The Discovery of the Bronte Family Portrait in Hill House in Banagher, Ireland in 1914

The Offaly Heritage Office and Amanda Pedlow have been working with Dr Maebh O’ Regan of National College of Art and Design supporting a project with the Banagher Crafting Group exploring the Banagher and Bronte connections.  Some of you may have attended events at the recent That Beats Banagher Festival.

One of the outputs is a short fifteen-minute film about the discovery of the Bronte Family Portrait in Hill House in Banagher in 1914 and an interview with Dr Sarah Mouldon of the National Portrait Gallery London who care for it now.  Please see the video link for you tube of a very fine presentation adding greatly to our knowledge of how the portrait was received when first presented to the public in 1914. We attach some background material on the discovery of the painting at Hill House, Banagher and how it came to be there from an earlier Offaly History blog. Our thanks to Amanda Pedlow and all concerned with this fine and informative production.

This is one of the projects supported by Offaly County Council through the Creative Ireland programme.

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Richard Barry, Tullamore Celtic Literary Society, William Rooney and Arthur Griffith.  A contribution from Offaly History to mark the Decade of Centenaries and the death of Arthur Griffith, 12 August 1922.

Arthur Griffith died of a heart attack, or stroke, in Dublin on 12 August 1922. He was only 51 and had given a lifetime of service to his country at huge personal cost. To mark the centenary of his death we recall an important contribution from Richard Barry (1880–1978) in 1970 where he set out some of the cultural history of Tullamore in the period before the Rising and the War of Independence. Barry was greatly influenced by the writings of Arthur Griffith in the United Irishman and also by the earlier contributions of William Rooney (1873–1901). Rooney met Griffith probably in 1888 and both were members of the Parnellite Leinster Literary Society, and after 1892 of the Celtic Literary Society. When the United Irishman was launched in 1899, with Griffith as editor, William Rooney was the main contributor and, working together, developed Sinn Féin policy. Rooney’s early death at the age of 27 was a devasting blow to Griffith. William Murphy in the short life of Rooney in DIB cites Michael Collins as describing Rooney in terms normally associated with John the Baptist: ‘Rooney spoke as a prophet. He prepared the way and foresaw the victory’ (Path to freedom, 150).

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The Ross dwelling house at 6 High Street, Tullamore. Part of Tullamore 400th series, no.8 By Michael Byrne

The Ross dwelling house in High Street, Tullamore is a five-bay, two-storey, late-eighteenth-century house set over a high basement. It has a rough-cast walls and large windows with nineteenth-century glazing-bars. The round-headed doorcase, which is set up a flight of steps with moulding nosing, has a blocked-architrave dressing and a keystone. Fronting the house is a low wall with moulded coping and cast-iron railings. Beside the house is an elliptical-headed carriage-arch topped by a cornice. According to the Garner Tullamore: architectural heritage for An Foras Forbartha survey of 1979 the house has regional status (Garner, 1980). Thanks to Tanya and George Ross the house is now in excellent shape and one of the few town houses in Tullamore lived in as was intended by those who built it. The house is one of the few in Tullamore to be featured in national magazines and has been the subject of two articles.[1] The other two were Charleville Castle (Country Life, twice) and Shepherds Wood. The house is now called 6 High Street. In Griffith’s valuation of 1854 it was no. 45 High Street. This piece is also a contribution to the Heritage Council programme on living in towns.

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The burning of Tullamore courthouse, jail and barracks by the anti-Treaty IRA on 20 July 1922. By Michael Byrne.

Contributed by Offaly History to mark the Decade of Centenaries

We saw in previous articles in this series the lead up to the civil war notwithstanding the outcome of the general election in June in which the vote was substantially in favour of supporting the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. In Laois-Offaly all four pro-Treaty candidates were elected with Labour, who preferred to look at the social rather than the Treaty question securing almost fifty percent of the vote. But among the soldiers of the IRA, particularly in Offaly, there was a reluctance to accept the Treaty outcome. Some were of the view that the people would follow where the military led.

The burning of Tullamore courthouse, jail and the former military barracks (in Barrack Street, now Patrick Street) on 20 July 1922 was one of those momentous historic occasions the impact of which had an almost a numbing effect on the people of Tullamore and the county. The completion of these buildings in 1716, 1830 and 1835 were all major steps in the progress of Tullamore. Now all were destroyed in one night for no tangible military benefit by the departing Republican IRA.

