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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 Offalyhistory.com , 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

Tullamore and the Irish National Foresters 1899-2024. By Aidan Doyle, Part 2, concluded. [We are marking the 100th anniversary of the re-opening the new hall, cinema and club rooms on the eve of St Patrick’s Day 1924 and the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Tullamore branch in April 1899.]

In March 1914 the Foresters Hall played host to meeting called organise the Irish Volunteers in the district. Following the outbreak of the Great War and the resulting divisions within nationalism, the Tullamore Corps of the National Volunteers gathered at the Foresters Hall to reaffirm their support for John Redmond. The Foresters branch secretary James Hayes joined the 5th Lancers in early 1916.

 In December 1915, the Ideal Cinema was the venue for a screening of ‘Joan of Arc’ in aid of the Red Cross.  Two months later, the Urban Council arranged a reception at the hall to present an address to captain Edward Sherlock after the Rahan man was awarded a military cross for his actions on the Western Front. As late as February 1918, the hall hosted a lecture by Henry Hanna KC on ‘The Pals (7th Dublin Fusiliers) at Suvla Bay’ in aid of the Leinster Regiments Prisoner of War fund. Nevertheless, by then the Foresters and their hall had come to be associated extreme nationalism in the mind of some within the police.

A programme for the Foresters in 1916

At a show the hall in on St Patricks Day 1917, a twelve-year-old girl Lena McGinley dressed in a ‘Green, White and Yellow’ costume performed a poem dealing with the 1916 Rising entitled ‘Vengeance’. As a result, sergeant Henry Cronin had the concert organisers James O’ Connor and Edward O’Carroll charged under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) for ‘attempting to cause disaffection among the civilian population ‘. On their conviction O’Connor and O’Carroll refused to be bound to peace and were instead imprisoned in Mountjoy.

In February 1918, the same month that Henry Hanna gave his presentation on the Dublin Fusiliers, Countess Markievicz and Maud Gonne MacBride arrived in Tullamore to attend a play held at the Foresters Hall in aid of locked out union workers at the Portarlington sawmills. Markievicz used the event to reaffirm her loyalty to the politics of James Connolly.

In 1919, it was alleged that seditious songs including one entitled ‘The RIC’ were being sung at the hall and when Sinn Fein vice president Fr. Michael O’Flanagan was added as a speaker to a scheduled Gaelic League event sergeant Cronin warned the hall committee that they would be prosecuted under DORA if O’Flanagan’s speech was deemed seditious. The Foresters bar licence also appears to have been in the balance and the hall remained closed while unsuccessful efforts were made to have Fr O’Flanagan give assurances regarding his speech. Ultimately the doors were opened, and the Roscommon cleric gave a speech criticizing British government and equating sedition with refusal to accept the newly established Dail government.     

Throughout 1920, the War of Independence intensified across Ireland. In September that year, a picture show in the hall raised £67 for catholic workers driven from their homes in Belfast during sectarian riots. On the same week, members of the crown forces pasted a handbill to the door of the Foresters Cinema calling on the public to send information about the IRA to a London post box.

In October, the Cinema suspended shows in response to the death on hunger strike of Terence MacSweeney in Brixton Gaol.

The reaction of IRA GHQ in Dublin was more lethal. All local units were ordered to carry out reprisal killings in response. On Halloween night, sergeant Henry Cronin was as shot six times as he made his way from his family home to the RIC barrack. Badly wounded his wife was among the first on the scene. Removed to the county infirmary he died early the next morning.

After the news of the shooting spread many people fled from their houses, and the streets were deserted at 10 pm. Reprisal began about 11 o’clock, damage to the extent of thousands being done. The Foresters Hall was bombed and burned, the loss in this case was £13,000.[1]

The burnt out Foresters’ hall at Harbour Street, November 1920.

Amongst the property destroyed was the Branch banner made by William Johnston and the regalia of the officer board. Elsewhere the Transport Union offices, the Sinn Fein rooms and the Offaly Independent along with the homes and business of republican suspects were also wrecked during the disturbances. In Clara, Leo White a member of a well-known Nationalist family and veteran of the Great War was shot and wounded.

Another Tullamore Phoenix From the Ashes-  March 16, 1924.

