Midleton’s Brodrick Street gets a History Board

Brodrick street c1900

Brodrick Street, Midleton, also called Coolbawn by the locals, seems to have been laid out around 1800. The fine terrace of five late Georgian town houses were owned by the Callaghan family in the first half of the nineteenth century. The second house from the right is now undergoing restoration. This photo was taken sometime between 1900 and 1918 and is the view eastwards towards the Main Street. The view is somewhat more cluttered now, with electric cables and buildings closing the view on Main Street. The motor car was a rarity at the time, but the more common ‘car’ is the tipped up covered jaunting car seen in the distance. I love the way the motor car has complete freedom to drive in the middle of the roadway!

Please note:  I just did a quick update on this post by including the early twentieth century photo from the National Library of Ireland’s collection.

On the very sunny morning of Friday 5th December 2014 I joined Monica and Tony Moore for a press photocall at our new history board recently set up in Brodrick Street, Midleton.  The Moores have very kindly sponsored the production of this history board, which originated from an idea proposed by and encouraged by Anne McCarthy, who runs a gift shop on the street.  She really wanted to tell something of the history of the street to go along with the advertising that is so common in Midleton.  Anne told Tony and Monica Moore, who promptly offered to sponsor the history board.  I offered to do the text – which required some research, amendments and corrections until all parties were satisfied.  Mrs Mary Cott and Tony Moore contributed their own knowledge to the research. The photos and text of the history board were published in a local newsheet, Midleton and District News on Wednesday 10th December.

Coolbawn History Board

The Brodrick Street/Coolbawn history board in situ. From left to right are: Monica & Tony Moore, sponsors, and, squinting into the low winter sun, yours truly as the author of the text.  (Photo courtesy of Midleton & District News.)

Brodrick Street is also called Coolbawn by the locals – it must be very confusing if a visitor to the town stops to ask were to find a certain premises and the locals say ‘Coolbawn‘ when the correct address is Brodrick Street!  The title of the history board text was Brodrick Street/Coolbawn: one street two names?  I put forward the idea that the name Coolbawn was original name of the area stretching from the Roxborough River (or Dungourney River) in the south to the wall of St John the Baptist churchyard in the north and from Main Street in the east to the Owenacurra River in the west.  Coolbawn may mean ‘back meadow’ and the area is still liable to flood when the two rivers are high and the winds are right.  The opening of Brodrick Street into this area around 1800 was designed to provide a fine residential address in the middle of the town, as indeed it must have been in the early years.

Brodrick Street overhead full

A relatively short street, Brodrick Street didn’t actually lead anywhere until it was linked to the Bailick Road in the 1890s. The mast is part of the electrical grid system. The Midleton Gasworks were based on Brodrick Street from the 1850s to the 1950s. (Image courtesy of Midleton & District News)

One of the families associated with the street were the Callaghans – the descendants of a successful woolen draper, Mathias Callaghan, and his wife, Charlotte Fitzgerald, who married in 1815.  They had some thirteen or fourteen children, the eldest of whom, John Callaghan, became a major figure in the commercial life of Midleton.  The construction of the terrace of five late Georgian town houses is attributed to him by some authors.  However, although he was the immediate lessor of nine properties on the street in Griffith’s Valuation (1840s -1850s), it is not confirmed that he or his father built these.  Certainly the last of John Callaghan’s descendants to live on the street, Richard John, died in 1935 and the house was sold to the Coffey family, members of the biggest building firm in the town.

The firm of JJ Coffey & Sons operated from Brodrick Street in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  This firm built much of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Midleton, their masterpiece being the large Holy Rosary Catholic Church (1894-96).  They also built the spire of Holy Rosary Church in 1907-08.  I have reason to believe that my great grandfather worked for JJ Coffey as a stone cutter.  One of his descendants still lives in the house purchased after the death of Richard John Callaghan in 1935.

