Remembering Patrick Street, Tullamore in the 1950s and 1960s. By Patrick Hennessy

A contribution to our Heritage Town series

Despite being out of the town for more years than I care to count I still get a kick out of telling people “I’m from Tullamore”. This often leads to “are you from the Town”? To which I readily reply in the affirmative, mentioning that I grew up on Patrick St. This invariably brings back memories of those happy days long ago. As a youngster in the 50s and early 60s I felt – and still do! – that Patrick St was the centre of the universe, a fantastic microcosm of daily life at the crossroads of the known world (well, High Street and William Street). To my young eyes it was Times Square, Piccadilly and the Istanbul souk all rolled into one. I remember the great variety of shops, with all kinds of enticing and exotic goodies, and behind the counters a wonderful collection of “grown-ups”, friendly but also each a source of curiosity to this young shopper. There was Talbots, definitely first among equals, where all your sweet fantasies could be fulfilled: ice creams (“wafers”) went from 2 pennies to 6 pennies (though I also remember a one penny half portion), while every cavity inducing confection was available from big glass jars. Particularly good value was the two-penny chocolate covered Trigger toffee bar. Turning right out of our house, you came to Cathy Dunne’s sweet shop, cousins of my dad, and always with an encouraging word for the “little fella”.

A major presence on Patrick St in those days of course was D E Williams, both the head office, almost directly opposite where we lived (now the Credit Union) and the Five Star supermarket. One of my earliest memories is going for messages to “Williamses” while it still had the old counter lay-out. When soon after the supermarket, with aisles, trolleys and checkouts arrived we felt we were the last word in modernity. My dad worked for D E Williams so I quickly got to know his friends and colleagues as they came and went to Head Office – I recall names such as Willie Hoctor, Bill Jaffray, Mick Quirke, Tom Droogan (a table tennis partner of Dad’s from Saint Mary’s and De Montfort Hall days, not to mention the best electrician you would ever meet), Mary Plunkett, Kathleen Bracken, Willie Ralph, Tony Drea, John McInerney, Bill Igoe, Colm Fox, and Colm O’Brennan. A little later I had a summer job at the Order Desk where, under the able guidance of Jimmy Smyth, and dealing with publicans across the Midlands, I learned a lot about the commercial world (and indeed life in general), lessons which served me well over the years. I also recall stints in the back office dealing with “returns”, and credit and debit notes – here Peter Weir, one of nature’s gentlemen who passed away far too early, was a key and friendly figure.

Patrick Street about 1960

But this was just the beginning – the variety in Patrick St was endless. Between them Marrons – Owen and Kathleen had been great friends of my parents, all Tennis Club stalwarts from an earlier time – and Kenaneys met our footwear needs; McFaddens likewise for drapery (do younger readers even know what that means!) with men and boys at the front (under the direction of Dinny Tierney) and the ladies discreetly at the back. For hardware there was Armstrong’s, though we also ventured as far as Paddy Cloonans on many an occasion. Directly opposite our house we had Fahey’s Chemist and Mrs Hanlon who kept us supplied with newspapers and comics. Wyer’s Cake shop beside us had a great line in apple tarts. The hospitality sector was well also well represented: Bolger’s Hotel was across the road while Hayes’s Hotel (though not strictly on Patrick St) was in our line of vision. Pubs included McGowans which was next door to us, Bradys, Williams and Wrafters (I well recall seeing advertisements for outings to the Isle of Man in Wrafters window and unsuccessfully nagging my parents to sign up – an early indication of a taste for foreign travel!).

Marron’s shop was the successor to the Mulready leather store and dates to about 1900. The old Mulready Marron store was on the opposite side of the street

And of course I remember when television came to town, and thanks to Gilsons we were able to watch the opening night of RTE. To round things off there was also a bookies right next door, where once a year we ventured, somewhat tentatively, to place each way bets on Grand National no-hopers. History does not record any significant capital gains!

Of course Patrick St like everywhere had a past – my father, who grew up on the street, often referred to it as Barrack St, the name by which it had been known to his parents and deriving of course from the (now) Garda station at the end of the street, a military barracks in pre-independence times. Speaking of history I remember well a lecture given in Saint Mary’s Hall by the parish priest Dr Moran on the history of the town – and listening with rapt attention to tales of ballooners and disastrous fires raging out of control. While regretting the destruction, the sense that one came from somewhere really interesting was a definite plus. This of course was in the period before my friend and classmate Michael Byrne began his great work of bringing the history of the locality to a wider and appreciative audience.

The Williams’ supermarket in the 1970s

Like birds in the nest the time came when we eventually ventured beyond the confines of Patrick St. In my case the road to knowledge began with Miss Savage in Infants class – while memories of the early years are faint (there are allegations of picking the wool off the cardigan of a classmate from the New Road!), I do recall May processions in the garden of the old convent, where in later years poor Sister Bernadette tried unavailingly to teach me piano. She’s entirely blameless for the lack of progress! At about eight years of age I switched to the Brothers, where I remained right through to the end of the secondary cycle. In the Junior School I remember Mr Burke, who prepared us for the Primary Certificate examination – much criticized by educators, but training for the mental arithmetic test came in useful. In the Brothers at the time, in transferring from the junior to senior cycle, you went straight from 5th class to 2nd year – a statistical sleight of hand but one with scope for youthful bragging rights with mystified relations!

The Williams’s shop and transport of malt for export, about 1954.

Among the staff were Brothers Geraghty and Giffney as Superiors; others included Brothers Murphy, Bannon (who I remember interrupting “night school” to tell us of the shooting of President Kennedy in Dallas), Killeen, McNamara (an Everton fan who started an aeromodelling club) and Judge (who coordinated mass servers). I also recall a very youthful and dynamic maths teacher who arrived not long before the Leaving Certificate and injected an unexpected excitement into the teaching of a challenging syllabus. I was delighted years later in Rome to meet a still sprightly Brother Mullan, then a senior figure in the Order. The lay teachers of that era included Seamus O’Dea, Pat Carthy, Sean Breathnach and Tommy Mullins. Looking back on my time at CBS Tullamore, I have always had a great sense of appreciation for the excellent start in life provided by a first-class and committed team of educators and mentors.

The other pillar of my adolescent years in Tullamore was the Tennis Club. Given our parents’ past associations with the Club it was no surprise that we were introduced to Arden at an early age – and for all of us in the family it quickly became the natural focus of our summer leisure activities. The stars of the court in those days were Tadgh Lamb and Brendan Minnock – we used to watch and wonder would we ever play as well (needless to say, we did not). A big event every year was the Junior Midland Championships on the grass courts at Birr Ormond. This was our Wimbledon – umpires, whites, impeccably maintained courts and (very important) top class teas with sandwiches and cream cakes. Back in Tullamore we had our own club championships, and at one point a club ladder was introduced (adding a little edge to our “friendlies”). Later on we juniors were included in the Men’s team for the Provincial Towns Cup – setting off most weeks in cars and minibuses to combat familiar rivals as well as well as visiting some hitherto unknown parts of the Midlands. And after dark there was the Clubhouse hops, where romances began…

The opening of the Conference Room of D. E. Williams over the Patrick St shop. L to R: Paddy Hennessy (father of the author of this article), Tony Drea, Mrs Angela Williams, Edmund Williams, Bill Jaffray, Mr Wrafter, Eddie Cullen.

And for this native son, Tullamore will never lose its romantic allure. Long may it continue.

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Our thanks to Patrick Hennessy for this lovely piece recalling what is still the most important trading street in Tullamore town centre. Pics and caps Offaly History

Our thanks to John Wrafter for additional material on the Gill family. We have updated the blog.