Disbandment of the Leinster Regiment based at Birr Barracks 100 years ago. By Stephen Callaghan

The 12th of  June 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the disbandment of the historic Southern Irish infantry regiments of the British Army at Windsor Castle. Disbandment was brought about by economic cuts to the British Army after World War One (Army Order No. 78 dated 11 March 1922 “reduction of establishment”) and in part due to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State. The Royal Irish Regiment, Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Munster Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (and South Irish Horse) were all earmarked for disbandment and would surrender their colours to King George V.

The various detachments of the six regiments made their way to Windsor Castle via the 9:55 am train from Paddington Station, London. The historic ceremony took place at 11:30 am in St. George’s Hall in Windsor Castle with each battalion of the various regiments consisting of a colour party of three officers and three other ranks, with the respective colonel of each regiment also present.

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Shops and pubs designed by Michael Scott in the 1940s for D.E. Williams. By Fergal MacCabe

At a time of economic stringency, the architect Michael Scott delivered several elegant retail buildings for a prominent midlands business family. These were executed in a Modernist style and incorporated natural materials in an innovative fashion.

D.E. Williams

In a recent Offaly History blog, Michael Byrne described the expansionary retail strategy of the notable Offaly commercial firm of D. E. Williams in installing high quality shops and pubs in virtually every town and village across the county in the period 1884-1921.

This courageous approach had not deserted the go ahead commercial family when during the Second World War, then modestly referred to as ‘The Emergency’, they ambitiously embarked on the redevelopment of their most prominent retail outlets in Dublin, Athlone and Birr and and most importantly, delivered a flagship shop and public bar in Patrick Street in Tullamore. To implement their progressive strategy they turned to Michael Scott.

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A new chapter in Westmeath historiography: the recent publication of Westmeath History and Society, an address by Dr Harman Murtagh at the launch in Athlone.’ Without doubt, this is the greatest book ever published on Westmeath. It’s a monument to our county’s culture, history, society and creativity – and an expression of Westmeath’s very distinctive identity.’

The Mullingar and Athlone launches of Westmeath History and Society have provided two interesting and original addresses on the status of local history in Westmeath, our neighbouring county. The Offaly History and Society volume was published in 1998 and is long out of print. A few copies were secured by Offaly History some years ago and are offered for sales as scarce titles. We thank our friend Dr Harman Murtagh for a copy of his address on 31 3 2022 and we have added some pictures for our readers. Enjoy the address in Athlone and you can get the book at Offaly History Centre and online at www.offalyhistory.com, over 900 pages, hardback, €60.

My friends,

This is the south Westmeath launch of this magnificent volume, Westmeath history and society.

A week ago it was launched in north Westmeath by the archbishop of Dublin, the very Reverend Dr Farrell; south Westmeath must make do with the most irreverent Dr Murtagh.

The book is 900 pages long. As the archbishop observed in Mullingar, it’s about the size of a concrete block: in my view, its only fault is that it’s rather heavy to hold in bed.

Westmeath history and society is one of a series of county books – incredibly it’s the twenty-ninth in the series. The series has been appearing at the rate of a volume a year since 1985.

The series founder, general editor and manager from the start is Dr Willie Nolan, aided and abetted by his wife, Theresa. Their contribution to Irish  society and to local studies  is without equal. In France they would undoubtedly be awarded the Legion of Honour; in Britain surely Sir Willie and Dame Theresa? In Ireland, and here in Athlone, we can offer at least our enormous admiration for their magnificent achievement – twenty-nine county volumes of this size down, and only three to go!   Wow!

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The departure of the British Military from Offaly one hundred years ago – Birr Barracks. Stephen Callaghan

In the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Treaty Birr Barracks in Offaly was one of the first to be evacuated by the British military. It was also the largest in the county. Stephen Callaghan takes up the story.

