Is Dolan’s of Tullamore, the oldest pharmacy in Ireland? By Michael Byrne

002 Tullamore Drapery, William St., Tullamore
Columcille Street about 1914 with the new Scally drapery of 1912, next a Scally shoe shop and no, 5 was McMichael’s Medical Hall, now Dolan’s Pharmacy. Thomas Acres was the developer of most of the street and notice the uninformity in roofline save in the most profitable area near Hayes’ Cross.

Is Dolan’s Pharmacy in Pound/William/Columcille Street, Tullamore the oldest family pharmacy in Ireland? It almost certainly is now that so many of the old family pharmacies have been bought up by pharmacy chains. Up to the decade ending 2020 it was the one area of shopping in Tullamore that was still largely locally controlled and in the same family for generations. One thinks of Dolan’s (the Dolan and later the O’Connell family since the 1940s); Quirke’s Medical Hall (Carragher’s from the 1930s until 2019); Fahey’s from 1955; and Adams’s in Bridge Street since the 1940s and still in the family. Up to twenty-five years ago there was not much above seven pharmacies in Tullamore but that changed in 2002 with deregulation as to the number permitted vis a vis the population served. Even by that time pharmacy chains were growing in strength with one company (Unicare) having fifty outlets, but seventy percent of the market outlets were still controlled by independent pharmacists. Today Tullamore has thirteen pharmacies and new locations at Ardan Road (2), Clonminch Road (1), Church Road (2) and Main Street (1). The town centre still has five around the former Hayes’ Cross with three in Bridge Street, Patrick Street (1) and Columcille Street (1).


Now pharmacies are in the limelight again because of the Covid 19 virus (March 2020) and the rush by worried customers to stockpile perceived remedies. The thirteen retail pharmacies in Tullamore have provided a great service during the crisis as indeed have all the retail outlets. The family owned businesses, in particular, are again much loved, as people value again the local store, all the more so as they are a little scarce on the ground, The pharmacy chains have recognised the value and goodwill of the family name in the local business (perhaps because of the GMS prescription lists) and even where a long standing family retires from business their name is retained over the shop.
When did the pharmacy business start in Tullamore?
It does appear as if the business of apothecary, chemist, druggist or pharmacy in Tullamore is as old as the town itself. Not much is known of town development in Tullamore in the seventeenth century but by the early 1700s a market place was emerging as were buildings backing on to the river in what is now Patrick Street, Bridge Street, O’Connor Square and High Street. It was a slow process and did not accelerate until the 1740s and again in the 1780s and 1790s. When the owner of Daingean town, Robert 1st Viscount Molesworth and baron of Philipstown (1652–1725) was visiting his King’s County estate in 1724 (he lived near Swords, County Dublin) he wrote to his wife from Philipstown/Daingean: ‘I see by experience that ‘tis high time for me to leave off riding long journeys. This last, (though I did no more than walk a foot pace), has brought a fit of the strangury and gravel upon me, and I am in a place where no herb or drug that I might have occasion for (either for clyster or oat drink) can be had nearer than Tullamore’. Lord Molesworth’s brief reference would appear to suggest that as early as 1724 Tullamore had developed as a small service centre for the area. Birr was at that time much more developed but too distant for Molesworth.

20200329 Kilcruttin Cemetery (5) 14 Leech
The Maurice Tyrrell building of 1747 where William Hall was apothecary in that part where coffee is now served.

The first apothecary we know of in Tullamore was William Hall who is mentioned in a deed of 1753 as occupying the most southerly part of the new building then lately erected by Maurice Tyrrell. This is the house in Bridge Street now occupied by J. & M. Douglas Jewellers and the Runner Bean coffee shop. The date stone on the façade confirms it was built in 1747 by Tyrrell and rebuilt in 1815 by William Hall. The first Richard Hall married Frances, the eldest daughter of Matthew Moore, a merchant, who lived nearby in what is now Gray Cuniffe Flaherty Insurance brokers (a family business with a history of brokers) in O’Connor Square in what is one of the oldest surviving houses in Tullamore (1743). William Hall, apothecary was dead by 1772 and perhaps it was his son who rebuilt in 1815. Tullamore almost certainly had an apothecary from the 1760s to the 1790s but the absence of trade directories for Tullamore makes it difficult to pinpoint who they were. We know that Mountmellick and Portarlington each had one in 1788, Tullamore two in 1824, Birr and Portarlington three each in 1824 and Daingean one. Not one was listed for Banagher or Edenderry in that year, but Banagher had two by 1856. Tullamore maintained its position as a two-pharmacy town throughout the nineteenth century.

