From earliest times to the 13th Century.
About 120 AD Cathair Mór. King of Leinster, became powerful enough to be designated Ard-Rí Éireann by the four masters in the annals. He had ten sons, the eldest Ros Fáilghe (“of the rings”) was given the territory of North Offaly which became known as Uí Fáilighe in later times and from which the name Offaly derives.
The O’Connor sept is descended from Ros, they ruled all or part of Offaly up until the late 16th century. Offaly was divided into 7 “tríocha céad” or districts. Each district had it’s own sub-chief, the area that includes modern day Edenderry was called Tuatha-dá-Muighe, the territory of the two plains, which was the patrimonial inheritance of the O’Mulkenes. The name of the area gradually became corrupted until it was known as Tethmoy.
This is the oldest structure extant in the Edenderry area. (To get to it head out of Edenderry on Tullamore road and turn left at Ballyfore crossroads towards the power station).
It is a triple-banked hill-fort dating from the early (Irish) iron-age, about 400 BC. There is a central platform area which is surrounded by deep fosses, which in turn are surrounded by the three earthen banks. Fences would have been erected on the banks. The living area is 30m across and the whole structure is 120m around.
The hill is 350m above sea-level and gives good views of the surrounding area, it also acts as a wind-break for the living area of the fort. In the 1850s and 60s many items of Bronze and Stone Age interest were uncovered in digs under the guidance of Thomas R Murray, agent of the marquis of Downshire. These items along with other local curiosities were sold by Murray to Cambridge University in 1900, where they are still held.
The Normans arrived in Ireland in 1169 at the invitation of the exiled King of Leinster Diarmuid MacMurough. The de Berminghams were given the area of “Offaly to the west of Offelon” The area they had control of seems to have been Tethmoy which later comprised of the baronies of Warrenstown and the northern part of Coolestown.
Drumcooley Motte and Bailey
This is an early Norman fortification built to protect the tóchar or causeway from Rathangan. It was a steep sided, conical flat topped mound, with an outer bank protecting an inner enclosure. The bank was topped by a paling of posts, woven branches and a plaster of mud, horse-dung, horse-hair and straw. The mound still exists but the present road cuts through the enclosure.
The de Berminghams
The de Berminghams controlled the land around Edenderry from the time of the arrival of the Normans up until the late thirteen hundreds. They held lands from “the west of Carbury to the east of Croghan, south of Castlejordan and to the north of Rathangan”. Theirs was a tempestuous and often limited control; they were involved in border disputes with other Norman lords and later plots against the English king. There were many battles with the Gaelic Irish who were led by the O’Connor’s, chiefs of Offaly.
In 1305, Piers de Bermingham, later known as the ‘treacherous baron’, threw from the battlements of Carrick Castle, Muircheartach Calbach O’Connor, on the occasion of his confirmation. Seeking peace terms Piers invited twenty eight of the O’Connor’s to a feast on Christmas Day 1305 in Carbury Castle. After the meal Piers had them surrounded and beheaded. This event was cited in the ‘Remonstrance of the Irish Princes’ sent to the pope by those Gaelic chiefs who supported the campaign of Edward Bruce in 1317.
The de Berminghams control of Tethmoy did not long outlast Piers. There were a number of de Bermingham lords between Piers and Walter the last de Bermingham lord of Tethmoy. John de Bermingham was appointed justicar, but was dismissed in 1323 and in 1329 was killed by his own people. His successor William, John’s brother, was involved in plots against the king and was declared a felon. In 1350 Walter de Bermingham died in England and the wardship of all the de Bermingham lands were granted to Maurice Earl of Kildare. In practice the land passed into the control of the O’Connor’s who were sometimes allied to the Earls of Kildare.
In the 15th century the O’Connor’s improved their fortunes and gradually gained the upper hand in their battles with the Normans becoming the strongest military force in the area. In 1385 Murrough O’Connor was defeated at the bog pass near Croghan Hill, this forced him in 1394 to make submission to Richard II, but by 1406 he led his army to a victory at Geashill and followed this up by raids into the Pale which saw him abduct the High Sheriff for ransom in 1411 and win a battle at Lucan in 1416.
