A Walk through Tullamore: the view in 1980
Interest in Irish history is growing rapidly. The Offaly towns are all relatively modern and generally owe their origins to the plantations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Tullamore appears to have been one of the last of the Offaly towns to develop; its growth is
difficult to document for a period much earlier than 1700. Yet, within a little over a hundred years it became the largest town in the county. This study is mainly concerned with the physical development of Tullamore between 1700 and 1900. I have written the book in the form of a walking tour so as to encourage readers to look at the remains of several centuries of development. Visitor and native are invited to observe an evolving landscape in a middle sized Irish town. The tour is a long one and it is recommended that it be taken in two stages or even broken up further as suits.
There are, perhaps, some who will be disappointed on seeing no references to Charleville castle or the other interesting historical remains in the area. It is intended to look at the countryside about Tullamore in a second volume, now in course of preparation. This study is strictly confined to an area between the canal on the north and the railway line on the south.
This book is no more than a summary of the history of Tullamore, yet its publication would not have been possible without the assistance of a considerable number of people. I should like to record my thanks to D.E. Williams Ltd. for their generous sponsorship of this publication. I am indebted to Lakeland Tourism for their help in the erection of signs about the town to facilitate the tourist and native alike. I wish to thank Oliver Connolly for the drawings, Noel Doran of Eugene Garvey and Partners for the map and Richard May for the photographs. Numerous individuals assisted in various ways and my only regret is that I cannot name all of them. I am grateful to Brendan Broderick, Miss Geraldine Clarke, W.B. Hutton-Bury, Seamus Houlihan, Edward MacParland, Brian Mahon, James Scully, Jim and Eileen Scully and John Sweeney. Finally, I want to express my thanks to the librarian and staff of the Offaly County Library for their unfailing help and courtesy over several years.
M.B., Convent View, Tullamore.
The town of Tullamore occupies a central position in County Offaly and is the capital town since 1833. The town is situated on the Tullamore river which divides it into more or less two halves. To the north is the gravel ridge, the Eiscir Riada (the chariot ridge), known locally as the Arden hills and to the south the Slieve Bloom mountains. On the east and west lie the flat boglands relieved only on the eastern side by the stump of an extinct volcano now known as Croghan hill.
The name Tullamore or Tulach Mhor, meaning the big mound or hill, probably refers to Hop hill, a natural mound, near the town, and now the site of St Catherine’s church. In the eighteenth century the town was also known as Tullamoore, a name introduced by former owners of the town, the Moore family.
The 17th Century
The town is part of the ancient district of Fer Call which was ruled by the Gaelic family of Molloy. Two members of a branch of this family, Susanna and Matilda O’Molloy, daughters of Donald O’Molloy who had married Elizabeth Cowley (daughter of an English settler) sold the property to John Moore of Croghan about 1609. Moore was the son and heir of Thomas Moore an Elizabethan soldier defending Croghan castle in 1599. Tullamore in the 1620s was no more than a very small village with a water mill and a castle (site unknown). The Moore family continued to reside at Croghan and in 1633 they leased their Tullamore property for 81 years to a relation by marriage, Sir Robert Forth. In 1641 Forth built a house was demolished in the 1800s and replaced by evidence for anything more than a small village at Tullamore throughout the seventeenth century. The population probably did not exceed 400 (about the same as Philipstown now Daingean and about half that of Parsonstown now Birr.
Growth in the early 18th century
The town grew at a moderate pace in the first half of the eighteenth century. For an explanation of this one may look to a general quickening of the pace of economic development throughout the country but more particularly to the fact that John Moore (to become the first Lord Tullamore in 1715) built a house in the area of what is now O’Carroll Street about 1700 and also the fact that a military barrack to house 100 foot soldiers was built in the vicinity of the present Garda station in 1716. In the 1720s the Moore family had a church erected in the area known as the Shambles (roughly the site of the Foresters hall and to the west of it). At this time the town probably consisted of no more than a long street running from the new church Bridge Street, High Street and O’Connor Square were
more or less built up. During this period the town experienced some industrial development based primarily on the processing of agricultural raw material, for example a tanning industry was in operation in what is now Tanyard Lane in the 1750s and a linen factory in Church Street at about the same time. Despite these developments the rate of growth was slow especially after 1764 when Charles Moore, the first earl of Charleville, died.
An improving landlord
Charles Moore was married but died without issue and his 20,000 acre estate in the King’s County passed to his sister’s husband, John Bury of Shannongrove, Co. Limerick. However, John Bury died soon after and the Bury property in Limerick and the Moore property in King’s County were inherited by Charles William Bury, a minor and less than a year old. Few buildings were erected during the landlord’s minority which lasted until 1785. The latter year is remarkable for several reasons: it could be said to mark the beginning of a period of phenomenal growth which many Irish towns experienced and which lasted until 1815; it was the year Bury came of age and therefore empowered to grant leases and generally develop his property; it was the year of the Tullamore balloon fire.
From the balloon fire to the Famine
The fire in Tullamore which occurred on Tuesday 10 May 1785 is perhaps the best known but most misunderstood aspect of Tullamore history. The fire was caused by an air balloon taking fire in what was possibly only the third attempt to make an ascent in Ireland. This led to the destruction of about 100 houses in the Barrack Street (now Patrick Street) area. Probably about one-third of the housing stock was destroyed if one assumes a total housing stock in the town of about 300 with a population of roughly 2,000. A few houses in Barrack Street survived the fire including the house now used as the head office of the Williams Group. About a week after the fire the landlord C.W. Bury arrived in the town and distributed £550 to relieve those in distress. In a sense the fire was a long term benefit because it gave the landlord the impetus to develop the town in a proper manner, an opportunity of which he availed to the full over the next fifty years until his death in 1835. The period between the fire in 1785 and the Famine (1845-9) were the years of expansion. The population expanded three-fold and stood at 6,343 in 1841. The new streets – Columcille Street, Harbour Street, Cormac Street, O’Moore Street, Church Street (lower) were laid out on the grid pattern with attention given to frontage and roof-line. The landlord had a town hall erected in O’Connor Square in 1789 and contributed half the cost of the new church of St Catherine’s which was opened in 1815. The Catholic church (on the same site as the present one) was opened before 1802. The high point of Bury’s achievement was reached in 1833 when he succeeded in having Tullamore made a county town. The county jail was opened in 1830; work on the county court-house began in 1833 and was completed in 1835.
The fifty-year period 1785-1835 was also one of significant economic development. The coming of the Grand Canal in 1798 was of major importance in that it gave the town a direct link with Dublin for the first time. The period also saw the development of Michael Molloy’s distillery (later B. Daly) from small beginnings in the 1790s. The town continued to be an important centre – evidence of which survives in the landlord’s provision of a second market square, an unusual town feature.
The famine took its toll especially in the slum district on the Puttaghan side of the canal. The next fifty years saw the population decline and the town stagnate. The population had dropped to 4,522 in 1891 but thereafter conditions improved and the first increase in a half-century was recorded in 1901.
The 20th century
In the present century the population has continued to expand (perhaps the most useful indicator of economic conditions) and in 1971 stood at 7,474. It is now acknowledged to be
about 8,500. It may be said in passing that the expansion of the town’s population is no natural progression. The population of Birr has fallen since 1901, while Portlaoise, Athlone and Mullingar have grown more rapidly than Tullamore. The character of the town has
changed: the building schemes of the Tullamore U.D.C. have led to the rehousing of many families outside the traditional town boundaries. The town’s many lanes, once teeming with people, have been cleared and some now serve as car parks. On the industrial side it is difficult to make any assessment as yet, but it may be said that the firms of D.E. Williams
Ltd., Tullamore Yarns Ltd., and the Midland Butter and Bacon Co. Ltd. have all made an important contribution to stability and growth. Also of value to the town but even more so to the county, are Bord na Mona and the E.S.B. In recent years increasing reliance has been placed on international firms, which have established factories here, to generate new industrial employment. In the growth league table Tullamore fell back in the 1960s and early 1970s but is now developing rapidly.
