Pandemics in Ireland and Spanish Flu cases in Offaly, 1918-19. Dr Tim O’Neill and Offaly History

Last week’s article on the cholera outbreak in Offaly in 1832 attracted a huge readership. This week Dr O’Neill (a Mucklagh, Tullamore native) contributes this piece on Pandemics in Ireland. The Offaly History research team has added some local material on the effects of the Spanish Flu (1918–19) in the county and some pictures by way of further reading. Enjoy and stay positive. Read our  179 articles posted to offalyhistoryblog and catch up on Camus.

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Ernie O’Malley in Tullamore and Offaly in April 1918. Offaly History

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The Anvil editon of 1979 included the six pages on O’Malley’s torture as did the American edition, Army without banners (1937)

Ernie O’Malley was in Tullamore in April 1918 helping the Volunteers with the work of the North King’s County by-election (won by Sinn Féin without a contest because of overwhelming support in the aftermath of proposed imposition of conscription. This extract is from O’Malley’s famous account of the War of Independence years – On another man’s wound – first published in 1936. This extract from the Anvil edition of 1979 with the original pagination shown in square brackets.
‘On Another Man’s Wound, is primarily an account of that war, the only work of high literary quality to emerge directly from the violence. Upbringing had combined with temperament to make him half an alien in his own country. This gave him the detachment of a natural observer; the war forced him to live close to the people:’

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Dick Mulcahy

[76] Mulcahy [Dick Mulcahy Assistant Chief of Staff] told me to report to the director of Organisation I found Micheal Collins in his office on Bachelor’s walk Dublin. He was pacing up and down. We shook hands. He jerked his head to a chair to indicate that I should sit; he took a chair which he tilted back against the wall. On shelves were green membership cards, heaps of The Irish Volunteer Handbook, and stacks of white copies of the organization scheme. Behind his desk was a large map of Ireland marked with broad red streaks radiating from Dublin. He was tall, his shoulders were broad; his energy showed through rapid movement. A curving bunch of hair fell on his forehead; he tossed it back with a vigorous head twist.

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Michael Collins in 1917. O’Malley was no great fan of Collins

“I’m sending you to Offaly, there’s an election coming off [the by-election of April 1918]. I want you to organise a Brigade in that county. There are a few good chaps in Tullamore and they’re on the run. He had a strong singing Cork accent his brown eyes studied me fixedly. He pointed out companies on a map and mentioned officers’ names.
“It looks like conscription” he said. “That’ll make some slackers wake up.
He pointed out communication routes on the wall map. I was to improve and keep them tested by despatch riders. He gave me a bundle of organization schemes, instructions for the preparation of emergency rations, lists of equipment that could be made locally. “Read that and see what you think of it.” He handed me notes on the destruction of railways, bridges and engines with and without explosives.
[77] It was signed by Rory O’Connor, Director of Engineering. He crossed to the window whilst I read. “My bail is up, he said. “They’re looking for me now.” “They” meant the “G” men, who carried out political arrests in Dublin. Collins had been arrested by for a Volunteer recruiting speech; he had been released on bail. That was unusual. Volunteers were not allowed to accept bail. “Two nights ago “G” men brought off a raid; they found empty packing cases and a pile of cartridge wrappers in a store. Bruton said: This looks as if there were brains behind it; I bet it’s that fellow from Mountjoy Street” Collins laughed; it meant himself “Good luck now, Earnán” he said, as he shook hands. As I walked across O’Connell Bridge I wondered at the risks he ran, coming and going to and from his office, whilst detectives watched for him.

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The first edition of 1936 produced in London and Dublin

Austin Stack of Kerry who had recently fought a jail war in Belfast was in Tullamore with Darrel Figgis. Stack had a quizzical turn in his deep brown eyes which he half shut when he told a long story. He was grave and quiet; he spoke slowly. Figgis was not popular; it was thought that he was too vain. Stories were told about his Christ like beard. His manner, his insistent focus of attention for his words, was of the porcupine quill effect of an artist amongst those who thought of nationality alone. He was egotistical; it could be seen in his face and mannerisms; his image was reflected in the half suppressed smiles of his listeners. He had come from another life; he would find it hard now, I felt. I had read his novels: Children of Earth was the best book I had read about the West of Ireland. He was pleasant when he talked to me of his books; but he had unfortunate habit of making enemies.
Eamonn de Valera was due to arrive. There was intense excitement; work speeded up. Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, and Sinn Fein Clubs arranged a parade. I heard a new song: “Convict 95” his number when on penal servitude.
“Twas in Kilmainham prison yard our fifteen martyrs died
And cold and still in Arbour Hill they are lying side by side,
But we will yet pay back the debt for the spirit is still alive.
In men who stood thro’ fire and Blood and Convict 95.

