First shot or First draft of the story!
The Copper Pot Still is one of the finest of the old pubs in Tullamore and has been connected with brewing since the 1800s when a brewery was operated at the back of the existing pub by the Deverell family. It is back in the news because it is now for sale and may sell for €375,000, or a long way shy of its €2.1m mark in busier times. Today there are just eighteen pubs, four hotels and six clubs trading, six more are licensed but not trading currently and thirteen are closed for good or not currently licensed. So for the Twelve at Christmas next year try Twenty Seven, if all six clubs are open on the night and you are admitted as a guest.
The former McGinn’s/Copper Pot Still pub comes from a long tradition of bar and groceries in Tullamore and was one of about forty such houses in the town in the early 1900s. Today we may have less than thirty when one takes account of what houses have closed. Now it is the turn of off licences in shops and supermarkets and the public house to which so many resorted may be an endangered species.
Some will remember the eight pubs of Patrick Street of which there are only two surviving and one of those not currently trading due to restructuring. Can you name them: Brazil, McGowan/Smith, Coleman’s Windmill, the Murals, Rattigans (Copper Urn), Cash (Brady/De Brun), Bolger, James Walsh. How many can you name in the other streets? Be sure to offer your comments and corrections. Send pictures and memories to email@example.com
Kilbride Street: Hugh Lynch (formerly a William’s branch house. The place was packed on 16 Feb. for a Rotary Comedy Night. The newcomer of about 1969 is the Lantern (Jimmy Carter/Grainger/Tobin); the old Mallet which still has its licence and may be the oldest pub in Tullamore is currently closed. Some folk can recall the pigs’ feet served by Miss Molloy as a tapa. Across the park is the Tullamore DEW Centre with its themed bar and where you can call for an 18-year old whiskey. Out the Clara Road was Moorhill Hotel of Ollie and Jean Toner and later the Duffy boys, but now sadly closed.
In William/Columcille Street we had not so many. Byrnes/Pat’s Bar/Tanyard Lane; Brazil/Tormey/Clancy/Digan; Doolan’s/O Connors/Goalpost and finally the famous Jack Digan’s now Eugene’s. Jack Digan and his sister Aggie ran a good house and as children some could visit the grocery to try their cordial. There was nothing on Ardan Road until recent years with the GAA Club licence. Neither is there anything in Offally Street – at least not yet. Desmond Williams used serve Irish Mist Liqueur in his new 1960s offices beside ‘the Bond’ but that was free. Williams’ had perhaps five pubs in Tullamore in the early 1900s of which at least two were in Columcille street. Another was in Bridge Street where Douglas Jewellery is now.
In Harbour Street we had Georgie Egan/Minnock/Comerford and on the other side was the popular Annie Kelly’s; Mick Kelly (Shora’s father and where ESB office was plus grocery); Lennon’s was later the Tower (rebuilt as an entertainment lounge by Jimmy Spollen, subsequently Dan Ravenhill’s, Paddy McCormack and Paddy Kelly. Next was John Kelly, taken over by Moss Buckley and later Brendan Galvin/Seamus Morris/Joe Hennessy. Now it is five residential houses and the famous pub is gone. The last on the street and the one with the fair day licence until 1977 meaning early opening (the fairs finished in 1966) was Wrafter’s, now Michael Water’s very fine Old Harbour Bar.
In Market Square is the Foresters club (1923) and Characters/Fergie’s (a new licensed house of c. 1980 out of the Grand Central cinema). Nearby was Tommy Egan’s Hole in the Wall, formerly P. & H. Egan and Stirling’s and currently closed.
Also in Church Street is the famous Lee’s bar where Joe Lee celebrated 50 years in 2014 and the place is at least 1894 in date, if not older. It was one of the first to have a lounge for the new 1960s trade when women could emerge from the snug. Nearby is the D.E. Williams/Wyer’s/An Portach/Newtown Bar and more. Towards Hayes’s Cross is Gallagher’s Manor (a new pub opened by Jimmy Carter and now closed for the moment). Joe Gallagher is immensely popular and everybody wishes him well. Next Jackie Grimes’s bar, probably formerly Tommy Dunne –’Scooby Do’ and a famous cooper. One recalls him on the Dublin quays shops in his latter days. Across the street was Hayes’s Hotel, probably the oldest licence in Tullamore going back to 1786. This old pre-1902 licence is now out of town with the closure of the bar and restaurant and night club in 2008. It was a famous place under the late Gerry Moynihan and later Gerry Harrington.
