When we posted last week about the approved plans to turn the former Kilcoole House site into apartments and shops, we knew very little of its rich and colourful history.
A fact that was quickly pointed out by Kathryn Urell, whose family just happened to run a grocery store there from the 1950s to 1999.
And luckily, the man who signed on the dotted line all those years ago is alive and just about finished celebrating his 90th birthday last Sunday.
After a quick search through the family photo album, Kathryn unearthed some timely pics, whilst the bould birthday boy Donal sat down and charted the Urell’s happy years running the perfect little corner shop…
On her way home from Mass one Sunday in the early 1950s, my mother saw that the house and shop, Ireton’s at the crossroads in Kilcoole, was for sale.
It was in poor condition – the roof was collapsing and the whole place needed complete rewiring. It was built on the steep slope that is the main street, at the top of Sea Road, beside Lotts Lane. There were a number of ruined sheds in the back yard.
I did not see its potential. My mother did though.
It was always difficult to say no to Katherine Urell. She persuaded me to buy it for £1,000.
The deeds said that the house was built during the late 18th century. It had been through a few incarnations since then. At one stage it had been a pub. There is a story that the man who lived in the big house nearby, Woodstock (where Druid’s Glen is now) had eczema. The recommended treatment was to bathe in red wine. Apparently, one of the servants in the house re-bottled the wine and sold it in the pub. Maybe that’s how it lost the licence.
I started a grocery business and set about the renovations. Running your own business is in my DNA. My parents owned the post office and grocery shop in Newcastle since 1917. My brother Seamus took over the home place, my sister Maureen was post mistress in Kilcoole, Rita was post mistress in the Vevay in Bray, Eileen in Greystones and Kay in Clonakilty.
I married Mary in 1966. Mary really settled me down; we built up the business together and we had six children. We called it Kilcoole House because we figured there was already an Irish House and a Shamrock House in the village.
In a family business, everyone has to help out. From an early age, each family member stacked shelves, served customers, cleaned the premises, took orders and as soon as they could drive, delivered the orders each Saturday. It taught them the value of hard work. During the 1980s, when Glenroe was being filmed in the village, some of my children were extras. The house also featured in JP Donleavy’s book Ireland.
During the 1990s, the day of the family-run grocery business was coming to an end. Supermarkets had opened up in Bray and Greystones. We sold Kilcoole House in 1999 and retired to Newcastle, where I had grown up. Later, when Ian McEntaggart was operating Mac’s Deli on the premises, we returned for lunch to our old kitchen. We were amazed to see our Aga as a historical centrepiece.
The house was sold again, and sadly, no one lived there. It became derelict and was set ablaze one night. Then it was bulldozed. Planning permission was sought and then rejected. Finally this year, permission has been granted for apartments to be built on the site.
We were very happy bringing up our children in Kilcoole. It was a small village then and we knew everyone. The crossroads has changed now. Some houses have been bulldozed just like Kilcoole House, and Mrs O’Conner’s and others are derelict like Young’s and Nelly Dowse’s. The pub is still there with Pat Doyle’s children running it now.
I am celebrating my 90th birthday in Newcastle with my family. Even after living in Kilcoole for almost 50 years, we were never regarded as true “goose-bankers”. I love living in my home village again.
I always tell my grandchildren that “The sun always shines in Newcastle” and for me, it does…
Pics from top: Ireton sketch by Vincent Hunt; Donal Urell; his father, James Urell; Woodstock; Donal & Mary 1960s; Donal & Mary 2000s; Kathryn & sister; longtime Urell’s employee Chris Hunt, “a second mum”; Mc’s Cuisine; Glenroe Deli; Kilcoole House plot 2020.
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