Gaelic Assembly and Inaugurations Sites in County Offaly. By John Dolan

Pre-Christian Irish Society

When Christians arrived in Ireland and started to write about the country they found an island of Gaelic kingdoms, perhaps up to 150, that was dynastic and the political organisation was based on the tuath.  The tuath was the bedrock of the Gaelic political system and is described as a small kingdom. Most of what we know now has been gleaned from the Irish Law Tracts, commonly known as the Brehon Laws. Other written sources include the Hero and Saga Tales. 

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The burning of the Biddulph ‘Big House’ at Rathrobin, Mountbolus, County Offaly, Ireland during the Civil War, 18 April 1923. By Michael Byrne

Rathrobin House, Mountbolus was the most modern and one of the finest of the ‘Big Houses’ burnt by the anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War of 1922-3. Its loss was a tragedy for the district and for its owner and builder Lt Col Middleton Biddulph. Today the house is a ruin and the intended tomb of the old colonel in Blacklion churchyard remains empty. Biddulph was a generous man of independent means and was not dependent on exacting high rents from his tenants and employees with whom he was on the best of terms. Much has been written of the trauma experienced by participants in the Civil War, of the needless killings and the executions (81). It was a shocking time for the two sides and many innocent people suffered also. Perhaps some of the post-Civil War trauma and the silence can be attributed to the consideration that the war may have been an unfortunate and costly mistake. It may have seemed so to some of the participants following the success of the Free State and Fianna Fáil governments in rolling back on the oath, dominion status and the ports in the 1930–38 period. Thus confirming the ‘stepping stone’ thesis. As with the Spanish Civil War (much more violent) there is, even now, a kind of Pact of Forgetting (Pacto del Olvido) with people wanting to move on and forget about something that should not have happened. Yet, it is important to record the events of that period and what brought about the shocking atrocities especially in Kerry. County Offaly had its share in these tragedies.

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The History of Ballyboy, County Offaly in story and pictures from the children of Ballyboy National School   


Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Slieve Bloom Mountains, Ballyboy or Baile Buí, meaning the town of the Yellow Ford, is a picturesque village of rich historical significance. Like many villages in Ireland, the modest present-day facade of Ballyboy belies a history that has seen the rise and subsequent fall of an early Christian monastery, a site visited by many historical figures in the early years, including Hugh O’Neill, the Normans and even Oliver Cromwell.

St. Brigid’s Convent & St. Mary’s Church

St. Brigid founded a convent in our village in or around the year 500 A.D. The people of the village maintain that it was the very first convent she built in Ireland. The Convent was situated on the mound still known as Abbey Rath (later becoming the site of the Norman Motte and Bailey) The convent continued until 1539. Around the same time as St. Brigid built her convent, it is said that the first church in the village, St. Mary’s Church was also built. Mass would have been celebrated in Saint Brigid’s Convent or at St Mary’s church.

From 1650, when Cromwell’s army marched to the village from Cadamstown and destroyed St. Mary’s Church, until 1704, there was no church in the parish. The old church had a round tower that came almost to the centre of the present-day road. There was also a tunnel from the church to the fort at Abbey Rath. The tunnel was 400 metres long.

During Cromwell’s attack, the precious Pieta was bravely hidden by two McRedmond women from Knockhill. When they saw Cromwell and his men approaching from Cadamstown, they rushed to the church, took the Pieta from its place just inside the door and hid it outside in a heap of rubbish. Everybody fled to the woods and caves before Cromwell and his men reached the village, in case they would be killed. In the dead of night, for Cromwell’s army was still in Ballyboy, a party of men took the statue and carried it a short way across the Silver River and over the fields to Ballybracken, also known as Ridgemount. Here they buried it 6 feet deep in the bog below Derryhoy, where it lay hidden for over 60 years. Ridgemount is the area where the Faithful Fields are now situated. These men promised not to tell anyone where the Pieta was buried. Just before the last of the men died, he told people where it was located. When it was found, the Pieta was brought to the Church of the Nativity BVM in Kilcormac, where it still remains today.

The Pieta as it presently stands in the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Kilcormac.

During Penal Times Catholics were forbidden to practise their religion and resorted to celebrating mass in secluded places. There is still a corner field in Ballinacarrig called ‘The Mass Pit’. According to Rev. A Cogan’s “The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern”, a priest was arrested in his vestments for saying mass near the Motte in Ballyboy.

