BALLOONATICS AND THE GREAT FIRE OF TULLAMORE ON 10 MAY 1785. Michael Byrne

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The balloon fire of 10 May 1785 (235 years ago tomorrow) is perhaps the best known event in the history of Tullamore. Today we are reminded of it every time we see the town crest and in the past with the annual celebration – the Tullamore Phoenix Festival. The first premium whiskey from the new Tullamore DEW (Phoenix, 2013) was in honour of that tradition. It is hardly surprising that it should be so. The event caught the imagination at the time and was widely reported in the national newspapers and by visitors in their publications thereafter. Unfortunately, many turned to the Wikipedia of those days – the previous fellow’s account – and did not seek to get all the facts and record them. What we are left with then are the few contemporary accounts from national newspapers, the comments of a succession of visitors who seemed to rely on the diary entry of John Wesley in 1787, and the notes of Charles Coote in his published survey of King’s County (Offaly) in 1801. Wesley, the great preacher and founder of Methodism, unlike Coote, would have known the town well as he visited the place some twenty times from the late 1740s to the 1780s. Why are there so few accounts?

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Workhouse orphan emigration, particularly those from Parsonstown (Birr). By Perry McIntyre

Perry McIntyre is the Chair of the Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee (Email: contact@irishfaminememorial.org. Website: www.irishfaminememorial.org). 

On 4 May 2017 Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society archivist, Lisa Shortall, brought up the Parsonstown Union Letter Book [Reference OHS 71] for me to consult at Bury Quay. (This item is now available to consult at Offaly Archives). My interest was to see what clues may have been recorded about any of the 136 young women who left King’s County for Australia during 1848-1850 as part of the Famine emigration to Australia, now often referred to as ‘Earl Grey’s workhouse orphan scheme’. During these three years 4114 young women aged between 13 and 18 were selected as healthy, suitable domestic servants and potential marriage partners and they were given a free passage from Ireland to one of three Australian colonies: two in New South Wales (Sydney and Port Phillip) and Adelaide in South Australia. Continue reading

Shackleton’s photographs of Tullamore and west Offaly in the 1890s. Michael Byrne

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Jane W. Shackleton’s Ireland compiled by Christiaan Corlett (Cork, 2012) is an attractive large format publication from the growing stable of books issued by Collins Press and consists of 180 well produced photographs by Jane Shackleton. Jane Shackleton (nee Edmundson) was born in 1843 and in 1866 married Joseph Fisher Shackleton of the famous Ballitore, County Kildare family of Quakers. Thirteen Shackletons are included in Richard S. Harrison’s, Dictionary of Irish Quakers (second edition, Dublin, 2008) including Jane’s husband, Joseph Fisher Shackleton. Like his father he was a miller and in 1860 took over the Anna Liffey Mills in Lucan.

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Marking the Wonderful World and Tragic Death of Mary Ward on the 150th anniversary of Ireland’s first recorded road fatality in Birr in 1869.

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How many people have died in road fatalities since the first to occur in Ireland at Birr in county Offaly (then known as King’s County) on 31 August 1869, just 150 years ago next week? Few of us have not been touched by some sad incident involving collision with a motor vehicle. That in Birr involved a steam-powered carriage possibly constructed by the fourth earl of Rosse, a brother of Charles Parsons, later famous for his steam turbine. Perhaps the making of the engine was the work of the two brothers. The fatal accident occured at the corner of Oxmantown Mall and the junction with Cumberland/Emmet Street near the church and close close to where the theatre is today. It was here that the young Mary Ward, then aged 42, a woman of talent and a mother of a large family (11 pregnancies), was killed on the last day of August 150 years ago.

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