Geashill and the Legacy of William Steuart Trench, 150 years after his death. By Mary Delaney

“Those haters of the Celtic race

The above words appear in the poem Mucker written by the poet Patrick Kavanagh and reflects the legacy of William Steuart Trench and his two sons Thomas Weldon, and John Townsend Trench and how they managed landed estates in counties Monaghan, Offaly and Kerry in mid -Victorian Ireland.

As we reach the 150th anniversary of the death of William Steuart Trench, we must ask whether this is a true assessment of the character of the man and of the realities experienced on the estates he managed.

Trench and his two sons came from a professional type of land agent. Their roles included that of magistrate, accountant, architect, agriculturalist, engineer and innovator. Trench was also a landowner himself, as well as an author. His most famous piece of work was Realities of Irish Life which was published in London in 1868. Were his realities the same realities experienced by the people of Geashill, Monaghan and Kenmare?

James Godkin, a contemporary of Trench described Realities of Irish Life as one of the most misleading books on Ireland published for many years, claiming it had made false impressions on the public minds in England. He went on to say “The mischief would not be so great if the author did not take so much pains to represent his stories as realities, essentially characteristic of the country.”  

Trench was employed as agent on the Digby estate in Offaly (King’s County) from 1857 to 1871. Prior to and parallel to this appointment, William Steuart Trench had been employed in Co. Monaghan. He was appointed by Lord Shirley in 1843 and by Lord Bath in 1849. He also acted as agent on the Lansdowne Estate in Co. Kerry.  There are most definitely common trends in all three counties and similar memories as to how Trench is remembered on the estates he managed.

There is no doubt that he transformed and enhanced the physical landscape in all three counties. Throughout the 1860s Trench, on behalf of Lord Edward St Vincent Digby embarked upon a major project of house improvement and land drainage in the barony of Geashill. While a great number of new houses were constructed between 1857 and 1872, for example, new treble cottages were built in the village of Geashill in 1861, Trench thought it more profitable and less expensive to improve existing dwellings.

In fact, much of the present form of what is now Geashill village and its surrounding areas, owes its origin to the work carried out in the 1860s. A new school was built in 1862. New roads were constructed including one linking Geashill to Tullamore. Improvements were made to the Village Inn and to other buildings in the village and barony.

The school at Geashill, erected about 1862

The success of such schemes of house building and repairs not only enhanced the appearance of the barony and improved the living conditions of the tenants, but it also earned Lord Digby recognition both at home and abroad. His schemes proved so successful that the Digby estate won the gold medal offered by the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland for the best labourers’ cottages in the province of Leinster. The estate also boasted of holding the Duke of Leinster Challenge Cup for the best labourers’ cottages in Ireland for three successive years.

      Cottage at Geashill before and after renovation

Lord Digby was thus awarded the gold medal for the province of Leinster for six well-finished cottages which were deemed the more comfortable. He was also successful at an international level when at the Paris Exhibition of 1857 he was awarded a bronze medal for cottages constructed in Geashill.

While working for Lord Bath, Trench also had a number of farmhouses improved and a number of new schools built, all of which had carved over the door the letter “B” and the year of construction. These display similar designs to some found in Geashill.

                       

The town of Kenmare and the Lansdowne Estate were also improved which has been well documented by Gerard Lyne. He noted how Trench even had a clock erected in the main square to ensure the workers always turned up on time.

Present Day Kenmare with town clock, erected by Trench

 William Steuart Trench is also credited with land reclamation projects on the estates he managed and could be considered to be a man ahead of his time. In order to restore the land to full productivity, the land at Geashill was levelled and planted with good quality grass seed to allow it to regain it nutrients. Trench had Peruvian Guano applied to improve its fertility. This proved successful, resulting in large scale production of turnips, potatoes, wheat, oats and later, rape seed. In fact, rape seed continues to be produced on this section of land up to the present day. Although costly at the time, it seems that these schemes paid for themselves in the long run. Land which was previously let at a rent of four shillings per acre, now earned between twenty-five and thirty shillings per acre.

