Hard times, hotels and Hollywood stars

Thursday, 21st March, 2019 3:23pm

Hard times, hotels and Hollywood stars

Author Brendan Ryan pictured with his wife Celia Ryan at the launch.

There were anecdotes aplenty at the very successful launch of a history book on Shannonbridge last Saturday night.

Written by Brendan Ryan and Laura Price, the book, entitled 'Shannonbridge: A History of Raghra c.1600 to c.1900', takes readers on a journey through the history of the Offaly town, highlighting some of the events and characters that make up its varied history.

Such was the demand for the 366-page book that the first 250 copies sold out on the night, and a second print run is now being ordered and will be available soon. The book is the eleventh by renowned West Offaly historian Brendan Ryan, from Ferbane, but marks his first collaboration with Laura Price, a genealogy expert and native of Shannonbridge.

“The launch was in Shannonbridge Hall the night before St Patrick's Day and it was packed. It was a great celebration. All the books sold out,” says a delighted Brendan.

Highlighting the ancient name for Shannonbridge – Raghra – the book opens with a chapter on how a castle on the banks of the Shannon at Raghra, belonging to the Mac Coghlan Chieftains of West Offaly, came into the possession of the L'Estrange family. There is also the fascinating story of how a hotel in the town, known as the Great Inn of Raghna, was sold to the British for £500 in 1798 to be used as a military barracks.

Some of the book's highlights include a history of the town's famous 16-arch bridge; the impact of the Great Famine of the 1840s on Shannonbridge; and some of the town's more famous connections with Hollywood film actor George Brent and writer Jonathan Swift. There is also a chapter containing a biography of every Catholic and Protestant clergy from Penal Times up to the present day, as well as sections on education, local houses, law and order, and Shannonbridge as the gateway between east and west.

The book's cover features a striking painting of the town's bridge, entitled 'Last Ray of Evening'. “The painting was executed in 1875 by an Irish artist called Henry Albert Hartland, born in Mallow. The painting itself is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and we had to jump through a few hoops to get permission to use it for the cover,” reveals Brendan.

Guest speakers at the launch were Dr Michael Egan, Chieftain of the MacEgan Clan, who wrote the foreword for the book; Michael Donegan, principal of Clonmacnoise National School for 20 years who spoke of Brendan's “immense contribution” to West Offaly; Shannonbridge parish priest Fr Tom Cox; and historian Declan Ryan.

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