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Enlgish’s Hotel and restuarant at the juntion of Columcille Street and  Patrick Street. A view of post 1914.

Eoin Plunkett was with me in English’s Hotel when de Valera walked in. We made a machine spring to attention [78] and remained tense, glued with admiration till he spoke to us and asked us to sit down. He was tall and lean; his hair rifted on his forehead. His face was long and sallow. He wore rimless glasses. He had a very deep voice that welled up, a fairly immobile face save when he spoke, and then the muscles, to one who had watched them in repose, played tricks. On the platform there was a hard unemotional feel to his voice and he twisted his body in emphasis.
His gravity we noticed most; he was patient and kindly to the many demands for his signature. “Have you seen Dev?” I would be asked in the country. It was easy to take on heroic build of one had seen or talked to any of those whom the people admired.
An Irish Convention called by Lloyd George had been in session for nine months; Sinn Féin refused to send representatives. It met and talked. The Irish vote in Australia had helped to defeat conscription there; a second referendum would succeed, Premier Hughes said, if the English could in any way settle the Irish Question. Irish Americans fighting for small nationalities and to make the world safe for democracy made their government anxious to have some patch-up in Ireland. The first draft of a conscription Bill was passed in England the same say that Lloyd George announced the failure of the convention; an emasculated Home Rule Bill was to be given as a gift.
In England conscription had been imposed by degrees; in Ireland all males between eighteen and fifty-one could be taken. As a nation Ireland was not deeply concerned with the world war. Proganda about territorial violation and outrages could be paralleled at home. The people had long watched politicians play their thimble trick at the Imperial circus: “Walk up gentlemen. See freedom is here. You cannot lose. You give your youth and you take your chance.” The wild Irish who always looked for fight, who were never happy unless smashing heads with ponderous shillelaghs now wanted to fight to prevent themselves from fighting. What an Irish bull; the dear, delightful Irish, so picturesque and such charming brogues; they were broths of people; they were entirely.
A meeting of political enemies was held in Dublin. [79] They issued a statement: “The passing of the Conscription Bill must be regarded as a declaration of war on the Irish people.” The Irish Parliamentary Party left the House of Commons as a protest. Labour carried out a day of general strike. A parish fund was organised to raise money.
In Offaly committees and subcommittees worked on Transport and Food supply; statistics were compiled; offers of help came from strange places. I paraded battalions in Tullamore; we were skirmished and manoeuvred through towns and the country side followed by police. Officers were arrested and at once replaced. To save the officers I commanded the companies of a parade in turn. I was not interfered with. In small towns I drew my gun when police asked me my name.
In daytime I could now enter a town to practise quick mobilization. Shop boys, carpenters, shop owner’s clerks, fell into line quickly. They practised bayonet fighting with brush handles up and down streets; they sat on pathways or in halls to listen to my talks from the destructions of railway plant to street fighting.
Men relieved each other during the day to mould lead to buck shot; gun cartridges were collected and refilled. Jewellers and locksmiths made revolver springs; they repaired weapons. Telegraphic clerks held classes with buzzers and tappers or taught Morse to signallers; harness and boot makers worked at belts and equipment, smiths and carpenters made pikes and pike handles. Cumann na mBan sewed signalling flags and haversacks. They gathered medical supplies made splints and packed first field dressings.
Shops were raided for cartridges and detonators, quarries for explosives. Volunteers came to houses whose owners were hostile or had permits from the police; the police searched Volunteer and friendly houses for arms. One raiding party would often followed close on the other.
Railways would be destroyed when conscription came; through communication routes by road were worked out. There were many branch lines in Offaly and Westmeath. Some companies were always on duty. Day and night, despatch riders on bicycles tried to improve time speeds. All despatches had time sheets; the time was checked by [80] each company through which they passed. The time sheet from Dublin to Castle bar or to Tralee would be lengthy. Despatches were hidden in the collar or tie; sewn up in the coat, put in a part of the bicycles or in socks. The despatch might be a smelly remnant when it reached its last station.
I was told that warrants had been issued for my arrest. I changed my sleeping quarters frequently. In Clara I slept in the house of a publican [presumably P.J. White’s]. The owner came into my bedroom one night. He found two improvised hand grenades on the floor and a revolver beside my bed. He hurriedly made piles of empty porter barrels at points inside the back wall to help my escape.

