OUR TOWN c. 1850 - 2000


For almost two hundred years, the Turpin family was involved in the legal and administrative affairs of our county. In 1824, for instance, Robert Turpin was the Sub-Sheriff, as was Thomas Turpin (1807-1891) later in the century. [The duties of this position included presiding over evictions and elections, the appointment of gaolers and hangmen, and the executions of capital punishments.] In 1844, while still a mere "Gentleman and Attorney-at-Law", Thomas Turpin was licensed to keep "One double gun, one short gun, two brace of pistols, one blunderbuss, one sword, one dirk and ten bailiffs' halberts". An arsenal that roars volumes of both his position in society and the turbulence of the times. In his quieter moments, he was Master of the local Masonic Lodge (1847), Treasurer and Secretary of the Emo Hunt Steeplechase Club, and Commissioner for Taking Acknowledgements of Deeds by Married Women.1

On Thursday June 4th 1857, the foundation stone2 of the Maryborough gasometer was laid by Thomas Turpin, Chairman of the Gas Company, and, in January 1858, the town was lit by gas for the very first time. Celebrations included an 'illuminative display', and what a misprint in one newspaper served up as a 'pubic dinner'! The same paper reported that the introduction of gas in the town was 'mainly due to the exertions of Thomas Turpin Esq., and one or two other gentlemen of public spirit'. Their aim, the report continued, was to provide townspeople with gas of the best quality at a moderate price. Twenty years later, Town Commissioners were unhappy about the 'irregular and very inconvenient way in which the town lamps were lighted', and three members warned that, should their 'four or five' letters to the Gas Company continue to be ignored, they would advocate that the town be lit with paraffin oil!

From the 1840's, and into living memory, Greystones, the residence of the Turpin family, stood where the old Post Office (1972-1994) is in the middle background of this picture. In 1915, Thomas Keith Turpin (Grand-nephew of Thomas above) and his wife Maud survived the sinking of RMS Lusitania. As well as being reported in the local papers, their ordeal was vividly recounted in the Irish Independent of May 11, 1915. (Not so fortunate, incidentally, was another Queen's County passenger, 35-year-old Kate Duplex from Farnans. Just a year earlier, she had emigrated to Long Island, New York and was on her way home for a holiday when the disaster took her life.) Thomas Keith Turpin's younger brother Horace - known to youngsters of the time for his "Yella Rolls Royce" - and his sister Marjorie were the last occupants of Greystones. After his death in September 1966, she moved across the road to Coote Terrace where she lived out the remainder of her days.

Along the side of the footpath outside Turpin's there used to be a row of small stone pillars - some with metal rings still attached - which were used to tether livestock on Fair Days. They were a perfect height for generations of young lads to practise leap-frog on their way from school, but they were also part of an historic event in the town. In 1922, as a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, British forces had to evacuate military barracks in Ireland. On February 23rd, the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, a regiment of almost 300 men, 'received the farewells of a crowd of weeping maidens and some other residents', as they marched in full regalia to the railway station. On the eve of their departure, some of the soldiers celebrated by smashing windows in the town and, for reasons best known to themselves, breaking some of the pillars mentioned above. In fairness, the newspaper report also stated that the regiment was generally better behaved than some of the previous garrisons, but concluded with 'Outside the small circle who reaped some financial advantage from the presence of the troops, there was a general feeling of satisfaction and rejoicement at their leaving the town and county'.

From the late 1850's until the 1970's, the offices and printing works of the Leinster Express - founded in 1831 by Henry William Talbot3 - stood on what, in the late 1840's, was the site of the Bank of Ireland4, and is today the empty space between the Post Office building and the white house in the picture. [In February 1876, the paper's advertisement for a new Verbatim Reporter warned that 'none but those who can produce first-class testimonials as to sobriety and ability need apply'.] Henry Talbot was succeeded as managing editor by his sons, first William and then George Washington. [His eldest son, James Leech Talbot, was drowned in Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes of North America].