Wednesday, 2 February 2022 marked the centenary anniversary of the departure of the Leinster Regiment from Birr Barracks. A historically significant event which little is known about. The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 effectively saw the withdrawal of the British Army from Ireland which would take place over the coming months, with British military barracks around the country being handed over to the newly created National Army. This mass exodus included the Leinster Regiment depot staff based in Birr Barracks, which it had called home for the past 41 years.

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Some bridges of Ireland and of Offaly

We are so delighted to see Offaly feature in this week’s episode of Droichid na hÉireann. Lochlann Ó’Mearáin will visit one of Europe’s oldest surviving suspension bridges at Birr Castle before stopping off at Shannonbridge to learn all about the historical importance of the bridge in the villag

All this and more on Monday the 31st of January at 7:30pm on RTÉ One. #visitoffaly #offalyhistory #droichidnahÉireann #RTÉOne

 Having looked at the programme check out the bridges of Offaly. You can download Fred Hamond’s study of the bridge of Offaly from the Heritage Section of the Offaly County Council website.

More on Monday night

Fred Hamond writes in the first of his two books:

Bridge builders

4.1 From the early 1600s until the late 1800s, the Grand Jury financed most of Offaly’s road bridges. In 1898, responsibility was transferred to Offaly County Council. In the more recent past, the National Roads Authority has assumed responsibility for bridges along the national primary routes.

4.2 In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Grand Canal Company erected numerous bridges in connection with the cutting of a canal from Dublin to Shannon Harbour via Tullamore. Bridges are also associated with the Edenderry and Kilbeggan branches of the Grand Canal. The Shannon Commissioners also erected a number of bridges during improvements to the navigability of the River Shannon in the 1830s. 4.3 In the 1850s, major drainage schemes throughout the county led to the construction of many bridges by the Board of Public Works. A second phase of drainage and bridge construction was undertaken by the Office of Public Works in the 1950s.

4.4 Various railway companies also erected bridges in the later 1800s, notably the Great Southern & Western Railway with lines from Portarlington to Athlone (1854-59), from Ballybrophy to Limerick (1863), and a branch to Banagher (1884). The Midland Great Western Railway opened a branch to Clara in 1863 and to Edenderry in 1877. There were also two minor companies: the Roscrea & Parsonstown Railway (1858) and Parsonstown & Portumna Bridge Railway (1868). Iarnród Éireann is now responsible for all railway bridges along the lines still in use and has recently been engaged in the replacement of level crossings with bridges

. 4.5 Since the 1950s, Bord na Mona has been extracting peat from bogs in the northern half of the county. This necessitated the construction of mineral railways for the transfer to the peat to power stations and briquette factories, and the erection of bridges over rivers and under roads.

 4.6 Several of Offaly’s many demesnes also have significant bridges, notably at Birr, Kinnitty Castle and Charleville. Birr boasts the earliest surviving wire suspension bridge in Ireland (c.1825). Ardara Bridge, near Cadamstown, is the oldest surviving bridge in the county and possibly dates from the 15th century. 5. Heritage assessment and protectio

In Tullamore alone there are so many: that at Bridge Street may date from the early 1700s. Then there is one at Church Road known as Pound Bridge that may date to 1795. Clara Road is a canal bridge called after an owner of land at Tinnycross  – Cox just at that at Whitehall is after Charles William Bury. Who has not heard of Digby bridge in recent weeks. In Birr there is the suspension bridge in the demesne and Oxmantown Bridge of 1817.

Anyway, take a look at the series on Monday 31 Jan. and read your Hamond.

Birr Castle and the suspension bridge to the right

The old Kilbeggan bridge in the distance over the Grand Canal at Tullamore, about 1910. Well before the new bridges of 2013.

In a new six-part series for RTÉ One, Droichid Na hÉireann tells the story and history of Ireland’s beloved bridges. Presented by actor Lochlann Ó Mearáin, the series explores the history, architecture, landscape and above all the people behind these extraordinary bridges and the pivotal role they have played in historic events and in modern day society. 

