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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

Hunstanton Norfolk to Hunston Offaly and the L’Estrange family. By Sylvia Turner

Hunston is the name of a townland in the west of Offaly, close to where the Brosna and Shannon rivers meet. It is unlike many place names in Ireland which relate to an anglicised geographical description. It originates from a planter family who came to Ireland from England in the 16th century during the first plantation of Ireland.

Following Henry VIII claimed of kingship over all of Ireland in 1541, the English wished to extend their control further than the area called the Pale around Dublin to the whole of Ireland. One way was to drive the Irish landowners off their land and replace them with English or Scottish settlers, called ‘planters’. The first plantation took place in the region now known as Offaly and Laois in 1556. It was from this area that the O’Connor and O’Moore clans had invaded the Pale. The Government divided the land into Counties. Present day Laois was named Queen’s County, after Queen Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and present-day Offaly was named King’s County after Mary’s husband King Philip of Spain. Forts were built at Maryborough (Portlaoise) and Philipstown (Daingean).

The L’Estrange family probably came to England from France during the Norman conquest, their name likely to have evolved from the French word l’étranger meaning strange. They were known in the parish of Knockin (Cnukyn) Shropshire, when from the 12th century, the King enabled the L’Estrange family to have a castle constructed. The castle remained in the ownership of the family till the 16th century but by 1540 was in ruins. According to An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk published in 1809,Guy L’Estrange of Knockin had three sons, Guy, Hamon and John, and from these sons descended the Lords and Barons of Knockin, the Barons of Blackmere, and the L’Estranges of Hunstanton.

Hunstanton Hall was the ancestral home of the Hunstanton branch of the family. It is 2km inland from the north Norfolk coast on the south-east edge of the village of Old Hunstanton. According to Historic England, the L’Estrange family were one of the most powerful in Norfolk  during the 15th and 16th centuries. Much of the Hall was destroyed by fire in 1853 and again in 1951. It was divided into apartments and sold, although the Le Strange family retained the park and part of the gardens.

Ancestral records show that a number of the L’Estrange family from the Hunstanton branch came to Ireland as planters. It was Thomas L’Estrange (1566-1639) that came from Norfolk and held Castle L’Estrange in Roscommon in the late 16th century. Thomas’s son (1580-1660) moved south to Offaly to a townland that became known as Hunston, the common pronunciation for Hunstanton in Norfolk. Two mansions were established there. One was at the Moystown Demesne bounded by the River Brosna to the east and the River Shannon to the south-west, and the other at Kilcummin which is approximately four kilometres north of Moystown Demesne

1838 Ordnance Survey map

The L’Estrange family are well documented on genealogical websites. Records show Thomas’s descendants remained at Moystown until the latter 19th century. Information from Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland of 1837 gives detailed information about the parish of Tessauran (Tisaran). Kilcummin House was in the hands of the L’Estrange family at least from the mid-18th century when William L’Estrange (1711-1773) born at Moystown, died at Kilcummin. Samuel Lewis notes seats in the parish were held by Colonel L’Estrange at  Moystown, Robert Baker at Belmont,  William L’Estrange at Kilcummin and Major Carlton at Hunstanton.

Information from the Griffith’s Valuation of 1854 shows that Moystown was occupied by Beresford L’Estrange but was owned by Lord Ashbrook.  John Collins leased Belmont from the Revd. James Drought, John Burdett leased  Hunstanton from the Revd. Charles Hume and only Kilcummin was owned by its occupier, William L’Estrange.

The Famine badly affected the county early and hit it badly. According to Ciarán Reilly, in his book ‘The Irish Land Agent 1830-60: the case of King’s County’, landlords were slow to react or realise the gravity of the situation. On Saturday 3 February 1849 it was reported that a quantity of potatoes was stolen from George L’Estrange. Concern about growing unrest may have led to the following action taken by Mr White, the land agent of Colonel L’Estrange. On Saturday 15 December 1849 the Westmeath Independent reported that there was a ploughing competition at Moystown and Colonel George L’Estrange’s agent, Mr White, took the opportunity to inform the tenants that their rents were to be reduced and that their poor law rates paid for them.

The 1901 census identifies 217 people of the name L’Estrange in Ireland and just 40 in Offaly. By 1911, numbers had dropped to 184 in Ireland and just 22 in Offaly. It is clear from the household returns that by the turn of the 20th century, the majority of people named L’Estrange were not of the ruling class but tenant farmers in rural areas or tradespersons in towns. The majority of these people were Catholic. Clergy and those who served in the armed services were generally Protestant.

Kilcummin  House remained in the hands of the L’Estrange family until the early 20th century. Major Edmund L’Estrange (1828-1912) was in residence with his daughter. They were both listed as Protestants. The Thom’s directory of 1907 shows he was resident in the house. In the 1911 Edmund is listed in Dalkey, Dublin. Edmund died the following year and  probate was awarded to his nephew William Atkinson, a family with whom the L’Estrange family had intermarried over the generations. Kilcummin House came into William Atkinson’s possession.

Leinster Reporter 14 March 1925

Serious personal injury inflicted on Mrs Waller Sawyer in 1922

Moystown from the Encumbered Estates Court Sale to demolition

Moystown House came into the hands of the Waller family. The Landed Estates database states that the first Waller came to Ireland as a soldier in Cromwell’s army and the family seat was Shannongrove, Pallaskenry, Limerick. Bolton John Waller, a farmer and Justice of the Peace took up residence at Moystown in 1864. The 1901 and 1911 census records identify the family as Protestants. The following announcement explains that Bolton John Waller had bought Moystown from the lessor, Lord Ashbrook, in 1864 and had remained there until 1921. His daughter remained at the house after her father had left. At the time of the Civil War, such ‘big’ houses, usually owned by Protestants, were targets for arson. However, various newspaper reports such as the Leinster Reporter of Saturday 28 January 1922, reveal that his daughter, Mrs Waller-Sawyer, made herself a particular target as she had purchased the land on which stood Hunston House for £6000, a move that was very unpopular locally.  A serious raid had been made on the house and Mrs Waller-Sawyer had been seriously assaulted. The following announcement in the Leinster Reporter of Saturday 14 March 1925 explains the demise of Moystown House.

The burning of Moystown

Today, there just sixteen people listed in the Eircom telephone book for Ireland. Local people around Hunston know of the name L’Estrange  as previous landlords. Also, according to the National Inventory of Architectual Heritage,  L’Estrange Bridge is the name given to the ingle-arch masonry canal bridge, built in 1800, carrying the road from Cloghan to Shannonbridge over the Grand Canal as seen on the Geohive website below. The bridge is still in use today.

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