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Much more to be found here.

[Stopped at Philipstown/Daingean]
Three Royal Irish halted me in Philipstown. They carried revolvers in black holsters. “What’s your name?” the sergeant asked in a deep voice; the thumb of his right hand was stuck behind his broad flat belt.
My name is O’Malley, do you want more information? I half drew my gun from inside my coat. The police were irresolute. They had evidently intended to arrest me. I waited. The sergeant took out a note book; he wrote quickly with a pencil. They watches as I cycled away.

A000b Courthouse, Philipstown [Daingean]
Daingean town in 1910-18

People remarked that officers had been afterwards arrested for drilling when I had been afterwards arrested for drilling when I had been in charge or for carrying out my orders. Some said I was a spy and that the police did not want to arrest me. A few women said I was leading the boys astray. I met mutterings in many forms.
In an island of the Bog of Allen which covers a large part of eastern Offaly I had a farmer friend. “We’ll give them what’s what in the bogs” he said “if it wasn’t for them bloody peelers less than a snipe id never get in here.” He had a white horse for me. “When fighting begins up you get and lead us all against the English” I liked the white horse. He was a fine mettlesome beast and he could “lep a house,” but he savoured of the range mark. I could see myself stuck up to my middle in bog water or crawling close to gorse and heather instead of leading a procession against the near post.
I was in Athlone. I had met an Irish battalion sergeant- major from the castle barracks. He had been fifteen years [81] in the British army and had seen much fighting. A tall man, sturdy with independence; he was resilient in will trained muscle. He had a well handled, pointed moustache. He was willing with some soldiers to help us capture the magazine; they would fight, if nessacary, during the raid, and they would join us when conscription came. I received a despatch from Collins; I was to go to South Roscommon at once.

A short note on the 1918 by-election in North King’s County/Offaly, Michael Byrne (see Offaly Heritage 9 for the full article)
The sitting MP for North King’s County, E.J. Graham, died in a Dublin hospital on 26 March 1918, aged only 51, thereby creating the possibility of another contested war-time by-election in North King’s County/Offaly in April 1918. His death brought about the election of Dr Patrick McCartan, the Sinn Féin candidate, without a contest. McCartan had been defeated in the Armagh South by-election of February 1918, but was returned in North King’s County after the hint of a contested election. He was again returned unopposed for the entire county in December 1918 at the general election. He too was an imposed candidate continuing a tradition broken only in December 1914. His non-contested by-election came in the wake of the big demonstrations against conscription in Tullamore and everywhere else. What looked like compromise on the part of IPP leader Dillon was recognition that the win for the IPP in Armagh South would not be repeated. The Tribune had stated in its editorial of 6 April 1918 that Dr McCartan was a certainty and that the greatest enthusiasm existed for Sinn Féin. ‘The electors state that they are only anxious to give the party a better reverse than it got in 1914.’

