Puttaghan, Tullamore: living on a powder keg 210 years ago

The older residents of Tullamore will know where the magazine was and will quickly tell you it was near the old footbridge in Convent View in the townland of Puttaghan. The magazine or arsenal on a site of almost one acre was built by the army in 1808 and the stores were surrounded by a nine-foot high wall, part of which survives at 21/21 Convent View. The high walls were designed to protect the powder magazine, store rooms and guard room. Other such walls surrounded the 1716 barracks and can still be seen near the garda station bordering Marian Place and a little more at Parnell Street (best viewed from the Marian Place off Kilbride Street). Little of the old Wellington Barracks (of c. 1800) survives in Cormac Street.


42 Convent View - Road, cA view of the canal at Convent View and Convent Road about 1905. The magazine terrace can be seen to the left of the new Convent View Terrace of 1906-7. To the right is the 1838-41 convent and Bury Quay/Convent Road houses dating to the early 1800s.

It was just ten years earlier that the first scare  in Ireland (for the British) had come from the French and now in 1808 there took place a build up a men and equipment in Tullamore with up to 1,000 soldiers stationed in two permanent barracks and temporary accommodation about the town. People expected Napoleon or his generals to come up the Shannon any day and land in Banagher or Shannonbridge.

Lord Cornwallis arrives in Tullamore in 1798

When Lord Cornwallis arrived at the new terminus of the Grand Canal in 1798 at Puttaghan,  it was a very different configuration to the present-day Convent View and Convent Road, necessitated by the new canal just completed earlier that year. Cornwallis was leading a British army expedition to Longford and the west to converge on a French invasion force. He and his officers travelled in style on the canal as did his English militia soldiers. Cornwallis was the first viceroy for more than a century to take the field in Ireland against a foreign enemy. During almost all of that period the building of a canal to the Shannon had been under consideration. Now, in 1798 it was completed as far as Tullamore and the terminus was in the vicinity of what is now the Convent View footbridge and would remain such for six years, until the extension to the Shannon was completed. In the aftermath of the Cornwallis victory came the defeated French officers and men under Humbert, arriving in Tullamore and from there ferried with much ceremony on a fleet of canal boats to Dublin. It was very different for the Irish caught in arms in the aftermath of the battlefields of the north midlands in that unhappy year.

307 Convent View, springConvent View Terrace of 1906-7, now the oldest houses on that street.

In 1798 the road from Daingean carried on through what is now the parochial house and along by Ball Alley Lane to connect in with the road to Clara at the turn in Clontarf Road. The canal bridges were not built until after 1800 and the new Bury Quay/Convent Road was possibly only completed in 1805 with the terrace from Eugene’s pub to the left dating from this time. Three years later the military magazine was completed in the vicinity of what is now Ger Scully’s house in Convent View. The view across was to the new canal harbour, the canal hotel and the harbour master’s house. Harbour Street, Store Street and Benburb Street were in the early stages of construction. The main street was that from Kilbeggan Bridge to the terrace in Cormac Street. The town had no lighting, piped water, sewerage, but it did have a brand new connection to Dublin making is a busy ‘port’ for six years until the line of canal was completed to the Shannon. From 1798 until 1960 cargo was carried on the canal and the harbour was a busy place. The passenger traffic had ceased over 100 years earlier with the building of the railway to the town in 1854 and to Athlone in 1859.

051508 Garda WallPart of the star-shaped fortification comprising the barrack wall at Marian Place and Water Lane and dating back to 1716.

Puttaghan and Rapparee Alley

Convent View is part of the townland of Puttaghan which, when translated, may mean the bog field. In 1718 the place was referred to as ‘Putahan’. By the 1800s, and following on the completion of the canal, plenty of building plots were available in the town. Puttaghan would have been unattractive to the better off householder, their being a large number of slum dwellings in what is now Clontarf Road (formerly Tinkers Row) and on that part of Tyrrell’s Road between the canal and Whitehall Bridge and the turn for Ballydaly (formerly Rapparee Alley). Cabins were built here from the early eighteenth century on land which was near the bog. A plentiful supply of turf along with possibly a squatter’s title to a site for a cabin would have encouraged settlement. Water was also very important and the canal was within a stone’s throw. Land holding in Puttaghan must have been very confused until the town’s owner, Charles William Bury, leased the place as town parks in 1786. Prior to that the townland had been used to supply those building houses in Tullamore with turf banks.

Before the canal was constructed the road network was not dissimilar to what it is today. From the old road to Dublin via Philipstown/Daingean and Ballinagar one emerged at what was known as Connaught Street heading towards Kilbeggan and Clara or taking a sharp right for Ballydaly, Mullagtohger lane and Tyrrellspass. Thornsburgh or Thornberry today was the road to the bog plots in Puttaghan. (The name is much older that than the builder of the hospital in the 1940s.) Ardan Road appears to have been soft ground also and not much built on until the workhouse was erected here in 1841 and Emmet Terrace and Davitt Street in 1902-07. The old road to Tyrrellspass from the canal to Ballydaly, Rapparee Alley, was full of houses and may have been one of the poorest areas in Tullamore. Many of these houses were demolished in the post-Famine years of the late 1840s and 1850s. Fortunately there never was an explosion at the magazine which, had it happened, might have blown up many of these cottages and damaged many more.

The magazine served as a temporary fever hospital during the Famine and later as tenement houses.

63965 Byrne (18)Part of the magazine wall at Convent View Terrace in about 1984.

The ordnance magazine site was leased by the earl of Charleville to provide an arsenal in the event of a French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815). The magazine cannot have been in use for very long because the war was over in 1815. It had been offered for letting as early as 1819 and was for sale in 1837. In 1847 it was leased to the board of guardians of the Tullamore workhouse (close by on Ardan Road) as a temporary fever hospital (one of a number in the town) and it remained such until 1853. By 1885 the magazine, presumably after some remodelling, had been let into five tenement houses. A reported seven houses on the magazine site were closed by the urban council in 1932 and the site cleared for new housing. Part of the magazine site was used for the five two-storey brick houses opposite the old classical school/ De Montfort which were built about 1900-07 in a private housing scheme. As a result part of the old magazine wall survives

Convent View houses today

Convent View celebrated its 100 years (2014) in 2015 inasmuch as the centenary was designed to coincide with the completion of the main series of houses in the street, the twelve two-storey, three-bay, semi-detached houses, built by the town council over the period 1912-14. The twelve houses were completed in 1914 at a cost of £155 each and local builder, John. Duffy, Tullamore was the contractor.

The next five houses from the corner with Park Avenue to the  red-brick terrace were built in the 1950s at the same time as those in Pease Park and Marian Place (from what was Geoghegans to Dwyers) and bear stylistic comparison. These are the newest houses on the street and were built on the magazine site demolished not later than 1954. To the east is the ‘new’ Convent View Terrace, built about 1902-07 and now the oldest houses in the street. Beyond this attractive terrace in Convent View and towards the canal towpath are houses forming part of the council’s Callary Street scheme of the late 1930s. So it was that the magazine housing based in part on the structure of 1808 survived for almost 150 years. Today the remaining curtain wall in no 20/21 is 210 years old. That is young when one thinks of the remaining part of the star-shared fort at Marian Place-Water Lane which is over 250 years old.

 Celebrating the centenary of Convent View in 2015