There is a popular saying in politics sometimes attributed to Ronald Reagan ‘When you’re explaining,…
Patrick and Henry Egan are perhaps the two brothers whose names are most synonomous with the Tullamore business of P. & H. Egan Ltd. However it was Patrick and Henry’s father, Patrick Egan snr, who first established the business in 1852, and under whose name the company traded in the early years.
Egan’s Bridge House, Tullamore, 1852-1968
Patrick Egan snr was born in 1805, the 3rd son of James Egan, a landholder and farmer from Tuarfelim near Moate in Co. Westmeath. Patrick studied law at the King’s Inns and, in 1834, when Daniel O’Connell attended a function to mark the opening of The National Bank in Moate, ‘a young Moate Solicitor named Patrick Egan read an address to O’Connell’. O’Connell would later use his considerable influence to have Egan appointed as the Crown Solicitor for Westmeath.
In addition to his burgeoning legal practice, with offices in Moate and at 39 Nassau Street, Dublin, Patrick also set about establishing a number of businesses in Moate, Kilbeggan and Tullamore. The Moate enterprise was a prosperous hardware, grocery and spirit business, which traded as P. Egan & Sons, and was managed by Patrick’s sons William and Luke Egan. The Kilbeggan business was established around 1850 and traded for about thirty years as John Egan & Co. until 1884 when it was sold by P. & H. Egan.
In the interim Patrick had also begun to establish himself in the commercial and political life of Tullamore where he was joined by his two eldest sons, Patrick jnr and Henry. Like their father both Patrick and Henry Egan were formidable businessmen whose energetic enterprise have left an indelible mark on the commercial, political and social history of Tullamore.
In 1852 P. Egan & Sons began trading from their Bridge House premises as general merchants, provisions, and spirit dealers. The Bridge House business grew exponentially in the early years and by 1882, in addition to a dedicated smoking loft for Irish bacon, Patrick and Henry Egan were also importing bacon directly from America for the wholesale trade. In 1892 ‘the various departments include the choicest growths of teas, general groceries, provisions, Italian warehouse goods, and American and Colonial produce’.
In 1866 Egan’s had also acquired an interest in the long established Tullamore Brewery owned by Richard Deverell and in 1869 P. Egan & Sons were soliciting orders ‘for their October Brewings which are in splendid condition’. By 1882 the brewery employed fifty men “drawing not less than £1,600 a year in wages.” They had also acquired ‘a steam saw mill worked by a powerful engine which cuts about 2,000 feet of timber daily’. Between their retail outlet, wholesale department, timber yard and brewery the company employed about one hundred people in 1883.
The next thirty-five years represented a golden era for the brewery which produced two porters and four ales while also bottling large quantities of Bass’s ales. Their advertising at this time reflected the family’s staunch nationalist roots:
‘Why consume English and Scotch Ales and Dublin Porter when you have at you door Ales and Stouts brewed equal to the Best of them. Keep the money at home! Ask for Egans Ales and Stouts and Drink no other.’
The brewery would later cease production of porter in order to increase their output of ales while also acting as wholesale bottlers for Guinness and in 1900 they were exporting their beer to Scotland.
Patrick and Henry married Elizabeth Moorhead and Lizzie O’Toole, and had large families of nine and twelve children respectively. Outside of their busy family and working lives the brothers were active in politics and were members of the Tullamore Town Commissioners. Henry was also Secretary of the Tullamore Land League. Both Henry and Patrick were ‘on the platform for a monster meeting’ of the Land League in Tullamore on March 17th. 1881. The following month Henry Egan was arrested under the Coercion Act and sent to Naas jail for five weeks. In his absence he was elected Chairman of The Town Commissioners and later became the first Chairman of Offaly County Council in April 1899.
Father and Son at Bridge House, Tullamore. Henry Egan (d. 1919) and Patrick Egan (d. 1960).
During World War One the Irish brewing industry went into sharp decline and Egan’s was one of the many small breweries which did not survive much beyond the war. By this time the company had diversified and grown considerably both organically and through acquisition. In 1896 P. & H. Egan Ltd. was incorporated with a nominal capital of £80,000. In March of the same year they purchased another long established Tullamore business, Stirling & Co., who were successful spirit wholesalers, retailers and mineral water makers. The acquisition enabled Egan’s to develop a strong mineral water brand which fitted neatly into its existing wholesale offering.