The events of Halloween 1920 might have proved disastrous for the Tullamore Foresters, but the society bounced back quickly. They filed a compensation claim with the Shaw and Wood-Renton Commission and were awarded £13,000. In 1919, both the Forester’s and the trade union movement had thrown their support behind the establishment of the Tullamore Co-Operative Society. The new co-op came into existence during a period of industrial unrest amongst the towns bakers and as a result it was decided to establish a bakery in Market Square. By 1923 when the venture folded, the Forester branch had lent the Co-op £1,400. When the co-op relinquished possesion of property at the Shambles the Foresters took up the lease and incorporated the area with adjoining land to create a larger site on which on which they set out to develop their improved facilities. Work on the construction of a new hall and cinema began in the Spring of 1923.  St Mary’s Youth centre has operated for many years on the site of the original Foresters Hall.

The hall and cinema was designed by T.F. McNamara. This facade to Church Street was lost with the new shopfront of the 1950s. The original front would be very smart for its current use as a restaurant (ed.)

The new buildings were officially opened by Joseph Hutchinson on the night before St Patrick’s Day 1924. Naturally everything did not go entirely to plan… 

The contract for the seating of the Theatre was entrusted to Messrs. Aylesbury Bros., Edenderry, but, unfortunately owing to unforeseen circumstances, they were unable to supply the special “tip-up” seats in time for the opening performance on Sunday night. To meet the emergency, however, they forwarded an adequate supply of chairs.  At the opening performance, and in fact every night this week, the Theatre was crowded to its fullest extent, and the audience each night was treated to an entertainment of the highest merit…The programme of pictures was exceedingly well selected, and included the celebrated film masterpiece, ”Passion,” dealing with the romance of a Court favourite of Louis XV. The picture is more than a story and deals with some of those Court intrigues with which readers of French history are familiar. The portrayal of the French Revolution, the taking of the Bastille and other exciting epochs of the time was greatly enhanced by the effects which were carried out with great skill and efficiency. Other interesting films included ‘Wonders of the Sea,” and some comedy features, all of which were produced with effect. The unparalleled success of the first week’s performance speaks volumes for the ability of the popular manager of the theatre, Mr A. Gallagher. Tho operator, Mr Tony Heffernan, and the entire staff combined in securing the popular verdict for the new theatre.

The committee were indeed fortunate in securing the services of Senor Augusta Martini an Italian tenor of rare ability. His voice is one of exceptional charm and sweetness, and his selection of some excerpts from Italian opera won high, approval. Another vocal artiste, whose voice has a captivating ring about it. is Mr J. Ryan, whose selections were happy in the extreme. His singing of “The Dear Little Shamrock” on St. Patrick’s night roused the audience to a high pitch of enthusiasm. Last, but by no means least, the orchestra, provided an entertainment in itself. A combination of high musical talent, their selections each night were of a class that could not fail to please, and, what, unfortunately, is a rule not generally observed, were arranged .so as to “fit in” as appropriately as possible with the particular scene or episode portrayed on the screen.’ [2]

After Hutchinson had officially opened the buildings, a banquet was held for members during with multiple speeches were given, several toasts proposed, and a diverse selection of songs sang.

Just over two weeks on April 4th the society had a close call when a late-night fire broke out on the premises. While the new bar and its stock of alcohol were damaged, a swift response meant the Foresters was saved the embarrassment of a third inferno.

Pictured outside the new cinema c. 1925 with he newly formed band.

Movie Time. The Foresters’ Cinema and its afterlife.

Following the destruction of the Foresters’ premises, the Catholic Young Men’s Society had successfully applied for a licence to operate a cinema in February 1921. The Foresters appointed Andrew Gallagher to manage their new cinema. A veteran of the War of Independence and a senior officer in the National Army during the Civil War, Gallagher was just 30 years old when he passed away in 1930.

The operation was not without its challenges. While it was customary for cinemas to be carpeted, this was delayed for many years in Tullamore. The venue’s location in Market Square meant that in the aftermath of fair days great care had to be taken to keep manure out of the building.  The cinema was designed to accommodate 750 people and built during the Silent Film Era, but with the arrival of ‘Talkies’ the needs of the movie going public changed dramatically. Despite previous concerns about the viability of two picture houses in one town both enterprises thrived during the twenties and thirties.

