from a great man and a different era
His talent for hard work was first utilised on the family
farm which his father bought in Killoe in 1917 and which
they moved to in 1919 after John's father Pat gave
up on America due to the imminent arrival of prohibition
and the family came back to Longford. For John, a sixteen
year old American lad, used to the hustle and bustle of
New York, and a few bob in his pocket from work, Longford,
a small rural Irish town was something of a shock.
When his father passed away in 1934 John was left to run
the farm but he knew it offered him no real future and by
the end of the economic war in the late thirties Johns
natural instinct was to try something new. It was an attitude
and approach that served him well in life. With his friend
MJ Lyons he brought Greyhound racing to Longford in 1939.
They later developed the old Forresters hall on Water St.
into the Odeon Cinema in 1941. He owned the Annaly Hotel
and these were just some of the highlights in the 100 years
of one of the countys first truly great entrepreneurs.
John Doris sits patiently answering questions. He is in
no rush. After the excitement of his 100th birthday party
last week he has little demands on his time. He has lived
for so long, and in so many different places, it is as if
he is used to dealing with anything. Patience born from
experience. And what experiences.
John Doris came to Longford just as the War of Independence
was heating up in September 1919. It was quiet enough at
first, he recalls some eighty odd years later but things
soon got going.
The first crowd that came over were the Black and
Tans and they were followed by the Auxiliaries or the Auxies
as we called them. I remember the burning of Granard, and
the Irish boys were waiting for them in Ballinalee after
the fire. I remember because I was on the roadside one morning,
and a Tander came by - thats what we called the trucks
that the Tans travelled in, back to back with their guns
facing outwards, which were always accompanied by an armoured
Anyway I noticed that there were legs hanging out
the back of the Tander. They were coming back from the ambush
at Clonfin. They had surrendered to Sean McEoin. Another
officer wanted to shoot them all down, but McEoin told them
to get one of the trucks and bring their wounded back to
Longford. I watched them go by the house, he remembers.
It got so we knew the sound of the engines. When we
were out in the fields working wed hide in the ditches
because they would be fond of just opening fire, taking
pot shots along the road. Theyd also arrive a a public
house and collet up a group of men and bring them out to
unblock roads that the IRA would have blocked the night
before. Theyd usually take a case of whiskey for themselves,
theyd tell the publican to put a case in the truck
and for peaces sake the publican would do it. John
continues warming to the task of explaining a sense of the
The British for the most part left the Doriss alone
in Coradooey. For the most part.
I dont know whether they knew we were Americans or
not, but they seemed to leave us alone. They did raid the
house once looking for guns. Somebody told them we had arms.
My father had a shotgun, and two revolvers that he got in
New York that he had brought back with him. One day the
police and two lorry loads of soldiers came into the yard,
and the knock came on the door. They told my mother
they were going to raid the house for arms. As the troops
were gathering outside preparing, she realised that there
was a shotgun in the kitchen. She hit it quickly under the
stairs before the soldiers came in. They searched the house
top to bottom, behind pictures, in the front of the piano,
they even went down the yard looking but they left having
found nothing, John recounts.
The man of the period was undoubtedly Sean McEoin, and Johns
father and mother knew him well, both when he was on the
run, and after. His parents were guests at the wedding,
while John himself remembers the scene at the Cathedral.
He was marrying Alice Cooney who was the aunt of Pat
Cooney who was later Minister for Defence. I remember on
the main gate of the Cathedral was a motion picture camera
filming the event, and as I looked around Arthur Griffith
and Michael Collins walked right by, as close to me now
as you are, he says stretching his hand over the kitchen
table between us.
His final memory of those times is the family driving in
to town to see the British leaving, mostly by train, and
the Irish Army parading up the town to take over the Barracks
led by Tom Carter, father of Frank Carter later a TD for
But it isnt only the Irish independence struggle he
recalls. He remembers meeting the great Jack Dempsey, in
Dempseys pub in Time Square, New York one time when
he was over there staying with relatives.
Jack made sure to welcome everyone who came in, and after
being greeted John sat down at the bar to have a glass of
A fine strapping young fellow came in to the bar and
I said hello, and I invited him to have a drink
with me. I will, he said, and we chatted for
about half an hour and then he left. The barman came over
and asked me how I knew Joe Di Maggio. I said
I didnt, and he said dont
you know you were just talking to him. I went home
to Brooklyn that night and told my female cousins and they
nearly swooned right there on the spot, John chuckles.
He also recalls a funny incident in wartime London, where
he was visiting his sister Novena. The American War Office
had already been in contact with John, as an American citizen
to register and be classified for being called up. As a
37 year old male with no previous military experience he
wasnt top of the draft list, but he was given an ID
which was emblazoned with the stars and stripes, and the
eagle and the whole nine yards and the Americans might say.
It entitled him among other things to free travel, and he
went across to London to see his sister.
