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.
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.
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’.
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.
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
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
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
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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Birr Barracks was constructed by Bernard Mullins between 1809-1812, during the height of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) in Europe. The Barracks saw various regiments of the British Army stationed there. The Barracks was burned to the ground in July 1922 by North Tipperary Brigade, IRA. In 110 years of existence there were many notable, interesting events and scandals, one of the more macabre events was the murder of Adjutant Robertson Mackay of the 5th Fusiliers by Private George Jubee, this is their story. Continue reading