In 1908/09 P. H. Egan Ltd had a contract to supply Guinness’ brewery with 28,000 barrels of malted barley from their extensive malt houses in Tullamore and Rathangan. The relationship with Guinness extended over seventy years as suppliers of malted barley and wholesale bottlers of Guinness’ porter. The company continued to transport their malt by canal on barge 42B which Egan’s had commissioned in 1913, until they switched to road transport in 1956. P. & H. Egan also supplied malt to both The Mountjoy Brewery and to John Power’s Distillery.
The company were extensive coal merchants and builder suppliers arising out of their saw mill and timber yard. They built a strong agri-business sector supplying farmers with animal feed, seed, fertilizers and agricultural and farm machinery ‘such as ploughs, harrows, grubbers, etc’. This ‘one stop shop’ model was extended beyond The Bridge House and Tullamore as Egan’s sought to expand by developing a network of over sixteen shops and licensed premises, or ‘branch houses’, in towns and villages through five midland counties.
They also acquired three hotels including Colton’s and Hayes’ in Tullamore, and Dooly’s Hotel in Birr. In 1919 the company was pleased to announce that Dooly’s Hotel, Duke Square, Birr now has “Hot and Cold Water Baths.”
Other shorter lived enterprises included coach and trap building, cycle manufacturing and as contractors for the erection of haybarns, iron railings, and bridges. At the height of the company’s development it is estimated that the firm employed about three hundred people.
The house most associated with the Egan family in Tullamore is Acres Hall where Patrick Egan took up residence around 1890. After Patrick’s death in 1897 his brother, Henry, lived in the house until his death in 1919. Patrick’s only son, Francis, who was a minor when his father died, later moved back into the house with his wife, Helen Byrne, and their young family. The house remained in the Egan family until the 1980s.
Henry’s eldest son, Pat, became managing director in the early 1900s and in due course Chairman of P. & H. Egan Ltd. In 1919 he purchased the George Hadfield designed Annaghmore House together with 400 acres of land and later successfully contested the 1923 general election in Laois-Offaly for the Cumann na nGaedheal party. Pat’s brothers variously joined the family firm, emigrated and went to war.
As wine and spirit merchants, original bonders and bottlers of many Irish whiskeys, including John Jameson, Egan’s developed an extensive wholesale whiskey trade both domestically and for export. Indeed P. & H. Egan produced their own blended whiskeys which included Egan’s No 8. and the more expensive Egan’s No. 5 which they sold by the gallon, and by the dozen in quarts, bottles, pints, half-pints and naggin. At this time they were also importing large quantities of sherry, port and rum for bottling and wholesale. Egan’s Pale Rich sherry, Egan’s EEE Port, Egan’s 3 Star Port and Egan’s 1 Star Port were among the twenty-three ports and sherries on offer from the company.
A price list from 1948 gives details of over eighty spirits available from P. & H. Egan’s wholesale department in addition to Cairnes ale, Smithwicks ale and Guinness’s porter, also; ‘tea, wine and brandy shippers, whiskey bonders, manufacturers of premier mineral waters, wholesale bottlers, maltsters, provision merchants, corn buyers and millers, builder’s providers, hardware, sawmills, iromongery, furniture, seeds and manure, grower and exporters of seed potatoes. Head Office and Brewery at Tullamore. Branches at – Ardagh, Ballycumber, Banagher, Ballycommon, Clonaslee, Castletown, Foigha, Ferbane, Kilcormac, Kinnity, Moyvore, Newtowncashel, Rathangan, Riverstown, Tubber’.
A price list with list of branches in the 1940s
In 1944 the Directors of P. & H. Egan Ltd included Pat Egan (Chairman), Larry Egan (Managing Director), Francis Egan, Michael Kelly, Frank Slattery and Danny Lynam. The company continued to trade successfully for another twenty-five years until the firm finally entered voluntary liquidation in 1968 after one hundred and sixteen years in business.
We would now like to tell the full story of this Offaly/Westmeath family through five generations from 1768 to 1968. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who has access to original documents, photographs of the people who worked for P. & H. Egan, photographs of the buildings, the branch shops, pubs, hotels or transport associated with the firm, advertising ephemera or memorabilia of any kind.
If you think you can assist with our Egan research project please contact Offaly History at [email protected] .