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

Offaly History Archives Catalogue Development Process

As a follow on to a previous post outlining the concept and development of the online catalogue, this post from Ed Doyle explores the technical development of the catalogue which may be of interest to other archivists and repositories who are thinking of using AtoM software.

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Beginnings

Our first version of AtoM started off on a single local office computer previously scavenged from various spare parts in the back of an office.  The archivist had to create all the data that would appear on the AtoM site from scratch as there were no legacy finding aids to import, all while learning the ins and outs of the new software and communicating her experience with myself.

Our installation used Ubuntu 14.04 LTS as the operating system and AtoM 2.2 and all of its dependencies. If you are starting from scratch I would advise using whatever version that is stable (currently 2.3).

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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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