Renovation of a 210-year-old Tullamore house in Store Street. By Bernard and Melissa Westman

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Over three years later and we are settled in our 210-year-old house in the heart of Tullamore, far from finished but we are happy to date. We tried to keep as much character as possible within the house with the stone walls. We also kept the original height of the ceilings in the bedrooms which are over 14 feet. Two of the bedrooms have the old iron cast fireplace and we restored them by sanding and spraying them back to their original look.

1880s map of part of Tullamore - Copy
Store Street and the old church  in the mid- 1880s with two or three of the big houses demolished . O’Connell Hall is now the Parish Centre.

Store Street is one of the quieter streets in Tullamore now, but from 1800 to the 950s it was a busy place with the canal stores in use beside the busy harbour. The passenger boat traffic finished in the 1850s with the advent of the railway and the canal hotel became a parochial house for the Catholic clergy. Besides the bustle of draymen was that boys heading up to the old St Brigid’s School from the late 1870s to 1961 while the younger children attended the convent primary school on the corner of Thomas Street and Store Street. Like Harbour Street the new Store Street of the early 1800s owed its origins to the building of the Grand Canal to Tullamore in 1798. The new chapel on the site of the present one was completed in 1802 and the CYMS hall (later St Mary’s Hall) and now the Parish Centre was in use from 1860 to the 1960s for meetings and dancing. If Store Street was quiet as to houses (only 12 to 15) it was still a busy spot at mass and school times and with the comings and goings of horses and drays to the canal stores (burned about 1960).

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As early as the 1840s up to four of the larger houses similar to that of Sherry FitzGerald were falling to ruin and were partly incorporated into the church property by the 1880s and the site cleared. The nice terrace from the junction of Store Street to the entrance to the church was kept well up to the 1970s but after that some of the houses were allowed to fall into disrepair. That now owned by Bernard and Melissa Westman was formerly that of Bill Grennan who was prominent in the town and well known. This week we in Offaly History asked Bernard and Melissa to tell their story of the renovation process of a 210-year-old house in Tullamore. Enjoy and with thanks to our conributors.

Bernard and Melissa Westman

My wife and I bought our first home back in February 2016. The banks were hesitant of lending still at this time. We bought our house through the Credit Union under the home improvement loan as we didn’t have to borrow your typical amount for a mortgage. We got great value for our home and are forever grateful for this luck. Having said that, it wasn’t gifted to us and especially wasn’t the finished article.

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When I first set my eyes on this old historical building that oozes character resting in the heart of Tullamore, I couldn’t wait to get inside and see the rest of the building, Bear in mind at this stage, it was missing half the roof at the back, windows were broken and the door was boarded up.

The house was left idle for more than 15 years and the inside reflected the outside, it was rundown and needed a lot of work.

I had a tough task of trying to sell it to my wife who was expecting our second child in May, a few months after we purchased the house. She wanted a readymade house which was understandable at the time, with a 2 year old toddler and about to give birth.

We both had to make huge sacrifices for 12 months, we both moved back in with our parents for a short term until we finished the renovation of Store Street. A typical day would be, I would finish work at 5pm rush home, get the dinner and work in the house until 12 to 1 am most evenings. Melissa had a tougher task of trying to attend to two kids under 2 years of age back living with her parents. It was the toughest times we ever experienced in our lives both mentally and physically challenging, but I promised Melissa I would get it finished within that time frame. We both stayed positive even with all the hurdles that we faced along the way. We are so blessed and grateful for our home and what we accomplished and now reap the rewards for our 8 year mortgage we have left. Mortgage free before we are 40 will have its benefits. We took a gamble back then but now we are over the moon with the results.

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Looking back now, we didn’t get any additional funds for the renovation, we secured just enough to purchase the house at the time. We did it out of pocket from wages every week on top of paying for the mortgage and everyday bills. The struggle was starting to creep in when the biggest challenge was to pay for trades and materials. Melissa was in maternity leave at this time, it was all the more struggle.

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I was very fortunate to have my friends, brother and brother in law for helping me out with carpentry needs throughout the project. We used 3 local trades, plumber, electrician and plasterer. I couldn’t change a light bulb before this project, people thought I was mad, taking a huge undertake and project like this but if you really put your mind to anything and have the drive and desire you will achieve and accomplish your goal, especially when it’s for your wife and kids.
It took us 3 months to stripe the house from top to bottom, we started with re–roofing the house. It took us 3 days start to finish. Every wall in the house was not level but this added character to the house. Even though our external walls were 2 foot thick, we put 38mm insulated plasterboard slab to the walls and the roof of the bedrooms.
Our front door and the stone surrounding it was a challenging task, it had years of layers of old paint. It took me a full week using a worn out chisel to scrap it back to its natural look.

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Our internal wall is also two-foot thick and was covered up with old plaster, we decided to bring it back to the original stone look, I also had to scrape out the old render and chisel away the white lime and render on the stone, and I had to use a wire brush at times.
I then looked up online for tutorials on how to re point a wall and gave it a go one day and I was delighted with outcome. The brother is a carpenter and he helped me with the frame around the stone wall and the panels.

Over three years later and we are settled in our 210-year-old house in the heart of Tullamore, far from finished but we are happy to date. We tried to keep as much character as possible within the house with the stone walls. We also kept the original height of the ceilings in the bedrooms which are over 14 feet. Two of the bedrooms have the old iron cast fireplace and we restored them by sanding and spraying them back to their original look.

I found an old newspaper stuffed into the eaves of the roof and it was The Irish Press dated back to August 3, 1963, bizarre thing is my birthday is August 3rd, people say it’s a good omen.

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For us as a family, it’s all about the journey and not the destination and we have a long enjoyable journey ahead of us.

Thank you
Bernard & Melissa Westman