On the 29th March 1919, 20 IRA Volunteers escaped from Mountjoy jail in broad day light. This escape was planned by Michael Collins on the outside and Piaras Béaslaí on the inside. A prison strike had been taking place in the jail in support of four prisoners who were not being afforded political status. In the lead up to the escape this strike was halted because the escape plan had a better chance of success with a quieter atmosphere in the prison.
The plan was to get Piaras Béaslaí and JJ Murphy both MPs and Padraig Fleming a volunteer from the Swan, Co. Laois out, followed by the four prisoners not being afforded political status. A list of men with long sentences was created and it was decided that men serving short sentences or who had sentences close to completion would not escape. Padraig Fleming had conducted an extraordinary fight for treatment as a political prisoner in Maryborough (Portlaoise) jail, enduring hunger strike, torture and physical mistreatment for months. In Mountjoy he was the Officer Commanding the political prisoners.
The escape was planned for 3 p.m. on Saturday March 29th. On the previous Monday the four prisoners being denied political status broke away from the warders in charge of them and led them on a big chase around the field before being recaptured. As a result, they were kept in a metal cage for exercise and guarded by no less than eleven warders. If these precautions were continued their chances of escape were slight, while the presence of so many warders also presented a serious obstacle to the escape plan. On Fleming’s orders the four prisoners caused no more problems for the warders and the prison authorities were lulled into a false sense of security.
The stories in this book by Vincent Henry are based on real events and are as accurate, he states, as he could make them, with many factual accounts that document characters and happenings from the end of World War II to the beginning of the 1980s.
Two months after the end of World War II, my parents, Peter Henry and Elizabeth O’Brien, who had recently married, made a far-reaching decision. Responding to an advertisement in the local Westmeath-Offaly Independent, they purchased a grocery shop with attached living premises, in Clara, County Offaly, right in the centre of Ireland. A Protestant lady called Miss Poff sold the house, shop and sizeable garden to my parents for the princely sum of £900. This was money my mother had received as an inheritance from her father.
My father, who was thirty-two years of age at the time, had spent his working life farming but wasn’t particularly fond of that occupation. He was the eldest male in his family, but his younger siblings were eager to take over the farm and he was more than happy to venture into a new career in the grocery business.
‘The Emergency,’ as World War II was known in Ireland, was still in operation at that time. Each family continued to use ration books for basic necessities such as tea, bread, butter and eggs. Showing his entrepreneurial spirit, my father circumvented the letter of the law by securing basic foodstuffs from the surrounding rural areas. He dealt directly with local farmers, and as a result was able to provide a lot of basics over and above ration allocation quotas.
Thus began our travelling shop – or ‘the van,’ as it was invariably called.
The B.B.C.’s centenary celebrations and John Bowman’s recent feature on RTÉ’s Sunday morning broadcast which included a recording of my late father, Llewellyn Marcus Goodbody, bring to mind the important part that Clara played in the development of radio, the scientific discovery which transformed communications and is now part of everyday life. Without the backing of Irish capital it is possible that Guglielmo Marconi’s invention would never have got off the ground.
Township could be said to have begun in Tullamore in 1622. On 30 September the anniversary will be marked with an outdoor exhibition of drawings by Fergal MacCabe and a Timeline of Events showing the story of the town since the earliest times. We have covered many stories of Tullamore in over 420 blogs published in this series. All can be accessed on www.offalyhistory.com. For a quick link to all these resources see @offalyhistory
Michael Byrne’s recent blog article ‘The Gill Drapery Store in High Street Tullamore, 1900–22’ reminded me of the significance of drapery stores in the early 20th century and the Clara of my mother’s time. Amongst the correspondence between members of her family, frequent mention is made of the buying of material. The most common form of correspondence would seem to have been the postcard. Below, on the reverse of a postcard that depicted the ruins of Geashill Castle is an example sent on 27th of May? 1924. It was to my grandmother from her sister living in Clara and concerned the buying of material for ‘M’, May, her eldest niece.
