Decorations and Dinners in Tullamore in 1873 for the coming of age of the fourth earl of Charleville and the marriage of his sister Katherine Bury. No 7 in the Tullamore 400th series. The oldest surviving wedding photograph of an Offaly family?  By Michael Byrne

Charles William Francis Bury, the fourth Earl of Charleville, came of age on the 16th of May 1873. Celebrations were delayed to the end of May so as to confine the party and the guests staying at the castle to one week and ending with the marriage of the earl’s sister to Captain Edmund Hutton on 5 June 1873. As stated in article no. 5 in this series the young earl died in New York on 3 November 1874 without marrying and was succeeded as fifth earl by his uncle Alfred. The latter died childless on 28 June 1875 and so the Charleville title died with him. The fourth earl’s sister, Lady Emily, succeeded to the estate while yet a minor. She married in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. Lady Emily died in 1931 having spent much of her widowed life abroad and was succeeded by her only surviving child Lt Col. Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80). He inherited Belvedere, Mullingar from his cousin Brinsley Marlay in 1912 and sold the contents of Charleville Castle in 1948. As Lt Colonel Bury died childless the estate went back up the line to the children of Lady Katherine Hutton née Bury (died 1901). The celebrations of 1873 were poignant and the speeches full of irony. That the family had an excellent relationship with the Tullamore townspeople is clear from the speech of the parish priest Fr McAlroy who had succeeded O’Rafferty in 1857. Alas so little material has survived by way of letters or diaries of the speech makers of that exciting week in the history of Tullamore. As noted in the no. 5 blog the original address of Dr Moorhead on behalf of the town commissioners was donated by Professor Brian Walker to Offaly History. The late Brigadier Magan donated an important photograph of the 1873 wedding and pictures of the Hastings of Sharavogue in what we now call the Biddulph Collection in Offaly Archive.

The Hastings and Westenras of Sharavogue were among the guests at the Charleville wedding as also was Lord Rosse (the fourth earl) and the Bernards. Lords Digby and Downshire, the other big landowners in the county were absentees. This copy from Rathrobin and the two Irelands (Tullamore, 2021) available from Offaly History.
Continue reading

The First Technical Education Scheme in King’s County/Offaly, 1902–30: a time of exciting innovation and experiment. By Michael Byrne

In these days when there is so much of war and pestilence it is good in looking at the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland to focus on the positive. Things that were done the good of which is still with us. So it is with technical education. Today we look at the early efforts and how positive and innovative were the early pioneers. Our own founder of Offaly History in 1938-9, James Rogers, was one who contributed. So too did those unsung heroes E. J. Delahunty and Willie Robbins. In regard to technical, or what is sometimes referred to as practical education, the earliest attempt in the county to provide such a facility was made at Birr about 1841 when the Parsonstown Mechanics Institute was established in, or to the rear, of the memorial hall at John’s Mall.[1] It was not a success. There were other experiments in agricultural education and model schools, but the first real attempt to provide children and adults with opportunities for technical or practical education came with the passing of the Technical Instruction Act, 1889. A further important stimulus was the passing of the Agricultural and Technical Instruction Act. 1899, which led to the setting up of a new department of agriculture and technical instruction. As a result of the two acts over fifty committees throughout Ireland were working to promote agriculture and technical instruction by early 1900.[2]

Continue reading

Shops and pubs designed by Michael Scott in the 1940s for D.E. Williams. By Fergal MacCabe

At a time of economic stringency, the architect Michael Scott delivered several elegant retail buildings for a prominent midlands business family. These were executed in a Modernist style and incorporated natural materials in an innovative fashion.

D.E. Williams

In a recent Offaly History blog, Michael Byrne described the expansionary retail strategy of the notable Offaly commercial firm of D. E. Williams in installing high quality shops and pubs in virtually every town and village across the county in the period 1884-1921.

