The families of O’Connor Square, Tullamore over two centuries

There may be no families resident in O’Connor Square in 2017 and the area is now almost entirely a public and commercial space with well-designed buildings, a memorial in memory of the war dead of 1914-18, a public library, the restaurant ‘Bake’ and a market house/’town hall’ to which the public have access for the most part due to its being a restaurant at ground level. The great footfall recipient today is the Post Office, fulfilling in the square what the credit union does in Patrick Street.

The same could be said of the Bank of Ireland. Its banking halls of the 1860s and the new late 1970s hall have been replaced by a warren of rooms and spaces so as to reduce public interface. The great managers of the past such as Gerry Burke Kennedy, Des Power and Claude Hill are affectionately remembered, especially by those who were favoured with credit or mercy at the appropriate juncture. Spare a thought when passing the bank for Mr T.D. Costello who was manager in 1916 and received news of his son’s death at the Somme. So also did Cecil McNeill, the grocer (from 1917, later Barry Keegan’s) who had two sons in the war one of whom was killed in 1917. His immediate neighbour in the square, Abraham Colton (living then in what is now Gray Cunniffe house) received the same news about his 21-year-old son in 1918. Dr Timothy Meagher, resident in no. 10 was fortunate and survived the war with honours. Yet, three young men dead in a square of 14 houses shows the extent of death and suffering in the war years and the sad memories.

Brolly Walshe talks to Joe Burke. The Walshe family lived at 4 High Street for up to 80 years, taking over the Poole garage in 1920.

Business and residential

The post office which was in the main square for almost 100 years (at no. 8, no. 2 and from 1909 at no. 4 O’Connor Square) is now situate on the western side of the square at no 2 High Street (since January 1997). The square proper never had a public house while the Brewery Tap on the western side at 3 High Street has served the public for well over 100 years. The great garage of G.N. Walshe replaced the Goodbody store which was in business from the 1840s to 1930. George Walshe had worked for R.H. Poole, the first Ford dealer in Tullamore who lived in the early 1900s at no. 4 High Street. The market house always had trading and civic functions with the former on the ground floor and the latter, a courthouse, and then an Anglican chapel on the upper floor. The market house function gave way to town hall by 1820. The branch offices of insurance companies, such as Hibernian and Yorkshire/General Accident occupied all or part of numbers 5 and 6 O’Connor Square.

Alo Kelly, well-known GAA player and aficionado who had the Sunshine Café in O’Connor Square for many years.

Of groceries the square had Goodbodys until 1930 and Cecil McNeill’s (at no. 2) until about 1969. McNeill was succeeded in this location by Barry Keegan. West of Keegan’s were drapery businesses for many years such as Ginnelly’s and Tony Corcoran’s. Miss Colton lived in no. 3 until the early 1980s while the Kelly family (of the three sons Jesuits fame) lived at no. 10 (now Farrell & Partners). At no. 11 was the Gaelic League rooms from 1933. Much later it was Kelly’s Sunshine Café and shop.

Census returns 1821-1911

Research has been done on the owners and occupiers of the square from the time of the granting of the leases (1740s to the 1780s) to the first valuation of the houses and the town in 1843. It was with that survey that house rates were introduced and survived until 1977, being reintroduced generally in 2012 and with more bite from 2013. The first rateable valuation was a detailed survey of property and very different to the self-assessment of recent times. The families of the early 1840s included Goodbody’s shop at 1 High Street (not resident). At no. 2 was Anthony Molloy, the brother of Michael and both of whom were in the distilling and liquor business. Beside him, in what is now the Brewery Tap, was William Deverell, a grocer and spirit merchant. At no. 1 in the square (no. 87 in the 1843 Valuation, later Ginnelly and a wine shop) was the haberdasher, Catherin Elcoate (Chissel by the mid-1850s). In no. 2 was the police barrack. This was in the early 1900s the post office and in the 1970s to the 1990s Barry Keegan’s. In no. 3 was the printing house of Richard Willis (now Gray Cunniffe). In no. 4 was the home of Thomas O’Flanagan and by the 1850s the solicitor Richard Whelan. In no. 5 (the Christian Brothers in the 1930s until 1951 and later Woodchester) was a barrister, Mr Daly. Possibly he was a brother, or the father, of the distiller Bernard Daly. The very respectable provision dealer, Patrick Aylward (of the Waterford family) lived in no. 5 – now BAKE – and had his business to the rear.

Henry Manly had his big house and brewery on the site of what is now the Tullamore Central Library while Mrs Deverell lived next door. The Acres Pierce estate owned numbers 9 and 10 (now Fahey and Farrell) and here were two private houses, one for Catherine Kennedy, a widow. She was almost certainly the wife of the solicitor George Kennedy. The house (now Farrell’s) was lived in by Elizabeth Dames. After the market house was a Miss Prentice, but by the 1850s the house was closed up and going out of repair. This would explain its demolition in the early 1870s.

The 1821 summary from the census of that year indicates that the total number living in the square in 1821 was 80 people, living in ten houses. This figure may have been arrived by excluding 1-3 High Street, the market house and treating 7 and 8 (Manly’s) as one property, reflecting its leasehold ownership. The position in 1901 and 1911 is much clearer.