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Healthcare in Ireland – pre and post Partition. By Sylvia Turner

Since the early 18th century public healthcare in Ireland had been funded by  voluntary donations. The first hospitals in Ireland were founded in the 1720s. The dispensary doctor was formally established by legislation in 1805 under an Act of Parliament.  The amount from voluntary donations was matched by county grand juries from local taxation. The Poor Law Act of 1838 improved the distribution of dispensaries and divided Ireland into 130 administrative units known as Poor Law Unions, with their own workhouse, governed by the Poor Law Guardians, who were elected by the local rate payers.

The Poor law unions at the end of the nineteenth century. Courtesy Wiki Commons

The dispensary doctor became the mainstay of healthcare in rural Ireland as many people lived too far from medical help in workhouses. The position of the dispensaries was clarified in the 1851 Medical Charities Act, which introduced a state-funded dispensary system to provide free medical aid to the poor. These were to be funded from local taxation and were subsidised by the Poor Law Commission. To attend the dispensary, a person needed to have a colour-coded ticket, dispensed by the committee. The Poor Law Commission was replaced by the Local Government Board in 1872.

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Birr Barracks burnt 100 years ago on 14 July 1922. By Stephen Callaghan. An Offaly and the Decade of Centenaries feature.

Today 14 July 2022 marks one of the most significant centenaries of the year in County Offaly, the burning of Birr Barracks in Crinkill. While the barracks started to go into decline towards the start of the twentieth century, it was still a vital provider of local trade. When the town council requested Lord Roberts station an infantry regiment in the barracks in 1897, local trade from the barracks was valued at £40,000 or around €3.5 million today. While not totally abandoned, troops were stationed in the barracks during the Second Boer War and during the WW1.

On duty at Birr Barracks about 1910

With the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the evacuation the barracks was handed over to the National Army, Commandant General Michael McCormack taking command of the barracks. The last of the British Army to leave had been a detachment of the Northamptonshire Regiment, which stayed to oversee an auction of government property, which ultimately never took place. The deport staff of the Leinster Regiment, had left several days before, bound for Colchester, which would act as the depot until the regiment was disbanded in June 1922.

Now in the hands of the National Army, the barracks was to act as the headquarters for the 3rd Southern Division. As the rift in the army occurred those in favour of the Anglo-Irish Treaty left the barracks leaving behind the anti-treaty forces, which sealed the faith of the barracks.

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Building Offaly’s courthouses and prisons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Dr Richard Butler will showcase the building of Offaly’s courthouses and prisons in the years between roughly 1750 and 1850 in a lecture at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore and via Zoom on Tuesday 12 July 2022. The presentation will place individual buildings in Tullamore, Birr, Daingean and elsewhere in the context of changing political and social events throughout Ireland in these years, highlighting local agendas alongside those of the British administration in Ireland. Illustrated with historic architectural drawings, old and new photographs, the lecture will also highlight schemes that were never built as it traces the ways in which the appearance of Offaly’s towns was transformed in these years by new public architecture. The lecture will incorporate new research on Offaly’s history undertaken in recent years by historians based in the county such as Michael Byrne alongside volumes such as Andrew Tierney’s new Buildings of Ireland guide for Central Leinster and the speaker’s recently published book, Building the Irish Courthouse and Prison: A Political History (Cork University Press, 2020).

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Thomas Mitchell, Ulster bank manager, shot dead in Tullamore, 3 July 1922: an episode in the Civil War. By Michael Byrne Contributed by Offaly History to mark the Decade of Centenaries

It was a quiet afternoon on Monday 3 July 1922 when Thomas Mitchell, the manager of the Ulster Bank in High Street, Tullamore was shot dead by the IRA in the course of a robbery carried out by the Republican IRA (often then called the Irregulars to distinguish them from the Free State’s National Army). Sometimes these events are called ‘daring raids but in this case and for three months previously there were no RIC policemen and the town of Tullamore was  in July under the control of the Republican IRA. The Four Courts had been evacuated on 30 June and the battle for Dublin would soon be determined in favour of the Free State army. By 20 July Tullamore would be under the control of the Free State, but with pockets of Republican forces still in the countryside including in some of the bigger houses such as Rathrobin, near Mountbolus. A report of the Mitchell shooting by way of the inquest was published on 8 July by the Offaly Independent which was based in what was by then Free State territory. The issue of the Midland Tribune for 8 July is not available and both it and the Offaly Chronicle were published in Birr in the heart of Republican army territory. Both papers were censored and afraid to offend.

