OUR TOWN c. 1850 - 2000


In the days when stiff shirts and collars were de rigueur, Robin starch was an essential item in any household.... There is in existence a wonderful photograph from Victorian times in which Mr John Fitzpatrick, proprietorial in top-coat and mutton-chop whiskers, stands in the doorway of his small shop on this site. And in one of the window-panes, an advertisement featuring our little feathered friend....

Until Fitzpatricks acquired it to expand their business, there was a second building on this site occupied by an Elizabeth May and subsequently Margaret Brophy. In 1901, John Fitzpatrick - son of the above John - and his wife Elizabeth were living here with their daughter Margaret and her younger siblings, John, a baker, and Joseph Michael, a schoolboy. On Census Night a decade later, their daughter Kate was in the house, as was Joseph (now a shop assistant) and a visiting relative, Elizabeth Donohoe.

I spoke to a wonderful old lady who was a child in the 1920's and she remembered one Christmas being fascinated by "a pig in Fitzpatrick's window with an apple in its mouth". Also in that decade, there was a fire here, and the damaged stock was dumped in Meelick. Another nonagenarian recalled for me how delighted she and her young friends were to discover "loads of sweets and not a mark on them". Despite that fire, the Fitzpatricks (Quality, Quantity, & Reasonable Prices) continued in business here until 1935.

In later years, John Fitzpatrick - great-grandson of his Victorian namesake - and his family lived in Meelick. He was well-known in the greyhound world; in 1963, his dog Cherry Express won the Irish Oaks and, as studmaster in the 1980's, he was associated with Sandman, one of the most famous greyhounds in living memory.

In the 1930's the second floor of this building was occupied by offices of the Minister for Lands, followed by what I assume was a less popular destination: the Revenue Commissioners Investigation Office. In the 1950's, Yates & Co. Auctioneers, also had offices here. Downstairs, Fitzpatrick's was succeeded by 'Style for Men' (Everything in footwear. For your new overcoat, visit us.) owned by the Sheeran family who also had a shop in Mountrath.

In June 1957, Dermot O' Sullivan, partnered by Miss Micheline McCormack (whose family we've already met in the Market Square), was a prizewinner at a Rock 'n' Roll competition in the Coliseum Ballroom. In later years, Micheline became a well-known Sunday World journalist, broadcaster and author. According to her own publicity, "her caustic, direct approach to all kinds of issues in her column got her the nickname Mitch the Bitch". Dermot's dancing skills were obviously matched by his commercial acumen when, in the early 1960's, he opened the town's first self-service supermarket here. (It's the amount you save that counts). There was great excitement on Main Street the day D. O. S. - his naming was clearly more basic than his footwork - opened, but it was not, as some locals still maintain, Ireland's first supermarket. That distinction belonged to W. Williams, Henry Street, Dublin in 1959. D. O. S. was succeeded by Home Stores (light hardware, delph, gifts) in the early 1970's and, in later years, the building was occupied by the ACC (Agricultural Credit Corporation) Bank. From 2008 to date, it has housed Blue Sky Mortgages and In Focus Opticians. For a short period, Office Angels (Recruitment consultants, sourcing secretarial, administration and office staff) was also based here.

Dermot O'Sullivan, Portlaoise's first supermarket owner, died in July, 2014. RIP.