Grand Juries in Ireland: the politics of power in the counties. By Michael Byrne

The county grand jury system will be the subject of much focus from mid-2022 with the uploading of links to the county archives records throughout Ireland by way of the Beyond 2022:Virtual Record Treasury Project. The first thing to say is that a useful and well-illustrated booklet People, Place and Power: the grand jury system in Ireland (Brian Gurrin with David Brown, Peter Crooks and Ciarán Wallace, online 2021) can now be downloaded from the Beyond 2022 website as well as useful material from the county archives in Offaly, Wicklow and Donegal. Furthermore, Brian Gurrin has published online an interim listing of the records held in each county. The scope of the records is well illustrated and draws on more detailed catalogues for counties such as Offaly and Donegal where listings are available on the online catalogues from the county archives. For more on Offaly material see the blog and presentation by Lisa Shortall now on YouTube and as a video on the Offaly History Decade of Centenaries platform on http://www.offalyhistory.com.

In summary the access position to these records will be revolutionised within the year and will greatly facilitate family historians, those interested in the workings of local government and how local elites interacted. What elite families provided the power brokers and controlled local patronage? All were men, most were landowners, representative of the county families, and, of course, most were Protestant from the early 1700s and the enactment of the Penal Laws. It was not until the Catholic Relief Act of 1793 that Catholics were admitted, and being a select club were scarce until the 1830s.

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Babies, Beggars and Belligerents: A Case Study of Unidentified Death Records in Co. Donegal, 1870-1950. By Megan McAuley, the Offaly History/P. and H. Egan scholarship winner for 2021-2023 at Maynooth University

William Dudley Wordsworth accurately noted in his 1876 study of the Dublin Foundling Hospital that: ‘dead children, like drowned sailors, tell no tales’. The same can be said in the context of this analysis of Civil Death Records in County Donegal where unidentified (those registered as deceased without a known forename or surname) infant deaths occurred in their hundreds. This study was inspired by an article in Irish Historical Studies called ‘Registered ‘Unknown’ Infant Fatalities in Ireland, 1916-32: Gender and Power’ by O’Halpin and Breathnach, where the evidence suggests that many unidentified infant fatalities were homicides that occurred as a result of deliberate action, or inaction, i.e., infanticide. This is also true in the case of Donegal from 1870-1950, as the vast majority of unidentified death records belonged to infants, many of whom unfortunately died in suspicious circumstances. Wordsworth’s ‘drowned sailors’ too make an appearance in this set of records and can illuminate local communities’ experiences of Irish neutrality during the Emergency. Unidentified death records also shed light on another marginal group of society: mendicants. This cohort would have been familiar faces to many on the streets of Donegal, but utterly nameless to most, especially when they died. Similar studies could, and should, be undertaken in other counties, such as County Offaly, to further illuminate the ‘unknown’, marginalised or the forgotten in Irish society.

In January 1864 it became obligatory to register all births, marriages, and deaths with the local authorities. Not all deaths, natural and unnatural, however, came to official notice, as popular understanding of the law pertaining to Civil Registration was poor. It can be assumed that the deaths of many people of all ages remained unregistered, particularly in rural areas, for some time after the law was passed. Registrations were collated according to Superintendent Registrar’s Districts. 350 unidentified deaths were recorded in total in the districts of Ballyshannon, Donegal, Dunfanaghy, Glenties, Inishowen, Letterkenny, Londonderry, Milford, Strabane, Stranorlar and Castlederg. Of the death records, 196 were infants and 104 were adults. The remaining 84 death records could not be identified by age. Of the 196 infants, 162 were regarded as suspicious, such that an inquest was held by the local Coroner.

The illegitimate status of a child was a common motivation for infanticide in nineteenth and twentieth Ireland, due to the societal stigma associated with pregnancy and childbirth out of wedlock (for further reading, see Rattigan and Farrell). Pursual of this crime through the courts could only occur, however, if the infant was identified and a suspect detained through police enquiry. This leads the historian to probe a number of questions regarding the Donegal case: How many infant bodies were never recovered, particularly due to quick decomposition, from the rural landscape? Of those that were, how many new-borns were never identified and thus the perpetrator escaped a court trial? It is important, however, not to lay all of the blame on women who committed infant murder. They too were victims of a patriarchal society which valued familial landholding over the life of an apparently illegitimate child.

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Skeletal remains by the roadside in County Offaly. By Stephen Callaghan

Imagine passing construction work on the street or in the countryside, what might you expect to come across or see? Perhaps old masonry, historic detritus or nothing at all?! How about a skeleton? Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century it was not too unusual to come across human remains during construction work or in sand pits owing to the historic nature of an area. This blog post looks at some of the human remains uncovered around Offaly over the past 200 years which were reported in local newspapers.

In August 1860 a party of soldiers found the skeleton of fully grown man while digging earth works in the Fourteen Acres, adjacent to Birr Barracks. The skeleton was found three feet underground. There was no trace of a coffin or clothing. Despite no signs of trauma to the remains it was assumed at the time that the remains belonged to a murdered man. The burial almost certainly pre dates the barracks (1809-1812) and it would not be surprising if it had been there a great deal longer.

