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World War 2 air crash recalled in Edenderry history publication

A world war 2 aircrash, Masonic lodges and a mystery mining company are just some of the stories in the end-of-year  Edenderry Historical Society newsletter issued just as 2011 moves to a close. Among the eye-catching snippets in the publication is an article by prolific local historian Ciarán Reilly (who this year received his Doctorate from NUI Maynooth) on the mining company which never produced as much as a barrow load of ore. The story goes back to 1851 when the Blundell Mining Company was promoted by the fourth Marquis of Downshire with the ostensible aim of reviving the town of Edenderry and its environs after the devastation of the famine years. The fact that the bold Marquis owned 14,000 acres of land in north-east Offaly might explain his lordships enthusiasm for a mining operation which would inevitably increase the value of his estate. The Marquis had done his homework and had recruited one Edward Pickering, a Welsh mining expert, to oversee the property. His sales pitch for the Blundell Mining Company enticed sixty locals to buy shares in the fledgling company including such local notables as M P O’Brien, Denis Fay, and James Delaney, a hotel owner in Edenderry. However thirty years later the mine had not produced even a sack of ore and the Marquis of Downshire was accused of having swindled the local shareholders out of their money.
A more successful extraction industry in Edenderry which gets a mention in the newsletter is the quarry at Carrick. Stone from the Carrick quarry was used in the 1720s in the construction of the greatest Palladian mansion in these islands, Castletown House, Celbridge. When refurbishments were carried out at Castletown in the 1970s the contractors, Sisks, reopened the old quarry at Carrick to make sure that the stone used for the 1970s restoration would authentically match the original stone supplied from the same source.   
There was also a Downshire connection with another theme highlighted in the Edenderry Newsletter – that of Masonic lodges in the locality. The Masonic lodges were, up to recent times, secretive societies made up of men of high social standing who were alleged to have excessive influence on the highest levels of government and business. The Edenderry Masonic Lodge was registered in 1881 when a warrant was granted by the Grand Lodge (Masonic headquarters) to set up a branch with the title of ‘Downshire Lodge’ after the owner of Edenderry. By 1900 there were 76 brethren registered with the Lodge. So progressive was the membership that plans were prepared to build a Masonic Hall in Edenderry and a fund of £154 was collected. The Hall never went ahead but membership remained buoyant with a total of 41 brethren enrolled as recently as 1983. Nonetheless consolidation was underway among the Masonic lodges in the midlands and in 1985 the Edenderry lodge was merged with that of Newbridge.
A likely candidate for membership of the Edenderry lodge was a Reverend Kitson of Ballyburley. Edenderry Historical Society researchers have located his diary in the archives of the Church of Ireland in Dublin. A glimpse at his social diary for 1888 reveals the relatively idyllic life of a rural rector which seemed to be a round of social events in the big houses of north-east Offaly: ‘May 27 Trinity Sunday – lunched at Rathmoyle; Rahan with the Palmers dining in the woods; 14 May – played tennis at Rathmoyle; 15 May – went cowslip gathering with Mrs Dames; 19 May – shooting at Rahan.’
The Edenderry Historical Society Newsletter is full of historical drama and one of the most dramatic events is outlined by Declan O’Connor who has delved into the Irish Military Archives to reveal the story of the American pilot who found himself upside down in an Offaly bog. The incident happened in July 1944 when a group of Turf Board workers at Clonsast bog south of  Edenderry were startled to see a big aeroplane thunder over their heads as it made a forced landing on the bog. The pilot, Flight Officer Iris Dillon, thought he was landing on a perfect surface – so he was naturally surprised when his wheels sank into an Irish bog and his plane overturned. The startled turf workers ran to the plane and heard Dillon call out ‘Anyone there?’ as he attempted to get free from under his inverted aeroplane.  Declan O’Connor’s research in the Irish Army files reveals an amusing sequel in that it was dutifully reported that the American was taken to the Curragh camp where he was given some ‘stimulant and food’.  Unlike German and British pilots who were kept in detention in the Curragh, stray American were taken to the Border within days and handed over to American diplomatic representatives. Declan O’Connor notes that Flying Officer Dillon returned to a successful career in the United States Air Force retiring with the rank of Major.
There is much more to be gleaned from the spectacularly well-produced Edenderry Historical Society newsletter and we will return to the subject … next year. Series no: 261

Liam Kenny reviews a WWII air crash, Masonic lodges and a mystery mining company in Edenderry's local history publication. Our thanks to Liam

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