St. Mary’s Church Ballyboy

St Mary’s Church, Ballyboy by Aran Kelly

St. Mary’s Church Ballyboy                                                                                             

Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was taken over by the Church of Ireland between the dates 1709 and 1715 when there was renewed persecution of Catholics. The present church was built in 1815 with a loan of £900. Several years later, it was repaired with a grant of £279. In 1874, a very bad thunderstorm hit Ballyboy and the tower of the church was struck by lightning. It is said that the flash ripped a body that had been buried a few days before out of its grave. Two years after Griffith’s Valuation, the women of Ballyboy got together and subscribed a sum of money to purchase a chalice for the Church. This chalice is still in use in Kilcormac and on its base is inscribed ‘Pray for the Matrons of Ballyboy, 1856’.

Written by

Seán Lambe, Aran Kelly, Andrea Feighery, Kyle Jennings, Harry Bracken, Rory Grennan

The Normans in Ballyboy

In 1175, the Normans arrived in Ballyboy and built a Motte and Bailey in the village on Abbey Rath, on the banks of the Silver River. The Castle was initially built as a secure garrison for the Anglo-Norman army as they advanced through this region using the routeways in Fir Cheall. Once the region of Fir Cheall had been secured by the Anglo-Normans, the castle acted as a focus for settlement which grew up around and under the protection of the earth and timber castle. At the base of the mound are the remains of old walls, said by some to be the ruins of St. Brigid’s Convent.

Towards the end of the 14th century, the O’Malley’s took possession of the Anglo-Norman castle. The lands and castle of Ballyboy remained in the hands of the O’Malley’s until the Irish War of 1641-53. After this war the lands and castle of Ballyboy were confiscated by the Commonwealth government and granted to Sir William Petty. During the Williamite Wars in Ireland of 1688-91, the village and castle of Ballyboy became a garrison for Williamite soldiers. In 1690 the Jacobite forces attacked and burnt the town and the Williamite forces took refuge in the castle located on the ‘Mount’ in the centre of the village.

The earth and timber Norman Castle in Ballyboy by Grace Guinan

The Bailey part of the Motte and Bailey
                                                               By Luke Guinan


The Norman Castle in Ballyboy by Anna Doolan


The archaeological remains of the earth and timber castle consist of a large D-shaped bailey that lies to the southwest of the low motte and survives today as a well-defined curving field boundary. The poorly preserved remains of a wall belonging to a stone structure can be seen standing on the summit of the motte. This wall may belong to the stone castle depicted standing on the summit of the motte on the 1654 Down Survey map.

In the post-medieval period, the castle was in ruins and the stone from it was probably reused in the construction of the present houses in the village. During this time, a stone wall was constructed along the base of the motte on the southern side. The church and castle with its associated settlement can be seen depicted on the 1654 Down Survey map of Ballyboy Barony. The Church of Ireland ruins are located on the site of the medieval church.

This photograph shows the motte or mound of the Anglo-Norman earth and timber castle. A later post-medieval wall cuts across the base of the motte which is visible on the left side of the photo.
The footings of the stone structure can be seen on the top of the motte.

Written by

Grace Guinan, Luke Guinan, Anna Doolan, Aaron Coady

Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy

Our school, Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy is named after St. Brigid.The site of our present-day school was originally a hat and glove factory. During Penal Times, it was against the law for Catholic children to be educated, so a hedge school was set up to secretly educate local children. For a short period during the early 1700’s, the ruins of the old church in Ballyboy was used as a hedge school also.

The site of the Hedge School in Ballyboy

When Penal Laws ended in 1782 it was no longer illegal to have hedge schools so there was a school built in the village. There is little known about the school other than it had a thatched roof.

In 1820 a new school with a thatched roof was built by Lord Lansdowne’s wife. It is said that the school was also aided by an annual donation of £6 from the Marquess of Lansdowne. This school had a Protestant Schoolmaster and provided Catholic and Protestant children with an education. In 1832, the school was taken over by the Board of Education. The roof was slated and a Catholic Schoolmaster appointed. Griffith’s Valuation tells us that there was a dwelling house where the master would have lived. There was no piped water and the ditch was used as a toilet.

The Schoolhouse in Ballyboy, built by Lord Lansdowne’s wife

Ballyboy Schoolhouse 1820-1962 by MJ Hynes

The school was originally very close to the road but in 1960 it was knocked and a new one, seen below, built further back. This new school design was typical of the time being a large one storey building with tall windows. All the children were taught in two rooms. There was a small solid fuel stove in each classroom for heat, and the children would fetch turf from the shed which is now our boiler house. 

Ballyboy School in the late 1960’s with the central chimney used to heat both classrooms. This central chimney is no longer present in our current school.

The school has been extended twice since it was built, in 1996 and in 2004. We now have a big playing pitch outside where we can play. We have a safe environment, and we are building a set down area so our parents can drop us off safely to school. For a such a small village we have a lot of history.

The First extension in 1996

Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy September 2022

Back in Time….the steps in our school wall that once led to the Hatter’s Factory

The old water pump outside our school. This pump would have been used as a source of water on the night of the fire in the hall.

