October 2019 newsletter
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October lecture

Monday 21 October 2019, Offaly History Centre, 8pm

County Offaly in the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection

Cécile’s lecture will include an overview of the records available in MSPC for county Offaly and will illustrate how they interconnect. The highlight will be put on the IRA Brigade Activity Reports for Offaly Brigades. A selection of some of the most interesting pension cases will be presented with a focus on newly catalogued records and claims lodged by the women involved in the independence movement in Offaly. 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.

This lecture is part of county Offaly’s Decade of Centenaries programme.

Cécile Gordon is the Senior Archivist and Project Manager of the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project in the Military Archives of Ireland.  You may have seen Cécile recently in the documentary about the Military Archives Keepers of the Flame which aired on RTE some weeks ago. 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.


Monday 25 November, Book Launch 'Capard: An Irish Country House and Estate' by Dr Ciaran Reilly.
Thursday 5 December, Christmas performance ‘Arthur Bell Nicholls of Banagher & Charlotte Brontë of Haworth’ in Hugh Lynch’s Bar. By James Scully and friends. €10 entrance fee, all proceeds going to the new archives building.
A miscellany of readings and songs relate the love story of Arthur Bell Nicholls and the great Victorian novelist Charlotte Brontë. Using extracts from letters and poems written by the principals involved and their relations and friends, this romance unfolds gently with allusions to the great joys and sorrows that the passionate affair engendered. Covering the period 1825 to 1915 the performance recounts the early years of Arthur Bell Nicholls when he lived in Cuba Court then the Royal School of Banagher. This is followed by an account of his education, ordination and move to Haworth in 1845. For the next sixteen years he lived in close proximity to the Brontë household enjoying some happy moments but also sharing in their great losses as tragedy repeatedly struck that household. 
Subsequent readings will recall Arthur's marriage to Charlotte in 1854, their honeymoon in Ireland and her untimely death nine months later. When he did not succeed Mr. Brontë as the Perpetual Curate after his death in 1861, Arthur made a return to Ireland and Banagher. The final extracts will recount his second marriage to his cousin Mary Anna Bell and the forty happy years they enjoyed in Hill House, now a well-appointed guest house called Charlotte's Way. A cast of six readers cum singers / musicians will bring the story to life and touch upon the humours and pleasures of a tale often been related in more sombre tones. The performance is interspersed with contemporary and more recent associated tunes.

Handy Links

  1. Our Laois-Offaly family records are posted on Roots Ireland site and comprise over one million items.
  2. Our books about Offaly for sale are in the shop section of and the catalogue can be downloaded also.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. We have uploaded guides to County Offaly including the towns of Tullamore, Birr and Banagher. See touring information in the Touring Offaly section of
  6. We publish Offaly Heritage with ten issues since 2003 containing over one hundred articles and over one million words of Offaly history.
  7. We are currently building 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.
  8. Email us at

