October 2020
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Dear members and friends,
While our bookshop was open at Bury Quay since early summer and we greatly enjoyed welcoming back visitors, the recently announced Level 5 restrictions has meant that we will have to close the shop and research facilities once again. Not all bad news though - we  have a great new selection of books which you can order online. Get your orders in now for all your Christmas gifts - scroll down for a description of all the new books and links to the online shop.   

We continue to make progress with the work at the new Offaly Archives and the work of cataloguing the collections  will continue from home. Queries can be emailed directly to  The Heritage Council has made a grant available to purchase specialist archives boxes and other materials. Offaly County Council has also provided a grant in regard to purchase of  PPE for Bury Quay and the Archives.


September-December 2020

We held our first online lecture in late September 2020 with a live audience of six but you can now enjoy it at home. Just go to Youtube and search for Offaly History, or click on the link below. The subject was:

Killing Dragons and Taming Ogres: Irish Mountaineering from the Eiger to Everest 

Edward Whymper’s simultaneously triumphant and tragic ascent of the Matterhorn on July 14, 1865 brought to an end the golden age of Alpine Mountaineering, which had commenced a mere eleven years previously. Whymper’s great rival for this peak and others was John Tyndall, one of many scientists who combined work and play in the Alps as well as developing the techniques that are still used today in the then fledgling sport of mountaineering. Tyndall was also one of a number of Irish mountaineers who, through their involvement in the Alpine Club and exploration of untracked peaks, passes and glaciers contributed to the growth of the new pastime in Europe and around the globe. They included pioneers such as Anthony Adams Reilly, cartographer of Mont Blanc, John Ball, first president of the Alpine Club and Lieutenant Charles Kenneth Howard Bury from Tullamore and Mullingar, who became leader of the first expedition to Mount Everest in 1921. This paper, which arises out of ongoing research in the history of Irish mountaineering will examine the contributions of these notables to the development of the new sport and its impact on the Alpine region.

Author Profile
Declan O'Keeffe has been an active mountaineer for more than thirty years and is an experienced Alpinist. He is a member of Mountaineering Ireland, the national representative body for walkers and climbers and has served as Chairman and then President of the organization (2003-8). Declan was the Alpine Meet Coordinator for Mountaineering Ireland from 2002-8 and spends most summers hiking and climbing in the region. He is editor of the Journal of the Irish Mountaineering and Exploration Historical Society, was previously news editor of Irish Mountain Log, contributed to Walking World Ireland and is currently engaged in research leading towards a history of Irish mountaineering.
Declan is a historian and archivist in Clongowes Wood College, where he has also worked as editor of the Clongownian since 2001. In 2009 Declan took a First Class Honours in his MA (UCD) with a dissertation on Matthew Russell SJ and the Irish Monthly. Since then he has continued to research the role and influence of Jesuit publications in Ireland and has been published in ‘A Different Discipline': Revisiting Canon Sheehan of Doneraile (1852-1913) and Engendering Ireland: New Reflections on Modern History and Literature as well as in several issues of Studies.

From the video archives....


Offaly in the Military Service (1916-23)  Pensions Collection

The Military Archives lecture was ably given this time last year in October 2019 by Cécile Gordon, Senior Archivist and Project Manager of the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project in the Military Archives of Ireland.  Cécile’s lecture provides an overview of the records available in MSPC for county Offaly and illustrated how they interconnect. The highlight was on the IRA Brigade Activity Reports for Offaly Brigades.

The MSP Project is a Government initiative led by the Department of Defence and supported by the Defence Forces. It contains around 250,000 unique records covering the period of the Irish struggle for Independence. The Project's core mission concerns the preservation of the material and the provision of access to this major primary source.

Cécile has been involved in the MSP Project since its inception (2008) and prior to her current position, she worked as a Local Authority Archivist for counties Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. Her areas of interest include archival theory, the impact of the work of the archivist on the use of archives and the connection between archives, commemorations, collective memories and individual identity building.

This lecture was part of County Offaly’s Decade of Centenaries programme for 2019.

