In the decades before the Great Famine of the late-1840s numerous parliamentary inquiries were held into the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland. Political and social elites wished to understand the nature of Ireland’s seemingly endemic poverty in the hope of improving the social, economic and moral condition of the peasantry, as well as quelling the country’s tendency for social upheaval and political radicalism. The most significant of these inquiries was the Royal Commission for Inquiring into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland (aka the Poor Inquiry). Chaired by the Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin Richard Whately (1787-1863), the commission sat between 1833 and 1836, holding extensive public inquiries (akin to court sittings) in parishes throughout the country, supplemented by extensive correspondence with persons of significance across the island, as to the social condition of the poor in their locality. The printed output of the commission – totalling more than 5,000 pages of detailed information, witness testimonies and statistics – constitutes an unparalleled source for the study of poverty in the pre-Famine period. The Poor Inquiry reports tell us much about County Offaly (King’s County) a decade before the Great Famine. Continue reading →
I was glad to get out of Dublin before Christmas and get down to see my friends in Tullamore, Killoughy and Banagher for a pre-Christmas visit and bask in the mildest winter for many years. Dublin is mad at this time of year and what with one restaurant telling us about steaks at €120 I had to get down to the nice butchers in Tullamore – old Tormey’s is still going strong and now you have Grennan’s, Hanlon’s and a few more I would not know. I miss Paddy Mac’s, Cleary’s and Joe ‘the Butch’ Kearney of course. All old friends gone to the heavenly pastures.
I can remember the desperate cold of December 2010 when it was as low as -20 and I can recall the winters of 1982 and 1962 when we could skate on Charleville Lake near the town of Tullamore and to the east of Colonel Bury’s Charleville Demesne. I have only a hazy memory of the long winter of 1947 when the Grand Canal was frozen over for months and some of the Egan boys of the Tullamore merchant family are said to have made it to Dublin skating on the canal for some lark or wager. All good simple fun it was. I understand that Dr Boediccker who worked at Birr Castle until the First World War kept weather records from about 1872 and was able to state that 1909, 1896, 1893 and 1890 were also very cold. Another very cold year was in 1901 when a young boy drowned at Charleville Lake, trapped by the ice, while up to 200 people looked on and did nothing.
As Patrick Kavanagh might have put it, I was ten Christmasses of age and living in a place called Clerhane, a townland some two miles south of Clonmacnoise.
We were farmers, and there were five of us residing on the farm, my maternal grandparents, my uncle Joe, my mother and I. My father for economic reasons worked in Dublin, and I would only see him three times a year, the Easter break perhaps three days, his summer holidays that took place during the first two weeks in August, and of course for Christmas break which generally lasted two or three days depending, on how Christmas fell. You can imagine the excitement that built up in me as a child with the prospect of the approaching Christmas.
The Christmas I am talking about was 1954, indeed as time would prove, my last Christmas residing in west Offaly, as the following summer my mother and I moved to Dublin to live with my father, who had just purchased a house.
1954 is best remembered for the floods, the river Shannon reaching the highest level since 1925. I remember soldiers from Athlone assisting the farmers that year with the harvest. Folk were really looking forward to the bit of Christmas cheer.
Congratulations to the people of Offaly in having secured as their member Ireland’s Ambassador to America. Their unanimous endorsement of his mission is particularly opportune. Dr McCartan will voice a united Ireland’s demand that the Irish people be given the right of self-determination and will tell the world that Irishmen will not fight as England’s slaves.
De Valera telegram to Dan MacCarthy, Dr Patrick McCartan’s election agent for the North King’s County by-election, April 1918. Irish Independent, 20 April 1918.
This week we publish a day earlier to mark the 100th anniversary of the General Election of 14 December 1918 – a watershed in the history of politics in Ireland. It should be noted that apart from the by-election of 1914 in North King’s County (Banagher-Tullamore-Edenderry district) no opportunity arose for the north King’s County parliamentary voters to go to the ballot box between 1885 and 1922. Notwithstanding all the excitement in 1918 for both the by-election in April and the general election in December Dr McCartan was unopposed. Women who had fought so much for the vote in the pre-war years did not get a chance to exercise the parliamentary franchise in north Offaly until 1922.