Conservation and amenity
The town has yet to produce a sensible, coherent conservation policy. The current town plan is largely concerned with infrastructure. Of course, if a solution to the town’s traffic problems were found it would take the strain off the historic town centre. The U.D.C. has concentrated its attention on beautifying the canal banks, and with good results. Efforts are now being made to improve the streets of the town by planting trees and perhaps a small park in O’Connor Square. Should a second edition of this guide be required in years to come perhaps it may require assistance from a dendrochonologist!
The Tullamore river divides the town in half, but the northern side of the river has a greater density of population. It is probable that the town has its origins in a river crossing of the 17th century. It has been suggested that the oldest bridge in the town is that behind the county library in O’Connor Square but this cannot be confirmed. The bridge at Bridge Street was certainly in use by 1748 when the landlord gave a building lease for the house between the lane and Adams’ chemist shop. The river had several water mills including the manor mill located about 50 yards from the bridge on the western side. During the drainage scheme of the 1850s this was removed. The only water mill now surviving in the town is that further down the river in the old distillery. The river is said to be less polluted than formerly. As far back as 1768 the then local authority, the town’s manor court, noted: ‘Whereas upon complaint made this day to the grand jury that William Keoug, skinner, hath and does make a practise of throwing dead carcases and other filth into the river of Tullamore, we present that the said manor do remove all such dirt and filth out of said river…’ Pollution cannot have been too severe as how otherwise are we to explain the name, the Maiden Bridge Street, along with the upper part of Church Street and High Street are the oldest streets in the town. The width of a street is often a good indicator of age. Bridge Street, was in fact, much narrower but was widened in 1938 when part of Dann’s tea rooms was removed (now Tormey and Adams).
The houses in Bridge Street are almost all of an early date. The Bridge House originally consisted of three distinct buildings, some of which may date back to the 1720s. The present facade of red brick with elaborate limestone dressings was erected in 1910 for P. & H. Egan Ltd. With Gleeson’s shop in Columcille Street the two fronts reflect the increased prosperity of Irish towns in the first decade of this century, and the changes taking place in Irish retailing. The age when clay pipes lolled shop windows was being left behind. Until the 1960s the Bridge House was the headquarters of P. & H. Egan Ltd., a family business established in 1852, and involved in agri-business, mineral waters, wine and spirits and retailing. The shop here was considered to be the finest in the town. The company went into voluntary liquidation in the late 1960s.
Douglas and Lawless
Beside the Bridge House is a building erected by Maurice Tyrrell, a tanner, in 1747. In 1777 the owner of the house was instructed to rebuild the chimneys because they were considered ‘public nuisances by not being kept regularly swept. It is alleged they are so narrow as not to admit a boy to get up’. There is an inscription over the entrance door to Douglas’ jewellery shop.
Hoey and Denning
This house was built about 1756 by John Vaughan, a merchant. Vaughan bequeathed the house to his two daughters for use in their marriage settlements. The house was then divided into two parts and in the southern end one Joseph Flanagan established a distillery, not later than 1782.
The distillery buildings, some of which are still standing, were erected on the back garden of Flanagan’s house which extended to the river. The distillery went out of production in the 1800s but was re-established in 1829, as is shown on the entrance gate in the lane beside the Hoey and Denning building. Production in the 1840s and 1850s suffered because of the temperance campaign and the rise in the spirit duty. However, the distillery was considerably expanded in the 1870s to cater for a growing export market. Aside from the years 1925 to 1937 the distillery was in production until 1954. The passing of the distillery was a matter of regret because of the long association of the industry with the town. On the other hand its demise may be seen as part of an evolutionary process because since the late 1940s the town has been associated with the production of Irish Mist (more about this below). The distillery chimneys can be seen from the Distillery Lane beside Hoey and Denning. Access to the distillery is closed to the public because of the
dangerous condition of some of the buildings.
Bank of Ireland
The Bank of Ireland has carefully restored and improved this building. The conservation work here represents a turning point in the town’s attitude to its architectural heritage. That portion of the building in the less than brilliant Portland stone represents the original Hibernian Bank branch established here in 1864. The Bank of Ireland opened a ‘second class’ branch at High Street in 1836. In recent years the bank acquired adjoining buildings, including a yellow-brick building in O’Connor Square. This gothic-style building was erected for T.P. & R. Goodbody in the early 1870s. The Goodbodys sensibly decided to have warehouse features at the front because of poor or non-existent facilities at the rear of the building. So faithfully have the bank’s architects sought to reproduce the original facade that a new hoist has been placed under the gablet.
The gradual development of this area into a square is reflected in the variety of names it has had. In 1713 it was simply known as the Market Place. Building on the southern side began in the 1740s when the L – plan house west of the post office was built by Matthew Moore, a soap boiler and tallow chandler. A building on the site of the post office was erected in the 1750s as also was the next house with the round-headed Gibbsian doorcase. The last house, before Tanyard Lane, was not erected until 1786.
Library and civic offices
This was formerly a Vocational school and was erected in 1937. A very fine three-storey, seven-bay building stood on the site until 1936. In 1750 Thomas Wilson, a quaker, carried on business here as a wool comber and tanner. In the 1760s it became the property of Gideon Tabuteau who had come from Southampton and was of French huguenot extraction. It was here that Benjamin Yeats, ancestor of the poet, married Mary Butler. In 1788 Tabuteau sold the property to Joseph Manley who erected a brewery and a maltings.
Tanyard Lane has always been an industrial rather than a residential area. The changes in manufacturing activity here nicely reflects the development of industry over two centuries. The location is accounted for by the availability of a water supply from the river. The tanneries had closed by the end of the eighteenth century but had been replaced by two breweries and several malting establishments. It is not clear as to when the two breweries ceased operation, but the maltings continued to function until recent times. Malsters were able to send their malt to Guinness by canal when the local breweries ceased production. A walk through the Tanyard and a check on the inscriptions on the buildings indicates just how important the malting business was to the economy of the town early in this century. Many of the present buildings date from the 1900s.
Return to O’Connor Square again to the north side, we find two three-storey houses with round-headed doorcases. These were built between 1786 and 1810.
The Market House
The market house or town hall, built by the earl of Charleville, is certainly the most important building in the square. It is a two-storey, seven-bay building with a pedimented central breakfront. On the roof is an octagonal timber lantern with a lead dome. The arches on the ground floor have been glazed in. The indefatigable John Wesley gave a sermon here in 1789 and recorded in his journal: ‘About noon I preached in the beautiful new court house at Tullamore. Deep attention sat on the rich as well as the poor…’ In 1821 a loan fund bank (akin to a credit union) was established here and surplus funds from it were used to erect a clock in the 1840s. With the building of the market house the square was completed, assuming that the two houses to the east of it were erected at the same time. On the post office or southern side of the square houses were built at both ends about 1786. Joseph Flanagan, the distiller, was responsible for building the property from Dunne’s shoe shop to Barry Keegan’s in 1787. He had a 999-year lease from the earl of Charleville and when the building was completed Flanagan let it to undertenants for ‘short’ leases of 31 years. An inscription may be seen over the coach entrance of Dunne’s shop.
As with O’Connor Square we have rushed into High Street. However, I wish to start on the other side at G.N. Walsh’s car show rooms. It must be said that here, as also in O’Connor Square and Bridge Street, almost all the houses were erected in the eighteenth century. When Arthur Young made his unnecessarily brief remarks about the town in 1776 he noted that part of Tullamore was well built. He was surely referring to the High Street-O’Connor Square area.
