Rathrobin House, Mountbolus was the most modern and one of the finest of the ‘Big Houses’ burnt by the anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War of 1922-3. Its loss was a tragedy for the district and for its owner and builder Lt Col Middleton Biddulph. Today the house is a ruin and the intended tomb of the old colonel in Blacklion churchyard remains empty. Biddulph was a generous man of independent means and was not dependent on exacting high rents from his tenants and employees with whom he was on the best of terms. Much has been written of the trauma experienced by participants in the Civil War, of the needless killings and the executions (81). It was a shocking time for the two sides and many innocent people suffered also. Perhaps some of the post-Civil War trauma and the silence can be attributed to the consideration that the war may have been an unfortunate and costly mistake. It may have seemed so to some of the participants following the success of the Free State and Fianna Fáil governments in rolling back on the oath, dominion status and the ports in the 1930–38 period. Thus confirming the ‘stepping stone’ thesis. As with the Spanish Civil War (much more violent) there is, even now, a kind of Pact of Forgetting (Pacto del Olvido) with people wanting to move on and forget about something that should not have happened. Yet, it is important to record the events of that period and what brought about the shocking atrocities especially in Kerry. County Offaly had its share in these tragedies.Continue reading
The History of Ballyboy, County Offaly in story and pictures from the children of Ballyboy National School
Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Slieve Bloom Mountains, Ballyboy or Baile Buí, meaning the town of the Yellow Ford, is a picturesque village of rich historical significance. Like many villages in Ireland, the modest present-day facade of Ballyboy belies a history that has seen the rise and subsequent fall of an early Christian monastery, a site visited by many historical figures in the early years, including Hugh O’Neill, the Normans and even Oliver Cromwell.
St. Brigid’s Convent & St. Mary’s Church
St. Brigid founded a convent in our village in or around the year 500 A.D. The people of the village maintain that it was the very first convent she built in Ireland. The Convent was situated on the mound still known as Abbey Rath (later becoming the site of the Norman Motte and Bailey) The convent continued until 1539. Around the same time as St. Brigid built her convent, it is said that the first church in the village, St. Mary’s Church was also built. Mass would have been celebrated in Saint Brigid’s Convent or at St Mary’s church.
From 1650, when Cromwell’s army marched to the village from Cadamstown and destroyed St. Mary’s Church, until 1704, there was no church in the parish. The old church had a round tower that came almost to the centre of the present-day road. There was also a tunnel from the church to the fort at Abbey Rath. The tunnel was 400 metres long.
During Cromwell’s attack, the precious Pieta was bravely hidden by two McRedmond women from Knockhill. When they saw Cromwell and his men approaching from Cadamstown, they rushed to the church, took the Pieta from its place just inside the door and hid it outside in a heap of rubbish. Everybody fled to the woods and caves before Cromwell and his men reached the village, in case they would be killed. In the dead of night, for Cromwell’s army was still in Ballyboy, a party of men took the statue and carried it a short way across the Silver River and over the fields to Ballybracken, also known as Ridgemount. Here they buried it 6 feet deep in the bog below Derryhoy, where it lay hidden for over 60 years. Ridgemount is the area where the Faithful Fields are now situated. These men promised not to tell anyone where the Pieta was buried. Just before the last of the men died, he told people where it was located. When it was found, the Pieta was brought to the Church of the Nativity BVM in Kilcormac, where it still remains today.
The Pieta as it presently stands in the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Kilcormac.
During Penal Times Catholics were forbidden to practise their religion and resorted to celebrating mass in secluded places. There is still a corner field in Ballinacarrig called ‘The Mass Pit’. According to Rev. A Cogan’s “The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern”, a priest was arrested in his vestments for saying mass near the Motte in Ballyboy.
St. Mary’s Church Ballyboy
St. Mary’s Church Ballyboy
Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was taken over by the Church of Ireland between the dates 1709 and 1715 when there was renewed persecution of Catholics. The present church was built in 1815 with a loan of £900. Several years later, it was repaired with a grant of £279. In 1874, a very bad thunderstorm hit Ballyboy and the tower of the church was struck by lightning. It is said that the flash ripped a body that had been buried a few days before out of its grave. Two years after Griffith’s Valuation, the women of Ballyboy got together and subscribed a sum of money to purchase a chalice for the Church. This chalice is still in use in Kilcormac and on its base is inscribed ‘Pray for the Matrons of Ballyboy, 1856’.
Seán Lambe, Aran Kelly, Andrea Feighery, Kyle Jennings, Harry Bracken, Rory Grennan
The Normans in Ballyboy
In 1175, the Normans arrived in Ballyboy and built a Motte and Bailey in the village on Abbey Rath, on the banks of the Silver River. The Castle was initially built as a secure garrison for the Anglo-Norman army as they advanced through this region using the routeways in Fir Cheall. Once the region of Fir Cheall had been secured by the Anglo-Normans, the castle acted as a focus for settlement which grew up around and under the protection of the earth and timber castle. At the base of the mound are the remains of old walls, said by some to be the ruins of St. Brigid’s Convent.
