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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

New release of Digby Irish Estates papers online 1873-1916

Following the online launch in August 2016 of the annual reports of W. S and T. W. Trench, land agents to the 9th Lord Digby, Offaly History Archives in conjunction with Offaly County Council’s Heritage Office and with support from the Heritage Council, have now released the next two series of records from the Digby Irish Estates Papers. These comprise the annual reports from the successor to W. S. Trench, Reginald Digby, firstly to the 9th Lord Digby between the years 1873 and 1889, and secondly, his reports to the 10th Lord Digby from 1890 to 1916.

Reginald Digby (1847-1927) was the nephew of Lord Edward St Vincent, 9th Baron Digby of Geashill (1808-1889). He replaced Thomas Weldon Trench as resident agent on the Geashill estate in 1871 following the latter’s resignation. On the death of W. S. Trench in 1872, Reginald Digby became the sole agent on the estate, and remained so for the next 50 years. During the years of his agency, he continued with the project of improvements as commenced by the Trenches. Drainage works, plantations of woods and further construction works were all expanded and improved during this time. During the 1870s through to the turn of the century, rental agitation from the tenants encouraged by local branches of the Land League, increased on the estate. This caused the improvements project to come to an abrupt halt by the 1890s. There were no further large drainage or construction works undertaken from this time, with expenditure being limited to minor but necessary repairs to housing. One exception was the woodlands and plantations project which was maintained due to the profitable timber and sawmill industry that had been established on the estate, particularly at Clonad.

Reginald Digby (right) in the grounds of Geashill Castle, 1901. Copyright Offaly History Archives

Ballydownan and the Land War

Reginald Digby’s reports are incredibly valuable for the information they contain relating to the agrarian unrest of the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, or the Land War as it was known. For instance if rentals on the townland of Ballydownan are followed from 1858 to 1914, it is possible to trace the various stages of this national movement in a localised setting. In 1858 the main tenants on this piece of land, near to Geashill village were the Finlay family, Samuel Ridgeway and James Chissell. By 1879, the Finlays and the Ridgeways were still present on the land, but in 1880, on the death of Thomas Ridgeway, a certain William Adams takes up a large tenancy on the lands at Ballydownan. This isn’t recorded in the rentals until the following year’s report in 1881. William Adams was an established grocer and publican in Tullamore and was wealthy. In the 1870s and 1880s he served as town commissioner and a member of the board of guardians. Adams was sympathetic to the problems of small tenants and at guardian meetings he denounced the practice of rack renting. By 1880 he was an activist in the Land League.  He had already acquired lands on the Digby Estate in the late 1870s when he set himself up as a grazier with undertenants at lands at Clonmore, Cappancur and the Meelaghans. The land at Ballydownan was the largest holding however, but he was only to hold it for less than a year.

As a Land League activist, Adams was present at the first meeting of the League in King’s County, in Tullamore in 1879, and all others that followed, including smaller meetings within Geashill . He was the main agitator in an 1880 rent protest, advising all tenants to only pay the Griffiths valuation rate and no more, and to withhold rent if this was not agreed to. Reginald Digby responded by issuing Adams with bankruptcy proceedings unless he paid his rent. In the annual report for 1881, Digby describes Mr Adams as assuming ‘a most defiant tone, and by public speeches and placards denounced your Lordship on no measured terms. So this went on until within two days of the date when Mr Adams would in due course of law be declared a bankrupt, and all his property pass into the hands of the court. Then at last realising his position he quietly paid up his rent in full. This sudden termination of a case which had acquired something more than the local importance came like a thunderclap on the other tenants and with the surrender of their champion the opposition practically ceased and within three weeks most of the rents were collected.’

After the surrender by Adams of the lands at Ballydownan, they remained ‘on hand’ in the rental accounts, that is, in the occupation of Lord Digby and not generating any income at all. The lost income was recorded as abandoned arrears. This was the case from 1881 until 1912 when following the settlement of the Land Purchase Act negotiations and tenants had bought out their holdings, Lord Digby re-let the large grazing lands at Ballydownan to three ‘solvent and respectable’ tenants, Frederick Abraham, Stephen Kavanagh and Reginald Digby himself. This infuriated nationalists as they claimed that these large grasslands should have been part of the settlements under the Land Act. Nationally large grassland holdings were very controversial and there was a call for them to be taken up by the Land Commission and redistributed to smaller tenants. This call went unheeded in Geashill and the practice of cattle-driving began to manifest itself on the lands at Ballydownan, where the cattle of graziers were herded off the lands by large crowds of people.

Reginald Digby’s account of the Geashill Cattle Drive of November 1914. Copyright Offaly County Council Heritage Office

A cattle drive occurred in 1913 to no great reception, but a large and well-documented cattle drive occurred in November 1914  known as the Geashill Cattle Drive. Reginald Digby published a pamphlet describing the event entitled ‘How we Spend Sundays in Ireland’. The Geashill Cattle drive with its bands and banners and near to 500 in attendance was a major disturbance on the estate. Several police men were injured, a firearm was discharged by Peadar Bracken who would feature in the 1916 disturbances in Tullamore a couple of years later. Forty six were arrested and jailed and it was led by none other than Patrick F. Adams, son of William Adams, the Land League activist who had surrendered his tenancy in Ballydownan over 30 years earlier. Following in his father’s footsteps, P. F. Adams was a county councillor and contested the 1914 by-election for the late Haviland Burke’s seat but lost out to his rival E. J. Graham in December of that year.

Further reading

Byrne, M., Tullamore in 1916: the making of the Tullamore Incident, Esker Press, 2016

Digby, R. How we spend Sundays in Ireland, Dublin, 1914

McEvoy, J. N.,  A Study of The United Irish League in The King’s County, 1899-1918,  Masters thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth (e-print), 1992

Pilkington, M., ‘The campaign for rent reductions on the Digby estate, King’s County, 1879-1882’, in Offaly Heritage Vol 5, 2008


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