Written by

Daniel Lambe, MJ Hynes, Theo Kilmartin, Sean Russell, Bryan Feighery, Aaron Grimes McDermott

Dan and Molly’s

Dan and Molly’s pub was built in the 1800’s. It has been a pub for over 150 years. Originally the Redmond’s owned the pub, then the Molloy’s, the Petits, the Lynch’s and then the Ryan’s. The Ryan’s moved into the building in 1863 and Jack Ryan passed it down to his daughter Molly, who married Dan Boland. The pub then became known as Dan and Molly’s. Dan and Molly’s daughter Catriona now runs the pub alongside her husband Fergal. Dan and Molly’s still has the thatched roof because there was a preservation order put on the building in the 1970’s which does not allow it to be removed. Dan and Molly’s is the only straw thatched pub left in Offaly. The pub is used for music sessions, set dancing, card games, music lessons and general community events. The lessons are run by Ballyboy CCÉ. The family have a keen interest in the arts as the music has been passed down through four generations – namely Jack Ryan, his daughter Molly, grand-daughters Catriona and Stella and now the great grand-children John, Anna, Daniel, Séan and Katie. On April 12th, 2011, the pub went on fire, when a spark from the chimney ignited the straw on the thatched roof. This was a devastating evening for the family and for the community. It took many units of the fire brigade to bring the fire under control. Luckily the roof was restored to its original condition soon after.      

Dan & Molly’s Ballyboy by Anna McDonald

Written by

Anna McDonald, Fiadhna Leamy, AJ Bracken, Daniel Heffernan, Cára Guinan, Mark Dolan

Ballyboy Hall

Ballyboy Hall was built in 1954 by the Young Farmers Association. It was built by voluntary labour mostly in the evenings, after the work of the day was done. In 1690, more than 250 years before this, King William of Orange had spent a night in the hotel which had stood on this very site. (The new hall was built on the site of the old hotel.) In 1967, there was a fire in the hall during a Whist Drive. The calamity happened because an oil heater caught fire. Local people who were there, said that it was an awful tragedy and many people got very badly burnt. On the night, water was pumped from the village pump, located outside the school to treat the injured. Luckily nobody died in the fire. The hall has remained derelict for many years until recently, when several locals came together and formed a group called Ballyboy Community Development Group. The group are fundraising to build a new community hall on the same site as the old one. They plan to develop a green space and recreational area in the village including landscaped area with seating, lighting and amenity car parking area.         

Ballyboy Hall by Cian Brunswick

Written by

Cian Brunswick, Adam Coady, Lochlann Fletcher, Alice Molloy, Sophie McGarry, Michael Clavin

Great work from the children of 5th and 6th class at Ballyboy School. This is our first blog from a school. Many of our blogs are used by schools and we look forward to more contributions from your area. Congratulations to Ballyboy, all the children who wrote and illustrated. A special thanks to the staff and in particular to their teacher Ms Michelle Egan, and also to Ms G. Clendennen.

Offaly History welcomes contributions by way of articles on all aspects of the history of County Offaly

The Dunnes of Brittas [near Clonaslee]: a new historical novel from Kevin Akers

The Dunne family has inhabited parts of County Laois since time immemorial. They descended from Cathair Mór, second century Monarch of Éire and Brittas House, near Clonaslee, became their family seat (after their main residence in Tinnahinch was blown to bits in 1653). Family land holdings hovered around 10,000 acres throughout what was then known as the Queen’s County.

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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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Troops ambushed near Tullamore, 29 August 1922: death of my granduncle Matthew Cullen. By Raymond Cullen

The Lieutenant featured in this article was my granduncle Matthew Cullen and Monday the 29th of August 2022 will mark the 100th anniversary of his death, when he, along with a small party of National Troops [Free State army] from Tullamore Barracks were attacked by about fifty Irregulars [Republican IRA) at Bonaterrin [Bunaterin] Hill, near Blueball, Tullamore.

Lieutenant Matthew Cullen, (3rd Southern Division Óglaigh na hÉireann) was only 21 years old. Born 25th May 1901 in Ballymorris, Portarlington County Laois, he was one of five boys born to Timothy and Mary Cullen. Matthew joined the Free state Army on 16th of March 1922 as did his two brothers Thomas and James (my grandfather) and by August 1922 were all stationed at Tullamore barracks. Matthew was also an ex-internee of the Rath Camp in the Curragh of Kildare and was there in Hut 9 on the 9th of September 1921 when the great escape happened.

Before he was stationed in Tullamore Barracks [the barracks was at High Street – now Donal Farrelly’s house/ and Charleville Castle] Matthew spent over five months in the Nenagh Barracks, and since the opening of the Civil War was involved in almost every engagement in the Nenagh area. He was only a week in Tullamore when the fatal ambush happened.

