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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 Irish Land Commission Records, 1881-1992: the most important state body operating out of rural Ireland. When will it be open for research?

First established under the 1881 Land Act, the Irish Land Commission began as a regulator of fair rents, but soon evolved into the great facilitator of land transfer. However, over emphasis on these aspects of its work can sometimes camouflage its equal significance as the main instigator and architect of rural reform. There is no doubt that for most of its existence from 1881 to 1992 the Land Commission was the most important state body operating out of rural Ireland where its long tentacles spread into every nook and cranny.  [Come to Professor Dooley’s lecture on Monday in Tullamore – see details below.

            At the peak of its operations in the 1930s – in terms of acres acquired and redistributed – the Land Commission employed in the region of 1,350 people, making it the largest state agency in Ireland. It was divided into several branches or sections and while these branches were refashioned from time to time to cater for changing circumstances, the principal ones remained the same. Its work generated an enormous archive. It is estimated that there are around 35,000 individual estate boxes alone containing deeds, valuers’ maps, and general descriptions of lands. In relation to local infrastructure and topography, valuer’s reports not only describe individual holdings and their buildings, but they also provide detail on local markets, transport facilities, and local agricultural practices. As regards social history, inspectors’ reports are hugely informative: for purposes of the division of an acquired estate, a Land Commission inspector was sent to an area to gather all the facts he could about each prospective allottee. Each applicant was interviewed to determine the number in his family (making the reports a genealogical source of some significance); the amount and type of stock that he held; and evidence of capital available to him to invest in any future holding. Potential allottees, it seems, often revealed as much about their neighbours who were in competition with them as they did about themselves.

The Land Commission Archive warehouse in Portlaoise. Picture: Alf Harvey with thanks

Thus, in their totality the Land Commission records are a unique source that inform on everything from who owned/owns the land of Ireland to the impact of rural reform and the ideological philosophies of the major political parties of the day. They enlighten on the shaping and redesign of physical and, indeed, mental, and cultural landscapes. They map the transfer of lands, the creation and disappearance of designed landscapes around Big Houses, they inform on the reasons for agrarian agitation and litigation, on the migration of smallholders from west to east after independence, the flight from the land when small farm life became unviable after independence, they can reveal much about rural poverty and hardship, social inequality, the lives of women and children, the lengths some families went to in order to retain ownership of their farms, and they have the potential to add a whole new layer of complexity to our understanding of how the Irish revolution of 1920-23 played itself out in the decades which followed. They can reveal the extent to which the Land Commission, the body with the greatest power to enact revolutionary social change, embraced that potential or did it simply become another pawn of local elites? As newspaper reports testify, rural Ireland post-independence was seething with frustration, local jealousies, bitterness, and anger as lands were divided. Once opened to the research public, assiduous researchers with an eye for the forensics of redistribution patterns may reveal hidden depths of political corruption practised in Ireland over generations.

            These are the records that document the modernisation of Ireland, that some might argue reveal its very soul. They are at least as important as the records of the revolutionary period which have rightly benefited from huge capital and personnel investment in the last decade or so. After all, the Land Commission affected far more lives than the War of Independence and Civil War put together.

But even though the Land Commission has been dissolved for thirty years, its archives have not yet been opened to the research public (except on an extremely limited basis). The anomaly of this is difficult to explain, and the loss to Irish historical research to be greatly lamented. If nothing else, the stymied access has obstructed historians (and, indeed, scholars from a wide variety of other disciplines including, but not exclusively, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, and Political Studies) in fully appraising countless topics, from the most rudimentary such as the importance of the everyday work of the Land Commission, to the more complex analysis of any intersection between land and politics. Simply put, the denial of full access to the Land Commission archives prevents the writing of the definitive history of modern Ireland in all its dimensions – social, economic, political, and cultural. 

Professor Terry Dooley and keeper of the records Conor Gallagher at the Land Commission Archive warehouse in Portlaoise. Picture: Alf Harvey with thanks

Our November lecture on ‘The Irish Land Commission and Land Reform, 1881-1992: Future Research Potential’ by Professor Terence Dooly (Maynooth University)

14 November at 8.00 p.m. in person and online.

The Zoom link for members unable to attend in person :

Email [email protected] for the access code via Zoom

The lecture can also be attended at Bury Quay, Tullamore (R35 Y5VO) with tea following. Note the start time for in person lectures as 8.00 p.m. Non-members can all attend at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay and are welcome. Charge on the night is €2 to members and €5 to members).

Synopsis:

Land reform was central to Irish life, society, and politics during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Foremost in the process was the Irish Land Commission, first established under the 1881 Land Act. Beginning as a regulator of fair rents, the Commission soon evolved into the great facilitator of land transfer. But over emphasis on these principal aspects of its work can sometimes camouflage its equal significance as the main instigator and architect of reform, bestowing upon it pre-eminence as the most important state body operating out of rural Ireland for the best part of 100 years. During its existence, the Land Commission’s long tentacles spread into every nook and cranny of rural society.

But even though the Land Commission has been dissolved for over thirty years, its archives have not yet been opened to the research public (except on an extremely limited basis). The anomaly of this is difficult to explain, and the loss to Irish historical research to be greatly lamented. Thus, the aim of this paper is twofold: firstly, to illuminate the importance of the Land Commission and its records to any future understanding of the development of modern Ireland, and secondly, by extension, to make a case why the Irish government should fully open the archives to the research public.

Speaker bio:

Terence Dooley is Professor of History at Maynooth University and Director of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates. His latest book Burning the Big House: the Story of the Irish Country House in War and Revolution 1914-23 was published by Yale University Press in 2022.  Copies can be had at Offaly History Centre.

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