ORAL HISTORY PROJECTS in LAOIS & OFFALY. By John Gibbons

In this article John Gibbons talks about the value of oral history and the importance of making the recording. John started recording in Offaly in conjunction with the Offaly History in December 2014.  Since then over forty people have volunteered to be recorded. You do have a story so why not contact John or we can put you in touch via Offaly History. John has contributed material to Offaly Archives which will prove very useful in years to come. A story worth telling is a story worth saving.

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Tullamore – Places to visit to mark Tullamore’s 400th anniversary. Contributed by Offaly History with water colours courtesy of Fergal MacCabe

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

[Offaly Heritage Office writes on 24 9 2022]

Offaly Heritage identifies the wonderful engaging blogs by Offaly History outlining how the town of #Tullamore has developed.

Join us on Friday 30th in Millennium Square, Main Street, to see #OffalyHistory blogs presented in a picturesque timeline to celebrate #Tullamore400. We have entertainment from 2pm to 6pm in association with Up Close & Personal Promotions with thanks to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for their #LocalLivePerformance support.

Visit Offaly Tullamore Chamber

#Offaly #SpaceToExplore #SpaceToGrow ]

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Decline and resurgence in Birr, 1850-1922. Michael Byrne

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.

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Exploring the family history of the Bagley family in Offaly: Clara and Toberdaly. By Fourth  great-granddaughter, Ginny Birmingham Haen

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. 

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Trade Directories for Offaly one hundred years ago. From Offaly History

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.

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Building Offaly’s courthouses and prisons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Dr Richard Butler will showcase the building of Offaly’s courthouses and prisons in the years between roughly 1750 and 1850 in a lecture at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore and via Zoom on Tuesday 12 July 2022. The presentation will place individual buildings in Tullamore, Birr, Daingean and elsewhere in the context of changing political and social events throughout Ireland in these years, highlighting local agendas alongside those of the British administration in Ireland. Illustrated with historic architectural drawings, old and new photographs, the lecture will also highlight schemes that were never built as it traces the ways in which the appearance of Offaly’s towns was transformed in these years by new public architecture. The lecture will incorporate new research on Offaly’s history undertaken in recent years by historians based in the county such as Michael Byrne alongside volumes such as Andrew Tierney’s new Buildings of Ireland guide for Central Leinster and the speaker’s recently published book, Building the Irish Courthouse and Prison: A Political History (Cork University Press, 2020).

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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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Shops and pubs designed by Michael Scott in the 1940s for D.E. Williams. By Fergal MacCabe

At a time of economic stringency, the architect Michael Scott delivered several elegant retail buildings for a prominent midlands business family. These were executed in a Modernist style and incorporated natural materials in an innovative fashion.

D.E. Williams

In a recent Offaly History blog, Michael Byrne described the expansionary retail strategy of the notable Offaly commercial firm of D. E. Williams in installing high quality shops and pubs in virtually every town and village across the county in the period 1884-1921.

This courageous approach had not deserted the go ahead commercial family when during the Second World War, then modestly referred to as ‘The Emergency’, they ambitiously embarked on the redevelopment of their most prominent retail outlets in Dublin, Athlone and Birr and and most importantly, delivered a flagship shop and public bar in Patrick Street in Tullamore. To implement their progressive strategy they turned to Michael Scott.

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Offaly County Administration in 1920 and 1921 during the Military Regime. Specially Contributed

In the first issue of the Athlone-based Offaly Independent on 4 February 1922 (about fifteen months after the destruction of the newspaper by Crown forces) an article appeared setting out the changes in public health administration in County Offaly, settled in 1921. This involved the closure of the workhouses in Edenderry and Birr and the adaptation of that in Tullamore as ‘the County Home’ and Offaly County Hospital. The workhouse infirmary in Tullamore was re-named the County Hospital and the Tuberculosis dispensary and beds in the new (1915) building at the back of the old county infirmary in Church Street was to continue to operate there at least for a time. The closing of the county infirmary in Church Street, Tullamore in 1921 (first opened on that site in 1788) and having about thirty beds in use at any time, and a dispensary, did not even get a mention in the 1922 review. The change over in the administration involving the switch from Local Government Board to Dail funded management based on local rate collection was a remarkable achievement.

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Offaly and the Treaty Debate: widespread acceptance. Specially contributed

Early 1922 saw just two local organs of public opinion in Offaly – the Midland Tribune and the King’s County Chronicle. The Tribune was owned by the long-term nationalist Mrs Fanning, widow of the late Dr Fanning and herself active in regard to Sinn Féin policy on amalgamation of the workhouses. Her editor was James Pike from Roscore, long-term supporter of Sinn Féin who was now ready to recommend acceptance of the Treaty. So also was Archie Wright, owner of the Protestant and unionist Birr-based Chronicle. The Offaly Independent was more representative of North Offaly, but its printing works had been destroyed by crown forces in November 1920 and did not re-emerge until late spring 1922. During the course of 2022 we plan to bring you articles on the evolving situation in Ireland and Offaly in 1922 and we will be looking into the Offaly Archives, Offaly History Centre and Offaly Libraries to dig deeper for the nuggets.

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