In a region crowded with fine buildings, County Offaly has a lot of significant works of architecture of which to be proud. It is rich in early Christian and Romanesque remains at Kinnitty, Durrow and Rahan, while the monastic settlement at Clonmacnoise is one of the outstanding survivals of this period in Ireland.
The county is less fortunate in its late medieval ecclesiastical buildings, but of the three Central Leinster counties (Laois, Offaly and Kildare) retains perhaps the most extensive architectural legacy of its Gaelic lordships – notably in tower houses such as Leap, Cloghan and Clonony, among others.
Mary Ward takes her place alongside the Rosses, Jolys and Stoneys in the King’s County/Offaly people of science gallery. Born Mary King, at Ballylin, Ferbane on 27 April 1827 she died in a shocking accident at Birr on 31 August 1869 (see our blog of 24 August 2019). On Saturday 31 August 2019 we mark the 150th anniversary of her death and say something of her achievements. So join us on Saturday from 3.30 pm at Oxmantown Mall, Birr. All are welcome. The book launch is at 5 pm in the Courtyard Café, Birr Demesne. The book will be general sale from 1 September at Birr Demesne, Offaly History Centre and Midland Book, Tullamore.
Spring is in the air and I decided to tip down to Offaly during the week of St Valentine’s and see my old friends in Killoughy and Banagher. There are a still a fair number of Molloys in that part of the world. Everywhere I go now I hear about Tullamore because of the new distillery and I think back to the time when some of my ancestors had distilleries in Tullamore, Kilcormac and Banagher. As to Molonys I was told once by a Tipperary man that there are at least 22 variants of the name so good luck with the searching for this family.
I was down before Christmas and got to visit Clonony Castle where the charming woman Rebecca Armstrong resides and is the hostess for seasonal and summer events there and has the old castle open to the public. I believe she restored it herself and is there about sixteen or seventeen years. She has done a great public service and I suppose got no grants of any kind. Had the OPW done the job you can be sure it would have cost millions and be closed half of the year. De Renzi and Clonony
Anyway enough grousing. We Molloys are nothing if not resilient. I asked some of the big wigs in the Offaly Historical Society to find out more about a barrister by the name of Edmund Molony because I came across an inscription that he put up for his wife in a London church which seems to have been as ample as was her love for the same Edmund. It struck a chord because of my pre-Christmas visit to that lovely old castle which is near the Grand Canal and the town of Ferbane.
I was fortunate to be invited to visit Banagher during Heritage Week in August 2018. Unfortunately I missed the presentation by Messrs Keenaghan and Scully but am told that all went swimmingly or, as we say up here in BAC, it was a hoot. Anyway I have many relations in the Banagher district and some of my ancestors were distillers and engineers about that town and in Kilcormac. I always like to visit Houghs when in Banagher. It was beloved by my old friend Hugh Leonard. I have had a pint or two with ‘admiralty men’ in Pawky Flynn’s and in the Railway Bar.
Not so many years ago we had fine restaurants in Brosna Lodge, the Shannon Hotel (a disgrace now) and we had Valerie Landon’s pottery. I remember the great Waller firm and Ray O’Donovan up in the Midland Maltings. It’s a fine old town and deserves a right good clean up and boost to its business. If Mrs Quirke was alive now what would she say not to mention the late R.H. Moore who my father and grandfather told me was one of nature’s gentlemen. I wonder how is the Vocational School going now. The late Elsie Naugton even had the boys playing hockey. I read somewhere that La Sainte Union had the first flush toilet in Offaly for the new French order of nuns there. It was a great place for the young ladies of the midlands. The old Royal School was long closed in my time but a bit of it survived up to when I left the area. There was always a bit of quality about Banagher and it would be a shame to lose it. Anyway my piece this week is culled from the Birr bastion of unionism, the Chronicle. I know Trollope and Charlotte Bronte would have liked its sentiments but it would not sit so easy with the Sinn Féin men of more recent times.
From the Kings County Chronicle, 18 July 1918
Banagher, well known for its celebrated annual fair, held on the 15th, 16th and 17th of September, is in the Rynagh Parish, Garry Castle Barony, six miles north-west of Parsons town (Birr), 82, miles from Dublin, on the east bank of the Shannon, near the confluence of the Little Brosna, and just in the angle of three of the four provinces, being within Leinster, and divided by the Shannon from Connaught, while lower down the river, a little distance, is the juncture of the Brosna, on the other shore of which is Munster. It returned two MPs to the Irish Parliament from Charles 1 to 1800. It is mainly one long street stretching for nearly a mile from the top of the hill at the church to the bridge, near which is the old barrack and the railway terminus.
