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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

King’s County Infirmary – its closure in 1921 in an era of change. By Aisling Irwin

King’s County Infirmary was established under the reign of King George III with the passing of the Irish County Infirmaries Act of 1765. This act enabled the creation of infirmaries in thirty Irish counties. During the redevelopment of Tullamore town by the Earl of Charleville, a new infirmary building was erected in 1788 on Church Street and was further extended in 1812.

The County Infirmaries Act was enacted to provide healthcare to the poor which fulfilled the eighteenth century philanthropic ideals of the landed gentry who supported these institutions through donations and subscriptions. King’s County Infirmary was supported by an income consisting of parliamentary funds, grand jury presentments, governor subscriptions, donations, and patient fees. The infirmary was managed by a Board of Governors who paid subscriptions for their position on the board which gave them absolute control over the infirmary including staff appointments and patient admissions. Governors were made up of local gentry and landowners such as the Earl of Rosse, Lord Digby, and prominent business owners such as the Goodbody family.   

While surviving records are limited, the Board meeting minute books provide a colourful insight into the running of an infirmary in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland.  The Infirmary’s Surgeon, Dr James Ridley, was linked to a scandal that pervaded the county in 1887 and 1888. Ridley, who also acted as one of the Tullamore jail physicians was reported to have died by suicide on the morning he was due to give evidence at the inquest into the death of John Mandeville, a national league activist. Mandeville who was imprisoned under the Irish Crimes Act of 1887 was subject to harsh and cruel punishment at the hands of his jailors and died shortly after his release from prison. 

The Infirmary staff also caused scandal on rare occasions. In 1894 the long-serving porter died after a short illness and was replaced by a Mr Hartehall. In July of that year Hartehall was reported as ‘having been under the influence of drink while on duty’. He was not dismissed until December with reason given as his ‘drunkenness, insubordination and inattention to business.’ The infirmary Board, glad to have relieved themselves of the unfit character, replaced Hartehall with Mr D. Dawson in February 1895. Unfortunately the Board were once again unwise in their selection. Dawson was also reported as having been under the influence while on duty. However, he seems to have had a more generous nature than his predecessor as he was reported to have given ‘drink to patients contrary to rule’.  A more scandalous incident was also recorded among the Board minutes though the details are somewhat lacking! In February 1900, Dr George Ridley and a nurse reported the gross misconduct of the cook and two other female servants in having admitted two male patients to their bedroom. They were dismissed immediately by the doctor.

The infirmary in the 1980s as ruin with the former fever tuberculosis hospital in the rear.

During the War of Independence, King’s County Infirmary came under the jurisdiction of the new Sinn Féin majority council, now renamed Offaly County Council. The institution was referred to as the ‘Offaly County Infirmary’ by the Board in later meetings. The Infirmary also had ties to the republican movement. Reverend Burbage, a noted republican and Board member was congratulated at a meeting on the 18 October 1920 for having successfully escaped death after being ‘shot at by the military while travelling from Tullamore to Geashill by motor bicycle on Thursday week last’. 

A change in local political power also meant change for the institutions under their jurisdiction. The decision to close King’s County Infirmary came at a crucial time in Offaly during the Irish War of Independence. The Board meeting minutes reveal the confusion and uncertainty felt by the Board and staff in the months leading to closure and the fruitless attempt made by the remaining board members to hold onto the operations of the institution.

A meeting held on the 21 January 1921 was the first sign of trouble for the infirmary. Attended by the secretary of the Offaly County Council, it was advised that ‘all expenditure should cease with a view of the institution being closed down’. The board were shocked and scrambled to point out the impracticality and impossibility of the order. In an attempt to dissuade the council or at least create a plan for the closure, the registrar compiled a resolution addressed to the Offaly County Council, stating that ‘ the joint committee of management of the Offaly County Infirmary has heard with extreme regret the decision of the county council to close down the institution which had rendered such valuable service to the sick during the past 180 years’.

The infirmary as library, 1942-77

This resolution addressed the need for reasonable notice and a time frame for closure in order to settle staff and financial matters and rehouse critical patients. They proposed that the closure should be deferred to March 31, the end of the financial year. The board also noted that they received no formal notice of closure in writing. Operations were also downsized in anticipation of the county council’s agreement to these terms. Despite a letter to the county council no formal warning of the date of closure was ever received by King’s County Infirmary management.

The months of 1921 passed by with little knowledge regarding the supposed closure of the hospital and so the institution carried on as normal. Once again, in June 1921 the closure was intimated to the committee with rumours of an amalgamation scheme whereby the workhouse hospital would become the new county hospital. While local business owners and people of influence rallied around the institution in an effort to keep it open, the uncertainty about its fate must have had an effect on their spirit. Attendance of the Board dwindled with only two members present at the final meeting, Reverend W. Phelan and Reverend R.J. Craig.

The last meeting of the board on the 25 August 1921 exudes an air of finality. At this meeting the registrar and the surgeon relay to the board that men arrived, unannounced and began carrying away the beds and bedding, to the new central hospital. The men did not confirm who had told them to do this; however, it was assumed by the staff and the Board that it was under direction of Offaly County Council. In a final letter to the county council, Phelan and Craig convey their contempt for the events that have unfolded. They finalise their letter to the council noting that the debt owed by the hospital is now the council’s concern and can be covered with the furniture and furnishing removed without permission.

Following its closure, King’s County Infirmary accommodated the civil guards and then housed the county library until 1977. The façade of the original King’s County Infirmary can still be seen on Church Street, Tullamore, which has now been repurposed into apartments.

County infirmary under reconstruction for apartments.

Aisling Irwin, archivist, catalogued the surviving records of King’s County Infirmary which are held in Offaly Archives. A description of the papers is available here and they are available to consult at Offaly Archives by appointment.

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