Towards the end of the 14th century, the O’Malley’s took possession of the Anglo-Norman castle. The lands and castle of Ballyboy remained in the hands of the O’Malley’s until the Irish War of 1641-53. After this war the lands and castle of Ballyboy were confiscated by the Commonwealth government and granted to Sir William Petty. During the Williamite Wars in Ireland of 1688-91, the village and castle of Ballyboy became a garrison for Williamite soldiers. In 1690 the Jacobite forces attacked and burnt the town and the Williamite forces took refuge in the castle located on the ‘Mount’ in the centre of the village.
The earth and timber Norman Castle in Ballyboy by Grace Guinan
The Norman Castle in Ballyboy by Anna Doolan
The archaeological remains of the earth and timber castle consist of a large D-shaped bailey that lies to the southwest of the low motte and survives today as a well-defined curving field boundary. The poorly preserved remains of a wall belonging to a stone structure can be seen standing on the summit of the motte. This wall may belong to the stone castle depicted standing on the summit of the motte on the 1654 Down Survey map.
In the post-medieval period, the castle was in ruins and the stone from it was probably reused in the construction of the present houses in the village. During this time, a stone wall was constructed along the base of the motte on the southern side. The church and castle with its associated settlement can be seen depicted on the 1654 Down Survey map of Ballyboy Barony. The Church of Ireland ruins are located on the site of the medieval church.
This photograph shows the motte or mound of the Anglo-Norman earth and timber castle. A later post-medieval wall cuts across the base of the motte which is visible on the left side of the photo.
The footings of the stone structure can be seen on the top of the motte.
Grace Guinan, Luke Guinan, Anna Doolan, Aaron Coady
Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy
Our school, Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy is named after St. Brigid.The site of our present-day school was originally a hat and glove factory. During Penal Times, it was against the law for Catholic children to be educated, so a hedge school was set up to secretly educate local children. For a short period during the early 1700’s, the ruins of the old church in Ballyboy was used as a hedge school also.
The site of the Hedge School in Ballyboy
When Penal Laws ended in 1782 it was no longer illegal to have hedge schools so there was a school built in the village. There is little known about the school other than it had a thatched roof.
In 1820 a new school with a thatched roof was built by Lord Lansdowne’s wife. It is said that the school was also aided by an annual donation of £6 from the Marquess of Lansdowne. This school had a Protestant Schoolmaster and provided Catholic and Protestant children with an education. In 1832, the school was taken over by the Board of Education. The roof was slated and a Catholic Schoolmaster appointed. Griffith’s Valuation tells us that there was a dwelling house where the master would have lived. There was no piped water and the ditch was used as a toilet.
The Schoolhouse in Ballyboy, built by Lord Lansdowne’s wife
Ballyboy Schoolhouse 1820-1962 by MJ Hynes
The school was originally very close to the road but in 1960 it was knocked and a new one, seen below, built further back. This new school design was typical of the time being a large one storey building with tall windows. All the children were taught in two rooms. There was a small solid fuel stove in each classroom for heat, and the children would fetch turf from the shed which is now our boiler house.
Ballyboy School in the late 1960’s with the central chimney used to heat both classrooms. This central chimney is no longer present in our current school.
The school has been extended twice since it was built, in 1996 and in 2004. We now have a big playing pitch outside where we can play. We have a safe environment, and we are building a set down area so our parents can drop us off safely to school. For a such a small village we have a lot of history.
The First extension in 1996
Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy September 2022
Back in Time….the steps in our school wall that once led to the Hatter’s Factory
The old water pump outside our school. This pump would have been used as a source of water on the night of the fire in the hall.
Daniel Lambe, MJ Hynes, Theo Kilmartin, Sean Russell, Bryan Feighery, Aaron Grimes McDermott
Dan and Molly’s
Dan and Molly’s pub was built in the 1800’s. It has been a pub for over 150 years. Originally the Redmond’s owned the pub, then the Molloy’s, the Petits, the Lynch’s and then the Ryan’s. The Ryan’s moved into the building in 1863 and Jack Ryan passed it down to his daughter Molly, who married Dan Boland. The pub then became known as Dan and Molly’s. Dan and Molly’s daughter Catriona now runs the pub alongside her husband Fergal. Dan and Molly’s still has the thatched roof because there was a preservation order put on the building in the 1970’s which does not allow it to be removed. Dan and Molly’s is the only straw thatched pub left in Offaly. The pub is used for music sessions, set dancing, card games, music lessons and general community events. The lessons are run by Ballyboy CCÉ. The family have a keen interest in the arts as the music has been passed down through four generations – namely Jack Ryan, his daughter Molly, grand-daughters Catriona and Stella and now the great grand-children John, Anna, Daniel, Séan and Katie. On April 12th, 2011, the pub went on fire, when a spark from the chimney ignited the straw on the thatched roof. This was a devastating evening for the family and for the community. It took many units of the fire brigade to bring the fire under control. Luckily the roof was restored to its original condition soon after.
