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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

The 1923 General Election in Laois-Offaly: Cumann na nGaedheal papers in Offaly Archives. An Offaly History contribution to the Decade of Centenaries. By Michael Byrne

In the last blog we noted that the August 1923 General Election in Laois-Offaly was remarkably peaceful given that the civil war had only ended in May. Offaly was still strong in support for the Republicans as was clear from the fact they gained two seats, but, of course, were committed to not entering the Dáil. Labour’s William Davin continued to have a strong vote but not nearly so much as in June 1922. Tullamore’ Patrick Egan gained a seat on Labour transfers. Egan polled only 9 per cent of the first preferences.[1] In Laois-Offaly the Republicans outpolled Cumann na nGaedheal, but the latter won the by-election of 1926 created by the disqualification of Republican John or Séan  McGuinness.[2] Overall Cumann na nGaedheal secured 38.9 per cent of the 1923 vote as to anti-Treaty Sinn Féin’s 27.4 per cent.[3] The Sinn Féin vote was secured in difficult circumstances with many still in prison or in hiding. As Joe Lee recorded the outcome was a resounding success for anti-Treaty Sinn Féin and a loss for Labour. Cumann na nGaedheal secured 63 seats, but that was a gain of only five in a Dáil enlarged from 128 to 153 seats. This was the election in which the franchise was extended to all women over the age of 21, thereby expanding the electorate from 1.37 million in 1918 to 1.72 million in 1923.

To recall the voting for the fourteen candidates see the last blog and the table from Offaly Archives shows the transfers and confirms what Egan had to say in his speech of thanks in Tullamore in September 2023. Perhaps the workers in the firms of Egan and Williams were only prepared to give a second preference after they voted Labour.

Contributors to the election fund.Subscribers to the fund of which D.E. Williams were the most prominent.

The purpose of this article is to look at some of the Cumann na nGaedheal party papers in Offaly Archives which throw a little light on the state of the organization in Laois-Offaly. To recall that the party was founded in April 1923. The new party was comprised of those members of Sinn Féin who supported the Treaty as a compromise and ‘a stepping stone’. After the death of Michael Collins the party moved to centre-right under the leadership of W.T. Cosgrave and Kevin O’Higgins. Little has been said about O’Higgins in recent times but it should be recalled that he campaigned for Parick McCartan in the 1918 by-election in North Offaly and for a ‘seditious speech’ at Garryhinch crossroads was sentenced to three months in prison. O’Higgins was a TD for Laois and Laois-Offaly for the years 1918­–22 but moved to a Dublin constituency for the for the 1923 general election, and in the aftermath of his father’s murder in the course of the civil war.[5]

Kevin O’Higgins (1892-1927). Courtesy of NLI

The papers in Offaly Archives were retained by Henry Brenan of Hoey & Denning Solicitors, Tulllamore, the election agent for Cumann na nGaedheal. For more on Brenan as crown solicitor 1916–20 see an Offaly History blog of 2016 in this series and Legal Offaly (2008).[6] Brenan was agent for E.J. Graham of Tullamore in the December 1914 by-election which had been hotly contested with Adams losing by 79 votes.[7] Being the good solicitor he was Brenan wrote on 13 August 1923 to James Murnaghan (1881–1973) then a junior barrister (admitted 1903) who practiced on the Northern and Midland Circuits and was a part-time law professor in UCD. He was appointed to the High Court bench from the junior bar in 1924 and to the Supreme Court in 1925.[8] Brenan was concerned about the conveyance of voters to the polls in hired vehicles and, of course, that such expenses could be properly defrayed by the election agent (see image attached).  The total expense of the 1923 general election, as paid by Brenan as election agent, was £691 of which bill posting was £89 and printing and advertising £213. Of course there was a shortfall in funds with Central Office of Cumann na nGaedheal  leaving it to the local organization to find the shortfall. A list of the subscribers to the funds in August has survived (see image).

Henry Brenan about 1910. He died in 1944. He was married to a daughter of Daniel E. Williams and was agent for the Williams backed candidate E.J. Graham in 1914 and Cumann na nGaedheal candidates in 1923.Letter of 13 Aug. 1923 from H.F. Brenan to James Murnaghan, B.L.Letter from head office of 5 Dec. 1923

The young E.J. Delahunty, the director of the county’s Technical Instruction Committee. Egan as TD supported him against the bishops in securing a new county library service for Offaly (Carnegie funded) in 1925 (see earlier blog).

Carey, editor of the Express

These papers and the local newspaper reports confirm that as far as the newly formed Cumann na nGaedheal  in Leix Offaly was concerned the election was about statehood and not party. The fact that the Republicans were holding up an ideal and not acting as a party meant that there was no cut and thrust in the election or competitive banter. Ferriter cites Mary Daly as suggesting that Cumann na nGaedheal was atypical as a party ‘because it was first a government and only subsequently became a party.[9] Patrick Egan’s speech in Tullamore in September bears out this as he was inviting Jack McGuinness to take up the responsibility of public representation and government.

Patrick or P.J. Egan speaking in mid-August at an election meeting. Offaly Chronicle 16 Aug. 1923

[1] Patrick Joseph Egan (1876-1960) see entry by Lawrence William White in DIB, 3, pp 593-5 (online). Egan resigned the magistracy in about May 1920 and moved in the Sinn Féin direction – Tullamore and King’s County Independent, 31 July 1920. His brother, William J. Egan, died, aged 33, in New Zealand in November 1916 and two other brothers, Gerald and Kevin fought in World War 1 (Tullamore and King’s County Independent, 2 Dec. 1916, 2 Sept. 1916. Egan was a son of Henry Egan (died 1919) and purchased the country house of Annaghmore and lands in the same year for about £6,000.

[2] Michael Gallagher, ‘Politics in Laois-Offaly, 1922-92’ in Padraig G. Lane and William Nolan (eds), Laois history and society (Dublin, 1999), pp 657-88, p. 667.

[3] Diarmuid Ferriter, The transformation of Ireland, 1900-2000 (London, 2004), p. 297.

[4] J.J. Lee,,Ireland: 1912–85 (Cambridge, 1989),

[5] Richard Egan, ‘Kevin O’Higgins, the Tullamore Realm Trial and the Ideas of a Complex Revolutionary’ in Offaly Heritage 2 (2004), pp 164–72.

[6] Michael Byrne, Legal Offaly: the county courthouse at Tullamore and the legal profession in County Offaly from the 1820s to the present day (Tullamore, 2008).

[7] Michael Byrne, ‘The by-elections in King’s County/Offaly in 1914 and 1918’, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 19–87.

[8] See the short life of Murnaghan in the DIB entry by Ronan Keane – as always, elegant, lively and erudite (online).

[9] Diarmuid Ferriter, The transformation of Ireland, 1900-2000 (London, 2004), p. 297.

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