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Offaly History (short for Offaly Historical & Archaeological) was first formed in 1938 and re-established in 1969 and is located at Bury Quay, Tullamore, Co. Offaly since 1993(next to the new Tullamore D.E.W Visitor Centre).

We are about collecting and sharing memories. We do this in an organised way though exhibitions, supporting the publication of local interest books, our website , Facebook, open evenings, our library and offices at Bury Quay.

Our Mission
To promote Offaly History including community and family history

What we do:

  • Promote all aspects of history in Co. Offaly.
  • Genealogy service for counties Laois and Offaly.
  • Co. Offaly photographic records for study and sale in addition to a limited number of publications on Laois and Irish general historical interest.
  • Purchase and sale of Offaly interest books though the Society’s book store and website.
  • Publication of books under the Society’s publishing arm Esker Press.
  • The Society subscribes to almost all the premier historical journals in Ireland.

Our Society covers a diverse range of Offaly Heritage:

  • Architectural heritage, historic monuments such as monastic and castle buildings.
  • Industrial and urban development of towns and villages.
  • Archaeological objects and artifacts.
  • Flora, fauna and bogs, wildlife habitats, geology and Natural History.
  • Landscapes, heritage gardens and parks, farming and inland waterways.
  • Local literary, social, economic, military, political, scientific and sports history.

Offaly History is a non-profit community group with a growing membership of some 150 individuals.

The Society focuses on enhancing educational opportunities, understanding and knowledge of the county heritage while fostering an inclusive approach and civic pride in local identity. We promote these objectives through:

  • The holding of monthly lectures, occasional seminars, exhibitions and film screenings.
    Organising tours during the summer months to places of shared historical interest.
  • The publication of an annual journal Offaly Heritage – to date nine issues.
  • We play a unique role collecting and digitising original primary source materials especially photographs and oral history recordings
  • Offaly History is  the centre for  Family History research in Counties Laois and Offaly.
  • The Society is linked to the renowned Irish Family Foundation website and Roots Ireland where some 900,000 records of Offaly/Laois interest can be accessed on a pay-per-view basis worldwide. Currently these websites have an estimated 20 million records of all Ireland interest.
  • A burgeoning library of books, CD-ROMs, videos, DVDs, oral and folklore recordings, manuscripts, newspapers and journals, maps, photographs and various artifacts.
  • OHAS Collections
  • OHAS Centre Facilities

The financial activities of the Society are operated under the aegis of Offaly Heritage Centre Limited, a charitable company whose directors also serve on the Society’s elected committee. None of the Society’s directors receive remuneration or any kind. All the company’s assets are held in trust to promote the voluntary activities of the Society. Our facilities are largely free to the public or run purely on a costs-recovery basis.

Acting as a policy advisory body –  Offaly History endeavors to ensure all government departments, local authorities, tourism agencies and key opinion formers prioritise heritage matters.

Meet the current committee:

Our Committee represents a broad range of backgrounds and interests. All share a common interest in collecting and promoting the heritage of the county and making it available to the wider community.

2017 Committee

  • Helen Bracken (President)
  • Pat Wynne (Vice President and Joint Treasurer)
  • Niall Sweeney (Vice President)
  • Michael Byrne (Secretary)
  • Lisa Shortall (Deputy Secretary)
  • Dorothee Bibby (Record Secretary)
  • Charlie Finlay (Joint Treasurer)
  • Darrell Hooper
  • Brian Pey
  • Fred Geoghegan
  • Noel Guerin
  • Henry Edgill
  • Peter Burke
  • Angella Kelly
  • Rory Masterson
  • Shaun Wrafter
  • Ronnie Matthews
  • Oliver Dunne
  • Ciara Molloy
  • Stephen Callaghan (Heritage Items)

If you would like to help with the work of the Society by coming on a sub-committee or in some other way please email us or let an existing member know.

+353-5793-21421 [email protected] Open 9am-4.30pm Mon-Fri

County Offaly in the Military Service Pensions Collection: an exploration by Cécile Gordon

Cécile Gordon is Senior Archivist and Project Manager of the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project in the Military Archives of Ireland. She will give a lecture on Offaly in the Military Service Pensions Collection on Monday 21 October, 8pm in Offaly History Centre, Tullamore. The talk 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 Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection – General

 The Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection (MSPC) Project is one of the leading projects of the Irish government’s plan for the Decade of Centenaries, led by the Irish Department of Defence and supported by the Defence Forces. With around 250,000 files, it is the largest collection in the Military Archives and the largest collection covering the revolutionary years, anywhere.

In a nutshell, the MSPC records are the pensions applications lodged by over 80,000 people who took part in the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.  Veterans applied under various legislation from 1923 onwards, enacted to recognise active military service or to award gratuities for wounds or injuries contracted during active service. Dependants of deceased members of certain organisations could also claim in respect of their relatives.

The strength of the collection resides in several key aspects that set it apart: representation of the rank-and-file as well as the leadership, representation of the dead (through the claims of the dependants), unprecedented representation of women and high quality of evidence of networks either through family ties or organisational structures. The files also offer a fresh possibility for an in-depth look at the Army Pensions Board procedures revealing the political and legal context of the time.

