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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 Offalyhistory.com , 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

Offaly and the Great War essays published in 2018 now on Open Access to all. Thanks to the Decade of Centenaries

The bumper volume of essays (list below) in Offaly and the Great War (Offaly History, 2018) can now be accessed free online at www.offalyhistory.com thanks to the Decade of Centenaries. The book of 28 essays is also available in hardcopy from Offaly History for just €20. In all over 50 articles free to download. Go to the Decade of Centenaries on the offalyhistory.com website.

When the great historian and first ‘telly don’ A.J.P. Taylor published his short history of the First World War just in time for the remembrance days of over fifty years ago he wrote that the war reshaped the political order in Europe. That its memorials stood in every town and village and that the real hero of the war was the Unknown Soldier.

The launch of Offaly and the Great War on the 100th anniversary of the end of the most tragic event in 20th century history brought another step closer to recalling those who fought in the war from this county and those who died and what circumstances pertained during those years. It is difficult to believe that a war that killed perhaps 40,000 Irishmen and upwards of 700 from or connected with this county should have received such little attention prior to 2014. Offaly and the Great War was the first such publication to provide more than listings of those who died.

The period from 1912 to 1923 was a pivotal one in the history of Ireland taking in as it did the campaign for Home Rule, the opposition of the Unionists, the 1914–18 war, the 1916 Rebellion, the first Dáil, the War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the civil war. For the local historian the 1914–1918 war provided a unique opportunity to study the local impact of national and international events and how the local influenced the national.

The pioneering work of Vivienne Clarke in 1983 and more recently Tom Burnell, Ciarán Reilly Raymond Metters and Catherine Watson has helped us to establish just who those soldiers were who as reserves or recruits joined the war effort. The work of these innovative authors and, Offaly and Great War will help to establish a biographical dictionary of all who enlisted, were casualties or were lucky enough to survive. Research publications are not to glorify or pity but to seek to comprehend.

Why did people enlist is a question often asked. If it was solely for wages it was no bargain for the up to twelve per cent on average were killed (and much more in some regiments). Propaganda and peer pressure must have played a part. Research work will lead on to analysis of the participants in terms of geography, social class, occupations, wartime experience and the aftermath in a changed Ireland. The quality of that work is often dependent on good archival material. How did the war impact on Ireland? We know that without the war there would not have been a rebellion in 1916. Perhaps it would have come later or perhaps not at all. Would war in Ireland have broken out in 1914 were it not for the European war? Certainly we are still fill feeling the effects in terms of a divided Ireland.

From Offaly up to 2,500 went to the war (enlisting not just in Birr at Barracks (home to the Leinster Regiment) but all over Ireland, England the Empire and the United States) and up to 700 connected with the county died in the war. The exact number who died may never be known. It may have been ‘as low’ as 550, but when those associated with the county through work, or having migrated, the figure may be as much as 700.

Every part of the county provided reserves or recruits. Perhaps not as many as the generals and politicians would have liked but considerable just the same. The figure of 2,500 by the end of the war is a guestimate that seems reasonable.

Was the First World War ‘Our war’ as has sometimes been said including in a title of a book in 2009. To a great extent it was in 1914-15 though as early as the Volunteer split in the early autumn of 1914 there were those who disagreed including one of the three local papers – the Midland Tribune. From May 1916 it would mean growing disenchantment with the Irish Parliamentary Party and from late 1916 the rise of Sinn Féin as a new force in Irish politics. While this was happening many families had what might be described as divided loyalties with some in the army and others in the Irish Volunteers/Sinn Féin.

The Somme

The war was not all about men. Some local women participated as nurses and it other counties as munitions workers. Here it was in growing turf industry and in Goodbodys of Clara, but for many it was child-rearing alone or for a mother or sibling wondering when a telegram boy would come to the door with unwelcome news. The war was fought in tunnels and trenches where a bomb or a bullet could arrive any time to terminate the life of an unknown soldier. Nervous times there had their counterpart in places as proximate as this square we now stand it. We are here on the site of the great Tarleton house pulled down in 1936 and where the assize judges, come to do the king’s justice, were accommodated. To my right was the home of Dr Meagher who served as a medical doctor, obtained the Military Cross, and came back to tell the tale. He was one of twenty per cent of the Tullamore Golf Club members who fought in the war. On the corner at Bridge Street lived the Costello family in the bank house where the father was manager. His son was killed at the Somme on 1 July 1916 along with 20,000 others on the Allies side. Across the street was Hoey & Denning Solicitors where three young men fought and two were killed. Jack Williams, not long departed from the same firm for the Tullamore Distillery, survived the war and was awarded the Military Cross. On the southern side of the square one of the two sons of grocer McNeill was not so lucky and neither was a son of Colton the hotelier and auctioneer. When the war memorial was erected here in November 1926 mothers and widows were accommodated in the seating provided. Wreaths were placed here on Armistice Day for lost ones up to the 1960s.

