On 4 May 2017 Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society archivist, Lisa Shortall, brought up the Parsonstown Union Letter Book [Reference OHS 71] for me to consult at Bury Quay. (This item is now available to consult at Offaly Archives). My interest was to see what clues may have been recorded about any of the 136 young women who left King’s County for Australia during 1848-1850 as part of the Famine emigration to Australia, now often referred to as ‘Earl Grey’s workhouse orphan scheme’. During these three years 4114 young women aged between 13 and 18 were selected as healthy, suitable domestic servants and potential marriage partners and they were given a free passage from Ireland to one of three Australian colonies: two in New South Wales (Sydney and Port Phillip) and Adelaide in South Australia. Continue reading
Offaly Archives’ local government collections cover an extensive range of local government organisations – from grand juries, infirmaries, rural district councils, town commissioners, poor law unions, county councils, committees of agriculture and urban district councils. The material from the collections was acquired since the 1950s and covers roughly two hundred years of history.
Recently, the local government collections, as well as a number of donated collections of private origin, have been relocated from Offaly County Library to purpose built archival facilities at Offaly Archives, Unit 1F, Axis Business Park, Clara Road, Tullamore. Offaly Archives is the joint archival repository of Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society (Offaly History) and Offaly County Library, and is administered by Offaly History.
During the summer of 2019, I worked on providing online catalogue descriptions for the local government collections in preparation for their move. Descriptions for the collections were created using Michael Murphy, Anne Coughlan and Gráinne Doran’s 2003 publication Grand Jury to Áras An Chontae, which provides breakdowns of Offaly Archives local government collections, as well as detailed information relating to the formation of Offaly’s local government structures, their various duties, lists of members and historical points of interest.
I was in Birr over the Christmas and chatting in Dooly’s I recalled that it will be 59 years this weekend since the first visit of a Royal princess to Ireland – Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones- and that was the first royal visit to Ireland in over thirty years. The son of Anne, Countess of Rosse (by her first husband), Anthony Armstrong Jones, married the Queen’s only sister in May 1960. It was a grand affair and the Countess of Rosse, always one for beauty and glamour, was the finest dressed of the three mothers-in-law present at the royal wedding. The happy couple visited Birr six months later on New Year’s Eve 1960. The town of Birr witnessed an influx of pressmen never seen before in the midlands and perhaps not till that EC meeting in Tullamore ten or fifteen years ago.
Surviving diaries and accounts of activities in Offaly (King’s County) in the nineteenth century are uncommon and because of this all need to be catalogued and evaluated. Diaries of travel writers, correspondence and memoirs can all throw light on activities of that time. One such source recently acquired by the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society for its library is Reminiscences and Letters of Sir Robert Ball edited by his son W. Valentine Ball and published in 1915. It sets the scene for the intellectual milieu in which the children of the third earl of Rosse grew up and provides further information on the construction of the great telescope. Recently, a history of the building of the telescope was reprinted by Cambridge University as a cheap paperback while the Royal Society hosted a lecture on the ‘Leviathan of Parsonstown’ now available as a podcast.
In October 2014, following an introduction by Amanda Pedlow and Stephen Callaghan, an understanding was reached with the late Stephen McNeill, the then President and Micheal Byrne Secretary of the Offaly and Archaeology Society for them to assist and source interviewees in connection with my project to record persons talking about their memories of life around and about ‘The arrival of the rural’ in Offaly, to date I have recorded over 30 persons in Offaly. Since August 2016,utilising excepts from recordngs, a 45 minute audio/slide presentation which was shown by me to members of History Societies in Edenderry, Tullamore, Rhode, in March 2019 a fourth presentation was shown to members of the Ballinteer Active Retirement Association. A fifth presentation is scheduled for showing in Bury Quay, Tullamore in early 2020.
This Blog seeks to briefly explain aspects of the Rural Electrification Scheme in Ireland and what Michael Shiel in his book called The Quiet Revolution (Dublin 1984) [JPG0292]
Mary Ward takes her place alongside the Rosses, Jolys and Stoneys in the King’s County/Offaly people of science gallery. Born Mary King, at Ballylin, Ferbane on 27 April 1827 she died in a shocking accident at Birr on 31 August 1869 (see our blog of 24 August 2019). On Saturday 31 August 2019 we mark the 150th anniversary of her death and say something of her achievements. So join us on Saturday from 3.30 pm at Oxmantown Mall, Birr. All are welcome. The book launch is at 5 pm in the Courtyard Café, Birr Demesne. The book will be general sale from 1 September at Birr Demesne, Offaly History Centre and Midland Book, Tullamore.
