Memories are made of this. Jackie Finlay on social life in Tullamore since the 1950s, political intrigue and the music scene in Ireland

Memories are made of this is the title of a book of memories by Tullamore man, Jackie Finlay. The new book will be launched at the Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore on Friday 1 December 2017 at 8.30 p.m. The book runs to 224 pages with about 70 pictures. It will sell for just €14.95. Copies can be collected at the Centre that evening and thereafter. It can be ordered online free of post in Ireland by going to the shop at


4 Dillon Street, Tullamore(Hanlay Collection)
Dillon Street, Tullamore, c. 1940

Jackie Finlay was born in John Dillon Street, Tullamore in 1936 into a staunchly Republican family. His early life followed the familiar pattern of school at the local boys’ national school of St Brigid’s, then at Canal Place, Tullamore and since 1961 at Kilcruttin. Leaving at 14 he had little more than two years at the Tullamore Vocational School in O’Connor Square before the world of work beckoned in 1952 at English & Co. grocery in Columcille Street, or William St. as it was then often called. His mother had worked here for a time while his father worked for D.E Williams Ltd as did so many of his near neighbours. Sport and participation in Catholic action groups such as helping with the new boys’ club at De Montfort Hall (the former CBS secondary school before its move in 1960) dominated his spare hours.

The experience Jackie gained in his voluntary efforts stood him well when he was obliged to set up his own sweets/confectionary business after the firm of T. English closed in 1959/60. Soon he would develop a new building in Market Square, Tullamore and by 1970 a new sweet factory and dance hall at Cloncollig (later Colting Balloons and Capital Cars). His attempts to transform the dancing scene in Tullamore with the first commercial ballroom in the town met with initial success crowned by his having Dana, Ireland’s first Eurovision winner, sing in the new ballroom in April 1970. Planning objections from some third parties to the dance hall, competition and funding problems would all militate against this brave effort. Jackie would say it was political intrigue and bad banking and for that you can read the book from early December.

10 DE Williams Lorries
Williams’ lorries in Patrick Street, Tullamore in the 1950s. About 12 people from Dillon Street and Healy Street were working with the Williams firm

Dillon Street

In this edited extract Jackie describes growing up in Dillon Street, Tullamore, the fine neighbours he had and the seasonal routines.

When I was growing up in Dillon Street, Tullamore in the 1940s there were no houses between the railway bridge and the Nolan and Killeavy houses on the Charleville Road. Hogan’s address was 1, Dillon Street. When the houses were built between the top of Dillon Street and the Railway Bridge, Nolan’s then became 1, Dillon Street. Pat Nolan was a Killeigh man, like my father. . .  My mother’s shop was a popular meeting place for all the children in the street. . .

Beside McLoughlin’s, but on the Charleville Road, a man named Pat Dix lived in a small old rundown cottage. There was a bit of land at the side of the cottage where he kept an ass. I suppose you could call him a recluse. We nicknamed him ‘Fortycoats’. His sister, Miss Dix, whom I believe was a retired teacher, came to live in the house which she completely renovated.

When one considers there were only thirty houses on Dillon Street and twenty on Healy Street, ‘The Dillonites’, as we were, known, produced our share of national and local sport stars. On the national scene two international boxers and two Senior All-Ireland referees Jimmy Flaherty and Pat Connell. Between 1955 and 1964 Tullamore won four senior county championships, three hurling and one football. Each winning team contained four Dillonites. When I was growing up we had our own football pitch in the field at the bottom of the street which was owned by the Charleville Estate. Most evenings we would spend our free time playing football and hurling. In later years this proved to be time well spent.

D.E. Williams Company was a major employer for twelve families, mostly male in both streets. The Salts factory was also a big employer, employing both male and female.

9 Salts Frontage
Salts factory, Tullamore, in 1947 with  staff posed for the picture.

Sowing the vegetables

All the houses on our side of the road, that is on the right side as you go down John Dillon Street to give it its proper name, had a large garden at the side and a smaller garden at the rear of the house. Other houses in both streets had a very small garden, if any, and they had no rear entrances.  We had also a small garden at the back of the house where we sowed lettuce and spring unions for our salads during the summer and also planted shallots (a small onion) which grew into large onions and when matured were pulled, dried out, tied in bundles and stored in the shed for use during the year. As times were very hard it was very important that most families had to be self-sufficient as much as possible.


I remember in the late 1940s going with my father out to my Uncle Phil’s farm in Killeenmore, my father’s home place for the threshing. This was a very special occasion and what you could call a big day out when neighbouring farmers would come together to a particular farm and help out.

Saving the turf

As summer approached one of the things I dreaded most was having to go the bog to save the turf. This was what I would call hard work although I know I had to pull my weight. Our turf bank was in Ballard bog situated about three miles out the Charleville Road. You turned right just past Mick Flynn’s shop, the bog was another couple of miles down the road. The cutting of the turf was what you might call a special occasion. First off all you had ‘the slane man’ who cut the turf. This was a specialised job. Next you had the person who filled the turf as it was cut onto turf barrows which had large wooden wheels with a special hay fork or, in some cases, he would catch it if he was quick enough. The third man, and sometimes fourth, would take the barrow, when full, to the end of the bank where he would drop it leaving a space between each drop. This continued on until the bank was full or when the water starting coming in.

