The McDonald Family of Birr and the Great War: one story of many from Offaly about those who fought in the Great War, 1914–18. Stephen Callaghan

Newspaper report on the McDonald brothers and their brother in law

In July 2018 an interesting Great War campaign medal appeared on eBay, a single 1914–15 Star awarded to Private Frederick McDonald of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The description provided by the seller stated that Frederick was born in Birr, and that he had been killed in action during the war.

Further research unravels a forgotten story, which gives insight into the life of Frederick and his family. It is a story not too dissimilar among the many working class Catholic families in Birr, because serving in the British Army was a source of steady employment and a means to support a family.

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One hundred blogs is a reason to celebrate this September day in 2018

One hundred blogs is a reason to celebrate this September day in 2018. Yes 100 articles, 150,000 words, at least 400 pics – and the 100 stories have received 64,000 views and climbing every week. In 2018 alone we have received over 32,000 views. The list of all that has been published can be viewed on Offalyhistoryblog. We have lots more lined up. We welcome contributors, so if you have a history story you want to share contact us. The other big story is happening on Monday night with the launch of Offaly History 10.
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Birr Barracks WW1 Trench Dig, by Stephen Callaghan

As part of the events for the 50th Birr Vintage Week, a set of mock WW1 trenches were excavated in the training grounds of Birr Barracks. The excavation, which was the first of its kind in the Republic of Ireland, helped provide further information about the training structure put in place to train men for life in the trenches. This article gives a brief overview of the barracks itself and its long colourful history. Continue reading

Wright and the other Volunteers: Birr, the Boer War and the Lindley connection. By Rosemary Raughter

This week’s blog is by Rosemary Raughter, an independent scholar, who has published widely on women’s and on local history. Her discovery of a collection of love letters, written 1898-1901, from her grandmother, Sarah Whelan, originally of Roscrea, to her grandfather, Thomas Eades of Birr, led her to research aspects of life in Birr at the turn of the twentieth century.

In the autumn of 1899 my twenty-one year old grandmother, Sis Whelan, was living in Newtownbarry (now Bunclody), Co Wexford. Far from home and friends, she kept up a regular correspondence with the young man whom she had met while working in Birr, and whom she would eventually marry.[1]  Like Sis, Tom Eades was a shop assistant: reared in Fortal, since his early teens he had been employed in Fayle’s hardware shop on the Main Street. Sis’s life was a narrow one, confined for the most part to the drapery shop in which she worked, to her lodgings above it, to the Methodist chapel across the square where she worshipped, and to the riverside paths and woods just outside the town where she walked on occasional free afternoons. Current national and international events impinged hardly at all on her consciousness, which was not surprising: as she told Tom, ‘we never see a paper here’.[2] Continue reading

The murder of Lieutenant Clutterbuck of Birr Barracks in 1865

By Stephen Callaghan

A previous blog post detailed the murder in 1843 of Lieutenant and Adjutant Robertson Mackay of the 5th Fusiliers at Birr Barracks. Mackay was shot dead by a soldier he was drilling, Private George Jubee. Jubee ultimately being hung for his crime. Some twenty two years later a detachment of 5th Fusiliers were stationed in Birr Barracks, with the brutal murder of Lieutenant James Henry Clutterbuck taking place on the River Brosna. Continue reading

Offaly at the heart of Early Medieval Ireland, by Matthew Stout ‘Nipples of Croghan Man sliced in ritual sacrifice.’

An invitation to speak to the Offaly Historical Society on 22 February 2018 caused me to consider whether or not you could tell the history of early medieval Ireland by concentrating on just one county. In the case of Offaly it proved possible.

When written Irish history begins (certainly by the late fifth century) Ireland was a complex patchwork of political units unified by the Celtic language. This Irish speaking culture came to Ireland before 700 along with the use of Iron and other Celtic traditions. A second wave of Celts from central Europe arrived on the island around 300 BC. These were the people that introduced La Tène artistic styles into Ireland.

Much of what we know about these people comes from the discovery of Old Croghan Man in 2003. Found in Offaly near the Meath border, this poor devil was sacrificed sometime around 270 BC. His nipples were sliced as part of the ritual associated with his murder and, tellingly, he wore a bracelet with a La Tène decoration. This is the world that Patrick describes in his Confessio written towards the end of the 400s AD: a world of strange pagan rituals and sun worship.

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Flights of Fancy; Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna, Architect for Offaly County Council. By Amanda Pedlow, Offaly Heritage Officer

Flights of Fancy; Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna has just been published by Offaly County Council at £30. It’s a large format coffee-table type book with over 350 pages, in full colour and hard cover. It can be bought across the county, Irish Georgian shop, Dublin and Offaly History Centre, Tullamore.

The book looks at the evolution of the demesne in Offaly with no less than fifteen studies of demesnes across the county from Charleville, Birr, Gloster, Tubberdaly, Ballycumber, Moorock, Busherstown, Prospect, Acres, Belview, Mullagh Hill, Ballyeighan, Hollow House, Kinnitty to Loughton. The big names such as Birr are well-known but there are others that provide surprising and interesting excursions into the county’s landscape, architectural history and family history. There are lots of curious things that are fascinating such as the story of the ‘mummy’s hand’ at Prospect House and Lord Bloomfield’s experiences as ambassador to Russia in its glittering heyday. Continue reading

John’s Place, Birr and Foley’s Memorial to the 3rd Earl of Rosse, by Michael Byrne

Birr has been referred to as Umbilicus Hiberniae, the navel or centre of Ireland. For many years it was also known as Parsonstown taking that name from its then proprietors, the Parsons family, earls of Rosse. That it is the centre of Ireland is often disputed but few will deny the accuracy of yet another appellation that of the ‘model town’. The late and much loved Jim Dooly, who was chairman of the town council in the mid-1960s, appeared on a Frank Hall programme in 1971 to defend Birr’s claim. He was no lover of television as can be seen in his performance, now viewable on the Frank Hall Archive of RTE on Youtube (‘Dead Centre of Ireland’). Continue reading

Birr Courthouse, 1803-2013, part 2.

This is the second part of the article on Birr courthhouse. It was held over from last week to allow for an article on the 100th anniversary of de Valera’s visit to the county. 

We welcome blogs. An article can reach from  a few hundred to 10,000 people.  Please email us at info@offalyhistory.com should you want to contribute to this  series. We publish every Saturday at 12 noon. To  receive notification by email of issue  of the blog subscribe to our free newsletter at http://www.offalyhistory.com. Better still join the society and make life-long friends. Continue reading