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

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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

The Birr Courthouse: From Cooke to Courts Service 1803-2013, Part 1

The Birr courthouse has been in the news again lately in the context of its being used as an arts school for painters and others. It would be good to find a use for it that ensures the conservation of the building. Some years ago the idea was put forward that Birr should be considered the Bath of Ireland because it has such fine terraces, good shops in its narrow streets, fine churches, a Pugin convent (now the Birr library), the workhouse, John’s Hall, Oxmantown Hall, the Crotty church, maltings, a distillery and more. Continue reading

The families and streets of Birr in 1821

While many are now familiar with the value of the 1901 and 1911 censuses for family history, less use has been made of these documents for social history and population studies. Great excitement was created when the censuses were made available free online through the good offices of the Irish government and the people of Mumbai in India who transcribed them for us at no great expense. Now the department of heritage proposes to make the 1926 census available by again outsourcing the work to a far country. However, we will have to wait until 2026. How much more excitement there is for some places where the 1821 census survives. This is the case with Birr and the entire barony of Ballybritt.

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Burial Grounds of Birr, by Stephen Callaghan

Birr is well known for its Georgian streetscape, mighty telescope and castle, however it might be a surprise to learn of the number of burial grounds to be found in and around the town. A total of nine burial grounds can be found within a short distance of the town.

While this blog post does not claim to contain the definitive history of each burial ground, as such a work would be several volumes of books, it does however hope to make the reader aware of the number of burial grounds in the town and give some interesting information about each. Continue reading

The King’s County: Epitome of its History, Topography & C. (Birr, 1883, reprinted 1998.) Review by Dorothee Bibby

Recently, I purchased a little booklet ‘The Kings County: Epitome of its History, Topography & C. by J. St. George Joyce ’ at the Offaly History bookshop at Bury Quay, Tullamore. Joyce was the first editor of the Midland Tribune in 1881. This pamphlet style read was published by him in 1883. It is remarkable that the original booklet would be a rare treasure to have today (maybe you should check your loft…). I enjoyed the old advertising with sentences like: Liver Complaints cured by Dr. King’s Dandelion and Quinine Liver Pills (without Mercury). Hair loss and Gout were all curable thanks to newly discovered ointments. Also monthly painless dentistry visits from Dublin Surgeon Dentists to the midland towns are listed, and every advertisement promises ‘modest rates’ for the product! (The book can be ordered online at http://www.offalyhistory)

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