Saturday, September 05, 2015

Where was Ellie Coffey's bar?

A recent visitor to Kilcullen has been trying to find out which licensed premises was the one operated in the town by his great-grandmother in the early 1900s, writes Brian Byrne.

Robert Coffey from Dublin believes it may have been the premises currently known as The Spout, previously Snells, and Orfords Knockaulin Bar before that.

It's possible that Mrs Ellie Coffey and her husband John actually built, or at least refurbished the original bar, described in a notice for sale in 1906 as being 'her newly built ... fine two-storey building ... the Bar being a particularly commodious one'. The property described in the notice by Denis J Brennan, Auctioneers, included five cottages let to 'respectable and solvent tenants'. That description, and the fact that it was 'in the direct route of the extensive tourist traffic from the Curragh Camp and Newbridge to the far-famed Poulaphuca Waterfall', certainly fits the idea that it was what we know know as The Spout.

It was also, apparently, 'the favourite house for the military passing to and from the Camp at the Glen of Imaal' and catered too for the '1,000 soldiers' then in Kilcullen every summer for three months.

Ellie was born in Dublin in 1876 to Patrick McCall from Carlow and Hannah, née Nolan, from Glowan, Co Kildare. Patrick's brother was the historian John McCall, and his nephew the poet and songwriter PJ McCall.

Ellie married John Coffey, whose father William was a Dublin alderman who became High Sheriff of Dublin in 1904, about the time John and Ellie came to live in Kilcullen. William is referenced a number of times in James Joyces's 'Ulysses'.

As the High Sherrif — also Lord Mayor of Dublin 1909-1910 — was a dedicated supporter of Fr Theobold Matthew's Total Abstinence movement, there may have been a little family friction when she set up as a publican in Kilcullen.

The details of her time here are sketchy, but she is mentioned a number of times in the 'Kildare Observer' newspaper, always in legal contexts. "She was a formidable woman, and no stranger to the courtroom," her great-grandson Robert says, no stranger to the courts himself as he is a lawyer by profession.

Gleaning through the legal notices and the odd court case of the time, it seems that John and Ellie may have lived elsewhere in Kilcullen pending the building or refurbishing of their crossroads premises. There's a reference in July 1904 to a Licensed Premises 'on the Main Street and adjoining the River Bridge'. Ellie is seeking a licence transfer from one previously held by Sarah O'Brien, who had been a publican since 1892 having taken over from one Michael O'Brien at that time. This may well have been the building now occupied by Kilcullen Credit Union.

Three months before that application, Ellie had been granted 'without objection' another license transfer from a John Flood, possibly the previous licensee of the crossroads premises?

The next reference in the 'Kildare Observer' is a court case where defendants Michael Nugent and Thomas Ryan are charged with stealing brandy, ale and minerals, value 10/6, from the licensed premises owned by Mrs Ellie Coffey, on 29/30 July 1904. In September, they were found 'not guilty, for insufficient evidence'.

Ellie wanted to sell up in 1906, when the aforementioned Notice for Sale was published by Denis J Brennan, with an auction date set for Saturday 30 June. The Notice added that 'it is but rarely so splendid a chance presents itself for acquiring so excellent a business house, in which an energetic man would be certain to develop a rapidly increasing trade'.

Well, it seemed there was a dearth of such 'energetic' men, because the fine property didn't sell.

Ellie was in court again in September 1906, when she sought a decree for possession of a house occupied by Michael Cummins. When her husband John appeared in court without the necessary agent's authorisation on her behalf, Major Thackeray RM marked the case 'no appearance'.

In the 'Kildare Observer' 17 October 1908, Mrs Coffey was fined £1 and costs for illegally selling drink on Sunday 13 September. Two months later, she was back in court again, this time as plaintiff, seeking possession of houses occupied by Timothy Doyle and James Halpin. However, her case failed, again seemingly because of some fault in paperwork on the part of her husband. As a point of interest, Ellie's address in this case, is given as 'The Royal Arms, Kilcullen'.

Ellie was still in Kilcullen in 1910, when a Sanitary Report by the local Dr Barker noted a number of heaps of manure in locations in the village, including 'in Mrs Ellie Coffey's yard'.

"John and Ellie ultimately moved back to Dublin," Robert Coffey says. "Their three daughters — Olga, Victoria, and Pauline — continued to board at the Cross & Passion College, Kilcullen, while their three boys — Ernest, Cecil, and Alfred — boarded at Newbridge. My father Desmond Coffey and his brother Ronnie Coffey, sons of Ernest, also boarded at Newbridge."

Ellie died in 1960, and her husband John passed on two years later.

And that's where the story stands at the moment. If there's anyone out there who has any further information that would tie down the location of Ellie Coffey's licensed premises in Kilcullen, or other details of the Coffey family's life while here, Robert would love to hear about it.