The drift towards civil war in Offaly in 1922. Specially contributed by Offaly History members to mark the Decade of Centenaries.

The split in the IRA over acceptance of the treaty had been simmering since January 1922. The outcome of the Dáil vote and the June elections (58 seats to pro-treatyites and 36 to anti-treatyites, others 34) did little to dissuade those who believed they had taken an oath to secure a republic and that the stepping stone approach was unacceptable. De Valera and Harry Boland made this abundantly clear in their addresses to the electors in Tullamore in April 1922 (see the earlier blog in this series on 15 June 2022). De Valera had issued an Easter message to the Republic, in which he had asked the young men and women of Ireland to hold steadily on, and that the goal is in sight at last.[1] Tommy Dunne of Ballinagar and a member of the county council told the anti-treaty meeting in Tullamore that:

‘His chief reason for standing by the Republic movement was the construction he put upon his oath under which he felt justified in waging war against the hirelings and agents of the King of England. To recede from that position and take an oath of faithfulness to the country or King he had  been waging war against, would be an admission of defeat.    We have not been defeated in the fight which we have waged against England in this country for the last two years.  . . . Take care that the acceptance of the Dominion Status by Ireland does not have a similar result [division] and that those who are seeking to make Ireland refuse to accept this Treaty do not find themselves opposed by their own country men (cheers).[2]

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Waterloo and some Birr connections. By Stephen Callaghan

Those not overly familiar with military history will be still aware of famous battles, probably none more than Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated by Wellington and his allies in 1815. As today is the 207th anniversary of this decisive battle, we will look at some of the men who were present at this battle who now lie buried in Birr. There are at least four men buried in the town who were present at the battle with many more who fought during the Peninsular Wars, which is a topic for another post. A sad observation is that other than the officers, the other brave men mentioned below are all buried in unmarked graves.

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The 1922 general election in Laois-Offaly. By Michael Byrne

The 16th of June 2022 marks two important anniversaries. The first is the centenary of Ulysses, but the second was the all-important vote on the Treaty held on the same day. The outcome in Ireland of the latter event was eagerly awaited. This election was the first to be held in the new Free State, the first held under the PR electoral system, and the first to be contested by the parties which, in modified forms, were to dominate subsequent Irish politics at least up to 2011. The 1918 election has already been the subject of a blog on Offalyhistoryblog and was a clear win in Offaly and the country for Sinn Féin. This blog is part of our contribution to the #decade of centenaries. We plan more over the summer to include the departure of the British army from Offaly barracks, the lead up to the civil war in Offaly, bank robberies, the burning of the county courthouse, jail and barracks, noted personalities in Offaly in 1922. If you wish to help please email us with your suggestions/contribution. info@offalyhistory.com

The 1922 election was a fight out between the pro-treatyites and the Republicans led by de Valera, but the pact between Collins and de Valera came to grief before election day. Some had looked to the Labour Party to stand aside in 1922,  as they had done in 1918, or to vote with the pro-treatyites. Nowhere was the wisdom of Labour going its own way better demonstrated that in the new Laois-Offaly four-seat constituency where William Davin came in as the big winner with more than two quotas. Given its performance in later general elections why did the anti-treatyites not field a candidate? Sean Robbins of Clara had topped the poll in the 1920 county council election and Sinn Féin’s ideologue in Offaly and organiser, T.M. Russell, had come second. Russell, to answer part of the question, had departed the local scene in October 1920 and was in favour of the Treaty. Sean McGuinness, the local IRA battalion commander, was another possible anti-treatyite candidate and he was elected in 1923, but declined to take his seat because of the oath of allegiance. He secured 5,572 votes in 1923.

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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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The First Technical Education Scheme in King’s County/Offaly, 1902–30: a time of exciting innovation and experiment. By Michael Byrne

In these days when there is so much of war and pestilence it is good in looking at the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland to focus on the positive. Things that were done the good of which is still with us. So it is with technical education. Today we look at the early efforts and how positive and innovative were the early pioneers. Our own founder of Offaly History in 1938-9, James Rogers, was one who contributed. So too did those unsung heroes E. J. Delahunty and Willie Robbins. In regard to technical, or what is sometimes referred to as practical education, the earliest attempt in the county to provide such a facility was made at Birr about 1841 when the Parsonstown Mechanics Institute was established in, or to the rear, of the memorial hall at John’s Mall.[1] It was not a success. There were other experiments in agricultural education and model schools, but the first real attempt to provide children and adults with opportunities for technical or practical education came with the passing of the Technical Instruction Act, 1889. A further important stimulus was the passing of the Agricultural and Technical Instruction Act. 1899, which led to the setting up of a new department of agriculture and technical instruction. As a result of the two acts over fifty committees throughout Ireland were working to promote agriculture and technical instruction by early 1900.[2]

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The Birr Whiskey Distilleries. Specially contributed.

Does anyone have a bottle of Birr whiskey now? The destruction of Birr’s last distillery in March 1889 was seen as a death blow to the town. The population of Birr in 1841 on the eve of the Famine was 6,336 persons with another 554 in Crinkill. However, the next eighty years saw a period of decline such that over the period 1861 to 1926 the population fell by 44.6 per cent or from 6,146 to 3,402.  The decline was exacerbated by the closure of the distillery in 1889 and the military barracks in 1922. In 1921 the workhouse (erected c. 1840) was brutally closed and amalgamated with Tullamore.

