The Tullamore Grand Canal Hotel, 1801–1974. By Michael Byrne

The first hotel constructed in Tullamore in 1786 cost £200. The second in 1801 about £4,5,00. Even by multiplying by 200 for the cost of living today, this expenditure was light in the context of the three new hotels in Tullamore in 1997- 2008 which may possibly represent a total expenditure of €25 million for 270 beds. And yet the canal hotel of 1801 was a major investment and may have never made a return to the Grand Canal Company. The need for it disappeared within five years of its construction. By contrast the deprecated Bury Arms (Hayes/Phoenix Arms) in the centre of town was in business for over 200 years.

The Bury Arms (later Hayes Hotel) erected in 1786, demolished 2000. From the Hanly Collection Offaly History. This view in the late 1950s.

The first hotel (that we know of) to be constructed in Tullamore was the Bury Arms Hotel (later the Phoenix Arms, demolished 2000, now Boots Pharmacy), erected in 1786 as an inn for Tullamore at a cost to the landlord, Charles William Bury, of £200. We know that in 1798 it had 13 beds for letting. The hotel was first leased to John Tydd at a yearly rent of £20. John Tydd and his son Benjamin were both dead by 1798 at which point the innkeeper was one Mr Doherty. Captain William Evans, who had been a director of the Grand Canal Company until c.1796, but remained with the Company providing engineering advice until 1805, was critical of the Bury Hotel on his visit there in 1798. His departure from the company in 1805, possibly following soon after the completion of the works to Shannon Harbour in 1804. Notwithstanding Evans’ criticism of the Bury Arms hotel Sir Richard Colt Hore who stayed at the hotel in 1806 wrote: ‘At Tullamore I found a good inn and accommodation at Doherty’s (the Bury, now Charleville Arms) near the Bridge’ (Tour, p. 32). The hotel had changed its name in line with that of the ennobling of the town’s landlord who became Lord Tullamore in 1797, Viscount Charleville in 1800 and earl of Charleville in 1806. It should be mentioned that there was at least one earlier inn in Tullamore, that of Hugh Clough in the 1760s and other smaller hotels post 1800.

The canal had been completed to Tullamore in March of 1798 and was the terminus for six years until the line to Shannon Harbour was completed in 1804. In March 1798 Captain William Evans, a canal engineer wrote:

Whitehall or Bury Bridge and the old canal hotel about 1910. the first canal stores left of the convent and still standing. The church was completed in 1906 for £25,000.

‘Our canal to Tullamore is so nearly finished that the passage boats will begin to ply to and from that place on the second day of April next though it is probable it may be opened some day sooner.’  In April, Evans wrote from Tullamore complaining of the inadequate accommodation available for boat passengers in the town and suggesting to the board that a hotel, a harbour and a bridge be built. In May the board decided that ‘the plan for the harbour at Tullamore marked on the sketch no. 1 and estimated at £566.7.3 be adopted’. Later in the same month, Captain Evans was instructed ‘to use the utmost diligence in laying before the board plans for an hotel, stores, a collector’s house [at St. Brigid’s Place and still standing] and dry docks at Tullamore, together with separate estimates of the expense of each’. In December 1798, Evans put before the board the proposals of Michael Hayes and Maurice Ellis for executing the stonework for the harbour. Hayes’ tender was accepted because in April 1801 he was paid £600 for his work on the harbour and stores. The harbour, stores and Bury Bridge (now Whitehall Bridge) were all built in 1799, but the collector’s house and hotel were not completed until late 1801. John Killaly, the well-known canal engineer (and who later designed Tullamore jail), was responsible for the design of the collector’s house (two-storey, three-bay with round-headed doorcase, south of the old St. Brigid’s boys’ school) and Captain Evans for the hotel. Killaly is remembered now on the wall of Offaly History, Bury Quay, and see an earlier blog.

Evans had recommended that a hotel be built because of the inadequate accommodation in the town and the board accepted his advice. The plan of the Tullamore hotel was to be identical to that at Robertstown which Evans had designed and on which work began in 1799. The building of the Tullamore hotel began in 1801. In February 1801 the board instructed Killaly to stop Mr Hayes from proceeding in building the hotel until he signed his contract. The contract was signed quickly. ‘Mr. Hayes has executed his contract for building an hotel at Tullamore in the same manner and on the same principle as to payment with that subsisting between the company and Mr Semple [the contractor at Robertstown]’. The hotel was supplied with water by means of a one-inch bore from the canal into the scullery of the hotel. A passage boat quay was built opposite the hotel and the road between the hotel and the quay paved (now St. Brigid’s Place).

The canal hotel of 1801 with the 1870s school to the left. The hotel was demolished in 1974 and the school about 2000.

