Remembering Bridget O’Neill (née Conroy) of Greatwood, Cloonagh and Mucklagh, Tullamore, with a note on attending at ‘the French nuns’ Convent’, Ferbane, and the Banagher Royal School prize. By Timothy P. O’Neill.

My grandmother was Margaret Lambe from Greatwood, Killoughy. Her sister married Thomas Lawless of the pub at the Blue Ball. Margaret married Timothy Conroy of Cloonagh. My mother Bridget(1904-87 , was her eldest child. She was the eldest of nine sisters and one brother, the youngest of the family who died in his infancy, and she was reared by her grandmother in Greatwood from a very young age. Margaret, my grandmother, died in 1916 after childbirth from postpartum bleeding. My mother was sent as a boarder to the convent in Ferbane run by “The French nuns” as they were known [The French missionary order of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny who came to Ferbane in 1896.] In my mother’s time some of the nuns in residence were born in France and still spoke French to each other. The records of her time there survive and she was an outstanding student. In November 1918, Stanislaus Murphy, Secretary to the Commissioners of Education in Ireland wrote to her, “Miss Bridget M. Conroy, The French Nuns Convent, Ferbane”, informing her that she had won, what was known as, the Banagher prize. The money paid her fees for that year in the school in Ferbane. The full title of the prize was the Diocesan Schools and Banagher Royal School Endowments.[1] My mother was very proud of her Banagher prize and she retained the letter from the Department as a prized reminder. In her old age she did put the laconic comment; “She must have had brains once!” on the back of the letter telling her of the award.

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The First Technical Education Scheme in King’s County/Offaly, 1902–30: a time of exciting innovation and experiment. By Michael Byrne

In these days when there is so much of war and pestilence it is good in looking at the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland to focus on the positive. Things that were done the good of which is still with us. So it is with technical education. Today we look at the early efforts and how positive and innovative were the early pioneers. Our own founder of Offaly History in 1938-9, James Rogers, was one who contributed. So too did those unsung heroes E. J. Delahunty and Willie Robbins. In regard to technical, or what is sometimes referred to as practical education, the earliest attempt in the county to provide such a facility was made at Birr about 1841 when the Parsonstown Mechanics Institute was established in, or to the rear, of the memorial hall at John’s Mall.[1] It was not a success. There were other experiments in agricultural education and model schools, but the first real attempt to provide children and adults with opportunities for technical or practical education came with the passing of the Technical Instruction Act, 1889. A further important stimulus was the passing of the Agricultural and Technical Instruction Act. 1899, which led to the setting up of a new department of agriculture and technical instruction. As a result of the two acts over fifty committees throughout Ireland were working to promote agriculture and technical instruction by early 1900.[2]

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Shops and pubs designed by Michael Scott in the 1940s for D.E. Williams. By Fergal MacCabe

At a time of economic stringency, the architect Michael Scott delivered several elegant retail buildings for a prominent midlands business family. These were executed in a Modernist style and incorporated natural materials in an innovative fashion.

D.E. Williams

In a recent Offaly History blog, Michael Byrne described the expansionary retail strategy of the notable Offaly commercial firm of D. E. Williams in installing high quality shops and pubs in virtually every town and village across the county in the period 1884-1921.

This courageous approach had not deserted the go ahead commercial family when during the Second World War, then modestly referred to as ‘The Emergency’, they ambitiously embarked on the redevelopment of their most prominent retail outlets in Dublin, Athlone and Birr and and most importantly, delivered a flagship shop and public bar in Patrick Street in Tullamore. To implement their progressive strategy they turned to Michael Scott.

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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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Internship at the Offaly Archives. By Michelle Günter

My internship at the Offaly Archives finished in March and I will go home with a suitcase full of experiences, knowledge, and impressions I gained about Irish life and heritage. I am an archivist student from the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany. In our college a practical experience of the duration of 22 weeks (5.5 months) is a mandatory element of the undergraduate degree course in Information Sciences.

After my Abitur (the German form of the Leaving Cert), I went to explore Ireland on a year abroad with the organization WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Eventually, I landed in Offaly, more precisely on Mount Briscoe Organic Farm near the village of Daingean, a place full of history. The beech-lined avenue, the country house with its walled garden and the quarry with a lime kiln are dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. Through the interest of the family in the local history I got to know about the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society and visited some of the evening lectures.

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The Birr Whiskey Distilleries. Specially contributed.

Does anyone have a bottle of Birr whiskey now? The destruction of Birr’s last distillery in March 1889 was seen as a death blow to the town. The population of Birr in 1841 on the eve of the Famine was 6,336 persons with another 554 in Crinkill. However, the next eighty years saw a period of decline such that over the period 1861 to 1926 the population fell by 44.6 per cent or from 6,146 to 3,402.  The decline was exacerbated by the closure of the distillery in 1889 and the military barracks in 1922. In 1921 the workhouse (erected c. 1840) was brutally closed and amalgamated with Tullamore.

Birr had strong associations with whiskey distilling from at least the 1800s. Probably the large military barracks at Crinkill acted as a stimulus to production. In 1818 only two distilleries were in operation in County Offaly and both were located in Birr. In competition with Birr was the Birch distillery at Roscrea.  One of the Birr distilleries was that of Robert Robinson and was located at Castle Street and formed part of what was until the 1980s the Williams Waller Ltd grain handling depot (formerly Birr Maltings Ltd.), and now partly demolished with the remainder incorporated in The Maltings guest house. The second distillery, established in 1805 by the Hackett family, was located at Elmgrove on the eastern side of the town.  A third distillery, described as the ‘old distillery’ in 1838 was located near what is now the Mill Island Park and part of which is incorporated in the Birr Technology Centre. Thus ample remains of all three distilleries still survive.

