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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

T.M. Russell (1868–1932): a huge loss to Offaly in the early years of Independence. By Michael Byrne

The now permanent release online with free access of some 11,000 lives in the Dictionary of Irish Biography (DIB) will be a huge bonus to historical research. And yet there will be many people at county level who will not feature but deserve to have their work recorded in dictionaries of county biography. Offaly History began this process in its publication Offaly Heritage 9 (2016) but more so in the recent issue of Offaly Heritage 11 (2020) where the following ‘Brief Lives’ were recorded by way of:

Short biographies of revolutionary figures in Offaly, 1912–23

P.J. Bermingham (1872–1975), 2–3.

Eamonn Bulfin of Derrinlough, 26–7

Father Thomas Burbage (1879–1966), 42–5

Revd Philip Callary (1849–1925), 73–4

Cumann na mBan in Offaly, 80–81

Thomas Dunne (1884–1968), 90–91

James Perry Goodbody (1853–1923), 134–5

Catherine Mahon (1869–1948), 157–8

Patrick McCartan (1878–1963), 179–80

Seán McGuinness (1899–1978), 189–90

T. M. Russell (1868–1932), 205–6

These short essays of less than 1,000 words each were contributed by independent scholars – Brian Pey, Michael Byrne, Margaret White, Ciara Molloy and Lisa Shortall.

Offaly Heritage 11 – a bumper issue of 450 pages with the brief lives

It is to the final life in that recent collection we focus on here. It was that of T.M. Russell, a man with huge potential, which remained unrealised when the opportunity came for a revolutionary change in local government in June 1920. This was following on from the election of the first Sinn Féin controlled county council and the implementation of self-reliance and breaking with the Dublin Castle based Local Government Board.

T. M. Russell was the major intellectual force in the Sinn Féin movement in County Offaly from late in 1916 until his sudden departure from the county in the autumn of 1920. The rise of Sinn Féin in the county in 1917 as a political movement and Russell’s part in it deserve to be closely studied.

Familiar names in membership of the new Durrow Sinn Féin Club in 1917. John Berry was chair and Patk. Ravenhill secretary

The amount of work done by T.M Russell, the president of North Offaly Sinn Féin, to build up the Sinn Féin movement in Offaly in 19717-18 was Stakhanovite in its intensity. At the time of the general election in 1918 Sinn Féin according to the RIC’s County Inspector had thirty-six branches in the county and 3,005 members. This was largely due to the organisational work of Russell helped, of course, by the impetus given by the April 1918 by-election for the North King’s County seat vacant by reason of the death of E. J. Graham. Patrick McCartan took that seat without a contest.

Russell told the first AGM of Tullamore Sinn Féin in February 1918 that through its efforts the Gaelic Athletic Association had been re-united and put on a good financial basis (a reference to divisions in the Tullamore club). The same remarks applied to the Tullamore Pipers Band. The members of Tullamore Sinn Féin had helped in the four contested by-elections in 1917–18 and assisted in organising several aeridheacht including the big one in Tullamore on 29 July 1917 which de Valera attended fresh from his victory in Clare. A county convention had been held during the year at which divisional executives were formed for North and South Offaly Parliamentary Divisions. In addition the Standing Committee, lately formed, had taken over the working of the Gaelic League and Russell mentioned that the Irish Volunteers had been organised from the Tullamore branch as well as from others throughout the country. There were others more qualified to speak but it had met with great success. Sinn Féin, Russell said, had made its influence felt in the public boards not only in the immediate vicinity but throughout the entire county. Finally, Russell, as president of North Offaly had personally attended at the formation of the thirty-one Sinn Féin clubs in the county and he had written no less than 1,200 letters. Offaly, with thirty-one clubs held third place in Leinster and sixteenth in Ireland (1,250 clubs). The Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP organisation), such as it was, could not even begin to match it. Russell was one of the few intellectuals in local politics and his loss to the county in late 1920 because of his move to Dublin was immense.

