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Historical walking tour of Gorey

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

I was privileged to be in the company of Willie Willoughby, that intrepid doyen of Gorey history, and forty more historical society members and friends on a walking tour of Gorey on Wednesday June 29th, 2022.

We met at the Gáirdín Draíochta, that lovely tidy towns project opposite the Bridge Bar, because that was where Gorey started next to the river. People came to the little river here to wash out their milk cans. There was a pre-Norman church half a mile up the Clonattin Road.

There were 20 houses over where the Ashdown hotel is now. Lord Courtown did not like these. He said that they contained the very worst type of characters and he offered them a cash inducement to leave which they all took and left.

The site where the current Dwyer’s Furniture Store is located was a Roman Catholic church which was burned down in 1798 and the Esmonde family built a new church before the current St Michael’s church was built in 1843.

We saw the site of the old fever hospital at the fork of road opposite Old Tesco site while behind the Community school was the brewery.

We now moved up Esmonde Street and stopped at the site of the gas works opposite the entrance to the Community school. This facility was established by the Ram family in 1863. It provided Gorey with lighting until the ESB came to town. The dark grey sheeted edifice currently on the site with its derelict site notice attached is a blot on the visual appearance of this area of Gorey. It could be a beautiful art gallery or arts centre.

As we passed under the railway bridge Willie informed us that 1863 was also the year when on November 12th the railway came to town opening travel opportunities for Gorey people. As we left the railway bridge behind, we came up along Bridge Road and Annes road, now called Esmonde Street.

As we moved up along Esmonde Street, we went under the first Arch and stopped at the lane at the back of Esmonde Street Houses on our left to view a pre 1831 Penny school, so called because pupils had to pay a penny per week. For their education. It is now someone’s garage, but it still retains the little school window. We heard about a Mr Thomas Kennedy who taught there.

At the top of Esmonde Street, we looked across at the Coach House which in its earlier incarnation was The Empire Hotel noted as being posh at the time.

As we turned left, we stopped at Sara Redmond’s Different Strokes art shop. This area was once owned by Bates luxury coaches works. They had started business in the present Garda Barracks in 1820 and on St Michael’s Road in 1892. Locals noted how strict they were in that any employee whom they thought was too long in the loo they would tap on the door and remind him to get back to work.

We viewed an old Green Post box on St Michael’s Road on the right of the entrance to St Michaels Church. It is still in use and is one of three left in Gorey.

Our next port of call was St Michaels Pugin designed Church and built in 1843 on lands donated by the Esmonde family who also assisted financially. The Esmonde family coat of arms is over the entrance door to the church. They also donated land and funds for the first Loreto school and convent built in 1843.This was a great boost for education in Gorey as the nuns provided free education for all pupils

We took a slight diversion to view the old Christian brothers’ secondary school in St Michael’s place which was built in 1854. This is now a snooker hall while the residence and grounds now house St Joseph’s, a lovely housing area for older people.

The newer CBS primary school on Wexford Street is now levelled and is a vacant site which would be ideal for a parking lot or park in the town centre as Gorey expands. It could also be used as a fair field if we kept true to its history. It was called the fair field or horse field because that was where all the shows and carnivals were held. It was also the venue in 1880 for the huge rally for those people evicted in the Coolgreaney evictions at the time.

Interestingly the field was used to store turf during World War two in case Gorey ran out of winter heating.

While here we diverted off track to view Centenary Place, locally known as “The Rookery”, so called because of all the trees that once grew here which attracted many crows. The area is now home to many people, and it is beautifully maintained.

We joined the Main Street again for a visit to the Market House built in 1709 by the Ram family. Gorey is such a lucky town because it benefitted greatly from the generosity of the Rams.

The exterior of Market House is an iconic historic building with green moss on its stonework and flowerpots that needed replanting.

Here we have a beautiful historic building which is such an intrinsic and intimate part of Gorey’s history. It was built 20 years after the battle of the Boyne. We had the first Irish newspaper in 1685. Guinness was founded in 1759. Bank of Ireland came into being in 1783. They are all proud of their historic longevity.

The Market House interior needs renovation. It could be housing a Gorey Historical Museum and visitor centre. We should be proud to show off Gorey’s rich history.

I loved The Richards clock in the corner of the market house. The tariff chart was a gem as well with prices displayed for such notables as butter in bowls 1d each, cakes of tallow 2d each, herrings in tubs 3d each and many more prices were displayed. This is a truly historic building and must be preserved for future generations.

We left Market House and headed up to the Ram graveyard. While here Willie gave us an overview while detailing The Ram grave and some others. Local historian John Nangle told us about stone mason Denis Cullen and iconography. I loved this place with its rich history, but it seems to be left to local volunteers to open it and keep it tidy. This is a major tourist attraction which could be open to the public and be a vital piece of local history tours for all the schools in the area giving them a real sense of local history. It needs an input of funding to put up proper information boards and QR markers.

We have had huge money invested in major worthwhile projects like improving The Town Park, The Avenue Renewal, the new library, and Gorey Civic Centre.

We now need funding to regenerate Historical Gorey sites such as the two above and make them attractive from both a historical and tourist viewpoint for locals, tour groups and school tours.

We only have to look to the Little Museum of Dublin with its two rooms as an example of what can be done. It is one of the best museums in Dublin. The market house could be the base for our local 1798 museum and incorporate all the other history mentioned in my article.

We dropped across the road to The Methodist Church. It is the oldest church in Gorey built in 1834 on a site sold to them by a Mr Byrne. It is a lovely welcoming place of worship with no embellishments except for a beautiful, wooden cross crafted by Willie Stedmond. It was interesting to hear from Zeta Ferguson that John Wesley preached in The Market Square.

After our visit here we stopped on the Avenue to look across and see Lorcan Allen’s premises which was once home to the Good Templars. This was an American group whose mission in life was to get people off the hard liquor.

The present post office next door was built in 1910 having moved up there from its old location which is now Boots Chemist.

The final stop on our three-and-a-half-hour tour was the magnificent Christchurch which was displaying its full colours with lovely sunshine beaming in allowing the Harry Clark windows to be seen at their very best.

Thanks to that wonderful man Willie Willoughby for his vitality and pride in his native town and for maintaining our interest over the three and a half hours. He is a brilliant repository of local Gorey History.

Mick O Callaghan 27/07/2022

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