Launch of Westmeath, History and Society. The address by Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Dermot Farrell, Mullingar, 24 March 2022

As a native son of the county, it gives me great pleasure to be invited to launch Westmeath: History and Society. Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County, the 29th volume in the Irish County series; this volume of thirty-five essays covering themes from the prehistoric to the present era utilises a multidisciplinary approach to explore at the county level broader regional and national themes.  It contains contributions from historians, geographers and cartographers, archaeologists and Irish scholars (Cathal O Háinle –Westmeath Bardic Poetry).  It charts the economic, social, religious and political life of the county.  The aim is to achieve an understanding, rather than to produce desiccated informatio

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Offaly County Administration in 1920 and 1921 during the Military Regime. Specially Contributed

In the first issue of the Athlone-based Offaly Independent on 4 February 1922 (about fifteen months after the destruction of the newspaper by Crown forces) an article appeared setting out the changes in public health administration in County Offaly, settled in 1921. This involved the closure of the workhouses in Edenderry and Birr and the adaptation of that in Tullamore as ‘the County Home’ and Offaly County Hospital. The workhouse infirmary in Tullamore was re-named the County Hospital and the Tuberculosis dispensary and beds in the new (1915) building at the back of the old county infirmary in Church Street was to continue to operate there at least for a time. The closing of the county infirmary in Church Street, Tullamore in 1921 (first opened on that site in 1788) and having about thirty beds in use at any time, and a dispensary, did not even get a mention in the 1922 review. The change over in the administration involving the switch from Local Government Board to Dail funded management based on local rate collection was a remarkable achievement.

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The Public Role of Personal Commemoration. Remarks on the Decade of Centenaries, the Great Flu and the scourge of TB. By Sylvia Turner

On January 7th this year, we raised a glass to commemorate what would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. Born in Kilcoursey Lodge,  Clara, she had always said that she was born on a special day, being the day, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in the Dáil. Her explanation to me as a child was that ‘it split Ireland in two and caused a lot of trouble’.

This example of  family commemoration running  parallel to the national one, relates to one of the aims on The Decade of Centenaries Programme  to ‘focus on the everyday experience of ordinary people living in extraordinary times, as well as on the leaders and key actors in these events’

The Decade of Centenaries Programme has led to a great variety of commemorative events and   literature, both at a national and local level. The Decade has been commemorated by Offaly History through a  variety of media, no longer limited to monuments and the written word,  as technology has enabled visual and auditory means to be retained through the use of videos and podcasts.

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King’s County Infirmary – its closure in 1921 in an era of change. By Aisling Irwin

King’s County Infirmary was established under the reign of King George III with the passing of the Irish County Infirmaries Act of 1765. This act enabled the creation of infirmaries in thirty Irish counties. During the redevelopment of Tullamore town by the Earl of Charleville, a new infirmary building was erected in 1788 on Church Street and was further extended in 1812.

The County Infirmaries Act was enacted to provide healthcare to the poor which fulfilled the eighteenth century philanthropic ideals of the landed gentry who supported these institutions through donations and subscriptions. King’s County Infirmary was supported by an income consisting of parliamentary funds, grand jury presentments, governor subscriptions, donations, and patient fees. The infirmary was managed by a Board of Governors who paid subscriptions for their position on the board which gave them absolute control over the infirmary including staff appointments and patient admissions. Governors were made up of local gentry and landowners such as the Earl of Rosse, Lord Digby, and prominent business owners such as the Goodbody family.   

While surviving records are limited, the Board meeting minute books provide a colourful insight into the running of an infirmary in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland.  The Infirmary’s Surgeon, Dr James Ridley, was linked to a scandal that pervaded the county in 1887 and 1888. Ridley, who also acted as one of the Tullamore jail physicians was reported to have died by suicide on the morning he was due to give evidence at the inquest into the death of John Mandeville, a national league activist. Mandeville who was imprisoned under the Irish Crimes Act of 1887 was subject to harsh and cruel punishment at the hands of his jailors and died shortly after his release from prison. 