Trench was thrifty and perhaps well ahead of his time in maintaining workers to ensure all improvements were carried out. It was suggested at the Paris Exhibition that he construct a moveable ‘Russian Village’ to house his workers. Twelve timber cottages were constructed with timber countersunk at the corners and laid one on top of the other, thus forming walls. In this way, Trench secured a permanent well-trained workforce, who along with their cottages could be transported at a “trifling cost to any district in which they may be required”. The Russian Village, a modern day portacabin, enabled Trench to carry out work all year round with a steady supply of men.

        

William Steuart Trench and his management of the Digby Estate, King’s County 1857-1871

While Trench and his sons have been credited for such improvements by many authors over the last 150 years, one must wonder to what extent the landlords were involved. In the case of Geashill, the then Lord Digby, Edward St. Vincent Digby, was the grandson of Thomas Coke of Norfolk, who was noted for his contribution to the agricultural revolution in Britain in the eighteenth century. Like his grandfather, he was interested in renovating the appearance and improving the quality of the estate at Geashill.

When examining the demographic patterns in Offaly, Monaghan and Kerry during the Trench era, there was a dramatic decrease in the population of all three counties. Trench and his two sons considered the poorer classes, especially those who lived in mud huts or those tenants in arrears or tenants who demanded a reduction in rents to be a burden to the estates he managed. He also saw them as a barrier to the improvements he wished to carry out.

Trench was noted for the implementation of assisted emigration schemes, regarding such schemes as an economical and efficient way to improve the estate.

According to him, “this clearing process would stabilise rates, consolidate holdings, and improve the life changes of the people themselves”.

Did such a scheme benefit those who were forced to leave Ireland or were they merely to facilitate Trench’s plans at improving the estates he managed? In some cases, people were lucky. Others were less fortunate.

While acting as an agent for Lord Lansdowne in Kenmare, Trench embarked upon a policy of what he called ‘voluntary’ emigration. He cleared Kenmare workhouse by offering the occupants their full passage to America. In fact, by 1869 there was a ward in a New York hospital called the Lansdowne ward because so many impoverished people from Kenmare died in it.  According to the Geographer, Dr. Paddy Duffy they had arrived there half-starved, disease-ridden and penniless. Trench introduced similar plans on the Bath and Shirley estates. He admitted in his book Realities that it was cheaper for him to pay for their emigration than to support them at home in Monaghan. Trench maintained that depending on how much the tenant could afford they were given their full passage or a contribution towards their passage and money towards food and clothes. Duffy also points out that many of the tenants who left Monaghan for America or Australia had to go through the port of Liverpool. The agent there commented on the appearance and condition of the tenants who arrived from Monaghan. In fact, it seems they were such an embarrassment to the estate in 1849 that Trench was reprimanded by the Carrickmacross clerk who hoped that such ‘a ragged pack may never appear here again’. Trench, of course, claimed that the tenants’ chief device was to hide their good clothes which had been furnished to them and to appear in their worst rags. 

It seems that in Monaghan the tenants were not leaving as quickly as Trench would have wished, so by the late 1840s he began to speed up the process by forced evictions, where mud huts and cabins were knocked and tenants were left without food or shelter. In some cases, people were threatened and bribed to knock down their own dwellings or that of their neighbours.

Did the agency of William Steuart Trench alter the population trends on the Digby Estate? An examination of the census of both 1851 and 1871 suggests that the population totals and distribution altered significantly during the two decades. In fact, the total population declined from 6,221, in 1851 to 3,712 in 1871 resulting in a percentage decline of 40.3 per cent for the period. Many of those who left emigrated to Australia and some to America. They may not have secured their fare from Trench as he claimed. In fact, in the 1864 annual report to Lord Digby, he admitted that sons and daughters of small farmers and labourers had emigrated to America having had their passage paid by friends and relatives who had gone before them. Other emigrants from the barony were aided by a scheme introduced by a Fr. Paddy Dunne, a native of Daingean parish, who liaised with the Queensland Emigration authorities.  Dr. Jennifer Harrison in her work titled From King’s County to Queensland, explains how Fr. Dunne became aware that “the able-bodied poor with their families were being evicted from the estate at Geashill and were crowding into the streets of Tullamore for shelter”. They were homeless, penniless and near starvation. The parish and community were powerless to help them in their plight. Fr. Dunne addressed meetings and ascended pulpits whenever he was allowed, as sometimes there was strong opposition from the clergy. He arranged the funding and the safe passage of many tenants from the Geashill area by chartering ships such as Erin go Breagh, which brought many emigrants from Geashill and its surrounding hinterland to the new world.

