Snap shots of an early summer’s day: a Tullamore CBS school sports in the late 1960s.

3 48802 CBS sports MB c 1967 (11)

It was generally in late May of each year that school tours and school sports were held and provide happy memories of times past. Besides the serious stuff there were lots of fun events such as the sack race, the egg and spoon, wheelbarrow and much more. Charleville Demesne, Tullamore had sports days back in the 1830s for its tenantry with events such as climbing a greasy pole and other fun and frolics fit to be described by Carleton or Hardy. These early efforts have been much studied and collated in early tomes such as Blaine’s Rural Sports and W.H. Maxwell’s Wild sports of the West. Durrow, Tullamore man, Paul Rouse, has surveyed the traditional sporting pattern and the onward commercialising and politicisation of sports by the late nineteenth century in his acclaimed history published as Sport and Ireland (2015).

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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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Poems and ballads of Edward (the Poet) Egan: a window on the social and political history of Tullamore in the 1890s

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A view of the Egan Cottage, Meelaghans, Tullamore, County Offaly, birthplace of Edward Egan. This view of c. 1905–15 is reproduced from William M. Egan (ed.), Pioneering the West, 1846 to 1878. Major Howard Egan’s diary etc. Utah, 1917. Reprinted c.1995. The home of Howard Egan, now famous in American Mormon history 

A new book comprising a selection of fifty of the poems and ballads of Edward Egan of the Meelaghans, Tullamore has just been published by Offaly History. The book was edited by Michael Byrne, Anne O’Rourke and Tim O’Rourke and is a fitting tribute to a man who died 80 years ago and in his time was revered throughout the midlands for his timely poetic commentaries on the social and political scene in his native county and his appreciation of all that was beautiful within a day’s walk of his home place.

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Interesting Graves and Graveyards of Offaly. By Stephen Callaghan

Back in 2014 I was an intern in the Heritage Office in Offaly County Council. I compiled a database of all known post 1700 burial grounds in the county. Compiling the database required thorough desk and field based research. During fieldwork I visited 170 of the 187 burial grounds I recorded. While visiting these places I noted many interesting and unusual features, some of which are the basis for this blog post. The list is of course subjective. There are certainly more interesting and unique features waiting to be discovered in Offaly burial grounds. Continue reading

Mrs King, John Plunkett Joly, William Davis and…You! Diary-writing in Offaly in the 19th century and a 21st century call for historians of the pandemic.

Diaries offer a fascinating glimpse into history through the personal accounts of people who lived through war, famine, disease, revolution and other events of huge social disruption. Along with contemporary correspondence, personal diaries help to flesh out the bare facts of history with human experience, where otherwise official records are the only historical source. Find out how you can help us to record the history of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic in Offaly and join a long line of Offaly diarists who have shaped our understanding of the past. Continue reading

Memories of the Kerin family of Clara in the first half of the 20th century. By Sylvia Turner

Offaly History is delighted to welcome a new contributor this week who has generously shared her mother’s memoirs of life in Clara in the 1930s.

My mother, Ethel Clarke neé Kerin, wrote memoirs in later life of the time before she moved to England after World War II. Clara figured a great deal in the stories that she told me about her childhood and she clearly held very fond memories of the town. 

Her mother, Elizabeth Evans, came from nearby Geashill and was employed as a servant in the household of Joshua Clibborn Goodbody at Beechmount, Clara. Her sister, Mary Anne Evans, known as Poll also worked in Clara, employed as a housemaid/domestic servant at Charlestown. It was here where Poll met her future husband, Robert Stewart, who was employed as a coachman. Continue reading

RSA1 members visit Durrow, Tihilly, Rahan, Lynally and Killeigh in Monastic Offaly in 1896. Michael Byrne

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Durrow Abbey in 1914. The First World War had just started. 

