The release of the War of Independence prisoners: Tullamore jail was deplorable. Louis Downes and Michael Grogan of Tullamore tell their story. By Michael Byrne

The release of thousands of internees from jails in Ireland and Britain followed on the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in early December 1921. Most had been imprisoned under the Restoration of Order (Ireland) Act. We carried a blog on the first phase of the releases in mid-December. Upwards of 4,000 were being held since the Truce of July 1921 in Rath Camp in the Curragh, Portlaoise Jail and Ballykinlar Camp in Co. Down as well as from Waterford, Cork, Kilmainham, Mountjoy and other prisons. The second wave of releases came in mid-January 1922 and many had been convicted and sent to English prisons.

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The Public Role of Personal Commemoration. Remarks on the Decade of Centenaries, the Great Flu and the scourge of TB. By Sylvia Turner

On January 7th this year, we raised a glass to commemorate what would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. Born in Kilcoursey Lodge,  Clara, she had always said that she was born on a special day, being the day, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in the Dáil. Her explanation to me as a child was that ‘it split Ireland in two and caused a lot of trouble’.

This example of  family commemoration running  parallel to the national one, relates to one of the aims on The Decade of Centenaries Programme  to ‘focus on the everyday experience of ordinary people living in extraordinary times, as well as on the leaders and key actors in these events’

The Decade of Centenaries Programme has led to a great variety of commemorative events and   literature, both at a national and local level. The Decade has been commemorated by Offaly History through a  variety of media, no longer limited to monuments and the written word,  as technology has enabled visual and auditory means to be retained through the use of videos and podcasts.

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Offaly and the Treaty Debate: widespread acceptance. Specially contributed

Early 1922 saw just two local organs of public opinion in Offaly – the Midland Tribune and the King’s County Chronicle. The Tribune was owned by the long-term nationalist Mrs Fanning, widow of the late Dr Fanning and herself active in regard to Sinn Féin policy on amalgamation of the workhouses. Her editor was James Pike from Roscore, long-term supporter of Sinn Féin who was now ready to recommend acceptance of the Treaty. So also was Archie Wright, owner of the Protestant and unionist Birr-based Chronicle. The Offaly Independent was more representative of North Offaly, but its printing works had been destroyed by crown forces in November 1920 and did not re-emerge until late spring 1922. During the course of 2022 we plan to bring you articles on the evolving situation in Ireland and Offaly in 1922 and we will be looking into the Offaly Archives, Offaly History Centre and Offaly Libraries to dig deeper for the nuggets.

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King’s County Infirmary – its closure in 1921 in an era of change. By Aisling Irwin

King’s County Infirmary was established under the reign of King George III with the passing of the Irish County Infirmaries Act of 1765. This act enabled the creation of infirmaries in thirty Irish counties. During the redevelopment of Tullamore town by the Earl of Charleville, a new infirmary building was erected in 1788 on Church Street and was further extended in 1812.

The County Infirmaries Act was enacted to provide healthcare to the poor which fulfilled the eighteenth century philanthropic ideals of the landed gentry who supported these institutions through donations and subscriptions. King’s County Infirmary was supported by an income consisting of parliamentary funds, grand jury presentments, governor subscriptions, donations, and patient fees. The infirmary was managed by a Board of Governors who paid subscriptions for their position on the board which gave them absolute control over the infirmary including staff appointments and patient admissions. Governors were made up of local gentry and landowners such as the Earl of Rosse, Lord Digby, and prominent business owners such as the Goodbody family.   

While surviving records are limited, the Board meeting minute books provide a colourful insight into the running of an infirmary in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland.  The Infirmary’s Surgeon, Dr James Ridley, was linked to a scandal that pervaded the county in 1887 and 1888. Ridley, who also acted as one of the Tullamore jail physicians was reported to have died by suicide on the morning he was due to give evidence at the inquest into the death of John Mandeville, a national league activist. Mandeville who was imprisoned under the Irish Crimes Act of 1887 was subject to harsh and cruel punishment at the hands of his jailors and died shortly after his release from prison. 