Plaque for John Morris of Crow Street, Tullamore

The war years of 1914-18 like the Famine of 1845-49 and the recession of 2008-17 have sometimes been described as ‘the lost years’. Apart from the death and destruction there was the sense of the loss of progress so palpable in the 1900 to 1914 period. The pre-war years saw the arrival of the motor car, the plane, telephone, improved water, sewerage and crucially new housing for workers with the town council completing eighty new houses in the period 1903-14. Once the war started there was an end to building, housing was scarce and unemployment except in the farming sector high. Prices rose throughout the war and fuel became scarce. The economy was by 1916 on a war footing with even the light of the day regulated. All of these factors contributed to the growing sense of frustration manifesting itself by mid-1916 and busting over by the end of the war.

The centenary of the general election of December 1918 was another pivotal moment in the history of the country when women were allowed to vote for the first time in parliamentary elections and the national aspiration for Home Rule and severance from the United Kingdom obtained a democratic mandate. It was also the year of the death of the north Offaly MP, E.J Graham, who died shortly after John Redmond. His win in the wartime by-election of December 1914 was the first opportunity for people in this constituency to vote in almost thirty years. The by-election of April 1918 was a walk-over for the new Sinn Féin party as was the general election in December 1918. In fact no voting in parliamentary elections took place in this district until 1922. These things are mentioned to suggest to you that it is always worthwhile to look at how local factors interplay with national events. This is the purpose of Offaly and the Great War and the now digitised articles will mean that the seventeen contributors to this volume should read a much wider audience.

The essays now available at www.offalyhistory.com/ Decade of Centenaries/ WW1

 Journal Articles – Offaly History

Part 1 ESSAYS

1.1       Remembered or Forgotten, Tullamore and Offaly men in the First World War,

            Vivienne Clarke

1.2       King’s County/ Offaly, 1914–1918: From innovation to stagnation and ennui,

            Michael Byrne

1.3       Women and the Great War in King’s County, 1914–1918, Fionnuala Walsh

1.4       Women’s right to vote, 1918: the campaign, Margaret Hogan

1.5       Early Aviation in Offaly, Guy Warner

1.6       That ‘Bloody Duke’ and Bernard Shaw: A visitor to Birr during the Great War, Michael Byrne

1.7       Dr Otto Boeddicker, Astronomer (1853–1937): A German family settled in Birr and ‘casualties’ of the First World War, Lisa Shortall

1.8       The Rise of   Sinn Féin – November 1916 to April 1918, Séan McEvoy

1.9       ‘Please God he will come home safely’: Edenderry and the First World War, Ciarán Reilly

Part 2 SOLDIERS WHO FOUGHT

2.1       ‘A few random reflections’: The wartime experience of Major William Edward Parsons, fifth earl of Rosse (1873–1918), Lisa Shortall

2.2       Francis Hitchcock’s war: Stand To, A Diary of the Trenches and its legacy

Ruth Barton

2.3       ‘Manage to exist and try and be cheerful’: C.K. Howard-Bury’s WWI diaries and memoir in the Library of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Jane Maxwell

2.4       The Egan Brothers and the Battle of Messines, 7 to 14June 1917: a precursor

            to the 3rd Battle of Ypres, Maurice Egan

2.5       Denis Geraghty of Ballycumber, County Offaly, killed in action in WW1, 

            Paschal Sweeney

2.6       Offaly and the First Air War, Joe Gleeson

2.7        Lost Lives: Men from Ferbane and Belmont who died in the Great War, 1914–18, P.J. Dooley

2.8       Clara and the war, Michael Byrne

2.9       The first and the last Offaly-born soldiers killed in the Great War,

            Michael Byrne

2.10      Participants and casualties in the First World War: the Tullamore experience, Michael Byrne

2.11     Ballycumber men and women and the Great War, Eamonn Larkin

Part 3 COMMEMORATION

3.1         Great War Memorials in the Church of Ireland churches of County Offaly,

            Stephen Callaghan

3.2       Recalling the British Legion in Tullamore, Michael Byrne

3.3       The County Offaly First World War memorial, O’Connor Square, Tullamore Michael Byrne

3.4        Leinster Regiment Memorial unveiled at Crinkill Barracks, Birr in 2013,

             Derek Fanning

Part 4  DOCUMENTS

4.1       Recruiting and the first aerial photograph of Tullamore, Michael Byrne

4.2       Michael McCarthy on Clara, Co. Offaly in the pre-war years

4.3       A Clara Ranger’s story, Frank Hill and Paddy McKeon

4.4       Lois, Countess of Rosse and the Birr Castle Prisoner of War Relief Scheme,

            1915–16, Lisa Shortall

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