Brodrick Street overhead

The terrace of five late Georgian town houses is still inhabited, with the fourth house getting a much needed restoration. The small two story house next to the terrace was a local ‘taxi’ service (pony and trap) before motor cars became commonplace. This photo is taken from the multi-story carpark located behind Pugin’s pair of houses! (Image courtesy of Midleton & District News)

Another family that flourished on Brodrick Street were the Moores.  Two entrepreneurial sisters, Marie and Nora Moore ran a paid parking garage for bicycles and motorbikes next to the cinema during the 1950s.  For good measure, the Moore sisters also ran a sweet shop to satisfy the cravings of cinema patrons.   But more seriously the two ladies also stored coal (brought up by horse and cart from the port at Ballinacurra via the Bailick road) and raw wool from Australia for the Midleton Worsted Woolen Mills.  And they say that Irish women were repressed in the 1950s!  Not these two!

Sadly, I was obliged to be suggestive rather than totally prescriptive in my text for the history board, because, despite the valiant work of a very few individuals, the full history of Midleton has not yet been properly researched and published.   Hopefully the Brodrick Street history board (and the publicity about it!) will get people interested and we’ll be able to put up more such boards around Midleton.  Maybe then the demand for an accessible history publication will generate the momentum for research.  Signs are hopeful since I’ve had one comment about the history board – ‘I never knew there was so much history on the Coolbawn!’

I would like to thank Anne McCarthy for proposing the idea, Monica and Tony Moore for sponsoring the history board (and sharing some memories of the street),  Mrs Mary Cott for sharing her memories of the street – and showing me the original photograph of her formidable grandfather, the builder JJ Coffey.  Furthermore I should record my thanks to Ms Becky Grice at Midleton & District News for the publicity and for the images shown on this post. 

Link:  midletonnews.com

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Hurricane Gonzalo blows out – and a Midleton Walking Tour blows in!

Last week I had an email from Grace Fox at SECAD (South & East Cork Area Development).  She asked me to give a tour of Midleton to a group taking a new Tourism and Heritage Programme at SECAD.   Her suggestion was to do the tour on Tuesday 21st October.  I said ‘yes’ subject to the weather – the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo was due to arrive overnight on Monday and continue into the next day.  Fortunately the worst of the storm went north, and we got away lightly here in the deep south.

I met the group of about twelve people at the Courthouse at the northern end of Main Street (and believe me the wind was bitter – thermal underwear weather!). First we looked around the Fair Green and old Goose’s Acre area with the old Workhouse (now the Community Hospital), Allen’s Mill (now apartments), Neville’s garage (formerly part of the old US Naval Air Station at Aghada – moved here in 1921!), the Courthouse (by George and Richard Pain, 1829), the Munster & Leinster Bank by George Coppinger Ashlin (now the Allied Irish Bank).

Main Street Midleton

Midleton Walking Tour

The northern end of Main Street.  Yes, that is a blue sky in the background!  The red brick structure is the Allied Irish Bank, designed in a Dutch Renaissance style by George Coppinger Ashlin and built for the Munster and Leinster Bank in 1902.  The Courthouse stands directly opposite (out of picture). The yellow building is one half of a structure that once contained the Post Office and was built in 1910.  The building now houses a bookshop on the ground floor and law offices upstairs, convenient for the Courthouse. 

It’s so nice to have an attentive group!

 

We then proceeded down Main Street looking Old Bank House, the predecessor of the Munster & Leinster Bank, the older of the two Market Houses in Midleton (the town is unique in having TWO Market Houses), the different building plots on Main Street, and then on to Connolly Street to look at Midleton College (founded 1696).  This is a secondary school (boarding and day school) not a third level institution. It was also the site of one of the earliest known experiments in medical anesthesia in Ireland in the 1830s.  The wind dropped and the temperature seemed more pleasant once we had the shelter of the buildings in Main Street.

From there we returned to Main Street, crossing over to Church Lane, to view St John the Baptist’s Church (Church of Ireland) and the oldest cemetery in Midleton, going back to the seveneeth century – I have ancestors buried there.  This was also the site of the Cistercian Abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann in Irish, meaning the Monastery of the Weir, the weit being the most valuable asset of the monastery at the Dissolution).  At one period the settlement was known as Corabbey, until the charter of King Charles II in 1670 gave the town an official corporate identity and a new name – MIDLETON.  Even the spelling is by royal appointment!  St John the Baptist’s Church is the third Anglican church on the site since 1670 and was also designed by George and Richard Pain (1825).

