Huge Crowd Gather in Bracknagh Community Hall for viewing of Film on Ballynowlart Martyrs and Turf Cooperative 101. By Mary Delaney

Huge Crowd Gather in Bracknagh Community Hall for viewing of Film

Bracknagh Community Hall was full to capacity on Thursday last for the viewing of a film on the Ballynowlart Martyrs and the Turf Co Operative 101. The event was organised and hosted by the newly formed Bracknagh Heritage Group (A sub group of the Bracknagh Community Association). The guest speaker was Larry Fullam, local historian and researcher from Rathangan. Tony Donnelly extended a warm welcome to the large gathering. Mary Delaney, on behalf of the heritage group introduced and welcomed both Larry Fullam and Amanda Pedlow (Offaly Heritage Officer). Amanda addressed the audience on the supports provided by the Heritage Council for viable local projects.

Larry spoke on how in 1917 a local priest Fr Kennedy with the help of Fr O’ Leary from Portarlington had the remains of the victims of a fire at Ballynowlart church in 1643 exhumed and reburied in the grounds of the St. Broughan’s church. The story of Ballynowlart attributes the setting alight of the church on Christmas Day in 1643 to Cromwell’s forces. A congregation of 108 people, who were attending Christmas Mass all died, with the exception of two, who were said to have escaped.  The film produced by Pathe showed Fr Kennedy handling the exhumed skulls of the victims and preparing them for reinternment in Bracknagh in 1917.
The second part of the film centered on how in 1921 (one hundred and one years ago), as part of the Government’s selling of bonds and fundraising, the Bracknagh Turf Co Operative exported sacks of turf to New York to raise money to fund the then, newly formed, Dail Eireann.
Larry donated a number of photographs of the stills from the film to the Bracknagh Heritage Group.

The last time a film on Ballynowlart was shown was in 1964 in the cinema in Portarlington. This event was organised by the late Harry Milner of Walsh Island and was attended by a huge crowd from the Bracknagh area, many of whom are still part of the community of Bracknagh today.
The Bracknagh Heritage group are very grateful to Larry for his in-depth research and knowledge and for providing us with a great insight into Bracknagh’s past.

The members also expressed their appreciation to all those who attended Thursday evening’s event and are delighted to see the interest and enthusiasm for local history in the area.

The group intend to pursue the following projects in the near future.
The real story of the Ballynowlart Martyrs.
The monastic site of Saint Broughan at Clonsast.
The Impact of Bord na Mona in the area.
The Story of John Joly and the extended Joly family.

Lord Ashtown and his role in evicting tenants from the  Bracknagh area in the mid 19th century, and how some Bracknagh emigrants were banished to places like Oneido in New York..
The RIC Barracks in Ballynowlart and
The Mill at Millgrove.
It was highlighted at the conclusion of the meeting how the Catholic Church, built at the peak of the Irish Famine celebrates 175 years this year.
The group extend;’/ thanks to Lisa Quinn, Chairperson of the BCA for facilitating the event.

Mary Delaney

(on behalf of the
Bracknagh  Heritage Group, which include.
Francis Cunningham,
Mary Crotty, Mary Briody, Barry Cunningham, Tony Donnelly & Aidan Briody).

People from Bracknagh gather outside Portarlington Cinema 1964 after  watching a film on the Ballynowlart Martyrs (Photo courtesy of Larry Fullam)
Bag of Turf from the Bracknagh Turf Co-Operative destined for New York            1921

                                         (Photo courtesy of Larry Fullam)

Turf from Bracknagh Co Operative being transported from Rathangan 1921

                                           (Photo courtesy of Larry Fullam)



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

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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.

The Visit of the Hon. Hugh Mahon to Ireland in 1922 and the Mahon family reunion in Charleville Demesne, Tullamore in August 1922. By Dr Jeff Kildea

As the decade of centenaries draws to a close, one centenary not on the government’s list of official commemorations is the 1922 visit to Ireland of the Hon. Hugh Mahon, a former cabinet minister in the Australian government. Nevertheless, at a local level, the people of County Offaly may find more than a passing interest in this event from one hundred years ago.

