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Hidden gems of O’Connell Street in new book
By Jessica Quinn
O’CONNELL Street in Ennis may be the county’s most famous street but even those who stroll along the thoroughfare daily may be surprised by its hidden gems and colourful history.
Next Thursday at 8pm in the Old Ground Hotel, Mayor of Ennis Peter Considine will launch a new book, O’Connell Street, Ennis by local historian Larry Brennan.
Larry, with the Clare Roots Society, has prepared this book to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the name change of Jail Street to O’Connell Street.
He believes local traders could capitalise on the street’s historic significance by celebrating the anniversary, boosting business and tourism.
According to Larry, the street offers a wealth of information about the town’s past – you just have to look for it.
He revealed, “When most people look up at the O’Connell monument, most people see Daniel O’Connell but I see additional things. I see that some of his jaw is missing, which was to do with the Troubles. And secondly, there is an incorrect spelling of Tom Steele, which has been spelt Stell. Back in the ’50s, work was done on the monument by Clare County Council and it was expected that it would be corrected but the alteration never took pace. I think at this stage, it would be a shame to change it, it’s unusual and it’s been there over 100 years now and is a part of history.
“There is the post office box, which is a 100 years old. The Eucharistic Congress symbols up high, the foot scraper down low, which has been preserved due to the input of Oliver Moylan. In the Cathedral, if you look at the old cross on the left hand side, that was the foundation stone for education in Ennis. That was erected at a mission in Ennis and resulting from that mission, the Christian Brothers and Sisters of Mercy came to Ennis.
“Ennis is one of the oldest towns around, it’s not a walled town or a designed town, it evolved. The street pattern that we know today, the ‘y’ pattern that exists of Abbey Street, O’Connell Street and Parnell Street dates back to about 1680 but the town itself dates back to the foundation of the Franciscans. There is just so much history there and there is great tourism potential here. There is an opportunity there for shopkeepers to use this book and the anniversary for a celebration of O’Connell Street. Most tourists visiting Clare will make their way to the street, a glance of this book will make their visit more informative and enjoyable.”
The book contains over 150 pages detailing the historical and archaeological background of Ennis, from the earliest monastic foundation of Drumcliff in the 10th century to the erection of the Market Day sculpture in February of 2012.
It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. An early Coghlan’s Medical Hall advertisement for Christmas, included in the book, reminds people not to let the depression prevent them from giving presents to our friends.
While the publication marks the 100th anniversary of the change of the street name, Larry recalled finding the exact date was difficult.
“On March 21, 1910, Ennis Urban Council voted to change a number of the street names in the town. But no set date was proposed for the actual name changeover. The only way to establish when the name change came into effect was by looking at the advertising at the time. Maurer’s Jewellers had an advert in every week and on the end of June 1911, they had Jail Street and in July, it was O’Connell Street. The post office didn’t change it until December 1913.”
While the publication has something to interest many, particularly locals, Larry explained the main purpose of the book is for genealogical purposes, to allow current and future generations trace their families and the place they come from.
“Clare Roots Society has prepared this book in an attempt to set a template for other roads and estates to research their background and records for future generations, the details associated with the street or area,” he explained.
To this end, he reviewed the available records with regard to the individuals associated with the 89 buildings on the street. The book also includes a number of old photographs not previously published along with advertisements and invoices.
Among the extensively researched items featured in the book are articles on Daniel O’Connell, the history and construction of the O’Connell monument and its predecessor, the Old Court House, by means of a William Turner de Lond painting of the area circa 1820 - 1837.
Included is a calendar of events for the town, in which we learn that Ennis became the capital of Clare on August 17, 1584. Other highlights include, in 1620, a patent granting the Earl of Thomond ownership of the soil on which the town was built and on which the markets were held was issued. In 1809, the first regular stagecoach service between Ennis and Limerick was inaugurated. In 1831, Ennis Corporation ceased to function and there was a widespread determination among townspeople not to pay tolls or customs. 1901 saw the Great Motor Race pass through Ennis, while September of that year saw the first aeroplane pass over the town. In 1992, there was the introduction to wheelie bins to the town.
Over the years, the street has been associated with various tragedies, which have been detailed in this new book. The destructive fire of 1878 where Mrs Roche and Miss Gabbett lost their lives is just one of the events that are remembered.
The effects the Troubles had on the street is detailed with the coup of June 23, 1920 at Darcy’s Corner, the injury of a young girl Mary Cunningham in 1921, the death of six-year-old Patrick Morrissey in 1921 and the death of James Glynn in 1934 are all recalled.
The book details the various residents, shopkeepers and their family members within the 89 buildings, using newspapers, obituaries, land records, census returns and voting registers, invoices and gravestones as sources. Details of the changeover of traders of the properties on the street from 1800 to 2012 are outlined.
Long-forgotten names like Bannatyne, Beehive Café, Bluett, Darcy, Forte, Griffin, Hayes, Honan, Mangans, Mitchell, Ranalow and O’Brien, Rynne, Spellissy, Stevens, Tuohy, Wylde and many more are recalled.
Memories of the three Dunleavy sisters from Donegal who went on to marry traders Griffin, Wilson and Mulqueen are recalled. The arrival of the Belgians, Chinese and Germans to the street are also detailed. The book establishes Moloney’s as the longest-trading shop on O’Connell Street followed by Moylan’s and Maurer’s trading for over 100 years. O’Dea’s and Heaslips are identified as the only traders trading and living on the street.
O’Connell Street also produced a number of councillors, with Ahern, Brennan, Costelloe, Kelly, Malone and Tuttle all associated with the street.
A number of clubs were also situated on the street, the Foresters’ Club, Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the IRA Club, all of which are remembered in the book.
The publication also features a review of the buildings on the street, including details on the Cathedral, the Old Ground Hotel’s complex of buildings, along with the Clare Hotel, Glynn’s, Lally’s and the Star Hotel, the Rink and Gaeity cinemas.
The opening of the first supermarket in Ennis at 65 O’Connell Street by Jimmy Enright is featured as well as Brogan’s Bar and its previous owners including Cahir, Considine and Brian Hogan, son of the former Ceann Comhairle Patrick Hogan. In a separate article, Tony Cassidy details the history of the post office network on the street.
The book purposefully has not included the street’s lanes, with Larry saying he hopes that at some future date, that aspect of the town could be explored. Other publications by members of the Clare Roots Society on a number of other places in the town are currently in the pipeline following the success of the previously produced history of Steele’s Terrace. The society is hoping more people will research other areas, such as the Market, Mill Road, Parnell Street, the Turnpike and Drumbiggle Road.
He praised Ennis Town Council for their support on this project. Larry says that his research into the history of O’Connell Street is not complete. “I’m not finished yet, I couldn’t have found everything. I had to stop at this point to get it out in time for the anniversary. But if anybody has further information, or wishes to correct anything I have said, I welcome it. It’s mentioned in the forward of the book that correction is a gift, so I look forward to receiving a lot of gifts for Christmas.”