Old friends in Bank of Ireland, Tullamore: forty years on, 1979–2019 by Cosney Molloy

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I once again visited my old friends in Tullamore in the last few weeks. I was down from D4 to sort out a charity account with Bank of Ireland in O’Connor Square. I had to make my way through the bollards with the footpath widening. I came on the train of course (thanks Charlie, nice one). I was reminded by a customer that the Bank of Ireland opened in Bridge Street in the summer of 1979. At the time of my visit I was too busy to pay attention because between money laundering forms and this new GDPR stuff I was fit to be tied. And the account is 60 years old. What is all the fuss about small money. Now the new bank of 1979 is so different to the one I remember in High Street where Hoey & Dennings are now.

First bank in Tullamore

I am told the Bank of Ireland is the oldest one in Tullamore and was opened in High Street near 200 years ago. I remember only three in the town in the 1960s – Bank of Ireland, Hibernian and Munster and Leinster. The credit union is big now but in the 1960s it was only a small place in High Street beside the Bookmark and near the Ritz. A Des Smyth was there then. It shows how much the money is better spread now with so many in the credit union. My wife is a member since the 1960s and she says they have over €200m to give out – to those who can give it back to them of course.
I was at the opening of the Bank of Ireland in O’Connor this time forty years ago and had forgotten the anniversary. It was in the summer of 1979. I can pinpoint the date because I was working in Insurance and it was my first time in Tullamore with the company I had moved to, but having family spread from Killoughey to Banagher it was like old times. I knew plenty of people at the first day opening of the bank and plenty of the big wigs there with the nice accounts. A good time was had in the Tap afterwards. I think Kevin Adams was still there at that time. Later we went to Christy Maye’s Bridge House for a steak and the potatoes in the silver wrap. It is still going but I miss Christy there and Mrs Murphy.

Fine Banking Hall in 1979
Back in 1979 there was a fine banking hall (not as nice as the one in High Street or the old Hibernian in O’Connor Square) but my wife thought it was grand. I do not know what she would make of the new spaceship-type hall they have put in now in Bridge Street. The grand big hall of 1979 is gone and the new one is shocking bright like an airport shopping area. Anyway, the chap I met at a sort of podium or pulpit (there seemed to be very few staff around and hardly any of the grand girls of years ago. We had to ring people back in Dublin or Kilkenny, I forget now and I have to have my driver’s licence and remember codes). It was like going to confession, but all worked out after about 40 minutes and we can sign cheques again to cover our charity expenses. Absolution at last from my crank colleagues on the committee. I had put off going down for too long.

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Before I left Killoughey I used to go into a Mr Doherty in High Street and a Peter Cooke. The old Bank of Ireland there was very prim and proper, and I can recall Claude Hill as the manger in the early 1970s. He lived over the shop as it were. He told me he was from farming stock in Wicklow. He was very decent and gave many a farmer a start and a few businessmen I heard were very thankful to him for a lift at the right time. My father always told me you have to have money to make money, or a trusting bank manager. Claude Hill was a great listener.

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Des Power and Hibernian

In the early 1970s Des Power was in Bridge Street with the Hibernian (very good to the golf club the late John Kelly told me). In the mid-1970s the bank bought the Wakefield’s shop (where Dick Abraham was) and Alo Kelly’s Sunshine Café (the redbrick building) and did a fine job amalgamating the whole lot. Des Power retired at that time because I remember the whole crowd of Hibernian and Bank of Ireland were up in High Street until the new building was ready. I am told by my Blackrock neighbour Fergal McCabe that it was the first restoration job in Tullamore. A sort of a great moment he said. Of course, it was only the façade and everything inside was gutted. Anyway, the launch was a good and happy day for all. I remember hearing the staff had moved all the boxes of papers themselves. Sure you would not be allowed to do it now with regulations about data protection and health and safety.

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Managers were kicked out of the accommodation in the bank and had to live in the suburbs. Probably better off as I am told staff could get cheap loans which was a nice perk when interest rates were up to 18 percent in the seventies, not to mention your sub for the golf club paid and the time to play the game.

Burke Hunting and hunting
The restoration of the buildings in Bridge Street was better than what happened to the nice old Ulster Bank in High Street where Mr Rorke was manager and then Joe Mulligan. Funny, one of those managers had gun dogs and the other the rod, but neither of them could match old Mr Burke Kennedy who was for years in the Hibernian Bank. Some of his children were actors, architects and writers so it must have been a great place to grow up. Burke Kennedy used to go hunting and sometimes arrived in the bank complete with jacket and riding crop and horse tied up outside. I have that on good authority from the late Joe Moorhead. Different times.

62173 (1) bank of Ireland opening 1979
I would not know the staff in Bank of Ireland now, but I remember when I would have to stay over on an insurance assessment and some of the lads would go the Bridge House on Thursday nights, stay up till 3 and be in work as usual next day. There was a pack of bankers in the town at that time. At least 40 in Bank of Ireland and mostly young women and the same in AIB and Ulster. Perhaps 100 to party every weekend starting Thursday. Great times and no one has time now they are all so busy making money, drinking coffee and on the mobile.

Friendly staff always
I think a Longford man followed on from Claude Hill. The one I knew best was Stephen McNeill (of happy memory and a great man for the history) and then there was a Dermot Hogan, Peter Burke, Paddy Cunniffe and Gabriel Hannon. Yes, Tom O’Leary too and Tom Walsh. Jimmy Dolan used to keep me right with the names of the girls on the cash including Teresa Duffy, Lucy Keaveney, Bettty Luttrell and Jo Barber. I know I am missing out on a few.

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I have to say the bank was decent in those days and many a charity got a cheque for a good cause. I believe Mr Manzor carried on that tradition when he became the manager a few years ago, but I was well gone at that stage.

Christmas Parties for the golden girls
I used to hear about the parties for the older customers at Christmas time. So changed now and they making more money than ever. I am sorry for all the people who lost out in the great crash of 2008. Many a bishop and a reverend mother, not to mention the thrifty widow and the staff with their bonuses all suffered. We will never know of all the casualties of those horrible days eleven years ago. I could look back in anger but I am over that now and think of Mr Hill and Mr McNeill and all those smiling faces back in the 1970s and 1980s when times were better for staff and customers and none of all the red tape nowadays and so hard to get to know anyone.
I thought confession was finished!

48628 RM (15) D O'Keefe MacNeill Lennon