The Distillery What was one of the largest whiskey distilleries in Ireland was worked by a private company of a few gentlemen, the former and originating company having abandoned it as a failure. It was formerly a mill, but a limited liability company, about the year 1870, reconverted it. Owing to the capital being reduced by the building charges of about £70,000, the enterprise was closed after a few years, and so remained until, owing to the energetic efforts of the former manager, a new company was formed; and the enterprise was at once placed on a firm financial basis. In its first season, such was the fine quality, the distillery was obliged to continue working up to August. Unfortunately, however, this prosperous condition of things did not continue, and the place has since been almost idle, except for malting carried on by Messrs D. E. Williams, Ltd which firm, within the past few years, also started a cabinet factory in the premises. The distillery itself is a splendid pile, heavy sums, years ago, having been expended on buildings and plant.
Public Buildings The Roman Catholic Church is a fine structure, and a clock placed in the tower through the enterprise of a few. Mr. Patrick Hynes, an energetic inhabitant, taking the lead. Here is also an ancient endowed Royal School, but the Government having decided on discontinuing it, a Commission sat to consider, among other matters, the cause of its decline in the number of pupils. The school endowment is very ancient, dating back to the time of Elizabeth, and is on the foundation of the Royal Schools of Ireland. In its time the school sent forth into the world many eminent men, the late Sir William Wilde being one of its pupils.
The first agent of the Bank of Ireland was Mr. W. Scott, and through the energy of the Roman Catholics a fine convent was erected. Three miles off is the ancient historic town of Cloghan Castle. The town is inconveniently, though pleasantly, situated on a rather steep hill sloping to the Shannon. The ancient name was Beandcar, from the pointed eminence on which it is built. It was known as Fortfalk-land and Bannagh. St. Reynach, sister of St. Finian, who died in 563 founded a religious house here called Kill- Rignaighe, and gave her name to the parish. The site of the house is now a burial ground. Amongst its ruins there was a shaft of a stone cross erected in memory of Bishop O’Duffy, of Clonfert, who was killed by a fall from his horse in 1297. This cross was removed to Clonmacnoise, and it represents the Bishop on horseback bearing a crozier. Here the great Felin MacCoghlan was slain in 1539 by the sons of O’Madden after Mass on Sunday. The castle was rebuilt by Teige O’Carroll in spite of the opposition of the O’Maddens. But in 1584 they demolished it, lest it should come into possession of the English.
The Markets Sir John Mac Coghlan, in 1612, obtained a grant to hold a market here on Thursday, but it was afterwards changed to a Monday and is now held on Friday. It was constituted a corporate town by charter of Charles 1 is 1628, the corporation being styled. “The Sovereign, Burgeases and Free Commons of the Borough and Town of Bannacher alias, Banagher.” “The Sovereign” was appointed a justice of the peace, coroner, and a clerk of the market, and had an extended jurisdiction. These offices, as well as to send two members to parliament, lapsed at the Union
Banagher Besieged Banagher gave considerable trouble to the Birr garrison, and often sent out marauding parties who foraged for themselves pretty freely in the surrounding district. However, when Birr Castle surrendered to General Preston, the natives evacuated Banagher. Dr Warren describes what happened then in his words: “There being no opposition made to Preston, he sat down before Fort Falkland (Banagher), a place of strength enough to have held out against him longer then he could have stayed in that season of the year, and for want of provisions. But though those within were numerous, yet many of them were not serviceable, and they were much encouraged by a long and vain expectation of succour from the monastery which had entirely neglected them. It would have been impossible, indeed, that they should have done, had it not been for the relief, which was sent, then, from time to time, by Lord Clanricarde but as he was himself, then surrounded with too many difficulties to afford them a prospect of succour, and as Preston had granted an honourable capitulation to the garrison in Birr, the besieged were inclined to surrender to him, for fear of falling into worse hands. Therefore, the next day after he came up to Fort falkland, before any battery was raised. Lord Castleward, the Governor, capitulated and was to be conveyed safe, with all his people to the fort of Galway.” It seems this garrison was finally delivered at the castle of Athlone.
Sarsfield at Banagher “All the island called Enisbreary, alias Island MacCoghlan, in the barony of Garrycastle, and also the two ruinous castles of Banagher and Belanaley,” with “liberty of fishing in the Shannon, in the aforesaid barony” were about 1671 granted to John Blysse. A right to establish a ferry was also given, the annual rent for the lands being 10s and for the ferry 5s. As appears by Sarsfield’s operations that he repeatedly crossed a bridge here, the old bridge at Banagher must have been built before then, and the ferry discontinued. From Harris we learn that when Sarsfield attacked Birr in 1690, the English generals – Douglas, Kirk and Lanier – advanced, reliving Birr, and driving Sarsfield across the Shannon to Banagher. The attempt by the English to destroy the bridges was too dangerous, as the Irish were strongly posted on the Connaught side, besides defending the bridge with a castle and other works. The present bridge is on the site of the ancient one.”
The Armstrong Family At Mount Cartaret is the seat of a very old and universally respected family, the Armstrongs, of Scottish extraction. They have resided about Banagher for over two centuries. A mural tablet, dated 1680, records “Here lies the body of Gerald Armstrong.” On another is “Armstrong, four brothers, 1700.” Their first ancestor in Ireland was Thomas Armstrong, who came over in 1657. The present representative is Major T.P. St. G. Armstrong, J.P., and a constant resident with his family.