G.N. Walsh car show rooms
This house with its projecting wing at the front is similar to the house beside the post office and could be as early as 1720. The next house was built in 1786 by the town’s leading business man in the late eighteenth century, Thomas Manley. At the time Manley also owned the car showrooms house. Manley was a quaker, as also were the owners of the property in the 19th century, T.P. & R. Goodbody. The two Goodbody brothers were members of a remarkable family who had a profound influence on the economy of the nearby town of Clara. The Goodbodys established a tobacco factory here in the mid-19th century and employed up to 200 men. There may still be a few people about who remember such delightfully named tobacco mixtures as ‘York River’, ‘Bird’s Eye’ and ‘Golden Shag’. Unfortunately for Tullamore, the factory was destroyed by fire in 1886. The factory was rebuilt but at Greenville, Dublin. In 1929, the firm, then in liquidation, was taken over by the Dundalk firm of P.J. Carroll.
The site of this house was leased to a tobacco spinner in 1713 but the house may have been rebuilt in the 1780s. A brewery was established here in the 1830s when William Deverell
transferred from a premises further up High Street. The brewery continued to function until the first world war. In the 1880s it was capable of turning out from 30 to 40 barrels per day and employed 50 men at not less than £1,600 a year in wages!
Next to the Brewery Tap is G.N. Walsh’s shop, probably built before 1786, and an R.I.C. barrack in the last century. The premises of Messrs. Conway and Kearney, solicitors, has a doorcase with fluted doric columns and a fanlight. The building dates from the 1780s but the doorcase may be later. Further up the street are McGinns and Tuttys which both have nice shopfronts with fasciaboards and console brackets. The Ulster Bank was opened in 1892 and rebuilt in recent years.
Bank of Ireland
Beside the Ulster Bank is the Italianate-style old Bank of Ireland premises. The limestone facade of two storeys replaced a front of three storeys and was erected in 1870. It is often worthwhile to look at buildings from the back as well as the front for evidence of rebuilding. The Bank of Ireland premises provides a good example for those interested in such an exercise.
Beside this building is the three-storey County Arms erected about 1786.
Hibernian Insurance and others
At this point it would be well to take a look at the eastern side of High Street before proceeding further. After Dunne’s shop is a fine three-storey, seven-bay house with a Gibbsian doorcase. This house was built in 1750 for Colonel Thomas Crow. Next is the Ritz cinema built in 1946 at a cost of £30,000. The cinema seats 1,200 and was remarkably good for a provisional town in the post-war years. Further up is a private residence of two storeys over a basement built in the 1780s. Beside it are the showrooms of J.A. Kilroy and Sons. Behind the facade of c. 1959 was an interesting early 18th century building.
Christian Brothers house
This is a large three-storey, five-bay house over a basement and was erected in 1789 by Revd Dr Thomas Wilson, professor of natural philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin. Dr Wilson married a daughter of Nicholas Crawford, the Tullamore barrack master, who lived
in the house next door now used as furniture show rooms. Wilson is reported to have spent £2,000 on the house – his wife’s marriage portion. One of the children of the marriage, Jane Wilson, married Joseph Daunt of Co. Cork and it was in this house that the politician and historian, O’Neill Daunt, was born in 1807. On the back garden of the house is the Christian Brothers secondary school for boys, erected in 1960.
It will be noticed that at this point the street line changes on the eastern side. There is evidence to suggest that the houses from Allen’s shop to Horan’s shop were built in the 1750s. The same holds true of the houses between the entrance to the car park at Tara Street and the Presbyterian church (with the exception of the two houses nearest the church on the town side).
The Round House
An interesting house is the bow-fronted Round House with the Gibbsian doorcase. We already saw a doorcase of similar style in O’Connor Square. The houses here could be as early as 1720. Edward Crow lived here in the 1780s. Crow was responsible for the building of Crow Street (now Tara Street) of which nothing survives except the gable wall of a Methodist church, near the entrance to the Garden of Eden dance hall.
The Crow Street houses were built about 1810. In the 18th century this road led to the demesne of Revd Daniel Jackson which may have been located near the railway line and was described in 1766 as ‘a large convenient, well furnished house, containing twelve rooms on the first two floors, with closets to five of them, besides hall and pantry; with all necessary out-offices, stables, coach-house, dairy, laundry, brew-house, hen-house, and bleach yard; with out-rooms for men servants and store rooms; a large garden, well walled in, with several divisions planted with all kinds of fruit trees; likewise fish ponds, well stocked, and a large pigeon-house…’ In a memoir of O’Neill Daunt, his grandmother, Mrs Wilson, provides us with a nice account of life for the better off in the 18th century. She says of Mr Jackson’s house: ‘His apartments were furnished expensively and with elegance. There were paintings by foreign artists, and ornamental china. Mrs Jackson’s dressing-room was a perfect toy-shop of recherche nicknackery. The domestic staff included a butler, two footmen, a coachman, three gardeners, a housekeeper, two housemaids and a waiting-maid, besides the kitchen officials. Breakfast was at nine, dinner at three, tea at six, after which cards filled the time until ten, when supper was served…’ Nothing now survives of the house but I thought the above worth reproducing because it illustrates the social life of the period. More importantly, it points to how much the landscape below the dance hall has changed. The large bonded warehouse beside the grain drums was built in 1870 on the site of a gazebo probably connected with the Jackson establishment. Behind the dance hall is a field with broiler houses on it, erected in the 1960s. In a deed of 1761 the field was described as the island meadow surrounded by a mill race and the river. The mill race now ‘serves’ as a dangerously polluted drain. Near the bonded warehouse is a corn mill erected in the 1800s. These buildings are all on the distillery property and some are in a dangerous condition.
The Presbyterian church
Leaving the now deserted Crow Street we proceed to an attractive, plain church with pedimented ashlar facade and a projecting enclosed porch of identical design. The church was built for £300 and opened in 1865. The now-amusing Victorian equation of class with intelligence is apparent in a newspaper report of the opening ceremony: ‘About 160 persons of a respectable and intelligent class attended the opening services on Friday, and were all comfortably seated’.
Motor works house
Opposite the church is a three-storey, five-bay house built about 1758. In the 1820s and 1830s the house was used as a classical school for boarding and day boys preparing for university. Later in the century the very fine De Burgo O’Malley chalice (now in the National Museum) was found in a chest in the attic.
The houses between the Motor Works house and J.J. Horan’s shop are all late 18th century and early 19th century in date. Part of what is now the Marian hostel was once a boarding school. It has also the distinction of being the first house in Tullamore to install piped water when it became available in 1895. Prior to that time householders had to depend on wells which it was alleged were contaminated with seeping sewage.
Apart from one or two houses in Patrick Street we have now viewed all the mid-eighteenth century houses in the town. Almost all of the remaining houses in the main streets of the town were built between 1786 and 1840.
We should now be standing outside a very handsome house built in 1786 by Thomas Acres. The house faces down O’Moore Street and has a lawn in front. It was considered to be the finest in Tullamore in the 19th century but now there are several others which could compete for the title. Acres was a remarkable man about whom little is known of his early life other than that he was in some way connected to the earl of Charleville. He was responsible for building Cormac Street, O’Moore Street, Columcill Street, and less successfully, Offaly Street and Chapel Lane. Acres was the town’s leading property developer over a 50-year period until his death in 1837. Acres Hall may have been the first house to go up in Cormac Street. On the back garden of the house, better observed from the court house, is a mock tower house known as Acres folly, and said to have been erected about 1812. The houses between Acres Hall and Poole’s shop were built on the garden of Acres Hall and nearly all date from the 1800s.
