Historical perspective on ‘old Dunnes’ building

The 'old Dunnes Stores' façade on Rafter St., Enniscorthy.

Years of pressure on the directors of Dunnes Stores to agree sale of the old Rafter Street complex has eased some consciences of business and consumers with the news that the iconic business site has been purchased by developer Martin Sinnott of Blackwater and a team of workers are already working on the interior of the building.
The site has been the topic of numerous Council meetings and commercial speculation over the past 10 years, and the latest development was when it was back on the property market with a guide price of €450,000 last April. The price Mr Sinnott paid for the site is undisclosed.
The future of the site is unknown, however, it is speculated that a major retailer as an achor tenant will be sought to accompany a number of smaller retail units.
Progress is in place at Rafter Street, but let’s take a look at the history of the building commonly known as “the old Dunnes Stores site.”
It was formerly John Bolger & Co. Ltd, Hibernian House, and the headquarters of a chain of six stores which traded successfully until close down in 1972.
Hibernian House was the head branch of the company which was also trading in Dublin, Stillorgan, Cork, Limerick and Waterford.
The entire business empire, including the Enniscorthy concern, was sold to Dunnes Stores for £1.75 million.
The founder of the business was John Bolger, a native of Boolavogue, who aspired to be one of Enniscorthy’s leading businessmen.
Hibernian House was a quality drapery, millinery and outfitting store that rivalled the big fashion houses of Dublin.
However, rich and poor alike were well served by virtue of the fact that the firm were amongst the first to introduce credit or ‘easy payment’ facilities for its less well off customers.
Hibernian House hit the news headlines on Valentine’s Day 1948 when a raging fire threatened to burn down the whole of Rafter Street.

The ‘old Dunnes Stores’ façade on Rafter St., Enniscorthy.

It was a Saturday night, the premises was closed, the fire was first noticed at about 7.25 pm.
Martin Doyle, who was in care of the carpets department at the store, said later: “When the firemen arrived they broke one of the big plate glass windows and immediately the fire went wild. All of Rafter Street was in danger.”
At the time of the inferno the directors of the firm were P.A. Bolger, John J. Bolger, who lived at Riversdale, and a solicitor who practised in the style of John A. Sinnott & Co. (Mr Sinnott died in November, 1908, aged 69 years); a practice later carried on by Des McEvoy.
While there are dramatic accounts of devastation associated with the 1948 fire, business was inconvenienced rather than suspended.
Bernard Maguire and his team of construction workers were busy for about four months afterwards and the trading practice continued uninterrupted until the company was sold to the fledgling Dunnes Stores 24 years later.
Dunnes Stores located its 150th store to the old Roche Gibney Maltings site on Irish Street, and the official opening was performed by Ireland’s leading TV and radio personality, Gay Byrne, on December 5th 2006.

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