records throughout Ireland by way of the Beyond 2022:Virtual Record Treasury Project. The first thing to say is that a useful and well-illustrated booklet People, Place and Power: the grand jury system in Ireland (Brian Gurrin with David Brown, Peter Crooks and Ciarán Wallace, online 2021) can now be downloaded from the Beyond 2022 website as well as useful material from the county archives in Offaly, Wicklow and Donegal. Furthermore, Brian Gurrin has published online an interim listing of the records held in each county. The scope of the records is well illustrated and draws on more detailed catalogues for counties such as Offaly and Donegal where listings are available on the online catalogues from the county archives. For more on Offaly material see the blog and presentation by Lisa Shortall now on YouTube and as a video on the Offaly History Decade of Centenaries platform on http://www.offalyhistory.com.

In summary the access position to these records will be revolutionised within the year and will greatly facilitate family historians, those interested in the workings of local government and how local elites interacted. What elite families provided the power brokers and controlled local patronage? All were men, most were landowners, representative of the county families, and, of course, most were Protestant from the early 1700s and the enactment of the Penal Laws. It was not until the Catholic Relief Act of 1793 that Catholics were admitted, and being a select club were scarce until the 1830s.

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Colmcille or Columba – the founder of Durrow. By Brian Lacey

We welcome Brian Lacey this week. He agreed to contribute this blog in advance of his lecture to Offaly History on Wednesday 9 June at 7.30 p.m. via Zoom. You can book a place via info@offalyhistory.com. Congratulations on his new book on Adomnán , the great biographer of Colmcille.

The Patron or Pattern Day at Durrow on 9 June 2014

This is the 1500th anniversary of the birth of Colmcille (the name he is usually known by in Irish) or Columba (name in Latin).  In the Middle Ages Colmcille was honoured as one of Ireland’s three patron saints, along with Brigid and Patrick. Patrick, of course, was not Irish but British, and it is an open question as to whether Brigid really existed as a person at all, or if her legendary character is just the Christianisation of stories about a pagan goddess. While there are many things we don’t know or are unsure about Colmcille, he was definitely a real Irish person who lived for most of the sixth century.

His fame however was not confined to Ireland. Somewhat akin to the Joycean and Yeatsean literary ‘industries’, vast amounts have been written about Colmcille since his death while his name has also been honoured in works of art, placenames, dedications etc. The resulting Colmcille is a cultural and social construction (not in itself unusual in relation to individuals who are honoured as ‘saints’) which is only partly based on ‘history’. In fact, when it is all boiled down, we actually know very little about the original person. But the fact that we know anything at all about someone who lived so long ago is itself rare and extraordinary, and a testament both to his own personality and to those who worked to perpetuate his memory. 

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The 1821 census and the town of Birr: exciting opportunities for exploration of town, family and social history 200 years ago. By Michael Byrne

Birr sometimes called Parsonstown

In the Pigot directory of 1824 Birr was described ‘as far the most considerable of any of the towns in the King’s County. It is situated on the river Birr [Camcor], and adorned with a fine castle, built by the family of the Parsons, the residence of the second earl of Rosse, the proprietor of the town. This town it was said has since been rebuilt by the present earl’. Birr was the leading town in the county from the 1620s until the 1840s but began to loose out because of the lack of an easy and direct link with Dublin, and it being that bit more distant from the capital and less central for local administration. The decline would accelerate after 1900 with the loss of political and administrative influence. By the 1820s Birr had new Protestant and Catholic churches (the latter nearing completion at the time of the census and the publishing of the Pigot directory), two Methodist chapels and a Quakers’ meeting house. The charitable institutions of Birr, were a fever hospital and dispensary, supported by county grants and annual subscriptions; a Sunday school for children of all denominations; a free school for boys, and another for girls. Birr had a gaol and a courthouse (from c. 1803), where the sessions were held four times a year. The prisoners were sent to Philipstown, which was the county town until 1835 for trial for serious crimes. From 1830 when the new gaol was built in Tullamore Birr prison was more a holding centre only. The ruins of the old church near the castle wall are still visible. One mile from the town were the barracks, ‘a large and elegant building, capable of holding three regiments of soldiers’. Birr has two large distilleries and two breweries, which, it was said, gave employment to the poor of the town.

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It was a `shame` about my granduncle Kieran Claffey of Bloomhill County Offaly: explorations in family history and a sad legacy. By Padráig Turley

With the recent publication of the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, the notion and concept of shame is very much in the news. Shame is a negative influence that is so powerful that it can destroy and ruin lives. It can have appalling consequences. It can be public or private.

Shame guilt and apologies. The county council apology this week for things past Offaly Independent 20 3 2021. The council’s record on tuberculosis prevention was good with a central dispensary opened at the back of the county infirmary in June 1916. Dr O’Regan had been appointed to the prevention campaign in 1912 and four years earlier Lady Aberdeen had visited the town in support of her personal campaign.