By the late 1920’s the Foresters had begun to lease their operation to private operators, and it was rebranded the Grand Central Cinema in 1930, a change that was accompanied by the addition of a sound system. In May that year it was reported…

‘THE Grand Central Cinema Tullamore, which has had such a successful reopening a few weeks ago, “when for the first time “talkies” were produced in the town, will close for a fortnight in ‘consequence of the Retreat. It will close from Sunday night, 4th inst.. to the 17th inst., inclusive, and will reopen on the 18th, after the Retreat. “The Desert Son?” a “talkie” that has achieved wonderful success elsewhere, will be the special feature.’ [3]

The cinema was never exclusively devoted to motion pictures. From the 1930’s the cinema regularly played host to several well attended boxing tournaments and in later years was venue for question times and variety concerts. Various dramatic players piled the boards throughout the forties and fifties. In 1955, the Grand Central hosted the first production by the Tullamore Musical Society, a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera Trial by Jury.

With the opening of the Savoy cinema the Grand Central found it increasingly difficult to acquire first runs of new movies and it finally closed its doors in April 1983. There were only eight people in attendance at the cinemas last performance.

The society retained its freehold on the cinema site until 1985, at this time the Foresters committed £58,000 to renovating their own hall.

From 1989, the Fountain House restaurant and club operated at the old cinema, in 1990 the Shambles bar and restaurant opened at the building and was replaced later in the decade by the well-known night spot Characters. For over 20 years the premises has operated successfully as Fergie’s Bar. Today few realise that the history of the building, but the observant passerby may notice the Irish National Forester name and emblems carved above the main entrance in 1923.

A Social Hub- The Foresters Hall

In the early days of the Tullamore Foresters billiards was incredibly popular with members and among the material lost in the 1907 fire was a table valued at 100 guineas. The game remained the primary cue sport played at the Foresters for decades and even after the rise in popularity of snooker and then pool, billiards tournaments occurred well into the 1980’s. In 1984 the club held a 24-hour snooker and table tennis marathon to raise funds for a new billiard and snooker table. In the twenty first century the Foresters were equipped with a full-size snooker table and four pool tables. Table tennis had enjoyed great popularity during the 1960’s and 70’s, with the hall hosting competitions and teams from the branch competing successfully in tournaments across Leinster. In the 1930’s, Tullamore had been well served with societies. In additional to the Foresters, the British Legion and Trade and Labour (Workingmans) Hall and the Commercial Club. The clubs enjoyed a friendly rivalry with leagues established for Rings, quoits was revived under the auspices of the ‘Clontarf Club’ in 1970s and in later years darts took centre stage. Whist was the card game of choice for decades, but this too was surpassed by poker. Over the year various organisations including local Angling clubs, Active Retirement Association, Tullamore Town FC, O.N.E ex-servicemen’s organisation, Offaly Ladies Football, Tullamore GAA and Macra na Feirme utilised the hall to hold meetings and stage events.

The Foresters in the 1960s with in front Fr Joe Gleeson, Jimmy Flaherty and Fr Kieran Hanley SJ. More detail below

An Open Door. Politics in Independent Ireland

The early years of the Tullamore foresters occurred in the shadow of a monolithic home rule organisation, but the War of Independence and Civil War redrew the political map. While retaining a strong and often stated preference for Irish unity, the INF withdrew completely from party politics.

While the foresters might have been finished with party politics, political parties were not completely finished with them, and the society applied an ecumenical policy when different organisations sought the use of their building. Over the years Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour, the Old IRA organisation, Army Comrades Association and the Workers Union of Ireland all held meetings at the Foresters Hall and the branches membership encompassed people from across the political spectrum.

Alo O’Brennan is centre of third row and Jimmy Flaherty far right fourth row. Possibly 1966 or 1964

High Chief Rangers

Aloysius ‘Alo’ O’Brennan was born in 1894. His father John served as an RIC officer in Daingean and his mother Mary later operated a shop in Tulamore. The Brennan family were deeply involved in the rise of cultural nationalism in Tullamore. Alo’s siblings Seamus, Frank and Edward and sister Kathleen were all prominent republicans. Alo was himself imprisoned on number on occasions during the revolutionary period. For many years he managed the town’s labour exchange. A founder member of the Colmcille’s Pipe Band, he also closely connected with Tullamore GAA club. From the 1920s two Foresters separate executive existed, one overseeing branches in Northern Ireland and another in the south. Elected as the High Chief Ranger of the southern executive in 1947, a year later O’Brennan helped oversee a long hoped for Joint All Ireland Forester convention in Newry. He passed away in 1976. 

