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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

Remembering Michael McDermott, Durrow, Co. Offaly (1895-1976), an old IRA soldier of the War of Independence, by Máirtín D’Alton

My grandfather Michael McDermott of Durrow, County Offaly was born in 1895 and died on 30 March 1976. My mother later stated that he was actually aged 81 years (not 79 as on the gravestone) when he died. What caught my particular attention was that his gravestone records him as ‘CO (sic) North Offaly Batt. IRA’.  But he was not in fact the OC of the North Offaly Battalion as claimed. For the funeral, as is usual for old IRA men, the coffin was draped in the Irish tricolour, and the ‘Last Post’ was played, with a firing party over grave. My cousin still has one of the spent cartridges from the blanks.

Family informants

Michael McDermott

What I know of my grandfather comes from my mother, his daughter Elizabeth, and my Great Aunt Elizabeth (Liz) whom I met in 1994 when she stayed in my mother’s house. Liz was then aged 91 and on holidays from where she lived in Washington D.C. My great-aunt stated that my grandfather worked as kitchen gardener in Durrow Abbey House, near Tullamore, home of the Otway-Tolers. His younger sisters would smell the herbs from his hands when he returned for dinner time.

My mother states that Michael had been instructed by his father to tug his forelock as a mark of respect to the ‘Young Master’ of the estate, should he encounter him in the grounds. His father minded the cattle herd of the farm on the estate. Michael would not, and resolutely charged forwards with hands firmly in his pockets whenever he encountered the young man.

While thus engaged in tending the herbs and vegetables for the kitchen, Michael met another member of staff, Ellen Hickey, from Mountcain, Knocknagree, in the Slieve Luchra area of Co. Cork, a member of the household staff of the estate (housekeeper or some such job).

Durrow Abbey House, home of the Otway Tolers, c. 1837

On the run from 1919

Michael’s activities within the independence movement of Ireland meant that his duties to the Durrow estate were incompatible to his position as a soldier of the Irish Republican Army, and under surveillance from the crown police he stated that he went ‘on the run’ in 1919. Two younger brothers were apparently also in IRA and another was a scout.

Otway Tolers not in favour of their servants marrying within the household

Ellen Hickey’s employers, aware of her attachments, summoned her to account as to her intentions. They seemed to be unaware that history demonstrated that that their welfare depended on the goodwill of their ferociously independent tenants, who had killed two previous owners of the Durrow Estate; Hugo de Lacy in 1186, and Hector John Graham-Toler the second earl of Norbury on 3rd January 1839. The Otway Tolers demanded that Ellen either keep her paramour or her position. Ellen opted for the former, and upon leaving was apparently able to attain similar alternate employment in Westmeath.

My mother states that in an engagement between Cloneygowan and Geashill Co. Offaly, Michael’s unit was surrounded by crown forces but escaped beyond the cordon by crawling through the ditches and fields of the bogs of Moanvane, near Walsh Island. They forced a local (apparently hostile) farmer to utilise the plough he was using to plough the party’s weapon into the ground, and they made their escape.

My great-aunt Liz related a story about a Crown forces reprisal on the family. On one occasion the neat house in Gransha, Durrow, was surrounded by British soldiers, who arrived in the lane near the house very early in the morning, intent on capturing Michael and his three brothers. The commotion caused by the approach of the army lorries had meant that the family had brief but sufficient time to rouse themselves. Liz remembered seeing the moonlight glinting off the soldiers’ bayonets. When the army burst through the door, the family were assembled in the living room, except the four boys, who were ranging across the countryside at the time. My aunt said that enraged at not capturing the boys, the commanding officer manhandled Michael’s elderly father, and decided to hold him accountable for the actions of his sons. Ordering that a rifle be placed in the old man’s mouth, he demanded to know the whereabouts of the young men. The old man behaved with some sang froid and answered the officer with the claim that he had just missed them. They had left early to go to the bog. If the officer had only informed them that he was coming…..At this Elizabeth said that she bolted from her elder sisters protective clutches and threw herself around her father’s leg. Loudly sobbing, she cried ‘Don’t shoot my Daddy!’, and the officer paused, either he was moved by the little girls distress, or his act was a bluff. In any case the soldiers did not shoot, and were content to satisfy their anger by ransacking the house, breaking the windows and the crockery, and tearing up the soft furnishings.

The countryside was in tumult, Liz remembered jumping into the hedges on the sound of approaching army lorries, as the security forces were known to fire on and kill civilians in the fields.

Gortnamona House destroyed by fire 1923, home of the O’Connor Morris family.

Republican policeman in Tullamore

My mother states that when a truce was arranged between the British and Irish forces, Michael in his capacity as local IRA commander took over policing activities in Tullamore and the surrounding area, including the protection of property and personnel. On the subsequent accession of a treaty, the new Irish Government immediately flooded the country with newly formed National Army. The two groups thus in occupation of the country, local volunteer guerrilla fighters, and uniformed Dublin soldiers, viewed each other with some suspicion and not a little hostility. Michael refused any accommodation with the new regime, thus showing himself hostile to the terms of the treaty at an early stage, and refused to relinquish his position. Michael on cycling home to Durrow would do so with his machine pistol cocked upon the handlebars of his bicycle. He would later state, according to my mother, that he was never as afraid of the British as he was of the new Free State Army.

My aunt Mary, my mother’s brother’s wife, told me that Michael had told her a story that when he was a policeman, he proceeded to Tullamore Railway Station, on a tip off, that two brothers were coming to rob the Munster and Leinster Bank [the Ulster bank was robbed on two occasions in 1921 but the town had no Munster & Leinster bank until 1925]. When challenged one of the brothers paused, but the other continued. Michael related that they struggled, and the result was that Michael strangled the man to death.

Another story he told my aunt was of a spy, apparently called [Eric] Steadman, who was apprehended. When caught, he apparently admitted his crimes. He was later shot dead.

When the animosity between the two groups in control of the countryside erupted into Civil War, Michael was apprehended returning from Port Laoise on official duty and taken into custody. Michael was imprisoned in Tullamore, being later moved to another prison in Kilkenny City. The IRA, decided to burn the estate house at Durrow (May 1923), and another house at Gortnamona (August 1922), ostensibly to deny it being used as a billet by Free State forces. Gortnamona was burned to the vaulted cellars in 1922. [Durrow suffered less damage and was rebuilt.] My mother said that his apparently was on the orders of a man called [Seán] McGuinness.

Prison in Kilkenny in course of the Civil War

My mother told me that Michael related the story of a prison escape attempt from Kilkenny jail. He said that a tunnel was excavated to the rear of the property across the street. This was from the now demolished old jail. Two men had already traversed the tunnel, when the third, an officer from Clare, insisted on bringing his suitcase. The suitcase wedged in a support half way down the tunnel. Efforts to remove the suitcase led to the partial collapse of the support. My grandfather says he was the fourth man. There was a great escape from Kilkenny in 1921. I have found details of an escape by Paddy Fleming from Kilkenny jail in 1922, so perhaps there is some truth to the story.

My mother says that Michael was finally released in 1924. He had been briefly released in 1923 on parole to attend his father’s funeral, which was related in the local newspaper. He and Ellen Hickey were reunited, married, and lived in Dublin until Ellen’s premature death in 1934.

Rebuilding of Durrow Abbey house, c. 1926.

I love lamp

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