High Street : Tullamore’s leading street since 1720. A contribution to the Living in Towns series from Offaly History

Standing at the bridge in Bridge Street and looking south towards the Windmill hill at Cormac Street is to observe 300 years of development comprised of three and two-storey houses and no single-storey properties or ‘cabins’. The latter were reserved for the lanes, side streets and long gardens to the rear of these large houses. When Arthur Young passed through Tullamore in 1770 he remarked that part of the town was well built. We have already looked at the intended first class development of Crow/Tara Street in an earlier article. T.W. Freeman, the geographer, noted in his 1948 article on Tullamore that there was firm ground on either side of the inconspicuous bridge and a slight rise northward to the canal, 203ft. above O.D., some ten feet higher than the river, and southwards to the courthouse, at 225ft. O.D.  Near to the bridge on the west side was the town watermill drawing on the power from the Tullamore or Maiden River and at the high ground behind O’Moore Street and Cormac Street was a windmill dating from the early 1700s. One hundred years later the building of the street was almost completed.

High Street in 1821 contained eighty-four houses and 543 inhabitants. As almost all the houses were built before 1821 and there were only forty-two in 1901 this would suggest that this calculation includes the houses in Bridge Street and sub-divided properties.

In 1901 High Street with a population of 225 had forty inhabited and two uninhabited houses and forty-one families of whom 158 were Roman Catholic, 50 were C of I, 4 Presbyterians and thirteen Methodists. The houses were all slated and stone-walled, twenty-six were placed in the first division and fourteen in the second. As to out buildings there were nineteen stables, five coach houses, three harness rooms, two cow houses, one calf house, one piggery and five fowl houses.

High Street, Tullamore in 1838

According to the census return for 1901 covering the properties only from the Presbyterian Church to Conway & Kearney and from the former Mary Dunne’s (Griffith Valuation – GV 49) to the former Motor Works (GV 29) were 40 occupied dwelling houses with five unoccupied.

Thirty of the properties had servants or assistants living with them, 11 none and five not stated (no. 19 was subdivided). Most of the servants were young girls and all were Roman Catholic with the exception of Curate Craig who has a Church of Ireland servant. There were no male domestic servants but there were male and female assistants in the business and living with the owners. Dr Moorhead in GV 33 had a live-in midwife. The wealthy families had live-in nurses for the children. The street had two hotels, with Hogan’s (GV 16, now part of the town house bar) the smaller, and catering mainly for Catholics, while the larger, Colton’s (GV 48) had mainly Protestant clients.

The returns for the 1911 census were skewed in that High Street in that the return also included Cormac Street and the prison. The street numbers 35 to 81 (equating to GV 5 to GV 49 High Street) had 207 occupants and forty-two buildings of which four were not used as dwellings. Of the occupied houses twenty were in the first class and sixteen were in the second class. There were no single-storey or thatched residential properties or third for fourth class properties. Twenty-one of the houses were private dwellings and the rest mixed use or non-residential. Twenty-two houses had servants or staff living in. This figure was down by eight on that of 1901. The population of the street had fallen by only eighteen since 1901.

The number of Roman Catholics in 1911 was 146, Church of Ireland 42, Presbyterian 12, Methodist 5, Others 2.

Table 1: The number of houses in High Street in 1821, 1901 and 1911 from the census returns

YearNo of houses inhabited/vacantNo of inhabitantsClass of House in 1901 and 1911. None thatched. First classClass of House in 1901 and 1911. None thatched. Second Class
  • Including the later Bridge Street and GV 1–4 High Street. Source: Published abstract of the census for town of Tullamore; the manuscript returns for the 1901 and 1911 censuses. Online from NAI.

High Street with GV (Griffith Valuation 1854) numbers superimposed on this town plan of 1912.

