Tullamore, a magical place for Cafés and Coffee by Cosney Molloy

High St 1960s cafe
High St in the 1960s with St Anne’s on right (now Midland Books)

I was down from Dublin last week to visit some of my Molloy nieces in the Tullamore/Killoughey and Banagher areas and I am beginning to think there are as many coffee shops in Tullamore as there are in D 4 where I have lived (mostly in flats) since the 1970s. I counted five new coffee shops open in Tullamore, or on the verge of grinding the beans and not a one by a Molloy as far as I know. Besides my old haunt of Chocolate Brown there are the new King Oak out in Cloncollig, the Foxy Bean (nearly ready in Bridge Street in Egan’s old seed and manure store), Olive and Fig (in the not so old Caffé Delicious and close to where Chip Kelly used to be), the Blue Monkey at No. 1 Bridge Street (where Foxy used to be), Mark Smith’s Little Coffee Hut (out of town) and a new one in O’Connor Square that I could not get near to handy with all the road works in the old square. It’s in the old Hibernian office where I worked for a while and was a place called Bake for a short time (near the lovely new library). In High Street there is a place called Conway & Co where I used to buy cigarettes (one or two) when I was going to the Brothers’ school when there was no free education. It was a shop called Daly’s and had a Mills and Boon lending library. It was beside Dermot Kilroy’s. Reading a piece in the Irish Times about three weeks ago about Tullamore being a magical place in the 1950s got me interested in all the new cafés and goings-on. Sure when all this ‘enhancement work’ is finished the streets will be full of coffee tables and umbrellas.

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Magical Tullamore from the Irish Times of 20 9 2019

Magical Tullamore
It was a Mary O’Donnell writing in the Times on 20 September last and recalling Tullamore as a magical place for a nine-year old on holidays for the first time that got me interested in Tullamore cafés of the 1950s and 1960s. She was from the west of Ireland and she recalled Tullamore as a place with ‘shops, spires and smoky trains.’ She was staying with her Aunt Ann, the owner of a place called St Ann’s Café on High Street. I think this place was beside Horan’s and had rooms for accommodation also. So far as I can recall there was a Miss Annie Teresa Ruddy in it and after her McNamaras. If I am right it later became Midland Books – now the only full-scale bookshop in Offaly. Tell the truth I think St Anne’s an old-fashioned place and I have only a hazy memory of it. I asked the people in the history centre and no one seemed to be sure where it was.
The young people were in England in the 1950s
There were hardly any cafés as we know them in Tullamore in the 1950s. It was a good town but most of the young people were gone to England. Those still around were doing shift work in Salts, or keeping their coat near the door in Williamses head office. It was mostly older folk in Egan’s in Bridge Street and in the bacon factory, and with some nice young teachers and guards. That was it. Any coffee that was drunk was in Egan’s bar in Bridge Street or in the Brewery Tap. A few went to Hayes’ Hotel. There was hardly anything for young people until the early 1960s except the summer carnivals and St Mary’s Hall. There was no dancing in Lent except in Kenny’s in High Street and sometimes in the Soccer and Rugby Club in Spollanstown.

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Malocca later Fusciardi in William/Columcille Street

Malocca’s and the Capri
When Sean Lemass came on the scene as Fianna Fáil leader in 1959 and Dev went to the Park it was as if the dam of modernisation at last burst forth. Few of us had been to Europe but a lot worked in England. I recall Malocca’s opening about 1962 in William Street and being able to get my first bottle of Coca Cola and play records on a Juke Box for 3d or 6d. Chip Kelly might have had a Juke Box too in his place in Harbour Street but he was better known for a hearty dinner. A Wimpy café opened in Church Street (where the Roma is now) (by the late Billy Adams of the pharmacy) and the late Alo Kelly opened the Sunshine Café in O’Connor Square. Sure it’s part of my Bank of Ireland now. No craic like the old days. I also recall big Seamus Morris who opened the Capri Café about 1962 in the old town house. In O’Connor Square. It was a great place to meet the girls from the Sacred Heart. We were not interested in coffee at all. It was chips, chat and the juke box. Egg and chips was about 1s 6d (7 or 8p). The place became Devaney’s in the 1970s, then a bank and is now Eddie Rocket’s. The fuel in the 1960s was coco cola. We were not much fond of Williamses Pak or Egan’s Sinalco. The Egan’s orange was nice but it was not hip. When I saw Sorrento chip shop in High Street and the crowds on Wednesday evening last winter for the special offer it got me thinking that we did not even know where Sorrento or Capri were in the 1960s. I was there only a few years ago.

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The Wimpy bar/café in Church Street in the mid-1960s now the Roma

Carter and Wimpy
Jimmy Carter I remember well. He was a great character and great chips, but it was not sit down like Malocca’s (later Fusciardi’s) and the Capri. I was hardly ever in the Wimpy in Church Street. I am out of town now but I believe the Roma is very good. It must be one of the oldest in town and must be there at least 25 years. I do remember it being Paddy Carroll’s furniture store after Wimpy’s and a fire in the place about 1981 of a night of a dance in the Phoenix Arms near Christmas when I was down for the weekend.
There were a few other places. I can recall the Lantern Restaurant in Kilbride Street and a place called the Congress Café in Harbour Street. Was it Amalfi afterwards? I am not sure.

The new Fox Bean and Eddie Rocket’s formerly Capri Café with Sunshine Café to the left
Doing the twelve coffee shops for Christmas
I will have to go back to my friends in the Offaly History Centre beside the Tullamore Dew bar for more information. Perhaps some of the readers of these musings can add something. I have very happy memories of the early 1960s when the cafés opened for the first time in Tullamore. It was liberating. You could play music, drink coke and meet the girls (sometimes) and we were free of parents and priests to keep a watchful eye. As to the coffee at home it was only Irel liquid coffee and we often had tea or minerals when out. So different now with the bewildering choice of shinny latte this that and the other.
I am going to ask my nieces to come around with me at Christmas and we will do the twelve coffee shops in Tullamore. Seriously, all the new coffee shops now are great with lovely food and I wish them all well. There has not been such a flowering in the town centre since the time of the Beatles. I suppose you all like hot milk in the coffee now!

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The Capri and Sunshine Cafes in the 1960s in O’Connor Square