Flour and fire: the rise and fall of Robert Perry & Co, Belmont Mills

The Perrys originated with Henry Perry, a Quaker from Shanderry, near Mountmellick in Co. Laois. He had five sons, many of whom became successful industrialists. Robert Perry, the eldest, founded Rathdowney Brewery, of Perry’s Ale fame,  and was father to the Perry Brothers who founded Belmont Mills. Another of his sons, James Perry, was a visionary in terms of transport development. He was a director of the Grand Canal Company and then turned his attentions to railway advancement. With the Pims, another Quaker family, he promoted the first railway line in Ireland, the Dublin to Kingstown line. He made a sizeable fortune investing in that company, and then became director of the Great Southern and Western Railway before leading a new group to form the Midland Great Western railway, and the two companies battled it out to win routes west of the country, finally managing to get a train line through Clara in 1859. Continue reading

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The Rosse Papers in Birr Castle Archives

The Muniments Room

The Muniments Room in Birr Castle is a special space. Based in the eastern flanker of the castle, it was once a smoking room and contained a much painted-over and practically hidden Jacobean plaster frieze, the oldest complete example of its kind in Ireland.  In 1980, on inheriting the castle, the present Earl of Rosse, set about restoring the frieze to its former glory and applied for an Irish Georgian Society grant which allowed master stuccadore Séamus Ó hEocha to undertake the painstaking restoration work soon after.  It was the first act of modern restoration work in the castle and its results were startling. Continue reading

Collections relating to 1916 in Offaly History Archives

December 2016 sees the publication of two new books on the subject of the 1916 Rising in Offaly. The first is the latest edition of the journal of Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society, Offaly Heritage 9, a collection of essays to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, edited by Dr. Ciarán Reilly. A sister publication from the Society, a new book by Michael Byrne, Tullamore in 1916 – the making of the Tullamore incident, looks at Tullamore town as a place to live during this tumultuous period of Irish history Continue reading

New release of Digby Irish Estates papers online 1873-1916

Following the online launch in August 2016 of the annual reports of W. S and T. W. Trench, land agents to the 9th Lord Digby, Offaly History Archives in conjunction with Offaly County Council’s Heritage Office and with support from the Heritage Council, have now released the next two series of records from the Digby Irish Estates Papers. These comprise the annual reports from Continue reading

James Dillon (1788-1859), King’s County Coroner during the Great Famine

James Dillon Esq of Clara, King’s County was born in 1788 to Simon and Catherine Dillon. His father was involved in property and his mother had a general provisions shop with extensive property at New St., Clara. James was politically active in the 1820s and 1830s opposing tithes and supporting Daniel O’Connell’s Emancipation cause. He married Alice Kelly in the mid 1820s and had 10 children between 1827 and 1847, six daughters and four sons.

Apart from being a postmaster and a grocer, he was elected coroner for the county in July 1836 at the age of 48, having beaten his opponent Benjamin Toy Midgley by 341 votes. He was the latest in a long list of county coroners dating back to 16th century when the office of coroner was provided for in the 1557 statute establishing the King’s County. In 1847, the county was divided into northern and southern districts and Dillon was assigned the northern Tullamore district, while his former opponent, Midgely was assigned the Parsonstown district.  We are very fortunate in Offaly to have a set of Dillon’s diaries which contain the verdicts of the various inquests he held in the county from the time he was elected until his own sudden death in 1859. Coroners’ diaries are extremely rare as most were destroyed in the Four Courts fire of 1922. These particular diaries are of great significance as they record sudden death in Offaly immediately before, during and after the Great Famine. Continue reading

Annual reports of W.S. Trench and T. W. Trench from the Digby estate, King’s County, 1857-1872

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Geashill Village, courtesy Offaly History Archives

In June of 1857, William Steuart Trench and his son, Thomas Weldon Trench, set off in a horse and cart from Tullamore, King’s County and spent three weeks surveying the near 31,000 acre estate of Edward St Vincent Digby, 9th Baron Digby. Lord Digby, resident in Dorset, had appointed W.S. Trench as land agent on his Geashill estate with a view to improving its financial viability. Trench had a great reputation as an ‘improving’ land agent and also worked for the Shirley and Bath estates in Monaghan and the Lansdowne estate in Kerry. To ease his workload, and much the same as employing his other son, John Townsend Trench as agent in Kenmare, W.S. appointed Thomas as resident agent in Geashill, living as all Lord Digby’s agents before and after had lived, in Geashill Castle.