State of O’Connor Square in 1901

In 1901 the square had 61 inhabitants and a total of 12 families. There were 12 inhabited houses and one uninhabited; all the houses were placed in the first class division. Out-buildings included 28 stables, 10 coach houses, four harness rooms, seven cow houses, a calf house and a dairy, four piggeries, five fowl houses and two bailing houses. Unlike other parts of Tullamore the population was not much less in 1901 than it had been in 1821 reflecting the first class housing, not subject to subdivision, as happened with some of the larger houses in Crowe/Tara Street, Tullamore and in parts of the cities. In 1901 the enumerators started with No 1 High Street (Goodbodys) where, surprisingly, none of the shopboys resided.

Alo O’Carroll, pawnbroker, of 2 O’Connor Square, now demolished, and part of the new Post Office

The pawn office of O’Carrolls had five people; five were in occupation in the Brewery Tap and just two in R.H. Poole’s (later G.N. Walshe shop). Poole, a Methodist, was a cycle agent but by 1913 had the first motor garage in Tullamore and the Ford agency. Forty one people were in occupation of the six first-class houses on the southern side of the square including Rafter, a draper; Kehoe, the postmaster; Killeavy, merchant and victualler; and the hotelier James Hayes. John Tarleton was in residence in the big house (but there is no census return available) and beside him in the former post office (no. 8 and now TSB) was Hugh T. Love. Here was the post office in earlier years. The corner house (no. 9) was vacant and no. 10 (now Farrell Solicitors) was occupied by Dorothy Woods and two others. The town house and the adjoining Goodbody brick warehouse were unoccupied. Of the 61 people 17 were servants or working in the ground floor shops. Of the twelve families six were R.C., five were Church of Ireland and one Methodist. All the houses were in the first class category with nine of the twelve inhabited houses having ten or more rooms. Occupancy level was low with only two families having eight or more people and these were relations or staff.

The Brewery Tap lounge in the 1950s

State of O’Connor Square in 1911 and since

In 1911 all the houses in the square were occupied but with significant turnover of more than half of the families since 1901. O’Carrolls were still in the pawn office. Peter Daly was now in the Brewery Tap and R.H. Poole and his London-born wife were the only occupants of no. 3 High Street in 1901. However, in 1911, on census night, the only occupants was his eight-year-old son, Leslie Gordon Poole and an 80-year old Nannie Yeates, a general help. W.J Rafter, the Church of Ireland draper, was across the street in the fourteen-room house used as his residence and drapery business. The Rafters were four in number and the other eight were working in the shop and the house. Killeavy’s had sold to Abraham Colton, an auctioneer and prominent golfer. The adjoining house was no longer a residence following the building of the new post office in 1909. James M. Bradshaw, the Antrim-born inspector of schools was now in no. 5 in place of James Hayes (who died in 1913). He was Church of Ireland and living with his Belgium-born wife, a son and a servant. The last house on the southern side (now Bake) was by 1911 Lowe’s Temperance Hotel. Here two spinster sisters from Westmeath, Kathleen and Henrietta Lowe, were the hotel proprietors and had one servant and five guests. These included the very eligible 23-year old veterinary surgeon J.S. McCann, a bank cashier and a solicitor’s managing clerk. Mary Anne Murphy was a 26-year old typist and she was joined by the Presbyterian manageress of the laundry (presumably the new one at Church Road), Elizabeth Neill. Religions were mixed in the house with four R.C., three Church of Ireland, one Presbyterian and one agricultural instructor, David T. Ritchie, who described himself as an Open Brother.

John Tarleton was in the big house (now the library) and adjoining was John Lavan in place of Hugh T. Love. Lavan, a school teacher in the boys’ national school moved to his new house on Charleville Road soon after. Dr Timothy Meagher, the surgeon in the infirmary was living in what is now Farrell’s offices and Anastasia O’Carroll nearby. Mrs O’Carroll was born in Waterford as was her 23-year-old son Eamonn who described himself in 1911 as a buachall siopa and wrote his name in Irish as did a colleague in the Excise. Over O’Carroll’s name was written by the enumerator ‘shopboy’. Eamonn O’Carroll was a prominent separatist in 1916 and was dismissed from Malachy Scally’s shop after the Tullamore Incident. He then opened his own shoe shop in Columcille Street but later moved back to Waterford. One John Longworth had nine people in two rooms in the square. These may have been close to the Lavan property as later the Longworth family kept a lodging house in the house demolished for the new Permanent TSB building in 1986.

The war in 1914 brought change too. For Timothy Meagher his was a good war with a Military Cross and other honours. Abraham Colton lost a son in the war while Mrs Lavan, the forty-five year-old-wife of the school teacher died in 1916. Mrs Poole was injured while in Dublin during the 1916 Rebellion and in 1920 her husband sold up his car business to his employee, G.N. Walshe. Tarleton’s great family home was demolished in 1936 to make way for the new vocational school. Mr Costello in the bank lost his son at the Somme. Mr McNeill’s in the grocery lost one of his two sons. The afflicted families laid wreaths at the memorial unveiling in 1926.

By the late 1960s there were only 28 registered voters in the square including the well-known Keeley and Kelly families. Beside the library were the Misses Mooney while the indomitable Miss Colton was living beside McNeill’s shop (later Keegan’s). On the western side of the square in High Street were O’Connors, Mulligans and the Walshe family of the garage business. Interestingly, with almost 65 voters in 1980 one can assume that there were almost as many people living in the square (including 1-3 High Street) as had been there in 1821 and in the early 1900s.