My internship at the Offaly Archives finished in March and I will go home with a suitcase full of experiences, knowledge, and impressions I gained about Irish life and heritage. I am an archivist student from the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany. In our college a practical experience of the duration of 22 weeks (5.5 months) is a mandatory element of the undergraduate degree course in Information Sciences.
After my Abitur (the German form of the Leaving Cert), I went to explore Ireland on a year abroad with the organization WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Eventually, I landed in Offaly, more precisely on Mount Briscoe Organic Farm near the village of Daingean, a place full of history. The beech-lined avenue, the country house with its walled garden and the quarry with a lime kiln are dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. Through the interest of the family in the local history I got to know about the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society and visited some of the evening lectures.
Does anyone have a bottle of Birr whiskey now? The destruction of Birr’s last distillery in March 1889 was seen as a death blow to the town. The population of Birr in 1841 on the eve of the Famine was 6,336 persons with another 554 in Crinkill. However, the next eighty years saw a period of decline such that over the period 1861 to 1926 the population fell by 44.6 per cent or from 6,146 to 3,402. The decline was exacerbated by the closure of the distillery in 1889 and the military barracks in 1922. In 1921 the workhouse (erected c. 1840) was brutally closed and amalgamated with Tullamore.
Birr had strong associations with whiskey distilling from at least the 1800s. Probably the large military barracks at Crinkill acted as a stimulus to production. In 1818 only two distilleries were in operation in County Offaly and both were located in Birr. In competition with Birr was the Birch distillery at Roscrea. One of the Birr distilleries was that of Robert Robinson and was located at Castle Street and formed part of what was until the 1980s the Williams Waller Ltd grain handling depot (formerly Birr Maltings Ltd.), and now partly demolished with the remainder incorporated in The Maltings guest house. The second distillery, established in 1805 by the Hackett family, was located at Elmgrove on the eastern side of the town. A third distillery, described as the ‘old distillery’ in 1838 was located near what is now the Mill Island Park and part of which is incorporated in the Birr Technology Centre. Thus ample remains of all three distilleries still survive.
The earliest writing is recorded in eastern Asia about 5,000 years ago. The spread was westwards with the use of earthen (cuneiform) tablets that are still found today in the Tells of modern Iraq and in the Fertile Valley. Cuneiform tablets were mainly used for recording stock control items and account balances; at the same time Egyptian hieroglyphs were starting to record the stories of the Pharaohs.
Cuneiform and Hieroglyphs
The Greeks and Romans introduced writing to the Mediterranean countries and it spread across Europe to Britain with the arrival of the first Roman invasion in 55BC.
Ogham is the first recorded writing in Ireland, based on inscriptions on stone. Ogham is a language based on the Roman alphabet. The influence of the Roman empire had introduced the Latin language and writing to most of Europe. Only two other societies used stone – Pictish symbols in Scotland and Norse Runes in northern Europe. Ogham stones are found in Ireland and in the Irish areas of influence in Scotland and Wales.
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.
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.
The summer of 1873 was marked in Tullamore with a great outpouring of support for the coming of age of Charles William Francis, the fourth earl of Charleville (1852–74). He had been an orphan for fourteen years and taken care of by his uncle Alfred Bury (1829–75). The fourth earl’s parents, Charles William George and Arabella Case, had both died at a young age in 1857 (countess of Charleville) and 1859 (the third earl). He was only 37 and left five young children of which the fourth earl was born 16 May 1852. His sister had been killed in an accident on the stairwell at Charleville Castle in 1861 and his younger brother John died in 1872 when only 21. Now the young earl had reached his maturity and his 21st year. He could mark the occasion with his two sisters Lady Katherine and Lady Emily. The celebrations ought to have been on 16 May 1873 but the party had been deferred for a few weeks so that the coming of age could be celebrated at the same time as the marriage of Lady Katherine to Captain Hutton A.D.C. The celebration in the town with triumphal arches and fireworks was the last such for the earls of Charleville. Over the period from 1782 to 1873 there had been three such Welcomes from the Tenantry. Lady Emily inherited Charleville under the will of the fourth earl who died in 1874 aged only 22. Emily came into possession on the death of her uncle Alfred in 1875 childless. She was still a minor and there was no official welcome. Lady Emily married Captain Kenneth Howard in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. The Land War began in 1879–80 and cast a shadow over landlord and tenant relationships permanently. Lady Emily died in 1931 and the estate passed to her only surviving child Lt Col. Kenneth Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80).
The address of Dr Michael Moorhead in his capacity as chairman of the town commissioners at the celebration dinner in 1873 is replete with irony given that the young earl died in a little over a year after on a fishing and hunting trip near New York.