James Flaherty was born in Tullamore around 1904. The winner of eleven senior county medals (six in football and five in hurling) he went on to enjoy a long career as an inter-county referee and he was the man in the middle for five All Ireland Finals. In 1939 he had the rare distinction of referring both the All-Ireland football and hurling finals, an honour repeated by his clubman John Dowling in 1960. A member of the Pioneers, the Holy Confraternity, Brass and Reed band and the LDF, Flaherty served twice as High Chief Ranger, firstly during the 1950’s and again from 1970 to 1973 during a period when the northern Foresters operated under serve pressure. Having worked in a number of Tullamore businesses, in retirement he continued to repair bicycles until shortly before his death in 1980.

National Conventions

The foresters have held a national convention annually for decades, usually on the first weekend in August. Tullamore held the national convention on several occasions including 1958, 1964, 1970,1988, 2006 and 2013. This gathering of delegates from branches across Ireland has traditionally been important not only to the society, but also for economy of the host town, in 1964…

OVER 1,000 MEMBERS OF THE IRISH NATIONAL FORESTERS FROM MANY PARTS OF IRELAND MARCHED FROM THE RAILWAY STATION TO THE CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION FOR A SPECIAL MASS AT 1 P.M. ON SUNDAY. TO MARK THE OPENING OF THE ALL-IRELAND CONVENTION. THE SPECIAL ‘MASS WAS CELEBRATED BY REV. T. F. GILOOLY, C.C. WHO EXTENDED A WELCOME TO THE VISITORS. The streets and houses were gaily decorated with bunting and flags, and the national flag was flown from many business premises, as well as the Courthouse and County Council building.

Special trains and buses conveyed the visitors. The biggest contingent came from the Northern Counties, and they brought with them six bands. Many large banners were borne by the members of the various branches. There were five brass and reed bands, with” one fife and drum, and all wore colourful uniforms, the bands coming from Belfast, Lurgan, Newry, Warrenpoint, Rostrevor, and Camlough. These were augmented by the local St. ” Columcille Pipe Band, the Order of Malta Cadet trumpet band, and the St. Brigid’s boys’ flageolet band. The most attractive spectacle, however, was the uniformed Forester (Mr. Sean Purcell, Carlow) mounted on a snow-white horse leading the parade, followed by the bearers of the National Flag and the four Provinces Flags (Messrs. P. Hensey, B. Murray, P. Smith, B. Kelly, and J. Behan). Just behind the two High Chief Rangers (Brothers M. J. Lyons and E. Lackin) came members of the Carlow and Wexford branches wearing the colourful uniforms of the Foresters of 1798. Thousands of people line the sidewalks and vantage points along the route of the parade (Cormac St., High St., William St., and Harbour St. to the Church of the Assumption, while again after  Mass large crowds witnessed the parade, which formed up in Store St. and marched through Harbour St., Henry St., Patrick St., Kilbride St., Clontarf Road, William St., and Bridge St., finishing up in O’Connor Square, where the party broke up after, the playing of the National Anthem.

The huge procession was most orderly and was greatly admired by everyone.’[4]

St Patrick’s Day Parade of the 1990s: The Foresters Bro Colbert Keeley Bro Ned Thomas Bro Kevin O’Toole Bro Sean Kirwan Bro Joe Bracken Bro Jimmy Gonoude Bro Ger O’Connor Bro Peter Meehan Bro Son Lloyd Bro Mickey Power Bro Mick Conlon Bro Mick Hogan Bro Ciran Campbell – as supplied from a contributor.

St Patrick’s Day- The Foresters as the Guardians of Tullamore’s Parade

The annual conventions helped to demonstrate the centrality of parading to forester culture. Foresters also marched in a diverse collection of other demonstrations including the 1902 Bodenstown Wolfe Tone commemoration, the reception for the victorious All Ireland minor football champions in 1964 and the Easter Rising 50th anniversary parade held in 1966.

Historically St Patrick’s Day and the Tullamore parade have been inextricably linked to the INF.

 Perhaps the towns first St Patrick’s Day parade occurred in 1876 when the recently formed Young Men’s Society band marched through the town playing a selection of airs.  But it was the Foresters who kept the tradition alive throughout the twentieth century.

Following the election of Joseph Hutchinson as Dublin’s Lord Mayor in 1904, Tullamore men formed part of the Forester’s contingent which replaced the traditional police guard of honour at the Laois man’s inauguration on St Patrick’s Day.