After a couple of years I was the proud owner of a Humber bicycle purchased by my parents from Jimmy Gilson’s shop at the top of High Street. I now had the luxury of being able to cycle out to the bog. The final stage of the bog saga was drawing the turf home. My father generally took his holidays to coincide with this operation. This meant that my father for the first couple of years borrowed an ass and cart, or to be more polite a donkey, from his cousin John Dooley who had a farm near Killeenmore.

For the first couple of years my father travelled with me in the cart as I was not considered experienced enough to drive on my own. The cart had what was called creels about four or five feet in height. We had a strong plank of wood which went from one side to the other which was used as a seat when travelling to the bog. The wheels on the cart about three feet in height were wooden with a steel rim so they were very sturdy. The only problem was when you went over a pot hole on the bog road, and I can tell you there was plenty, every bone in your body felt it. My father used a turf fork specially used for loading turf and I would use my hands to fill the creel. Generally, we would draw four loads a day which was very hard work on ourselves not to mention the poor donkey.

After a couple of years big changes took place, we now had the use of a ginnet (a cross between a horse and a donkey) and the carts now had car wheels with tyres which meant a smoother drive, and finally I was allowed to travel on my own. My father would still help me fill the load. We would finish earlier as our new mode of transport was much quicker.

As the years rolled on things changed and we employed the late Stevie McDermott, a very good team mate of mine to draw in the turf with his tractor and trailer. We would have to wheel out the turf to the edge of the road to facilitate the loading of the trailer. We stored the turf in the shed and when full we made a big clamp with the remainder and topped it off with straw to keep the turf dry.

We were very lucky that we had what was call the Back Lane which ran from Nolan’s down to Dowd’s, so we could drive down and unload the turf at the shed at the back of our house in Dillon Street.

Priests and processions

When I was growing up there was there were four masses celebrated every Sunday –  8, 9.15 the Children’s Mass, 10.30 and 12 o’clock, and they would all be full. Every Sunday night there was a special devotion commencing at seven o’clock .The first Sunday the Holy Hour, the second Sunday Women’s Sodality, the third Sunday the Men’s Confraternity, the fourth Sunday The Pioneers. If there was a fifth Sunday in the month it was for Rosary and Benediction. The men’s Confraternity was held every Monday night starting at 7.30 conducted by Fr Clarke, a lovely friendly man. Each area in the town had its own special location in the church with their own banner. Our section was to the right as you entered the church from the Harbour Street side door. There was a person in charge, I think he was called a Prefect who would make a collection each night. Jack Spain was the person in charge of our area.

When I was a Mass server I remember a Fr Flynn was the parish priest. Also a Fr Fagan and later in the 1950s Fr Donoghue who was over the Pioneers. He was also responsible for the church in Durrow. Fr Bannon later took over. Fr Gillooley later came to the parish. He was a great G.A.A. man. Among his early achievements was training the Offaly minor football team to All-Ireland glory in 1964.

Fr Seamus Giles, a Meath native who was not long ordained, came to the town in the late 1950s. His brother was a well-known Meath footballer and likewise Seamus was a lovely footballer. He played on the Tullamore senior team. The big problem was he had to change his name as priests were not allowed and we had to make sure we did not call him by his real name and most important we had to make sure we did not use any bad language during the match.

The procession which was a very special and solemn occasion was held on the Sunday after the Feast of Corpus Christi. There was always a very big turnout and a lot of spectators turned up for occasion. The schools lined up at the entrance to Harbour Street, followed by the women which generally extended past the harbour entrance down towards Henry Street. The men lined up in Store Street and moved off after the women at the rear of the procession. The route taken was down Harbour Street turn left into William Street to Church Street, followed by a long walk down Church Street, turn into Henry Street up and across Whitehall bridge, and over to the parochial house where benediction was held, and from there back to the church.

In later years the benediction was held in Store Street and then back to the church.           Once again the route was changed I think the younger generation did not like the long walk. This time it turned down Patrick Street and into O’Molloy Street and finished up in Pearse Park where benediction was held. During the procession three decades of the rosary were recited and hymns were sung. This was possible because loud speakers were positioned around the route. All the houses and business premises in the town were decked out with flags and bunting for the occasion.

I remember my mother always hung out two flags from the two upstairs windows one a red and white and the other a yellow and white which were attached to two brush handles.

The Mission

Every year we had the Mission and it was always held during Lent. The first week was always for the women, the second week for the men. There was always a special morning mass at seven o’clock which consisted of mass and sermon and confessions later in the week. The evening devotions started with the rosary followed by the sermon which generally lasted 30 minutes finishing off with benediction. The church was packed and if you wanted a seat you needed to be there fifteen minutes beforehand. Different orders specialised in giving the missions. The one I remember most was the Passionate order. They were really what you could call Hell Raisers. When you would came out after their sermons you were convinced that we were all doomed and heading for hell with no chance of getting to heaven. Their big sermons in my generation dealt with ‘company keeping’, but from the early 1980s this meant sex before marriage or living together.

Finlay wholesale
The opening of the wholesale business at Clara Road (now Hoctor Refrigeration) in 1969.

Now read the book from next week for the dance hall scene in Tullamore, GAA football in the 1950s and much more.