On Sunday morning the 21st of August 2022 at ten, an anniversary mass will be said for him in the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore, the very same church where 100 years ago Requiem Mass was held for him by the Rev. Father Lynam CC.

(The Midland Tribune, Tipperary Sentinel and Offaly Vindicator Saturday 2nd September 1922)








Coroner’s Jury Commend Motor Driver’s Bravery.

News reached Tullamore on Tuesday evening about 7.30 p. m, of a very painful and distressing character, which cast a gloom of sorrow and depression over the town and district. It was that a party of National troops had been ambushed at Bonaterrin, some four miles from Tullamore, and about a mile from Blueball, and that Lieut Cullen, a native of Portarlington, an ex-internee had been killed, and that Lieut Leahy, a native of Listowel, Co. Kerry, had been seriously wounded. Both were officers in the Tullamore garrison headquarters, were very well known, and much esteemed by the townspeople. Particulars to hand state that three cars carrying a party of about 20 officers and men from Tullamore, had been out in the neighbourhood of Kilcormac and Mountbolus engaged in clearing road obstructions.

When the work of clearing obstructions was finished they proceeded to return homewards about 6 p.m. The first car – they were all open cars – was driven by Capt. Donnelly, O C of the local garrison, with Lieut Cullen on his left, there also being in the car Capt. Wm Egan, son of Mr John Egan, Croghan, Rhode, with Lieutenants Lawlor, Leahy, and Volunteer Dunne. The second car, which was driven by Mick O’Neill, was in charge of Sergeant Reilly, a native of Tullamore who had with him a party of five men.

Bunaterin townland north of Blueball. So when you are whizzing past think of Matthew Cullen and that day 100 years ago. Map courtesy of – one great site

The third car was driven by Driver Ennis and contained a party of five men, in charge of Corporal Collins. Everything went well with the party until Bonaterrin was reached, when fire was suddenly poured on the first car, which was a considerable distance ahead of the other, by attackers who were in places concealment and who fired at close range. It is stated that they must not have been more than 80 or 100 yards distant. It was enfiladed fire of a very deadly character, and maintained with great fierceness. Lieut Cullen was struck with a bullet which pierced his heart, and he died immediately. It rent his uniform in the region of the heart,  and appears to have been one of an explosive kind. Lieut Leahy was hit on the back and the bullet passed through his stomach, his spine being seriously injured. He lies in a critical condition, and at the time of writing, 11p. (Tuesday) is still unconscious.

St Vincent’s Hospital, Tullamore about 1930 where the body was taken

The attackers appeared to have fired from both sides of the road at the point indicated, one crowd of them being evidently concealed in a wood and the other near a farmyard adjacent, at the opposite side of the road. The remaining occupants of the first car now replied vigorously to the attacker’s fire. Lieut Cullen had been killed and Lieut Leahy wounded, but the survivors Capt. Donnelly, O C, Capt William Egan, Lieut Lawlor, and Volunteer Dunne gallantly fought against great odds, until the other cars came along to their assistance. When the other two cars came on, a general engagement developed which lasted over half an hour but the National troops eventually, with the aid of a withering fire, scattered the attackers, who fled. Lieut Leahy was removed to Tullamore while the fight proceeded in the third car driven by driver Ennis passing under a hail of bullets. It was seen that he was bleeding profusely from the wounds he received in the attacks, and therefore little time was lost in bringing him away for treatment. He was promptly treated by Dr Moorhead on arrival at Tullamore Garrison headquarters. The doctor pronounced his injuries to be of a very grave character. Subsequently he was taken in a Tullamore Co Hospital ambulance to the Co Hospital, accompanied by Dr Meagher, who further treated him, and where he lies in an unconscious and critical state, under the care of the Nuns and nursing staff. The body of Lieut Cullen was removed to the morgue of the Co Hospital where it lies. His clothes were saturated with blood, and there are evidences of a terrible wound. The body was viewed by Rev Fathers Daly, Lynam, and O’Keeffe C C’s. The last rites of the church were administered to Lieut Leahy by Father O’Keeffe CC, before he had been removed from the garrison headquarters. Captain Donnelly received a slight wound in the course of the engagement.

