In July 2018 an interesting Great War campaign medal appeared on eBay, a single 1914–15 Star awarded to Private Frederick McDonald of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The description provided by the seller stated that Frederick was born in Birr, and that he had been killed in action during the war.
Further research unravels a forgotten story, which gives insight into the life of Frederick and his family. It is a story not too dissimilar among the many working class Catholic families in Birr, because serving in the British Army was a source of steady employment and a means to support a family.
To be invited to participate in the Biennale is one of the highest accolades for an architect – to be asked to curate it, set the theme and organise the gigantic assemblage into a coherent whole, is simply stratospheric and lifts the reputation of the organisers into the top most rank.
This year’s show is entitled ‘FREE SPACE’ and runs from May to November. It is curated by Grafton Architects who have established their international reputation with new university buildings in Milan and Lima. Grafton is the creation of two remarkable women, Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell who are recognised as among the most important female architects of our time. Critics have marvelled at the bravura, confidence and muscularity of the architecture of the quietly spoken, almost excessively modest pair
. Views of the Boconi building in Milan (Universita Luigi Bocconi, Milan, Italy).
Yvonne Farrell is, of course, from Tullamore (Clara Road and St. Philomena’s Convent School) and acknowledges the formative experiences of growing up in the town on her subsequent career. She sees architecture as an essentially collaborative process produced by the entire team at Grafton, which includes her fellow director Ger Carty from Walsh Island. The Offaly tinged firm is now engaged in work in London, Toulouse and Paris but in particular have two important projects in Dublin, the redevelopment of the former ESB offices and the new City Library in Parnell Square. Early sketches suggest that these will be exciting additions to the capital city.
The Biennale exhibition which is spread over three different locations around Venice has fifty five national pavilions and individual projects/presentations by one hundred architects. All are stimulating and I wish I had the space to discuss them in detail, but would single out just one entry that appealed to me. For the first time ever, the Holy See was invited to participate and responded by commissioning seven well known architects to create seven chapels (or contemplative spaces, as the more secular might call them) on the island of St. Giorgio and each is delightful yet profound in its own way.
The scale of the whole exhibition can be overwhelming and I would not be the first to observe that while architects can be fluent in their visual presentations, the impenetrability of the language used to describe their projects can often be daunting. The Irish Pavilion is devoted to an exhibition entitled ‘FREE MARKET’ which is a study of the market square as a place of social, cultural and commercial exchange in smaller Irish towns. Fifty examples are cited including those in Edenderry, Portarlington and Mountmellick. This entry has attracted a lot of attention and has featured in reviews in the international media, attesting to the universality of this seemingly Irish typology. Regrettably, while offering comprehensive surveys and a degree of analysis, no case studies are supplied of successful transformations. Indeed, the only example given is that of Dungarvan in which the sole change would appear to be that of providing a better quality of paving under an otherwise unaltered carpark.
As the controversial pedestrianisation of both Emmet Square in Birr and O’Connor Square in Tullamore has shown, the role of market squares and the approach necessary to converting them in whole or part to public spaces is a lot more complex than the Irish entry suggests. I believe that such initiatives can only be realised in the context of well laid overall plans which consider, traffic, parking, land uses, retail needs, urban design, architectural conservation and a myriad list of other issues which can justify their future scale and nature. Standalone building projects just don’t work.
These minor quibbles should not diminish our pride in the prestige which Yvonne and Shelley have brought to Irish architecture and to their own roots. In a commentary on the Biennale, the distinguished architectural critic Shane O’Toole has written of how Irish architects of the past ‘would have been amazed to learn that less than half a century after we ‘joined’ Europe, Irish architects have resolutely clambered to the top of the international architecture mountain range, and that Shelley and Yvonne have planted our flag of values at its very summit’.
Department of Finance, 7-9 Merrion Row, Dublin 2: top left.
Right: University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, Peru, won the RIBA’s inaugural International Prize last December
How marvellous it would be if they were commissioned to design an important building here in Offaly! The imminent redevelopment of the Harbour in Tullamore would present an excellent opportunity here in Offaly!