Patrick McCartan
The Sinn Féin by-election campaign began at the end of March with meetings in every parish in the constituency after Sunday mass and speeches from visitors Dan McCarthy, Austin Stack, Stephen Mara, Joseph McGuinness and in Tullamore from Tribune editor, Seamus/James Pike, the draper Michael Berrill and P.J Bermingham. There was broad acceptance of the Midland Tribune view that McCartan would succeed and confusion in the IPP as to who might stand. All parts of the constituency were said to be solid for Sinn Féin save perhaps Tullamore ‘which is pretty evenly divided’. On Sunday 8 April De Valera spoke in Tullamore (the meeting was chaired by Bermingham.) on Ireland’s ‘fateful hour’ and the right of Ireland to self-determination. De Valera had first spoken in the town in the aftermath of his East Clare victory in July 1917. Meanwhile the vacancy in the IPP candidature was not and would not be filled. When deputations from both Nationalists camps in Tullamore (the IPP and Graham supporters) met John Dillon, the IPP leader who succeeded Redmond in March, it was to tell him that they would agree on one candidate. But the conscription crisis was about to overtake the matter of an IPP candidate and Dillon told the deputation that now was not the time for a local contest. Notwithstanding this prohibition it appears that John Dooly of Birr, the chairman of the county council, was selected. Dillon persisted and Dooly withdrew his candidature. McCartan was duly elected on 19 April 1918 with sixty nominations and no opposition. Lyons points out that the conscription crisis could not have come at a worse time. In the three by-elections fought since the beginning of 1918 – South Armagh, Waterford City and East Tyrone – the IPP had beaten off the challenge of Sinn Féin. As so often before the government had stepped in to revive Sinn Féin fortunes. That said the lack of a suitable candidate for North King’s County and a local press united against the IPP made the chance of winning the seat highly remote. McCartan went to take the seat again in the general election of December 1918 without a contest.

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Offaly Archives: an overview of the local government archival collections. By Erin Sears

Offaly Archives’ local government collections cover an extensive range of local government organisations – from grand juries, infirmaries, rural district councils, town commissioners, poor law unions, county councils, committees of agriculture and urban district councils. The material from the collections was acquired since the 1950s and covers roughly two hundred years of history.

Recently, the local government collections, as well as a number of donated collections of private origin, have been relocated from Offaly County Library to purpose built archival facilities at Offaly Archives, Unit 1F, Axis Business Park, Clara Road, Tullamore. Offaly Archives is the joint archival repository of Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society (Offaly History) and Offaly County Library, and is administered by Offaly History.

During the summer of 2019, I worked on providing online catalogue descriptions for the local government collections in preparation for their move. Descriptions for the collections were created using Michael Murphy, Anne Coughlan and Gráinne Doran’s 2003 publication Grand Jury to Áras An Chontae, which provides breakdowns of Offaly Archives local government collections, as well as detailed information relating to the formation of Offaly’s local government structures, their various duties, lists of members and historical points of interest.

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County Offaly in the Military Service Pensions Collection: an exploration by Cécile Gordon

Cécile Gordon is Senior Archivist and Project Manager of the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project in the Military Archives of Ireland. She will give a lecture on Offaly in the Military Service Pensions Collection on Monday 21 October, 8pm in Offaly History Centre, Tullamore. The talk will include an overview of the records available in MSPC for county Offaly and will illustrate how they interconnect. The highlight will be put on the IRA Brigade Activity Reports for Offaly Brigades. A selection of some of the most interesting pension cases will be presented with a focus on newly catalogued records and claims lodged by the women involved in the independence movement in Offaly.

The Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection – General

 The Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection (MSPC) Project is one of the leading projects of the Irish government’s plan for the Decade of Centenaries, led by the Irish Department of Defence and supported by the Defence Forces. With around 250,000 files, it is the largest collection in the Military Archives and the largest collection covering the revolutionary years, anywhere.

In a nutshell, the MSPC records are the pensions applications lodged by over 80,000 people who took part in the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.  Veterans applied under various legislation from 1923 onwards, enacted to recognise active military service or to award gratuities for wounds or injuries contracted during active service. Dependants of deceased members of certain organisations could also claim in respect of their relatives. Continue reading

The Troubles in Cloneygowan, 1920–23, by P.J. Goode

Gibson Memorial Cloneygowan

‘Well, Tommy, I am sentenced to death on this day 23rd February [1923] and tomorrow will face it. I feel quite happy thank God only I feel very lonesome when I think of you… I am praying for you as I know you will for me, and I hope they will be heard… from your old chum Tom, Goodbye ever, it’s a long way to Tipperary.’

Last letter from Thomas Gibson who was executed at Portlaoise during the Civil War.

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Flann O’Brien and the Tullamore Connection. Offaly Literary Associations, no 5. Michael Byrne.