Service sheet for Matthew Cullen (courtesy of the Military Archive)

Capt. Egan had a providential escape a bullet having swept the pince-nez he was wearing, without however doing him any injury. Lieut. Matt Cullen, killed, was a First Lieutenant and a native of Portarlington and was an ex-internee. Lieut. Leahy, wounded, was a native of Listowel, Co. Kerry, and was up to the time he joined the National Forces a chemist in the employment of Mr. Shiels at his pharmacy in Tullamore. He had been in town for a year or two and was well known to the townspeople, both in his professional and military capacity, and his kindly and gentle qualities rendered him a general favourite. Lieut. Cullen was about 28 years of age, and Lieut. Leahy about 32 years. When the news of the attack reached Tullamore, the local troops were mobilised, and proceeded to the scene immediately, but the attackers had fled before they arrived, as a result of the searching and with suing fire of Captain Donnelly, his officers, and men. It is stated that even though well protected by cover, the attackers must have suffered casualties. A visit to the scene of the irregular’s position disclosed to the troops the fact that the attack had been carefully planned. There was many evidence of the conflict around in the shape of empty cartridge cases etc.


A semi-official account of the fighting states:-“We left Tullamore on Tuesday about 3 o’clock in three Ford cars, containing five officers and ten men, and we went to Mountbolus, and from there went to clear some trees off the main road to Kilcormac. We were joined at Blueball by troops stationed there and proceeded afterwards to Kilcormac. We entered Kilcormac, and saw the Officer there in charge, and we left Kilcormac about 6.30 p.m, returning to Tullamore via Blueball.

The first car was the Brigade car which was about 40 yards ahead of the others at the time. In the car were Captain Donnelly, O C; Lieut. Cullen, Lieut. Leahy, Lieut. Lawlor, Staff CaptainEgan, and Private Dunne. When we came to the face of Bonaterrin Hill, about a mile from Blueball on the Tullamore side, fire was opened on us from two points, one on our right and partly in front, and on the other side from concealed positions in a shrubbery on the hill, about 60 yards from the road-that was on the left, or Rahan side. When the firing of the attackers opened Captain Donnelly turned the car into the ditch towards the left hand side, to give the occupants a chance of getting out without being exposed to fire or caught in the fall of the car, which turned over. There were four of us in the lower side of the car which had turned over when it was run into the ditch. We managed to get clear before the car turned. The car was then across the road. Lieuts Cullen and Leahy were on the upper or Tullamore side of the car: they had got off it, and were taking cover under a wall from the fire directed on them from the flank. That fire was coming from the scrub. There were only about two or three attackers on the other side of the road, but it was they who did all the damage. They held a position in a little grove near Bradley’s house, and we subsequently examined the position there. Just after we got out of the car and had taken up positions facing the flank fire, Lieut. Cullen was shot dead while in the act of ramming a cartridge into the breach of his rifle. He still held the bolt of the rifle in his hand when we got him. Immediately after Lieut. Cullen was shot Lieut. Leahy was struck on the side by a bullet fired from the same point-the grove near Bradley’s house- as he was crouching under a wall watching the flank fire from the other side.

The four remaining occupants of the car continued to fire in the directions from which theshots came – on the flank towards the scrub-and also in the other direction. We knew that there was fire coming up the road from the other direction, but we could not locate it exactly at the time. When the second car arrived its occupants dismounted and took cover, and we then poured a steady fire on both positions of the attackers-the scrub on the flank and the grove near Bradley’s on the other side of the road, from which the fatal shots came. When the third car came the soldiers it contained got out and took up positions about 120 yards away from the first car, and joined vigorously in the attack.

In the meantime, while firing was still hot, Lieut. Leahy, who was bleeding profusely from the wound on his side, was taken into Driver’s Ennis’s car; and Driver Ennis drove with thewounded officer through a heavy hail of lead from the attackers, to Tullamore. Lieut. Cullen’s death was practically instantaneous.

When the second and third cars came along and poured fire into the attacker’s positions the fire of the latter died out. Just before it ceased one of the attackers was heard to moan and shout on the left hand side of the road in the scrub, where his cap was afterwards found. The place was searched subsequently, and a large quantity of empty cartridge cases were found there – about 50 or 60 of them with some live cartridges. In the attack from Bradley’s grove side dum-dum bullets were used by the attackers. They cut holes the size of half-a-crown in the metal work of the car. Capt. Donnelly who was in charge of the party, had a narrow escape at the outset. A bullet went through the glass screen of the car he was driving, and if he had remained in his original position he would have got it straight; it came the moment he was swerving the car, and this movement saved him. All the occupants of this, the first car or Brigade car, had miraculous escapes, and the mystery is how any of them survived the terrible hail of lead concentrated on the car and its occupants.

The road at Bunaterin, near Blueball and Screggan, today

When reinforcements arrived from Tullamore the attackers had disappeared, and no trace of them could be found. They had three miles of wood cover under which they were enabled to retreat. Lieut. Cullen was struck on the chest with two bullets, which made a terrible gash. The military are communicating with Lieut. Cullen’s family conveying the sad news, and with a view to arrangements for his interment.

