A captivating chronicle of Laois life from 1700-2000 will be launched on July 9 at 7.30pm in Scully’s pub in Ballyroan.
Three centuries of Laois life unfold in a captivating chronicle of the O’Dea family, generations of whom have farmed in the district encompassed by Abbeyleix-Ballinakill-Cullenagh Mountain-Ballyroan since the 1700s.
Summer holidays in 1950s Laois with his maternal grandmother, Mary O’Dea, inspired author Tom Carroll to invest years of research, unearthing compelling stories of triumph and tragedy in the O’Dea family history.
As Mr Carroll charts the lives of O’Dea generations from 1700-2000, weaving the tales of Laois emigrants through Australia, America, Manchester and France, what emerges is a rich tapestry of the momentous political, economic, social and technological change witnessed in Laois over those 300 years.
“Life in Laois 1700-2000: A Microcosm” will be launched on Saturday July 9 at 7.30pm in Scully’s pub, Ballyroan, with entertainment provided by the Ballyroan Brass Band and local musicians.
While the book offers a rich, comprehensive history of the O’Dea family, their stories will resonate with other families whose roots are in rural Laois and beyond as the book opens an ancestral window to how life was lived in Laois before, during, and after the Great Famine.
As with the wider population, many among the O’Dea family remained wedded to the land – farming in the Abbeyleix-Ballinakill-Ballyroan-Cullenagh district since the 1700s – while others emigrated.
The book mines the history-laden events of the district, deftly tracing how farming has changed through the centuries, as families reacted to political change, modernisation and economic forces.
“At home in County Tipperary, through my parents and, in particular, my mother Margaret O’Dea Carroll, I was imbued with a sense of my Laois heritage,” Tom Carroll recalls. “She often reminisced about her childhood and youth in Laois, and the county’s history.
“This book’s origins go back nearly seventy years to the early 1950s when I spent several summer holidays with my widowed maternal grandmother, Mary O’Dea, my uncles and aunt on their farm at Lisnagomman townland near Abbeyleix.
!At that time Lisnagomman was also a focal point for summer visits by relations from England; visits that had been interrupted for many years by World War II and its aftermath.
“So, Lisnagomman brought me into contact with my extended maternal family; an experience through my childhood and adolescent years that made a lifelong impression. Back then, in the early 1950s, cows were hand-milked.
“My grandmother hand-churned butter for home use. Weeding and thinning of root crops – such as beet, mangolds and turnips – were done manually. Culm, a gritty material derived from anthracite coal, came from a local colliery.
“My uncles mixed it with clay and, availing of the moisture on a wet day, trampled it to make culm balls for use as a domestic fuel.
“A Fordson tractor, purchased in 1948, had begun to side-line horses in farming tasks like tillage, bringing milk to Spink creamery, manure-spreading and haymaking.
“So, I decided to look at how farming and land-ownership had changed for my maternal family, the O’Dea’s, not just from the 1950s, but to try and trace them back to their origins.
“Through telling the stories of the generations who lived in Laois and the generations who left, I was sure the broader landscape of life in Laois would emerge through those 300 years,” Mr Carroll said.
“The book tells three centuries of Laois life through the lens of the O’Dea family. The book has brought me closer to my ancestors and given me a renewed respect for their lives and spirit. I hope readers will feel the same,” the author said.