    Russell might have come on a sealed train from Limerick, his native county, such was his impact on North Offaly politics over the four years, 1916-20. He was not long in Tullamore when he came to the notice of the police as ‘having harangued the members of the Farmers Association on the wrongs of farmers, and particularly their wrongs in connection with the price of barley’. In early 1917 he and the Tullamore councillor P.F. Adams got involved in the Handy-Charleville land dispute at Croghan Hill and in February Russell was co-opted to the county council. Inexplicably Adams had vacated his council seat to facilitate the co-option of Russell. It was not well received in Tullamore and only grudgingly accepted. After six months of observation of Russell the RIC County Inspector’s estimate of Russell was that he was a professional agitator, an able Sinn Féiner, but someone who ‘has made a good many enemies in the county’. This was probably because of his high intellect and single-mindedness in the promotion of Sinn Féin. He was a recent ‘blow-in’ or as the inspector put it ‘a stranger and adventurer’ and a man with ‘no ostensible occupation’ since he gave up the I.A.O.S.  (his role with the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society).

Ballyduff House, Clara Road, Tullamore, the home of the Russell family from 1916 to 1920. To the south the famous Molloy quarry.

Russell was first imprisoned over the illegal ploughing of land on 12 March 1917 and was again arrested in 1918 as part of the so-called German plot. Papers were found in his house at Ballyduff at the time of the arrest, but in fact the contents of some of them such as the Sinn Féin AGM for the Tullamore branch had already appeared in the local press. Nonetheless, he was held in Birmingham prison from May to October 1918 and only released from prison in October to visit his dying child. By October 1918 his three boys were ill with ‘flu. The epidemic was raging and one of them died shortly after the father’s release. The funeral march was a pathetic scene with the child’s coffin borne on the shoulders of the local Volunteers from Ballyduff House on Clara Road to Tullamore Railway Station for burial in Glasnevin.

Russell was elected to the county council in June 1920, receiving the second highest vote after Clara’s Sean Robbins. It was soon after that his landlord, Mrs Molloy, wanted her house at Ballyduff back and in September 1920 the Russell family left Tullamore saying that it was impossible to get another house. Whether it was the slighting of Fr Callary, the parish priest, in regard to his pre-June 1920 chairmanship of the county infirmary, a rent increase, or the need to have the house for a Molloy family member we may never know. Russell was active in pushing out Callary from the chairmanship of his pet project the county infirmary and having the hospital closed as part of Sinn Féin policy in 1921.

The Sinn Féin rooms were four up on the left beside Chocolate Brown.

Perhaps Mrs Russell wanted to be finished with the town after the loss of her son and her husband through years of intense work and imprisonment.  Based on his performance over the four years his loss to the county was very great. Russell joined the Irish National Assurance Co. in 1920, became an insurance inspector and director in 1922, and died at the age of 63 on 18 April 1932 at Sandycove, Co. Dublin. He did make a brief return visit to Tullamore in 1928, but it was all a long way from the heady days of February 1918 when he met  Countess Markievicz and Maud Gonne MacBride at Tullamore railway station. That must have been the first visit of Master Sean MacBride to Tullamore. They had come as guests to see Russell’s play ‘An island behind and island’. What would they say now in the Brexit  era?

The visit of 1918. Offaly Archives was presented with the collected signatures of the main guests on that February day in 1918.

Much talent was lost to Ireland and to Offaly in the post 1920 period and the ‘brief lives’ project, for now focusing on the Revolutionary Period, will help us to dig down and better understand the motivations and actions of the leaders of that time. The challenge will be to expand the project over time to include sportsmen, scientists and all who have made a singular contribution while applying the same standards as that with the DIB.

The 11-vols of the Dictionary – all now free online and more to the extent of 11,000

We always welcome contributions. Offaly Heritage 11 is available to purchase online from Offaly History and we deliver free in the 5k zone. We are now working on Offaly Heritage 12 for issue in November 2021.

PRO County Inspector’s reports for King’s County, 1910-21, CO 904/ Reel 68 Box 107, POS 8547, Sept. to Dec. 1918; Tullamore and King’s County Independent, 2 Feb. 1918; Tullamore and King’s County Independent, 19 Oct. and 26 Oct. 1918, 2 Oct and 9 Oct. 1920; Ir. Independent, 27 Sept. 1920; 20 Apr. 1932.


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