Born in 1857 at Killurin, six kilometres south of Tullamore, Mahon was forced to leave his native land in 1882 and emigrate to Australia to avoid being arrested for his activities in the Land League. Forty years later he returned to Ireland for the first time, visiting family and friends in and around Tullamore. The years in between had been eventful for Mahon, leading to one of the most contentious episodes in Australia’s political history. And the return visit to his homeland also was not without controversy.

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Support for the Belgian Refugees in County Offaly and in Portarlington following the outbreak of the First World War. By Offaly History and the late Ronnie Mathews

When we in Offaly History set out early in 2021 to mark the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland in our eighty plus contributed blogs on the Decade last year little did we think that an article on Belgian refugees to Ireland and the First World War would have resonance in the Ireland of 2022. Now we are talking of at least three million people forced out of Ukraine and have concerns about a third world war. Our efforts for the Belgians in 1914 look very slight when put beside what is needed today. In 1914 we were wholly reliant on the printed newspaper with no radio or social media.

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Christmas Reading from Offaly History – twelve new titles of Offaly interest, one for every day of the Festive Season. Another bumper year for local studies.

All the books here can be purchased from Offaly History (Bury Quay, Tullamore and online) and at Midland Books, Tullamore. You can also view/ borrow at Offaly Libraries and consult at Offaly History Centre.

Rathrobin and the two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900-1920. Michael Byrne (Offaly History, Tullamore, 2021), 330 pages, 280×240, hardcover, €24.99.

Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the pictures of Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926) of Rathrobin near Mountbolus are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was well aware of the Plantations of the 16th and 17th centuries. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than a 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Bidduph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.

Biddulph’s story, and that of his associates and friends, is illustrated by a selection of over 300 pictures in all, of which 250 are from the Biddulph Collection in Offaly Archives, and fifty more to illustrate the introductory essay and provide the all-important context. The essay and the photographs provide a more nuanced understanding of Ireland in the revolutionary period of 1900–23. Biddulph’s wonderful house at Rathrobin that he had so carefully ‘restored’, and all his farm improvements, were lost in the Civil War in 1923. Many other big houses from Ashford, to Ballyfin, Durrow, Brookfield, Screggan Manor and Charleville are also recorded in this volume. Some such as Brockley Park in Laois are now gone thereby making this an important work of record. The photographs by Middleton Biddulph were taken at a crucial moment in Ireland’s history. Their publication now could not come at a better time. Rathrobin is the portrait of one small estate and Killoughy parish in Offaly from the 1650s to the 1920s, but the story is of national interest. T.E. Lawrence spoke of the Arab Revolt, perhaps in Ireland we can talk of the Irish Revolt and not the full circle Revolution. You decide.

Rathrobin was supported by the Decade of Commemorations Unit in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media

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Profitless Bog- The impact of energy generation on the landscape of the Midlands. By Fergal MacCabe

‘….The lean road flung over profitless bog,

Where only a snipe could nest…

…..The soft and dreary midlands, with their tame canals,

Wallow between sea and sea, remote from adventure….’

‘Dublin Made Me’      Donagh MacDonagh


Once a month, my uncle Billy Holohan who was the Assistant County Engineer for West Offaly, would come to Tullamore to report to his superior, the County Engineer Tom Duggan, in the courthouse. 

After the meeting he would sometimes pick me up from my mother’s house in Clonminch and bring me to stay with himself and his wife Nell in Gallen Lodge in Ferbane. The highlight of the journey, for both of us, was an inspection of the progress on the construction of the two cooling towers of Lumcloon Power Station.