Dan & Molly’s Ballyboy by Anna McDonald
Anna McDonald, Fiadhna Leamy, AJ Bracken, Daniel Heffernan, Cára Guinan, Mark Dolan
Ballyboy Hall was built in 1954 by the Young Farmers Association. It was built by voluntary labour mostly in the evenings, after the work of the day was done. In 1690, more than 250 years before this, King William of Orange had spent a night in the hotel which had stood on this very site. (The new hall was built on the site of the old hotel.) In 1967, there was a fire in the hall during a Whist Drive. The calamity happened because an oil heater caught fire. Local people who were there, said that it was an awful tragedy and many people got very badly burnt. On the night, water was pumped from the village pump, located outside the school to treat the injured. Luckily nobody died in the fire. The hall has remained derelict for many years until recently, when several locals came together and formed a group called Ballyboy Community Development Group. The group are fundraising to build a new community hall on the same site as the old one. They plan to develop a green space and recreational area in the village including landscaped area with seating, lighting and amenity car parking area.
Ballyboy Hall by Cian Brunswick
Cian Brunswick, Adam Coady, Lochlann Fletcher, Alice Molloy, Sophie McGarry, Michael Clavin
Great work from the children of 5th and 6th class at Ballyboy School. This is our first blog from a school. Many of our blogs are used by schools and we look forward to more contributions from your area. Congratulations to Ballyboy, all the children who wrote and illustrated. A special thanks to the staff and in particular to their teacher Ms Michelle Egan, and also to Ms G. Clendennen.
Offaly History welcomes contributions by way of articles on all aspects of the history of County Offaly
The execution of three young Tullamore men at Birr during the Civil War, 26 January 1923. By an eyewitness, Fr Colm Gaynor, a Birr curate (d. 1949). A contribution from Offaly History to the Decade of Centenaries
Fr Colm Gaynor was a Catholic curate in Birr in the years 1922–37. Originally from Tyone, Nenagh his valuable memoir was published in 2003 and included with that of Sean Gaynor and Eamonn Gaynor. The book was published by Geography Publications as Memoirs of a Tipperary family: the Gaynors of Tyone, 1887–2000. It is available from Offaly History Centre to buy or to read at Bury Quay, Tullamore.
The three young Tullamore men were William Conroy (20), Patrick Cunningham (22) and Colm Kelly (18) and they were executed by the Free State military in the grounds of Birr Castle on 26 January 1923. They were from poor families in the town and had no one of influence to speak for them. It is said that a fourth young man was allowed to go free.
Writing later to the Military Service Pensions Board about the execution of three men, Sean McGuinness, brigade O/C and on the Republican side said :
The three had been expelled from their IRA active service unit for some minor misdemeanours. McGuinness wrote that the men returned to Tullamore, where they “remained unemployed and I presume penniless and without a smoke”. He claimed they were executed by the Free State for a “few minor robberies”, though the court records show they were summarily executed for armed robbery. McGuinness suggested that “their crime was nothing compared with that of the great betrayal of the Republic by the authority responsible for the killing of these three youths”.
Such was the legacy of bitterness understandably arising from the Civil War.Continue reading
Cormac Street, Tullamore: a significant achievement for the planning process, 1786–2020. A contribution to Tullamore 400th and the Historic Towns Initiative to support town regeneration. By Michael Byrne
Cormac Street is somewhat unique in the story of Tullamore street development with its forty houses, two major institutional buildings and a town park. Rarely is a street preserved without blemish with so many elements over a two-hundred-year period. Cormac Street was also the home of the town’s major property developer and rentier Thomas Acres (d. 1836) who built his Acres Hall in 1786 (now the home of Tullamore Municipal Council). To the earl of Charleville and Thomas Acres is due most of the credit for the transformation of a green field site with Kilcruttin Hill and cemetery to the west and the Windmill Hill to the east. Acres could thank the war with France, 1793–1815, for the boost to the local economy that provided him with tenants for the terrace of houses on the east side. The expansion of Tullamore after 1798 due to the Grand Canal connection with Dublin and the Shannon provided the impetus to secure a new county jail (1826–30), county town status in 1832 and to take effect in 1835 with the completion of the county courthouse. War, politics and pride of place all contributed to the mix. The Bury contribution was rounded off when Alfred (later the fifth earl) secured a new railway station at Kilcruttin in place of that at Clonminch in about 1865.