Public shame is easier to deal with, for example the Government`s handling of such and such a problem was shameful. This is easy to handle as the Government is a distant entity, and their nonfeasance or apparent nonfeasance can be punished at the next election.

However personal shame is much more traumatic and can have devastating consequences. We have seen over the last forty or so years a series of scandals all of which had catastrophic effects on very innocent victims. When we look at these `scandals` from today`s vantage point it is hard to understand how the particular activity involved could have caused the outrage they did. It is difficult to understand that what is today accepted as quite normal could stigmatize an individual to such an extent that their lives were ruined and indeed that such ignominy could attach itself to an entire family.

However, the story I wish to relate is a simple enough tale, where a totally innocent condition had to be hidden. The person I wish to talk about is my grand uncle Kieran Claffey. He was one of twelve children born to Patrick Claffey and Anne Flannery, who were married in Shannonbridge in 2nd January 1853. They were farming folk who lived in Bloomhill near Ballinahown.

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Five-k walks in Tullamore and district. A walk in Lloyd Town Park and the legacy of change in Tullamore over 250 years. By Michael Byrne

Offaly History intended to have a walk on 26 December 2020 through the historic Lloyd Town Park, Tullamore, but had to cancel due to the imposition of the third wave of restrictions since March 2020 designed to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 virus. An historic year and one we will be glad to see the back of. After fifty-years of mostly progress since the 1960s we have become accustomed to the shock of change for the worst since the banking crisis and the bail-out. Now it’s the Covid-19 virus and in the background climate change, and in Offaly the end of the bogs – so much a part of growth in Offaly from the 1950s. Today we are visiting the Lloyd town park, Kilcruttin, Tullamore and reflecting on its historical features and change in the landscape of the area and the town of Tullamore since the 1700s.

The park area in 1838 on the six-inch scale with Water Lane, gazebo and the new courthouse and jail. A second Methodist church was located in Crow/Tara Street from the 1820s to 1877. The landscaped gardens of Acres Hall can be seen on Charleville Street, now Cormac Street.
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The killing of Sergeant Henry Cronin in Tullamore on Sunday 31 October 1920 and the consequences in Tullamore and Clara. By Michael Byrne

Killings such as that of Sergeant Cronin were rarely spoken of in Tullamore in the years from 1920 to the 1990s. As to who shot Cronin there were so many suggestions – men from out of town, a policeman siding with the I.R.A. and so on. Like the Spanish Civil War there was a pact of forgetfulness (olvidados) for those who were there. When Peadar Bracken made the Offaly I.R.A. Brigade return in 1940 (filed in confidence for over seventy years) in connection with service and pensions for those who had fought in the 1916–21 period he described the Cronin killing outside Cronin’s house in Henry/O’Carroll Street as

 ‘31st Oct., 1920 – Sergeant Cronin ‘wounded returning to Barracks, at Tullamore. Died subsequently.’

Today we know that the causes, course and consequences of any national struggle are complex and that the results can be not what was anticipated. In Ireland it became a Free State with a Civil War that set back the country for many years. Perhaps until after the emigration of 400,000 in the 1950s.

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Hugh Mahon: Patriot, Pressman, Politician, Volume 2: Politician: the years from 1901 to 1931 [now published] By Jeff Kildea

Introduction from Offaly History

As a political agitator, journalist, businessman and politician, Hugh Mahon had a varied and fascinating life. Born in Offaly, he and his family migrated to America in 1869, but returned to Ireland in 1880 after their American dream failed. He was active in the Land League in County Wexford which led to his arrest and imprisonment with Parnell in 1881, and exile to Australia. As a crusading journalist he exposed corruption and became a thorn in the side of the Forrest government in Western Australia during the 1890s. He was elected to the first Commonwealth parliament in 1901 and served in four Labour ministries, rising to Minister for External Affairs during the First World War. He has the distinction of being the only person expelled from the Commonwealth parliament after he criticised British rule in Ireland.

This book, the second part of a two-volume biography of Mahon, covers the period from his election to parliament in 1901 until his death in 1931. It describes his almost 20 years as a backbencher and a minister during which he gained a reputation as one of the brainiest men in parliament as well as one of the most controversial. It provides an insight into his reluctant decision to oppose conscription in 1916 and examines in depth his commitment to Irish self-government and the circumstances of his dramatic expulsion from parliament in 1920. The volume also looks at Mahon’s career as managing director of the Catholic Church Property Insurance Co. and his intervention in Irish politics during the debate over the Anglo-Irish treaty. It is the story of a flawed genius who simultaneously evoked high praise and damning criticism.

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