Later leaders of the O’Connor’s continued Murrough’s success, in 1439 Cahir O’Connor abducted the viceroy for ransom and in 1466 Con O’Connor defeated the Earl of Desmond in battle and held him prisoner in Castle Carbury. However the end of the 1500’s and early 1600’s saw the power of the O’Connor’s decline. The rise of the Norman Earls of Kildare and infighting among the O’Connor’s, which culminated in the murder of Cahir O’Connor at the hands of his own people in 1511 were largely responsible.
The Laois/ Offaly Plantation
In 1521 the new viceroy to Ireland, the earl of Surrey, laid siege to the O’Connor castle at Monasteroris. After a long siege it was captured by Surrey and retained in possession of the crown. A cannon ball used in the attack can be seen in Edenderry Library. By 1549 they had been suppressed and in 1550 the O’Connor’s were made outlaws and their lands confiscated, however by 1553 they had regained their lordship of Offaly but had no legal title to their lands. In 1548 Walter Colley was made surveyor general of Ireland and in 1549 after the suppression of the O’Connor’s was ordered to make a survey of Offaly. Only a portion of the area was surveyed, 16 miles in length and 3 wide. Many of the place names around Edenderry are present in the survey, Monasteroris, Ballyleakin, Ballyfore and Edenderry itself.
In 1556 the plantation of the area began under Mary and Philip with legislation to shire the area into King’s County (Offaly) and Queen’s county (Laois) with permanent garrisons at Marybourough (Portlaoise) and Philipstown (Daingean). The plantation proceeded through the 1560’s with settlers coming in from England, Scotland and Wales, some lands were also re-granted to O’Connor’s who swore oaths of loyalty to the crown. In 1562 Henry Colley was granted lands in Offaly by Elizabeth I. These included the manor and castle in Edenderry, Drumcooley, Castlecarbery and the rectories of Carbury and Ardnurcher as well as other lands in Offaly.
Edenderry became known as Cooleystown or Coolestown which was also the name given to the barony. In 1570 Marybourough and Philipstown were given charters, fortified and given permanent garrisons. In 1599 during the 9 Years War, the forces of Hugh O’Neill and 'Red Hugh' O'Donnell marched south. The Castle of the Colley's at Edenderry was attacked on the this occasion, indeed George Colley commented in a letter to Queen Elizabeth at this time that 'the Irish are almost at the door of the castle'.
Monasteroris translates as “The monastery of the son of Piers”. This refers to John de Bermingham the Earl of Louth, who built the monastery for the Conventual Franciscans in 1325. The church dates from the same period.
The original grant of land was made in 1260, this was the date recorded by the chief of the four masters, Mícheál Ó Cléirigh in 1616 in his list of Franciscan Foundations. He says:
“it was founded by the noble family of de Bermingham, and it was the abbey that they had their place of sepulture”
It is likely there was a church on the lands from at least 1290, as a holy water font taken from Monasteroris (and now in St. Mary’s) bears that date. In the 1302-06 Ecclesiastical Taxation of Ireland, a Church de Villa Castris is listed in Tethmoy in the Diocese of Kildare. This is likely the original Castro Petre, as if it was built in 1290 Pier’s would have built it. This would explain the double name of Monasteroris, this earlier church may not have been known as Castro Petre until after the friary was built or may have been taken down as part of the building work. The friary was occupied from 1325 until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1541. It was granted to Nicholas Herbert in 1561 by Elizabeth I. At that time it was described as “two castles, a friary burned and razed, whereby the walls standeth, and there is an old mill place an orchard, land pasture, wood and underwood”. The Franciscans returned to Monasteroris in 1645 only to be expelled once again by the forces of Oliver Cromwell. The church was still used by the local Anglican population up until the building of the new Castro Petre church in 1777/8. Fr. Matthew Walsh, vicar of Daingean, who died in 1794, was the last friar of Monasteroris.