 Dr. Harrison attributes easy access to the Midland and Great Western Railways, as well as access to the Northern Railway as a major factor in facilitating movement to Queenstown (Cobh) from where many emigrant ships set sail. The Midland and Great Western Railway passed through Geashill and a railway station was opened just outside the village in 1854 which operated for passenger travel until 1963.

   Population Decrease in Geashill during the Trench Era.

Trench believed that many of the social problems at Geashill could be attributed to the peasants, whom he saw as ‘lazy and thriftless’ and who acted as a barrier to his plans for improvement. As a result, he adopted a hardline authoritarian style of estate management.

 Some of the following strategies employed by both William and Thomas Trench seem to back up this theory. Their first task was aimed at eliminating the numerous squatters, who under previous regimes had been allowed to establish themselves on the estate and who had not paid rent for more than twenty years. Their names, in fact, had never appeared on a rent book. These people had usually squatted along the side of the roads and lived in mud hovels with no windows and a hole in the roof, out of which stuck a piece of wickerwork, which made a chimney. These vulnerable people put up little or no resistance and according to Trench were less difficult to remove than he had anticipated. He claimed, he enticed them to leave by offering them money. He suggested that they were quite happy with this arrangement. However, certain sources suggest that the Trenches adopted ruthless tactics to clear the estate of small tenants and beggars, in order to create larger holdings with better drainage and more advanced farming methods.

Thomas Weldon Trench’s treatment of a woman in Geashill village on Christmas Eve, 1861 illustrates this fact. While he was working on his estate in the village and acting in his capacity as local magistrate, he had an elderly woman, Jane Egan, aged seventy- two, arrested for begging for a halfpenny. It seemed that Trench constantly kept watch for vagrants and even carried a Bible in his pocket in order to put under oath anyone whom he might wish to interrogate on suspicion of begging. The case of Alice Dillon (Delin), well documented by Michael Byrne, illustrates just how ruthless Trench was. On the same day as Jane Egan was arrested, he noticed another elderly woman entering a local premises. On questioning the householder, he learned that the woman had asked for a cup of sugar. He immediately had the woman, Alice Dillon, who was seventy-nine years old, arrested and incarcerated in Tullamore gaol, where she died a few days later while serving her sentence. An inquest into her death followed. The inquest was held in Tullamore gaol on 3 January 1862.

It is worth noting that all members of the jury were tenants at will (yearly tenants) on the Digby Estate and perhaps a more objective jury would have found Trench guilty of misdemeanour in this matter. Mary Pilkington quotes how the Dublin Morning News called on parliament to intervene in order to secure Trench’s dismissal as a magistrate. She suggests that his strong links with Dublin Castle ensured that he remained a Justice of the Peace. Interestingly, Trench failed to mention the Dillon case in any correspondence to Lord Digby nor did he refer to it in Realities of Irish Life.

Forced emigration was the main method Trench used on the Bath, Shirley, Lansdowne and Digby Estates for those he deemed a threat to his management. However, in Monaghan he also ordered public hangings. In fact, in his book, he refers to how a man named Traynor on the Bath Estate had narrowly escaped hanging for not paying his rent and refusing to give up his land. It seems the man escaped from the local gaol before Trench had time to execute him.