One hundred blogs is a reason to celebrate this September day in 2018. Yes 100 articles, 150,000 words, at least 400 pics – and the 100 stories have received 64,000 views and climbing every week. In 2018 alone we have received over 32,000 views. The list of all that has been published can be viewed on Offalyhistoryblog. We have lots more lined up. We welcome contributors, so if you have a history story you want to share contact us. The other big story is happening on Monday night with the launch of Offaly History 10. Continue reading →
The 1540s and the 1550s was a turning point in what we now know as the county of Offaly. It was a time of colonising wars when the administrative county, then known as King’s County, was established by force and expropriation of the lands of the native families. It was in the time of Henry VIII of the Tudors and Wolf Hall television series fame that serious inroads began to be made into the area we now call County Offaly. The actual shiring into an administrative county of the territory of the O’Connors, O’Molloys and the other native families went on over sixty years from the 1550s to the 1610s. The O’Connors had been allies of the Kildare family of FitzGeralds, whose leaders were all killed in the 1530s, after the revolt of Lord Offaly, Silken Thomas. From then on the conquest of the midlands was the firm policy of a reinvigorated English administration under Henry V111 and the administrative expertise of Thomas Cromwell. Continue reading →
‘From Jones’s Road to the craggy hillsides of the Kingdom the day was fought and won in fields no bigger than backyards, in stony pastures and on rolling plains … wherever posts could be struck and spaces cleared, the descendants of Fionn and the Fianna routed the seal of servitude. In one never to be forgotten tournament we crossed our hurleys with the lion’s claw and emerged victorious’. Tommy Moore of the Dublin club, Faughs.
Congratulations to the people of Offaly in having secured as their member Ireland’s Ambassador to America. Their unanimous endorsement of his mission is particularly opportune. Dr McCartan will voice a united Ireland’s demand that the Irish people be given the right of self-determination and will tell the world that Irishmen will not fight as England’s slaves. De Valera telegram to Dan MacCarthy, McCartan’s election agent for North King’s County by-election, April 1918. Irish Independent, 20 April 1918.
‘Up Offaly’ the Tullamore and King’s County Independent told its readers that ‘Offaly men can proclaim through their votes that they are no sons of a miserable English province’ but descendants of a royal race. They were not to be deceived by the ‘hireling band’ of paid politicians who would descend on the county for the by-election. ‘Poor Ned Graham’, it said, drove them out in 1914 aided only by a few priests and local nationalists. Tullamore and King’s County Independent, 30 Mar. 1918.
On 23rd April I will get another chance to show you some modern clues to our ancient past. I have a lot more evidence than I had when I gave a presentation in 2010. My article on the subject is in OHAS Journal 6, pp 84-98, published in 2011. Here is the short version again just to whet your appetite and encourage you to attend the lecture at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore at 8 p.m. on 23rd April. Feel free to email me your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org so I can answer them on the night. Continue reading →
Mary McAleese kicked off International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018 with a lecture outside the walls of the Vatican – no codology there. She could have adverted to the first woman bishop in Ireland (no man handed her the veil), St Brigid. St Brigid was born at Croghan Hill, County Offaly and not near Dundalk or in Kildare. Her father was of the Fothairt people, mercenaries to the Uí Fhailge dynasty (Kissane, 2017, p. 105). Cogitosus says she was consecrated a virgin at Croghan Hill by Bishop MacCaille who is associated with that place. Will you be there on St Patrick’s Day for the burning of the furze?
An invitation to speak to the Offaly Historical Society on 22 February 2018 caused me to consider whether or not you could tell the history of early medieval Ireland by concentrating on just one county. In the case of Offaly it proved possible.
When written Irish history begins (certainly by the late fifth century) Ireland was a complex patchwork of political units unified by the Celtic language. This Irish speaking culture came to Ireland before 700 along with the use of Iron and other Celtic traditions. A second wave of Celts from central Europe arrived on the island around 300 BC. These were the people that introduced La Tène artistic styles into Ireland.
Much of what we know about these people comes from the discovery of Old Croghan Man in 2003. Found in Offaly near the Meath border, this poor devil was sacrificed sometime around 270 BC. His nipples were sliced as part of the ritual associated with his murder and, tellingly, he wore a bracelet with a La Tène decoration. This is the world that Patrick describes in his Confessio written towards the end of the 400s AD: a world of strange pagan rituals and sun worship.
Flights of Fancy; Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna has just been published by Offaly County Council at £30. It’s a large format coffee-table type book with over 350 pages, in full colour and hard cover. It can be bought across the county, Irish Georgian shop, Dublin and Offaly History Centre, Tullamore.
The book looks at the evolution of the demesne in Offaly with no less than fifteen studies of demesnes across the county from Charleville, Birr, Gloster, Tubberdaly, Ballycumber, Moorock, Busherstown, Prospect, Acres, Belview, Mullagh Hill, Ballyeighan, Hollow House, Kinnitty to Loughton. The big names such as Birr are well-known but there are others that provide surprising and interesting excursions into the county’s landscape, architectural history and family history. There are lots of curious things that are fascinating such as the story of the ‘mummy’s hand’ at Prospect House and Lord Bloomfield’s experiences as ambassador to Russia in its glittering heyday. Continue reading →