We watched as immense rings of slim, angled columns emerged and were tied together by large circular bands to form the base from which the structures would rise. Over the next few years we marvelled at the gradual ascent of the elegantly modulated shapes, first curving inwards and then subtly outwards to form a lip. Billy tried to explain to me the structural engineering concepts behind the design, but as a small boy I could only marvel at the height and sheer scale of the undertaking.

An impression of the proposed mills at Leamanaghan. Very high and very prolific. Our thanks to Kenneth Smyth for this picture.

Leamanaghan Castle

Unusually for an engineer, Billy had a deep interest in history. He brought me along on his site inspections and introduced me to Clonmacnoise and Sier Kieran. His favourite stop on our return journey to Tullamore was Leamanaghan where we roamed amongst the remains of the Monastery. He delighted in showing me the hoof mark inside the gate of the school which marked the passage of St Manchan’s stolen cow and  then brought me over the fields to St Mella’s Kell which I still believe is one of the most romantic spots in Ireland.

Lemanaghan Castle, top left. This was where the Annals of Clonmacnoise was completed. The castle was demolished in the 1950s as was Kilcolgan nearby to provide filler. Courtesy of Offaly Archives

Then in 1959, in an act which was deeply symbolic of Ireland in that peculiar time between economic stagnation and rapid growth, Leamanaghan Castle was bulldozed to provide hardcore for works at Lumcloon Power Station. The Castle, which was derelict but still substantial, had been the ancestral home of the Mac Coghlans. Cardinal Rinuccini had stayed there (or more likely nearby Kilcolgan, also demolished) during his time as Papal Nuncio to the Confederation of Kilkenny and the Annals of Clonmacnoise were translated into English in the house. I was dumbfounded but hadn’t the courage to ask Billy whether it was the ESB or the County Council who were responsible.

Cooling towers of the old economy, so succesful for Offaly from the 1950s to the 2000s in regard to employment.

The Cooling Towers

The cooling towers were completed and over the years, became part of the public perception of the Midland landscape.

Driving westwards you knew you were approaching Kildare and Offaly when the Allenwood towers became visible, then Portarlington and Rhode emerged with Lumcloon in the far distance. Their harmonic shapes complemented Croghan, Endrim and Bellair hills and provided  points of vertical interest in an otherwise soft and dreary plain. The bogs, which had been perceived for centuries as profitless and impassable were now a proud testimony to national energy self-sufficiency and local technological advance.  

However, with the passage of time, what was originally considered a solution, became a problem and peat extraction began to be wound down with grievous personal and economic consequences which are still being felt. The Power Stations were closed, their towers and buildings demolished and their sites converted to other uses. 

Portarlington was the second last to go. At 10.30 on the morning of the 4th of April 1997, the cooling tower that had taken three years to build and stood for forty seven years, vanished in three seconds at the hands of an English demolition expert who already had many redundant cooling towers on his c.v..

Futile last minute efforts to save it were led by the Heritage Council and a local preservation group organised by Progressive Democrat Senator, Cathy Honan.  Architect Gerard Carty of Clonbullogue, now a director of the world famous Grafton Architects, wrote in protest that the Power Station was  ‘A monument to those visionaries who grafted a semi-industrial outlook onto the principally agricultural psyche of the Midlands’.  Their protests crumbled in the face of the ESB’s assertion that  ’ It was built for power generation and that function is over’.

The crowds watching the spectacle of the demolition were serenaded by local accordionist Louis Melia who played his composition ’The Tower I Loved So Well’  during the countdown to the explosion. 

An era had ended and the advent of wind power was at hand.

Wind Turbines

Because of the absence of nearby dwellings but with existing connections to the national grid, the Midland bogs were identified very early on as first choice locations for large scale wind energy generation. But, whatever about their ecological impacts, the visual impacts of turbines can be a lot more substantial than those of cooling towers.