The other common methodology of Trench’s style of management was his use of spy networking. He specialised in spying on the Ribbonmen in Geashill and the Molly Maguires in Monaghan. He had similar spies operate in Kenmare. It seemed that the actions of the Trenches swiftly led the tenants at Geashill and in Carrickmacross to turn to societies such as the “Ribbonmen”. This was a Catholic association set up in 1808. It was particularly active in the middle of the nineteenth century. The main aims of this society were firstly, to prevent any landlord, under any circumstance whatever, from depriving any tenant of his land and secondly, to deter, “on pain of almost certain death” any tenant from taking land from which any other tenant was evicted. Their actions were carried out with great severity and aimed at wealthy landlords and humble cottiers alike. The local Ribbonmen in Geashill began to devise a method of getting rid of Trench. In his annual reports to Lord Digby, he writes that “Conspiracies for various subscriptions were set on foot to pay for the murder of myself and my son”. William Trench and his son were to be made aware of this fact by informers or as he put it himself “secret friends”.

Godkin attributes many of Trench’s victories over his tenants on the Geashill estate to the spy network he had created. Ribbon activity had increased and seemed rife in the district in 1860.

Trench also feared for his life in Monaghan and as in Geashill became aware through his spy network of a plot to murder him.  This became more worrying after an event in Magheracloone.

In 1843, the tenants on the Shirley Estate, of which Magheracloone was a part, refused to pay their rent until their complaints had been addressed by the landlord. Attempts by the bailiffs to seize cattle or goods from the tenants, who would not pay, were stopped by the activities of local Ribbonmen known as ‘The Molly Maguires’. 

Trench, along with the bailiff on the Shirley Estate and escorted by local police, marched towards the church in Magheracloone. The intention was to post a notice of eviction to several tenants on the door of the church. They were met by a large crowd who tried to block their path. As the troops tried to advance they were met by a shower of stones. The troops began to shoot at the crowd which resulted in the death of a young servant boy. This episode resulted in a Coroner’s inquiry. Unsurprisingly, the enquiry could not establish who shot the boy nor could it prove that the police were in danger at the time of the shooting.

 After this, it seems the “Molly Maguires” upped their activity by staging surprise attacks on the “grippers, keepers and drivers”. The grippers were the people who were directed by Trench to arrest tenants, the keepers were employed to watch the crops for fear the tenants would remove them, and drivers were those who drove the livestock to the pounds until the tenants paid up their rent. As in Geashill, Trench was made aware by informers of a plot to murder him. Large subscriptions were being collected to pay the murderer who would consent to shoot him. Two men were appointed, Hodgens from Castleblaney and an individual called Thornton, who was described as a good for nothing who lived between Carrickmacross and Inniskeen. If fact, the Ribbonmen went as far as putting up a notice in a local church which read “Trench considered a doomed man”. After this episode, Trench never left the house unless accompanied by two men, one of whom was his son. All three were well armed and ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Both Hodgens and Thornton along with a third man called Breen were later arrested for attempting to murder the bailiff, Paddy MacArdle. Trench had both Hodgens and Breen executed by public hangings in Carrickmacross, while Thornton who had informed on his friends walked free.

So how do Trench and his sons deserve to be remembered over the last one hundred and fifty years?

 The folktales of Co. Monaghan paint a dark picture of Trench. For example, they tell how when Trench died, the rats devoured his corpse before it could be buried.

They are remembered in much the same way by the people of Geashill. A local man, Thomas Davis, remembers a rhyme told by his grandmother.

There’s grace on the pulpit

There’s wit on the bench

But there’s nothing but dirt,

Can be found on Trench.

From such stories, it is fair to say that the Trenches exercised huge control over the lives of their tenants, not only economically but also socially. It is claimed that in both Monaghan and Kerry no tenant could marry without the consent of Trench.  This is reflected in a ballad about the Shirley Estate:

Oh Girls of Farney it is true

That each true hearted wench

Before she weds, must get consent

From Pious Father Trench.

Both Trench and his son Thomas Weldon died within a few days of each other in 1872 and were buried in Dunamoyne cemetery in Co. Monaghan.