All the south midland towns declined during the fifty-year period after the Famine with the exception of Clara where the Goodbody jute factory provided employment for 700 workers in the 1880s. The towns of Birr and Banagher were most severely hit. The decline of Birr was exacerbated by the final closure of the large military barracks in Birr in 1922. The previous year the Birr workhouse was closed and amalgamated with Tullamore. At a time of depression and scarce employment opportunities it was not surprising that the county capital, Tullamore, should seek to draw to itself whatever job opportunities existed in the public service sector, but it was to cause a good deal of resentment in Birr up to the 1950s.
Several of my ancestral families came from Ireland in the early to mid 1800s. They came from Counties Dublin, Armagh, Tyrone, Westmeath and King’s (now Offaly) and surrounding midlands counties. The one common factor was that they all migrated to Quebec, settling in several small communities in the area just southeast of Quebec City across the St. Lawrence River.
After a generation, many of those families moved to western Canada or the United States, often settling together. Many went to Wisconsin and Michigan where they worked in the logging industry and farmed. In the next generation, some married into other Irish families, so studying one’s family gradually evolved into studying several. My families were among those settling in Jacksonport, Door County, Wisconsin.
I had always wondered how and when these Church of England/Ireland families got to Ireland from England and Scotland, then migrated to the same places in North America. What did they have in common? There are no relevant ship manifest lists for British Isles migrants going to Canada since it is a part of the British Commonwealth, and it was not like going from one country to another.
I have an old family Bible with some information, but for the most part all I had to go on was Canadian census records or church records which gave a child’s birthplace and age, indicating approximately when the families left Ireland, and if I was lucky, a more specific birthplace. Usually, specific meant only a county. Family lore told of one or two Bagley children being born in Clara, Kings County. Other names of the Quebec families appeared in the Irish Midlands, so I concentrated my research there.
A contribution to marking the Decade of Centenaries in Offaly and recalling the past generations and the towns and villages on the eve of the War of Independence
In marking the years from 1912 to 1923 we may think that the years around 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War were times of unmitigated strife. Not so. Normal life continued, if punctuated by violent acts, such as the shooting of policemen in Kinnitty, Kilbeggan or Tullamore. The finding of bodies of spies, ‘the disappeared’, in Mountbolus or Puttaghaun. The holding of brief gunbattles in Ballycommon or Charleville Road. Worst of all the organised state violence condoned by Churchill and Lloyd George in the form of the Black and Tans racing through towns and villages in the dead of night and taking shots at anything that moved. Yet normal life continued and no better illustrated than by the issue, almost every week, (Offaly Independent excepted as the printing works was destroyed by British forces ) of the three or four local papers in Offaly and from time to time trade supplements or special publications such as trade directories that very much illustrate local business in most of the Offaly towns. Recently Offaly History acquired the 1919 MacDonald’s Trade Directory for Ireland to add to its collection at Bury Quay, Tullamore.
This is a new 20-minute video recording on the history of the Society, now better known as Offaly History with lots of interesting photos especially recorded for Heritage Week. We want to thank all who have contributed to making it so successful so far with activities across the county, and continuing until Sunday. The lecture on Larkin’s maps and their predecessors we shall post next week, also a video on the Durrow Pattern. Our next lecture is on 5 September on Michael Collins and is important. More information next week.
Contributed by Offaly History to mark the Decade of Centenaries
We saw in previous articles in this series the lead up to the civil war notwithstanding the outcome of the general election in June in which the vote was substantially in favour of supporting the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. In Laois-Offaly all four pro-Treaty candidates were elected with Labour, who preferred to look at the social rather than the Treaty question securing almost fifty percent of the vote. But among the soldiers of the IRA, particularly in Offaly, there was a reluctance to accept the Treaty outcome. Some were of the view that the people would follow where the military led.
The burning of Tullamore courthouse, jail and the former military barracks (in Barrack Street, now Patrick Street) on 20 July 1922 was one of those momentous historic occasions the impact of which had an almost a numbing effect on the people of Tullamore and the county. The completion of these buildings in 1716, 1830 and 1835 were all major steps in the progress of Tullamore. Now all were destroyed in one night for no tangible military benefit by the departing Republican IRA.