20200329 Kilcruttin Cemetery (8) 14 Leech
Dolan’s Pharmacy, erected in 1795 and improved by Philip Belton in the 1830s. The Doric fluted columns may date from the 1880s

A pharmacy since 1795 in a prosperous expanding town
Dolan’s as a pharmacy in Columcille Street can be dated to 1795 and has been in use now for 225 years. The second Dolan’s Pharmacy is in Bridge Centre and was opened in 1995 200 years after the first store. The building developer, Thomas Acres, was in the 1790s in course of building on the plots leased to him on favourable terms by the town’s landlord, Charles William Bury, later Lord Tullamore and earl of Charleville. Bury had the hotel built in 1786 (now the site of Boots Pharmacy) and the market house (now Eddie Rocket’s Restaurant) in 1789. The new Tullamore town with its wide streets and a completed market square was taking shape and the canal artery to Dublin was constructed as far as Tullamore in 1798.

20200329 Kilcruttin Cemetery (4) 14 Leech
The apothecary Adam Leech was buried under the broken flat slab at Kilcruttin Cemetery with his aunt Anne Coghill. They died in the cholera outbreak of June 1832.

Apothecary Leech and his aunt Anne Coghill die in the 1832 cholera outbreak
Robert Coghill of Tullamore, an apothecary, took a lease from Acres of no. 5 Pound Street (now Columcille Street) in 1795 and then described as the street leading from Philipstown to the old bridge. The plot was 33 feet (Irish) in front and 209 ft in depth, and the term or length of the lease was for three lives renewable including that of his wife Alice who was then aged 28. It was a virtual freehold at a rent of £11 7s. 6d., or the equivalent today of at least £1,500 per year for ever. On the death of the third life the tenant was obliged to renew with the landlord and pay renewal fees of generally fifty percent of the annual rent and costs. So it is clear that Acres had built the house and did not simply lease the site. Coghill married again in 1806 one Anne Norris, probably of the Tullamore family of that name. Coghill was dead by 1824 and his business was then owned by his nephew Adam Leech. Leech and his aunt, Mrs Anne Coghill, were among thirteen people who were registered as having died in late May/early June 1832 in Tullamore – part of a much larger number in the cholera epidemic of that year (see previous blog). Their tombstone in Kilcruttin gives a date of 20 and 21 June 1832 with Leech perhaps 34 years and his aunt over 70. Their friend Joseph Manly of Tullamore, a successful businessman, had the stone erected.
The other apothecary in Tullamore in the 1820s was Laverock S. Dunn in Barrack/Patrick Street. He was described as a doctor of medicine while acting also as a surety for a pawnbroker in an 1838 parliamentary list. By that time Tullamore had a third apothecary in John Quirke of Bridge Street (in a building that is now part of the Bank of Ireland) and later of The Medical Hall, High Street. The same house as is still in use.

Philip Belton from the 1830s to 1853, rebuilds and is prominent in local affairs
The successor to Leech in William Street was Philip Belton who spent money renewing the place when he had no title until he got a renewal of the lease in 1842 from the successors of Thomas Acres. Belton was prominent in public affairs. He was secretary to the Tullamore Relief Committee in 1846 and made a strong speech calling on government for more support for famine victims. He was elected to the Tullamore board of guardians in 1849 having tried unsuccessfully in 1844. Furthermore, when the third earl of Charleville succeeded in 1851 and came home to live in Tullamore Belton was on the welcoming committee and read the address to the earl.
Belton died in 1853 and was succeeded by James Coulter who held in 1854 from the executors of Dr Belton. In the first rateable valuation report of 1842 the pharmacy was described as a ‘dwelling, turf shed, store house, scullery, stable, potato house, cattle house, piggery, store house’ and that Dr Belton had built and improved the premises. ‘They are very well enclosed, a good yard and approach from the Corn Market in the rear – no garden – situation very good.’ It was valued for rating purposes at £26 in 1854. Up to the 1960s and 1970s there was access from Columcille Street to Market Square or Cornmarket via a covered lane (in part).

Clonminch C of I - McMichael [108]b
The Drs McMichael were buried in the C of I cemetery in Clonminch in 1890 and 1935

The McMichaels make house calls to all classes
The Belton medical hall was taken over by James Coulter by 1854. One Letitia Coulter died at the Medical Hall, Tullamore in July 1869. Coulter was succeeded in business by the McMichaels, father and son, who were highly esteemed in Tullamore for their medical knowledge and their willingness to share it with all classes including making house calls. In Clonminch Church of Ireland a tombstone records:

McMICHAEL Sacred to the memory of James McMichael who died at Tullamore on the 18th Sept. 1890 aged 77 yrs.
Also his son Dr John McMichael died 23rd Nov. 1935 aged 80 yrs.

