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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

The 14th and 15th earls of Huntingdon of Sharavogue, Shinrone and the Birr barracks scandal. By Stephen Callaghan

Warner Francis John Plantagenet Hastings was born on 8 July 1868 at 54, St Stephen’s Green Place, Dublin. He was the son of Francis Power Plantagent Hastings, 14th Earl of Huntingdon, and Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra. The title of Earl of Huntingdon was an English peerage title originally created in 1065, the current title is its seventh incarnation which was created in 1529.

The 14th Earl married Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra 15 August 1867, who was the only daughter of Colonel Honourable John Craven Westenra, of Sharavogue, King’s County – a member of the Irish Whig party.

The family acquired lands in Waterford and King’s County. In the latter they lived in Sharavogue House. The house was originally built in the 1820s and was described as containing drawing and dining rooms of the finest proportion, a library, seven bedrooms, servant apartments, stables, coach houses and offices. A walled garden and 100 acres of land. Later additions to the house were made by notable Irish architect Sir Thomas Deane.

Between the years of 1880-1881 Warner was a Page of Honour to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He succeeded his father as the 15th Earl of Huntingdon upon his father’s death on 12 May 1885, at the age of 16. The 14th Earl was interred during a large funeral in a vault in the graveyard at Ettagh. As the 15th Earl he also became a Deputy Lieutenant for King’s County.

On 3 October 1885, the Earl was commissioned in the 4th (Militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment as a Lieutenant. He resigned this commission on 17 June 1889. He was subsequently commissioned into the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment, the old King’s County Militia whose depot was based in Birr Barracks. Further promotions included being commissioned to Major from Captain on 9 December 1893.

The Earl married Maud Margaret Wilson on 11 June 1892 at St George Church, Hanover Square, London. Their children were Maud Kathleen Cairnes Plantagenet Hastings (born 28 March 1893), Norah Frances Hastings (born 12 September 1894), Marian Ileene Mabel Hastings  (born 15 September 1895) and Francis Francis John Clarence Westenra Plantagenet Hastings (30 January 1901).

The fifteenth earl of Huntingdon. He succeeded to the title and estates in 1885.

In 1894, the Earl was implicated in the Birr Barracks Affair, which was a major scandal at the time, and was even mentioned in the House of Commons. A group of masked militia officers had broken into the quarters of Surgeon Major Fox and assaulted his two live in servants. The servants initially identified The Earl as one of the party, but he was later found to have a solid alibi and was acquitted.

With the outbreak of the Second Anglo Boer War in October 1899, the 3rd Leinsters were asked would they volunteer to serve in the conflict, as at the time militia unit could not be ordered on active service but rather had to volunteer. The militia went from Birr to Shrapnel Barracks, Woolwich. Here a special colour party was organised to bring the colours back to Birr for safe keeping. 

On 22 February 1900 the colours arrived on a train from Dublin with an escort. The colours were brought the hour march to Sharavogue House to be held for safe keeping. Not everyone was happy about this choice of location, one soldier of the 3rd Leinsters wrote a letter to the editor of the Midland Tribune asking why were the colours treated with such disrespect, making comparison to how the colours of English regiments were given to the mayor of towns or places of worship, while the colours of the 3rd Leinster’s ended up with a ‘feather-bed’. The letter finished up the writer saying he was insulted that the colours ended up in the hands of a ‘whipper-in’, who declined to go to the front.

The Earl had volunteered for service in South Africa but was found ‘unit for service’, likely due to an accidental injury he sustained several weeks previously while out hunting. On 28 February, he resigned his commission as the second in command of the 3rd Leinsters. Despite not going to fight in South Africa, the Earl and Countess of Huntingdon did much to collect gifts and comforts for the men of the battalion in fighting in South Africa.

The earl’s helmet sold at auction recently

The 1901 census records the Earl living in Sharavogue house with 12 servants! The house at this time was recorded as having 20 windows on the front and as having 20 rooms with 55 outbuildings and office!

The Earl was reappointed as Major on 4 June 1901, and then finally resigned as a Lieutenant Colonel on 18 March 1905, but was allowed to retain his rank and permission to wear his uniform. In recognition of his service to the battalion, the officers of the battalion presented him with a silver salver.

Other interests of the Earl included shooting, motoring and fox hunting, he set up the Huntingdon Harriers in 1892 and later became the master of the Ormond and East Galway foxhounds.

The Earl settled in England in 1925, where he lived at Burton Hall, Leicestershire. Sharavogue house had survived the War of Independence and Civil War, but was demolished by the Land Commission when the estate was being divided up, some of the outbuildings still survive.

The Earl died at his home in Burton Hall on 9 April 1939 aged 71 years. He was buried in St Helen’s Churchyard, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, where members of the Hastings family have been buried for generations.

Sharavogue House in the late 1870s. The 14th earl is driving and the young Lord Hastings and his sister are passengers The picture is from the new Offaly History publication on Rathrobin and the two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900-1920. Available to order online from http://www.offalyhistory.com

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