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Manuscripts from Early Offaly Monasteries. By John Dolan

The earliest writing is recorded in eastern Asia about 5,000 years ago. The spread was westwards with the use of earthen (cuneiform) tablets that are still found today in the Tells of modern Iraq and in the Fertile Valley.  Cuneiform tablets were mainly used for recording stock control items and account balances; at the same time Egyptian hieroglyphs were starting to record the stories of the Pharaohs.

Cuneiform and Hieroglyphs

Cuneiform and Hieroglyphs

The Greeks and Romans introduced writing to the Mediterranean countries and it spread across Europe to Britain with the arrival of the first Roman invasion in 55BC.

Sample Ogham stone, TCD website


Ogham is the first recorded writing in Ireland, based on inscriptions on stone. Ogham is a language based on the Roman alphabet.  The influence of the Roman empire had introduced the Latin language and writing to most of Europe. Only two other societies used stone – Pictish symbols in Scotland and Norse Runes in northern Europe.  Ogham stones are found in Ireland and in the Irish areas of influence in Scotland and Wales.

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Kinnitty Village: My Earliest Memories. Part 2 By Paddy Lowry

Kinnitty is very much on the tourist trail in Offaly and is arguably the finest planned village in the county. In this the second extract first published in 2011 in Paddy Lowry’s Kinnitty my home in the Slieve Bloom (2011)  Paddy Lowry looks back to almost 100 years ago. Courtesy of Kilcormac Historical Society. Offaly History has some copies of this now scarce title for sale.

The launch of Kinnitty in 2011 with Amanda Pedlow, Paddy Lowry and Paddy Heaney. The two Paddys are now part of our heritage and we fondly remember them both.

Some of the locals in Kinnitty were fond of making up rhymes to annoy and tease each other and I remember when we were young the following would often be heard.

                               Hay and Oats for the mountain goats,

                               A bag of feathers for the Kinnitty beggars.

                               Kinnitty is a pretty village,

All grass and no tillage,

In every street a row of trees

                                         Where liars dwell as thick as bees.

                              Kinnitty is a pretty village

                                         Where natives are unknown,

                                         Where strangers came from distant parts

                                         And made it all their own.

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Partying in Tullamore in 1873 for the coming of age of the fourth earl of Charleville and the marriage of his sister Katherine Bury. By Michael Byrne. No.5 in the Tullamore 400th series

The summer of 1873 was marked in Tullamore with a great outpouring of support for the coming of age of Charles William Francis, the fourth earl of Charleville (1852–74). He had been an orphan for fourteen years and taken care of by his uncle Alfred Bury (1829–75). The fourth earl’s parents, Charles William George and Arabella Case, had both died at a young age in 1857 (countess of Charleville) and 1859 (the third earl). He was only 37 and left five young children of which the fourth earl was born 16 May 1852. His sister had been killed in an accident on the stairwell at Charleville Castle in 1861 and his younger brother John died in 1872 when only 21. Now the young earl had reached his maturity and his 21st year. He could mark the occasion with his two sisters Lady Katherine and Lady Emily. The celebrations ought to have been on 16 May 1873 but the party had been deferred for a few weeks so that the coming of age could be celebrated at the same time as the marriage of Lady Katherine to Captain Hutton A.D.C. The celebration in the town with triumphal arches and fireworks was the last such for the earls of Charleville. Over the period from 1782 to 1873 there had been three such Welcomes from the Tenantry. Lady Emily inherited Charleville under the will of the fourth earl who died in 1874 aged only 22. Emily came into possession on the death of her uncle Alfred in 1875 childless. She was still a minor and there was no official welcome. Lady Emily married Captain Kenneth Howard in 1881 but was a widow by 1885. The Land War began in 1879–80 and cast a shadow over landlord and tenant relationships permanently. Lady Emily died in 1931 and the estate passed to her only surviving child Lt Col. Kenneth Howard Bury (died 1963 aged 80).

The address of Dr Michael Moorhead in his capacity as chairman of the town commissioners at the celebration dinner in 1873 is replete with irony given that the young earl died in a little over a year after on a fishing and hunting trip near New York.

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Alderborough Nursery Geashill, Offaly: Reamsbottom & Co., Geashill and West Drayton & Alderborough St. Brigid Anemones.

The story of Alderborough Nursery, Geashill is a must have for delightful summer reading. This book tells the story of Reamsbottom & Co., Alderborough and West Drayton, and the development of the Alderborough strain of the St Brigid Anemone which made it famous around the world. Geashill was for decades at the center of Irish horticulture with an international reputation for the quality of its plants. Alderborough Nursery competed with the best nurseries in the world, winning awards, medals and accolades from judges and gardening publications. From 1890 to the 1980’s Anemones and a wide range of plants were exported from Geashill. Archives of all the important horticultural shows in Ireland and Britain record that Reamsbottom & Co. exhibited their produce and won prizes, particularly for their St. Brigid Anemones. By 1907, Reamsbottom & Co., had won 33 medals for Alderborough St. Brigid Anemones, including four gold. [This is a beautiful book and adds to the growing Geashill library of attractive volumes reaching a wide and enthusiastic market.]

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