Renovating a period house in an Irish country town – No 6 High Street, Tullamore, by Tanya Ross

Tanya Ross tells the story of herself and her partner buying the former Kilroy dwelling house in High Street, Tullamore. It had been on the market for a considerable time and it did seem as if nobody wanted to live there. Probably a combination of lack of mortgages, fear of noise and nuisance from pubs and lorries contributed to the delay in selling what was and now is again a fine period house and one of the last houses in High Street to be occupied as a residence and not used for offices or a shop. Its restoration may be the catalyst for other such work in High Street and O’Connor Square and with best wishes to the owner of the house in Cormac Street recently and tastefully restored. The former Offaly Inn at Deane Place also looks attractive and adds to that part of Harbour Street and Market Square. Another blog will explore these additions and improvements to the town’s heritage.

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William Garner in his 1979 study of Tullamore described High Street and Kilroy’s dwelling as:

Most of the houses in the street date from the mid-eighteenth century and several may be earlier. Both the northern and southern ends of High Street face important open spaces: the northern end forms the west side of O’Connor Square and the southern end broadens out to form a triangular open space at the junction of O’Moore Street and Cormac Street. The latter is a particularly attractive urban space where the three approaches are dominated by excellent buildings: O’Moore Street by Acres Hall, Cormac Street by the last house on the east side of High Street and High street the first house on the east side of Cormac Street.

          [Of the Kilroy dwelling he went on to give it regional quality status]

Beside it is a fine, five-bay, two-storey, late-eighteenth-century house set over a high basement. It has a rough-cast walls and large windows with nineteenth-century glazing-bars. The round-headed doorcase, which is set up a flight of steps with moulding nosing, has a blocked-architrave dressing and a keystone. Fronting the house is a low wall with moulded coping and cast-iron railings. Beside the house is an elliptical-headed carriage-arch topped by a cornice.’

No. 6 High St., the former Kilroy’s private house with the elliptical-headed carriage arch as described by  William Garner in 1979 – stop and look when you are passing by.  On the right Margaret (Mala) Kilroy c. 2000. Mrs Kilroy died in 2004. The picture to the left c. 1980. .

The house was built about 1786 by the Hill family. It was later occupied by the distinguished Moorhead medical family and from 1956 until 2011 by the Kilroy family, the owners of the well-known shops adjoining. These closed in 2008 and that on the west side of High Street is now intended for the new Arts Centre while that on the opposite east side is Mr Price to the rear while the fine house to the front of the 1750s is empty.

The house is now open to the public at certain times of the year please see for details.

001506 Kilroys tullamore
Kilroy’s shop (from 1908 to 2008) which is now the site of the new Arts Centre.

Renovating No 6 High Street, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

Doing up a period house was not on the cards when we originally decided to move from our tiny Dublin house. I knew I wanted to move home to Tullamore where I was born and raised. We noticed the ‘For Sale’ sign on the former Kilroy house but thought it would be too big a project for us. Nevertheless we organised to view and within 30 seconds of walking in the door we instantly fell in love. Much to the delight of the auctioneer Sean Joyce who picked up on this immediately and knew he had us.

The house having been unoccupied for a number of years felt warm and you could immediately tell it was loved and well looked after by its previous owners. We spent the next 9 months swapping mortgages selling our house in Dublin and going through endless red tape until we finally got the keys of No 6 High Street. It was only then that we really tried to comprehend the size of the task we had taken on and wondered had we made a massive mistake.

We researched the house with Offaly History’s help to discover that it was originally constructed shortly after the Great Fire of Tullamore in 1785. The house had an interesting history with its various owners including saddlers, bankers, doctors and retailers, these owners in themselves appeared to represent the history of Tullamore town throughout the ages.

We started the renovations in March 2017 and surrounded ourselves with a great professional team including Murray Architectural Services (My Dad, Frank Murray) and KE Mann Builders (the most patient builders in the world Kieran and Eugene Mann). Given my love for design the interior design fell to me and became a complete obsession for most of the year. We were warned by so many people of the pitfalls of taking on such an old project and barring one or two stressful days the over all project was a total dream to work on with a real collaboration between the architect and the builder;

Interior of No. 6 High St. before renovation

For a house of this age there were limited original features remaining although we were thankful as the original windows, shutters and doors remained. I wanted to bring the house back to its original roots with an over all French theme. With this in mind we reinstated original features like the cast iron radiators, ceiling roses and antique fireplaces, the works. This was extremely difficult to do on a very limited budget and often having to go to  5 or 6 different suppliers in and out of Ireland to find the right fit at the right price.

The key thing I wanted to achieve with the architect was a bright spacious kitchen/dining/living area with immediate access to the garden. Neither of these things were present in the original house but the clever Architect came up with a smart design by extending into the covered adjoining coal shed giving a glass wall to the garden. At the same time we relocated the kitchen from the basement to the entry level, which has now become the new heart of the home. This transformed the living arrangements of the house without requiring any unnecessary extensions.

Front elevation (left) and newly tiled entrance with date of house incorporated into the design. 

Three months in and we love it – shutting the shutters at night time in my daughter Willow’s bedroom is quite special and reminds me of when I lived in Cormac Street and my mum would shut the shutters when I was going to bed. There’s lots more we plan to do with the house particularly with the outside. The feeling that the house gives me unlike any other is that it will be here long after we are gone and I am glad we are able to mind it for future families to enjoy.