T.M. Russell (1868–1932): a huge loss to Offaly in the early years of Independence. By Michael Byrne

The now permanent release online with free access of some 11,000 lives in the Dictionary of Irish Biography (DIB) will be a huge bonus to historical research. And yet there will be many people at county level who will not feature but deserve to have their work recorded in dictionaries of county biography. Offaly History began this process in its publication Offaly Heritage 9 (2016) but more so in the recent issue of Offaly Heritage 11 (2020) where the following ‘Brief Lives’ were recorded by way of:

Short biographies of revolutionary figures in Offaly, 1912–23

P.J. Bermingham (1872–1975), 2–3.

Eamonn Bulfin of Derrinlough, 26–7

Father Thomas Burbage (1879–1966), 42–5

Revd Philip Callary (1849–1925), 73–4

Cumann na mBan in Offaly, 80–81

Thomas Dunne (1884–1968), 90–91

James Perry Goodbody (1853–1923), 134–5

Catherine Mahon (1869–1948), 157–8

Patrick McCartan (1878–1963), 179–80

Seán McGuinness (1899–1978), 189–90

T. M. Russell (1868–1932), 205–6

These short essays of less than 1,000 words each were contributed by independent scholars – Brian Pey, Michael Byrne, Margaret White, Ciara Molloy and Lisa Shortall.

Offaly Heritage 11 – a bumper issue of 450 pages with the brief lives

It is to the final life in that recent collection we focus on here. It was that of T.M. Russell, a man with huge potential, which remained unrealised when the opportunity came for a revolutionary change in local government in June 1920. This was following on from the election of the first Sinn Féin controlled county council and the implementation of self-reliance and breaking with the Dublin Castle based Local Government Board.

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The IRA attack on Clara Barracks on 2 June 1920: the opening salvo in the War of Independence in Offaly. Michael Byrne

 

 

1 19200605 TKI Clara barracks war of indep
 Reporting the outcome of the Clara barracks attack of 2 June 1920

‘While some counties have done much in the matter of publicizing their part in the fight for freedom, very little has been heard of the part played by Offaly in that great struggle, and yet it was within the borders of this historic county that some of the bravest and most daring deeds were done. It is not right, he said, that these should be allowed to pass into complete oblivion, and it is hoped the writing of this story of the Clara R.I.C. barrack attack will encourage others into penning the complete story of Offaly’s fight during that critical period of Irish history.’ These were the words of P. O’M. in 1960, basing his account on that published in the local press on 5 June 1920. (P O’M was brought to our attention as Paddy O’Meara who wrote a number of good articles on Clara history and was a local news correspondent.) The witness statement of Séan O’Neill, a manager in P.J. White’s Clara shop (Bureau of Military History) supports the press reports of the time. So to do the recollections of Harold Goodbody (forthcoming). IRA man and county councillor Sean Robbins of Clara was critical as was Fergus O’Bracken, writing to vindicate the role of his father, overall IRA commandant Peadar Bracken, in the episode.

 

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THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE IN OFFALY: ACTIVITIES AND PART1CIPANTS Report from Offaly Brigade 1. Who was in or about Clara on 2 June 1920?

030912 The Mill House Pub, Clara.Aug. 1995
Clara RIC Barracks in 1920 and a hotel in 1960

The first week of June 1920 was a momentous week in Offaly with the major raid on Clara Barracks in the early morning of 2 June with upwards of 200 men. The outcome was a defeat in the short term with four men seriously injured, one of whom died in 1921. In the same week the first county council elections since the changed political landscape after 1916 were held and now with proportional representation. Clara’s Sean Robbins topped the poll. It was a victory and a defeat in the same week. The bomb and the ballot in different times. The Brigade Activity Reports reports, now published online from the Military Archives (forming part of the Military Service, 1916-23 Pensions Collection), provide a useful summary of activities in Offaly in the War of Independence, 1919–21. The reports from Offaly Brigade 1 were submitted by officers, Peadar Bracken of Tullamore and Seán Kelly (Gorteen Coy) of Mucklagh in 1940 to the Military Service Pensions Board. Particulars for the 4th Batt, Offaly No 1 Brigade were submitted by James Earle of J.K.L. St., Edenderry.

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Ballyduff Church, Tullamore where mass is again celebrated after a gap of over 200 years. By Offaly History

Ballyduff church TT 1 2008 (5)

John Flanagan, builder overseeing the restoration work at Ballyduff

The old Catholic church at Ballyduff was erected in 1775 and was the first post-Reformation church in Tullamore parish. It was erected in the remote townland of Ballyduff near the centre of Tullamore parish to minimise upset to the authorities at a time when the Penal Laws were still in force. It appears to have been on the boundary of the Coote estate at Srah and that of the Herbert estate (later Norbury) at Durrow –again designed so as to minimize upset to the authorities.

Now the ruin old church is the location for the celebration of a vigil mass early on Easter Sunday morning.

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