They are also trying to get in touch with Lieut. Leahy’s people (who live on or near Listowel, Co. Kerry). Lieut. Leahy was Brigade Chemistry Officer to the Offaly No.1 Brigade. Lieut. Cullen took part in recent fighting in Tipperary, and was only a week in Tullamore.


The scene of the attack, Bonaterrin is on rising ground, a short distance from Blueball – about a mile or a mile and a half. There is a grove near Bradley’s house, and almost directly opposite, but more on the Blueball side – the scrub, with extensive wood tract behind it. The grove portion commands the road, and that of the scrub overlooks it; the situation of the place favoured the operations of the attackers. From the scrub on the left, the troops as they were coming along to Tullamore, there was flanking fire, but the fire ftom the grove on their right, was partly frontal; from this point the most deadly and destructive fire came. Considering the advantages the attackers had in position and numbers, the fight put on by the troops, who had no time for selecting or preparing positions was a wonderfully plucky one. The small party, under capable leadership, handled the situation with great skill and bravery and rendered the positions of the attackers untenable, even before the Tullamore garrison reinforcements arrived.


A gentleman who passed from Kilcormac to Tullamore about an hour after the fighting, informed our Tullamore reporter that there were various evidence of the conflict at the scene of the battle. A number of cars from Kilcormac and Kinnitty side were held up on the road for a pretty long interval. The National troops have drawn a kind of cordon about the place. The point at which the attack took place is on one side a wooded eminence overlooking the road on the right hand side going from Tullamore to Kilcormac and on the left it also raised country, but with a few houses. The place is about half a mile from Tullamore Golf Links, [ the old links at Screggan] and is on the main road from Tullamore to Birr, four and a half miles from Tullamore and eight and a half miles from Kilcormac. The point from which the shots were fired was according to an account, only about forty yards from the main road along which the troops were proceeding. It was dusk and the conditions were favourable to the attackers, who were of course in a position to select their own ground. It is a fairly populated part of the country. Two cars riddled with bullets were seen after the fight on the roadside.

Prayers were offered up by the celebrant of the morning Mass in the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore on Wednesday morning, for the repose of the soul of Lieut. Cullen, who, he said, was murdered the previous evening.


An inquest was opened on the body of Lieut. Matt Cullen in the Co. Hospital Board Room, Tullamore, on Wednesday, at 3 p.m. Mr. Malachy Scally was foreman and the other jurors sworn were – Messes T English, John Kelly, Harbour; Sg: P W Keaveney do; R Nugent, P J O’Meara, James Walsh, Barrack St, Joseph McGlinchey, P J Dunne, Barrack St, John Branet, Michael McGinn , Daniel Larkin, Geo N Walshe. The coroner (Mr. Conway, Solr) said – This is an inquiry into a tragic and serious occurrence, which I am glad to say, is the first of its kind that happened in this county, and I hope it will be the last. It happened yesterday evening, about 6 p.m. as the troops were returning from Kilcormac. They were attacked at a place called Bonaterrin, at the opposite side of Pallas, from the hills, and the wounds received by Lieut. Cullen practically meant instantaneous death. They were caused by what I am told is now a great favourite – dum-dum bullets – and they were fired from above, and practically his whole sheet was torn away; but I don’t want to distress you with any sermonising, as you can all form your own opinion when you have heard the evidence. I have received a circular from the Minister of Home Affairs as recently as Monday, and he directed that in the case of any person being shot that a telegram should be sent to him, so that there was a possibility of the Ministry sending down an inspector to attend this inquiry. I wired to the Minister for Home Affairs about this stating that I would open the inquiry at 3 p. m. today, but would take only evidence of identification, so as to allow the removal of the remains. The inquiry will be resumed at 12 o clock tomorrow, if that hour suits the convenience of everybody – Mr. English (juror) – I want to get away by the first train in the morning, and I would be grateful if you would excuse me. – Coroner – I will excuse you. The jury viewed the body lying in the morgue, Co Hospital. James Cullen deposed – I am a brother of the deceased officer. This is his body the jury have seen. He was 21 1⁄2 years old last birthday – last May. He was unmarried, and a native of Ballymorris, Portarlington. – Coroner – That is the only evidence I can produce today on account of the receipt the circular from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and I will adjourn the inquiry to 12 o’clock tomorrow (Thursday). I wired that information already. – Foreman – Does the morning train arrive here by 12 o’clock?. – Coroner – Yes or earlier. The representative of the Ministry may come down this evening. The reason I started the inquiry today was because the military wanted to remove the remains. – Foreman – We would wish to express our sincere sorrow at the sad occurrence. – Chairman – We can do that, and add it as a rider to the verdict later on. – Mr. McGlinchy (Juror) – Will Mr. Cullen (witness) be required tomorrow? – Coroner – No. – The proceedings then adjourned until 12 o’clock the following day.