Blundell and Downshire Rule
The soil of Edenderry was through the marriage of Sarah Colley and George Blundell, for the most part of the 18th century in the hands of the Blundell family who resided at the elegant Easthampstead Park in Berkshire, England. On his death in 1756, Lord Blundell left Edenderry in the hands of his three daughters. The ownership of Edenderry next passed into the hands of the Marquis of Downshire’s family in 1786, when, Arthur Hill, the marquis’s eldest son, known as Lord Kilwarlin, married Mary Sandys, heiress to Edenderry through her grandmother a sister of Lord Blundell. The first marquis of Downshire, Wills Hill, was elevated to the title of marquis in 1789 and died in 1793; his son Arthur then assuming the title of marquis of Downshire. Heavily troubled by financial debts, Arthur died in 1801 after losing much of his place and privilege in society including his seat on the Privy Council owing to his opposition to the Act of Union in 1800. Until 1809 the Downshire estates which included Hillsborough and Dundrum in County Down, Blessington in County Wicklow, Clonderlaw in County Clare, a small estate in County Kilkenny and the elegant Easthampstead Park in Berkshire were under the control of Arthur’s wife, the Dowager marchioness Mary Sandys.
When Arthur Blundell Trumbull Sandys Hill, third marquis of Downshire, came of age in 1809 he was faced with clearing the considerable death that his predecessors had accumulated, while his mother continued to receive two thirds of the rent from the estate at Edenderry until her death in 1836. Regarded as an improving landlord, the third marquis did much to improve Edenderry and immediately began his tenure by replacing the mud walled cabins of the main street by building slated stone houses. He was helped in this regard by his agents who included John and James Brownrigg, Thomas Murray and briefly Matthew Lynge.
The town of Edenderry and the surrounding countryside was deeply troubled by the events of 1798 and indeed the Defender disturbance of the 1790s. Although no rebellion broke out in the summer of 98 at Edenderry, their was a high level of United Irish conspiracy in the years leading up the 98. The Battle of Rathangan in May 1798 saw men from Edenderry pitted against one another on the Yeomanry and United Irishmen sides. Two locals William Kennedy and Stephen Hyland were executed for their part in the failed attack on the charter school in Carbury in May 1797. Much of the local lore concerning 1798 however concerns the execution of the Wexford rebels Fr Mogue Kearns and Col Anthony Perry, executed on Blundell Hill 21 July 1798. For more information about the 1798 rebellion at Edenderry see Ciarán Reilly’s Edenderry, County Offaly and the Downshire estate 1790-1800 (Dublin, 2007)
Industry in the town of Edenderry is inextricably linked with the fortunes of the Alesbury family, an industrious Quaker family who originated from Bristol. Daniel Alesbury first set up a timber factory in Edenderry in 1878, before moving to a more permanent factory after his original factory was consumed by fire. The same fate befall Aylesbury’s located beside the Grand Canal in 1904 when a massive fire gutted their purpose built premises. However they survived this setback and continued to prosper until 1932 when business ceased. It was replaced in 1935 by the Edenderry Shoe Company which remained in business until 1991.
The development of the bogs by Bord Na Mona in the 1940s also greatly influenced the area around Edenderry. Men from the locality were employed at Ballydermot, Shean, Derrygreenagh, Lullymore and Clonsast board of works, while others were employed in the peat processing plants at Allenwood, Rhode, Portarlington and Croghan Briquette factory In more recent times industries like Glanbia and Rationel Windows were the largest employers in the area.
The Grand Canal
‘The canal now flows serenely it has given what it can’- The Grand Canal played an integral part in the history of Edenderry, since it passed close to the town in the 1790s. A decision was taken to extend the cut of the canal to the town which was completed by 1804 when the first barges arrived carrying merchandise to and from Dublin. For generations turf, wheat, flour, butter and people were brought to the capital, and the numerous breeches the canal suffered never failed to cease the spirits of the people of Edenderry who understood the importance of this mode of transport. Severe breeches occurred in 1833, 1855, 1916 and 1989. The last barge left Edenderry with passengers in 1962 (at the same time as the demise of the Railway line) and signalled an end of a way of life for many.