Delighted thought she was to see him, in time of rationing
they couldnt exactly feed him, so she sent John down
to the Food Office to register for rations. When John saw
the queue he decided to take a chance, walked up the front
and presented the card expecting to be told to get back
The woman saw the card, and called out the manager
and he started to apologise for keeping me waiting. He asked
how long I was staying and I said six weeks and he went
into his office and brought out a package in a cigar box
and said that should keep me going for a while. I went back
to my sisters and she said John, you have enough coupons
to feed 100 people for 12 months, he laughs devilishly
remembering his brass neck.
And still he sits, engaged and interested, telling the Leader
anything that takes his fancy. Memories from a different
era, and a different world joined to this one by an incredible
and energetic life span.
Putting flesh to the bones of history that you read about
in books. A century of experience, which he shares humbly.
John Doris is well known for his achievement in business
in Longford and in Ireland having owned the Annaly Hotel,
the Odeon Cinema and the internationally famous Glencormack
Hotel. What many may not know is that he got his first job
while on holidays from school at the age of 12.
While still in America he and a cousin decamped from their
homes one morning at 5am and went into town looking for
I put on my fathers long pants and we went looking
for jobs. At that time there was lot of people looking for
work. We joined a queue and by the time we got to the top
of it, it was 9am. The man at the top asked what my name
was, and what age was I, and I wrote down my name and my
age at 18. Then he said write down how much I expected,
and I wrote eight dollars a week.
So we started working that day, my cousin and I. We
were manufacturing lynotype machines (for painting works).
We were working a week and the office went out on strike,
so we went out with them. We were out for four weeks and
I came back to work on twelve dollars a week, and we worked
for the rest of the summer until September when school started
again, John says with a chuckle in his voice.
From there his talent for hard work was utilised on the
family farm which his father bought in Killoe in 1917 and
which they moved to in 1919 after Johns father Pat
gave up on America due to the imminent arrival of Prohibition.
In 1934 when his father passed on John took over the running
of the farm but with the hard economic circumstances of
the 1930s eventually sought revenue in different enterprising
With his friend MJ Lyons he brought Greyhound racing to
Longford in 1939.
Unfortunately it wasnt a source of any huge wealth,
but his enterprising ways went on. MJ Lyons, John, Stuart
Glass (Head of Western Electric) and Bob Kickham (a well
known builder) developed the site of the old Forresters
Hall into the Odeon Cinema in 1941.
People asked where we were going to get the people
to fill it, it was a big barn of a place John told
the Longford Leader some 60 years later, but as he says
himself they neednt have worried.
It was packed to the doors every night. There were
queues over the bridge to get in.
The venture was so successful that the four built another
Odeon cinema in Tuam in 1942, also refurbishing an old pub
and shop on site and selling them on. The Adelphi another
cinema that had opened in the wake of the Odeon in Longford,
run by Frank Farrell on Killashee St, was eventually bought
as well. At one time John also owned the Ambassador Cinema
in East Belfast before having to sell it a couple of years
later because the citys Orange brethren didnt
like a Southerner round them parts.
He was not deterred. By the 1950s he was a very successful
businessman and had grown to national prominence. He had
bought a share in the Annaly Hotel, when Paddy Groake wanted
to get out and eventually he owned it outright. He had a
half interest in the Midland Warehouse where Supermacs
is now located in town.
And he bought the famous Glencormack Hotel which was 10
miles out of Bray sitting on ten acres of beautiful land.
The hotel had a very good reputation, and had pictures of
famous guests who had dined and stayed there. Government
Minister Frank Aitken often dined with guests of the state
at the Glencormack. John also had a nearby pub, Sweeneys
which did very well but which he sold off again after four
of five years.
By this stage he was a well respected figure around town
and was asked to be joint trustee of the Longford Leader
with the late John Quinn, while Lucius Farrell jnr came
of age. This followed Lucious snr passing on in the mid-fifties
and John has the height of respect for his widow Eileen
Farrell,whom he says saved the Leader at that time and was
one of the first true Irish women of business.
He also helped the late John Quinn to set up the Midland
and Western Building society, serving as a director and
as Chairman before it was bought by the Educational Building
In 1964 however the jewel in Johns crown, the Glencormack
burnt down. He remembers the night it happened.
We had a fine dance every Saturday night, and I had
just arrived up from a race meeting I had been at. I was
talking to friends in the bar, when some of the staff came
to me and said there was a fire, and that they had called
the brigade. I rushed upstairs, and the fire was contained
in one room. I opened the door and closed it quickly such
was the intensity of the flames.
I went into the room next door and the flames were
shooting out the window. The Fire Brigade came out and tried
to put out the fire. We had a good water supply but they
used it all fighting the fire. The fire spread into the
roof of the hotel which was good pine wood, and after that
the flames went 100f in the air. The place was a shell before
too long. People said we should rebuild it, but you couldnt
. It was an old Jameson house, John says, reliving
the night of the blaze.
At this stage, one of his old haunts is being refurbished
with the Annaly Hotel due to reopen after years of disuse.
John is glad.
Jim Reynolds has told me that I have to come to see
the opening. I told him that I will come, but that Im
not sure how Ill get there. My eyesight is not as
good as it was.
Whatever about his eyesight at the moment, his entrepreneurial
vision has never been in doubt since that first foray into
the business waters all those years ago.
Courtesy of the Longford Leader