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The internees released from the camps following the Treaty of 6 December 1921. A time of ferment in politics. By Michael Byrne

The scene at the railway station [Tullamore] will long be remembered. Long before the hour for arrival of the train, the stream of people to the station premises and surroundings was continuous. There was joy everywhere and the light and hope that the glad tidings brought were seen in the faces of the huge gathering. The railway station premises were thronged while from every point of vantage round about it people awaited the home-coming of the boys whose familiar faces they yearned to see once more. 

Ballykinlar autograph courtesy Offaly Archives. For further on this see Offaly History and Decade of Centenaries/ gallery. ‘Autograph books were an important aspect of the material culture of the camps and the internees signed each other’s books with political quotes, inspirational messages, and artwork depicting the camps or political ideals. Although prisoners were released from the camps following the Truce in 1921, anti-treaty republicans were again interned in prison camps such as Tintown in the Curragh during the Civil War.‘ – Offaly Archives

Late 1921 was a time of ferment in Offaly. Once the Truce was announced in July 1921 attention turned to matters such as reforms in public health that would see the county infirmary along with the workhouses at Edenderry and Birr closed. The former workhouse at Tullamore was now to serve as county hospital and ‘county home’. It was a major reform pushed through by Sinn Féin who dominated much of local government, save in the urban councils of Birr and Tullamore. As more people were pushed out of the institutions and the economic situation deteriorated the demand for home help grew. Some of the ratepayers were concerned but not the Midland Tribune which was then owned by Mrs Margaret Powell who was one of the few women involved in the Birr local health committees.[1] Her editor from 1912 to late 1940s was James Pike from Roscore, Screggan. Four women sat on the Tullamore Hospitals and Homes Committee chaired by Mrs Wyer. Pike in an editorial on 17 December 1921 was to describe it as a momentous week with the secret debates in the Dáil. Offaly Technical Committee did not wait for the outcome of the Dáil debate and supported the Treaty almost immediately.[2] Supporters included the chairman Fr O’Reilly, Kilcormac, Revd John Humphreys and James Rogers as did Revd R.S. Craig.

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Cassandra, Countess of Rosse (1851-1921) – a profile of her life on the centenary of her death. By Graham Sykes

 

During the summer of 1908 the 4th Earl and Countess of Rosse made their customary journey to London in order to enjoy the society ‘season.’  Sadly, this was to be their final visit together, for although the sixty-seven-year-old Earl had been in declining health for some time, soon after they returned to Birr Castle his condition began to deteriorate markedly, so much so that by Saturday 29 August he could no longer be rallied.  He died later that same evening, with his wife present to the end. 

What would the future hold for the dowager Countess of Rosse?  She had been mistress of Birr Castle for almost four decades, having arrived in Ireland newly-married when barely eighteen years-of-age in 1870.  In common with her mother-in-law, Mary Rosse (née Field), Frances Cassandra Harvey Hawke had come from a wealthy Yorkshire family, being the only child of the 4th Baron Hawke of Towton.  She too had inherited property from her father – two country estates, the largest being Womersley – which naturally brought with them a measure of responsibility.  However, the Earl had quickly allayed any local fears that the couple might be lured away to England.  At a banquet held in his honour at the then Dooly’s Royal Arms Hotel shortly after their honeymoon, he reassured the assembled dignitaries of his firm intention to remain among them.  A successful marriage requires both parties to adjust to their changed circumstances, but the Earl’s pledge meant that Cassandra’s life was destined to undergo by far the more radical transformation.  Although not yet formally ‘out’ in society, she would be required to settle in a country about which she initially understood very little and find her place within an entirely new social circle.

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Rathrobin and the Two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900–1920. Michael Byrne

Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the photographs taken by Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926, of Rathrobin near Mountbolus) are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was keenly aware of the plantations of the 1550s to the 1650s. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, indoor staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Biddulph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.

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Christmas Reading from Offaly History – twelve new titles of Offaly interest, one for every day of the Festive Season. Another bumper year for local studies.

All the books here can be purchased from Offaly History (Bury Quay, Tullamore and online) and at Midland Books, Tullamore. You can also view/ borrow at Offaly Libraries and consult at Offaly History Centre.

Rathrobin and the two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900-1920. Michael Byrne (Offaly History, Tullamore, 2021), 330 pages, 280×240, hardcover, €24.99.