Other building work carried out at this time included the erection of the lockhouses and bridges. The twenty-sixth lockhouse (later known as Boland’s, about one mile east of Whitehall Bridge) was erected about 1800, but the board was displeased at the expense. ‘It appearing to the Board, that the extraordinary and unnecessary expense incurred in building the house of the 26th lock-keeper near Tullamore was not authorised by the Board, ordered that the sum of £42.11s.7d. be struck out of Mr. Hayes’ account until he furnish the board with the authority on which he put the company to the extraordinary expense in building the same.’

The 26th lockhouse for which the builder was fined for ‘extraordinary expense’ is now a love story for Tullamore.

The Kilbeggan Bridge (formerly Pound Bridge) was erected in 1801-03. The canal company had to compensate house owners who suffered damage by the raising of the approach road to the bridge. Charles Berry (now Eugene’s pub) was paid £125, Mrs. Foley £45 and Thomas Washington £73. The Clara Bridge (Cox’s bridge) was built in 1809. This is surprisingly late but may perhaps be explained by the local opposition to the building of the bridges. In December 1802 Lord Charleville ‘promised to use his best endeavours to put an end to the opposition heretofore existing to the proposed situation and number of bridges to be built at Tullamore’. The Kilbeggan bridge was rebuilt in 1929-30 by Duffy Brothers at a cost of £1,300 and the Clara Bridge in the 1960s and again in 2008. The steel footbridge at the northern end of Store Street was erected by Smith and Pearson for £390 in 1934. It was demolished in 2013 and the three new bridges and boardwalk completed in 2014 at a cost of €2m.

the old Kilbeggan Bridge with Conroy’s./Digan’s and now Eugene’s PH

Travelling on the canal was expensive. When the canal reached Tullamore in 1798 a new scale of charges was introduced. On the Dublin-Tullamore run (561/2m) a state cabin cost 10s 10d and a common cabin 5s 111/2d. When the link up was made with the Shannon in 1804 the Dublin-Shannon Harbour trip (781/2 m) cost a state-cabin passenger 16s 3d and a common passenger 9s 51/2 d. The journey was slow, the Tullamore-Dublin trip took about fourteen hours in 1798. When the fly boats were introduced in 1834 the Tullamore-Dublin trip was made in nine hours. Formerly Grand Canal Place, the name St. Brigid’s Place was adopted by the urban council in the early 1900s.

The Canal Hotel was a three-storey building over a basement, seven bays with a central breakfront of three bays and was demolished in 1974. The canal company leased the hotel to George Forrest in August 1801. Forrest agreed to pay a rent of £113. 15s.0d. a year on what was a three-year lease. The canal company lent him £800 to furnish the hotel. The building had cost £4,399. Forrest renewed his lease in 1804 but by 1807 he was complaining that the change in the passage boat timetables had deprived him of much business. In an attempt to meet the competition from canal owners the canal company had been forced to provide a through service to Shannon Harbour and most of the passengers decided to continue the journey rather than stay the night at Tullamore or Robertstown. When Forrest did not renew his lease the board appointed its own hotelkeeper, Robert Boucher, a passage boat master. Boucher was paid two guineas a week and employed for two years until dismissed because of the ‘misconduct of his wife’. Andrew Morgan, a hotel keeper, leased the hotel for £52 per year in 1814. In the 1820s his lease rent was halved when he reported that his business was declining, and finally in 1834 he terminated his lease. The building was leased to Bridget Purcell in 1834. In October 1838, the board was told that the hotel is ‘generally empty’. She surrendered her lease in 1839 and the local canal collector was placed in charge of the building. William Morgan used part of the building as a hotel for two years from June 1841, but the rent went into arrears and he had to surrender the lease.

The board of guardians of the Tullamore workhouse took a lease of the building in 1848 and it was used as a temporary infirmary until June 1851. In 1856 the Midland Great Western Railway Company took a short lease while they were constructing a line from Streamstown to Clara. Finally, in April 1859, the board let the hotel, yard and garden to Rev. Fr MacAlroy, PP, for sixty one years at £20 per annum provided he would undertake to spend £100 on repairs to the property. The building was opened as St. Bridget’s seminary in September 1859 under the charge of Rev. Fr Dunne who remained there until the arrival of the Christian Brothers in January 1862. Fr Dunne was associated with the large-scale emigration to Queensland. The house was now in part occupied by the Brothers and in part as a seminary. When the seminary closed in 1866 that portion of the house came to be occupied by the Catholic curates of the parish. When the Brothers left the hotel in 1893 the parish priest took up residence with his curates.

The above notice a testament to a disastrous investment in the early 1800s.

The house continued to be used as a Catholic Presbytery until it was demolished in 1974 and replaced by a new presbytery to the rear of the old one.

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Coming up: The Dowris Hoard by John Dolan.