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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

‘Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails'[Howard Bury of Charleville and Belvedere] by Jane Maxwell

Charles Kenneth Howard Bury of the Royal Irish Rifles, probably c. 1914. Courtesy of David Hutton Bury.

At the beginning of the centenary commemorations for the War, at the Theatre of Memory Symposium at the Abbey Theatre in 2014, President Higgins spoke of the commemorative activities in terms of myth-making and ethical remembering. He remarked that ‘for years the First World War has stood as a blank space in memory for many Irish people – an unspoken gap in the official narratives of this state’. He suggested that ‘literary memoirs written during or after the War can be enabling sources for ethical remembering’ and advocated using the commemorative period to create ‘opportunities to recollect the excluded, to include in our narratives the forgotten voices and the lost stories of the past’. In the aftermath of the death in the last few years of all the veterans of the War, to find these stories and these voices we must go back to the archives and seek out the diaries, memoirs letters and photographs of those who served. The Library in Trinity has a fascinating collection of this kind of material, gifted and bequeathed over the decades and, to mark the centenary of the War, the Library decided to publish this material online.

Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails is the name given to the online project which allows free access not only to digitised images of over 1500 pages of WW1 letters and diaries from the Library’s special collections, but transcriptions of the texts are also provided. There are nine war-time authors involved – almost all officers – and altogether they produced three sets of letters, four diaries (including a very brief home-front diary by the single female author among them) and three memoirs (two of which are prisoner-of-war accounts). The authors served on both Western and Eastern fronts, and ranged in age from twenty years of age to thirty-three. Two of them won Military Crosses, and one of them received the DSO having been mentioned in despatches seven times. This was Charles Howard-Bury – the oldest of our authors; he was born in Charleville Castle, Co. Offaly in 1881 and was a career military man who went with the British army to India in 1904. He was present at the Battle of the Somme and was eventually taken prisoner in 1918.

Howard-Bury’s diary entry for 15 August 1916 (TCD MS 10821 folio 48).

Personal records like diaries, while they are eloquent, they are not unproblematic. They are no longer understood to be straightforward, unmediated factual accounts of an individual’s experiences. An element of interpretation enters into even the most seemingly objective account, and memory, under conditions of trauma and psychological shock, can falter. Rather than compromise the value of these records, this kind of sensitivity to what is to be read between the lines enhances such documents, by giving them a depth which resonates far more than do well-rehearsed accounts of battles and the awful statistics of loss.
What kind of researcher is most likely to find these diaries informative? When libraries first began to collect these materials the assumption was that each one was unique and would add factual detail to the official history of the War. However, there has been so much research into the War over the last century that it is unlikely that the basic military information contained in an individual diary will be novel. For example, Howard Bury’s description of Delville Wood, a place left in an obscene state of carnage in July 1916, does not in any way alter what is already known about that charnel house. However, concerns other than with the straightforward factual narrative of the War come into play and ensure that Howard-Bury’s diary, and all War diaries, retains its great significance. Firstly, it is a humane urge to treat with great respect artefacts which recall people or events which demand widespread admiration or awe. Thus, these diaries are like sacred relics, or engraved medals of honour and must be protected regardless of their content. Secondly, a biographer, more interested in the author of the diary than in the War, will find much think about in the knowledge that Howard-Bury experienced this level of horror. Author Wade Davies, who describes Howard-Bury as his hero suggests that such experiences as he underwent in ‘Devil’s Wood’ almost drove Howard-Bury to insanity, which means no part of the author’s life story can be fully understood without reference to this experience.

Charles K. Howard Bury, with his companion Rex Beaumont, at the opening of the novitiate, Bloomfield Convent, 1963.

There are other developments in the use of first-hand accounts of cataclysms world events. Over the last century, first-hand accounts have been used in different ways to excavate less obvious experiences of individuals caught up in such events. The importance of food both to the soldiers’ experiences and as a way in which they articulated their feeling of alienation is another interesting development in research, supported by first-hand accounts. The study of the uses of humour is another example of a research approach informed by an understanding of human psychology. The language used by soldiers can give insight into the mental tools they used to normalise their experiences or control their stress. Almost all soldiers use pejorative and infantilising nicknames for their enemies, or referred to them in the third person singular – the entire German army was ‘Fritz’ or ‘the Boche’ or ‘him’, clearly a form of ‘trash talk’ meant to insult the enemy and, since the enemy was not there to hear it, to bolster the camaraderie among colleagues. In the same vein is the use of jocular or offhand language to describe military hardware or activities; 60lb bombs were called tadpoles, and a barrage was referred to as a ‘show’. It is difficult to predict how this line of examination of psychology, or the granular experiences of individuals, will continue to develop because the recent appearance of a flood of easy-to-access online diaries and letters as part of the centenary of WWI is likely to give rise to hitherto impossible approaches to research.
One aspect of written artefacts that particularly interests archivists is their own history – how they came into being and what their physical make-up can tell the researcher. Howard-Bury is represented among the collections in the Library of Trinity College by three manuscripts; a brief 60 – page diary kept from 29 May – 8 September 1916; a diary kept from 1 November 1916 – 25 September 1917; and a memoir of his experience as a prisoner of war. It is clear that the first of these is the only true diary in that it was regularly written up, in pencil, on loose sheets of army-issue notebook paper (120x160mm). The second ‘diary’ in the collection is a typed transcription of a no-longer-extant original; it comprises 40 sheets (205x330mm) with a manuscript title page (not written in Howard-Bury’s hand), all stitched into a paper cover. It has suffered possible insect or rodent damage, with slight loss of text on two of the sheets. The third item is a hybrid consisting of 50 sheets of paper of varying, combining manuscript and typescript elements and at least two different carbon typescripts, arranged to make up one continuous text. It has been given the title ‘Some experiences of a prisoner of war in Germany’. It is a draft in that the author has gone over the typed text making changes and it has been proofed by another person who has left comments in the margins.
The fact that one of the records is a true diary and one is a transcribed version suggests that there is at least one and probably several diaries missing, which would be in keeping with Howard-Bury’s habit of record-keeping. It is intriguing to note the presence, on the envelope in which the first diary is contained, the number 2 written in pencil. Does that mean there was a number 1?

Lt. Col. Howard Bury at a Remembrance Day ceremony in Tullamore in the mid-1950s.

The physical make-up of the memoir also hints at loss. The earliest element of it is handwritten but it has already taken on the form of a structured narrative; the notes or diary upon which it was based no longer survive. The handwritten version is not complete, the end of it is missing and the narrative is continued in typescript. Perhaps Howard-Bury gave the manuscript to a typist who then neglected to return the original. Knowing the history of how an archival item came into being reflects something of the author’s intentions. The treatment of the second, typed-out diary – being made into a booklet – could suggest that this was its final form, that Bury did not intend to publish it, but stitched the pages together simply to keep them secure as he circulated them among family and friends. The presence of a second hand annotating his memoir further proves that it was not intended for the author’s own perusal only, but was meant for a wider audience. When a repository or library acquires a written artefact directly from its creator or the family of the creator, information regarding its history can often be imparted, which can give useful insight into the mind of the author. In the case of the Howard-Bury records, which were purchased from a rare books seller, no such inside information could be ascertained.

Dr Jane Maxwell
Assistant Librarian
Manuscripts & Archives
Research Collections
Trinity College Library Dublin

Jane Maxwell’s essay is part of this collection available from Offaly History Centre

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