After the Talbots came Michael Carey and subsequently his son Michael Charles Carey. Both father and son were cycling enthusiasts and were familiar figures around Maryborough on their pennny-farthing bicycles. Throughout the first third of the 20th century, Michael Charles's widowed sister, Mrs Sophia Francis, was a popular Music Teacher in the town: A newspaper advertisement from 1915 sang her praises: Pianoforte, Singing and Musical Theory. Pupils prepared for Examinations. Terms Moderate. I spoke to one wonderful 94-year-old lady who was taught the piano by Mrs Francis. What she remembered most was the cane always poised above the learners' fingers and how, despite - or maybe because of - her strictness, Mrs Francis was never short of pupils. Music theory and Hosiery might seem a rather odd combination, but in 1904 she was also offering for sale every description of socks and stockings at moderate prices. Cycling Hose - which chimes with her brother's pastime - were her speciality.

In the 1970's, the upper floor of the building - latterly occupied by the paper's then proprietor Mr W. F. Townshend and family - housed the PMPA Insurance offices. In 1977, both newspaper and insurance company moved to new premises on the Dublin Road.

The larger portion of the Ladbrokes premises on the left (five upstairs windows) is of relatively recent construction. Prior to that, the area was the front garden of a private house (No. 1 Coote Street) owned, since 1929, by Mrs Florence McClaughry (1872-1947) whose brother Thomas S. McClaughry, was, at the turn of the 20th century, Assistant Medical Officer in the local Lunatic Asylum. (Such was the institution's name - even in official documents - at the time.) The garden was bounded by a wall and railings, and a postbox embedded in the wall facing into the Square was known locally as 'the pillar'. Some of the older people I spoke to called this area Madden's Corner, eventhough they had no memory of the shop next door in No. 20 Market Square.

Since the new millennium, the part of the building facing St Peter's Church has housed a seemingly endless succession of Asian restaurants/takeaways: Thai Elephant, Asia Restaurant, Royal Dragon, Grand Palace, Oxford Gourmet, Sabana, Laois Kebab House, and today (June 2014), Laois Kebab. In 2011, Denis Dunne moved his accountancy practice from No. 9 Coote Street to the second story of this building, a space also occupied by his daughter Eimear's solicitor's office.

In January 1965, Laois County Council passed a proposal to build - near where the two seats are in the picture - an underground public convenience 'with a three foot high surround' and a roof decorated with 'shrubs of the all-the-year-round variety.' It was 'with pleasure' that the Leinster Express reported that 'the news was definite' and the project would 'prove a landmark in local history'. We're still keeping our legs crossed. On the subject of landmarks, it is worth relating that, two years before the above proposal, a Councillor stated that the old Infirmary - more than two centuries old, and one of the town's real historical gems, now Grattan Business Centre on the Dublin Road - was 'one place that should have a bomb put under it'.


1 Acknowledgements of Deeds by Married Women were introduced in the 1830's to prevent husbands from abusing their position as owners of property which had come to them through their wives. A married woman selling property jointly with her husband had to be interviewed by a Commissioner such as Mr Turpin to confirm that she was "of full age and competent understanding", and was not being forced into the sale. In 1882, married women were finally granted the same property rights as single or widowed women, and such Acknowledgements were discontinued.

2 A hermetically sealed bottle containing documents and coins was placed underneath the stone. I wonder was it discovered when, almost a century later, they were digging the foundations of the Macra na Feirme Hall on the New Road? And, if so, what became of it?

3 He was a native of Ennis, County Clare. His remains lie in St. Peter's Churchyard just across Coote Street from where his newspaper offices once stood.

4 Earlier, the Bank of Ireland - established in 1783 - was in Quality Row (Grattan Street) where Paul Donohue lives and has his tailoring business today.


One of my treasured possessions is a document signed by thirty-two "Merchants of Maryborough" and dated November 24, 1916. The document ends with the following statement which was "to be sent to the local papers": "It has been unanimously decided by the merchants and traders of Maryborough to give no Xmas boxes owing to the high prices and small profits, and the great necessity for economy."