Santiago de Compostela became an international pilgrimage destination in the twelfth century, at a time when the doctrine of purgatory was widely promulgated and the idea of indulgences was gaining popularity. The local archbishop, Diego Gelmírez (d.1140), promoted the cult of St James and the shrine in the Cathedral of Santiago became one of the three major pilgrimage destinations of the Christian world. This offered those living on the Atlantic edge of Europe an accessible alternative to Rome and Jerusalem.
There were two separate phases of the Santiago pilgrimage from medieval Ireland. The earlier phase, beginning in the thirteenth century, was a distinctly Anglo-Norman one, with pilgrims drawn from towns on the east and south coast. During the second phase – in the fifteenth century – Gaelic pilgrims from throughout Ireland, including the midlands, displayed a strong interest in going to Santiago. They almost invariably made the pilgrimage in jubilee years, when the feast of St James (25 July) fell on a Sunday and special indulgences could be earned.
The conversation about the 100th anniversary of World War 1 this last month is on-going, with reference to poppys and Easter lilies, as part of the story. It should be a lot simpler as it has always been about remembering the people who died or who were injured in World War 1 and during the 1916-21 period in Irish history, without exclusion. In Kilbeggan we have two small memorials on the Green remembering World War 1 and Ireland between 1916-21, almost beside each other, as it’s the same history, the same nation, and in many ways the same ideals.
Living just beside the cemetery, we often walk there and I have been struck by the informative and often moving inscriptions on the
tombstones of the graves there. It struck me that these throw a
valuable sidelight into the pattern of life and death in Tullamore.
Some are very sad, especially those on the graves of infants and the
very young. There are others that make you reflect on how strange
attitudes are. For example, when we came to live here in the summer
of 1983, you never saw tombstones commemorating any of the thousands
of Irish volunteers who fell in the two World Wars. We know that
until very recently it wasn’t politic (except in the North) to admit
that any member of an Irish family had served in what was regarded as
British regiment. But one day, not so long ago, I noticed that a
number of War Grave Commission tombstones had suddenly appeared like
mushrooms in St Joseph’s Cemetery. I list them below:
War Graves in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Tullamore Continue reading →
The Parker Brothers of Clara and John Martin of Tullamore. One of the Parker boys was killed as was John Martin on 8 October 1918.
There was very little published work relating to Offaly in World War I until recent times. The 1983 essay by Vivienne Clarke was a first and rare examination of the period in Offaly, until Tom Burnell’s Offaly War Dead in 2010, and 2014’s Edenderry in the Great War by Catherine Watson. And so nearly every essay published in Offaly and the Great War which was launched to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War represents new and original historical research and findings, a very exciting prospect in the world of history publishing.The seventeen contributors have submitted essays that cover every aspect of the war and from almost all corners of the county.
When the great historian and first ‘telly don’ A.J.P. Taylor published his short history of the First World War just in time for the remembrance days of fifty years ago he wrote that the war reshaped the political order in Europe. That its memorials stood in every town and village and that the real hero of the war was the Unknown Soldier.
The launch on Sunday 11 November 2018 at Tullamore Central Library of Offaly and the Great War brings us one step closer to recalling those who fought in the war from this county and those who died. It is difficult to believe that a war that killed perhaps 40,000 Irishmen and upwards of 700 from or connected with this county should have received such little attention over the 100 years. Offaly and the Great War is the first such publication to provide more than listings of those who died.
In July 2018 an interesting Great War campaign medal appeared on eBay, a single 1914–15 Star awarded to Private Frederick McDonald of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The description provided by the seller stated that Frederick was born in Birr, and that he had been killed in action during the war.
Further research unravels a forgotten story, which gives insight into the life of Frederick and his family. It is a story not too dissimilar among the many working class Catholic families in Birr, because serving in the British Army was a source of steady employment and a means to support a family.