The Offaly Chronicle 20 July 1922

The Offaly Independent issues of early July were burned by the Republicans in Tullamore. The Independent had been a fearless supporter of Sinn Féin from 1916 to its destruction by the British military in November 1920. It reappeared in February 1922, but its owner Thomas Chapman was unwell and died in April 1922. It was now staunchly Free State whereas the Midland Tribune sought to have unity under its editor James Pike, also a staunch Sinn Féin supporter. The Chronicle after the death of John Wright in 1915 lost any unionist gusto it had and would have been afraid to be outspoken from the time of the Truce and the departure of the British in March 1922. July 1922 was a time when wise counsel was to remain silent. The Christian Brothers used to say it was a trait ingrained in Offaly people!

The old Ulster Bank house in High Street. To the right is Adams, Bank of Ireland, Ulster and J.A. Kilroy hardware.
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The drift towards civil war in Offaly in 1922. Specially contributed by Offaly History members to mark the Decade of Centenaries.

The split in the IRA over acceptance of the treaty had been simmering since January 1922. The outcome of the Dáil vote and the June elections (58 seats to pro-treatyites and 36 to anti-treatyites, others 34) did little to dissuade those who believed they had taken an oath to secure a republic and that the stepping stone approach was unacceptable. De Valera and Harry Boland made this abundantly clear in their addresses to the electors in Tullamore in April 1922 (see the earlier blog in this series on 15 June 2022). De Valera had issued an Easter message to the Republic, in which he had asked the young men and women of Ireland to hold steadily on, and that the goal is in sight at last.[1] Tommy Dunne of Ballinagar and a member of the county council told the anti-treaty meeting in Tullamore that:

‘His chief reason for standing by the Republic movement was the construction he put upon his oath under which he felt justified in waging war against the hirelings and agents of the King of England. To recede from that position and take an oath of faithfulness to the country or King he had  been waging war against, would be an admission of defeat.    We have not been defeated in the fight which we have waged against England in this country for the last two years.  . . . Take care that the acceptance of the Dominion Status by Ireland does not have a similar result [division] and that those who are seeking to make Ireland refuse to accept this Treaty do not find themselves opposed by their own country men (cheers).[2]

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The 1922 general election in Laois-Offaly. By Michael Byrne

The 16th of June 2022 marks two important anniversaries. The first is the centenary of Ulysses, but the second was the all-important vote on the Treaty held on the same day. The outcome in Ireland of the latter event was eagerly awaited. This election was the first to be held in the new Free State, the first held under the PR electoral system, and the first to be contested by the parties which, in modified forms, were to dominate subsequent Irish politics at least up to 2011. The 1918 election has already been the subject of a blog on Offalyhistoryblog and was a clear win in Offaly and the country for Sinn Féin. This blog is part of our contribution to the #decade of centenaries. We plan more over the summer to include the departure of the British army from Offaly barracks, the lead up to the civil war in Offaly, bank robberies, the burning of the county courthouse, jail and barracks, noted personalities in Offaly in 1922. If you wish to help please email us with your suggestions/contribution.

The 1922 election was a fight out between the pro-treatyites and the Republicans led by de Valera, but the pact between Collins and de Valera came to grief before election day. Some had looked to the Labour Party to stand aside in 1922,  as they had done in 1918, or to vote with the pro-treatyites. Nowhere was the wisdom of Labour going its own way better demonstrated that in the new Laois-Offaly four-seat constituency where William Davin came in as the big winner with more than two quotas. Given its performance in later general elections why did the anti-treatyites not field a candidate? Sean Robbins of Clara had topped the poll in the 1920 county council election and Sinn Féin’s ideologue in Offaly and organiser, T.M. Russell, had come second. Russell, to answer part of the question, had departed the local scene in October 1920 and was in favour of the Treaty. Sean McGuinness, the local IRA battalion commander, was another possible anti-treatyite candidate and he was elected in 1923, but declined to take his seat because of the oath of allegiance. He secured 5,572 votes in 1923.

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