A Masonic Lodge, No. 306, was by warrant, dated 1758, from the Earl of Drogheda, G.M. of Ireland, founded in Banagher.
[I read somewhere that Trollope was a member of this lodge and had great high jinks when the new bridge was opened. A big bill for the bottles but at least they paid for themselves.]
Next time I get the OK to contribute to Offaly History I may do something on Raleen near Mount Bolus where I believe the last of the chiefs of my clan was located. But then I might recall Kieran Molloy of Clonmacnoise. Do any of you remember them when they looked the monastic site. Some of them were teachers there. I think Clonmacnoise has 150,000 visitors a year now at near €10 each and that cannot be bad. Good to see my old friends in Lukers getting a few visitors from it, not to mention Birr Castle.
A good friend and great coin collector, the late John Sweeney (founder member of Offaly History who died 25 years ago), told me that the Charleville token or thirteen-penny shilling was one of the finest coins issued in the nineteenth century Continue reading →
The death has occurred in Dorset England of Lord Edward Henry Kenelm Digby, 12th Baron Digby on the 1st of April 2018, aged 93. Lord Digby was born 24 July 1924. He was the son of Edward Kenelm Digby, 11th Baron Digby of Geashill and Hon. Constance Pamela Alice Bruce.
He was educated at Eton College, Windsor, Trinity College Dublin, and Oxford University. He also studied at Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Berkshire. He fought in the Second World War and in the Malayan Emergency between 1948 and 1950. He was Aide-de-Camp to the Commander-in-Chief, Far East Land Forces between 1950 and 1951 and Aide-de-Camp to the Commander-in-Chief, British Army of the Rhine between 1951 and 1952. He held the office of Deputy Lieutenant of Dorset between 1957 and 1965. He held the office of Justice of the Peace for Dorset in 1959. He was invested as a Knight, Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (K.St.J.) in 1985. He was invested as a Knight Commander, Royal Victorian Order (K.C.V.O.) in 1998.
He succeeded to the title of 12th Baron Digby of Geashill, King’s County on 29 January 1964 and to the title of 6th Baron Digby of Sherborne. Continue reading →
Anyone who has read the Ballycumber chapter of the recently published Flights of Fancy: Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna, may have noticed a remarkable set of snapshots from a photograph album of the Homan Mulock family of Ballycumber and Bellair. The album is still in Ballycumber House, now owned by Connie Hanniffy and thanks to her generosity, its pages have been digitised revealing life in the big house in the early 1900s. The album is more of a scrapbook filled with illustrations, sketches, and notes alongside the many photographs relating to the leisure pursuits of the Homan Mulocks. Particular interest is shown in horses and equestrian events locally and in England, with photographs from the Pytchley, Grafton and Bicester Hunts; racing at Punchestown; the Moate horse show; and polo matches and gymkhanas at Ballycumber House in the early years of the twentieth century. Continue reading →
My grandfather Michael McDermott of Durrow, County Offaly was born in 1895 and died on 30 March 1976. My mother later stated that he was actually aged 81 years (not 79 as on the gravestone) when he died. What caught my particular attention was that his gravestone records him as ‘CO (sic) North Offaly Batt. IRA’. But he was not in fact the OC of the North Offaly Battalion as claimed. For the funeral, as is usual for old IRA men, the coffin was draped in the Irish tricolour, and the ‘Last Post’ was played, with a firing party over grave. My cousin still has one of the spent cartridges from the blanks. Continue reading →
It would be nice to write that Durrow Abbey house, Tullamore is in course of restoration and that it, the High Cross and Church and the parklands adjoining will soon be properly open to the public. It’s possible but getting more difficult as the house continues to deteriorate. It has been vacant for a considerable time. Councillor Tommy McKeigue drew attention to it recently at Offaly County Council and Paul Moore has reminded us of it in his photographs that are too kind to its present sad condition. But there are hopeful signs. The footpath from Durrow Woods should be completed this year and will allow walkers to come close to the house and the old church at Durrow and High Cross. At least more people will see it and become aware of its potential to midlands/ Ireland East, or is it Lakelands Tourism.
Flights of Fancy; Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna has just been published by Offaly County Council at £30. It’s a large format coffee-table type book with over 350 pages, in full colour and hard cover. It can be bought across the county, Irish Georgian shop, Dublin and Offaly History Centre, Tullamore.
The book looks at the evolution of the demesne in Offaly with no less than fifteen studies of demesnes across the county from Charleville, Birr, Gloster, Tubberdaly, Ballycumber, Moorock, Busherstown, Prospect, Acres, Belview, Mullagh Hill, Ballyeighan, Hollow House, Kinnitty to Loughton. The big names such as Birr are well-known but there are others that provide surprising and interesting excursions into the county’s landscape, architectural history and family history. There are lots of curious things that are fascinating such as the story of the ‘mummy’s hand’ at Prospect House and Lord Bloomfield’s experiences as ambassador to Russia in its glittering heyday. Continue reading →