The remains of the late Lieut. Cullen were removed from the Co. Hospital, Tullamore, on Wednesday evening at 7 p. m, and were conveyed to the Church of the Assumption, where they lay overnight. At the church door they were received by the Very Rev. Father Callary, PP V G and Rev. Father Lynam, C C and placed on a catafalque in front of the high altar. The transference of the remains to the church was marked by a remarkable demonstration of public sorrow and sympathy. They were accompanied by an immense gathering of the people of all classes and creeds, blinds were drawn, and business places closed as a mark of respect to the memory of the gallant officer. A guard of honour composed of troops of the local garrison, with rifles reversed, marched beside the hearse, in which the remains were carried enclosed in a beautiful coffin, which was wrapped in the tri-colour. Rev. Father Lynam C C, accompanied them the Co. Hospital. Deceased’s brother, with officer comrades of the deceased, followed immediately behind the hearse.

Fr Callary (front row) and above Matthews and Fr Eugene Daly

At the Church Rev. Father Callary announced that Requiem Mass would be celebrated for the repose of the soul of the deceased at 7.30 the following morning (Thursday) in the Church of the Assumption, and that the remains would be conveyed to the morning train for Portarlington afterwards.


The Requiem Mass on Thursday morning was celebrated by Rev. Father Lynam C C, a large congregation assisting, including a number of officers and men of the National Army. The coffin was removed from catafalque in church, where it rested overnight, and when the cortege proceeded to the station business in shops was again suspended, and the employees, as well as the general public of all classes, accompanied the remains to the station. The guard of honour, as on the previous evening, when the remains were removed to the church, consisted of the men who were in the fatal ambush with the deceased officer. This body of men also proceeded with the remains to Portarlington today (Thursday) and were the firing party at the graveside. The Pipers Band led the cortege from the Church of the Assumption to Tullamore railway station, playing “Flowers of the Forest” and Lord Lovatt’s Lament.

Beautiful floral tributes included one from the officers of the Tullamore garrison, and one from the men of the Tullamore garrison. The interment took place at 3 o’clock at Portarlington on Thursday with the Dublin Guards Band in attendance, when there was a remarkable demonstration of public sympathy. The chief mourners were – James and Tom Cullen (brothers), with the following officers – Brig General Gallagher, Capt. Forrestal, Quarter Master: Capt. Egan and Second Lieut. McMunn. Brigadier Transport Officers, all of Brigade staff; also Lieut Comdt O’Leary, Capt. S Irvine, Capt. Donnelly, Lieut Barry, O. C. Daingean; Lieut Keogh, O. C. Kilcormac; Lieut Lawlor, and Lieut Hughes of the Divisional Staff. Lieut. Cullen had been interned in Rath for eight months. He was stationed at Nenagh Barracks for a long time, and had seen much service since the opening of the present hostilities having been almost in every engagement in the Nenagh area. He was in Tullamore only about eight days when the fatal ambush took place.


Lieut. Leahy is a native of Lisselion Cross a place between Ballybunion and Listowel, Co. Kerry, and belongs to the farming class, his people been extensive farmers. He is a young man of fine- physique.

Lieut. Cullen was a native of Portarlington, and was well over six feet – a tall, athletic young man and during the short time he had been in Tullamore a conspicuous figure, because of his size and fine soldierly bearing.


Lieut Leahy recovered consciousness on Wednesday morning and spoke now and again. The medical and nursing staff of the Co. Hospital are most assiduous in their attention to him, but his condition is still critical.


At the resumed inquest on Lieut Cullen at Tullamore on Thursday, Coroner Conway said he was glad to say that the inquiry would be shortened. He had got a telegram from the Minister of Home Affairs, and it was not proposed to send down any officer from headquarters. Consequently they wanted only one military witness and the doctor who examined the body. The proceedings would therefore, be comparatively brief.


Capt. Wm. Donnelly deposed – We, military party, were coming along the road on Tuesday evening, 29th; I was driving the first car, and was not expecting anything to happen, but a few bullets came through the windscreen of the car. Whoever fired at us had positions on both sides of the road. There were six of us (military) in the car including myself. Immediately the fire opened I blocked the car to the left, and it ran into the ditch; the car toppled over on its side. The inside of the car was facing up the road towards Tullamore. Lieut. Leahy and Lieut. Cullen, who were now on the road, took cover kin the car. They had been thrown out onto the road and got back into the car. Fire opened then from Tullamore direction on the right-hand side of the road. Lieut Cullen was first hit, and I believe he died at once. About a minute afterwards Lieut Leahy got wounded by a shot from same direction, which came down the road. We got into position and started firing on the wood at left hand side going towards Tullamore. We could not see anyone at the time or at any time. The firing from both sides of the road continued for about ten minutes. There were two cars carrying military which came up to us in the meantime, and got into position, and joined in the defence. We had no casualties, but the two Lieutenants. Lieut. Leahy was only wounded about a minute when he was removed. The driver of the last car came up under fire,  and took Lieut. Leahy and brought him straight on to Tullamore to the barracks. He was sent after a short time to the Co. Hospital – after our doctor had seen him. The whole affair lasted only ten minutes. It was about 6.45 p m when the occurrence took place – Mr. G A Walshe (juror) – What was the driver’s name? – Witness – Tommy Ennis was the driver of the Ford car that picked up and drove in the wounded officer, Lieut. Leahy, under fire.


