There were two separate houses on this site in the 1850's: one belonged to a Daniel Hyland, the other to Eliza Ard. To further complicate matters, both the previous premises and this one were treated as a single building on the 1911 Census return (under the title 'Hotel' owned by Patrick Doran1). He was listed as a merchant (Farm seeds, feeding stuffs, importers of finest teas, wines and brandies.... and had been in business here from at least 1883. Also in the building that night were his Dublin-born wife Mary, two daughter, a son and a grandson. There was also one male shop assistant and three servants.
Patrick Doran, Merchant and Hotel Proprietor, died in 1913 and, in the 1920's, his widow sold the business to Edward 'Ned' Ramsbottom2 who we've already met in connection with P. J Kavanagh's pub on the north side of Main Street. He was succeeded by his son Henry, universally known as 'Har'. In the late 1940's Rathdowney-native Liam Ryan started work here and, following Har Ramsbottom's death in 1957, acquired the pub he would run for the next forty years. He and his wife Frances - née Downey - continued the old tradition of combining grocery and public house; in the words of one of my informants "there was grand atin' and drinkin' in Liam Ryan's". A noted sportsman in his youth3, Liam was a founder member of Portlaoise Athletic Club and, right up to the time of his retirement, with his imposing stature and perenniel tan shop coat, he was a familiar and very popular figure in the town. Following the Ryans' departure, the new owners - Rolling Stones fans? - decided to paint the building black. It looked more Victorian funeral parlour than a welcoming pub, but someone saw sense and the aberration was soon corrected.
The 2008 Architectural Survey described the building as "well-preserved.... distinguished by an intact traditional shopfront made with high quality materials to an elaborate design". Today, Ramsbottom's is run by Kilkennyman Tom Walsh and, while the grocery is gone, the old-time decor has survived, making it one of the town's most quaint and attractive pubs. one of only a handful with that most elusive quality: character. It is also a popular live music venue with local covers band Strength in Numbers being particularly popular with the ladies. What was once Ramsbottom's garden, incidentally, is today occupied by the Credit Union premises facing out on to James Fintan Lalor Avenue.
It's a case of pure serendipity that Liam Ryan and the late local historian Frank Meehan happened to walk into the frame above.
1 Given his political affiliations, it's hardly surprising that, according to the 1901 Census, he was one of the few businessmen in the town proficient in Irish and English.
2 The surname was originally applied to natives of the town of Ramsbottom near Bury in Lancashire. There is some debate over whether the first part of the word comes from the Old English ramm (ram) or hramsa (wild garlic), but the second derives from botm (low-lying land). So, if you're a Ramsbottom, your ancestors came from either the valley of the ram or the valley of wild garlic. What is certain is that your name is, as it was a century ago, still more numerous in Laois than any other Irish county. A bit of music trivia: the rock band Elbow hails from the town of Ramsbottom.
3 In 1956, Athletics in Laois, compiled by Risteard O Maolain, and printed by the Leinster Express, had this to say about Liam: "At 6ft. 2½ ins., he is the tallest active Laois athlete and shows signs of real promise at the art of javelin throwing". Liam went on to excel at the shot put, discus, long jump, and hop, step and jump.