Unlike one or two isolated towers, turbines spread haphazardly over large areas of the landscape. Though man-made, their scale and large array results in their being read as part of the natural landscape itself- which can be visually disturbing. As the blades rotate in different cycles, they can often cause visual irritation, even from very far away. The scale of the turbines can be incongruous and though they are generally no higher than the former cooling towers, there are a lot more of them. All in all, their visual impacts are significant and often unassimilable. But then, maybe the cooling towers were also, but in the 1950s any development was welcome, while today’s affluence allows us to make choices.

But whether it is cooling towers or turbines, the greatest sensitivity should always be shown when their development impinges on historic sites. Leamonaghan paid a price for the construction of Lumcloon and shouldn’t be put in the firing line a second time.

The old world that was partly destroyed in the 1950s.But the shrine at Lemanaghan survived in its original locus. A remarkable survival in its locale. Ballycumber castle was used for filler as was Kilcolgan. So much for heritage in 1920s to 1960s Ireland. Heritage was in a linguistic form only and divorced from real life. So much empty platitudes.

A Flashpoint

With the imminent lodgement by Bord na Mona of its proposal for a 17-turbine wind farm with blade heights of up to 220 m, the bogland island of Leamanaghan with its ancient monastery and graveyard will be in the forefront of the conflict between architectural heritage and power generation. Preliminary images show turbines dominating its surrounding landscape on its northern side.

However, just as in the 1950s, the likelihood is that national energy needs will trump all other considerations- particularly in the light of the recent correspondence from the Office of the Planning Regulator directing the Council to dramatically increase Offaly’s megawatt production.

This should not mean that the vulnerable character of Leamanaghan be disregarded, but that the most careful consideration needs to be given to the interface between it and the future wind farm. As one of the most sensitive locations in Offaly (and also to make restitution for the shameful razing of the Castle) the balance of the argument should favour the protection of its history and beauty.

The windmills of the past or a message of hope. Lemanaghan 120 years ago before the data centres and when most things were in the head of the local person and not in the Cloud. Courtesy of Offaly Archives

A Return to Profitless Bog?

As wind replaces peat extraction, it is not unthinkable that it may in turn be replaced by a less visually obtrusive or ecologically harmful form of energy production.Turbines last for about twenty years before they need replacement and a point may come when this is no longer economical.

In March of this year the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe declared that ‘Nuclear energy can be a critical component of a decarbonised energy system for those member states that choose to consider it as a part of their sustainable development and climate change strategy’. It will be interesting to see how other European countries respond to the technological advances which are now delivering safer nuclear energy.

I wonder if in seventy- or eighty-years’ time, as the last of the turbines come down and the land gently recedes back into its ancient role of profitless bog abounding in nesting snipe, will a small and nostalgic group emerge to campaign for the preservation of the remaining few of these iconic structures?

With thanks to Fergal MacCabe

Fergal MacCabe 

September 2021

Text: Fergal MacCabe

Pics and captions: Offaly History

The D.E. Williams branch shops in the midlands, 1884–1921: A revolution in retailing. By Michael Byrne

There are only a few studies available on the development of retailing in Ireland, either of a general nature or in connection with particular firms. It is well known that in the first half of the nineteenth century and up to the Famine years retail outlets were not widely available and many in the smaller towns were no better than huxter shops. There were exceptions and that is clear from the photographs of c. 1900 of shops such as Williams. Egan, Goodbody and Lumley (in Tullamore); O’Brien in Edenderry and O’Meara and Fayles in Birr. In looking at the revolutionary period from 1912 to 1921 to mark the decade of centenaries it is also worth looking at revolutions in other areas such as transport, energy and shopping. Like the political revolution retailing exhibited signs of stress after 1921 and did not recover until the coming of the supermarkets to the provincial towns in the 1960s.

The Williams head office with the Barrack Patrick Street shop to the right before more intensive motorised transport from 1915. Branch house managers were appointed of which the last under the old system (before the switch to supermarkets) was T.V. Costello.

