Your hosts in your B&B in Birr


Rosalind Fanning worked in the family firm for ten years, on restoration and property management but fell out of the nest to fulfil the more 'artsy' side to her nature. She studied history of fine arts and interior design in London and then went to live and work for leading architects and designers in New York, for nine years. In the early 1990s she returned to Ireland to re-create 'Granny Thompson's Dolls Exhibition' (which had originally been in the family's stately home.) It then toured in the States, Canada and Ireland.


Having returned, to live in Birr, Rozzie, with an Auzzie blond business partner, set up 'The Exhibitionists' in the late '90s. They successfully designed assorted exhibitions and promotional materials until the antipodean fell in love with a trad musician and moved out of the area. Wondering what to do next, (after she and Derek had got married and moved to Brendan House), she decided to restore the old coach house as a 'part-time' arts studio and gallery and to do the B&B thing, as her grandmother had in Derry.

Rosalind's Jugs & Derek's woodcarvingRosalind's Jugs & Derek's Woodcarving


But in 2005, having written irregular feature columns for the local paper for some years, mostly on the arts and so on, the ex-designer was asked to edit and write for the 2nd issue of The Local Planet, (Ireland's Journal on Sustainable Living) and has been doing that ever since.


In between issues, the studio keeps her busy seasonally, with art classes for children and adults, art exhibitions and other events. She has also designed costumes for several period productions by The Offaly Drama Project and, in the past, has acted in a few amateur dramatic productions in England, the States, and Ireland, in plays by Wilde, Chekov, Sheridan, etc. She was also involved with a few small independent films in the States, as Art Director and period costume designer.



Derek Fanning is a journalist with The Midland Tribune (his 'an Colún', opinion and philosophical columns are particularly popular). He has published several books, of poetry and on his travels and mountain climbing around the world. He is a very keen walker and rock climber.


Derek began woodcarving a few years ago, under the tuition of Paradzai Havertitye, a Zimbabwean living locally.

These, mostly created from bog oak and bog yew, have sold quite steadily. The themes are usually the stuff of Irish legends, such as The Salmon of Wisdom, but his anthropomorphic forms, his angels and abstract pieces are also greatly admired. Proceeds mostly go to charities such as Birdwatch Ireland.

Derek Fanning's Woodcarvings

Derek's Woodcarving


Derek has a lovely natural Tenor voice (previously only known to his fellow, boistrous hunting folk) but he recently launched his CD. 'A Voice of Birr' which is filled with well-known Irish and classic songs, accompanied by piano. Proceeds from sales have gone to Offaly Hospice. Copies of his CD and books are still available by mail-order. Although his mother's family is from Limerick, his father's family is very much of Birr. His grandfather, James Fanning was owner and editor of The Midland Tribune and a founder of the widely known and well-respected, 'Little Theatre' in Birr. He was an expert in stage lighting and wrote a few plays. His wife Isabel, Derek's paternal grandmother was a superb actress. They were friends with, and exchanged actors with, The Abbey Theatre in Dublin and were also acquainted with the flamboyant Michael MacLiammor of The Gate Theatre.

Several years ago, Derek revived The Slieve Bloom News, begun by J.I.Fanning, and the bi-annual publication now sells well in the region. This will shortly incorporate 'Bard', a celebration of the area's rich literary and poetic talents.


Here you can check out his website:


Rosalind and Derek share ancient 'O'Donovan' ancestry. They still haven't discovered the precise link but as the fact that they are cousins-a-few hundred-years-removed probably involves 'religion', this part of their past remains mute.


Birr - A Little Jocular Location History


Birr is in the very centre of Ireland: 'Umbilicus Hibernia' is the label on the stone (next to Neo-Classical John's Hall). It was purloined from another location by Derek's grandfather, James, (owner/editor of The Midland Tribune) and fellow town councillors, no doubt to settle the dispute that it is indeed Birr that is the "bellybutton of Ireland".

About 1300 years ago Birr was chosen as the ideal, 'neutral' place for bishops from all five provinces to meet, to enact the Law of Adamhnan, 'For the Protection of The Innocents'. He was the Abbot of Birr monastery at the time and biographer of Saint Columba. For more information on Birr, please view the Birr web-site, or purchase the excellent book 'A Short History of Birr' by Oisin Deery.

Brendan Street is named after the town's patron Saint, Brendan of Birr. Knocking down a few nice old dwellings at Market Square and by widening Chapel Lane, the road was built in the 1820s to give access to the splendid new Roman Catholic church, the building of which led to a scandalous schism which even now, apparently causes ripples if the thorny subject of religion is mouthed.

This church is called St. Brendan's, as of course, is the equally splendid St. Brendan's Church of Ireland (Protestant), and assorted schools, sports clubs, etc. Because the town authorities have only had a little less than a couple of hundred years to get around to it, Brendan Street is still unmarked thus. Strangers are likely to meet with mystified looks, for even on the tourist map in the square, it is marked as Chapel Lane. Saint Brendan of Birr was one of the 'twelve apostles' of the early Irish Christian church. He was a fine man: un-doctrinaire, known for his expansiveness, tolerance and for his divine and prophesying visions, keen on travel in his youth, and a defender of the hot-headed Saint Columba.

His monastery, founded in the 6th century was almost certainly situated at a site about 100 metres from Brendan House, (on Castle Street); probably where the pre-Reformation St. Brendan's church stands. It is now a restored half-a-ruin, as the other half of the ruin fell down a few years ago. St. Brendan's 'holy' well is close by as the crow flies, within the demesne gardens and just across the river from the castle where, you've guessed it, Brendan, (the Earl of Rosse), lives.

Former residents of Brendan House, of note: Lorna Reynolds (second cousin to Derek's father) 'was Professor Emeritus of Modern English at the National University of Ireland, Galway, having previously taught for 30 years at University College Dublin. She also wrote poetry and was the author of a critical biography of the writer Kate O'Brien, her long-time friend. It has been said that her life celebrated freedom of women'. [IASIL,The International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures]. In her 80s, she wrote a cookery book. She was brought up here as a child before the family moved to Dublin.
Caimen O'Brien (no relation to Kate, or the Fannings) is one of a large family brought up at Brendan House, before his parents sold it in the late 90s. He is an archaeologist of note and the author of a number of publications, including Stories From a Sacred Landscape, a beautiful book (gloriously illustrated by American photographer, James Fraher) which sets out to tell the story of 23 of Offaly's early Christian monastic sites.




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