The story of Alderborough Nursery, Geashill is a must have for delightful summer reading. This book tells the story of Reamsbottom & Co., Alderborough and West Drayton, and the development of the Alderborough strain of the St Brigid Anemone which made it famous around the world. Geashill was for decades at the center of Irish horticulture with an international reputation for the quality of its plants. Alderborough Nursery competed with the best nurseries in the world, winning awards, medals and accolades from judges and gardening publications. From 1890 to the 1980’s Anemones and a wide range of plants were exported from Geashill. Archives of all the important horticultural shows in Ireland and Britain record that Reamsbottom & Co. exhibited their produce and won prizes, particularly for their St. Brigid Anemones. By 1907, Reamsbottom & Co., had won 33 medals for Alderborough St. Brigid Anemones, including four gold. [This is a beautiful book and adds to the growing Geashill library of attractive volumes reaching a wide and enthusiastic market.]
I first began to take notice of things in the village when I started school in 1926. Kinnitty was very different then to what it is now and indeed even twenty years after I started school there were already many changes taking place. It was a very busy and prosperous place in those times and it had a great array of businesses and personnel.
Tullamore is a well-preserved town and is the county town of Offaly since an act of parliament in 1832 displaced Philipstown (Daingean) which had been the county town since the shiring of Offaly as part of the new colonial government policies in 1557. The new county to be known as King’s County was then comprised of the baronies reflecting the Gaelic lordships of the O’Connors and that of the O Dempseys. The king in question was none other than Philip II of Spain married at that time to the tragic Queen Mary of England (1553–58) hence the new forts of Philipstown and Maryborough (Portlaoise). The county was extended about 1570 to include the territory of the O Molloys (now to be the baronies of Ballycowan, Ballyboy and Eglish) and also that of the Foxes in Kilcoursey and the MacCoghlans in what would be called Garrycastle. In 1605 the territory of the O Carrolls (to form the baronies of Ballybritt and Clonlisk) was added, as also was the parish of Clonmacnoise (1638) at the behest of Terence Coghlan of Kilcolgan. Those looking for an exciting seventeenth-century history for Tullamore will be disappointed as the surviving evidence of town growth in that troubled century is thin. This week we continue to series to mark the 400th anniversary of Tullamore as a town.
“Some of old stonies will hold their heads high, and carry with them to the grave the feeling that they have left their mark on many a church, and on many a building, and that in years to come, there will be people to admire the work they have left behind them, as we of this generation respect and understand the work of the men of long ago. All men hope for praise of some sort, and it is a nice thing to see a man smile when he knows you are in earnest in liking his work. We become children again, and are mightily pleased with ourselves and want to show that we can do even better.”
From the book Stone Mad by Seamus Murphy, stone carver, 1966.
In this article, I write about some of the fine buildings and monuments in other parts of Ireland built using limestone from the Ballyduff quarries. There is a section on aspects of the lives of stoneworkers in Tullamore in the 19th century, and finally I have a look at a couple of Tullamore families that were prominent in stoneworking over long time periods.
The Mullingar and Athlone launches of Westmeath History and Society have provided two interesting and original addresses on the status of local history in Westmeath, our neighbouring county. The Offaly History and Society volume was published in 1998 and is long out of print. A few copies were secured by Offaly History some years ago and are offered for sales as scarce titles. We thank our friend Dr Harman Murtagh for a copy of his address on 31 3 2022 and we have added some pictures for our readers. Enjoy the address in Athlone and you can get the book at Offaly History Centre and online at www.offalyhistory.com, over 900 pages, hardback, €60.
This is the south Westmeath launch of this magnificent volume, Westmeath history and society.
A week ago it was launched in north Westmeath by the archbishop of Dublin, the very Reverend Dr Farrell; south Westmeath must make do with the most irreverent Dr Murtagh.
The book is 900 pages long. As the archbishop observed in Mullingar, it’s about the size of a concrete block: in my view, its only fault is that it’s rather heavy to hold in bed.
Westmeath history and society is one of a series of county books – incredibly it’s the twenty-ninth in the series. The series has been appearing at the rate of a volume a year since 1985.
The series founder, general editor and manager from the start is Dr Willie Nolan, aided and abetted by his wife, Theresa. Their contribution to Irish society and to local studies is without equal. In France they would undoubtedly be awarded the Legion of Honour; in Britain surely Sir Willie and Dame Theresa? In Ireland, and here in Athlone, we can offer at least our enormous admiration for their magnificent achievement – twenty-nine county volumes of this size down, and only three to go! Wow!