The House of Progress, 91 Main Street, Castleisland

Michael O'Donohoe project manager, Janet Murphy preparing to move to the next phase of the job. ©John Reidy
Michael O’Donohoe project manager, Janet Murphy preparing to move to the next phase of the job. ©John Reidy

It is now over twelve months since the process of cataloguing the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project began. An almost incredible list of historical items and folders have now been copied, listed and digitised by project manager, Janet Murphy.

“It is without question that the content of this collection will stand as an invaluable resource for those – in Ireland or anywhere in the world – with an interest in the history of Castleisland and its surrounds,” said Ms. Murphy on completion of this painstaking, first phase of getting the contents online and available to the public.

While there is data on every family name that ever lived in or near Castleisland there is also a wider selection of material. Delightfully, there is also a collection of the late Mr. O’Donohoe’s essays on various aspects of life in the town down through the years.

His research on these pieces is forensic in its approach and conclusions and wonderfully informative in its presentation.

Here, in his essay on the Twomey family’s drapery business, The House of Progress,  you’ll find all these attributes as he goes back in time and brings his readers through how the business came about and its passage down through the generations from 1911 to 1974.

Now the process of getting the collection on-line and available can begin over the next couple of weeks as the final catalogues are nearing completion.

The House of Progress By: Michael O’Donohoe

Transcription time: The Master at work in his window corner in Skevenas Bar in 2001. ©Photograph: john Reidy 18-8-2001
Transcription time: The Master at work in his window corner in Skevenas Bar in 2001. ©Photograph: John Reidy 18-8-2001

In the rush of modern living, it is rare to be afforded an opportunity to reflect on Castleisland’s changing social history.

In the year 1911 David Twomey opened his business at 91 Main Street, Castleisland, trading as D J Twomey & Sons Ltd, The House of Progress.

It was located in an elegant three storey town house situated in the heart of the commercial centre of the town.

Early in the last century, few could resist entering through the splendid glass doors set in a mellow classically styled facade which replicated the extravagance of Edwardian opulence.

The shop was an elegant blend of tradition and modernity.

It was a leading provincial town store with its Mantles, Haberdashery, Millinery, Linen, Shoes and Ladies and Gents Outfitting departments. The founder, David Twomey, was born in Knockane in 1879 and, in the early 1890s, was apprenticed to J K O’Connor of 63 Main Street.

Later he took a position with Grants of Cork and subsequently moved to Kelletts, George’s Street, Dublin as a floor superintendent.

There he wore the three-quarter-length coat and striped trousers which was the appropriate dress code for the position in that era. Ambition then took him to one of the world’s leading stores, Selfridges of London.

Returning home in 1911 with a wealth of experience, he opened his own store 90 years ago in premises originally owned by Thomas Moore.

In the same year he married Julia McElligott. It was the custom of that time for members of staff to live on the premises.

Staff names through the years include: Brosnan, Wall, Clancy, O’Keeffe, Touhy, Sheehy, Hartnett, Reidy, McGee, O’Connor, Behan, Murphy, Brosnan, Broder, Coffey, Prendiville and Hughes. These, and many more, worked at The House of Progress.

Paddy Twomey, who married Agnes McGee, succeeded his father David in 1952. They carried on the business up to their retirement in 1974.

For seven decades, the Twomey family had been part of the commercial life of Castleisland and The House of Progress epitomised elegance for generations of its customers.

The House of Progress, now the property of the Hickey family, is still a commercial premises.

To see a short film documentary of Michael O’Donohoe’s life and times, simply click here: