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.
My grandfather Michael McDermott of Durrow, County Offaly was born in 1895 and died on 30 March 1976. My mother later stated that he was actually aged 81 years (not 79 as on the gravestone) when he died. What caught my particular attention was that his gravestone records him as ‘CO (sic) North Offaly Batt. IRA’. But he was not in fact the OC of the North Offaly Battalion as claimed. For the funeral, as is usual for old IRA men, the coffin was draped in the Irish tricolour, and the ‘Last Post’ was played, with a firing party over grave. My cousin still has one of the spent cartridges from the blanks. Continue reading
It would be nice to write that Durrow Abbey house, Tullamore is in course of restoration and that it, the High Cross and Church and the parklands adjoining will soon be properly open to the public. It’s possible but getting more difficult as the house continues to deteriorate. It has been vacant for a considerable time. Councillor Tommy McKeigue drew attention to it recently at Offaly County Council and Paul Moore has reminded us of it in his photographs that are too kind to its present sad condition. But there are hopeful signs. The footpath from Durrow Woods should be completed this year and will allow walkers to come close to the house and the old church at Durrow and High Cross. At least more people will see it and become aware of its potential to midlands/ Ireland East, or is it Lakelands Tourism.