The flat countryside around Tullamore left a deep impression on the future writer’s mind. And when, 20 years later, he wrote an existentialist murder mystery called The Third Policemen, set mainly in a nether afterworld, he used Offaly as his model.

Best of Myles OHFlann O’Brien (1911-66) was the well-known Irish novelist and political commentator. He was born in County Tyrone as Brian O’Nolan and raised mostly in Dublin. The writer spent about four years in Tullamore where his father, Michael V. Nolan, worked with the Revenue keeping an eye to the duty or taxes to be collected on Tullamore whiskey when it was removed from the bonded warehouse. From 1940 until his death, Flann wrote a political column called ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ for The Irish Times under the pseudonym of Myles na Gopaleen; his biting, satiric commentaries made him the conscience of the nation. As Flann O’Brien, he published three novels, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), The Dalkey Archive (1964), and The Third Policeman (1967). He also published a play, Faustus Kelly (1943). The Third Policeman is now considered his best and it was possibly in Tullamore he got his poky and spooky ideas for this quirky book which after a struggle in the late 1930s was published in 1967 after his death. Continue reading

Brigade Activity Reports of the IRA, 1916–23 and Tullamore and Clara in the aftermath of the killing of RIC Sergeant Cronin in October 1920 during the War of Independence. Michael Byrne

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The Brigade Activity Reports (BAR) series of the Military Service (1916–1923) Pensions Collection, released by the Military Archive recently were compiled from 1935 onwards to assist in the verification of individual applications for pensions; nearly all of the reports include brief descriptions of particular operations undertaken or planned including some in Tullamore, the attacks on Clara barracks, Kinnitty, Raheen and more. A new publication, a Guide to the Brigade Activity Reports is available from the Military Archive and a copy can be downloaded there free of charge (hard copy in Offaly History Centre Library). The published guide contains useful essays together with listings of Brigade activity in Offaly, the diversionary attack at Geashill, the killing of Sgt Cronin and the death of Matthew Kane, IRA Volunteer. Last week we looked briefly at the killing of Sergeant Cronin and this week the aftermath. But first a mention of what else is contained in the BAR for Offaly.

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Fate and the killing of Sergeant Cronin of Tullamore in October 1920 during the War of Independence: release of Brigade Activity Reports from the Military Archive. Michael Byrne

Two memorial cards: :Terence McSwiney and Henry Cronin. One was killed in retaliation for the death of the other.

Most people will readily agree that good fortune in life is dependent on hard work and luck. Getting a break can make all the difference. Policeman Sergeant Henry Cronin was shot at Tullamore’s Henry Street (now O’Carroll St) on 31 October 1920 and died the following morning. Now those who shot him that night have been identified in the release of the latest batch of records from the Military Archive. It was a case of bad timing for Cronin as he had been sent to Tullamore only four years earlier in 1916 to replace Sgt Philip Ahern who was injured in the Tullamore Incident and was retired in September of that year.

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The by-election and the general election in Offaly in 1918, Michael Byrne

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McCartan for offaly. This picture may be in 1921 or 1922 and not 1918. The feature poster is for the April 1918 by-election.

 

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, Dr Patrick McCartan’s election agent for the North King’s County by-election, April 1918. Irish Independent, 20 April 1918.

This week we publish a day earlier to mark the 100th anniversary of the General Election of  14 December 1918 – a watershed in the history of politics in Ireland. It should be noted that apart from the by-election of 1914 in North King’s County (Banagher-Tullamore-Edenderry district) no opportunity arose for the north King’s County parliamentary voters to go to the ballot box between 1885 and 1922. Notwithstanding all the excitement in 1918 for both the by-election in April and the general election in December Dr McCartan was unopposed. Women who had fought so much for the vote in the pre-war years did not get a chance to exercise the parliamentary franchise in north Offaly until 1922.

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Birr Barracks WW1 Trench Dig, by Stephen Callaghan

As part of the events for the 50th Birr Vintage Week, a set of mock WW1 trenches were excavated in the training grounds of Birr Barracks. The excavation, which was the first of its kind in the Republic of Ireland, helped provide further information about the training structure put in place to train men for life in the trenches. This article gives a brief overview of the barracks itself and its long colourful history. Continue reading