Clonbulloge / Clonsast (Co. Offaly / East)
Clonbulloge / Clonbullogue (pronounced “Clonbolg”), (Cluain Bolg – “the meadow of Bolg”, referring to the Celtic sun deity), (pop. 500), is an “island” of pastureland in the Bog of Allen. The eponymous village is on the Figile / Little Barrow River near its confluence with the Philipstown River.
Clonbullogue Airfield is owned and operated by the Irish Parachute Club. Intensive parachuting activity is common at weekends and public holidays. (Photo -by divemasterking2000)
This district was granted by King Charles II to the Purefoy family in 1679, and for a time the village was called Purefoy’s Place. Local surnames reflect extensive plantation by English families, many of whom were Quakers.
Clonbullogue was the only village in County Offaly burned during the 1798 Rebellion. Two of the Wexford insurgency leaders, Anthony Perry and Fr Mogue Kearns, were captured here and later hanged at Edenderry.
The village population suffered a severe decline during and after the Great Famine. Writing in 1883, Fr Prendergast reported that it presented “a decayed and ruinous appearance”.
The 1950s saw an improvement in the Clonbulloge’s prosperity as workers arrived from al over Ireland to work for Bord Na Mona.
The Clonkeen Stone, said to be 340 million years old, may have been significantly positioned as a Standing Stone. According to legend, a giant on Croghan Hill threw it at the Hill of Allen and challenged Fionn MacCumhail to throw it back. Fionn could only throw it half way, to its present location. The stone supposedly bears his fingerprints.
A Sheela-na-Gig found at Clonbullogue is on display in Edenderry‘s public library.
Clonsast, an important early Christian monastic settlement supposedly founded by Saint Brachan / Brochan / Berechan, whose Holy Well and petroglyphic stone still existed in 1837, gave its name to the entire district for many years.
Jasper Robert Joly (1819–1892) was born at Clonsast and is buried locally. He entered TCD at the age of 13, and went on to become a successful Dublin barrister. The Joly Collection, his extensive library of 23,000 printed volumes and unbound papers, donated to the Royal Dublin Society in 1863, formed the nucleus of the National Library upon its foundation in 1877. He was a cousin of the Astronomer Royal Charles Jasper Joly and the TCD Professor of Geology John Joly, both from Tullamore.
Clonbulloge has won several awards in the national Tidy Towns competition.
Walsh Island (Inis na mBreatnach), another “island” of fertile ground surrounded by a vast area of bogland, is well known throughout the country for its sporting achievements.
Walsh Island is
Geasehill & Cloneygowan (Co. Offaly / Southwest)
Geashill (Géisil) (pop. 350), set around a large triangular green, is still what the C19th Kings County Directory once called “one of the neatest, cleanest and best kept [villages] in Ireland“. (Photo by Sarah777)
Legendary accounts of the prehistoric Battle of Geashill between rival Milesian princes Heber and Heremon are supported by the great quantities of human bones found in the locality.
It is recorded that an assassination attempt against Saint Patrick was made as he was riding to Geasehill. How different would Irish history have been if the attempt had succeeded?
By the Middle Ages the district was held by the O’Bergins, a sub-sept of the O’Connors, against whom the Geraldine Barons of Ophaly built a motte (c. 1200), and a Tower House (c.1300), site in 1307 of a slaughter by the O’Dempseys, Lords of Clanmaliere, of the O’Connors, who subsequently returned and razed the settlement.
On St. Valentine’s Day 1315, during the invasion of Ireland by Edward Bruce, the Scottish army was encamped at Geashill, “suffering greatly from hunger, so that many perished”.
The castle was gallantly held by Lady Lettice Fitzgerald, in 1641 against insurgents and in 1642 for several months against Kilkenny Confederacy troops led by her cousin Lewis O’Dempsey, Lord Clanmaliere. Her husband was the Governor of King’s County, Sir Robert Digby of Warwick, ennobles as Baron Digby of Geasehill in 1620.
Their descendants were at various times Barons, Viscounts and Earls of Geashill, but most preferred to live in England, using land agents to run the largest estate in King’s County. The village saw a lot of Catholic Defender agitation in the late C18th.
Edward Digby (1809 – 1889), 9th Baron Digby of Geasehill, the son of Admiral Sir Henry Digby of Battle of Trafalgar fame, was an “improving landlord”, who won the bronze medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 for models of the village he was building and was awarded the Royal Agricultural Society’s gold medal for three years for improving the greatest number of cottages in the best manner in the Province of Leinster. Many of the current buildings around the triangular green date from this time.
Geashill Castle, a stately dwelling the Digbys built near the medieval Tower House, was burnt down during the Civil War in 1922.
St Mary’s church (CoI), built in 1814, has beautiful grounds containing tombstones from the early 18th, and a curious mausoleum constructed for Judge Baron Smith of Newtown.
Cloneygowan (Cluan na Gamhan – “the pasturage of the calves”) also formed part of the huge Digby estate, and also has a pleasant village green. (Photo by vincacards)
Cloneygowan was long one of the residences of the powerful O’Diomasaigh / O’Dempsey clan, later Lords Clanmaliere. Edmund O’Dempsey of Cloneygowan, Bishop of Leighlin, was forced into exile in 1653 and died in Spain in 1661
A fine dovecote / folly (c.1830) stands as a reminder of the once impressive Cloneygowan House.