The funeral in 1890 of James McMichael was attended by the great and good of Tullamore. If they could not attend they sent their carriage. James McMichael’s sister in Tullamore was Margaret L. Wade who married into an old Tullamore family of Patrick Street.
FUNERAL in 1890 OF AN OLD TULLAMORE INHABITANT – Dr James McMichael
The remains of the late Mr James Mc Michael, who only had about a week ailing, were removed from his residence the Apothecaries Hall, William Street Tullamore, at 3. 45 on Saturday afternoon, for interment in Clonminch cemetery. A number of wreaths of flowers were laid on the coffin, and a large concourse of friends and other sympathisers surrounded the grave, where the funeral service was conducted by the Revd Mr Glenn, Presbyterian minister, who delivered a touching address, pointing out that the chief ambition of their departed brother, was to be Christ-like, and Mr Glynn, speaking for himself, added that a more humble or unselfish man he never met.
The chief mourners were- Dr McMichael, son; Mr W. R. Wade, son in-law. The following amongst others attended or sent carriages- The lady Emily Howard-Bury; George Ridley, Dr. J.M. Kennedy, Rev G. Craig, General Tisdall, Rev Mr Greer, Rev Mr. Winter, Mr P. Egan, Ballycommon; Dr Moorhead, P. Kenny, solicitor; P. Richardson, C. Quirke, C.T.C, ; Messrs Bradley & Son, S.J. Carter, D.I.; E. C. Williams, D. M. Pierce, A. Lumley, T.P. & R Goodbody’s representatives; T.J. Mitchell, Durrow Abbey; J. Weber, Frankford; J Eckford, J. Smith, Kilmurry, P. Fawcett, Cappincur; J Matthews, Clonminch; J. Southern, Killurin, J. Watson, Killurin; J. Commins, Killurin; Dr White, Blue Ball; J. Elcoate, Mucklagh; J. Elcoate, Ballinsragh; Sergts Somers, Coughlin, and Powell; J. Henderson, Clonad, &c. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Mrs. Browne, the hotel, Tullamore.
Dr John McMichael – a Tullamore institution
James McMichael’s son, Dr John McMichael, died, still in harness, in November 1935 suddenly and in his 81st year. He had been 56 years in practice and was an institution in Tullamore visiting clients throughout the streets and lanes of Tullamore, and almost always on foot. He left an estate of £10,000. Curiously, his immediate neighbours and business colleagues, Malachy Scally and J.A. Lumley, died in 1935 and 1936 respectively. A memorial tablet to Dr McMichael was unveiled in the Presbyterian Church, Tullamore in April 1937. After the death of Mrs Ann McMichael in 1943 the McMichael Medical Hall was offered for sale and was acquired by Tom Dolan family who already had a pharmacy in Moate. Later the business was acquired by Edward F. Dolan, a dentist who practised and lived in the building. In 1964 the pharmacy business was acquired by a young Denis O’Connell who is still in the business now led by his daughter Barbara O’Connell and her husband Roger Guiney.

002b Offaly pharmacy Bridge St Tullamore
The Offaly Pharmacy of the Sheilds family (later Purcell’s) at Bridge Street from 1920 to about 1970.

From two to thirteen pharmacies in Tullamore
Newcomers to the pharmacy business in Tullamore in the early to late-twentieth century included Sheilds Offaly Pharmacy in Bridge Street in 1920; Michael Lawless in High Street before 1940; Billy Adams’ pharmacy of Church Street and later Bridge Street in 1948. The Lawless pharmacy in High Street is now the Shishir restaurant and the pharmacy was continued up to the 1960s. Paddy Fahey (died 1982) opened his store in Patrick Street in 1955. He also acted as dispensing pharmacist at the dispensary which was part of St Vincent’s County Home until the 1970 Health Act provided choice of doctor and pharmacy to all with a medical card. Tommy Toohey opened a pharmacy in Harbour Street which was acquired by John O’Donovan in 1997 who went on to have three pharmacies in Tullamore – the latest being at the former Houlihan shop and residence at Ardan Road, now Behan Hall. Rose Finlay opened her store at Main Street in 2006 and further stores have opened at Clonminch and at the former Glynn’s garage at Kilbeggan Bridge. Boots was expected to make a big impact in Bridge Street in the former No. 1 Store (before that Hayes’ Hotel from 1786) as was the new medical centre and pharmacy at Church Road. Notwithstanding growing competition all the pharmacies appear to be doing well and much more so in recent times when the value of personal advice and attention is so much appreciated in a period of severe trauma for many people.

030 Dolan's Pharmacy
Dolan’s Pharmacy about 1978

Dolan’s Pharmacy in Columcille Street is unique in providing a pharmacy dispensing service at the same location for 225 years. Quirke’s Medical Hall (managed and owned by Patrick Carragher, father and son, from the 1930s to 2019) is a close second with 190 years of service in the town and possibly 175 years on the same site that it now occupies in High Street. Would the late Mr Carragher’s famous ‘bottle’ cure Covid 19? We like to think it would. Three cheers for all our pharmacies and the Tullamore retailers in this difficult time for everybody.

20200329 Kilcruttin Cemetery (7) 14 Leech
The Quirke Medical Hall was first established in Bridge Street from about 1830 and was here in High Street by 1854.