From road to railway bridges, viaducts to footbridges, these man-made structures have long been an integral part of our country’s infrastructure. But beyond their primary function, how much do we really know about these structures? 

Travelling across the length and breadth of the country, Lochlann explores century old stone bridges to modern contemporary designs from natural geological formations to great engineering feats, to reveal their hidden history and impact, far greater than just bricks and mortar.  

He rediscovers the remarkable tales behind our bridges through a wealth of fascinating human stories told through expert commentary and local storytelling.

On his breath-taking visual journey through some of Ireland’s most beautiful landscapes, Lochlann ventures to the hills of Donegal to Poisoned Glen under the shadow of Mount Errigal, visits the beloved Shakey Bridge in Cork City, walks across Ireland’s longest rope bridge in Kells Bay and explores one of Europe’s first examples of a suspension rope bridge in Birr Castle.  In the walled city of Derry he visits a structure that bridged communities together, he listens to a unique musical performance at Bellacorrick Musical Bridge in Mayo and travels to Connemara to visit the iconic Quiet Man Bridge. While in the midlands he explores one of Europe’s finest examples of a suspension bridge in Birr Castle and travels to the Drogheda to visit a Victorian bridge supposedly built on foundations of cotton wool. 

Droichid na hÉireann explores the rich architectural and historical heritage of Ireland’s most fascinating and visually spectacular bridges

A new attraction on Offaly’s Shannon boundary

Uncivil engineers at Meelick weir relief bridge

03-01-22

Episode 1: Dublin

In the first leg of his expedition around Ireland, Lochlann O’ Mearáin explores some of Dublin’s iconic bridges.  Starting of in the leafy suburbs in the Strawberry Beds, Lochlann visits Farmleigh Bridge and learns about the inventiveness of the Guinness Family. He ventures to Lucan to discover what wildlife live under the shadow of Lucan bridge.  He travels to Clontarf to learn more about Dublin Bay and biosphere. Back in the bustling city, along the River Liffey, he takes a trip to the elegant and iconic Ha’Penny Bridge. He visits the striking and contemporary harp shaped Samuel Beckett Bridge and takes to the water to marvel at the design of Spencer Dock Bridge. 

10-01-22

Episode 2: Mayo/Galway

From the soft and craggy bog lands of Mayo to the vibrant City of Tribes, Lochlann ventures West this week. He will discover the history behind the construction of Newport Railway Viaduct, listen to a unique musical performance in Bellacorrick and learn about the famine at Bunlahinch Clapper Bridge. Lochlann travels to wild and beautiful Connemara to visit Carricklegaun Bridge in Leitir Mor and follows in the footsteps of American actor John Wayne as he visits the iconic Quiet Man Bridge in Oughterard before finishing his travels in the heart of Galway city at O Brien’s Bridge.   

17-01-22

Episode 3: Clare/Kerry/Limerick

Starting off at the most westerly point of County Clare on the Loop Head Peninsula, Lochlann learns about the geological formation and power of the Atlantic Ocean at the Bridges of Ross.  He makes a short trip to the village of Bunratty where he discovers the significance of the renowned Durty Nelly’s pub and Studdert Bridge. He learns about the Treaty Stone at Thomond Bridge in Limerick City and heads to the Kingdom County to marvel at Lios Póil Viaduct and visit Ireland’s longest rope bridge in the sub-tropical gardens of Kells Bay.   

24-01-22

Episode 4: Cork/ Waterford

This week Lochlann heads to Ireland’s most southerly point to view the spectacular Mizen Head Footbridge and then heads to the Rebel County to learn how the Shakey Bridge acquired its name.  Over the River Finisk, Lochlann visits the Hindu-Gothic Bridge at Dromana. Hopping on his bicycle he gets a taste of the Waterford Greenway whilst crossing over the Ballyvoyle Viaduct and finishes his epic adventure at the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge, the longest bridge on the island of Ireland. 

