Offaly and the Treaty Debate: widespread acceptance. Specially contributed

Early 1922 saw just two local organs of public opinion in Offaly – the Midland Tribune and the King’s County Chronicle. The Tribune was owned by the long-term nationalist Mrs Fanning, widow of the late Dr Fanning and herself active in regard to Sinn Féin policy on amalgamation of the workhouses. Her editor was James Pike from Roscore, long-term supporter of Sinn Féin who was now ready to recommend acceptance of the Treaty. So also was Archie Wright, owner of the Protestant and unionist Birr-based Chronicle. The Offaly Independent was more representative of North Offaly, but its printing works had been destroyed by crown forces in November 1920 and did not re-emerge until late spring 1922. During the course of 2022 we plan to bring you articles on the evolving situation in Ireland and Offaly in 1922 and we will be looking into the Offaly Archives, Offaly History Centre and Offaly Libraries to dig deeper for the nuggets.

Continue reading

Well that Beats Banagher!! A humourous expression of amazement. By Kieran Keenaghan and James Scully

This famous phrase or exclamation or some version of it has been in use for hundreds of years. There are few instances if any in the English-speaking world where a placename appears in this manner. In all cases it was used dramatically to emphasise in a humorous way what has been said or written. The phrase was seldom if ever employed in a derogatory sense. It was regularly used by public speakers such as members of parliament or lawyers and judges in court. While it was often referred in Great Britain, and indeed in other countries throughout the world, the most common usage was by people at all levels of society in Ireland and it was very much an Irishism. It appears in the works of many famous writers such as AnthonyTrollope, William Carelton, W.B.Yeats, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Plunkett’s Farewell Companions. It also featured regularly in newspapers and on other media as can be seen in the selection below:

Continue reading

A novel approach to Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon. By James Scully

Pauline Clooney’ Charlotte & Arthur, an imaginative recreation of the Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon in Wales and Ireland, is an exciting combination of fact and fiction. The extensive historical research which preceded the writing of the book is evident throughout and this coupled with the creation of less historic characters and the weaving in of more fictional nuances ensures a work that is at once refreshing and convincing. While the sources of history are comparatively plentiful for this episode due to Charlotte’s prolific letter writing and an abundance of biographies of the two main characters, it is the richness of Pauline Clooney’s writing that makes the work engrossing and appealing.

Continue reading

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. 

Continue reading

Tullamore: ‘A good business town’. By Fergal MacCabe

Why has there been so little public interest in the conservation of the architectural heritage of Tullamore?

Sharing a pot of tea in the Brewery Tap in the early 1980s with a well-known local builder, I remarked that demolition and redevelopment rather than conservation and reuse always seemed to be the first choice option. His reply, which I have never forgotten, was that new buildings which responded to modern needs were always preferable because  ‘Tullamore is a good business town’. Change had always brought benefits and the future held more attraction than the past.

I understand that sentiment. Unlike Birr or even Edenderry, Tullamore has always been seen to be go ahead and dynamic; looking forward always and never backwards. That progressive approach was sustained by active business organisations and extended to the areas of arts, culture and local history also. It created a vibrant, attractive and always interesting atmosphere.

Nonetheless, little concern was ever publicly expressed for the protection of the town’s architectural heritage and the role it might play in its advancement. This derived partly, I believe, from a perception that since there were no buildings earlier than the mid 18th century, the fabric of the town was relatively new and was therefore of little or no artistic interest or value. This attitude was reflected in the non-existence, even to the present day, of any local civic group or architectural preservation society or even an Offaly branch of An Taisce. Birr might have its Chapter of the Irish Georgian Society, Tullamore despite its large inventory of 18th c. buildings, didn’t follow.

Continue reading

Cassandra, Countess of Rosse (1851-1921) – a profile of her life on the centenary of her death. By Graham Sykes

 

During the summer of 1908 the 4th Earl and Countess of Rosse made their customary journey to London in order to enjoy the society ‘season.’  Sadly, this was to be their final visit together, for although the sixty-seven-year-old Earl had been in declining health for some time, soon after they returned to Birr Castle his condition began to deteriorate markedly, so much so that by Saturday 29 August he could no longer be rallied.  He died later that same evening, with his wife present to the end. 

