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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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. info@offalyhistory.com

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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The Decade of Centenaries –  Independence and its  legacy for women’s role in society. By Sylvia Turner

One of the ironies during the first two decades of the 20th century is as women were beginning to gain equality with men, it was taken away during the next two decades by the Government under Éamon de Valera. Such inequality between men and women has led to repercussions across Irish society until the present day. According to Amnesty International , violence against women is both a consequence and a cause of inequality between men and women. There is widespread concern that this has now reached endemic levels, as acknowledged in the debate in Parliament following Ashling Murphy’s murder on 12th January 2022. Reasons why the situation has developed in a predominantly rural country of just five million people needs to be addressed if it is to be resolved.

The promise of equality for women with men had been included in the 1916 Proclamation. This was realised and the new Irish Free State enshrined equal voting rights into its Constitution in 1922. Following Independence and the ensuing Civil War, Éamon  de Valera, who opposed the Treaty, broke away from Sinn Féin and formed a new party called Fianna  Fáil  and led it into the  Dáil  in 1927.  He gained popularity and won elections in 1932. An example of his popularity can be seen in the Midland Counties Advertiser on 28th June 1934.

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Well that Beats Banagher!! A humourous expression of amazement. By Kieran Keenaghan and James Scully

This famous phrase or exclamation or some version of it has been in use for hundreds of years. There are few instances if any in the English-speaking world where a placename appears in this manner. In all cases it was used dramatically to emphasise in a humorous way what has been said or written. The phrase was seldom if ever employed in a derogatory sense. It was regularly used by public speakers such as members of parliament or lawyers and judges in court. While it was often referred in Great Britain, and indeed in other countries throughout the world, the most common usage was by people at all levels of society in Ireland and it was very much an Irishism. It appears in the works of many famous writers such as AnthonyTrollope, William Carelton, W.B.Yeats, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Plunkett’s Farewell Companions. It also featured regularly in newspapers and on other media as can be seen in the selection below:

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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 present war will be the greatest and most appalling the world has ever seen. The results will be proportionately as great both to conqueror and conquered.’ Bernard C. Molloy, former MP South King’s County in August 1914. By Michael Byrne

  

If only the American policymakers of late years since 2001 (Afghanistan), (or even Kennedy and LBJ) had read B.C. Molloy. A former MP for King’s County, Bernard Charles Molloy, was one of the few to predict that the First World War would not be over by Christmas 1914. Molloy read the signs well, besides he had fought with the French in 1870 and knew the strength and perseverance of the Prussians. He was an MP in King’s County from 1880 to 1900 and died in 1916. It is a good time to reflect as we recently marked 11 November and the anniversary of the Truce and the Peace in June 1919. It was a a war that killed at least 40,000 Irishmen, led to 1916, the War of Independence and the Second World War.

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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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Clonmacnoise parish, County Offaly supports Charles S. Parnell in his defamation action against The Times in the late 1880s. By Padráig Turley

While perusing some late 19th century newspapers a reference to The National Indemnity Fund 1888 caught my eye. The object of this fund was to provide an indemnity for Parnell against an Order for costs in the event of him loosing a defamation action against the Times.

This fund received contributions from virtually every parish in Ireland, and also from outside Ireland. I found records of fundraising events in England, Scotland, U.S.A., New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere.

However, I was more interested in the small contributions made by the ordinary people of Ireland, the vast majority of whom would not have been in any way well off. They would have been tenant farmers who lived a very precarious life due to their lack of security of tenure and volatile rents. Reflecting their means some the contributions are very small reminding us of the story of the widow`s mite in the gospel of St. Mark.

I was very pleased to find contributions from my own neck of the wood in west Offaly. I found a fascinating letter from Michael Reddy of Shannonbridge in the Freeman’s Journal of 26th October 1888.

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Catherine Mahon (1869-1948) – Birr’s radical republican feminist. By Margaret Hogan

This week’s Decade of Centenaries blogpost is by Margaret Hogan, retired teacher of St Brendan’s Community School, Birr, and local historian.

Introduction

Catherine Mahon is represented in most of the strands of the Decade of Centenaries: the labour movement, the women’s movement, the nationalist movement and even the implications of World War One for women teachers and agriculture. She became principal teacher at Carrig Mixed National School in Birr parish in 1892, and many of her friends and ex-pupils remembered the building of the nucleus of the present school by direct labour in 1911 and spoke about her activities during the Decade of Centenaries.

Feminist principles

She was co-opted to the executive of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) in 1907 after she protested that the executive was all male in a majority female profession. Her ability was recognised, and she became first woman president of the INTO in 1912 for two years. Female teachers then had to work longer hours than male teachers, training girls in laundry, needlework and cookery, and often buying products at their own expense, even though their salaries were much lower than those of male teachers. Then a pregnant woman teacher was obliged to take three months’ leave and employ a substitute at her own expense, and this enraged ‘Miss Mahon’, as she came to be known. It was alleged that inspectors at the time operated ‘a reign of terror’, humiliating, fining, demoting and having teachers dismissed in an arbitrary way. The UK government set up the Dill Commission to investigate teachers’ conditions of work and it is agreed that Miss Mahon starred when she gave evidence at the inquiry, with able responses to stiff challenges.

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