Offaly history blog article every week

We publish a local history article every week on Offaly History Blog and the site now has over150 illustrated articles all to help you and for you to enjoy. We welcome contributions marked Editor, Offalyhistoryblog to be sent to The blogs are read by 1,000 people every week. Today over 100,000 have viewed the stories we put up. Don’t miss out.  Last four weeks of blogs were as follows:
Tullamore: a magical place for cafes and coffee. By Cosney Molloy
Central Leinster: Some reflections on the architecture of County Offaly. By Andrew Tierney
Memories of Rural Electrification and the arrival of the electric in County Offaly, an oral history project. By John Gibbons.
Jonathon Binns and the Poor Inquiry in Philipstown (Daingean) King’s County, November 1835. By Ciarán McCabe
Offaly Archive Completed at Unit 1F, Axis Business Park
We had almost 100 visitors to the new archive building since it was first opened during Heritage Week in August. The committee and the board of the company met there for the first time on 21 August. There was a good response to our appeal but we still need your help with donations. A sum of €35,000 would help to liquidate the debt and put us in a position to get on with the work of the new archive. You may wish to help us defray the capital costs of the archive. Many members have. A sum of €250 may attract tax relief and amount to €330. Can you help? The archives has cost in excess of €700,000 and your support is needed to clear the debt and allow us to focus on the provision of the service.
New books from Offaly History Shop,
9 to 4 30 Mon to Fri and online at
Andrew Tierney, Central Leinster being a guide to the buildings of Kildare, Laois and Offaly (Yale, 2019, 700 pages, hardback, €45, normal price €52 to €57), promoted by the Buildings of Ireland Charitable Trust. This is the fifth volume in the Ireland series and Offaly History is delighted to have the county published and to such a high standard of scholarship from Andrew Tierney. Some of the entries for Offaly were co-written by Professor Alistair Rowan and Dr Michael O’Neill.
Ciarán McCabe, Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland (hardback, Liverpool, €25).
Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland is the first comprehensive study of the ubiquitous practices of begging and alms-giving in nineteenth-century Ireland, and is unique in the range of records consulted from archives throughout Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland examines contemporary legal and moral views of begging and alms-giving, and asks to what extent perceptions and responses were influenced by religion, social class and gender. The book makes a valuable contribution to the history of poverty and welfare not only in Ireland but also in a wider international context, as well as enriching our understanding of Irish local history and social history. Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland is available at the low price of €25 (usual price €35).
Mary Ward’s Sketches with the microscope, reprinted by Offaly History with introductory essays by Michael Byrne and John Feehan (Ferbane, 150 pp, hardback, €20).
This is a very limited run, so book your copy now. It’s in full colour hardback, a delight for all the family of all ages. Put away that Christmas present now.
Born in Ferbane to the King family of Ballylin, and cousin of the 3rd Earl of Rosse. Mary Ward became a well-known artist, naturalist, astronomer and microscopist.   The reprint is a faithful full-colour facsimile of the original publication and features new introductory essays by Michael Byrne and John Feehan. Some copies of the book are still available but order soon online or call to Offaly History Centre. Supported by Creative Ireland.
John Thomas (ed. and compiler), Order of Malta, Tullamore: an album of memories, 1949–2019 (Tullamore, softback, 88 pp €15).


Published last month is Michael Carton’s Kilmonaghan Graveyard Memorial Recordings (€7). This is the second book of cemetery readings in as many months following Breda Condron’s very successful Remembering the Past: a history of Killoughey Church and Graveyard. Will there be another one from the Banagher direction before Christmas?

Lettice Baroness of Offaly and the siege of Geashill by Clemens von Ow is the colourful story of a strong-minded woman who owned the entire barony of Geashill from 1619 until her death in 1658.

