Ennis woman Sinéad Spellissy is researching a book on Parnell Street that will be published by the Clare Roots Society next year. She grew up on a street that once had its own hotel and a pearl factory amongst many other businesses and was the busiest thoroughfare in the county capital. She spoke to Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
SINÉAD Spellissy doesn’t need to stand on Ennis’ High Street and ramble all the way down to where Parnell Street meets the Mill Road to see at first hand how much things have changed.
Instead a virtual tour will do — a door to door journey from top to bottom and back up the same away again, with a few detours along the way.
Detours like slipping down Halloran’s Lane and heading towards the river bank, when it was just that — a bank with no wall blocking off the view of the River Fergus that you arrived at when passing through another community.
Or a detour down the original Salthouse Lane that followed onto to another terrace of houses that went all the way down to the same river bank.
Ms Spellissy knew those houses well, the ones long since knocked where the greater Parnell Street carpark now stands. She knew the houses on Parnell Street in which families were raised and businesses were carried out. She remembers the homes and who was in them when she was growing up; the families reared; those businesses that provided for them; and those who went before them.
She knew of the famous of Parnell Street, men like soldier of fortune and international diplomat The O’Gorman Mahon; and the not so famous but probably just as colourful ‘Bard of Avondale’.
Going down the road from High Street Ms Spellissy pinpoints some of those on the left flank: “Where O’Mahony’s is now was Flanagan’s,” she says, “and I remember Eileen Clune’s shop — she used to sell buns and cakes and jams, but she’d hardly talk to you.
“Ms Purtill had a lovely lingerie shop, you had Clem Ryan’s grocery, McCarthy’s Boutqiue, Cahir’s, McMahon’s, Moloney’s had two shops — 38 bar and grocery and there was a pub in number 40, Arthurs was another where there was a bar and grocery.
“There was Kelly the cobbler, the Moroneys were tailors, while Mr Greene was another fantastic tailor. Dignams did flour and meal, butter — basic enough stuff, while Mulqueen’s had a bakery, Baron McHugh’s was a pub and you had the factory at the end of the street.
“The factory was the pearl shop,” continues Ms Spellissy. “It was on the bottom of the street and heading up to where the hostel is now. The man who had it was Martin Hauser and he had the first Mercedes that ever came to Ennis.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Ms Spellissy knew those houses well, the ones long since knocked where the great Parnell Street carpark now stands. She knew the houses on Parnell Street in which families were raised and businesses were carried out. She remembers the homes and who was in them when she was growing up.[/mks_pullquote]“He had a secretary who was this blonde and at that time we used to call her Brigitte Bardot. This was in the 1950s. A lot of the people got the beads and used to work at home. He used to fly up Parnell Street in his Mercedes — he went so fast he got killed in a car crash in the end,” she adds.
Then there was the other side of the street, starting with O’Keeffe’s Bar and all the diverse businesses that snaked all the way up the street to Ennis’ Height. “There was a hotel down at the end of the street,” recalls Spellissy, “and Lyons’ used to own it, while the Butlers had a boarding house a few doors up.
“There was Pigotts clothes shop and she had a very good business there. Where the casino is now you had Ranalow and O’Briens shop; your had McInerney’s and Burke’s clothes shop, O’Doonghue’s tailors — the tailor Quigley’s daughters lived there, Guthries, O’Donnells, Brodericks, Murphys, Armstrongs, Dervans with its lovely small mosaic tiles where you’d get baked buns, Malone’s supermarket, they’re all gone,” she continues.
That Parnell Street is long gone, indeed walking down it this week there are nearly 20 vacant commercial buildings, when once the street was thriving and all hustle and bustle. It’s now the poor relation to O’Connell Street. The only businesses there 50 years ago that are still around are two pubs, Griffin’s and Considine’s.
“Everything changes and nothing stays the same,” says Spellissy, “but it’s changed completely from the street I grew up on, so what I want to do is tell the story of the street and the people that came from the street. I owe a lot to Parnell Street — the street reared us, simply because everyone on the street watched out for each other.”
It became Parnell Street in 1910, when a notice of motion was tabled by Bindon Street councillor Pat Cahir to change many of the street names of the town.
In calling for Jail Street to become O’Connell Street, Cllr Cahir said that “the street is ornamented by the splendid statue of Daniel O’Connell and there is no more suitable name than O’Connell Street.
“Church Street should be Abbey Street because it’s around this Abbey of the Franciscans that the old town of Ennis sprang into existence. Mill Street is the best of the lot and Fergus Street is appropriate because the river flows gracefully close to it,” Cllr Cahir continued.
However, other councillors opposed this proposal to rename Mill Street as Fergus Street, with Cllr Cahir agreeing to an amendment from Cllr Patrick Kenneally that it be renamed Parnell Street instead.
“I would prefer to call that street after the great man who had done so much for the county and who was linked to the town for a many great years,” said Cllr Kenneally. His proposal was carried by 4-3 and Mill Street became Parnell Street.
“My father married into Parnell Street,” reveals Ms Spellissy, “as he was originally from O’Connell Street where his father lived and was a cattle dealer. My uncle had the butcher’s shop right opposite the church, while my father moved to 56-58 Parnell Street where he had a hardware business.
Jack Spellissy was a big GAA man, being a member of the famous Ennis Dalcassians club, while he also won an All-Ireland junior hurling medal with the county in 1914, while his brother James ‘Sham’ Spellissy was on the senior team that won the All-Ireland the same year.
“When he moved to Parnell Street it was a lot different to the way it is now,” says Ms Spellissy, “there was no carpark at the back of it, as it was all archways, houses and gardens and abattoirs back to the river. Where Considine’s Pub is, there were all trees beside that and from there you could walk all the way across to the tennis club.
“You didn’t have to cross the river, but in the summer you could cross the river by putting rocks into the water and walking over that way in low tide. There were no walls where the river is now. Where TM Office Supplies is now you had a place called Guthries and you had the blood flowing into the river. The place was all little laneways going down to the quays past the little cottages,” she adds.
Those cottages will be part of Ms Spellissy’s story, even though she admits, “there are people who don’t want me to include them. But I have to because they’re part of Parnell Street history too, part of a story that’s gone, so it’s only right to remember it. I would love to get photos of the laneways,” she adds.
Piecing together the story of Parnell Street is a job that Ms Spellissy has set herself over the next year — the people, the houses, the businesses and much more.
“There were five houses originally built on Parnell Street,” she says. “They must have been big houses. I can’t understand why they say that The O’Gorman Mahon was born in number 40, because to me the Mahon’s had a shop further up on Parnell Street. Number 40 was Moloney’s and it was a small house.
“I want to hear about the characters,” she continues. “Like for instance, there’s this man, he was very tall and they used to call him the ‘Bard of Avondale’. He was probably called that because it was Parnell Street.
“He used to live near where the ACC used to be at the top of the street, down Thompson’s Lane, and lived there in the 1920s. I don’t know what his name was, but I’d love to find out more, because it’s characters of the street you want to find out about and get the stories behind them, who they were and what made them stand out.
“There was also a Miss Costelloe used to come into my mother and say ‘you have a son and a gentleman, but your daughter is very bould’. She used to cycle all the way from Galway to Ennis and used to stay in a small cottage down a laneway from the cinema that went straight down to the river.”
If you have any history or stories relating to Parnell Street, you can contact the Clare Roots Society at [email protected] or Sinead Spellissy on 086-8954628.