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The Great Famine in Shinrone & South Offaly.   Ciarán Reilly 

0.3 prelims A map of King's County and its baronies in 1837 - Copy

A document in the National Library of Ireland sheds important light on the fate of the inhabitants of a part of county Offaly during the years of the Great Famine. Here the names and circumstances of almost 500 people in the village of Shinrone and its hinterland are included on a register for relief, which was provided during the summer and autumn of 1846. Among the names may well be an ancestor of Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America. While Obama’s Irish heritage has been well documented in the past, not least during his visit to Ireland in 2011, few descriptions survive of how the Great Famine directly impacted the Kearney families and their community. It is hoped that this document will be transcribed and made available in Offaly Heritage in the near future.

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The famous suit of ‘ Tullamore Tweed’: a story from the Land War of the 1880s by Maurice Egan

Tullamore gaol and a cartoon from St Stephen’s of November 1887

The remarkable story of Land Leaguer, Henry Egan and his inspired visits to Tullamore Gaol. (November 1887-May 1888)
The brothers Henry and Patrick Egan were well known in the Midlands as proprietors of the acclaimed merchant firm P. & H. Egan’s Tullamore. Both brothers were active Irish nationalists. Henry was a founding member and secretary of the Tullamore branch of the Land League. On Monday 17 October 1881 he was arrested under the Coercion Act of 1881 and imprisoned at Naas gaol. He was accused of being one of the organisers of a monster meeting held at Clara, protesting the imprisonment of Charles Stuart Parnell, the Land League President, four days earlier. Henry was released after 5 weeks.

In 1887, when the Land League leaders William O’Brien, M.P. (Mallow) and tenant farmer John Mandeville were imprisoned at Tullamore gaol, Henry Egan became a regular visitor of his fellow members. In fact, he and his brother-in-law, Dr. George A. Moorhead, visited the gaol upwards of thirteen times per day. They were not alone as hundreds of townsfolk joined them in their quest to put pressure on the authorities to release the two ‘political prisoners’. Mandeville and O’Brien refused to wear official prison garments, protesting their non-criminal status and declaring themselves ‘political prisoners’. The wardens, on instruction from the Tullamore gaol governor and the Chief Secretary of Ireland, Arthur Balfour, responded with beating them, stripping them of their clothes and putting them on a diet of coarse bread and water. Both were released on Christmas Eve 1887. Mandeville died seven months later, and an inquest found his death was because of the severe treatment received at the hands of the wardens in gaol.

In nationalist circles the two became known as ‘The Heroes of Tullamore’.

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Tullamore jail: 1830-1924 the early years to the end of public executions in the 1860s. By Michael Byrne

Undoubtedly, the history of Tullamore jail would make a study in itself for besides the mundane occurrences which are themselves worthy of historical analysis there were a few extraordinary events such as the imprisonment of some of those involved in the Plan of Campaign including William O’Brien and John Mandeville in 1887-88, the women’s suffrage prisoners in 1913, the Tullamore Incident prisoners of 1916 and, of course, the executions, the last being in 1903 and of a woman, Mary Daly. A study of the jail might also involve a study of the pattern and frequency of crime in the nineteenth century and now the law was administered. These questions were raised from time to time as with the death of the Alice Dillon of Geashill, aged 79, imprisoned in Christmas Week 1861 for allegedly begging for alms; again with the botched executions of a brother and sister in 1870; and the treatment of the Plan of Campaign prisoners in 1887-8.

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The murder of Lieutenant Clutterbuck of Birr Barracks in 1865

By Stephen Callaghan

A previous blog post detailed the murder in 1843 of Lieutenant and Adjutant Robertson Mackay of the 5th Fusiliers at Birr Barracks. Mackay was shot dead by a soldier he was drilling, Private George Jubee. Jubee ultimately being hung for his crime. Some twenty two years later a detachment of 5th Fusiliers were stationed in Birr Barracks, with the brutal murder of Lieutenant James Henry Clutterbuck taking place on the River Brosna. Continue reading

The Clonbrock Murder – Part 2 of the story of Mary Daly, by Margaret Mulligan

In the second and final instalment of the story of Mary Daly, the last woman to be hanged at Tullamore in 1903, read about her trial and execution which was a sensation at the time. She was buried three times and said to haunt the gaol building, later the Salt’s factory, for many years afterwards. A full version of this article with extensive bibliography and sources (‘The Clonbrock Murder’) can be found in our journal,  Offaly Heritage, Vol 2. (Esker Press, 2009). Continue reading

Mary Daly, the last woman to be hanged in Tullamore, Part 1, by Margaret Mulligan

For years workers at the Salts factory in Tullamore, formerly Tullamore Gaol, spoke of the ghost of Mary Daly haunting the building. Margaret Mulligan, head researcher at Offaly History, recounts the tale of the last woman to be executed at Tullamore for the murder of her husband, John Daly.

Mrs. Mary Daly was the last woman executed at Tullamore on 10th January 1903, for complicity in the murder of her husband John Daly of Clonbrock, Doonone, Co. Laois. She was the second last woman to be hanged in Ireland. Until the early nineteenth century those convicted of most felonies were liable to be executed, and serious crimes such as robbery, rape and murder, received the death penalty.  Mary Daly suffered the extreme penalty of the law, as it was alleged she was involved in a conspiracy in which she was the principal participator.  She is still prominent in the folk memories of Tullamore town. Joseph Taylor was also executed for the murder of John Daly on 7th January 1903. Continue reading

Birr Courthouse, 1803-2013, part 2.

This is the second part of the article on Birr courthhouse. It was held over from last week to allow for an article on the 100th anniversary of de Valera’s visit to the county. 

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