Out the Church Road was Paul Hughes Unicorn (in the 1980s Shopping Centre) and now closed. His licence came from the Copper Urn/Rattigan’s and has now travelled to the Tullamore Dew Centre. One of our members has a stool from Rattigan’s to remind him of the old days in that very respectable house where Jack Wrafter and his son Shaun took care of so many. But perhaps now he sits on it at home with his drinks from Aldi (1999). He says all the home drinking started in the Millennium New Year’s eve when pubs charged to get in? We doubt it.
O’Connor Square being so respectable had no pub unless we include the famous Brewery Tap run since the 1960s by Paddy Adams, Kevin and Marge Carragher and now Paul Bell and his good wife Cathy-Anne. This is also an old pub as is the Bridge House of P. & H. Egan (the side entrance to the grocery). Behind in Distillery Lane is a new hotel licence of 1999 in the Bridge House Hotel with its over 70 beds and Library Bar. All designed by Christy Maye, the entertainer par excellence since 1971 in Tullamore until his retirement from the hotel and dance trade in Tullamore in 2008. There is a book there and perhaps two when one includes Hayes’ Hotel and later the Phoenix Arms. Come to think of it every pub and club in Tullamore could fill a book of memories of great nights but Christy was up late every night.
Further up High Street was the Bus Bar of Mattie Coyne, followed by McGinn’s (see more below), Michael Bird (formerly Adams’) and later John Clifford/Frank Sweeney/Alan Loughrey and now the Town House. Across the street is the Moran/Lawless/Spollen pub, a very old licence and fine house. Nothing further in High Street or in Cormac Street or O’Moore Street. Have we missed any? The club in Colton’s hotel is long closed. Yes in Spollanstown we have the Court Hotel of 1997, the Rugby Club and the Harriers Club (after much objection from the Charleville Road residents in the 1960s it got going strong in 1972). The latter is not now operating as the famous dance venue it was but the runners are back in force. Tullamore was once dubbed the mecca of the midlands for dancing. What happened? ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’
So what is the total in our list from say fifty years ago onwards with current licences in brackets and pubs open and trading in square brackets. It seems to have averaged about forty for many years with all the comings and goings. That figure was about right for close on 100 years. Bolger’s, Hayes’/Phoenix Arms Hotel and Moorhill (with their max 50 beds in all) have gone and been succeeded by The Court, Bridge House Hotel, Main Street and Frank Sweeney’s Clonamore hotel on Ardan Road (probably about 220 beds now and all since 1997). Clubs have grown stronger with the Rugby, GAA, Soccer (?), two golf clubs and the Foresters – the oldest of them. We suppose they wax and wane and, of course, they are for members and their guests who should sign the register. Birdie Smith was very strong on this. The Tullamore Golf Club had a special meeting in 1927 to decide on a licence for the new Brookfield clubhouse. After the thumbs up one or two of its members resigned.
The good old public house that we all love is the endangered species and dancing in town is a far cry from what it was in the 1980s. A walk through the town on Thursday-Saturday is to recall the great crowds outside the Bridge and Phoenix Arms and the teeming youngsters coming down Charleville Road on Saturday night. It used to give some of the old district court judges an opportunity to rant. The old St Mary’s of the 1960s with Fr Gillooly and Christy Maye (first disco) was a parish hall and not licensed and neither was The Central Ballroom in Tara Street (1970 and generally Sunday nights) but most men had ‘a good sup’ before they got in. So where are we after fifty years? Tell us of any errors please because this is only the first ‘draught’ of history.