Their legacy is reflected in the fact that their headstone has been vandalised and defaced.

The Defaced Headstone of William Steuart Trench, Dunamoyne Cemetery, Co. Monaghan

William Steuart Trench’s physical legacy in Offaly, Monaghan and Kerry is that of an agent who created a golden age of prosperity in the barony. Down through the years this physical legacy has been greatly overshadowed by the REALITIES of an agent who systematically broke leases, demolished people’s homes and banished the poor from the countryside. It is clear that  his management style was ruthless in the extreme. The legacy of William Steuart Trench, his two sons and many other land agents of the time, including Trench’s nephew George Adair are aptly epitomised by Patrick Kavanagh as

 “Those haters of the Celtic race”.

Mary Delaney

Local Historian & Author of William Steuart Trench and his management of the Digby Estate, King’s County 1857-1871

We have added some Geashill books [ed.]

We have added this blog to our Decade of Centenaries because of the profound influence the legacy of Trench had IRA leader and county councillor Tommy Dunne. See also some further reading. Some copies of Mary Delaney’s book and that of Rachel McKenna are available from Offaly History and Midland Books. The Photographic record is out of print and hard to get.

Exploring our heritage and history in Offaly during Heritage Week, 13–21 August 2022. Something for the Polish community too, so take a look, subscribe and share.

This weekend sees the start of Heritage Week 2022 and a very welcome return to exploring the county in person with some great material coming on-line too from Offaly History. We are launching six new videos via Offaly History YouTube and Heritage Week 2022. Our thanks to Amanda Pedlow, county heritage officer for all who work in coordinating the programme. She writes:

‘Hopefully everyone signed up for this email has by now received the pdf / hard copy Offaly Heritage Week brochure  however you can still check in on www.heritageweek.ie for updates in Offaly, download the Offaly pdf here https://www.offaly.ie/eng/Services/Heritage/News-Events/Heritage-Week-Brochure-2022.pdf   or pick up a copy in the library.  Do please note that a number of events do require booking!

With over 30 events here is a reminder for Saturday’s events as a starter’…@offalyheritage @HeritageHubIRE Our thanks to Fergal MacCabe for the use of three of his wonderful watercolours of Srah Castle (1588), Ballycowan (1626) and Bury Bridge (1801).

Ballycowan Castle, Tullamore. Courtesy Fergal MacCabe

Continue reading

The drift towards civil war in Offaly in 1922. Specially contributed by Offaly History members to mark the Decade of Centenaries.

The split in the IRA over acceptance of the treaty had been simmering since January 1922. The outcome of the Dáil vote and the June elections (58 seats to pro-treatyites and 36 to anti-treatyites, others 34) did little to dissuade those who believed they had taken an oath to secure a republic and that the stepping stone approach was unacceptable. De Valera and Harry Boland made this abundantly clear in their addresses to the electors in Tullamore in April 1922 (see the earlier blog in this series on 15 June 2022). De Valera had issued an Easter message to the Republic, in which he had asked the young men and women of Ireland to hold steadily on, and that the goal is in sight at last.[1] Tommy Dunne of Ballinagar and a member of the county council told the anti-treaty meeting in Tullamore that:

‘His chief reason for standing by the Republic movement was the construction he put upon his oath under which he felt justified in waging war against the hirelings and agents of the King of England. To recede from that position and take an oath of faithfulness to the country or King he had  been waging war against, would be an admission of defeat.    We have not been defeated in the fight which we have waged against England in this country for the last two years.  . . . Take care that the acceptance of the Dominion Status by Ireland does not have a similar result [division] and that those who are seeking to make Ireland refuse to accept this Treaty do not find themselves opposed by their own country men (cheers).[2]

Continue reading

The ‘flamboyant three-storey Ruskinian Gothic warehouse’ in Tullamore. Tullamore 400th series, no. 6. By Michael Byrne