Patrick Lloyd’s shop
However, close to Acres Hall are two houses built in 1899. Worthy of special mention is Patrick Lloyd’s shop with well carved console brackets, and in front of the windows polished brass rods.
Brian P. Adams house and the terrace
On the opposite side of the street is a massive three-storey house over a basement with four bays to O’Moore Street and four bays to Cormac Street. This was built about 1800 as
also was the terrace of six two-storey houses. The houses were first used to accommodate the army during the Napoleonic war years when its size was greatly increased in preparation for an invasion from France. A temporary barrack was built at the rear of the Cormac Street houses while the permanent barrack was located at Patrick Street. Benjamin Woodward, the architect, was born in the house beside that of Brian P. Adams,
solicitor, in 1816. His father was in the Meath militia and the family moved a few years later.
As one proceeds up Cormac Street past Poole’s shop a large field can be seen, in the southern corner of which is Kilcruttin graveyard. The graveyard has been closed since 1893 and is now in a terrible condition. There are about 60 tombstones here all of which date from the 1770s to the 1850s. The most interesting tombstones here are those erected to members of the German legion in the first decade of the 19th century. Also of interest, but in a deplorable state, is the Burgess mausoleum.* It should, of course, be remembered that the number of slabs does not in any way represent the number of burials. We are reminded of the horrors of the Famine years in a letter written by the Revd. E.F. Berry to the Tullamore board of guardians in 1852. Berry wrote ‘ I beg leave to inform you that within the last few days I have been inspecting the graveyard of Kilcruttin where the greater number of persons who die in the Tullamore Poorhouse are buried, and I find that it is now so full that no more than 1,000 paupers have been buried within the last few years and according to Patrick Gorman’s return to me, 200 have been laid there within the past year…’
Almost immediately after the letter had been received, the earl of Charleville made land available at Clonminch for a graveyard (near the water tower) and also land at Arden Road
for a graveyard for the work-house. However, Catholics continued to use the graveyards at Durrow and Kilbride until a graveyard was opened at Clonminch Road in 1893.
From Cormac Street a view can be obtained of the Tullamore river taking its meandering course towards Rahan where it meets the Clodiagh and eventually flows into the Brosna. Once again in view, are the distillery buildings and the corn mill. The modern, massive grain storage bins can also be seen. No malt is made at Tullamore now. This is a grain collection point where the grain is dried and stored until ready to be sent to a pneumatic plant at Banagher. Between here and the railway line are three urban council schemes, Marian Place, Pearse Park, and O’Molloy Street. The latter was erected on the site of houses built for army pensioners in the 1820s or 1830s.
* Both graveyard and mausoleum are much improved because of repair word carried out by the urban council in recent months.
The Court House
The building of a county court at Tullamore in 1833 signified complete victory in a 50-year old battle to have Tullamore designated the county town in place of Daingean (Philipstown) ten miles east of Tullamore, which was no longer considered suitable because of its remote location and poor accommodation facilities. The owners of Daingean, the influential Ponsonby family, successfully defeated moves in the Irish house of commons to have the assizes transferred in 1784 and again in 1786. The building of a county gaol at Tullamore in 1826 was seen as an essential preliminary in the transfer. As soon as the gaol was completed it was argued that the county court house should follow, much to the chagrin of the Ponsonby family and the people of Daingean. Lord Tullamore reckoned that the building of a county court house at Tullamore would bring as much as £500 profit to the town each time the assizes were held. The Ponsonby influence was a great deal less at Westminister than it had been at College Green, and with the backing of the government an act was put through parliament in 1833 transferring the assizes to Tullamore.
The passing of the act confirmed the grand jury (the oligarchical predecessor of the Offaly County Council) in its intention to build a new court house at Tullamore, and in 1833 almost £10,000 was voted for this purpose. Following a competition in which there were over 20 participants, J.B. Keane was named as the architect. Keane’s plan was for a Grecian or neo-classical court house, not unlike that William Vitruvius Morrison had built at Tralee and Carlow. Here, access had been provided to two semi-circular court rooms from corridors surrounding them. Apparently, the prototype was Sir Robert Smirke’s Gloucester court house. In a letter to the Irish Chief Secretary in 1829, Lord Tullamore wrote: ‘I have been at Exeter and shall visit Gloucester court-house, on my road to Ireland, for the purpose of adopting all the latest improvements.’ Lord Tullamore opted for a neo-classical design, but he would have preferred something more akin to the style of the gaol. Writing to his wife in 1833 he remarked: ‘We have selected a capital plan of the court-house as far as internal accommodation and convenience, but with Grecian elevation, which I fear will clash with the gaol, but I could not get them to give a decent Saxon, Norman, rustic or Elizabethan plan! The democratic party runs so high, that out of all the plans, all Grecian, we chose the plainest exterior, fearing a traverse of the assizes. On the 29th we meet to declare a contractor…’ The court house was completed in 1835. It was often remarked afterwards that it was virtually impossible to make oneself heard in either of the semi-circular court rooms. Not that it prevented election meetings from being held there which were a great deal more boisterous than anything we know.
The visitor to the court house today will note that only one semi-circular court room survives – the crown court where criminal cases were tried. The court house was burned in 1922 on the departure of the republican forces from the town. The Free State government decided to rebuild and work began in 1925 under the supervision of the architect, T.F. McNamara. He decided not to adhere to the original ground plan and only one of the semi-circular court rooms was retained. The new building cost £32,000 and was opened in 1927.
County Gaol now Tullamore Yarns Ltd.
Further up Cormac Street is the gothic-style facade of the old county gaol. Behind the facade are modern factory buildings. Gaols and workhouses are often viewed as the symbols of ‘British tyranny in Ireland’, but the truth is often complex. The gaol at Tullamore was one of a number built in the first half of the 19th century as a result of the prison reform acts of 1810 and 1826. In 1820 the King’s County Grand Jury appointed a committee ‘to fix upon a site and procure plans for a county gaol’. A report on the Daingean gaol, then the county gaol, found it to be out of touch with the reforming spirit: ‘On the whole the establishment seems adapted to further corruption of the prisoners and increase of vice from the want of all power of classification, inspection and employment’. The grand jury’s committee, after looking at Galway decided upon that at Limerick designed by James Pain in 1821. However, the Tullamore gaol was to be smaller by about two-fifths. Like Limerick it had a polygonal tower at the centre but with four rays of buildings diverging from it instead of five.
Lord Tullamore, eldest son of the earl of Charleville, was very much involved in the political manoeuvring that apparently was necessary to obtain support for the building of a gaol and later a court house at Tullamore. In a letter to his step-brother he gives us an amusing account of the laying of the foundation stone of the gaol: ‘I feel it will give you great pleasure to hear that the first stone is laid, and of my great success. I shall leave others to describe the scene. I feel it is impossible to do justice to it, and to you it will appear impossible as you did not witness it. The lowest calculation makes the multitude amount to 30,000. Mr Killaly says between 70,000 and 100,000, and is so convinced he is right he is going to measure the ground they covered and make a calculation… Such dense, enormous masses of well-dressed, orderly good-humoured people, such extraordinary enthusiasm; when I addressed them, you might have heard a pin fall, and the enthusiastic shouts of applause were tremendous. Everything went off beyond my most sanguine expectations; and after the ceremony I was chaired in a crimson and gilt chair, covered with laurels, and in my life anything like the wild hissing and shouting. I never saw or could have imagined. The town, every single house, was illuminated, many most tastefully… A beautiful fire-balloon with my arms etc. was sent up, so constructed as to discharge fireworks and have the appearance of a fiery meteor’. To be fair to Lord Tullamore, not that he needs anyone to speak for him, he did play a major part in having the gaol and court house built at Tullamore. In regard to the number attending the ceremony it should be remembered that prior to the Famine the population of the county was about 150,000 or three times the present figure.
