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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 McDonald Family of Birr and the Great War: one story of many from Offaly about those who fought in the Great War, 1914–18. Stephen Callaghan

In July 2018 an interesting Great War campaign medal appeared on eBay, a single 1914–15 Star awarded to Private Frederick McDonald of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The description provided by the seller stated that Frederick was born in Birr, and that he had been killed in action during the war.

Further research unravels a forgotten story, which gives insight into the life of Frederick and his family. It is a story not too dissimilar among the many working class Catholic families in Birr, because serving in the British Army was a source of steady employment and a means to support a family.

Frederick was born in Birr on 4 August 1894, his parents were George McDonald and Mary McDonald (née Jones) of Sandymount Street. George was a general labourer and an active member of the militia, the 3rd Battalion, Leinster Regiment having joined in 1884. Mary was born in either England or Wales and worked as a laundress.

Frederick was one of ten children, he had four older brothers. With his brothers he was educated in the Presentation Brothers School at Moorpark having been registered as a pupil on 5 August 1897. His attendance was quite poor only being 3 days for his first year, no attendance in his second year and 136 days in his final year.

With the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, the British Army urgently needed reinforcements to fight the conflict in South Africa. This resulted in the local militia volunteering for active service overseas, and led to George being absent from his family for two years, the militia returning in May 1902. Mary would have had to look after her family by herself, perhaps with assistance from older children.

Once Frederick finished with school it is likely he would have ended up working as a labourer, as his family would not have had the means to further his education, especially with the death of his father in 1909 and later death of his mother in 1911. Things changed when another option opened up to him, when he became old enough to join the army in 1913. The army would have been something Frederick was quite familiar with having grown up in a garrison town and seeing soldiers about the place. His dad and their neighbours in Sandymount such as Edward Long and Anthony Nevin had also served; his older brother Henry had also only joined the army in 1908 and this would have influenced Frederick’s decision to join. Joining the army provided him with regular meals a roof over his head and a steady income. Although still only 17 he would have been easy able to lie about his age to the recruiter. Frederick enlisted in Birr and joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, a fine historic regiment of the British Army, his service number being 10555 put his date of enlistment around early to mid 1913.

With the outbreak of the Great War there was a huge recruiting campaign for Lord Kitchener’s New Army, which greatly increased the fighting capacity of the British Army for a large scale industrial war, the likes of which the world had not seen before. With this in mind it is not surprising that two other McDonalds joined up, John serving with the Royal Field Artillery and Edward in the Royal Irish Rifles.

Frederick landed in France with on 24 November 1914 and he was part of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. At his stage of the war Frederick was probably aware that his older brother Henry and his sister’s husband also named Henry, who were both soldiers in the 2nd Battalion, Leinster Regiment were missing in action. Both were later confirmed as having being killed in action on 20 October 1914 during the Battle of Armentières, where the Leinsters were part of the attack on the village of Prémesque.

Frederick McDonald’s 1914-15 Star

The Inniskillings endured a difficult cold winter in the trenches. In May 1915 they took part in a major battle, the Battle of Fesburbert. This was the first battle where the British would be attacking at night as the previous daylight attack on 9 May had failed. Before the assault a 60- hour long artillery bombardment took place to soften up the German lines along the planed three-mile front. The night of 15 May the attack was launched, the Inniskillings gaining significant ground during the attack but also suffering heavy losses. Private McDonald was one of the casualties on the second night of the battle. The word back at home in Birr would be that he was missing in action, later being presumed killed in action on the night of 16 May. In total 252 officers and other ranks died, and several hundred wounded over the nights of 15 and 16 May, an enormous loss for the battalion. The village of Fesburbert was ultimately captured after renewed attacks, but the cost was not light with some 16,600 British causalities.

Frederick McDonald’s 1914-15 Star, Reverse with service details

The two remaining McDonald brothers were more fortunate and survived the war. Private McDonald’s name is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, France, his brother Henry and brother in law Henry are both buried in Canadian Cemetery No. 2 cemetery, Neuville-Saint-Vaast, France.

This is just one story of many, which revealed itself from the name impressed on bronze campaign medal.

[On Sunday 11 November services and events will be held to mark the end of the First World War and the 35,000 to 45,000 killed. In Tullamore we have a day of activities in Tullamore Central Library with the launch of Offaly and the Great War at 2. 30 p.m. Mass at 11. 30 p.m. and a service in St Catherine’s in the evening. Birr has a service in St. Brendan’s at 3 p.m. Ed.] The volume of essays includes one by Stephen Callaghan on the war memorials in the Church of Ireland churches in County Offaly.

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