The suspension bridge in Birr demesne. Courtesy of Paul Moore

31-01-22

Episode 5: Offaly, Westmeath, Meath, Louth

On this week’s episode, Lochlann will reveal some of the most breath-taking bridges in the heart of Ireland. Starting off by viewing one of Europe’s oldest surviving suspension bridges in Offaly, he will sail along the River Shannon to gaze upon The Athlone Railway Bridge before walking across the Joe Dolan Memorial Bridge. Finishing his travels on the River Boyne where he marvels at the great engineering feat of the Boyne Viaduct and discovers if there is any truth behind the viaduct being built on a foundation of cotton wool. 

Shannon bridge about 1897. A beautiful Lawrence composition from the bumper published volume.

07-02-22

Episode 6: Donegal/Derry 

This week Lochlann heads north to picturesque Donegal. He will try his hand at the traditional game of handball at Bundoran Bridge, take a look at the history behind the disappearance of the Donegal railway line and catch up with musician Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh under the shadow of Mount Errigal. He will then travel to the walled city of Derry where he will sail along the River Foyle to learn about how one modern structure has built bridges between two communities. 

We hope to have a full blog on Shannonbridge of the 1750s very soon and also the ‘oldest bridge in Ireland’ at Clonmacnoise. After that we have Banagher of 1690 and that of 1843. We have also to do the suspension bridges at Kinnitty and Birr and, of course, that at Cadamstown. We need more contributors please.

The parish of Clonmacnoise (in the diocese of Meath and King’s County/Offaly) by Revd Patrick Fitzgerald, c. 1814–16. Presented by Offaly History

An account of  Clonmacnoise in the early years of the ninteenth century was published by William Shaw Mason (c.1774–1853), as part of his three-volume A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland, drawn up from the communications of the clergy (1814–19).  Included in this survey is one Offaly parish – that of Clonmacnoise, published as part of vol. 2 in 1816, pp 142-150.

Shaw Mason was born in  Dublin in 1774 and died there in 1853.  He was for many years involved in the pursuit of history and was secretary to the Commissioners of Public Records.  One attractive sinecure he had was Remembrancer or receiver of first fruits.

Patrick Fitzgerald

The contributer of the Clonmacnoise piece was the local vicar, Patrick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald noted that there was no town in the parish save Shannonbridge which had a few slated and 280 thatched houses.The parish had 586 families, comprising over 3,000 of a population with only eight Protestant families. Potatoes and milk were the basic foodstuffs with some fish. English was the usual tongue with only some Irish spoken.  Patron Day was 9th September as it still is but at that time 3,000 to 4,000 people would attend.  The principal owners of land in the parish were Lord Rosse, Rev. Henry Mahon, Edward Armstrong-Frazier and H. P. Lestrange. The number of Protestant families must have one of the lowest in the county and can be conrasted with Ballyboy and Killoughy in 1826 with 7,250 RC and almost 500 Protestants.

Clonmacnois* is the ancient and modern name of the parish.  It is situated in the barony of Garrycastle in the King’s County and in the diocese of Meath. Longitude 80 5 ’west; latitude 530 20’ North. (The name Clonmacnois evidently derived from the word ‘Cluain’ meaning a retired lawn, or small nook of land, free from rocks, near a river. . .) Its boundaries are on the north the river Shannon, from which it is separated from the county of Roscommon; on the east, by Kilcleagh and Lemanaghan parishes on the south, by Thesaurin parish, and on the West by part of Thesaurin parish, and by the Shannon which divides it from Galway and Clonfert.

The length of the parish from East to West is about eight Irish miles and the breadth from North to South is about three. About 3723 acres are arable and fit for pasture; the meadow ground is in general indifferent; there is a little upland meadow, as it mostly lies along the banks of the Shannon.  But it contains more than double the above named number of acres of bog, as a large branch of the great Bog of Allen runs up into the parish, including every kind of soil.  It contains upwards of 12,000 acres.

