The distraught Aughrim community are still reeling after pieces of local heritage from the iconic Lawless’s Hotel were seen posted for sale online earlier this month, a move which the woman who reportedly owns the hotel has claimed is under investigation.
For a time Lawless's Hotel in Aughrim was one of Wicklow's best-known. Steeped in history, parts of the iconic building dates back as far as 1787.
The hotel was famously gutted by fire in 2009, with the flames consuming centuries of Aughrim heritage, and leaving only the front façade remaining largely intact. The hotel was rebuilt and the Aughrim community helped to refurnish it with donations of family pictures, poems and all manner of cultural memorabilia.
The hotel shut its doors prior to the pandemic and has fallen into disrepair. The contents of the building, including the items of local heritage, sat there gathering dust.
In the middle of September, Aughrim locals say that they noticed that memorabilia from the hotel had appeared on a Facebook page called ‘Used pub & Hotel Equipment’. The items are reported to have included photographs of local people and characters from the area, including a collection of prize-winning brown trout in glass cases, which were caught in the local River Ow.
One of the photographs posted on their page belonged to the Byrne family, who own Byrne’s Funeral Directors in Aughrim. Paul Byrne explained that his grandfather sold Raleigh bikes in Aughrim, staring back in 1934.
He said: “My grandfather gifted the hotel owner at the time a picture of the story of one of the first bikes he sold, when he started selling bikes back in the 1930’s. He gifted that to them – now the crowd selling it want €200 for it!
“That picture has sentimental value to us and to the village. The hotel was closed and locked up and we were given no opportunity to retrieve any of the pictures inside.”
Mick Geoghan, Co-Director of Used Hotel & Pub Equipment, based in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath, explained that he believes everything he has for sale was bought legitimately.
“We have receipts and invoices to show full payment, up front, and we bought the contents legitimately,” Mick said. “We sell used hotel and pub equipment all over the world, this is our business and we run it legitimately.
“I can tell you, as the company in receipt of some of the contents of the hotel, Memorabilia was a very small part of what we purchased.
“Anyone who has rang us about particular items, we made every effort to accommodate them.”
Ownership of the hotel has passed through many hands over the course of its long and illustrious history. In more recent history it was owned by Pat Phelan, then Seoirse O’Toole, before it came to Kilmacanogue builder-developer Joe Whyte in 2005.
When Joe passed away, ownership of the hotel was reportedly passed to his daughter Melissa Whyte Gass, who is believed to live in Hampshire, Illinois in the US.
Lawless’s closed its doors prior to the pandemic and Melissa is said to have returned to America, and hasn’t been back since.
Melissa was not available for comment, but a comment made by Melissa’s Facebook account in response to a post about the sale of memorabilia says that it is under investigation.
Meanwhile the Aughrim community have begun to mobilise in the last week. Led by Aughrim native Irene Kinsella, a community meeting has been arranged in The Pavilion in Aughrim for this coming Monday. As Irene explained, the people of Aughrim feel they are entitled to answers, and will look to local councillors in their quest to find them.
“We might put a petition together and send it to people who are selling the photographs,” Irene began. “The other option is to put together a GoFundMe page, to buy them back – which would seem very unfair to the community.
“Lots of people have been ringing up to ask about the prices, but they would seem only to have value to the families and the community of Aughrim.”
Irene said that the Aughrim community want, more than anything, for the hotel to be restored to its former glory.
“We’ll look to see is there is anything that can be done with Lawless’s in the long term,” Irene said. “As much as it’s sad to see the photos disappearing, it’s even sadder to see it go into such disrepair.
“I have asked local councillors to attend the meeting. We’d like to try and find out from them if some information about the ownership of the property can be attained.
“The objective is to come up with a plan of action on how to retrieve the items and have them returned to the community. From there, to see if there is anything we can do as a community to save this historic building which was once the beating heart of the town.”
Members of the Aughrim community are meeting at The Pavilion, Aughrim on Monday October 3, at 7pm, to discuss the Lawless Hotel and the removal/sale of the memorabilia and the future of the hotel.