The Foresters were prominent among the marchers at a demonstration held in Tullamore in 1910 to support the compulsory Irish at the National University. After the establishment of Colmcille pipe band in 1911, the Foresters and Pipers became synonymous with Patrick Day festivities. In 1920, there were two processions through the town…

After 12 o’clock Mass a procession of Transport Workers, Irish National Foresters (wearing regalia) and members of Tullamore Paraded the principal streets of the town. The procession was headed by the Foresters banner, on which was portrayed a figure of Erin, between members of the Order dressed in Robert Emmet costume, and bearing pikes, and following it came the Transport Brass and Reed Band. Then came the members of the Foresters Order headed by the Chief Ranger, Mr Philip O’Reilly. St. Enda’s Pipers’ Band headed the remainder of the procession, in which many ex-soldiers participated. All wore the shamrock, and many the Sinn Fein tricolour, which was much in evidence. Alone the route of the procession, policemen in pairs were. on duty, out did not carry arms, while the police barracks was occupied during the day by a fully equipped party of soldiers. The procession was of a most orderly character and comprised about a thousand participants. The music rendered by two bands included the ‘Wearing of the Green’ ‘St Patricks Day’ ‘A Nation Once Again’ the ‘White Cockade’ ‘Let Erin Remember’ etc. While the procession was passings up High Street an ex-service man who had been walking along on the footpath, overcame, no doubt, by the enthusiasm of the display gave vent to his pent-up feelings by the exclamation “Up. De Valera.”

In the afternoon about 60 ex-service men, headed by the Trade and Labour fife and drum band (the Young Bloods), paraded the town. In front of the procession a small green flag on which was the Welch harp, was carried by sergeant Dawson of the Dublin’s a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign, and the only man who went through that terrific onslaught without having as much as a hair turned. The procession was organised by the local branch of the Comrades of the Great War.’ [5]

In the decades that followed the Foresters were the primary organisers and participants in the Tullamore parade. In 1961 the parade included …

a colour party of the F.C.A. Also included were the National Foresters, Order of Malta Ambulance Unit, boys of St. Columba NS, C.B.S. College, St Brigid’s boys N.C., Convent of Mercy girls, and Miss Nan Dunne’s Irish dancers. Three bands participated, St Columcille Pipe Band, the Order of Malta Cadet Band, and the newly formed St Brigid’s boys flageolet band, who were making their first public appearance.[6]

By 1970s support for the parade diminished to such an extent that the local press could comment…

‘The parade held in Tullamore to honour our Patron Saint has in recent years, declined to a deplorable level of public apathy with no more than a score or two individuals participating. Members of the Irish National Foresters and St. Colmcille’s Pipe Band have continued to maintain the tradition, but with little support from other clubs and bodies in the town.’ [7]

From 1984 a committee drawn from several organisations including the Foresters was established to the ensure the future of the parade. In decades which followed Tullamore parade has gone from strength to strength and is one most successful in the midlands. Throughout that time the Foresters retained their strong association with the festivities and continue to play an integral part of the annual parade

Fraternalism in a Changing World 1924-2024

The Foresters had always stressed the importance of Nationality to their organisation, but the creation of an independent Ireland created many challenges for the organisation. While there does not appear to have been an acrimonious spilt, partition saw the creation of two separate executives operating north and south of the border. While the provision of new facilities meant ‘Conn of the Hundred Battles’ emerged from the revolutionary decade on a strong footing,

 The same could not be said elsewhere. Harsh economic conditions meant that Forester’s benevolent funds came under severe pressure. The National executive spent the entire 1930s under the supervision of a liquidator but managed to regain its financial independence in 1942.

The INF had always existed within a particular geographical context. Although founded in Dublin the society had never been particularly strong in the capital city. Its main strongholds were situated in Ulster and Leinster’s provincial towns, while it was particularly weak in Munster and Connacht. In 1944, there were 1,948 members affiliated to the 26-county executive. At that year’s convention the High Chief Ranger and Labour TD Richard Corish declared…

   ‘Unless all branches made a serious effort to attract new members, he feared that the Foresters would disappear after some years’[8]

In the years which followed the welfare element of the Foresters was by and large subsumed by the state and the society became a social organisation.

In the 1980’s, 14 branches existed in the republic, including Navan (x2), Athlone, Carlow, Wexford, Carrigaline, Co. Cork; Killybegs, Buncrana, Carrick-on-Shannon, but ‘The Golden Age of Fraternalism’ had come to an end and the organisation continued to fade away.

