Building of the Month - April 2014

Millar’s Harp House, BALLYDANGAN Td., County Roscommon

Marie Monaghan describes the history and recent restoration of Millar’s Harp House, an eye-catching landmark on the side of the old N6 in County Roscommon

Figure 1: A photograph of the eye-catching Millar’s Harp House following its restoration in 2013. Photograph by Padraic Kilduff

Millar’s Harp House, a landmark on the side of the old N6 in County Roscommon, has recently been restored to its former glory.  Also known as “Millar’s Ice Cream Shop” or “Millar’s Sweet Shop”, the small but eye-catching building was erected as an ice cream parlour by Paddy Millar (d. 1974) in close proximity to his main business concern, a public house.

The arrival of an ice cream parlour to the locality would no doubt have been an exciting event.  Local people remember the thrill of the prospect of a refreshing ice cream after a hard day’s work on the bog.  The ice cream arrived from Dublin and, carefully portioned, was placed between crisp wafers and sold as an ice cream sandwich.  Each “sandwich” cost 6d. or sixpence.  At one time the ice cream parlour was a more popular attraction than the public house and Millar took on several local girls as shop assistants to avoid lengthy queues.  When ice cream lost its appeal, and business tapered off, Millar restocked the fridges and reopened Millar’s Harp House as a butcher shop.  Local people remember it as a hive of activity on Saturday evenings as customers arrived to pick up their Sunday roast.

However, it is its unique physical features that have placed Millar’s Harp House on the architectural map of Ireland.  The distinctive harp-shaped windows, designed and executed by Paddy Millar himself, symbolise a nationalist pride while the colour scheme of green, white and orange alludes to the Irish flag.

Figure 2: A photograph showing the derelict Millar’s Harp House in 2003. Remarking on the shop, Eve McAulay described Millar’s Harp House as ‘[an] idiosyncratic mid twentieth-century structure [and] a celebration of Irishness. The style, which appears to have been influenced by contemporary modern design, is elevated by unusual harp-shaped windows, colourful tiles, and bright paintwork’. Photograph by Roslyn Byrne
Millar’s Harp House closed its doors for the final time in 1970 and fell into dereliction.  When recorded by the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage in 2003 the harp-shaped windows were broken, the sweeping parapet was overgrown, and the interior had become entangled with ivy.  To mark the Year of the Gathering in 2013, and helped in no small way by Robert Finn, Martin Greene and Derick O’Brien, Moore Community Council undertook a thorough restoration of Millar’s Harp House by reglazing the windows, removing the ivy, repainting the walls and clearing the site.

It is no exaggeration to say that Millar’s Harp House is probably the most photographed building in the locality and numerous tourists passing on the Dublin-Galway road stop to admire this eye-catching landmark.




If you ever pass by Millar’s Tavern, and your sight is very sharp

You will see a nice small cottage, with a window like a Harp

It has now been decorated and looks better than before

It was one a little local shop that became a Butcher’s store


It was built one hundred years ago, and is made from stone and sand

The site was small close to the road, the work was done by hand

It is shaded from the sunlight and is sheltered by the trees

On a hot day it’s like Heaven with a cooling from the breeze


I’m sure that our forefathers would have funny tales to tell

Of the hard times with no money when the shop had things to sell

So if your ever come on holidays and you want a Pint of Dark

You can park at Millar’s Tavern and view our very own Landmark


Jimmy Kenny

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