As part of the Tullamore 400th series and also in the context of research as part of a survey of Tullamore’s heritage in O’Connor Square and High Street, Tullamore we are pleased to present this article on one of the most attractive of the buildings of O’Connor Square. This is the building described by Andrew Tierney in Central Leinster in the Buildings of Ireland series (Yale 2019, p. 628) as ‘a ‘flamboyant three-storey Ruskinian Gothic warehouse’. The number 12 is from that in Griffith’s printed valuation of 1854 (GV 12). The number 71 (noted below) was part of the running series for the entire town of Tullamore in the manuscript valuation of 1843. the brick building was the first in Tullamore to be restored as to the facade (but not the interior) and incorporated in the Bank of Ireland Tullamore branch in 1979. It set a high standard for such work and wile not residential at least is well used and contributes to the streetscape, and very much so since one-third of O’Connor Square has now been pedestrianised.

O’Connor Square in 2020

To cite the Heritage Council’s own words on the Historic Towns Initiative:

Many of our city, town and village centres are historic places with their own distinct identities. Sustaining these is a complex process that in many cases involves the conservation and re-use of existing buildings, the care of public spaces and the provision of community facilities. The conservation and interpretation of this heritage makes our towns interesting, unique and attractive to residents and visitors. In support of the Town Centres First policy set out in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future (2020), the Historic Towns Initiative (HTI) is a joint undertaking by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Heritage Council which aims to promote the heritage-led regeneration of Ireland’s historic towns.

Continue reading

The 1922 general election in Laois-Offaly. By Michael Byrne

The 16th of June 2022 marks two important anniversaries. The first is the centenary of Ulysses, but the second was the all-important vote on the Treaty held on the same day. The outcome in Ireland of the latter event was eagerly awaited. This election was the first to be held in the new Free State, the first held under the PR electoral system, and the first to be contested by the parties which, in modified forms, were to dominate subsequent Irish politics at least up to 2011. The 1918 election has already been the subject of a blog on Offalyhistoryblog and was a clear win in Offaly and the country for Sinn Féin. This blog is part of our contribution to the #decade of centenaries. We plan more over the summer to include the departure of the British army from Offaly barracks, the lead up to the civil war in Offaly, bank robberies, the burning of the county courthouse, jail and barracks, noted personalities in Offaly in 1922. If you wish to help please email us with your suggestions/contribution. info@offalyhistory.com

The 1922 election was a fight out between the pro-treatyites and the Republicans led by de Valera, but the pact between Collins and de Valera came to grief before election day. Some had looked to the Labour Party to stand aside in 1922,  as they had done in 1918, or to vote with the pro-treatyites. Nowhere was the wisdom of Labour going its own way better demonstrated that in the new Laois-Offaly four-seat constituency where William Davin came in as the big winner with more than two quotas. Given its performance in later general elections why did the anti-treatyites not field a candidate? Sean Robbins of Clara had topped the poll in the 1920 county council election and Sinn Féin’s ideologue in Offaly and organiser, T.M. Russell, had come second. Russell, to answer part of the question, had departed the local scene in October 1920 and was in favour of the Treaty. Sean McGuinness, the local IRA battalion commander, was another possible anti-treatyite candidate and he was elected in 1923, but declined to take his seat because of the oath of allegiance. He secured 5,572 votes in 1923.

Continue reading

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]

Continue reading

Alderborough Nursery Geashill, Offaly: Reamsbottom & Co., Geashill and West Drayton & Alderborough St. Brigid Anemones.

The story of Alderborough Nursery, Geashill is a must have for delightful summer reading. This book tells the story of Reamsbottom & Co., Alderborough and West Drayton, and the development of the Alderborough strain of the St Brigid Anemone which made it famous around the world. Geashill was for decades at the center of Irish horticulture with an international reputation for the quality of its plants. Alderborough Nursery competed with the best nurseries in the world, winning awards, medals and accolades from judges and gardening publications. From 1890 to the 1980’s Anemones and a wide range of plants were exported from Geashill. Archives of all the important horticultural shows in Ireland and Britain record that Reamsbottom & Co. exhibited their produce and won prizes, particularly for their St. Brigid Anemones. By 1907, Reamsbottom & Co., had won 33 medals for Alderborough St. Brigid Anemones, including four gold. [This is a beautiful book and adds to the growing Geashill library of attractive volumes reaching a wide and enthusiastic market.]