There is no river in or adjoining to this parish except the Shannon which mears it as already mentioned.  A lake called Clonsalagh, which is computed to cover ninety acres, produces good pike and perch and some eels.  This sheet of water is situated nearly in the centre of the parish, and derives its name from the townland in which it is.  On the North and East, it is surrounded by hills, which, if planted, would produce a fine effect, and on the south and west by a large bog. The parish abounds with hills, the tops of which are allotted to pasturage as all the valleys are tilled and produce fine crops of corn; though the general appearance of the soil which is very light and sandy, might lead at first view to an opposite conclusion.  There are neither mountains nor woods here, nor have there been any remarkable indigenous plants found.

                               Mines, Minerals, &c.

Limestone is the general substratum of the soil in all parts, when mixed with bogstuff and clay; it makes excellent compost for the purposes of manuring.

          Modern Buildings, &c.

The high road leading from Ballinasloe to the counties of Meath and Kildare runs through the parish, in a direction East and West. Another crosses it nearly from North to south, and there is also a third road, but this is of very little note.   It can boast but of one town that of Shannonbridge so called from a very handsome bridge built across the river. Here is a small barrack capable of accommodating a company of soldiers.  A large tower and battery are building and in a state of great forwardness on the western (or Connaught) side of the bridge. This is the great pass from that province to Leinster. A Magazine has already been erected behind the barracks.  There is no market held here, the want of which is severely felt by the soldiers, who are obliged to purchase their meat at Ballinasloe, six miles distant. 

The village contains a few slated houses of two stories high and the rest, to the number of 280 are thatched. In consequence of the great number of artificers employed in the military works house rent has increased rapidly. The average rent for building ground amounts to ten shillings per foot. Its inn is nothing more than a stopping point, but the village contains several shops for retailing spirits without licence better known throughout the country by the name of Shebeen Houses.

It is singular, that not a possessor of a fee simple estate resides in the parish, neither, if we except the glebe house, is there is more than one good slated house in it, which belongs to Mr. Coughlan who holds about 200 acres of land, on which he resides.

Ancient Buildings, &c.                      

The Abbey of Clonmacnois is situated near the river Shannon. It was built about the year of our Lord 561 at which time it was held in high veneration. The Churchyard annexed to it contains nearly two Irish acres; it is one of the greatest burial places in Ireland, upwards of four hundred corpses are supposed to be buried there annually. There are also the remains of ten other chapels of lesser note, now totally in ruins. A door of one of them is very curiously and very beautifully carved. About half quarter of a mile thence, are the remains of a Bishop’s palace, now wholly in ruins, some of the walls are the only parts that have as yet escaped the ravages of time. In the church-yard are two large Round Towers one about 62 feet high, and 56 in circumference; its walls are 3 feet 8 inches thick, and the other is 5 feet 6” high, 7 feet in diameter and three feet thick.  Here are also two large crosses, one of which is marked with some rude carving and bears an inscription in antique and unknown characters. At a small distance stands what appears to have been a religious house for nuns; it is also in ruins, no part of the building remains, except a single arch. A full account of this interesting place may be found in Archdall’s Monasticum and Ledwidge’s Antiquities of Ireland.

The landowners in the parish, none of whom was resident. From Shaw Mason, ii (1816), p. 150.

Present and Former State of Population &c.

From every information that could be procured it appears that there are 586 families in the parish, comprising of 1618 males and 1558 females. Eight only of these families are Protestant, the rest Roman Catholic. The people in general are very comfortable and dress neatly, some in grey frize, and some in coarse blue cloth. Potatoes and milk form the general food, to which is often added fish procured from the Shannon and the lake. The poorest keeps one cow, and some have three or four. There are very few who do not keep one horse for work, and some have two.