Street 1968 CL Open for trade
Patrick Street 8 (2) 
Kilbride Street/Bury Quay 4 (4) 
Clara Road/Soccer Club? 1 (0) [0)
Main Street 1 (1) 
Ardan Road 2 (2) 
William Street 4 (4) 
Harbour Street 6 (3) 
Market Square 2 (2) 
Church Street 6 (4) 
Church Road 2 (1) 
Bridge Street/High Street 7 (7) 
Spollanstown (Rugby and hotel) 3 (2) 
Two golf clubs 2 (2) 
Total Trading in review 48
Total licensed 34
Licensed but not trading 6
Total trading, inc 6 clubs, 4 hotels 28
DEW and a BREW and your opportunity to get into the public house trade
Today, the Copper Pot Still could well be a flagship for Tullamore DEW associated marketing as it now is with a great brewing tradition, and with the Tullamore Distilling tradition. Whiskey-making is long associated with Tullamore and is as far back as the pub itself. Back in fact to the 1790s when the Copper Pot Still house was first constructed. Beer making was much the same until Lloyd George killed off many of the old breweries during the First World War.
The Copper Pot Still is on Tullamore’s High Street a place that is full of history and with buildings nearby going back to the 1750s. Houses that survived the great balloon fire that destroyed over 100 houses in the town in 1785 include several in High Street and O’Connor Square. The Copper Pot Still was known as McGinn’s for over sixty years from the 1920s to the 1990s
High Street, Philip McGinn, now Dempsey’s, now Copper Pot Still public house. The pub is a three-bay, two- story house which also has a simple cornice. The windows have shallow reveals; the round-headed doorcase has a crisply carved architrave and fluted keystone. This is a common theme in Tullamore’s High Street as can be seen in adjoining buildings. The difference is that the pub shop front is original and is probably well over 100 years old. The doorcase is almost 250 years old.
The Copper Pot Still bar has two attractive, grained shopfronts. One was for the bar and the other the grocery. The latter use was carried on until the 1980s when it was changed to an off-licence.
In 1790 Tullamore’s landlord, Charles William Bury (raised in the peerage to Lord Tullamore and then earl of Charleville) leased to John Shaw a house and backyard in High Street for three lives with perpetual renewal at a rent of £12-10-0, again this must have been a completed house and not a site. Shaw also took a lease of the river meadow adjoining his holding for the three lives (this may the location of much of the shopping centre car park today). In 1805 he sold his interest in both properties to Richard Deverell, a brewer, for £500. In 1843 the occupier of the house was Charles Eyre Coote, but the house which had been let at £28 was soon shut up. In 1854 the occupier appears to have been George Wilkinson, a baker. The pub was occupied by a widow, Margaret Brophy (68), in 1901 assisted by her niece Margaret Keeney and other members of the Keeney family. In 1911 Elizabeth Keeney was running the place. In 1920 the premises was acquired by Michael McGinn, described as taken from Brophy’s, and extensively renovated. Interestingly the licence was in the name of P. H. Egan at this time. This would suggest that Egan’s had taken possession to recover money due to them for goods supplied. The new owner, Michael McGinn, was from the Mountmellick district and continued as licensee until 1967. McGinn had worked for the famous D.E. Williams Company (then the owner of Tullamore Dew distillery) and was posted to its Mountmellick shop. His experience there in food, drink, bakery and hardware stood him well when he bought the pub in Tullamore. Michael McGinn died in his 94th year in 1973. It was a case of hard work never killed anyone.
His son Philip, a well-known Tullamore rugby player, operated the business for over twenty years. It was in use as a shop, bakery and public house until the 1980s. The pub was extensively renovated in 1978 with the bakery and shop to the right and the pub extended at the rear.
The well-known and deservedly popular Frank and Claire Gilsenan acquired the property in 1996 and developed an extensive lunch trade. Frank had worked in the bar trade in New York and is from County Westmeath. The pub won national awards for its food in 1999. The Gilsenans sold the property in 2000 and purchased the Sea Dew guest house in Clonminch, Tullamore. The former McGinn’s was at that time known as Frank’s Bar. On the change of ownership it became and known as Dempsey’s. The pub was up to recently operated by Michael McDermott and family and known as The Copper Pot Still and was a good house with a fine breakfast, great coffee and a warm welcome from its staff.
So what are you waiting for, sell the bungalow and move to High Street.