The gaol was opened in April 1830, the prisoners having been transferred by canal barge from Daingean. In the first report of the board of superintendence made to the grand jury in July of that year it was noted: ‘As this was the first attempt at gaol discipline in the King’s County, the prisoners when ordered to work, made violent opposition, some of them
refused to obey and became refractory, but steady and cool remonstrance with a few instances of solitary confinement brought them to a sense of duty’. The gaol was built to accommodate 120 prisoners but during the Famine years the number ‘accommodated’ rose dramatically and in 1849 the gaol had 321 inmates. Many had committed petty offences in order to get into gaol to be fed. Tullamore prison gained considerable notoriety in the 1880s when the leading Plan of Campaign prisoners, William O’Brien, John Manderville and T.D. Sullivan were incarcerated here. Manderville died soon after his release, allegedly from ill treatment. On the morning of the inquest the prison doctor, George Ridley, tragically took his own life. Ridley comes across as a generous individual who had been put under great strain by nationalist opinion on the one side and the prison authorities on the other. The last public hanging in Ireland took place at this gaol in 1865 when Laurence King was hanged for the murder of Lieutenant Clutterbuck. The case was tried by the 89-year old Lord Chief Justice Lefroy and was made the basis for a charge of incapacity against the Lord Chief Justice in the house of commons. Lefroy retired in 1866. Tullamore gaol was also the scene of the last hanging of a woman in Ireland in 1903.
By the 1900s the number detained in the prison had declined considerably. However, the prison was again in the news in 1913 when some of the suffragettes were sent to Tullamore. During the Anglo-Irish war (1919-21) the gaol and the court house were taken over by the British military. The remaining prisoners were transferred to Mountjoy in November 1921. During the civil war (1922-3) both the gaol and the court house were taken over by the ‘Irregulars’ or republican forces who sand-bagged the place in anticipation of an attack from the national army. The republican forces had a change of mind about this and on the morning of 19 July 1922 the gaol, court house and military barrack were set on fire by the departing republicans. In 1937-8 the site of the gaol was cleared to provide a site for a spinning mill for Salts (Ireland) Ltd., now Tullamore Yarns Ltd. The factory was the backbone of the town’s economy for over 30 years. Prior to 1966 the work force was up to 1,000 strong but has now fallen to 250. The iron work to the front of the gaol and court house dates from 1835. At the gaol entrance gates may be seen the Roman symbols of authority, the fasces, a bundle of rods from which an axe projected.
Before leaving Cormac Street it should be mentioned that the six houses between Coleman’s Lane and the court house date from the 1830s to the 1850s. The two houses nearest the court house have good round-headed doorcases with doric fluted columns. Beside the gaol gates is a terrace of houses for gaol warders of turnkeys and dated to the 1860s to 1880s. The same looseness surrounds the dating of the terrace of ten two-storey houses opposite the gaol. These may have been built in 1879. Only four of the houses still retain their original porches with pierced bargeboarding. At the end of the terrace is an attractive pair of single-storey houses over basements, in yellow brick. These ‘cottage’ style houses were erected in 1841.
The Railway Station
We now move to the railway bridge. The Great Southern and Western Railway Company was responsible for building the railway line through Tullamore. The first stage from Portarlington to Tullamore terminated at Clonminch in 1854, and a railway station was built there. By October 1859 the line from Tullamore to Athlone had been constructed and opened. Two years later, the inhabitants of Tullamore, through the Hon. Alfred Bury, petitioned the railway company to build a station nearer the town because Clonminch was considered to be a great distance from the town centre. By 1865 a new station had been completed at Charleville Road. The pedestrian bridge over the railway line was recently taken from Roscrea and re-erected at Tullamore. Beside the station is the road to the Kilcruttin national schools. This road is of recent date. To the right of it is Kilcruttin Lane which terminated at the graveyard.
The demesne of Charleville will be looked at in another publication dealing with the environs of Tullamore. The Charleville Road houses all date from the 1900s with the exception of Elmfield – the house between the railway line and the road to Spollinstown -which is late 18th century in date, but perhaps with 19th-century additions.
Moving back down Cormac Street and into O’Moore Street, opposite Acres Hall, we find ourselves once again beside houses built by Thomas Acres on the right or southern side. This street was formerly known as Earl Street and also Windmill Street. There were two windmills situated in a field behind the Cormac Street-O’Moore Street houses. Both windmills seem to have been out of use by 1800 and today only a pile of stones remain. The terrace of seven two-storey houses with gardens in front, on the southern side near the road to Spollanstown were built by a Tullamore printer, Richard Willis in 1837-8. Willis took a 100-year lease of the plot of ground for £21 a year and gave similar leases of the houses for £14 each annual rent.
On the town side of O’Moore Street are two very attractive houses, Moore Hall and The Cottage. Both these houses are opposite the terrace just mentioned and have gardens in front. Moore Hall was erected about 1750 and was built for Richard Moore who had a shop in High Street. The house was considerably improved in the mid-19th century and has an impressive doorcase. Beside the house is a castellated coach entrance and gothic-style stables in a cobbled yard. The remains of a gas lamp may be seen on the railings at the front.
The Cottage is thought to have been built in the early 1800s and is a single-storey house over a basement. It has a very fine pointed doorcase and large three-light windows.
Beside the Cottage is the masonic lodge with the masonnic arms over the door. The house was used for quaker meetings until 1884 when it was purchased by the Tullamore masonic lodge. The original glazing bars are still intact.
From this point to the Motor Works has been considerably developed since the 1850s. Originally there were 16 single-storey houses here, built on the back garden of the Motor Works house by a speculative builder and cabinet maker, Christopher Woods.
Those who like walking are recommended to go to the Clonminch bridge to see the old railway station opened in 1854 and closed about ten years later. Near the bridge is the Catholic graveyard opened in 1893. The large celtic cross was erected as a memorial to a parish priest, Fr. Behan, in 1900, and was carved by Messrs. J. & H. Bracken of Templemore. Beyond the Clonminch bridge and near the water tower is the Church of Ireland graveyard opened in 1852. Beside the bridge on the left is Chancery Lane, or Lovers Lane, the only country lane near the town.
The houses between the Catholic graveyard and O’Moore Street all date from the 1900s. The two ‘fine blocks of double villas’ on the eastern side were erected by a former secretary of the Offaly County Council in 1909. On the western side are eight houses erected by P. & H. Egan Ltd. in 1935. Looking down towards Bachelors Walk or New Road is a fine red brick house erected in 1910. Red brick was used in a number of houses in Tullamore in the 1900s. This house was built for £1,700 but was sold in the 1920s for a £1,000 – a reminder of the very different economic circumstances then prevailing.
Bachelors Walk, also known as New Road, was laid out about 1815 or the year St Catherine’s church was opened. The road was part of the earl of Charleville’s scheme for the improvement of the town. The avenue was planned so as to command a view of Croghan hill, the home of the Charleville family until the 1700s. It is not clear who was responsible for the design, but it may have been John C. Loudon, the botanist and garden designer, who was employed at Charleville in 1812. In recent years the road has been under attack from the motor vehicle and the local authority sanitation schemes and is showing signs of the strain. The houses here were erected from the late 1940s.
St Catherine’s Church
The church, designed by Francis Johnston, was built in the gothic style with a Latin cross plan, side-aisles, a tower at the west, and a crypt at the east end. The impressive site of Hop hill was chosen by Parson Gouldsbury in 1808. It is frequently stated that this hill is an artificial mound formed from the material excavated to make Charleville lake. However, the truth is less fanciful. Originally more pointed, the hill is a natural one. The church was erected at a cost of £7,000 and completed in 1815.
