‘The Court House fire was an event never to be forgotten by the townspeople’

Before his death in 1953, George N. Geraghty wrote extensively about his memories of life in Roscommon Town (and environs) in the early years of the 20th century…the Roscommon People is pleased to serialise these fascinating memories


The Press 

There were two weekly newspaper printed in Roscommon – ‘The Roscommon Messenger’ and ‘Roscommon Journal’. The Messenger was the property of the Hayden family, and to its credit, may it be said that it upheld Parnell to the last. Joe Hayden was manager and he had a very able staff. Willie Kelly, Pat Hogan, Tom Rabbit, Jimmie Curley, Tom and Jimmie Lynett, and James Quigley (now publisher of The Roscommon Champion) were the compositors, or printers. W.H. Carton was the reporter and later became the Editor; he attended all Board meetings and Law Courts. Charlie Fallon in later years assisted Mr. Carton.

The Messenger was then a very interesting weekly paper. Charlie Fallon attended the Roscommon national school Tom Larkins, before he joined the Messenger staff and today he is on the Parliamentary Debates Staff of our own Parliament. His brother Frank, also a former Tom Larkins pupil, is on the literary staff of Independent Newspapers Ltd. These are coveted positions held by two Roscommon men, apart from local news. The Messenger printing works carried out some very good job printing, such as posters for concerts, race meetings, etc. John Hayden is still hale and hearty living in Mullingar and publishing ‘The Westmeath Examiner’. William Tully published ‘The Roscommon Journal’. The Tullys were also auctioneers.

The Journal took the Healy side at the time of the Parnell split, but it was on the wrong side as nothing would turn Roscommon against Parnell. Time and time again the voters returned the Parnell candidate at the head of the poll, Luke Hayden for South Roscommon and J.J.O’Kelly for North Roscommon. When Luke Hayden died, his brother John P. Hayden contested the seat against John Dillon with the same result. Hayden elected with a fine majority.



The old side car was in great demand in those days. The commercial travellers made Roscommon Headquarters, and went by sidecar to Strokestown, Elphin, Lanesboro, Ballygar and Creggs. Flynn’s Royal Hotel, Tumelty’s Hotel, P.C. Mitchell’s Hotel, James Mannion in Main Street, Willie Gavagan in Church Street and Tom Smith and Son in Lanesboro Street were the principal owners of Hackney cars, and there was very keen competition among them. Ten to fifteen cars would meet all incoming trains, all drivers striving to get the first passenger.



Thomas McDermott, Martin Fallon, James McDermott (no relation to J. McDermott) were all first class victuallers. Thomas McDermott (junior) is carrying on his father’s business, still in the same old shop in Market Square. Martin Fallon had his shop next door to the Bank of Ireland, now Igoe and Co. Drapers, and James McDermott was set up near McGuinness’ Chemist Shop.


Pawn Offices

Believe it or not we had two pawn offices in Roscommon. Sam Ford kept one in Market Square near the site of the present club and Tommie Kenny kept one in Church Street opposite Church Gate.


The tailoring trade

Before the ready-made clothing appeared in the drapery shops the tailors were always kept busily engaged. Henry Fallon in Church Street (where Miss Fox has a sweet shop now)…he had a constant staff or five or six tailors, and at times had several journeymen tailors engaged. James Connor lived opposite Fallon’s. He also had a few men working constant. Then Joe Egan and his sons Willie and Joe also in Church Street opposite the late Edward Keogh’s shop. John Hanly in Castle Street, Edward Gormley in Henry Street and his brother James in Abbey Street as in the boot trade you had to wait a long time for a fit on. The tailors always seemed to have more orders than they could cope with.


The Burning of the Court House

The Court House fire was an event never to be forgotten by the townspeople. It was a terrible blaze, fanned by a very strong wind blowing from Ballybride direction. The flames were carried across the street and from where Willie Watt lives now, to Mrs. Jim Gavin’s in Church Street, where there was a line of small houses. They were all more or less destroyed. Charlie O’Rorke had a shop where Mr. Henchie had his drapery store now, and it was also on fire. A few small houses on the site of Mr. Michael Farrell’s shop, all thatched, also caught fire, but were saved by water carried in barrels on donkey carts from the tank at the end of Goff Street. The British Military were then stationed at the barracks near the Railway Station and they, with the townspeople, did all that could be done to stop the fire. Some of the old charred documents were afterwards found as far away as at the brink of the Shannon!

The old Grand Jury at the time had charge of the affairs of the county, and they advertised for plans to be submitted for its reconstruction. The conditions were £50-0-0 for the best plan and the job of County surveyor thrown in. The late Mr. Christopher Mulvany secured the first prize and was appointed Co. Surveyor.


(Series continues in coming weeks)