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Teresa Wyer (1868–1959): the first woman chairperson of a public board in County Offaly and prominent in Sinn Féin in the revolutionary years. By Owen Wyer and Michael Byrne

Teresa Wyer was born in Ballykeenaghan, Rahan, Tullamore, County Offaly on 29 November 1868. She was the third youngest of eleven children of Michael and Anne Mary Wyer. Teresa Wyer went to Rahan National School and thereafter to Killina Secondary School. She joined the Convent of Mercy Athy, County Kildare on 22 February 1890 where she was called Sr Mary Baptist. She left the convent in 1900 and ran a shop and public house at No 6 Church Street bought by the first author’s grandfather, Owen Wyer, brother of Teresa Wyer, from Abraham Colton, the Tullamore auctioneer and hotelier in early 1901. Owen Wyer was also a Sinn Féin activist and chaired a great Sinn Féin meeting in Rahan in September 1917.

Drama in Tullamore from the Gaelic League, c. 1906 with a backdrop of a painted view of William/Columcille Street. Owen Wyer is second from the right in the back row.

Church Street was a busy commercial street at that time with at least five public houses, a hotel and a number of private residences. Wyer’s neighbours included the long-established Warren family drapery stores with two shops. In 1901 Teresa Wyer (then describing herself as 30) was living with her brother over the public house and they had a shop assistant and servant living with them. Owen Wyer was a maltster with the Egans of Tullamore and she a publican. By 1911 she described herself as a grocer and aged only 36, single and with four assistants living over the shop. Teresa Wyer married James Wyer from Ard, Geashill on 24 February 1914.

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The golden era of housing in Tullamore from the 1930s to the 1950s: Clontarf Road, Pearse Park and Marian Place, but Dr Moran, P.P. has reservations. By Fergal MacCabe

An Architect Revealed

On Monday 16 February 1953, a Banquet was held in Hayes Hotel Tullamore to celebrate two very significant achievements; the completion of the 74-house Pearse Park and the cutting of the sod for a further 106 houses later to be named Marian Place. These two estates, whose very names evoke the atmosphere of the period, would be joined in 1965 by Kearney Park dedicated to the well-known local politician Joe Kearney.The three schemes together represent a high point in local authority housing not just in Offaly, but in Ireland.

The large attendance that day included the Minister for Local Government Paddy Smith, the cream of Tullamore society; the clergy, politicians, administrators, police and solicitors, as well as those involved in the delivery of the estates. Buried at the bottom of the extensive list which appears in an entertaining frontpage account of the event in the Offaly Independent of the following Monday, but unidentified as such, was the designer of the schemes, the architect Donald Arthur ‘Bob’ Tyndall M.R.I.A.I. (d.1975). Tyndall who had spent his early career in Shanghai was also engaged to deliver the Tullamore County Clinic and is credited with several housing schemes in the Offaly area. In 1971 his practice became Tyndall Hogan Hurley and went on to become one of the most successful in Dublin, specialising in office and residential developments.

Tyndall was the latest in the line of designers used by Tullamore Urban District Council to implement an admirable housing programme over the previous fifty years.

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The regulation of public morality in Offaly during the war years, 1914–18: a story from Birr. By Michael Byrne