The church contains ‘an elaborate memorial now partly broken up’ to Charles Moore, first earl of Charleville of the first creation, who died in 1764. The monument, by John Van Nost, was commissioned by the first earl’s brother-in-law, John Bury. Unfortunately, Bury did not live to enjoy the 20,000-acre estate he had inherited and was drowned while bathing at Ringsend, Dublin in the same year. Dying before the monument was completed he is commemorated on the monument in the form of a bust. John Wesley saw the monument in the old church and wrote in his journal at 25 June 1767: ‘I was desired to look
at the monument lately erected for the earl of Charleville. It observes “That he was the last of his family, the great Moores of Croghan”….’
The glebe house near the church was erected in 1814 at a cost of £821. It was in this house that the astronomer Charles Jasper Joly was born in 1864.
The second stage of the tour begins at Hayes’ hotel on the northern side of the river. A church was built here in 1726 on a site now occupied by the Foresters hall and McCann’s shop. It remained in use until the opening of St Catherine’s church in 1815. The new church can be seen at the foot of Church Street. The street did not extend any further than the old church until the erection of a factory building by enterprising linen merchants in 1754. This factory was located opposite the county infirmary at the turn for O’Carroll Street. The bridge beside the bacon factory was erected in 1795, opening up the street for traffic from Daingean, and later Killeigh and Geashill. Until that time the street was not much more than a lane and was sometimes referred to as such.
Building leases for the upper half of Church Street date from 1786 and 1790. The lower half is wider and leases for it date from 1790 on the north side and on the south side from 1805. Francis Johnston, the architect, was responsible for the design of lower Church Street. Johnston was visiting Tullamore at the time in connection with the building of Charleville castle. Most likely, he decided on the width of the street and the size and height of the terrace between the methodist church and the county infirmary. Most of the houses below the Charleville school were built after 1840.
Hayes’ hotel, formerly known as the Charleville Arms, was erected by the first earl of Charleville in 1786 at a cost of £200. It was then leased on a perpetual renewalbasis for £15 a year. It is probable that the inn was built to promote that case for having Tullamore made the county town, then under review by parliament. The hotel had 13 beds at this time which was considered by the Grand Company to be inadequate. As a result an hotel was built by the company at St Brigid’s Place in 1801. Mr James Hayes acquired the hotel in 1876 and sold it to P. & H. Egan Ltd. in 1905, who later set up the Midland Hotels Co. Ltd. The garden of the hotel extended as far as the Methodist church. The buildings here all vary in date from the 1840s to the 1880s.
This church was opened in 1889 and cost £2,000 to build. The building is in local limestone with some use made of Portland stone. The entrance door and most of the woodwork is pitchpine. There were two earlier Methodist churches on the site dating from 1786, if not earlier.
The houses here were erected from 1805 to 1810. Francis Johnston fixed on eleven building plots but thirteen houses were built.
This is Tullamore’s oldest public building and was erected in 1788. The building is of considerable architectural importance because of its function. There is no doubt that O’Carroll Street was designed so that the county infirmary would close off the vista at the western end. The infirmary is to be demolished but it is expected that the old facade will be restored should a new building be erected on the site.
The building of a new infirmary at Church Street in 1788 coincided with the redevelopment of the town by the earl of Charleville. The infirmary was built for £490 but was enlarged in 1812 at a cost of £800. It was reported in 1801 that the infirmary ‘is humanely attended to by Lady Charleville, and a machine for restoring life to persons apparently drowned, is now erecting at her ladyship’s expense!’ The somewhat notorious judge, Baron Smith, of Newtown near Geashill, very kindly offered to give 114 yards of good linen annually for the patients underwear so long as he approved of the management of the institution. The infirmary, which catered for up to 50 patients at a time was closed in 1921. The workhouse hospital served the area until the building of the county hospital in the late 1930s. The infirmary building accommodated the Civic Guards for a few years followed by the county library which was housed here until 1977.
Over the river bridge is D.E. Williams Ltd cash and carry. This was first used as a glass factory in the years 1943 to 1945. The barrel-vaulted shed beside it operated as the Tullamore laundry, later the Snow White laundry, from 1906 until about 1938. The creamery and bacon factory were established in 1928 and 1944, respectively, and give employment to about 100.
Moving back into Church Street again, there are no buildings on the southern side of interest other than the Charleville school. This very attractive building in rough-cut limestone ashlar and with georgian glazing bars, was built in 1811. Erected by the earl of Charleville for the education of the poor children of the parish, it was operated originally on the plan on Joseph Lancaster. Lancaster’s system was to have small classes with the elder pupils doing much of the teaching of the younger. Louisa Tisdall, a daughter of the countess of Charleville by her first marriage, wrote a few interesting details about the school in 1824: ‘The school was built by Papa and is a handsome building. It was originally arranged by dear Mama on the Lancasterian plan, but in our absenceit was remodelled and is now a mixture of the Bell system and Lancaster’s with other additions. Introducing the bible among the school books has given great offence to the Catholics, and the whole thing was nearly overturned: there are still however a tolerably good attendance of children in the boys school; the girls we hope to revive soon again – but subscriptions were withdrawn in our absence and as usual it will all fall again on Mama’s purse. The schoolmaster is clever but appears methodistical… The Irish peasantry have great natural quickness and talent, and a warmth of feeling very congenial to my own. Were they but educated, civilised, done justice to, would they not be a charming people’.
Standing at Hayes’ hotel we can get a good view of Patrick Street, formerly Barrack Street. A barrack was erected here for two companies of foot in 1716. It was burned in 1922 and U.D.C. housing and a Garda station built on the site. The military barrack brought about 100 soldiers to the town and is thought to have been a major factor in the town’s growth because of the increased demand for goods and services that followed its arrival. After the 1870s, soldiers were stationed at Tullamore only at infrequent intervals.
Head Office of Williams Group
Patrick Street was rebuilt after the balloon fire of 1785, and probably widened at this time. The fire destroyed about 100 houses, mostly thatched, or about one-third of the town’s housing stock. A few houses survived the fire, including the head office of the Williams Group. This house was built about 1760 by George Ross, a brewer. It now serves as the headquarters of a leading Irish company associated with Tullamore since 1884.
Supermarket (now Quinnsworth)
Near the head office of the Williams Group is a D.E. Williams Ltd supermarket. This building was reconstructed in 1941-2 to a design of Michael Scott, and was finished in Clonaslee stone. In the Murals Bar beside the supermarket may be seen work by the artist Sean O’Sullivan.
Marrons Shoe Shop (now Domnic Feely)
It is always interesting to trace back a business to its roots. Marron’s shop on the southern side of the street originated in a tannery established by Michael Mulready in the 1830s. Mulready occupied the building, now the Oasis cake shop, and had his tannery at the rear. In the car park at the rear of the Copper Urn public house may be seen his name and the date 1832 inscribed on the warehouse building. The move from tannery to manufactured shoes purchased elsewhere illustrates the general trend away from the self sufficient country town. The ease with which goods could be imported from Britain following the building of the railways played a big part in undermining small industries.
Past the head office of the Williams Group is the Capital Bar. This three-storey building dates from about 1840. The date stone of the original building on this site with the inscription ‘Andrew Grier 1742′ may be seen set in the path near the entrance.
The Bolger Arms hotel can be dated back to the 1850s but it has been enlarged since that time.
On the southern side of the street again, the public house of R. Smyth was formerly a mill house with stores, a flour mill and kiln at the rear. The mill was incorporated in the Tullamore distillery in the 1830s.