Dr. Timothy Meagher deposed – I am medical officer for the military in Tullamore. I inspected the body of Lieut. Cullen (dead officer) on Wednesday morning, in the Morgue, Co/ Hospital. There were four bullet wounds in the chest, and one in the abdomen. Death must have been practically instantaneous. – Coroner – Were the wounds all caused by the same class of bullet? – Witness – It was obvious that all the wounds were not caused by the same class of bullet. There was one wound running from the right shoulder at the back, evidently coming out at the

left shoulder in front. This seemed to have been produced by an ordinary service bullet fired at fairly close range. There were two wounds on the breast bone, one of them about the size of half a crown and the other about the size of the palm of one’s hand. These I think were not produced by an ordinary service bullet – Coroner – Were they caused by soft nosed or Dum Dum bullets? – Witness – By an expanding bullet. The intestines were protruding through the stomach wound. I don’t think the stomach wound was caused by an ordinary service bullet. If it were the intestines would not have been protruding. The cause of death was shock and haemorrhage, due to gunshot wounds.

Tom Conway, solicitor and coroner (d. 1931)


The jury brought in the following verdict – “We agree with the medical evidence that the cause of death of Lieut. Matt Cullen was due to shock and haemorrhage, caused by gunshot wounds received in an ambush at Bonaterrin, Screggan, on Tuesday 29th August, about 6.45 p m, shots wilfully and maliciously fired by persons unknown. We offer to the relatives of the deceased officer, and his comrades, our sincere sympathy, and commend to special note Driver Thomas Ennis for his bravery on the occasion. – The Coroner said that he concurred with the verdict. He thought it was an atrocity to have it occur in a country free from such things up to the present, and he hoped that freedom from such occurrences would continue, and that there would be no more investigations of this kind to carry out. He might add that as far as the sympathy of the public was concerned it was shown last night on removal of the remains from the church. Evidently deceased had the sympathy of the vast majority of the people of Tullamore. – After the jury produced their verdict Capt. Donnelly was called in, and the coroner, in explaining it to the officer, said it amounted to one of wilful murder practically against persons unknown. He would give the officer copy of it if necessary. – Capt. Donnelly – I don’t think it is necessary. _ Coroner – Any time you want it we will give it to you.

Offaly History wishes to thank Raymond Cullen for this article. If you have a story to tell get in touch Our blogs reach 2,000 every week and are retained in our online archive at Subscribe and get note of our stories with extra this week to mark Heritage Week 2022.

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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Kinnitty Village: My Earliest Memories. Part 2 By Paddy Lowry

Kinnitty is very much on the tourist trail in Offaly and is arguably the finest planned village in the county. In this the second extract first published in 2011 in Paddy Lowry’s Kinnitty my home in the Slieve Bloom (2011)  Paddy Lowry looks back to almost 100 years ago. Courtesy of Kilcormac Historical Society. Offaly History has some copies of this now scarce title for sale.

The launch of Kinnitty in 2011 with Amanda Pedlow, Paddy Lowry and Paddy Heaney. The two Paddys are now part of our heritage and we fondly remember them both.

Some of the locals in Kinnitty were fond of making up rhymes to annoy and tease each other and I remember when we were young the following would often be heard.

                               Hay and Oats for the mountain goats,

                               A bag of feathers for the Kinnitty beggars.

                               Kinnitty is a pretty village,

All grass and no tillage,

In every street a row of trees

                                         Where liars dwell as thick as bees.

                              Kinnitty is a pretty village

                                         Where natives are unknown,

                                         Where strangers came from distant parts

                                         And made it all their own.

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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 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
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Mountbolus, Ireland: the funeral mass and final resting place for Ashling Murphy, 18 January 2022. Specially contributed

The whole of Ireland will be watching Mountbolus today for perhaps the first time in its history. None would want the attention it will receive as the family of Ashling Murphy, her friends and representatives of state, gather for her final mass in the lovely church dominating the village of Mountbolus. The family who have given and suffered so much may now need privacy in their great sorrow.

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