Skip to content

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 departure of the British Military from Offaly one hundred years ago – Birr Barracks. Stephen Callaghan

In the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Treaty Birr Barracks in Offaly was one of the first to be evacuated by the British military. It was also the largest in the county. Stephen Callaghan takes up the story.

Wednesday, 2 February 2022 marked the centenary anniversary of the departure of the Leinster Regiment from Birr Barracks. A historically significant event which little is known about. The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 effectively saw the withdrawal of the British Army from Ireland which would take place over the coming months, with British military barracks around the country being handed over to the newly created National Army. This mass exodus included the Leinster Regiment depot staff based in Birr Barracks, which it had called home for the past 41 years.

On the day of their departure the depot staff consisted of 4 officers, 64 men, 2 women and 8 children. There were additionally two waggons of luggage. There is a myth that when the Leinsters left all they took with them was the regimental silver, leaving everything else behind. While over simplified, there is some truth to this. While any regimental silver belonging to the depot would have certainly been taken, the truth is the regimental silver of the regular army battalions of the regiment would have accompanied them and not have been in the depot. Also everything in the barracks was intentionally left behind, with a large government auction intended to take place on 3 February to dispose of the stores.

Birr Barracks dating from 1810-12. Courtesy Stephen Callaghan.

The depot staff departed the barracks at 12 noon and were greeted by a large crowd of people from the town. They made their way for the last time down Military Road, while the regiment’s band playing Irish and traditional tunes, towards Birr train station and made their way to Dublin by train. When in Dublin, they proceeded to the North Wall, then onto Colchester, Essex via Holyhead, where they would join up with the 2nd Battalion (the 1st Battalion, was in India at the time).

With the above mentioned Anglo-Irish Treaty and additional downsizing and cutbacks in the British Army, the Leinster Regiment along with 4 other historic Southern Irish Regiments were marked for disbandment. The official presentation of the regimental colours to King George V taking place at Windsor Castle on 12 June.

The camp at Birr Barracks outside the walls, c. 1910. Courtesy of NLI.

Despite the Leinsters having left Birr, a detachment of the Northamptonshire Regiment remained for the large government auction of the stores, which was scheduled to take place at 11 am on 3 February. The auction consisted of 7000 lots of furniture, sporting requisites, medical apparatus and unused clothes, boots and shoes. The auction was advertised as a “rare opportunity of completely re-fitting, at a reasonable cost, the home, the office, the workshop, and the club”. Despite publicity about the auction, there is some question as to whether the auction took place as a newspaper article in March states the auction was suspended as the Provisional Irish Government decided they wanted to keep the stores.

The barracks was officially handed over to Commandant General Michael McCormack of the 3rd Southern Division on Tuesday 6 February. Newspapers of the time records there were around 50 members of the National Army present at the handover. The intention was the barracks would act as the headquarters for the 3rd Southern Division. Unfortunately, the handover was not photographed, nor do any of the contemporary newspapers go into any great detail about the event.

The IRA take control. Courtesy Stephen Callaghan

With the handing over of Birr Barracks ended 110 years of occupation by various regiments of the British Army. Originally constructed between 1809-1812 as a response to the threat of French invasion and or internal insurrection. In 1881 the barracks had become the depot of the then newly formed Leinster Regiment, with a fixed recruiting area of Meath, Westmeath, Longford, Offaly and Laois. Despite the regiment’s relatively short existence, links with Birr and Offaly have endured the past century with many people having ancestral links.

With the barracks now in the hands of the national army, all was not well as civil war loomed and the faith of the barracks was sealed. Another article in July will pick up on the story of Birr Barracks.

Easy days on security at Birr Barracks, c. 1900-10. Courtesy NLI

Back To Top