Rathrobin is a book that keeps on giving. Its 250 Biddulph photographs from the 1870s to 1920s, all carefully captioned, depict the two Irelands – unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, landed and cabbage garden. What is interesting about the pictures of Colonel Biddulph (1849-1926) of Rathrobin near Mountbolus are the nuances. He was of the lesser gentry, was a tenant of the Petty Lansdownes, and was well aware of the Plantations of the 16th and 17th centuries. He appreciated the needs of the farm labourers and was decent to his own tenants, staff and farm workers. His entire estate was not much more than a 1,000 acres. Biddulph’s circle was also the lesser gentry and those who served it such as land agents, bankers and clergy. The Catholic Protestant divide was strong but landed Catholic families did mix in Bidduph’s set, but not merchants or traders (even if very rich). Biddulph had an empathy with his farm workers and their families and sought their advancement. Many local families were photographed, together with the farming activities of his own employees.

Biddulph’s story, and that of his associates and friends, is illustrated by a selection of over 300 pictures in all, of which 250 are from the Biddulph Collection in Offaly Archives, and fifty more to illustrate the introductory essay and provide the all-important context. The essay and the photographs provide a more nuanced understanding of Ireland in the revolutionary period of 1900–23. Biddulph’s wonderful house at Rathrobin that he had so carefully ‘restored’, and all his farm improvements, were lost in the Civil War in 1923. Many other big houses from Ashford, to Ballyfin, Durrow, Brookfield, Screggan Manor and Charleville are also recorded in this volume. Some such as Brockley Park in Laois are now gone thereby making this an important work of record. The photographs by Middleton Biddulph were taken at a crucial moment in Ireland’s history. Their publication now could not come at a better time. Rathrobin is the portrait of one small estate and Killoughy parish in Offaly from the 1650s to the 1920s, but the story is of national interest. T.E. Lawrence spoke of the Arab Revolt, perhaps in Ireland we can talk of the Irish Revolt and not the full circle Revolution. You decide.

Rathrobin was supported by the Decade of Commemorations Unit in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media

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The 14th and 15th earls of Huntingdon of Sharavogue, Shinrone and the Birr barracks scandal. By Stephen Callaghan

Warner Francis John Plantagenet Hastings was born on 8 July 1868 at 54, St Stephen’s Green Place, Dublin. He was the son of Francis Power Plantagent Hastings, 14th Earl of Huntingdon, and Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra. The title of Earl of Huntingdon was an English peerage title originally created in 1065, the current title is its seventh incarnation which was created in 1529.

The 14th Earl married Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra 15 August 1867, who was the only daughter of Colonel Honourable John Craven Westenra, of Sharavogue, King’s County – a member of the Irish Whig party.

The family acquired lands in Waterford and King’s County. In the latter they lived in Sharavogue House. The house was originally built in the 1820s and was described as containing drawing and dining rooms of the finest proportion, a library, seven bedrooms, servant apartments, stables, coach houses and offices. A walled garden and 100 acres of land. Later additions to the house were made by notable Irish architect Sir Thomas Deane.

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Centenarian philosopher: Tullamore Man’s Recipe for Happiness “Take Life as it comes” – 80 years married and never quarrelled’ – Michael and Mary Coughlin of Rapp Road, Puttaghan, Tullamore. By Cosney Molloy

Take the good and bad in life as it comes; be satisfied with your fate; if you find yourself in an argument, get out of it as quickly as possible. This was the philosophy of Mr Michael Coughlin (or Coughlan), of Rapp, Tullamore, who celebrated his 107th birthday in November 1929. I am told by Offaly History that he was the oldest man to die in Tullamore in the history of record keeping. He and his wife ‘who is nearing her century, have based 80 years of married life on this happiness recipe and he guarantees that if this advice is followed it will bring contentment to thousands of married couples.’ News of their recipe for ’80 years of marriage and never having quarreled’ went around the world and is said to have featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Michael Coughlin was a native of Eglish and had worked for Malachy Scally as a gardener at Moore Hall, Tullamore in his later years. Rapp is the road to Tyrrellspass from the canal at Whitehall and was the main road from Tullamore to Westmeath until the canal was completed in 1798. Housing there was decimated in the Famine years.

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