Michael Byrne, Printing and bookselling in Offaly in the nineteenth century with particular reference to Birr (Esker Press, Tullamore, 2020), hard cover, limited edition of 250 copies, 144 pages and with almost seventy illustrations of rare items, many in colour.  €25 plus pp in Ireland, €5.
An invitation to Subscribers
Birr is the only town in County Offaly which can be said to have a printing tradition dating from the late eighteenth century. This book argues that it could not have come about without the significant cultural influence of the town’s landlords, the earls of Rosse, and that this was particularly evident after 1800 when both the second earl and the third earl were resident in Birr. The pursuit of astronomy by the third earl and the building of the great telescope furthered intellectual pursuits and printing in Birr including the provision of the first county newspaper. Very little printing was done in the other towns and villages save Tullamore and here the dominance of Birr came to be felt from 1860 until the mid-1890s. Thereafter the pendulum swung in favour of the growing Catholic merchant class with the three new nationalist newspapers in County Offaly in just fifteen years from 1880 bringing an end to unionist dominance of the printing press.

Front cover: the Sheppard (formerly Sheilds) bookshop in Birr about 1900. It was a bookshop from the 1830s until the 1960s.

Back cover: Willis Printers, Tullamore in 1830 and c.1890. The Willis Printing Office, O’Connor Square, Tullamore, from a drawing in 1830 (possibly by Lady Charleville), and from a photograph of c.1890. The house became a private residence in the 1890s and remained so for ninety years.

Why not subscribe for this book. It’s only €25 plus €5 for postage in Ireland. You get your name in the subscribers’ list and a hardback book of 144 page with almost seventy rare pictures of which more than half are in colour. Order online or email us at with the following text and send €25 plus postage.
I wish to subscribe for this publication please put my name in the list of subscribers. I enclose a cheque for €25. I will get a signed hardback, A5 book of limited run, and noting that only 200 copies are for sale.

Cheques to Offaly Heritage Centre, or you can order via our website,
BANAGHER COUNTY OFFALY (Tullamore, 2020),  280pp, paperback €20.
Forgotten Souls is a comprehensive study of Saint Rynagh’s old graveyard in Banagher, County Offaly. The survey covers 182 memorials ranging in date from 1576 to 1918. In addition to a transcription and description of each memorial, the text includes many short essays on notables buried there. These include members of the historic landed families, the MacCoghlans and the Armstrongs, as well as prominent members of the Banko, Flattery, Harton, McIntyre, McKeon and Woods families. Military personnel are also noted, particularly the accomplished diarist and artist Captain William Bamford.

The extensive introduction describes the work of the stonecutters highlighting the vernacular qualities of many monuments with illustrations of lettering, ligatures, ampersands, mirrored letters and other features. The archaeology, architecture and history of the site are also documented with accounts of the cholera epidemic in Banagher in the 1830s and the events that led to the closure of the graveyard in 1924. The book is richly illustrated with almost 400 photographs and historical images.
Schooling in Ireland: a clustered history 1695-1912, by John Stocks Powell
Some locations are associated by attractions such as Blarney for its castle; or a trade and manufacture, as Belfast was for shipbuilding, and Kinsale is now for restaurants and gourmets.  Portarlington in County Laois, has been associated with a French speaking Huguenot colony, as nearby Mountmellick is with Quakers.  These on-the-lip identities long used may diminish others.   For over two hundred years small Portarlington experienced a clustering of schools: a local industry offering income from parents, employment and provisioning.

French speaking schools, Latin homework under floorboards, pupils becoming famous, such as Edward Carson, Oscar Wilde’s court prosecutor, and bringing the country to civil war with his struggle for the British union: the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor, trying to elope with his headmaster’s daughter.  There’s the headmaster whose pupils were escorted away during the 1798 rebellion, and another headmaster who took his school away, in flight and fright during the Land League of the 1880s.

Histories carry wider themes, such as: how long was childhood? How was the young brain filled? Textbooks, rules and rulers. What was the value on languages, Irish? English literature? French grammar?  Could Huguenot dialects be teachable?   Why did sport become so important?   And the poor children; too much education to make them think, spinning wheels for those girls; whereas Mrs Despard’s boarders not turned out to spin or cook, but to marry well. In a small town the encompassing of education in its failures, triumphs, hierarchies and finances, the ideas and faces of childhood are revealed.