The fuel is turf. This is plentiful and of good quality. The houses are in general very neat and comfortable, mostly built of stone and mortar. One person only is named here as having lived to 90 years of age. Few arrive to 70.

The Disposition and Genius of the Poorer Classes

The people here are very industrious. They are courteous to strangers but have a stubborn disposition in their intercourse with each other.  Their general language is English, although they sometimes speak Irish to one another.

There is but one patron day held here, on 9th of September in honour of St. Kieran their tutelary saint and this is numerously attended.  From 3000 to 4000 people assemble there to do penance from different parts of Ireland, even from the county of Donegal.  Tents and booths are erected round the churchyard for the accommodation of the people.  This assemblage continues for two days and often ends in quarrels. Its abolition would be a desirable circumstance. Some persons have been obliged to keep to their beds for weeks in consequence of beatings received at such meetings.

     The Education and Employment of Children.

The children are brought up to husbandry. Some parents send their children to the petty schools in the neighbourhood, during the idle season of the year. When asked why they did not send them regularly and constantly, their answer was that they could not spare them from the work. The girls are generally employed in spinning.

There are no public schools. The parish clerk keeps a licensed Protestant school, which is very badly attended, not more than fifteen children receiving instructions from him. There are, however, three Roman Catholic schools, whose average number of pupils fluctuates from forty to eighty. In harvest time and spring, the number sinks much lower, in consequence of the children being kept to assist in the agricultural labours.  The quarterly salary for tuition is 1s. 8d. for reading and spelling 3.s 4d. for writing and arithmetic.  There is no public library nor any collection of Irish or other manuscripts relating to Ireland.

Religious Establishments; Tythes &c.

Clonmacnois is a vicarage in the gift of the Bishop of Meath, and is not united to any other parish. About two miles and a half from the church stands the glebe house, where the vicar resides on a glebe of about forty acres.  All sorts of grain pay tythes. Wheat, bere and barley are set at from 10s. to 12s. per acre; oats and flax at eight shillings, neither meadow, potatoes, nor rape pay tythes.  Sheep pay at the rate of £1.13s. 4p. per hundred. The tythe is but indifferently collected. Some indeed pay punctually, but others very badly.  There are two Catholic chapels in the parish, with a priest to each.

IX Modes of Agriculture Crops Etc.

The inhabitants adhere very tenaciously to the old modes of agriculture.  Burning for manure is much practiced, it is called ‘boiting’. The ground when thus prepared, is planted with potatoes, then wheat, barley and oats.  The wages of the labourers are 10d. per day in summer and 3d. in winter without victuals but is somewhat higher in harvest.  The stock is chiefly cows, horses and sheep of the old Irish breed. The general acreable rent, particularly for late takes is from a guinea and a half to two guineas, but on old takes, from 15s. to a pound. No duty services or payments are exacted from the tenants.  Most of the land is set in small farms of from about 10 to 15 acres but there are a few of 25 acres. There is neither market nor fair, nor even a pound or a constable in the parish.

X Trade, Manufactures, Commerce, &c.

None

                               XI. NATURAL CURIOSITIES

The list of incumbents from the First Fruits’ Records.

The Reverend Philip Barret, Clerk, was collated on 26th day of May 1743 to the vicarage of Clonmacnois in the King’s County, and Diocese of Meath.

Stephen Bootle, 14th July 1762, Vicarage Clonmacnois, King’s County.

Joseph Pasley, 4th February 1763, Vicarage Clonmacnois, King’s County

William Donaldson, 7th November, 1764 Vicarage, Clonmacnois King’s County

John Baily instituted 15th December 1778, Vicarage Clonmacnois, King’s County – episcopally united to the Rectory of Ballygart in County Meath.

John Fitzgerald, instituted 10th October 1799 Vicarage, Clonmacnois, County Westmeath.