Clemens von Ow tells the story in a handsome publication of 93 pages and full colour (Tullamore, Print Plus, €15)  and is available in our shop and online.
Fergal MacCabe's 'Tullamore Capriccio' represented Ireland at this year’s exhibition of the Confederation of European Watercolour Societies in Haapsalu in Estonia. Signed copies of a limited edition of prints of the drawing are available by order from the Offaly Historical Society bookshop on Bury Quay for Euro 300. Fergal's  'Buildings of James Gandon'  won the Senior Artist award at this year’s Royal Hibernian Academy and signed prints of that drawing are available also for the same price.
‘Capriccio’ (Kahpritsio)-
A composition of imaginary or real architecture in a picturesque or dramatic setting.
A painting or drawing composed of disparate architectural and archaeological elements
A fictionalized assemblage of archaeological and architectural bits and pieces, a luxury image of cultural plenty
A pictorial genre dedicated to an imaginary composition where various architectural architecture and landscape elements cohabit in a fictive setting
A device for locating familiar buildings in unfamiliar settings to allow a reappraisal of their qualities
In this drawing, I have dramatised and idealised  the  Midland town that I grew up in. The image is largely composed of the buildings ,spaces  and landscape that made an impression on me, while erasing the more mundane  elements.  This is the town as I wished it to be  rather than as it was.
Fergal MacCabe
Tullamore (An Tulach Mor, meaning the Big Hill), the principal town of County Offaly, is located in the centre of Ireland. Apart from the small knoll upon which the town sits,  the distant Slieve Bloom mountains and the extinct volcano of Croghan Hill , the countryside around is flat and featureless and consists  largely of farmland interrupted by bogs, woods and the occasional  meandering stream.
The town grew steadily from 1716 when a military barracks was established there and expanded further when the Grand Canal arrived in1798, thus facilitating the distilling and milling industries upon which the economy of the town thrived. The sole setback was the crashing of a passing hot air balloon in 1785 which burnt out many of the poorer thatched cottages, but which gave the local landlord  young Lord Charleville , the opportunity to lay out much of the town in a more modern grid pattern.
My capriccio takes the concept of the Tulach Mhór and imagines the town nestling at the foot of a rocky outcrop on a small island surrounded by a river meandering on its way to a great lake –possibly  Lough Derg. The town is dominated by Francis Johnston's  Gothic extravaganza Charleville  Castle  (completed 1812) sitting on the peak of the  hill in a manner reminiscent of continental fortresses  or hill towns,  such as  Salzburg (Austria) or Cesky Krumlov (Czech Republic) or closer to home, Cashel  or Dunamaise.
The plan of the lower town is based on the classical grid pattern Greek or Roman layout of two cross axial streets meeting and forming a public square.  The settlement is enclosed by a town wall which can be closed at night for security. This is the model of many medieval towns on the Continent such as Aigues -Mortes (France) and which was imported into Ireland in the Plantation towns of the North- Derry/Londonderry being the best example.
The walls and intervening gate buildings and corner towers are composed of Srah Castle (1588) the old Gaol (1826) the Mucklagh Gate and Camden Tower (1785) and Acres Folly (1812) and the entry gate of the Pentland Distillery (1820) in Market Square.
There are three public squares. The largest with its cafes and stalls is of course O’Connor Square, dominated on one side by the County Courthouse (1835) and on the other by the Market House (1789) formerly the Town Hall and the Goodbody warehouse (1870). The two War Memorials of the town stand harmoniously side by side at its centre. Leading from this main square and at the intersection of the two cross axial streets, is a second square dominated by the commercial buildings of the town, Scally’s great drapery shop, (1912), the P&H Egan’s general emporium (1910) and the head office of D. E. Williams (1760).  A third square is based on O'Carroll Street whose vista is closed by the County Infirmary (1788). Behind that is a smaller square, dominated by the warehouse on the eastern side of Market Square and in the streets off it are the Presbyterian church (1865) and St. Columba’s Classical College (1912).
Along the main streets are many of the other commercial and public buildings of the town, such as the Methodist Church (1889), Williams's general grocery (1940) the Round House (1750), the offices of Hoey and Denning (1870) and the Mallet Tavern (1809).  The secondary street ascends the hill past Scally's house (1912) the Grand Central Cinema (1924), Acres Hall  ( 1790) and gives access to the kilns and drying lofts of the brewing and distilleries of the town.  A transverse  street is closed at either end by the principal  churches of the town, St. Catherine’s (1815) to the east  and the Church of the Assumption (1906) to the west  which has  a watergate based on the remains of the original  Catholic  church (c.1800).
The buildings of the Grand Canal harbour (1800) and the DEW warehouse (1897) are located on the western bank of the river, while on the eastern bank, across the Kilbeggan Bridge (1930), the Charleville Estate office (1740) and the Grand Canal Hotel (1801) focus on the Oldershausen memorial (1808) in Kilcruttin cemetery.
 Along the road to the east, is the 24th Lock House (1798), Convent View terrace (1907) and the Clonminch Road villas (1909) as well as the Clontarf Road housing and canal side poplar planting by Frank Gibney (1948).  The housing area in the south east     is based on the 1950 plans of Gibney for the expansion of the town. The housing scheme is designed around a small park with the King Oak at its centre. As the river flows into Lough Derg past Croghan (or Endrim) Hill, the Swimming Pool (1938) and Ballycowan Castle (1620) are found on its eastern bank and the remains of 6c.Tihilly monastery on the western bank.
This is of course an ephemeral vision, as in the far distance, a hot air balloon approaches once again.......
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