The winding up of the Wexford branch in 1998 on the bicentennial of the United Irish Rebellion was particularly symbolic. Wexford had been among the first areas outside to Dublin to form a forester’s branch and one of the last to maintain the tradition of wearing the ornate Robert Emmet costume.

While in general branches operating in Northern Ireland have fared better than their southern counterparts, they were not immune to changes. In 2017, the Dungannon branch disbanded after 128 years. 

Even where INF branches have disbanded, they have left a legacy to their communities. In Navan while the Dean Colgan branch has disbanded in 2004, the Foresters band which they established is still performing regularly.

In Killybegs when the foresters disbanded, it might be said that the Niall Mor branch did not dissolve some much as evolved. Many of the activities hosted in the refurbished Killybegs Foresters Community Hall such as active retirement and drama groups, dancing classes, youth discos, snooker, and post funeral events mirror the services traditionally facilitated in I.N.F venues.

Few branches have proved as resilient as ‘Conn of the Hundred Battle’. In April   1999, the branch celebrated the centenary of its establishment with a mass for deceased members, a parade through the town and the unveiling of a plaque above the doorway of their hall by the then minister Brian Cowen. While several INF branches continue to operate in Northern Ireland, ‘Conn of the Hundred Battles’ is the last active in the republic.

Stalwarts of the 1980s included Kevin O’Toole, Willie Hughes, Mr Flaherty – Joe Power bringing up he rear.

The INF closed their bar in 2022, and in July of that year the Thai restaurant Chanapa opened at the hall. Despite these changes the society remains an integral part of the Tullamore. 125 years after Joseph Hutchinson arrived on an inclement afternoon, the Foresters have weathered many storms, but their colours are still flying at Tullamore.

Sources

Friendly Foresters Society online at https://www.forestersfriendlysociety.co.uk/about-us/our-history/

John Dunne. ‘Ulysses in Laois’ online at https://laoisheritagesociety.ie/ulysses-in-laois-by-john-dunne/

Norman Freeman. ‘Root and Branch’ Irish Times online at https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/an-irish-diary/2022/10/10/root-and-branch-norman-freeman-on-the-irish-national-foresters/

Joe Fodey. ‘The Creation of the Irish National Foresters Benefit Societ-1877’ History Ireland online at https://www.historyireland.com/the-creation-of-the-irish-national-foresters-benefit-society-1877/

Joe Fodey. ‘Willing and able to assist’ The Irish Voice online at https://www.ucdpress.ie/pdfs/The%20Irish%20Voice%20January%202016.pdf

Ailbhe Mac Shamhrain. Conn Cétchathach (‘the hundred-battler’) Dictionary of Irish Biography online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/conn-cetchathach-a1939

Malachy McRoe. James Lardner Dictionary of Irish Biography online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/lardner-james-carrige-rushe-a9751

Flag of Ireland 25 March 1876

Freemans Journal. 27 March 1912. 25 February 1918. 2 March 1918. 22 February 1919.

Irish Citizen 15 February 1913

Leinster Express.11 February 1989.

Leinster Reporter. 7 December 1912   11 December 1915. 23 February 1918. 22 February 1919. 19 February 1921

Irish Independent.18 March 1904.24 January 1916. 28 March 1947. 5 August 1971.

Irish Press. 7 August 1973.

Kildare Observer. 28 June 1902. 

Meath Chronicle. 24 April 2004.

Midland Advertiser 5 March 1931 7 March 1931.

Midland Tribune. 22 April 1899. 31 October 1914. 28 April 1919.

Offaly Independent. 25 September 1920. 24 March 1923. 12 April 1924. 28 May 1955. 22 April 1961. 8 August 1964. 26 September 1964.6 February 1976. 8 April 1983. 17 August 1984. 14 December 1984. 31 January 1986. 29 1988. 30 November 1990. 14 March 1997. 12 August 2006.

The Nation. 9 June 1920.

Westmeath Independent. 28 September 1907. 11 October 1919. 11 July 1980.

[1] Leinster Reporter. 6 November 1920

[2] Offaly Independent. 22 March 1922

[3] Offaly Independent. 3 May 1930

[4] Offaly Independent. 8 August 1964

[5] Offaly Independent.20 March 1920.

[6] Offaly Independent.25 March 1961.

[7] Westmeath Independent.11 March 1977.

[8] Offaly Independent.19 August 1944.

Our thanks to Aidan Doyle for this valuable two-part article.

Text Aidan Doyle

Pictures and captions: Offaly History

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