John Stocks Powell has been involved with the history of Portarlington since the early 1970s, and happily a resident in the vicinity. In 1994 he published an opening history of the town, and followed with several pamphlets and booklets covering Huguenot documents, the character of Cathair na gCappal, the earls of Portarlington at Emo, ranging from Lord Arlington to the Belgian refugees in 1914. Working in England, and a librarian finding sources scattered, he tried to bring ‘its history back home’. Home and the world beyond can see that Portarlington is a most interesting place.
Rooms, A Memoir, Mary Lynam Dunne, print Plus, 2020, 275 pages, Softback, €12.00

Born in Tullamore, Co. Offaly Ireland, where she still resides, Mary Lynam Dunne is a retired Drama Teacher, Stage Director and Photographer who has now turned her hand to writing.  Many of her short stories, plays, poems and essays have been published over the years. She is also the author of five books to date.  This memoir is a heartfelt and engaging recollection of Mary’s life in Tullamore and beyond.
Hugh Mahon: Patriot, Pressman, Politician
Volume 2: Politician, The years from 1901-1931
by Jeff Kildea,
As a political agitator, journalist, businessman and politician, Hugh Mahon had a varied and fascinating life. Born in Offaly, he and his family migrated to America in 1869, but returned to Ireland in 1880 after their American dream failed. He was active in the Land League in County Wexford which led to his arrest and imprisonment with Parnell in 1881, and exile to Australia. As a crusading journalist he exposed corruption and became a thorn in the side of the Forrest government in Western Australia during the 1890s. He was elected to the first Commonwealth parliament in 1901 and served in four Labor ministries, rising to Minister for External Affairs during the First World War. He has the distinction of being the only person expelled from the Commonwealth parliament after he criticised British rule in Ireland.

This book, the second part of a two-volume biography of Mahon, covers the period from his election to parliament in 1901 until his death in 1931. It describes his almost 20 years as a backbencher and a minister during which he gained a reputation as one of the brainiest men in parliament as well as one of the most controversial. It provides an insight into his reluctant decision to oppose conscription in 1916 and examines in depth his commitment to Irish self-government and the circumstances of his dramatic expulsion from parliament in 1920. The volume also looks at Mahon’s career as managing director of the Catholic Church Property Insurance Co. and his intervention in Irish politics during the debate over the Anglo-Irish treaty. It is the story of a flawed genius who simultaneously evoked high praise and damning criticism.
Dr Jeff Kildea is an adjunct professor in Irish Studies at the University of New South Wales. In 2014 he held the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History at University College Dublin. He is the author of Tearing the Fabric: Sectarianism in Australia 1910-1925 (2002); Anzacs and Ireland (2007); Wartime Australians: Billy Hughes (2008), and co-author of To foster an Irish spirit: The Irish National Association of Australasia 1915-2015 (2020).
This book studies the Irish law dating from ad 697, called Lex Innocentium or the Law of the Innocents. It is also known as Cáin Adomnáin, being named after Adomnán (d. 704), ninth abbot of Iona, who was responsible for its drafting and promulgation. The law was designed to offer legislative protection for women, children, clerics and other non-arms-bearing people, primarily though not exclusively, in times of conflict. It will be of interest to historians, both professional and lay, in many fields, with special relevance for historians of warfare, the laws of war, and of attitudes towards violence in general. The study seeks to identify the place of this law in the history of the laws of war and, in so doing examines many of the relevant sources in the Christian West, with conclusions that some will find surprising.
James W. Houlihan practised law as a solicitor in the Irish midlands for many years. On his retirement he completed a MA and a PhD in UCD.
Four Courts Press. 240pp. Hardback. 978-1-84682-849-2  €50.00
Available online at and at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore.
Who were the Egans and where did they come from? What national and international impact did they have on nineteenth-century Irish political reform? How did they become successful lawyers and businesspeople? Considered to have descended from the ancient Brehons, the Egans (MacAodhagáins) were advisers and lawyers to the Kings and Queens of Ireland.  They were one of the midlands of Ireland most influential families both in business and politics for over two hundred years. How did they survive the battles of the Boyne and Aughrim? During the penal times they somehow remained significant land holders around Mount Temple, Moate, Tubber and were benefactors to the Carmelite order. As Catholics how did they manage and balance holding office in the colonial British administration as well as being staunch advocates of both unity with Britain and Home Rule? How did they manage to change colonial rule in the areas of land and prison reform? How did they navigate the difficult world and civil war periods of the early 20th century and remain in business up until the late 1960s?
Tracing over two hundred years of history and deciphering how an influential merchant family helped shape the political and business landscape of 1800s and 1900s Ireland, family members Maurice and David Egan have researched the path taken and relate the associated remarkable stories that followed.

Hardback, €24.99. Available online at and at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore. This will ship from 31 July. 
‘Photographer James Fraher was invited to document the process of making briquettes at the Derrinlough Briquette Factory at it approached its 60th year of production. His stunning black and white photographs record each stage and a number of the workers at the factory. This project was led by Jimmy Shortt of Bord na Mona and Birr Historical Society who also wrote notes to accompany each image. Published by Offaly County Council with support from Creative Ireland.