K. Dunne, Walsh
Before leaving Patrick Street the very fine shopfronts of K. Dunne and Walsh are worth noting. Patrick Street is now the major shopping area of the town and is likely to lose such residential character as it still retains.
The most interesting house in Kilbride Street is undoubtedly the Mallet Tavern, the only surviving thatched house in the town. This house may predate the fire of 1785. It has been in the Molloy family for many generations. Many of those who frequented it in the last century were masons working at the limestone quarries at Ballyduff and Sragh.
We can return to Columcille Street (William Street) through Kilbride Park. On the left, across the canal are the Clontarf Road houses thatched cabins. The very fine bonded warehouse beside the canal was erected by Daniel E. Williams in 1897. The company had its own canal barge which continued to ply between Tullamore and Dublin until 1957.
Irish Mist Liquer Co. Ltd.
East of the bonded warehouse are the attractive offices of the Irish Mist Liquer Co. Ltd, erected in 1966-7. The whiskey-based liquer has been manufactured here since the late ‘forties and is now exported to over 100 countries. Visitors are welcome at the company’s office after 3 p.m. each day.
Beside the Irish Mist buildings is Offaly Street, formerly known as Wheelwright Lane. The street was developed by Thomas Acres who purchased portion of the back garden of the Columcille Street houses he already had. However, the street was in a backward, sunless area and failed to attract very much besides cabins, many of which have since been demolished. The large two-storey houses at H. Collins Ltd. represent the beginning of an ambitious plan that failed to take off. Proceeding through Offaly Street we emerge at Byrne’s public house and make our way towards Hayes’ hotel.
Better known as William Street (after Charles William Bury, first earl of Charleville) but prior to the 1800s known as Pound Street. The pound was in the area of the derelict houses at the Kilbeggan bridge. There was little development here before 1790. In that year a plan of the street with building plots was made by the architect, John Pentland. Where we now have the opening to Harbour Street was reserved in 1790 for a court house. However, another 40 years was to pass before a site would be required. Thomas Acre took leases of almost all of this street from the landlord and building began about 1795.
This was a massive drapery store by provincial standards and was erected by Malachy Scally in 1911-14. Scally is said to have taken the design from a shop in Brussels, but T.F. McNamera supervised the work here. The original, more decorative window frames, were recently removed. It is said locally that Scally’s business declined as a result of the building of this grand store because country people were afraid to go into it!
Allied Irish Banks
The Allied Irish Banks branch is by J. Boyd-Barrett and was erected in 1949-50.
Beside the bank is the very nice shop front of Dolan’s pharmacy with six engaged doric fluted columns. An interesting fact about this shop is that successive chemists or apothecaries have carried on business here since 1796, which must be a record in the town in regard to continuity of function. There is not a great deal else in Columcille Street that is of particular interest therefore let us turn right into Harbour Street.
Like Church Street, Patrick Street and Convent Road, this street is at a right angle to the main street in accordance with the first earl’s grid iron style town plan. The harbour at the
eastern end was completed in 1799. There is no evidence of residential development here prior to that date. The landlord made building plots available on the northern side of the street (from the Co-op to Cunninghams) in 1805 and building began immediately. The development was an orderly one with uniformity in regard to frontage and elevation. The southern side from Finlay’s shop to the maltings is not so well planned and is a development of the 1820s. Progress on this side was restricted because the back garden of what is now Finlay’s shop extended to the E.S.B. office. The lease dated from 1790 and indicates that the landlord had not envisaged the development of Harbour Street some years later.
Access to Tullamore’s second market square, an unusual town feature, can be gained from Deane Place, opposite the Church gates in Harbour Street. The leaseholders on the northern side of Harbour Street and the southern side of Church Street had to go without
the benefit of long gardens so that the landlord could provide a new market place. This square was formerly known as the Cornmarket and was laid out about 1823.
Of interest here is the Grand Central cinema. The cinema is on part of the site of the old meat market which in turn was erected on the site of the town’s first Protestant church. Mr T.F. McNamera provided plans for the erection of a cinema and alterations to the Tullamore Co-operative Society building erected in 1921 and incorporated in the Foresters’ development. The work was carried out by Duffy Brothers and the cinema opened in 1924.
At the eastern end of the square is the Egan-Tarleton property which contains grain handling plant etc. This place was built in 1822 as a distillery and continued as such until the 1840s. It was then used as a temporary workhouse and later as a steam saw mills and a maltings.
GAS WORKS LANE
We now leave the Market Square and return to Harbour Street through Gas Works Lane. Tullamore obtained piped gas in 1880 and this continued to be used until electricity became generally available in 1921. At the foot of Harbour Street is St. Philomena’s girls primary school erected in 1932. The school was built on the site of the old Foresters hall burned in 1920 by the Black and Tans.
Opposite St Philomena’s is the new Vocational School opened in the early 1970s and north of it the Sacred Heart secondary school for girls opened in the 1950s. O’Carroll Street also known as Henry Street (probably after Henry Manley) dates from 1810. The terrace of 12 two-storey houses on the eastern side was built in the late 1830s. O’Carroll Street was the site of a house built by John Moore in the 1700s. John Moore became the first Lord Tullamore in 1715. His son Charles, moved to Redwood, a house near Charleville castle in 1740 and the Tullamore house fell into ruin. It is thought to have been located near the Charleville school.
In an attempt to keep the narrative in some kind of chronological order we move back to Chapel Street. Chapel Street did not share the same fate as Offaly Street probably because of the Catholic church on the eastern side. Like Offaly Street most of it was on the Acres estate. One or two good houses were erected here on the western side and also on the eastern side nearest Harbour Street but the development failed to take off. The rest of the houses were cabins let on short leases. There has been a lot of rebuilding here since the 1900s. In this street is the town’s last farmyard. This contrasts remarkably with the position in 1900 when a lot of people in the town kept cows and pigs etc. on the back gardens of their dwellings. The cock crowing in the early morning can still be heard in the town but is becoming very rare.
The church of the Assumption of our Blessed Lady
This church was completed in October 1906 and is on the site of a church built about 1800. The first post-Reformation Catholic church in the Tullamore area was erected in 1775 at Ballyduff (near the Burlington factory). This was a small T-shaped building some of the walls of which are still standing. In 1794 the proprietor of Tullamore presented the present site to the parish priest and a church was erected here before 1802. By all accounts it was a fine building, to which additions were made in 1808 and again before 1850. In 1808 the parish priest, Fr Kearney, petitioned the directors of the Grand Canal Company for a contribution towards the building of an addition to the chapel because ‘the enlargement of the chapel has in part become necessary from the great number of people that resort it, in proceeding to your passage boats, more particularly from the province of Connaught, and also the large portion of the labouring poor employed on your works, whose morals, if not attended to, might become so depraved as to endanger the security of your extensive works, which tho’ executed with great judgement, are still vulnerable in many parts’. Fr Kearney’s services as moral policeman were accepted and he received £50 from the canal company for the church building fund.
The church was getting into a bad state of repair by the end of the century and the then parish priest, Fr Behan, decided to build a new one. The foundation stone was laid by Dr Nulty, bishop of Meath, on 5 June 1898. Mr William Hague was commissioned as architect, and it was expected that the building would cost £15,000. In the event it cost over £25,000. The architect died while the work was in progress and the new church was completed by T.F. McNamera. A description of the church in The Irish Builder (20 Oct. 1906) is worth reproducing.
