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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

St Catherine’s Church steeped in the early history of Tullamore, 1700s to its completion in 1815. By Michael Byrne. Marking Heritage Week 2023.

To mark Heritage Week 2023 we have two articles on St Catherine’s Church, Hop Hill, Tullamore. This week the background from the 1700s to the completion of the new church in 1815. When coming to Tullamore by boat or rail the two most prominent sites to greet the visitor are the spire of the Catholic church completed in 1906 and that of St Catherine’s church, built on the mound known as Hop Hill and completed in August 1815.

We take the presence of the Cof I churches of St Catherine’s, Clara, Shinrone, Geashill, Edenderry and St Brendan’s in Birr (to name a few) for granted. The upkeep is great and the contributors few. More will need to be done to structure support for the upkeep of these buildings.

A Francis Johnston plan with the burial crypt of c. 1808-10. Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive

Hop Hill site a brave choice

The Hop Hill site was a brave choice as there was work to be done to make it suitable for building and the adjoining ground was soft and prone to flood, especially in the years before the two Brosna drainage schemes of 1850 and 1950. The Tullamore town landlord, Charles William Bury (1764-1835), had reserved the large distillery plot (now the Granary apartments in Market Square) for a church, from about 1800 to 1806.  In the latter year then rector, Ponsonby Gouldsbury, and the vestry opted for the Hop Hill site and the new church was largely completed in August 1815. Soon after the old church off Church Street, erected in 1726, was demolished and the site of the church and, possibly an adjoining graveyard, were used for the Shambles or meat market and the remaining land incorporated into the new Market Square or Corn Market. The new Bachelors Walk was worked on from about 1812 as an attractive avenue to the new church from the High Street and from the town’s owner’s new residence, Charleville Castle. The architect for the church was Francis Johnston and for the new avenue, or Bachelors Walk was John Claudius Loudon, the distinguished landscape architect and designer of demesnes.

The young Charles William Bury when aged 28 and just seven years into his estate. He married in 1798 and died in 1835. His best years were up to the completion of the castle. He contributed about £4,000 of the £8,000 it cost to build St Catherine’s.


The site at Hop HIll – a natural mound more pointed before 1808 when work started on St Catherine’s. This picture about 1890.

Planning in Tullamore on a grand scale, 1785-1815

A new avenue to the church in place of that in the narrow part of Church Street or Tanyard Lane was an essential appendage to the new grandeur in the town associated with its lately ennobled proprietor, Charles William Bury, Lord Tullamore (1797), Viscount Charleville (1802) and earl of Charleville (1806). If the earl’s coronet surmounted the pedimented break-front of the market house in the town square it was fitting that a new church be built and an avenue cut to it from the Clonminch Road at the end of Windmill Street (soon to be called Earl Street) and bringing the earl from his demesne through Charleville Road, Charleville Street to Earl Street and Bachelors Walk. It would mean that the Charleville family would not have to negotiate the dirty streets of the town on the way to Sunday service. Even though, in time, the lower part of Church Street was built and a fine terrace completed between the thatched preaching house (now Methodist church) and the county infirmary (now Library Hall apartments), and in which Johnston may have had a hand as to the general configuration of the tiered roofline of the terrace. An added bonus for the new avenue or Bachelors Walk was that its sight-line, standing at the western end (beside what is now Clonminch House) opened a vista to Croghan Hill, the ancestral home of the Moore family. The Moores had come to Ireland as soldier-settlers in the latter half of the sixteenth century and secured a grant of lands at Croghan and acquired more lands by mortgage and grant including the lands of Tullamore after the 1600s. The family built a house in Tullamore after 1700 in the vicinity of would later be the harbour (1799) and a church nearby in 1726 in what would be called Church Street and was then Church Lane. The town had something of an east-west orientation until the 1740s with the barracks of 1716 at the western end of the town and what might be called ‘the Irish town’ all in the vicinity of the lanes of what is now Patrick Street and Kilbride Street and was then Barrack Street, lower and upper. Within a hundred years of the family coming to live in Tullamore from Croghan everything would be on a much grander scale with the new big house or castle, the fine streets and the new Protestant church on the hill overlooking the town.

Date for the old church in the Shambles – now in Offaly History Centre

Intimations of such grandeur would come with the ennoblement of John Moore in 1715 as the first Lord Tullamore or Tullamoore as the family liked their town to be called. He was the builder of the house near what was later the harbour in about 1700 and was a supporter of the Hanoverian succession. Tullamore and his town were rewarded in 1715–16 with a title for him and the locating of a barracks in what came to be called Barrack Street and is now Patrick Street. After his death in 1725 Ellen Moore had a church built in 1726 in what would later be called Church Street.

The ‘communion’ table was said to have been in Kilbride, next the church in Church Street and now in St Catherine’s.

The parish church was at Durrow with Kilbride as a chapel of ease. But Kilbride was in ruins in 1641 (and probably since the 1560s), and Durrow probably the same until put into repair by Mrs Fox (the last of the Ballycowan-Durrow Herberts of Ballycowan Castle) after 1700. The new barracks and church were all signs of growing stability and confidence. Such was the growth of the town in the years 1700 to 1800 that a new church was deemed necessary. The Catholics had already completed a new building in 1802 and the Methodists had a small chapel in Swaddling Lane (behind what are now the Italian restuarants in Patrick St) from the 1760s. This church was destroyed in the notorious ‘balloon fire’ of 1785 and a new preaching house erected in Church Street in 1788. This was rebuilt perhaps in the 1820s and rebuilt in 1889. There was no Presbyterian church in Tullamore until 1865 when the present building was completed.

The parish magazine from 1893 to c. 1920 – perhaps it finished when the Athlone Printing Works was destroyed by the British military in Nov. 1920

What was surprising was that the old church in Church Street had lasted so long and had not been replaced with a finer church as had happened in Clara in 1770 with the church there located on rising ground near the fair green. Tullamore expanded rapidly after the coming of age of Charles William Bury in 1785. By 1798 the canal had been completed to the town from Dublin and Tullamore would remain the terminus for a vital six years. All these changes brought about the elevation of Tullamore to a rectory in about 1800 supporting its own person rather than relying on a curate from Durrow parish.

The 150th anniversary in 1965.

New Tullamore buildings provide the context of change

The period after 1785 and up the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 was a time of substantial progress in Ireland and in the town of Tullamore as witness the new streets and public buildings:

New streets completed in the thirty years to 1815 included William Street, Harbour Street, Upper Church Street, the Corn Market, Offaly Street (with less success), Store Street, Canal Place, Benburb Street, Bury Quay (Convent View) and Bachelors Walk

The hotel of 1786 – later known as Hayes’ Hotel (demolished in 2000, now Boots pharmacy)

The county infirmary in Church Street in 1788

The market house in 1789 in Charleville Square

Canal bridges (3), a new canal hotel, canal stores, canal houses and a harbour, 1798-1809

Building of Charleville Castle, 1800–12

A new Catholic chapel, 1794–1802.

A military magazine on the canal side at what is now Tyrrell’s Road in 1808

Charleville School in 1811

St Catherine’s Church in 1815


Tullamore Gaol 1830

Tullamore Courthouse 1835

Mercy Convent and schools, 1836–40

Tullamore workhouse, 1841

If you would like to contribute an article to this series please contact us [email protected]

St Catherine’s was very much out of town until the 1960s

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