The old town of Tullamore has gone through many changes in recent years and I see now that the settled Charleville Road has not escaped. For many years it was one of the best addresses in the county town, but now others can seek that title such as Spollanstown, Tegan Court, Mucklagh and, perhaps, Charleville View. Yet, for my money Charleville Road is still the best. It is on the high ground that starts to rise from Bridge Street and reaches a plateau at the site of Acres Folly on Kilcruttin Hill at Cormac Street. On the opposite site behind the junction of O’Moore Street and Cormac Street I read that two windmills were located from the 1700s until around the time that Napoleon was finally trounced in 1815. It all seems long ago, but to us Molloys who were here in number before anyone else its only yesterday.
When did building start on Charleville Road?
Charleville Road has served as the avenue to the landlord’s demesne (we lived in real old castles and not mock Gothic) since the first big house was erected in Charleville or Redwood, as it then was, in 1641. As the crow flies this was not far from Sragh Castle (1588) and Ballycowan Castle (1626 and before). The old house of Redwood with its shingle roof stood here until about 1812 (near the farmyard in Charleville) when the new Charleville Castle was finally completed. The new castle was twelve years building and is still one of the largest houses in the county vying with Birr Castle for that title. Charles Moore, the first earl of Charleville who moved to Charleville in about 1740 was protective of the long avenue to his house outside the town which he helped to develop with favourable site sales. So too was Charles William Bury, his grand-nephew (1764-1835) who was another first earl, but of the second creation. He allowed no housing on Charleville Road save that of his agent Thomas Norris who lived at the house later known as Elmfield and which was demolished by the county council to make way for the new Aras of 2002. Another agent’s house can be seen at the entrance to Birr Castle.
Old and new at Charleville Road. The Norris Goodbody house of 1780s with new frontage of the 1850s and demolished in 2000. To the right are the new county council offices opened in 2002.
It is not much recalled today that it was at Elmfield that Alfred Goodbody of A. & L. Goodbody was born in the 1850s. Then there is the romantic story of Danny Williams of Dew Park running off to America with his sweetheart Florence Bull who lived next door in Elmfield in the early 1900s. That was in the days when there were few houses on Charleville Road and none to observe the secret courtship. Every house on Charleville Road has its peculiar history.
No cottage building on the grand avenue
When Norris was getting a lease of fields around the old house of Elmfield at Charleville Road in 1795 he was not allowed to facilitate the building of any cottages within 600 yards of the public road. Surprisingly the new jail (1830) and courthouse (1835) were allowed to be built on the landlord’s approach road to the town. Lord Tullamoore was proud of securing county town status for Tullamore. Of course in the distance Bury could see the fine three-storey FitzGerald boarding school (now Angelo’s chipper) and Acres Hall built by his friend Thomas Acres and restored by the town council in 1992. Acres had his folly by 1814 and the houses in Cormac Street. But that was it. The Acres-Pierce houses opposite the jail came only in 1879 and those of the turnkeys at Jail Lawn ten years later in 1889. The road from the entrance gates to Charleville was straight unlike J.C. Loudon’s romantic twists in the avenue to the castle. It was a case of sturm und drang inside the demesne while outside was all Georgian symmetry.
New train station for Alfred Bury?
Aside from Elmfield the second intrusion after the public buildings was the new train station of 1865 that Alfred Bury had helped to secure. He was a simple man who never expected to become fifth earl in succession to his young nephew in 1874.The new railway station was conveniently situated near to Charleville Castle, the prison and jail and made the old train station at Clonminch redundant. There was nothing more by way of building on our fine avenue for over 35 years until Dew Park was built by the whiskey distiller and merchant Daniel E. Williams. It was a case of new money and new ideas. Alfred Bury as fifth earl was dead over thirty years and his niece Lady Emily has succeeded to the estate. She was widowed early but had two children one of whom, Marjorie, died young in 1907 while her son of Everest and ‘Abominable Snowman’ fame lived on until 1963. Lady Emily lived much of her widowhood abroad and her son did not want for money after inheriting Belvedere, Mullingar from his cousin in 1912.