Continue reading

The grant of Tullamore in 1622 to Sir John Moore of Croghan: the 400th anniversary of the beginning of township in Tullamore. By Michael Byrne

Tullamore is a well-preserved town and is the county town of Offaly since an act of parliament in 1832 displaced Philipstown (Daingean) which had been the county town since the shiring of Offaly as part of the new colonial government policies in 1557. The new county to be known as King’s County was then comprised of the baronies reflecting the Gaelic lordships of the O’Connors and that of the O Dempseys. The king in question was none other than Philip II of Spain married at that time to the tragic Queen Mary of England (1553–58) hence the new forts of Philipstown and Maryborough (Portlaoise). The county was extended about 1570 to include the territory of the O Molloys (now to be the baronies of Ballycowan, Ballyboy and Eglish) and also that of the Foxes in Kilcoursey and the MacCoghlans in what would be called Garrycastle. In 1605 the territory of the O Carrolls (to form the baronies of Ballybritt and Clonlisk) was added, as also was the parish of Clonmacnoise (1638) at the behest of Terence Coghlan of Kilcolgan. Those looking for an exciting seventeenth-century history for Tullamore will be disappointed as the surviving evidence of town growth in that troubled century is thin. This week we continue to series to mark the 400th anniversary of Tullamore as a town.

Continue reading

Lt Col. Middleton Westenra Biddulph of Rathrobin, Tullamore (1849–1926). An illustrated presentation of his local photographs on Monday 21 Feb. at 8 p.m. By Michael Byrne

On Monday 21 February 2022 Offaly History will host a public lecture on the photographic work of Middleton Westenra Biddulph (1849–1926) of Rathrobin, Tullamore. The lecture will also be streamed via Zoom and will start at 8 p.m. at/from Offaly History Centre. Biddulph’s photographs of Offaly and midlands interest together with Big Houses in Ireland have been published in Michael Byrne, Rathrobin and the two Irelands (Tullamore, 2021). For the link to Zoom email info@offalyhistory.com. There is no charge.

The new large format book has over 300 photographs with context and captions and is available for €25 in hardback. The publication was supported by the Decade of Centenaries and took fourteen months to prepare.

Middleton Westenra Biddulph was born on 17 August 1849 at Rathrobin, Mountbolus, King’s County. He was one of six children and the eldest surviving son of Francis Marsh Biddulph (1802–1868) and Lucy Bickerstaff (d. 1896). She was born in Preston, Lancashire and they married in 1845 when F.M.B. was 45 and Lucy 24.[1] The Bickerstaff connection was to be an important one for the surviving sons of F.M.B. and led to a substantial inheritance in the 1890s for Middleton W. Biddulph (M.W.B.) and his brother Assheton who lived at Moneyguyneen, Kinnitty. F.M.B. was of a large family of eleven children. All were girls save their one surviving brother. F.M.B. lived with at least three of his sisters at Rathrobin, few of whom married and at least three emigrated to Australia or the United States.

In person and online. For link email info@offalyhistory.com
Continue reading

Geashill GAA footballers: ‘The King’s County Cracks’. By John Malone

Followers of Gaelic games in Offaly will no doubt be familiar with Raheen’s G.A.A. grounds, just outside the village of Geashill. The grounds were once known as ‘The Lawn’ where stood the gate house to Alderborough house. In the early 1900s Alderborough house was the headquarters of the famous Reamsbottom garden nurseries, one of the largest in Europe and renowned worldwide for its anemones, the most famous of which was the St Bridget’s which won numerous prizes in shows such as the Chelsea Flower Show. At that time also a Gaelic football team trained and played their matches on the lawn and other fields in Geashill including P. Finlay’s field in Bawnmore, which became both feared and respected, not alone in Offaly but throughout Leinster.                                                                                    

Continue reading