Decorations and Dinners in Tullamore in 1873 for the coming of age of the fourth earl of Charleville and the marriage of his sister Katherine Bury. No 7 in the Tullamore 400th series. The oldest surviving wedding photograph of an Offaly family?  By Michael Byrne

Charles William Francis Bury, the fourth Earl of Charleville, came of age on the 16th of May 1873. Celebrations were delayed to the end of May so as to confine the party and the guests staying at the castle to one week and ending with the marriage of the earl’s sister to Captain Edmund Hutton on 5 June 1873. As stated in article no. 5 in this series the young earl died in New York on 3 November 1874 without marrying and was succeeded as fifth earl by his uncle Alfred. The latter died childless on 28 June 1875 and so the Charleville title died with him. The fourth earl’s sister, Lady Emily, succeeded to the estate while yet a minor. She married in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. Lady Emily died in 1931 having spent much of her widowed life abroad and was succeeded by her only surviving child Lt Col. Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80). He inherited Belvedere, Mullingar from his cousin Brinsley Marlay in 1912 and sold the contents of Charleville Castle in 1948. As Lt Colonel Bury died childless the estate went back up the line to the children of Lady Katherine Hutton née Bury (died 1901). The celebrations of 1873 were poignant and the speeches full of irony. That the family had an excellent relationship with the Tullamore townspeople is clear from the speech of the parish priest Fr McAlroy who had succeeded O’Rafferty in 1857. Alas so little material has survived by way of letters or diaries of the speech makers of that exciting week in the history of Tullamore. As noted in the no. 5 blog the original address of Dr Moorhead on behalf of the town commissioners was donated by Professor Brian Walker to Offaly History. The late Brigadier Magan donated an important photograph of the 1873 wedding and pictures of the Hastings of Sharavogue in what we now call the Biddulph Collection in Offaly Archive.

The Hastings and Westenras of Sharavogue were among the guests at the Charleville wedding as also was Lord Rosse (the fourth earl) and the Bernards. Lords Digby and Downshire, the other big landowners in the county were absentees. This copy from Rathrobin and the two Irelands (Tullamore, 2021) available from Offaly History.
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The Visit of the Hon. Hugh Mahon to Ireland in 1922 and the Mahon family reunion in Charleville Demesne, Tullamore in August 1922. By Dr Jeff Kildea

As the decade of centenaries draws to a close, one centenary not on the government’s list of official commemorations is the 1922 visit to Ireland of the Hon. Hugh Mahon, a former cabinet minister in the Australian government. Nevertheless, at a local level, the people of County Offaly may find more than a passing interest in this event from one hundred years ago.

Born in 1857 at Killurin, six kilometres south of Tullamore, Mahon was forced to leave his native land in 1882 and emigrate to Australia to avoid being arrested for his activities in the Land League. Forty years later he returned to Ireland for the first time, visiting family and friends in and around Tullamore. The years in between had been eventful for Mahon, leading to one of the most contentious episodes in Australia’s political history. And the return visit to his homeland also was not without controversy.

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A new chapter in Westmeath historiography: the recent publication of Westmeath History and Society, an address by Dr Harman Murtagh at the launch in Athlone.’ Without doubt, this is the greatest book ever published on Westmeath. It’s a monument to our county’s culture, history, society and creativity – and an expression of Westmeath’s very distinctive identity.’

The Mullingar and Athlone launches of Westmeath History and Society have provided two interesting and original addresses on the status of local history in Westmeath, our neighbouring county. The Offaly History and Society volume was published in 1998 and is long out of print. A few copies were secured by Offaly History some years ago and are offered for sales as scarce titles. We thank our friend Dr Harman Murtagh for a copy of his address on 31 3 2022 and we have added some pictures for our readers. Enjoy the address in Athlone and you can get the book at Offaly History Centre and online at www.offalyhistory.com, over 900 pages, hardback, €60.

My friends,

This is the south Westmeath launch of this magnificent volume, Westmeath history and society.

A week ago it was launched in north Westmeath by the archbishop of Dublin, the very Reverend Dr Farrell; south Westmeath must make do with the most irreverent Dr Murtagh.

The book is 900 pages long. As the archbishop observed in Mullingar, it’s about the size of a concrete block: in my view, its only fault is that it’s rather heavy to hold in bed.

Westmeath history and society is one of a series of county books – incredibly it’s the twenty-ninth in the series. The series has been appearing at the rate of a volume a year since 1985.

The series founder, general editor and manager from the start is Dr Willie Nolan, aided and abetted by his wife, Theresa. Their contribution to Irish  society and to local studies  is without equal. In France they would undoubtedly be awarded the Legion of Honour; in Britain surely Sir Willie and Dame Theresa? In Ireland, and here in Athlone, we can offer at least our enormous admiration for their magnificent achievement – twenty-nine county volumes of this size down, and only three to go!   Wow!

