Poverty in pre-Famine Offaly (King’s County) By Ciarán McCabe

 

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

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Frank Quirke: the boy who was abandoned to drown on Charleville Lake near Tullamore at Christmas 1901. Retold now by Cosney Molloy

145 Hanly - Charleville Lake winter scene
Skating at Charleville Lake in 1962

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.

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Kilcruttin Cemetery, Tullamore, no 1 in a cemetery series Michael Byrne

 plaque at Kilcruttin Cemetery eredted by Town CouncilKilcruttin cemetery is located off Cormac Street and close to the boundaries of what is now Scoil Mhuire. Indeed, the original access lane and entrance to this cemetery is still to be seen. It’s the oldest cemetery in Tullamore town and dates back to the 1700s. At one time it was on the outskirts of the town and in soft poor ground close to the Tullamore river. It was not the cemetery of choice for the upper ten in Tullamore, but nonetheless has some very good monuments including that to the Methodist merchant Burgess and the German baron Oldershausen of the King’s German Legion, the heroes of Waterloo.

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Remembering John Walsh of Tullamore, executed behind enemy lines at Guise in Northern France on 25 February 1915: a man of Iron.

 

Presented by Offaly History

The men were taken from their cells and subjected to a savage beating. Half-conscious they were led into a courtyard at the giant fort of Guise in northern France. All hope was extinguished once they saw that a ditch had been dug. The men were executed by a German firing squad in batches of six and dumped in a shallow grave. A German officer provided the coup de grâce to the French civilian Vincent Chalandre. When his body was exhumed after the war, he was found to have a bullet in the back of his head.  Continue reading

James Dillon (1788-1859), King’s County Coroner during the Great Famine

James Dillon Esq of Clara, King’s County was born in 1788 to Simon and Catherine Dillon. His father was involved in property and his mother had a general provisions shop with extensive property at New St., Clara. James was politically active in the 1820s and 1830s opposing tithes and supporting Daniel O’Connell’s Emancipation cause. He married Alice Kelly in the mid 1820s and had 10 children between 1827 and 1847, six daughters and four sons.

Apart from being a postmaster and a grocer, he was elected coroner for the county in July 1836 at the age of 48, having beaten his opponent Benjamin Toy Midgley by 341 votes. He was the latest in a long list of county coroners dating back to 16th century when the office of coroner was provided for in the 1557 statute establishing the King’s County. In 1847, the county was divided into northern and southern districts and Dillon was assigned the northern Tullamore district, while his former opponent, Midgely was assigned the Parsonstown district.  We are very fortunate in Offaly to have a set of Dillon’s diaries which contain the verdicts of the various inquests he held in the county from the time he was elected until his own sudden death in 1859. Coroners’ diaries are extremely rare as most were destroyed in the Four Courts fire of 1922. These particular diaries are of great significance as they record sudden death in Offaly immediately before, during and after the Great Famine. Continue reading