What would the future hold for the dowager Countess of Rosse?  She had been mistress of Birr Castle for almost four decades, having arrived in Ireland newly-married when barely eighteen years-of-age in 1870.  In common with her mother-in-law, Mary Rosse (née Field), Frances Cassandra Harvey Hawke had come from a wealthy Yorkshire family, being the only child of the 4th Baron Hawke of Towton.  She too had inherited property from her father – two country estates, the largest being Womersley – which naturally brought with them a measure of responsibility.  However, the Earl had quickly allayed any local fears that the couple might be lured away to England.  At a banquet held in his honour at the then Dooly’s Royal Arms Hotel shortly after their honeymoon, he reassured the assembled dignitaries of his firm intention to remain among them.  A successful marriage requires both parties to adjust to their changed circumstances, but the Earl’s pledge meant that Cassandra’s life was destined to undergo by far the more radical transformation.  Although not yet formally ‘out’ in society, she would be required to settle in a country about which she initially understood very little and find her place within an entirely new social circle.

Continue reading

Rathrobin and the Two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900–1920. Michael Byrne

Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the photographs taken by Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926, of Rathrobin near Mountbolus) are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was keenly aware of the plantations of the 1550s to the 1650s. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, indoor staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Biddulph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.

Continue reading

The 14th and 15th earls of Huntingdon of Sharavogue, Shinrone and the Birr barracks scandal. By Stephen Callaghan

Warner Francis John Plantagenet Hastings was born on 8 July 1868 at 54, St Stephen’s Green Place, Dublin. He was the son of Francis Power Plantagent Hastings, 14th Earl of Huntingdon, and Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra. The title of Earl of Huntingdon was an English peerage title originally created in 1065, the current title is its seventh incarnation which was created in 1529.

The 14th Earl married Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra 15 August 1867, who was the only daughter of Colonel Honourable John Craven Westenra, of Sharavogue, King’s County – a member of the Irish Whig party.

The family acquired lands in Waterford and King’s County. In the latter they lived in Sharavogue House. The house was originally built in the 1820s and was described as containing drawing and dining rooms of the finest proportion, a library, seven bedrooms, servant apartments, stables, coach houses and offices. A walled garden and 100 acres of land. Later additions to the house were made by notable Irish architect Sir Thomas Deane.

Continue reading

Opening of Offaly Archives by Minister Malcolm Noonan, 18 Nov. 2021.

Offaly History is pleased to announce the opening of Offaly Archives at unit 1F, Cluster Two, Axis Business Park, on Thursday 18 November 2021, by minister of state at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan.

Offaly History completed the building of its second premises in 2019 to coincide with its 50th anniversary. The new repository is a state-of-the-art archives building managed by a professional archivist, Lisa Shortall, and houses the collections of Offaly History and Offaly County Library. The mix of the voluntary and the public sectors, under professional management, provides a unique blend of enthusiasm, specialist knowledge and continuity that can only enhance Offaly Archives over time.

Continue reading

Sean Barry: a Volunteer who ‘was in any operation worthwhile in Offaly’, and Three Cheers for Mrs Nurse Barry. By Michael Byrne

Some of the more recent contributions to the narrative of the 1912–23 period, such as that of Ferriter and Dolan, have looked at the personal histories of the combatants and less at causation and the course of the military campaign (Hopkinson and Laffan). Others such as Foster (and earlier Thompson) examined the cultural background for what role it played in the mind-set of the young revolutionaries. These approaches can be combined in the context of at least one Tullamore family that of Barry of Earl Street, now O’Moore Street, Tullamore. Here two sons of Richard Barry, Richard jun. and John (Sean) each played a significant role – Richard on the cultural side and Sean as a soldier Volunteer. We will look at Richard’s early years in the cultural movements in Tullamore in a later article.

Continue reading