Between 1857 and 1872, the Trenchs transformed Digby’s landholding from a large, boggy and uncultivated midlands estate into a well-ordered and agriculturally productive estate with tidy and well-kept villages, the design of the latter winning numerous awards from the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland. This was a huge achievement and certainly an improvement on housing conditions for the tenantry but the methods employed by the Trenchs to achieve their aims were controversial to say the least and the folk-memory of the Trenchs as tyrants persists to the present day. Large clearances of squatters from their  ‘mud-hovels’ took place, leases were cancelled and rearranged, small holdings were merged into larger, more productive holdings, less productive tenants were encouraged to emigrate where possible and agitators were forcefully ejected.

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Offaly History Archives online catalogue

Offaly History Archives will shortly launch a searchable online catalogue of its holdings. Not only that, the website will contain a large amount of digitised resources and will also host the catalogues of other Offaly repositories so that researchers will be able to search for related material in one place. Here are some facts and figures about the new catalogue.

When will it be launched?

We are hoping to launch the catalogue in August 2016. It is a work in progress so parts of the catalogue will be released in stages to allow further work on the remainder. The first collection to be released is from a hosted repository, Offaly County Council Heritage Office. In 2013, OCC’s Heritage Officer, Amanda Pedlow, arranged for the digitisation of the Digby Irish Estates papers which are kept by Lord Digby in Dorset. The papers contain the annual reports sent to the Lords Digby by successive land agents on the Geashill Estate.  The first tranche of these reports, containing over 1000 digital objects, will be the first section of the catalogue to go live. These comprise the annual reports written by William Steuert Trench and his son, Thomas Weldon Trench between 1857 and 1872. The reports are a goldmine of information on the tenantry, containing full rentals of all townlands in the 30,000 acres which made up Lord Digby’s estate. They also contain vivid descriptions of housing conditions, poverty, emigration, agrarian unrest and even assassination plots against the Trenchs. Although generally reviled amongst the tenants for their cruelty,  the Trenchs were improvers and the reports also contain detailed explanations of land improvements, drainage schemes, establishment of new farms, construction of new housing, repairs to existing housing and plantations of woodlands. Continue reading

1916-2016 ephemera

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We are collecting ephemera relating to the 1916-2016 commemorations in Offaly in order to reflect the breadth and scope of the centenary commemorations held throughout the county this year. Do you have any posters, fliers, leaflets, programs, invitations or other memorabilia that you would be happy to donate to us? If so contact us at info@offalyhistory.com or call in to us at Bury Quay, Tullamore and we will happily add your material to our collection.

What’s in our archives?

Offaly History has been collecting primary historical sources in the form of manuscripts, photographs, maps, plans and drawings for many years. Until recently, this material has been kept safe and secure but inaccessible. It was understood that the material would have to be professionally catalogued and carefully preserved before it could be offered as a resource for historians and other researchers. There are hundreds of bound volumes, thousands of manuscript pages and dozens of trunks full to the brim with historical treasures. In 2015, an archivist began the mammoth task of physically rehousing the material in archival boxes, and cataloguing the contents for publication in our new online catalogue which we hope to launch in the coming months.

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Welcome to the Offaly History blog

Offaly History is undertaking some exciting projects in the months ahead, particularly in the area of archives. We are currently cataloguing all the archival collections that we have collected over the past thirty years and hope to be able to share the catalogue online in the near future.  This blog will chart the progress of the archives project together with other news from various outposts of Offaly History – sign up to be notified when we publish a new blog post!