Rathrobin and the Two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900–1920. Michael Byrne

Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the photographs taken by Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926, of Rathrobin near Mountbolus) are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was keenly aware of the plantations of the 1550s to the 1650s. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, indoor staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Biddulph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.

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Judge John Neilan, late judge of the district Court, no 9: a journalist recalls. By Declan McSweeney

The recent death in Roscommon of Judge John Neilan, at the age of 76, evoked many memories for me, of years covering his court cases for the now-closed Offaly Express (the print version).

While I joined the staff in 1988, I didn’t start covering courts on a regular basis until after the retirement of the late Eddie Rogers in January 1995. Eddie was legendary for his understanding of the judicial system over many decades.

On average, coverage of courts took up about 40% of the working week, with one day spent in court, and another checking records with the always helpful court staff, and then writing it up. Some weeks it could be even more, with special sittings being held to clear a backlog of cases.

Judge Aidan O’Donnell was the district court judge in my early days reporting, following Judge Connellan if I recall correctly, but Judge Neilan later took over. He covered a large court district, including Mullingar as well as Tullamore.

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Clonmacnoise parish, County Offaly supports Charles S. Parnell in his defamation action against The Times in the late 1880s. By Padráig Turley

While perusing some late 19th century newspapers a reference to The National Indemnity Fund 1888 caught my eye. The object of this fund was to provide an indemnity for Parnell against an Order for costs in the event of him loosing a defamation action against the Times.

This fund received contributions from virtually every parish in Ireland, and also from outside Ireland. I found records of fundraising events in England, Scotland, U.S.A., New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere.

However, I was more interested in the small contributions made by the ordinary people of Ireland, the vast majority of whom would not have been in any way well off. They would have been tenant farmers who lived a very precarious life due to their lack of security of tenure and volatile rents. Reflecting their means some the contributions are very small reminding us of the story of the widow`s mite in the gospel of St. Mark.

I was very pleased to find contributions from my own neck of the wood in west Offaly. I found a fascinating letter from Michael Reddy of Shannonbridge in the Freeman’s Journal of 26th October 1888.

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The D.E. Williams branch shops in the midlands, 1884–1921: A revolution in retailing. By Michael Byrne

There are only a few studies available on the development of retailing in Ireland, either of a general nature or in connection with particular firms. It is well known that in the first half of the nineteenth century and up to the Famine years retail outlets were not widely available and many in the smaller towns were no better than huxter shops. There were exceptions and that is clear from the photographs of c. 1900 of shops such as Williams. Egan, Goodbody and Lumley (in Tullamore); O’Brien in Edenderry and O’Meara and Fayles in Birr. In looking at the revolutionary period from 1912 to 1921 to mark the decade of centenaries it is also worth looking at revolutions in other areas such as transport, energy and shopping. Like the political revolution retailing exhibited signs of stress after 1921 and did not recover until the coming of the supermarkets to the provincial towns in the 1960s.

The Williams head office with the Barrack Patrick Street shop to the right before more intensive motorised transport from 1915. Branch house managers were appointed of which the last under the old system (before the switch to supermarkets) was T.V. Costello.

The trade directories, and from the 1840s the valuation records, will facilitate investigation of retail outlets. By the 1860s living standards had improved and this is reflected in the increasing number of shops; per capita tobacco consumption rose to English standards about 1870 and per capita consumption of tea was not far off the English level by the end of the 1870s. The considerable economic progress of the early 1870s, began to slow down by the end of that decade. The 1880s is looked on as a period of industrial crisis with industries closing down in all the principal towns, or destroyed by fire as with the Goodbody tobacco factory in Tullamore and the Birr distillery in 1889.The railways and the canals (especially in the midlands) facilitated the easy removal of heavy goods and livestock from towns all over Ireland, but it also left it easier to import foods easily and cheaply. As a result, the Irish industrial base (such as it was, especially in southern Ireland) receded while the retail and services sector began to grow albeit slowly.

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