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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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The assassination in 1856 of Valerio, the fourth Count Magawly of Temora, Kilcormac and of Parma. By Michael Byrne

On the road to Birr, and not far from Kilcormac, are the classical gate piers of Temora – all that is left now of the home of the family of Magawly family. This Catholic family owned much of Kilcormac and, after a long legal battle, had the benefit of the articles of the Treaty of Limerick and were able to retain some of their lands. Temora may have been built in the 1750s or 1760s and the naming of the house possibly had an eye to the poem, Temora, of 1763 by James Macpherson. The illustrious history of the Magawly family can be recalled in the memorial inscription in the Catholic church in Kilcormac, placed there a few years after the completion of that church in 1867. The family had been obliged to sell the last of their landholding in 1852, but the pressure was on from the mid-1840s when the process servers were sniffing about. Money problems may have gone back at least 100 years earlier to the 1740s and 1750s when much of the Magawly landholdings were sold by way of long leases. The house itself was occupied by the Free State army in the early 1920s and destroyed by arson about 1930.

Temora on the 1838 OS sheet
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Eliza and Catherine Dooley from the Parsonstown Workhouse to Sydney in 1850. By Dr Perry McIntyre

This is the second of two Heritage Week 2021 blogs by Dr Perry McIntyre AM, a Sydney-based historian, who has used the Birr Workhouse registers to research the lives of workhouse girls who emigrated to Australia under the ‘The Earl Grey Scheme’ during the Great Famine. An accompanying podcast featuring Perry in conversation with Lisa Shortall, Offaly Archives, is available here. The Heritage Council has generously supported the conservation of the Birr Workhouse registers by way of a Community Grant.

My previous blogs have told some stories of these girls and the last one related the sad fate of Elizabeth Walsh. This time we hear about two sisters who remained together for their lives in Australia and had a good outcome.

Sisters, Eliza and Catherine Dooley arrived in Sydney from the Parsonstown (Birr) Workhouse on the Tippoo Saib on 29 July 1850. They were two of the 35 young ‘orphan’ girls who left that workhouse in on 27 March 1850 and travelling by train to Dublin to catch the steamer to Plymouth to meet the sailing of the ship on 8 April 1850.[1]

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Elizabeth Walsh: Birr (Parsonstown) Workhouse Orphan Girl to Australia 1850. By Dr Perry McIntyre

Our favourite week of the year has rolled around again – Heritage Week 2021 – and we are delighted to publish the first of two blogs by Dr Perry McIntyre AM, a Sydney-based historian, who has used the Birr Workhouse registers to research the lives of workhouse girls who emigrated to Australia under the ‘The Earl Grey Scheme’ during the Great Famine. An accompanying podcast featuring Perry in conversation with Lisa Shortall, Offaly Archives, is available here. The Heritage Council has generously supported the conservation of the Birr Workhouse registers by way of a Community Grant.

In Ireland, once a person emigrated they were often lost to local memory, but records in Australia can provide wonderful details of their lives in their new homes. This blog gives an outline of the life of one of the thirty-five young women aged between 13 and 18, who were selected from the Birr workhouse for emigration to Australia as discussed in a previous blog in January 2020. Thirty of the thirty-five were listed in that blog, the others being more difficult to identify because of the nature of their native places enumerated on the shipping list of the Tippoo Saib. This was the last of twenty ships which conveyed young women from Ireland to Australia during the Famine years of 1848-1850 under what has become to be known as ‘The Earl Grey Scheme’.

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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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Keeping your head down – Protestant identity in 20th century Ireland. By Sylvia Turner

Ethel Kerin was born on 11 January 1922 in Clara, County Offaly. Her mantra in life was to ‘keep your head down’ learned from her parents who worked as servants on the estates of affluent Protestants. Ethel kept her head down in terms of her parents’ employers as she depended on them for food and shelter. When she came to live in England in the 1940s, she kept her head down as she was Irish.

Ethel Kerin was my mother. She was born into a family of Protestants who worked in service. Little I have read or seen in Ireland relates to the type of life she and her family led. It was a hand to mouth existence, of feeling inferior and beholden to her father’s employers who were Protestant business families or landed gentry. In the post Partition decades of the 1920s and 30s, the lives of the family were frequently interrupted by termination of service and relocation. Apart from the Quaker families they worked for, their employers treated them with little regard, deciding to close down their houses and leave Ireland at short notice, returning to properties they held in England. My grandmother kept in touch by letter with the many friends she made, both Catholic and Protestant, across the Midlands and east of the country till the end of her life. The correspondence gives a sense of sadness of having to move and set up home again as well as the vagaries of their employers. However, simple pleasures of going out for picnics and evenings with neighbours that involved laughter and fiddle playing were clearly high points in their lives. Overall, there is a sense of making the best of things under difficult circumstances. Despite church and school attendance at the Church of Ireland, the family’s lives were more related to their neighbours, regardless of religion, than they were to that of their Protestant employers.

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