There is so little of the undercurrent and gossip of a town in a local newspaper and yet we rely on them so much to tell us ‘what really happened’. Will we ever know from the reportage? We are grateful to have the lately published witness statements in the Depositions of 1642–53, or those in the pension records of the 1916–23 conflict. Yet we are advised to be cautious in using such records. What we do know of what ‘right-thinking people’ were saying about sexual morality in Birr, during the years of the First World War, we have from a sermon preached in Birr Catholic church in November 1917. It was one of the Birr curates who was the most outspoken while the then recently appointed 65-year old parish priest of Birr, Canon Ryan, had little to say. Or if he had it was not recorded. ‘Delicate’ subjects then as now, were seldom spoken of from the pulpit or the newsroom except in generalisations. In the case of the Laois-Offaly depositions it has taken over 300 years for the sworn affidavits to reach the public arena. For the witness statements provided by War of Independence veterans near enough sixty years. Is it any wonder that court cases with their mostly contemporary renditions are so popular?  It is the same with sermons that touch on local sexual life – the subject being almost taboo except in the abstract. Seldom spoken of in the church and hardly ever recorded in the local news media before 1970. The press reports of court case evidence can be more satisfying as contemporary first-hand accounts, but for the public and no less for the judges, it can often be hard to know what the real story is.  The reports of public morality debates or pulpit declamations in the years before and after 1922 are hugely important in helping to understand the concern (and who was raising it) over unmarried mothers and their children that would feed away, as if an unspoken of cancer in society, over the years from 1922 to the early 1970s.

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The Mother and Baby Report – ‘P.F.I.’ and the view from Britain. By Declan McSweeney

The report of the Commission of Investigation into the mother-and-baby homes has received huge coverage in the British media, reflecting, no doubt, the number of survivors of the homes who settled in Britain. This is the third and final blog looking at this important report for Irish social history in the 20th century. Here Declan McSweeney looks at the reception of the Report in Britain

It is a reminder of the days when so many Irishwomen were referred to as ‘PFI’ (Pregnant From Ireland). One of the most shocking aspects of the report was the reference to women who had moved to cities like London or Liverpool and were effectively kidnapped by their families and forced back to hellish institutions, as outlined here: Mother and Baby Homes: State paid for 2,400 pregnant women to be repatriated from England

Mother and Baby Homes: State paid for 2,400 pregnant women to be repatri… Aoife Moore and Elaine Loughlin Many pregnant single women that travelled to Britain found it was less welcoming than they had hoped

It is also a salutary reminder of the fact that Britain, for all its faults, has long been a haven for Irish people from ill-treatment of one kind or another.

The recent announcement by the Irish Government of its Diaspora Strategy has featured a recognition that many were effectively forced out of Ireland down the years.

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Chapel Lane, Tullamore, County Offaly. By Maurice G. Egan

Chapel Lane, Tullamore, County Offaly. A distinguishing 1800s feature of urban living in the provincial towns throughout Ireland were the lanes. The houses along these lanes were generally of poor quality, all of them thatched with mud and daub walls. They faced the narrow lane in terraces and in many instances housing upwards of 140 people along a length no greater than three hundred feet. The midlands town of Tullamore was no different, there was: Tea Lane, Water Lane, Chapel Lane, Meath Lane, Distillery Lane, Gas House Lane, Ballalley Lane, Market Lane, Brides Lane and so on.1

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Robert Goodbody, amateur doctor in Clara and Tullamore during the Famine. By Michael Goodbody.

This is our first blog of 2021 and we are pleased to have a growing number of contributors as the interest in local studies continues to expand in Offaly and in Ireland. Last year our blog posts (82) reached over 103,000 and amounted to 144,000 words. Michael Goodbody has two important articles on Clara houses, Drayton Villa and Inchmore, in Offaly Heritage 11 (published in December 2020). The latter house now in a very different state to 2007 and the former lately bought by Offaly County Council. Robert Goodbody was the founder of the Clara dynasty of Quaker merchants and was born at Mountmellick in 1781 and died at Drayton Villa, Clara (later the Parochial House) in 1860. In 1825 he moved to Clara to set up his sons in business at the Brosna mills. He built Inchmore, Clara in 1843 and for a time lived at Tullagh House, Tullamore. During the Famine years he practised as an amateur doctor. He had six sons of whom five survived to make a huge contribution to industry in Clara and Tullamore. If you have an article on Offaly history for the blog, email us at info@offalyhistory.com.

It was not unusual for amateur doctors to practice their skills and theories among the poor in Ireland during the nineteenth century. One such was Robert Goodbody of Clara, who earned the gratitude of the Earl of Charleville for his activities around Tullamore during the Great Famine of 1846–49.

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