Moving on to Main Street, we stopped to look at the library which is now housed in the ‘new’ Market House.  Well, it was new in 1789 when it was built – just in time for the French Revolution!  It later became known as the ‘Town Hall‘ – that is, a place used by the town as a reading room (how appropriate that it houses the library) and as a place of assembly for public meetings, dinners and even dances.  Bear in mind the shambles was on the ground floor (the butchers’ market)!  I’m sure this added a delightful aroma to the genteel proceedings upstairs.

We moved on further to look at a building designed by Augustus WN Pugin but executed under the supervision of his son Edward – now called McDaid’s Bar, but known to long established Midleton residents as the former Midleton Arms Hotel.  This structure was originally two houses (with shops on the ground floor, but Viscount Midleton didn’t have the money to complete the rebuilding of the entire street in the same fashion.  Main Street would have looked spectacular if the project had been completed.  The building was occuppied by Crown Forces during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921).  There are still traces of bullet marks on the building where the IRA had fired on the British troops who were stationed there to secure the southern end of the street (the Royal Irish Constabulary were based at the Northern end of the street).

From there we went on to Brodrick Street or Coolbawn as locals call it.  In fact Coolbawn refers to the area in which Brodrick Street stands.  And no, there’s no ‘e‘ in Brodrick – despite the official street sign!  The Brodricks were the family who developed Midleton into the town we see today.  Crossing Main Street (it’s a LONG street, about eight hundred yards) we entered the old Coppinger brewery.  I had some funny looks when I told them this!  Midleton is noted for distilling whiskey, not for brewing beer.  However the Coppinger family had closed down the brewery by the time the first Ordnance Survey map of Midleton was surveyed in the late 1830s.  The business almost certainly failed because of Fr Theobald Mathew’s spectacularly successful campaign against the demon drink – the Famine drove us back to drink!  We then gathered at Distillery Walk (it should really be called Distillery Drive given all the cars parked there) to discuss the Coppingers and their importance in Midleton, with their house on the other side of Main Street. (More about that house below!)

midleton walking tour

Midleton walking tour

Holding forth about the Coppinger family at Distillery Walk, with Lewis Bridge in the background (beyond the railings).  The scene is dominated by Ashlin’s Holy Rosary Church (1896 & 1908). Just visible over the parapet of the bridge is the former  Lewis Place, now called Midleton House, one of two houses with that name in Midleton.   Later, I realized that I had forgotten to tell them about General John Joseph Coppinger (1834-1909), who fought on the Union side in the US Civil War – he’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery (yes, the one across the Potomac from DC!).  

Note the attentive note taking by most of the group.  There were plenty of questions too!

Then crossing over Lewis Bridge (which traverses the Roxborough River) we turned off to look at one of the two houses called Midleton House.  There I explained that this house was originally called Lewis Place (queue shock and surprise in the group – NOBODY had EVER heard called THAT!).  This house was probably built around 1760 (perhaps earlier!) and only later acquired the name Midleton House.  People in the town believe this is the ONLY house entitled to that name, whereas, in fact, the house directly across the Roxborough River was also called Midleton House from the 1890s.   That house was the home of the Coppinger family that I noted above.  The Coppingers were prosperous brewers, maltsters, grain merchants and bankers, and were the most important, and wealthiest, Catholic residents of Midleton in the nineteenth century.  We also considered the 1867 Fenian ‘incident’ in Midleton (I refuse to call it a rebellion, it was plain murder!) and the buildings of the area called the Rock (from a large rock that had to be cut away to create the road to Youghal).  Among the buildings there are Bank House – built by the Coppingers as the Midleton branch of the National Bank of Ireland in the 1830s, as well as Rock Terrace (1861) and some earlier terraces and a lovely pair of late Georgian townhouses to complete the scene.   We didn’t do the Holy Rosary Catholic Church because we could all see it from where we stood – this was also designed by George Coppinger Ashlin in 1894 and built in two years, opening in 1896!  The spire was added to Ashlin’s original design in 1907/08.  They knew how to build them back then!  So, curiously, the Main Street and Rock are bracketed by George Coppinger Ashlin’s buildings.

In all the tour took just over two hours – and it was the first component of the group’s tourism studies.  I hope they learned more about Midleton in those two hours than they had expected. A huge  ‘thank you’ to the group for their enthusiastic attendance on  a very chilly afternoon.  And the best of luck to them in their course.