High Street in the eighteenth century was from the bridge at the Tullamore River in Bridge Street to take in the western side of O’Connor Square and proceed to the large open space at the junction with O’Moore Street and Cormac Street. The way via O’Moore Street led to the windmills, Clonminch and the new cutting of about 1812 that provided a Bachelors Walk and access to the new St Catherine’s Church completed on the Hop Hill in 1815. Many have reasonably assumed that Hop Hill is the hillock the gives the name to Tullamore, but there is another view that the hill is that at the top of High Street and where up to two windmills were located from as early as 1715–20. O’Moore Street leads on to the Killeigh Road while that at Cormac Street leads on to the Birr road and the demesne of Charleville.

Tullamore (An Tulach Mhor) was anglicised from the dative form of the Irish name. John O’Donovan preferred the translation as signifying ‘a gentle sloping rise of ground’. This fits very well with the rise from the river to Cormac Street.

Most of the surviving houses in High Street date from the 1740s to the first fifteen years of the 1800s. Yet there is evidence of the commencement of a street here from 1713 with the building of houses GV 1, 2 and 3, followed in the 1740s and 1750s by GV 4, (the Brewery Tap at O’Connor Square west for our purposes) and GV 5 and 6 High Street. Both the northern and southern ends of High Street face important open spaces: the northern end forms the west side of O’Connor Square, and the southern end broadens out to form a triangular open space at the junction of O’Moore Street and Cormac Street. The latter is an important urban space where, as Garner notes, the three approaches are dominated by excellent buildings: O’Moore Street by the town hall (Acres Hall from 1786), Cormac Street by Brian P. Adams and Tullamore House and in High Street, the first house on the east side of Cormac Street (GV 29). The latter was lately Angelo’s takeaway (and others) and prior to that the Motor Works, owned by the Roberts family from the 1930s. The house has a view of the Presbyterian church on the west side of High Street and served as the manse from about 1903 until the mid-1930s.

High Street has been known by its present name since the early 1700s. However, until the early-nineteenth century High Street also included what is now Bridge Street. The street is uniformly wide throughout even allowing for the fact that some of the houses had railed-in areas to the front. Most of these, but not all, were destroyed by the 1970s.

The Crow head lease was to the left from the Presbyterian church to Crow Street. The Crofton lease included Shishir and the two houses to the south. GV 33 (white house ) was Moorhead.

Perhaps the most remarkable of the leases granted was the Crow lease extending from what is now Tara Street to Acres Hall. The centrepiece of this section of street building was the ‘Round House’ (GV 24). Later, after 1800, came the development of Crow Street (now Tara Street) which was unsuccessful over time, but had the merit of being an attempt at making a new street as distinct from cabins on the back garden of a house or houses. This is what happened on the opposite side of High Street with the development of Wheatley’s Lane some thirty to fifty years earlier. On the eastern side of High Street and further up at the junction with O’Moore Street is the late 1750s house of Dr Crofton (GV 29). The lease here provided little or no restrictive covenants and in due course the long garden on the O’Moore Street side and as far as ‘The Cottage’ house beside Moore Hall would be ‘spoilt’ by cabin development. O’Moore Street may not have been considered a street until after 1790–1800 when Thomas Acres developed a mix of single-storey and two-storey houses here on the southern side. It was then the road to Killeigh, but would soon get the grander name of Windmill Street. It is difficult to date Moore Hall, but it may be as early as 1756, while ‘The Cottage’ beside it is about 1809. These two houses and the cabins on the garden of Dr Crofton’s holding (GV 29) looked across to the windmills, perhaps still functioning in 1800.

GV 1 -6 to the left and part of 49 to the right. These houses were from the 1740s and possibly new builds on houses as early as 1713. No. 4 Walshe south of Brewery Tap dates to 1744.