There was no longer any great reason to keep Charleville as a tree-lined avenue to the demesne as the colonel preferred to live at the ‘hunting lodge’ at Belvedere. Dew Park, where it was supposedly intended to build five suburban villas was the first of many new houses on the road. These started to be built after 1910 by accountants such as John Mahon, teachers such as Lavin and Walsh and garage men like Hurst. James Rogers, the Free State solicitor and defender of Sinn Féin prisoners in 1916 built Sheena on a very large site in 1930 and so on as the Free State and the middle classes settled down in the post 1922 period and up the 1960s before the new money and the new kids on the block arrived to build big places out of town.
Council housing too was built at Dillon Street and Healy Street and much earlier at Spade Avenue and Coleman’s Terrace. The Dillon Street houses, first phase, were built by the Soldiers and Sailors Trust and were well down from the entrance to Dew Park and with their gables to the big house rather than facing. So too was John Mahon’s house besides Lavin’s house. Close to that was the old house of Pat Dix, still there today, south of the entrance to Dillon Street. On the opposite side the Williams family would have architect Michael Scott build a house for Florence Williams (née Bull) when she left the big house in High Street (later CBS and Farrelly).
Dancing at Charleville Road
In the 1960s the Tullamore Harriers bought up Sarah Walsh’s land for the athletic fields and then fought a long planning battle to get licensed dancing in their new pavilion. They succeeded in 1972 but the dancing finished up a generation later. In the meantime the County Committee of Agriculture secured office user in a residential area in 1976 at the James Roger’s house. Twenty years on it was the demolition of Elmfield after 1997 and the building of offices for the council on the site. What would Lady Bury have said? Curiously, the decision to build there may have emanated from the decision of 1835 to build the county courthouse (and later serving as council offices) nearby. It was said in 1997 that council staff did not want to move too far from their historic location in the old courthouse in Cormac Street. Others were of the view that the new building on Charleville Road would make a statement just as was intended in 1830-35 with the jail and courthouse.
Dew Park of 1898, erected by Daniel E. Williams
In the meantime Charleville Road extended as far as the Finger Board and to the old labourers’ cottages in Ballard. Granted the houses beyond the first entrance gate to the demesne were much smaller, at least until the 1990s and 2000s. Charleville View was developed out of the Deer Park in the demesne and bordered the lands of the Cootes, earls of Mountrath. As in the 1900s with the new houses at Charleville Road it was designed to cater for the growing number of senior civil servants needing housing in the town.
The bottling plant beside the railway station was a Williams’ enterprise built on their land in the 1970s and after the field opposite Dew Park had been sold for sites. DEW Mighty Minerals failed in less than ten years and became a whiskey store, not for Tullamore Dew but for Teeling’s Kilbeggan whiskey. A plan to build 300 apartments on the site also failed in the early years of the recession after 2007.
Shoots and Shows have gone
Now in the post-recession (2007-16) period Charleville Road is again seeing new development with several new houses and others planned. Remarkably, the demesne has survived intact (minus a bit of the Deer Park) thus far and is still very much as it was in 1641 and 1812 when its two great houses were completed. Shoots and Shows have come and gone but the great oak of 1492 (or earlier) stands near the entrance to the demesne. The 1861 cottage at the entrance to the demesne is occupied but my friends Miss Haines and Mrs Potter have gone. So too have the six earls (1758-1875), Lady Emily Bury (died 1931) and her long-lived son Col. Bury (died 1963).
All in all remarkable continuity and change since 1641 and since the Molloys were the leading family in this Tullamore district. Today we Molloys are only casually recalled in the 1829 label on the twelve million bottles of Tullamore DEW sent out annually. If Michael Molloy were alive now would he be living on Charleville Road?
Below the Dennis Walsh house of the late 1920s (demolished 2017) and the new house erecting on that site in modern materials.