The grand jury system in Ireland was a precursor to the county council or local authority system we know today, and the records generated by the grand jury and its offices reveal the history of towns, cities and boroughs all over Ireland. Unfortunately this body of records suffered significant losses during the twentieth century. On 25 May 2021, Beyond2022:Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland in association with Local Authority Archivists and Records Managers (LGARM) hosted a research showcase to mark the centenary of the burning of the Custom House during the War of Independence, an event which resulted in the destruction of the archive of the Local Government Board for Ireland. This event was echoed just over a year later with the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland at the beginning of the Civil War and whose losses in terms of documentary destruction is being valiantly and virtually rebuilt by the Beyond2022 team. The top floor of the PRO was where the grand jury records from all over the country were kept and ultimately perished during that terrible fire. Between the fire in the Custom House and the more well known 1922 PRO(I) fire, vast quantities of records relating to local government were destroyed.Continue reading
Archives in Offaly covering the War of Independence period are varied and interesting. This blog will give a short overview of archival material in Offaly Archives in collections of local government records and private papers, drawn from both the collections of Offaly County Library and Offaly History. Links will be provided to online descriptions and digitised resources on the online catalogue offalyarchives.com This will also include links to the catalogue of the Rosse Papers at Birr Castle, another local repository of important source material.
Local government archives, such as the records of the county council and of the urban and rural district councils, record the massive political change following the establishment of Dáil Éireann in January 1919. By the time the local elections of 1920 were held, Sinn Féin had the majority of seats on the County Council. King’s County Council was renamed Offaly County Council in June 1920 and allegiance to the new Dáil was ratified by many of the district councils, e.g. Tullamore Rural District Council recorded the following motion on 2 October 1920: Continue reading
Diaries offer a fascinating glimpse into history through the personal accounts of people who lived through war, famine, disease, revolution and other events of huge social disruption. Along with contemporary correspondence, personal diaries help to flesh out the bare facts of history with human experience, where otherwise official records are the only historical source. Find out how you can help us to record the history of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic in Offaly and join a long line of Offaly diarists who have shaped our understanding of the past. Continue reading
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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