How many people have died in road fatalities since the first to occur in Ireland at Birr in county Offaly (then known as King’s County) on 31 August 1869, just 150 years ago next week? Few of us have not been touched by some sad incident involving collision with a motor vehicle. That in Birr involved a steam-powered carriage possibly constructed by the fourth earl of Rosse, a brother of Charles Parsons, later famous for his steam turbine. Perhaps the making of the engine was the work of the two brothers. The fatal accident occured at the corner of Oxmantown Mall and the junction with Cumberland/Emmet Street near the church and close close to where the theatre is today. It was here that the young Mary Ward, then aged 42, a woman of talent and a mother of a large family (11 pregnancies), was killed on the last day of August 150 years ago.
For the past 51 years Birr Vintage Week has commenced around the month of August, with only in recent years it taking in the August bank holiday weekend. While the festival is in its 51st year, 100 years ago on 4 August 1919 the army at Birr Barracks had organised a program of military sports and spectacles. An antecedent of Birr Vintage Week perhaps?!
The events took place on the military training grounds adjacent to the barracks, the ‘Fourteen Acres’. The events kicked off at two o’clock. While the weather was not desirable it held dry until the events had finished up. The program was organised and promoted by Lieutenant Noel Edward Fasken, while Lieutenant Leslie M. Codner was responsible for the ground arrangements. Both officers were members of the Royal North Devon Hussars. The day’s program consisted of 26 events which lasted beyond six o’clock. While the barracks occasionally held large events and concerts, one of this scale was likely not seen before.
One of the main spectacles was the air display by Captain Brooks. ‘His daring feats in the air were witnessed with interest and admiration, and showed the possibilities of a flying machine in the hand of a capable pilot.’ Captain Brooks was likely piloting an Avro 504k, a two seat trainer biplane. The airfield in Birr had only been constructed in February and consisted of a detachment of six aircraft from 106 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The airfield was dismantled in October of that same year 1919..
Men under the command of Second Lieutenant E. A. Grainger and Sergeant W. A. J. Leonard enacted a battlefield play, entitled ‘The Sacrifice’. The demonstration was reminiscent of a scene from the Great War. It was apparently not without a sense of humour! The centre of the sports ground was chosen for this display, it had been mocked up to look like ‘anywhere on the battlefield’; there were sandbagged trenches, mines, and a ‘shattered’ house. The house had been temporarily erected for the event. It is quite likely that the sandbagged trenches were in fact the practice trenches dug to training men during the Great War. These trenches were excavated during August 2018.
Second Lieutenant Grainger took command of about twelve British soldiers, while Sergeant Leonard played the role of a German officer and took command of twelve ‘enemy’ soldiers. The battle was set as if it had taken place three hours after dawn. The idea was that at dawn that morning a line of trenches had been captured from the enemy.
The ‘shattered’ house was occupied by a ‘British’ gun team, they had defended against a ‘German’ attack which had attempted to recapture their old trenches. The attacked opened with the explosion of mines, the ascension of rockets and the crack of rifle and Lewis gun fire. The outpost was supplied with ammunition by courageous runners.
The lone outpost held out until the very last man gave his life in its defence, thereby giving their comrades time to prepare for a counter attack. The display was well preformed and a stark reminder of the horror of the recent Great War.
Another item of interest was the physical training exhibition by a squad of the Royal North Devon Hussars under Corporal Snwothey.
Humour was provided in the form of Corporal Hatch and Private Ash acting as gentlemen the worse for ware, another soldier acting as a lady. Hatch and Ash both competed for the affection of ‘the lady’.
The day long events were reported in the King’s County Chronicle as a ‘splendid source of entertainment’, with the events being well attended by the people of Birr and the surrounding areas. The events themselves were also well patronised by competitors. Prizes for the sports were presented by Brigadier General James Graham Chaplin.
What a marvel it must have been in Birr in the year 1851. The town and the country were barely emerging from the shocking catastrophe of Famine and the associated fevers and deaths. Emigration was everywhere and Irish towns presented a shocking appearance of want and degradation. The town’s historian, Thomas Lalor Cooke, had reflected on the quietness and lack of social life in the mid-1840s. Birr suffered many deaths, especially from fever in the late Famine years. Yet, a spirit of optimism was in the air and many improvements would follow in the 1850s including railroads, gas lighting and local government.
Ruth Baldesera is Quality Engineer at CAP Works, Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, where Sir Charles Parsons (1854-1931), son of the 3rd Earl of Rosse, founded his world famous engineering works. Sir Charles is best-known for inventing the steam turbine which revolutionised marine transportation and the mass production of electricity. Over the past few years Ruth has spearheaded a heritage project in Newcastle dedicated to the achievements of Sir Charles Parsons and in this article she outlines the scope and outcome of the project.
Sir Charles Algernon Parsons “…the first Engineer to use a steam turbine to produce large amounts of power for electricity generation and driving ships”.
In 1889, Charles Parsons established C. A. Parsons & Company in Heaton, Newcastle, to produce turbo generators to his design. In the same year he set up the Newcastle and District Electric Lighting Company (DisCo) and in 1890, DisCo opened Forth Banks Power Station, the first power station in the world to generate electricity using steam turbo generators. Continue reading