ONCE A PLACE OF CHILDHOOD DREAMS
During the summer of 2023, passing this familiar building, one I pass almost daily, my attention was arrested by seeing daylight through the window in the shop door. The back wall of the ground floor had been demolished and the digger that did the work was still there. A few days later the entire innards of the house were gone. All that was left was the façade, staring vacantly at Main Street, Baltinglass.
I experienced a pang of sadness when childhood memories of Mrs. McDonnell’s shop poured into my mind. I remembered all the toys that filled that space; the glass-fronted shelves filled with Matchbox cars, many of which I somehow managed to purchase; a Junior Pears Encyclopaedia on a display carousel that I coveted when I was ten. I went into this newsagent’s on several days, coming home from school, to look at that book. The main attraction was a two-page pedigree headed ‘The English Line of Succession’ which included lines of descent unfamiliar to me (yes, I was a genealogy nerd at that age). I begged my mother for the money to buy it every day until she capitulated. I know I was ten at the time because I still have the book and it’s dated.
Despite the regret that this landmark from my childhood was consigned to history, it was funny to see the reactions of people passing by, as they casually glanced towards the vacant shop, with varying degrees of surprise registering on their faces. The transformation from familiar building to building site had happened swiftly and almost silently. It occurred to me that it was at least 175 years since anyone could see daylight through the windows of that house. So, I thought I would look back at its history.
The first thing you would notice about it was that it was a narrow three-storey house wedged between two more spacious two-storey buildings. It had a small yard at the rear, with no access to the street, while the houses on both sides had extensive grounds. As someone suggested to me, it may have been built in a wide laneway leading to the fields behind the properties.
The earliest reference I found to the concerns was a lease from the Earl of Aldborough to Joseph Roe in October 1832. There is no memorial of this transaction at the Registry of Deeds, so I doubt there is a surviving copy describing the property. From a Valuation Office book of 1840 it is apparent that Joseph Roe occupied the property, rather than subletting it. From the relative valuation placed on it and the properties either side, it would appear that the house on the site in 1840 was that demolished in 2023.
Joseph Roe’s lease had passed to Elizabeth Connor / the representatives of Michael Connor by the latter half of the 1840s. She, or they, evidently leased the property to a tenant in 1847 at the annual rent of £9. By 1853 a new tenant, William Murphy, had given £17 for his interest in it. He was running a provisions and delft shop.
By the 1870s the building was in the hands of Thomas J. Rickerby, renting from Patrick Doyle. Rickerby was a shopkeeper, originally from Carnew. He came to live in Baltinglass in the early 1860s but apparently not in this building. At the same time he also occupied a house on the opposite side of Main Street, on the corner with Church Lane (incidentally, the house in which I was born). It is possible that the house now demolished was occupied then by his sister Elizabeth and her husband John Geoghegan.
In September 1881 Rickerby was one of several Baltinglass shopkeepers against whom charges were brought for displaying posters on their premises, calling for the boycotting of businesses serving Emergency men. This was a Land League notice and Emergency men were workers who were brought in to help farmers who themselves were being boycotted. Three days before the shopkeepers appeared at Baltinglass Courthouse, at a meeting in Dublin the Land League leader, Charles Stewart Parnell, displayed the notice that had appeared in Rickerby’s window. He said that when he returned to his home in Avondale he would put it on his hall door. Rickerby was one of the shopkeepers whose cases were dismissed for lack of evidence.
Rickerby left Baltinglass later in the decade. He was succeeded in the building recently demolished by the Geoghegans, who ran a shop there. After their deaths, both in 1897, their daughter Mary Anne married John T. Clarke from Dublin and they ran a boot, or shoe, shop. They were known locally as Geoghegan-Clarkes, probably to distinguish them from Clarkes of the Bridge, just down the street. John died in 1928 and Mary Anne in 1935.
The next owner of the building was Luke McDonnell. As well as having the shop, he was a Commissioner for Oaths. After his death in 1964 the business was continued by his widow Frances, who was the Mrs. McDonnell whose shop was part of my childhood. The McDonnells were the last family to live in the house. In the late twentieth century Frances McDonnell’s nephew Jimmy Burke bought the premises. He continued the business as a newsagent’s, also selling stationery and toys. For younger Baltinglass natives this place of childhood dreams became known as Jimmy Burke’s. A few years ago Jimmy rented the shop to Veronica Dunne. When it was sold earlier this year Veronica had to relocate the business. She moved across the street to the house on the corner with Church Lane, the one in which I was born.