The other fine house in High Street were the Manly (later Goodbody) house at GV1 High Street (now part of the Bridge Centre entrance and formerly the Goodbody/G.N. Walshe garage, dating to the 1740s, and in the 1750s the large house built by Colonel Crow at GV 48 High Street (more recently Samobodino et al). There were some forty-nine houses in High Street in the 1840s, allowing for the fact that some of these included temporarily subdivided houses. In time the number of properties would fall to about forty, all of which were in the first and second division in the 1901 census. Almost all of the houses, save perhaps seven or eight in High Street were three-storey, as in O’Connor Square and Bridge Street. The prominent exceptions were the houses on the site of the 1946 Ritz Cinema (GV 47) which was two-storey and also that on the site of Guy Clothing (now GV 7). The other surprise is GV 48, the house of Col. Crow, which was two-storey until about 1900. It was enlarged with a third storey at that time to provide additional accommodation for Colton’s Hotel (recently Sambodino etc. Besides the larger houses it does seem that the two terraces, one being part of the Round House (GV19–26) and the other on the eastern side from the former Horan’s gift shop to Heffernan’s Auctioneers (GV36–39) are c. 1750s in date. While this does always match up with the dates of the surviving leases it is suggested that many of the leases granted in 1786 were a tidying up operation, attractive both to the landlord and the tenant, and designed to replace or standardise and cure perceived defects.

Evidence of the leases granted is available from 1713 for GV 1–3, but more generally from the 1740s and 1750s, but usually only for the large houses such as Manly’s (GV 1), Colonel Crow’s (GV 48), Dr Crofton’s (GV 29) and the Round House property (GV 24). Because of the minority of Charles William Bury for almost twenty-one years from 1764 to 1785, and the re-organisation of the estate rental in 1786, the majority of the leases date from March 1786. Are there houses later than 1786 in this street? Yes, the sites leased to Mrs Slater in 1812 for development (GV 34–5 the former McGinn residence and part of the Direct Provision Centre) and the Presbyterian church, not built until the 1860s and so not assessed in the manuscript or Griffith valuations. In all there were 25 head leases granted by the landlord Moore and Bury families on the street and almost double that in rated distinct holdings. This was due mainly to the large frontage to the Berry lease and its division into eleven rated properties. The Crofton leasehold contained three houses to the High Street, 29-31. All the leaseholders were Protestant save that in no 49 Joseph Flanagan, the distiller, who was granted a 999-year lease and not a freehold.

The original doorcase for the Scott Turpin (GV 8 and 9) holding can be seen beside the gas lamp while the flatheaded doorcase to the left of it is more recent. A larger six-bay house was planned but soon after sub-divided. Both had shopfronts. The Quirke pharmacy, formerly the Dr Brereton leasehold, is that with the lace curtains.

As with High Street east side a few people dropped out of the purchase of plots or sold on their entitlement before any lease was formalised in the 1740s to 1812 period. Scott went bankrupt and what was intended as large house with a front of 50 ft became two houses owned by Revd Thomas Turpin. Robert Stewart did not proceed here, but he was a purchaser of 4 and 5 Patrick Street and property in Offally Street. There were two houses on what became the Bank of Ireland (GV 15) and we can assume that George Slater took over about 1810, as did his wife with two houses  (GV 34-5) on the east side in 1812. These were the last houses built on the street while the Presbyterian Church is dated to 1865. We are excluding the Bridge Centre development of 1995, the new Ulster Bank and the Ritz Cinema of 1946.

