On the 29th March 1919, 20 IRA Volunteers escaped from Mountjoy jail in broad day light. This escape was planned by Michael Collins on the outside and Piaras Béaslaí on the inside. A prison strike had been taking place in the jail in support of four prisoners who were not being afforded political status. In the lead up to the escape this strike was halted because the escape plan had a better chance of success with a quieter atmosphere in the prison.
The plan was to get Piaras Béaslaí and JJ Murphy both MPs and Padraig Fleming a volunteer from the Swan, Co. Laois out, followed by the four prisoners not being afforded political status. A list of men with long sentences was created and it was decided that men serving short sentences or who had sentences close to completion would not escape. Padraig Fleming had conducted an extraordinary fight for treatment as a political prisoner in Maryborough (Portlaoise) jail, enduring hunger strike, torture and physical mistreatment for months. In Mountjoy he was the Officer Commanding the political prisoners.
The escape was planned for 3 p.m. on Saturday March 29th. On the previous Monday the four prisoners being denied political status broke away from the warders in charge of them and led them on a big chase around the field before being recaptured. As a result, they were kept in a metal cage for exercise and guarded by no less than eleven warders. If these precautions were continued their chances of escape were slight, while the presence of so many warders also presented a serious obstacle to the escape plan. On Fleming’s orders the four prisoners caused no more problems for the warders and the prison authorities were lulled into a false sense of security.
The 16th of June 2022 marks two important anniversaries. The first is the centenary of Ulysses, but the second was the all-important vote on the Treaty held on the same day. The outcome in Ireland of the latter event was eagerly awaited. This election was the first to be held in the new Free State, the first held under the PR electoral system, and the first to be contested by the parties which, in modified forms, were to dominate subsequent Irish politics at least up to 2011. The 1918 election has already been the subject of a blog on Offalyhistoryblog and was a clear win in Offaly and the country for Sinn Féin. This blog is part of our contribution to the #decade of centenaries. We plan more over the summer to include the departure of the British army from Offaly barracks, the lead up to the civil war in Offaly, bank robberies, the burning of the county courthouse, jail and barracks, noted personalities in Offaly in 1922. If you wish to help please email us with your suggestions/contribution. firstname.lastname@example.org
The 1922 election was a fight out between the pro-treatyites and the Republicans led by de Valera, but the pact between Collins and de Valera came to grief before election day. Some had looked to the Labour Party to stand aside in 1922, as they had done in 1918, or to vote with the pro-treatyites. Nowhere was the wisdom of Labour going its own way better demonstrated that in the new Laois-Offaly four-seat constituency where William Davin came in as the big winner with more than two quotas. Given its performance in later general elections why did the anti-treatyites not field a candidate? Sean Robbins of Clara had topped the poll in the 1920 county council election and Sinn Féin’s ideologue in Offaly and organiser, T.M. Russell, had come second. Russell, to answer part of the question, had departed the local scene in October 1920 and was in favour of the Treaty. Sean McGuinness, the local IRA battalion commander, was another possible anti-treatyite candidate and he was elected in 1923, but declined to take his seat because of the oath of allegiance. He secured 5,572 votes in 1923.
The release of thousands of internees from jails in Ireland and Britain followed on the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in early December 1921. Most had been imprisoned under the Restoration of Order (Ireland) Act. We carried a blog on the first phase of the releases in mid-December. Upwards of 4,000 were being held since the Truce of July 1921 in Rath Camp in the Curragh, Portlaoise Jail and Ballykinlar Camp in Co. Down as well as from Waterford, Cork, Kilmainham, Mountjoy and other prisons. The second wave of releases came in mid-January 1922 and many had been convicted and sent to English prisons.
We welcome this week Dr Diarmuid Wheeler on an important subject for Ireland and for the midlands, being the colonial experiment known as the Leix-Offaly Plantation. For those interested in the Decade of the Centenaries, the resurgence of interest in the Irish language, 1916 and the War of Independence, knowing the roots of the conflict is essential. The fort of Philipstown would soon be adopted as the county town for the new King’s County of the 1550s. The courts of assize to display the might and power of English law continued to be held in King’s County until 1921 while the name of the county was changed only in 1920 to Offaly. The Civil War of 1922–3 would witness the burning of houses such as Ballyburly, owned by the Wakely family, who had come to Ireland as soldier settlers in the time of Elizabeth.
Dr Wheeler will give his lecture on the Leix-Offaly Plantation to Offaly History from his home in the United States on Monday night 22 March at 7.30 p.m. Email us at email@example.com with the subject heading ‘Zoom Wheeler’ for the access code [Ed.]
The beginnings of the midlands colonial project can be traced back to the early sixteenth century when the Tudor government, who firmly believed that Ireland rightfully belonged to the English crown and that the country’s keeping was essential to England’s overall safety, sought to restore the island to its twelfth century “conquered” state from which the crown hoped to profit. Brendan Bradshaw argues that the Tudors and the Old English of Ireland were heavily influenced by Renaissance humanism that encouraged them to bring reform to Ireland. But the administration lacked significant knowledge and experience of the country, particularly during Henry VIII’s reign and quickly realised that reforming the island would take significantly more military and financial resources than they had anticipated. By the final years of the 1530s, it was apparent that a certain degree of coercion and military force would be necessary to bring about wide scale reform. Yet the Tudors were also aware that they could not employ outright force to achieve their objectives, lacking the necessary resources to do so. Instead, the Tudor administration recognised that they would need to accommodate the natives of Ireland, at least somewhat, in order to make their aspiration a reality.
It must be conceded that the unassertive landscapes of County Offaly have never been a great source of inspiration to painters, most of whom just made a quick stop at historic Clonmacnoise before dashing on to record the West of Ireland.
Yet, others took the trouble to look more closely (or were paid to do so) and found inspiration in its lush farmland, bogs and woods, slow rivers, rolling hills and ancient ruins. Happily, their numbers have grown in the recent past.
The Cotton Map
The first, and in my opinion the finest, artistic image of Offaly is the Cotton Map of 1565. Prepared to assist the Elizabethan Plantation, this is an imaginative creation more akin to Harry Potter’s ‘Marauder Map’ or Robert Louis Stevenson’s chart of Treasure Island than a realistic cartographic exercise. One wonders if its unknown compilers ever visited Offaly or were relying on travellers’ tales.
We welcome a new contributor to the blog this week with this article by John Stocks Powell. Enjoy and remember we have almost 190 articles to read at http://www.offalyhistoryblog. Like to get it each week and share to your friends.
There is a hierarchy of sources for the historian, local historians and those with the wider landscapes. The principal material is the written word; evidences from the time, written archives, and later written published assessments such as county histories, church memoirs, Ph.D. studies gone to print. On-line developments have made for more in quantity, and more exciting revelations, from the checking of dates on Wikipedia, or the digitised sources such as Irish and British newspapers online, and directories. Yet we know the old cliché that history is written by the winners, and that is especially true when trying to write about the history of the losers, the poor, and the illiterate. Every source has its importance.
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 →