The decision to fully catalogue and digitise the collection to afford quality access to files online is to be celebrated for several reasons. The quality and quantity of the material means that the collection will continue to yield information well after the last file is catalogued, feeding into all kinds of research (genealogy, family history and local studies of course, but also medical, political, social, military history, women’s history, research in demography or geography and more).  A project of this size and nature is also to be celebrated as it will help support difficult commemorations. It is hoped that what the files reveal will enable the elaboration of a more nuanced view of the successive events that led to the formation of the modern Irish State. Stories of hardship, disappointment, anger,  injustice, but also myth-busting revelations or confirmation of family tales, everything can be found in the files. Their existence is a powerful physical representation of this accumulation of stories and will be the MSPC’s most potent asset to make it the archive of the generation that brought about Irish independence.

County Offaly – Brigade Activity Reports

County Offaly features well in the collection and although activity cannot be compared to the busiest spots such as Cork or Dublin, some very interesting files offer great details on major and lesser-known local operations. The Brigade Activity Reports (BARs) were compiled by Brigade Committees, established in the mid-30s and in charge of compiling listings of engagements for each brigade and a significant amount of other details, including the names of participants for each operations and sketches.

Brigade Committee Names, No 1 Offaly Brigade (MSPC/A17). 

Those reports were intended to support and speed up the process of verification of individual claims by the Referee and his Advisory Committee. Along with the Nominal Rolls and the references requested from the applicants, the BARs would be used as evidence of participation in X or Y ambush, raid or attack.

The activities of 1 Offaly and 2 Offaly Brigades are well documented in the BARs (files A17 and A18, respectively) compared to other brigades. The file for Offaly 2 Brigade lists and gives information on the participants of operations in Clara (joint effort with 1 Brigade for attack on RIC barracks), Belmont, Banagher, Ballycumber, Kinnity and Birr.

The documents compiled by the Brigade Committee for 1 Offaly Brigade are submitted by Seán Kelly (himself ex-Commanding Officer Tullamore Company and ex-Brigade OC). The material lists some early activities of the brigade area, broken down by battalion (4 battalions + 1 ASU), showing, at first, activities indicating preparation for action (mostly raids for arms and ammunition, deliveries and moving of arms,….). In general the files focus heavily on the War of Independence years but some battalions give description of operations undertaken in 1922 and 1923 during the Civil War.

Brigade Staff – Nominal Rolls No 1 Offaly Brigade (MSPC/RO/172)

The companies of the 1 Battalion were located in Tullamore, Gurteen, Killeigh, Ballycowan, Kilbeggan and Durrow & Bracklin. Looking at the Tullamore Company, the record shows that activities intensify from early 1920; the number of names attached to each operation can also give an idea of the size and type of the event. File lists and describes major operations such as attacks on RIC barracks (Clara, Tullamore…), and also gives valuable details on supporting activities: scouting, road-blocking, rail-lifting, along with the names and addresses of those involved. The shootings of targeted people are also included along with a fascinating section on ‘Police Work’ conducted by IRA officers and members.

Support activities (MSPC/A17)

The Offaly BAR files are accompanied by sketches. Some are contained in a notebook complete with descriptions which was submitted by Seán Kelly on 2 April 1941, illustrating scenes of ambushes in the 1 Offaly Brigade area: attack of military men at Ballycommon, attack on Geashill RIC Barracks and other operations at Mountlucas, Newtown, Kilbeggan and Tullamore, among others.

Sketch of Geashill activity (MSPC/A17)

It would be prudent to add here that the BARs need to be examined closely and the user will need to use other sources in order to confirm some dates and correct other inexactitudes included in the files. Some brigade committees found it very difficult to comply with the heavy demands some 15 years after the facts and some files do contain errors.


County Offaly – Individuals

The MSPC database currently shows 131 cases lodged by people with an address in Offaly, including 22 women* (some of them might not have been active in Offaly during the years 1916-1923 and would have moved there post-conflict while others may have an actual connection with the county without having resided there). Some claims are submitted by the relatives of deceased members applying as dependants. Among them, Patrick Kane residing on Kilbride Street in Tullamore, claiming in respect of his deceased brother, Matthew, shot dead by the Crown Forces during the War of Independence.

Claim in respect of Matthew Kane (MSPC/3MSRB81)

Those files are significantly different from the basic service pension application. Dependants had to give evidence of their level of financial dependency, a means-test would be conducted and a report would be issued by an Garda Síochána. This process populates the file with information of a more social nature (income sources, family situation, occupations, work and previous employers…etc..).

If the collection contains the files of well known IRA members (Bracken, Kelly, McGuinness), it reveals its true strength in the quantity of rank-and-file cases, including women’s claims.

Despite a handful of mentions, the BARs were not designed to record the work of the members of Cumann na mBan therefore the main MSPC sources to study their role during those years are the Nominal Rolls and the individuals’ files. The names of Bridget Mooney (Tullamore), Mary Kennedy (married name McCormack), the Meleady sisters, Mary McBrien (married name, Poland), Annie Duffy (married name Grogan) and many others should be added to any history book dealing with the period in Offaly.

Statement of Annie Grogan (MSPC/MSP34REF26082)

* The MSPC is an ongoing project and therefore that figure will change at the next official release (database accessed on 8/10/2019 for the purpose of this article. Latest release was on 2/10/2019).

For more on dependency claims, see article of relevance on MSPC Blog here: Dependency Claims for the Civil War Executed in MSPC.

The MSP Collection 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.

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