A large and important church was dedicated on Sunday week by the Most Revd. Dr. Gaughran, Bishop of Meath, at Tullamore. The church, which has but recently been completed, was designed by the late Mr William Hague, and built under the supervision of Mr. T.F. McNamera, of Dublin. The building, which is Gothic, is about 200 feet from the ground, 172 feet in the length from outside east wall to the west door, the nave 36 feet wide, side aisles 18 feet wide each. The sanctuary has on each side two chapels, behind one of which is the sacristy, and near the other a well-lighted room reserved for the nuns who have easy access to their convent. The chancel arch rests on two columns and smaller pillars of Galway granite. Over the alters the groined roof is of fibrous plaster, while that of the centre is of pitch pine. The windows contain cathedral glass, and perfection appears to have been reached in the ventilation, heating, and lighting, the last being by means of electric installation. At the west end is the organ, an instrument the look of which is in harmony with the whole edifice, and was supplied by Telford, of Dublin. The High Alter is a magnificent proof of the sculptor’s art. It is of Sicilian marble with panels of Carara and shafts of Cork and Connemara marble, the artists being Messrs. Malone, also of Dublin. There are already also stained glass windows and the Stations, in oils. The stone materials were taken from the local quarries, and, as far as possible, local tradesmen and labourers were employed throughout. For the dedication, the new R.C. Bishop of Meath, Dr. Gaughran, attended, and he was assisted by Dr. Hoare, of Ardagh.
In 1930 the walls of the sanctuary were decorated in mosaics at a cost of over £2,500, by Messrs Oppenheimer of Manchester. The church and grounds were renovated in 1977 at a cost of £35,000.
Moving through the church grounds to the eastern end of the church we emerge at Store Street. The making of this street was a direct result of the completion of the Grand Canal as far as Tullamore in 1798. Over the high wall opposite the church is the canal harbour. Stores were built on the harbour side of this street about 1800. The plot of ground between the canal at Convent Road and Harbour Street was conveyed to the canal company by Lord Charleville for the provision of a harbour, stores and a hotel. Building on the western side began in 1805-6. One Laurence Behan, erected six three-storey houses the first of which is at Cunningham’s car show rooms and the last at the house north of the Store Street church entrance. When Behan was declared bankrupt in 1810 the six houses were sold for £1,000. The next two houses are identical in style and were built by William Frazer in 1807.
Between Chapel Street and Store Street is Benburb Street, perhaps better known by its former name Thomas Street (probably after Thomas Manley). Most of the houses here date from the 1830s replacing cabins erected in the 1800s. St Mary’s hall, originally a single-storey building was opened about 1861 for the C.Y.M.S.
ST BRIGID’S PLACE
Following the road east of Benburb Street we move into St Brigid’s Place. The nice georgian house on the corner with two storeys over a basement, was built in 1800 to accommodate the boat fare collector. Beside this house is a community centre, formerly St Brigid’s national school. The school house was built by the Christian Brothers about 1875. Next, is the new parochial house built for the Catholic clergy of the parish and completed in 1974. This building is on the site of the old Grand canal hotel.
The canal hotel
The hotel was erected in 1801 and demolished in 1974. The building, with three storeys over a basement and seven bays, was identical to that at Roberstown which still survives. Tullamore was the terminus of the Grand canal for six years until the extension to Shannon Harbour was completed in 1804. It was an enormous benefit to the town because it provided a direct link with Dublin and made it possible to transport goods at low costs. A canal engineer, Captain Evans, had recommended in 1798 that a hotel be built in the town because of the inadequate accommodation available. A hotel was needed for passengers, who, having left Dublin at 6 a.m. would not arrive in Tullamore until 8 p.m. The canal company built five hotels in all, but they were not a financial success. The competition from coaches and the desire of passengers to travel to their destinations as quickly as possible made the hotels unnecessary. On completion of the Tullamore hotel in 1801 the company leased it for three years at £114 annual rent. This was not allowing very much for return on capital as it had cost £4,399. The lease was renewed in 1804, but by 1807 business had declined because of a change in boat timetables. At this point the company decided to employ their own hotel keeper at two guineas a week, but he was later dismissed because of ‘the misconduct of his wife’. In 1838 it was reported that the hotel ‘is
generally empty’. The building was used as a temporary hospital in the years 1845 to 1851. In 1859 the building opened as St. Brigid’s seminary, and from 1862 it was shared between the Christian Brothers. When the seminary closed in 1866 that part of the house came to be occupied by the Catholic curates. The parish priest took up residence with his
curates in 1893 on the departure of the Christian Brothers. The building was demolished in late 1974.
Across from the new parochial house is Bury bridge built in 1799. The bridge and the area of the east of it are also known as Whitehall.
North of Bury Bridge, across the canal, is the old road to Mullingar. Before the canal was constructed this area was known as Connaught Street and had a number of cabins. After the building of the canal the principal’cabin suburbs’ were north of the canal at Clontarf Road and Rapparee Alley (the above mentioned old road to Mullingar). Convent Road, also known as Bury Quay, was laid out for building plots in 1805. The area between Store Street and Bury bridge was already owned by the canal company and stores (still standing) were erected here in the 1800s. On the corner is St Columba’s classical school built in 1912. Part of this is still used as a school and the rest as a recreation centre. Like many other buildings in the town it was designed by T. F. McNamera.
Convent of Mercy and schools
Although it fronts Benburb Street and Store Street I have left the convent of Mercy and schools until now so that the visitor could be referred to the inscriptions on the building at Convent Road. These buildings were erected between 1961 and 1967 and replaced structures of varying dates including a convent in the gothic style completed in 1841. The Mercy nuns arrived in Tullamore in 1836 having come by canal from Dublin. The first convent was situated near the principle entrance to the present convent in Store Street and was a dwelling house similar to the houses still standing in that street. That the nuns came to Tullamore was largely as a result of the efforts of the town’s best known and most influential parish priest, Fr James O’Rafferty. Funds to found a convent at Tullamore were provided from the estate of a Miss Penthony, a wealthy Dublin lady who retired to Tullamore to work among the poor. She died in 1835.
From the school to the Kilbeggan bridge are seven houses similar to those in Cormac Street. These houses were erected about 1807. Plots of ground for the two houses west of the entrance to Chapel Street were leased to John Coffey. The houses are identical and have retained their original features including the glazing bars. The public house on the corner, built in two stages, exhibits the landlord’s concern for how the town looked. The portion of it fronting Columcille Street was erected in 1791-2, and that part fronting Convent Road about 1805 to 1807. There is a date stone set in the wall fronting Columcille Street. The lease, Charles Berry, undertook to build a house uniform with other houses to be erected in Convent Road, rather than with his own in Columcille Street. Incidentally, Berry received £125 compensation from the canal company for damage done to this house. The building of the canal bridge had placed the middle floor of his house on a level with the height of the street.
The Kilbeggan bridge, the last point in our walking tour, was erected in 1801-03. The bridge was reconstructed in 1929-30 by Duffy Brothers. Apparently there had been a good deal of opposition when the canal bridges were constructed, possibly because of the difficulties it created for horses trying to pull a load across it. In December 1802 Lord Charleville ‘promised to use his best endeavours to put an end to the opposition heretofore existing to the proposed situation and number of bridges to be built at Tullamore’. Apart from the building of a workhouse in 1841 very little development took place on the Arden Road until the present century. Most of the workhouse was demolished in recent years. Further out the Arden Road is the county hospital, erected in the late 1930s to a design of Scott and Good. The building was fronted in local limestone in order to encourage employment. Other interesting examples of modern architecture on this road are the Day Care Centre and Welfare Home on the site of the workhouse and the Health Centre on the hospital lawn.
The canal is now Tullamore’s most valued amenity. From the Kilbeggan bridge a good view can be obtained of the improvements carried out here since the 1960s by the U.D.C. in co-operation with Lakeland Tourism and Irish Mist. It is hoped that these improvements will continue and that the town itself will be planted with trees in years to come.