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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

Birr Barracks burnt 100 years ago on 14 July 1922. By Stephen Callaghan. An Offaly and the Decade of Centenaries feature.

Today 14 July 2022 marks one of the most significant centenaries of the year in County Offaly, the burning of Birr Barracks in Crinkill. While the barracks started to go into decline towards the start of the twentieth century, it was still a vital provider of local trade. When the town council requested Lord Roberts station an infantry regiment in the barracks in 1897, local trade from the barracks was valued at £40,000 or around €3.5 million today. While not totally abandoned, troops were stationed in the barracks during the Second Boer War and during the WW1.

On duty at Birr Barracks about 1910

With the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the evacuation the barracks was handed over to the National Army, Commandant General Michael McCormack taking command of the barracks. The last of the British Army to leave had been a detachment of the Northamptonshire Regiment, which stayed to oversee an auction of government property, which ultimately never took place. The deport staff of the Leinster Regiment, had left several days before, bound for Colchester, which would act as the depot until the regiment was disbanded in June 1922.

Now in the hands of the National Army, the barracks was to act as the headquarters for the 3rd Southern Division. As the rift in the army occurred those in favour of the Anglo-Irish Treaty left the barracks leaving behind the anti-treaty forces, which sealed the faith of the barracks.

The night of Friday the 14th July, the anti-treaty forces left the barracks, but not before setting it alight in a bid to stop it from being reoccupied by pro-treaty forces. Petrol was used to help the fire spread, which had allegedly been ‘borrowed’ from a petrol station on the Green, Birr, the owner later apparently compensated with a piano from the officer’s mess.

The Birr Barracks destroyed on 14 July 1922. From a photograph in the Fitz-Simon Collection in Offaly Archives. See the Offaly History YouTube video by Stephen Callaghan about this collection recently donated by Christopher Fitz-Simon.

The fire burned bright into the night as it engulfed the barracks, Crinkill being illuminated as if it was daytime as astonished villagers watched the destruction unfold. The intense blaze being visible for miles around. The fire crept along the various soldier blocks making its way to the clock in the cupola – which was installed 76 years prior in 1846. As the clock stopped ticking the hands came to rest at 3:30 am on the 15th July.

When the fire finished its work, all that was left was a pile of smouldering ruins, no buildings had been spared, even the garrison church which served as a place of worship for Protestant members of the garrison had been burnt.

Birr Barracks about 1900.

 As dawn broke a steady stream of looters began to arrive and plundered anything that had not burnt. Kitchen ware, baths and anything that could be taken, was taken, items being carted away by donkeys. Looting became so much of a problem that the National Army issued a warning, anyone caught with property from the barracks would be prosecuted, and indeed some people were fined for having items from the barracks in their possession. One hundred years on, it is quite likely people to this day have items from the barracks in their house, ‘liberated’ by relatives.

The barracks lay completely gutted and disused, the parade grounds slowly taken over with grass. Discussions in the Dáil proposed that it could be rebuilt to house National Army soldiers in the town, but nothing came of this. Similar talks occurred during the Emergency, but again nothing happened. The barracks was ultimately sold by the Commissioners of Public Works for stone rubble. The garrison church was sold to the monks at Mount Saint Joseph, Roscrea and the stone was used in the construction of part of the steeple. The main barracks buildings were systematically knocked down and the rubble taken away. Some of the last buildings to be destroyed was one of the officer blocks and central arch and cupola, which were blown up in the 1980s. Today all that remains are the boundary walls and the fine cut stone entrance gates and protective bastions, an important reminder of this once important barracks, built over 200 years ago.

The famous photograph of the Fourteen Acres at Birr Barracks from the Lawrence Collection – preserved in postcards and importantly by the National Library.

For those interested in learning more about the history of the barracks, Stephen Callaghan, in connection with Offaly Historical Society will be leading a free guided tour of the entire barracks complex. The tour will be on 16th July at 11 am, starting from outside the Thatch Restaurant at Crinkill.

See also two YouTube videos with Stephen on Birr Barracks on the Offaly History channel, previous blogs and articles on our Decade of Centenaries platform at See also his recent article in History Ireland, July August 2022. Why not subscribe to this great magazine that issues six times a year.

From History Ireland, July-August 2022.

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