Cormac Street has had the benefit of careful planning in its first hundred years and has managed to survive the excesses of the post 1960 and post 1997 periods of rapid development. The saving of Acres Hall in the 1980s was a significant achievement. What are these elements that contribute to the street and how did it all come about? Here are set out twenty points and probably more could be added.Continue reading
Saint Piran – of Seir Kieran, Offaly? By John Dolan
It was a casual comment at the recent excellent Heritage Day event at Seir Kieran, Discovering Seir Kieran Monastic Site, a local mentioned that there had been a visit in recent months from a group from Cornwall, visiting the birth place of St. Piran/St. Ciarán. Cornwall had been mentioned as a place associated with St. Ciarán by one of the speakers on the day. It was time again to have a look at this St. Piran. Piran is by far the most famous of all the saints to have gone to Cornwall from Ireland.
St. Ciarán was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland along with Brendan of Birr. Charles Plummer’s translation of the Life of Ciarán has him arriving to Ireland before St. Patrick. He also had the title of the ‘first born of the Saints of Ireland’. He is supposed to have been born at Cape Clear in Cork where there is a church, a beach and a standing stone as memorials to him.Continue reading
Waterloo and some Birr connections. By Stephen Callaghan
Those not overly familiar with military history will be still aware of famous battles, probably none more than Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated by Wellington and his allies in 1815. As today is the 207th anniversary of this decisive battle, we will look at some of the men who were present at this battle who now lie buried in Birr. There are at least four men buried in the town who were present at the battle with many more who fought during the Peninsular Wars, which is a topic for another post. A sad observation is that other than the officers, the other brave men mentioned below are all buried in unmarked graves.Continue reading
Disbandment of the Leinster Regiment based at Birr Barracks 100 years ago. By Stephen Callaghan
The 12th of June 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the disbandment of the historic Southern Irish infantry regiments of the British Army at Windsor Castle. Disbandment was brought about by economic cuts to the British Army after World War One (Army Order No. 78 dated 11 March 1922 “reduction of establishment”) and in part due to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State. The Royal Irish Regiment, Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Munster Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (and South Irish Horse) were all earmarked for disbandment and would surrender their colours to King George V.
The various detachments of the six regiments made their way to Windsor Castle via the 9:55 am train from Paddington Station, London. The historic ceremony took place at 11:30 am in St. George’s Hall in Windsor Castle with each battalion of the various regiments consisting of a colour party of three officers and three other ranks, with the respective colonel of each regiment also present.Continue reading
The Everyday Colmcille. By Dr M.J. Fox
Traditionally it has been believed that St. Columba, or Colmcille, left this world on 9 June 597, marking his departure from this world and entering a new life. Throughout those 77 years on this earth, according to his first hagiographer, Adomnán, he is reported to having performed many ‘prophecies, miracles and visions’ some of them astounding and others quite the opposite. Although much has been made of his more breathtaking and spectacular feats of saintliness, his less notable achievements have garnered significantly less consideration, though they might be worth reflecting on too. Here we take a few examples directly from Adomnán’s writings – one example from each of his three parts or books – and determine if they have any currency today, 1425 years later. (This article is published to mark St Colmcille’s Day on 9 June. Wishing our President Helen Bracken and all who have worked hard to see Durrow fully restored to public health and public access. Ed.)
Adomnán’s work is divided into three books, and according to the title, the first concerns prophetic revelations, the second miracles, and the third visions. There is no chronological order to most of it. He is sometimes painfully clear about some of his sources, and vague or silent about others. Over the centuries it has been added to, and the veracity of his writing has been the subject of much debate, with some researchers more disparaging than others. Here, we are only concerned with the original Adomnán work, and nothing later than that. It was written at least 60 to 100 years after Colmcille’s death. It is worth adding that the version used in this article is a 1995 translation with extensive and informative notes by Richard Sharpe.Continue reading
The limestone quarries of Ballyduff, Tullamore. Part 3: From Tullamore to Tasmania. By John Wrafter￼
In the second article on the quarries and stonecutters of Tullamore, I wrote about members of the Bracken family that left Ireland with their stonecutting skills and brought them to Australia. That was around 1910. However, stonecutters from the Ballyduff quarries had been emigrating and practicing their trade abroad for many years before that. Australia, in particular, was the destination for many. In this article, I will focus on two families, the Molloys and the Cronlys, and their involvement in stonecutting both at home and abroad.Continue reading
Kinnitty Village: My Earliest Memories. Part 2 By Paddy Lowry
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.
Hay and Oats for the mountain goats,
A bag of feathers for the Kinnitty beggars.
Kinnitty is a pretty village,
All grass and no tillage,
In every street a row of trees
Where liars dwell as thick as bees.
Kinnitty is a pretty village
Where natives are unknown,
Where strangers came from distant parts
And made it all their own.Continue reading