Softback, €15. Available online at and at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore. 
Poems and ballads of Edward (the Poet) Egan: a window on the social and political history of Tullamore in the 1890s is our latest publication. It is 132 pp and priced at €15. Full colour soft back.

Available online at and at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore.
Renew your membership for 2020/21


Renewing your membership for 2020/2021.
Friends it is vital that you renew your membership. Like all charities this is a difficult time for us with income down since March. Renewing is only a click away on our website or you can post in your subscription by cheque if that suits better. Also take advantage of the special offer and renew now for the remainder of this year and next year.

The trip to Germany, 18 to 23 April 2021
As you may know, or have expected, the trip in October is now deferred to 18 April 2021. We have paid for 21 seats at a cost of €4,200. The balance of funds received we hold in our account for those travelling. Dorothee will in touch soon with those who are travelling. We can take another five or six people comfortably.

Donations to Offaly History
We wish to record our thanks to the following for contributions to the Offaly Archives Capital funding programme;
  1. Vincent Hussey and family
To Offaly History Centre for its ongoing charitable purposes and library
  1. John Flanagan, Bachelor's Walk, Tullamore
Renew your membership for 2020/2021



OFFALY ARCHIVES- help us record the history of Coronavirus in Offaly
We are living in extraordinary times - a moment in history that will be remembered forever. Just as historians and scientists today have learnt from the contemporary accounts kept during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, we can ensure that the experience of COVID-19 is documented for future researchers. 

How can I help?
Keep a diary, as simple or as detailed as you like, recording your everyday lived experience in Offaly during the pandemic. You can make it anonymous or personal. We will preserve it forever in Offaly Archives.

What will I write about?
No detail is too big or too small. How is the situation affecting you, your friends and family? What is the weather like? Do you have any observations on nature/wildlife? How are you spending each day? What are you eating/cooking? What can you buy or not buy in the shops? What do you miss doing? Are you able to continue with your work/hobbies? How has your schooling or university education been affected? 

Who can take part?
Anyone can take part from all walks of life and all ages, including children.

Your diary can be in electronic format (for example, a Word document) or hand-written on any type of paper. You can submit photographs of your street/area, or maybe an oral-history recording. 

How will I send it in?
When the time is right we will let you know through the newsletter, on our website and through social media how to submit your diaries to the archives. 

What will happen my diary in the Archives?
All diaries will be treated sensitively. Archives, such as a diary with personal information, are often closed from access for a long period of time. When this period of time elapses, a diary can become a valuable record with a wider significance. For future generations, it can become an important historical source.

Renew your membership for 2020/21

Offaly history blog every week

Handy Links

  1. The easiest way to access all our content is through our main website
  2. Our Laois-Offaly family records are posted on Roots Ireland site and comprise over one million items.
  3. Our books about Offaly for sale are in the shop section of and the catalogue can be downloaded also.
  4. The Library catalogue is also there and serves as a useful local and family history bibliography. It currently runs to almost 12,000 titles and 20,000 books.
  5. We publish a local history article every week on Offaly History Blog and the site now has over 120 illustrated articles all to help you and for you to enjoy. We welcome contributions marked Editor, Offaly History Blog to be sent to
  6. We have uploaded guides to County Offaly including the towns of Tullamore, Birr and Banagher. See touring information in the Touring Offaly section of
  7. We publish Offaly Heritage with ten issues since 2003 containing over one hundred articles and over one million words of Offaly history.
  8. We have completed a new Offaly Archives at an overall cost of €750,000. We have a donate button on our website if you would like to assist us.
  9. Email us at

2020 Committee: Helen Bracken (President), Michael Byrne, Dorothee Bibby, Pat Wynne, Charlie Finlay, Noel Guerin, Henry Edgill, Peter Burke, Niall Sweeney, Angela Kelly, Rory Masterson, Shaun Wrafter, Oliver Dunne, Ciarán McCabe, Frank Brennan, Stephen Callaghan, Reneagh Bennett, Michael Scully. In addition the committee has agreed the co-option of Paddy Clarke, Tullamore and Jim Keating, Tullamore together with the renewed co-option of Stephen Callaghan, Reneagh Bennett, Michael Scully.

Renew your membership for 2020/21
Copyright © 2020 Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society, All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society, All rights reserved.

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