Cormac Street, Tullamore: a significant achievement for the planning process, 1786–2020. A contribution to Tullamore 400th and the Historic Towns Initiative to support town regeneration. By Michael Byrne

Cormac Street is somewhat unique in the story of Tullamore street development with its forty houses, two major institutional buildings and a town park. Rarely is a street preserved without blemish with so many elements over a two-hundred-year period. Cormac Street was also the home of the town’s major property developer and rentier Thomas Acres (d. 1836) who built his Acres Hall in 1786 (now the home of Tullamore Municipal Council). To the earl of Charleville and Thomas Acres is due most of the credit for the transformation of a green field site with Kilcruttin Hill and cemetery to the west and the Windmill Hill to the east. Acres could thank the war with France, 1793–1815, for the boost to the local economy that provided him with tenants for the terrace of houses on the east side. The expansion of Tullamore after 1798 due to the Grand Canal connection with Dublin and the Shannon provided the impetus to secure a new county jail (1826–30), county town status in 1832 and to take effect in 1835 with the completion of the county courthouse. War, politics and pride of place all contributed to the mix. The Bury contribution was rounded off when Alfred (later the fifth earl) secured a new railway station at Kilcruttin in place of that at Clonminch in about 1865.

Cormac Street has had the benefit of careful planning in its first hundred years and has managed to survive the excesses of the post 1960 and post 1997 periods of rapid development. The saving of Acres Hall in the 1980s was a significant achievement. What are these elements that contribute to the street and how did it all come about? Here are set out twenty points and probably more could be added.

First of all the street is on the road to Charleville Demesne where the owners of Tullamore have lived since the 1640s, and more particularly from about 1740 up to 1912. As a result development was controlled on the approach road or what might be considered as a long extensive avenue or drive to Redwood and called Charleville from 1740. Elements of this planning can be seen in the following:

Charleville Parade now Cormac Street about 1910. Acres Folly to the left of the farm shed. The 1750s Crofton building at the corner with O’Moore Street.

Acres Hall, 1786 – home of the Acres family until 1891.
The houses erected in 1800-1805 for the use of the military four bays to each street and three-storey over basement.
The terrace to the west side is earlier. – 1790s. The two with brick detail are later infill of 1898. The three three-storeys would be mid 1790s.
  1. The building of 29 High Street – the three-storey house at the corner of High Street and O’Moore Street. A significant building on the approach road.
  2. The provision in a lease of 1785-95 of the house later known as Elmfield (now the site of Aras an Chontae) that no thatched cabins be allowed on the main road nearer than 600 ft.
  3. The design of Acres Hall with stone façade and closing off the vista from what is now O’Moore Street. It was the first new house in Cormac Street dated to 1786 in a street that up to then had no development.
  4. The placing of Acres Folly in the garden of Acres Hall in the years 1812-15. So well Thomas Acres could celebrate, it was a win-win for him not only abroad (Spain and Waterloo) but also in his home town with up to 140 properties. Most of those on Cormac Street east were occupied by the army from completion c. 1800 to the end of the war in 1815. The recent restoration (2020–21) of the folly and its rendering in white makes it an attractive and now noticed addition to the town landscape and the town park of which it is now a part.
  5. The building about 1800 of the large house with two faces to Cormac Street and O’Moore and which was used as a barracks. Names of regiments are carved into the timber in the ground floor of what is now Tullamore House. This house was a significant achievement and grander in scale that Joseph Flanagan’s building of 1787 at High Street O’Connor Square.
  6. The planning of the terrace south of this property as far as what became the Wellington barracks (north of the courthouse).
  7. The reservation of two large sites south of the Wellington Barracks for the new county jail and the county courthouse – both provided free of charge to the county to ensure that they would be built, bring business and prestige to Tullamore.
  8. The building of the brick house opposite the jail entrance to enhance the area opposite the jail.
  9. The design and build of the two large houses north of the courthouse (Delaney’s and Loughman’s) to enhance the contribution of the courthouse.
  10. A crescent of houses was designed for what is now the town park in a drawing by the young Lady Bury (c. 1830–40). This proposal did not proceed due to perhaps nearness to a cemetery, danger of flooding and the building boom was over by the 1830s.
  11. The design of the ten Acres houses opposite the jail about 1879 was the best in town for this standard of house in the post-Famine period and before building resumed after the 1890s.
  12. The four jail lawn houses of 1889 complemented the jail itself and were in stone and brick with hierarchy in the chief warder’s house nearest to the street.
  13. The building of two new houses in brick south of Acres Hall in 1898 by McMullen to a high standard of infill.
  14. The retention of the old mill building as six apartments facing the town park from the north.
  15. The adoption of the town park plan in about 1982 and its final completion to the highest standards in 2006-8. This includes the Kilcruttin cemetery the memorials in which are mostly in situ. Bottling plants and council offices had been mentioned in the 1960s and 1970s.
  16. Renewals at the terrace in Cormac Street have been mostly to a high standard. The residential quality has not been lost entirely and in a few cases has been enhanced.
  17. Coleman’s Place was gradually demolished after 1900 and it remains to be seen how the former council yard will be adapted in the context of current housing pressures.
  18. The refurbishment of courthouse in 2007 was a major success and to a high standard. The decision to rebuild in 1925–27 was a brave one given the cost at £32,000 and the scarcity of money in those years.
  19. The retention of the façade of the jail in 1937 and the recent restoration of the railings is a statement of value.
  20. So also is the work of John Walsh in the clean up the chief warder’s house in Jail Lawn and to all the residents there for the painting of railings and the clean up of the front. These parts had scarcely been attended to for ninety years.

Houses erected by Dr George Pierce, son-in-law of Acres, in late 1830s, and not let until the 1850s. Designed to show off the courthouse to advantage.
The courthouse and jail of 1830-35.
Recent restoration of the railings to great advantage. The Gates in black are probably 1889.

The devil is in the detail and in later issues we can return to the building of the street, the owners and occupiers and housing conditions.

The four houses built for warders in 1889. The chief warder had the first one to the right.

Restoration works at Acres Folly of c. 1812-15, nearing completion in 2020-21.

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