Birr had strong associations with whiskey distilling from at least the 1800s. Probably the large military barracks at Crinkill acted as a stimulus to production. In 1818 only two distilleries were in operation in County Offaly and both were located in Birr. In competition with Birr was the Birch distillery at Roscrea.  One of the Birr distilleries was that of Robert Robinson and was located at Castle Street and formed part of what was until the 1980s the Williams Waller Ltd grain handling depot (formerly Birr Maltings Ltd.), and now partly demolished with the remainder incorporated in The Maltings guest house. The second distillery, established in 1805 by the Hackett family, was located at Elmgrove on the eastern side of the town.  A third distillery, described as the ‘old distillery’ in 1838 was located near what is now the Mill Island Park and part of which is incorporated in the Birr Technology Centre. Thus ample remains of all three distilleries still survive.

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The grant of Tullamore in 1622 to Sir John Moore of Croghan: the 400th anniversary of the beginning of township in Tullamore. By Michael Byrne

Tullamore is a well-preserved town and is the county town of Offaly since an act of parliament in 1832 displaced Philipstown (Daingean) which had been the county town since the shiring of Offaly as part of the new colonial government policies in 1557. The new county to be known as King’s County was then comprised of the baronies reflecting the Gaelic lordships of the O’Connors and that of the O Dempseys. The king in question was none other than Philip II of Spain married at that time to the tragic Queen Mary of England (1553–58) hence the new forts of Philipstown and Maryborough (Portlaoise). The county was extended about 1570 to include the territory of the O Molloys (now to be the baronies of Ballycowan, Ballyboy and Eglish) and also that of the Foxes in Kilcoursey and the MacCoghlans in what would be called Garrycastle. In 1605 the territory of the O Carrolls (to form the baronies of Ballybritt and Clonlisk) was added, as also was the parish of Clonmacnoise (1638) at the behest of Terence Coghlan of Kilcolgan. Those looking for an exciting seventeenth-century history for Tullamore will be disappointed as the surviving evidence of town growth in that troubled century is thin. This week we continue to series to mark the 400th anniversary of Tullamore as a town.

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The limestone quarries of Ballyduff, Tullamore. Part 2. By John Wrafter.

“Some of old stonies will hold their heads high, and carry with them to the grave the feeling that they have left their mark on many a church, and on many a building, and that in years to come, there will be people to admire the work they have left behind them, as we of this generation respect and understand the work of the men of long ago. All men hope for praise of some sort, and it is a nice thing to see a man smile when he knows you are in earnest in liking his work. We become children again, and are mightily pleased with ourselves and want to show that we can do even better.”

From the book Stone Mad by Seamus Murphy, stone carver, 1966.

In this article, I write about some of the fine buildings and monuments in other parts of Ireland built using limestone from the Ballyduff quarries. There is a section on aspects of the lives of stoneworkers in Tullamore in the 19th century, and finally I have a look at a couple of Tullamore families that were prominent in stoneworking over long time periods.

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The Courts of Assize in Offaly and the ceremonial display of British power in Ireland before 1922. By Michael Byrne

The memorial to the Offaly Volunteers who fought in the War of Independence was unveiled on the lawn of the county courthouse, Tullamore in 1953. It was Peadar Bracken (1887–1961) former OC Offaly Brigade and from 1922-3 the Tullamore district court clerk who ensured that the IRA Volunteer monument was placed on the lawn of the courthouse. Besides, a site in O’Connor Square was not an option from 1926 when the war memorial was completed. Given that it was principally to the Tullamore courthouse that the feared judges of the assizes would arrive it has strong symbolism. The Volunteer monument was completed in 1939 but not unveiled until 1953 due to the difference between the Free Staters (National Army) and the Republicans.

Memorial to members of the Old IRA at the county courthouse, Tullamore

As noted in an earlier article in Offalyhistoryblog the last of the assizes was held in July 1921 with Judge Wiley presiding and a large force of military to protect him as the symbol of the British state. Now with the marking the 100th anniversary of the Treaty and the departure of Crown forces from Ireland it seems appropriate to look again at the twice-annual display of British power in the assize towns of Ireland.

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Anniversary of Birr poet John de Jean Frazer (1804-1852). By Padráig Turley

Today, 23 March 2022 we mark the 170th anniversary of the death of John de Jean Frazer (1804–1852). A poet and a cabinet-maker, a native of Birr county Offaly he was born into a Presbyterian family. While `J. De Jean` was his preferred nom-de-plume, he also used pseudonyms `Z`, `Y`, `F` and `Maria`.

His first major poem was Eva O`Connor published in 1826, by Richard Milliken, Grafton Street, Dublin. During the 1840s individual poems, increasingly expressing radicalised politics, appeared in newspapers and periodicals of the day including The Nation, The Dublin University Magazine, The United Irishman, The Felon and The Freeman`s Journal.

 In 1845 a substantial number of his poems were gathered together and published as Poems for the People by J. Browne, Nassau Street, Dublin. This collection contained eighty-two poems, a mixture of lyrical and polemical pieces.

[An article on de Jean Frazer appeared in the 1903 issue of Tullamore’s Ard na hEireann magazine by Sean MacCaoilte (Forrestal, d. October 1922) and as such was part of the cultural context for the Gaelic League and the Irish Cultural Revival in the Tullamore locality. Thanks to Offaly Archives which holds a copy. Ed.]

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