This courageous approach had not deserted the go ahead commercial family when during the Second World War, then modestly referred to as ‘The Emergency’, they ambitiously embarked on the redevelopment of their most prominent retail outlets in Dublin, Athlone and Birr and and most importantly, delivered a flagship shop and public bar in Patrick Street in Tullamore. To implement their progressive strategy they turned to Michael Scott.

Continue reading

Internship at the Offaly Archives. By Michelle Günter

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.

Continue reading

Manuscripts from Early Offaly Monasteries. By John Dolan

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

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.

Sample Ogham stone, TCD website


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.

Continue reading

Partying in Tullamore in 1873 for the coming of age of the fourth earl of Charleville and the marriage of his sister Katherine Bury. By Michael Byrne. No.5 in the Tullamore 400th series

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.

Continue reading

The grant of Tullamore in 1622 to Sir John Moore of Croghan: the 400th anniversary of the beginning of township in Tullamore. By Michael Byrne

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.

Continue reading

A new chapter in Westmeath historiography: the recent publication of Westmeath History and Society, an address by Dr Harman Murtagh at the launch in Athlone.’ Without doubt, this is the greatest book ever published on Westmeath. It’s a monument to our county’s culture, history, society and creativity – and an expression of Westmeath’s very distinctive identity.’

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.

My friends,

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!

Continue reading

Tullamore in 1838: from Patrick Street to Harbour Street, Church Street and Henry/O’Carroll Street. No. 3 in the series to mark the 400th anniversary of township in Tullamore. By Michael Byrne

Barracks built in 1716 and destroyed in 1922

The barracks of 1716 was at the western end of Patrick Street and Hayes Hotel, dating to 1786, at the eastern end on the corner with Church Street and Bridge Street (now Boots Pharmacy). The barracks was destroyed in July 192 2on the retreat of the Republican soldiers from the town during the Civil War. Within fifteen years the site was fully taken up with urban council housing and a garda station built here in 1937 and rebuilt in 2002. The military barrack of 1716 brought about 100 soldiers to the town and is thought to have been a major factor in the town’s growth because of the increased demand for goods and services that followed its construction. After the 1870s, soldiers were stationed at Tullamore only at infrequent intervals.

Barrack/Patrick Street, Tullamore about 1910. The barracks dated to 1716 and destroyed in 1922.

The police moved into the old barracks about the year 1899. The building was occupied by the old I.R.A. in March 1922 when the British army quit the town as part of the Treaty settlement and was destroyed some four months later as the Republican soldiers left town in the course of the Civil War and before the arrival of the Free State army. Parts of the old walls survive and one can see the star-shaped fort pattern in the part of the wall opposite DNG Auctioneers.

Part of the old star-shaped fort style for the new barracks of 1716 erected in Tullamore
Continue reading

The Courts of Assize in Offaly and the ceremonial display of British power in Ireland before 1922. By Michael Byrne

The memorial to the Offaly Volunteers who fought in the War of Independence was unveiled on the lawn of the county courthouse, Tullamore in 1953. It was Peadar Bracken (1887–1961) former OC Offaly Brigade and from 1922-3 the Tullamore district court clerk who ensured that the IRA Volunteer monument was placed on the lawn of the courthouse. Besides, a site in O’Connor Square was not an option from 1926 when the war memorial was completed. Given that it was principally to the Tullamore courthouse that the feared judges of the assizes would arrive it has strong symbolism. The Volunteer monument was completed in 1939 but not unveiled until 1953 due to the difference between the Free Staters (National Army) and the Republicans.

Memorial to members of the Old IRA at the county courthouse, Tullamore

As noted in an earlier article in Offalyhistoryblog the last of the assizes was held in July 1921 with Judge Wiley presiding and a large force of military to protect him as the symbol of the British state. Now with the marking the 100th anniversary of the Treaty and the departure of Crown forces from Ireland it seems appropriate to look again at the twice-annual display of British power in the assize towns of Ireland.

Continue reading