The street frontage to the sites for the houses was by no means uniform and were larger in the 1740s and 1750s at 55 feet as with the lease to Manly of 1741 and 90 ft to cover the fronts of GV nos 1 and 2 in 1786. The lease to Crow with 336 ft represented purchases by his predecessors in title. Both it and the lease to Dr Crofton of 1758 (GV 29) meant the landlord had lost control of the entrance area to Tullamore from the south. Large sites could mean not only big houses, but also indifferent development or vacant land at the perimeter. This happened at the Crofton site (GV 29) which extended to what is now the Cottage in O’Moore Street, but less so with the Crow Round House property on High Street, west (GV 19–26). Granted both Crofton and the Round House were both fine houses, but their large land holdings precluded planned development at the junction with O’Moore Street, the legacy of which has survived right down to the present day with indifferent development between The Manse (GV 29) and Tyrrell’s shop. The Crofton lease did allow for the building post 1790 of GV 30 and GV 31, both fine houses. By the mid-1790s site frontage was generally smaller with usually some 35 ft in width This can be seen in the houses built on GV 8–12 while GV 13 to 17 were large sites with two houses developed on each. Exceptions here are the Hadley-Wilson lease with 92 ft (now Farrelly’s house) and the Hill lease (GV 45, now Ross). These are among the best houses on High Street and were probably the subject of lease agreements in advance of the lease so as to ensure compliance with the building proposals. That said there was no great uniformity in the size of house by contrast with say Columcille Street and O’Carroll Street later on. This reflected the variety of owners and assuming that the Crow development took place over sixty to seventy years. While the site leased to Mary Ann Moore in High Street, comprising a frontage of 75 feet was used to provide for four shops and houses in the terrace from Horan’s to Heffernan’s (nos 36–9) and led to the development of Wheatley’s Lane (later called O’Neill’s Lane) to the rear of GV 39.

The street line at Allan’s (south of Farrelly’s) GV 36-42, as far as Horan’s, suggests earlier houses of c. 1750. This picture about 1963 and before parking was restricted on High Street to one side only by 1964 and later monetised. The tractors were from Walshe’s garage (GV 1). Curiously the house at the Ritz Cinema was the first to be demolished in High Street c. 1940 and the cinema itself (£30,000) forty years later in 1980. Thoughts of arts centres there were but there was no money to be found and only a little enthusiasm.

The quality of building was good in High Steet with almost all houses three-storey and slated. Many had front ironwork railings, some of which have survived including nos. 5 (Conway & Kearney, no. 15 (Hoey & Denning, albeit 1870s) and the Round House and adjoining (nos 23 and 24), the Direct Provision (GV 32–35), Donal Farrelly, GV 43, the late Dermot Kilroy, now Ross (GV 45). Apart from the houses demolished to provide access to car parking or a new street (three houses, GV 19, 20 and GV 40), some were demolished or spoilt from the 1940s to the 1970s before understanding of architectural merit was available at planning or proprietorial level. These included GV 47 for the Ritz cinema in 1940–46, GV 44, the Crawford/Kilroy’s showrooms in 1960, GV 14, the Ulster Bank about 1973 and Colonel Crow’s house, GV 48, (later Sambadinos/Jade) in 1974. GV 40 beside the Spollen pub was demolished as was the house on the south side of the junction of High Street with Crow Street. The Motor Works house (Crofton, no. 29) was also spoilt with over exploitation and the petrol pumps facility in what had been a railed off garden to the front. The residence of Dr Moorhead from the 1900s to the 1950s (GV 32–3) was raised to three storeys and incorporated with the three-storey house adjoining built by Mrs Slater (GV 34). Notwithstanding these losses much has survived too and in good order including Conway & Kearney (GV 5), Hoey & Denning, since the 1870s (GV 15), Round House and the house adjoining (GV 23­–4) the Presbyterian church, Donal Farrelly (GV 43) and the late Dermot Kilroy, now Ross (GV 45), together with good shopfronts in Shishir (GV 31), the former Mary Dunne (GV 49) and others.

Text : copyright Michael Byrne with thanks to Breda Kenny and Brian Cleary.

For other articles on High Street recently see that on Crow Street and the Arts Centre no. 13 High Street. We welcome articles to info@offalyhistory.com.  We thank the Ballyboy NS boys and girls for last Saturday’s article and look forward to other schools contributing to the twice weekly series. Ideal articles for whiteboards!

Thanks to support from the Heritage Council and Offaly County Council for this series.