The trade directories, and from the 1840s the valuation records, will facilitate investigation of retail outlets. By the 1860s living standards had improved and this is reflected in the increasing number of shops; per capita tobacco consumption rose to English standards about 1870 and per capita consumption of tea was not far off the English level by the end of the 1870s. The considerable economic progress of the early 1870s, began to slow down by the end of that decade. The 1880s is looked on as a period of industrial crisis with industries closing down in all the principal towns, or destroyed by fire as with the Goodbody tobacco factory in Tullamore and the Birr distillery in 1889.The railways and the canals (especially in the midlands) facilitated the easy removal of heavy goods and livestock from towns all over Ireland, but it also left it easier to import foods easily and cheaply. As a result, the Irish industrial base (such as it was, especially in southern Ireland) receded while the retail and services sector began to grow albeit slowly.

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The Truce in Offaly: ‘The developments give ground for confidence and hope. The first and most important step has been taken, and by it Ireland is placed in a position which since the olden days she has not enjoyed.’ By Offaly History

Welcome to this our 48th blog for the Decade of Centenaries. All of them will soon be posted to the Decade of Centenaries site hosted on www.offalyhistory and with thanks to all our contributors and partners and especially Offaly County Council, Offaly Libraries, the heritage office and Offaly Archives. We have now posted 302 blogs since 2016 and reached 304,000 views. Our contributors grow in number and so does this body of knowledge, free to use and enjoy across the globe. We welcome new contributors via

The coming into force of the Truce in the war with England on 11 July 1921 marked the end of an era in that the struggle with our powerful neighbour was to cease. The editor of the Midland Tribune, James Pike, of Roscore, Tullamore, saw it as grounds for optimism. The Offaly Independent was burned out by the British security forces the previous November. The Chapman family paid a heavy price for their advocacy of Sinn Féin. The Birr King’s County Chronicle, as a staunchly loyalist newspaper, cannot have been much pleased with the outcome but it was accepted.

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Tullamore on the verge of the War and Home Rule: the image of stability. By Michael Byrne

Change is always about but perhaps more so since ‘Nine Eleven’ 2001 and March 2020 than we care to appreciate. Changes in eating out in Tullamore’s streets in recent days would have come as a shock to our predecessors of 1914. We are not Spain as Brewery Tap owner, Paul Bell, recently remarked but the fine weather and the adoption of coffee over tea are all helping. In the interior things are changing too. The love of banking halls is gone and now it is all doors and screens as new ways of working come in. The new county offices inTullamore (2002), and in many other buildings, may yet have to be reconfigured, and as for nightclubs what are we to do. On top of that some Tullamore municipal councillors are talking of revisiting our list of Protected Structures to remove those buildings that cannot be sold and are falling down.

All this talk of change, inside and out, suggests that we look again at what we had in the way of streetscapes before that period of great turbulence when Ireland was on the verge of Home Rule and Partition was unmentionable. It was ‘The Sunday before the War’ time. Thanks to the work of photographer Robert French (1841–1917) and the Lawrence Studio (1865–1942) we can look back, not in anger or nostalgia, but in awe at what was achieved in our towns over the period from the 1740s to 1914, but more especially in the years of growth and prosperity from 1891 to the First World War.

The Lawrence Collection of some 40,000 photographs are well known. Perhaps less so that the online catalogue from the National Library ( is in large format, high resolution, for the Offaly towns, allowing us to dig down/zoom in to see the detail that escapes one looking at the ubiquitous printed photograph in the pub or the tablemat. There are almost 200 Lawrence photographs for the Offaly towns and villages. For Tullamore there are at least 17, for Birr over 70, Banagher 3, Clara 20, Edenderry over 16, Portarlington 18, Kilcormac 12 including four placed in County Cavan, Clonmacnoise at least 33, Kinnitty 3, Mountbolus 1, and perhaps more to be identified.  These figures are estimates and likely to change such as one of the earliest for Tullamore (late 1890s perhaps) that became available in recent years, or at least better known and the subject of this blog.

A very fine book from Kieran Hickey and Allen Lane (1973)
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