Leaving to one side the work  of the Ordnance Survey in the 1830s, the work of Petrie at Clonmacnois, and that of Cooke at Birr in 1826 and 1875, the references to and work done or written up on the historical sites of north Offaly in the nineteenth century are hard to come by. Fr Cogan published historical material on the Offaly parishes in the diocese of Meath in his three-volume work, 1862-1870; Thomas Stanley corresponded with the Royal Society of Antiquaries (RSAI) in 1869 in regard to the nine-hole stone or bullaun at the Meelaghans while Stanley Coote contributed an illustration of Ballycowan Castle for the Memorials of the Dead – a published record from the 1880s to the 1930s of selected tombstone inscriptions in Ireland and in County Offaly.

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Local history: ‘gone to pot’ or some remarks on Goss Ware/crested china by John Stocks Powell

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Home Rule/Rome Rule. A china mug with a portrait of Pope Pius X (1903-14) who
increased the devotionalism of the Catholic church, who promulgated the Ne Temere
decree concerning the children of mixed marriages, whose orders on the role of women in
church music (1903) was commented on by the Morkan sisters in James Joyce’s story ‘The
Dead’, and who oversaw the excommunication of Fr. George Tyrrell (1861-1909) on a
charge of heresy, whose childhood had been spent at Dangan’s Farm between
Portarlington and Mountmellick. He also enjoined the admission of children to regular
communion at the age of reason.
(Autobiography … of George Tyrrell, 2 vols. 1912, p.20-22)

We welcome a new contributor to the blog this week with this article by John Stocks Powell. Enjoy and remember we have almost 190 articles to read at http://www.offalyhistoryblog. Like to get it each week and share to your friends.

There is a hierarchy of sources for the historian, local historians and those with the wider landscapes. The principal material is the written word; evidences from the time, written archives, and later written published assessments such as county histories, church memoirs, Ph.D. studies gone to print. On-line developments have made for more in quantity, and more exciting revelations, from the checking of dates on Wikipedia, or the digitised sources such as Irish and British newspapers online, and directories. Yet we know the old cliché that history is written by the winners, and that is especially true when trying to write about the history of the losers, the poor, and the illiterate. Every source has its importance.

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Fr Michael Kelly of Tullamore and Zambia is honoured on a new stamp. His reflections this Easter 2020. Inspired by Shelley’s lines -“O wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

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Fr Michael Kelly features on the stamp alongside two other Irish emigrants: the accomplished author and Tuamgraney, County Clare-born Edna O’Brien and Mary Elmes (1908-2002) from Cork, the humanitarian worker particularly renowned for saving the lives of 200 Jewish children in France during the Holocaust.

We are bringing you a special Easter Sunday blog to celebrate the work of Fr Michael Kelly, the Tullamore man who appears on a new Irish stamp marking the work of emigrants and providing his personal reflection at this time. Fr Kelly has been in the Jesuit ministry for 65 years working in Zambia. His family lived in O’Connor Square and his father was a director of P. & H. Egan, Tullamore. Two of his brothers were also with the Jesuits. Fr Michael writes of the current virus difficulties and reflects on his time growing up in Tullamore. Continue reading

Uncovering Pre-Famine Offaly using the Morpeth Roll. Ciarán Reilly

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1. The Morpeth Roll (Courtesy of Castle Howard Archives)

The Morpeth testimonial roll comprises a farewell address signed by approximately 250,000 people (according to contemporary sources) on 652 individual sheets of paper. These sheets were subsequently joined together to create a continuous length of paper, approximately 412 meters in length (over three times the length of Croke Park), which was rolled onto a mahogany spool. It was presented to Lord Morpeth at the Royal Exchange, Dublin, in September 1841 following his defeat in the 1841 general election which consequently led to his departure as Chief Secretary of Ireland. For many years the testimonial roll remained hidden away in a basement at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, but it is now on loan at Maynooth University thanks to the generosity of Simon Howard, owner of Castle Howard and the efforts of Professor Christopher Ridgway, Curator and Professor Terence Dooley, Director of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses & Estates. This unique document has huge research potential, whether looked at as a pre-Famine census substitute, a family heirloom, a genealogy resource or a politically motivated document in its own right. Moreover, it has the potential to provide a unique insight into Irish life, society and politics in pre-Famine Ireland. As a pre-Famine census substitute it is unparalleled and its importance is multiplied by the scarcity of census material from this period. The document also provides empirical evidence of mass political involvement.

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