Dublin History

Gresham Motor Hire Service

Gresham Motor Hire Service

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

The Gresham Motor Hire Service operated between 1924 and 1932, from premises at the back of the Gresham Hotel on Thomas Lane, off Upper O’Connell Street in Dublin. The proprietor was William Tobin, better known as Liam Tobin. Liam Tobin (1895-1963) was born at Cloughleafin near Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. In 1912 he got employment at the firm of Brook Thomas, Sackville Place, Dublin, in the hardware department. After the Howth gun running Tobin joined the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In 1916 he fought in the Four Courts garrison. After the Rising, Liam Tobin was sentenced to death but had his sentence commuted to ten years in prison. In June 1917 he was released as part of the general amnesty. In January 1918 he was one of the founding members of the New Ireland Assurance Company. In the War of Independence he worked as fund manager and intelligence officer for Michael Collins. After the 1921 Treaty, Liam Tobin briefly tried to form a detective unit for the new police force but the start of the civil war in June 1922 halted progress. Tobin served in the National Army council as a major general and was involved in the seaborne landings in Cork Harbour. Early in 1923 he was a founding member of the Irish Republican Army Organisation which wished to see the government adopt a more republican agenda and stop the demobilisation of the army. The government moved against Tobin and his associates and in March 1923 Tobin resigned from the army council. It was after that time, when a civilian for the first time in many years that Liam Tobin founded the Gresham Motor Hire Company. In 1929 Liam Tobin did return to public life when he helped establish the short lived political party called Clann na nGaedheal which sort to heal the civil war divisions. In 1930 he became involved with the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes and helped to do fund rising in the U.S.A. until he retired in 1939. Between November 1940 and December 1959 Liam Tobin was employed as the superintendent of the Oireachtas in Leinster house. In 1963 Liam Tobin died at his home called Cloliefin on Mount Merrion Avenue in Blackrock, Co. Dublin and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery.[1]

1925 Chrysler Landaulette

Gresham Motor Hire Company

In 1924 Liam Tobin established the Gresham Motor Hire Company. It is possible that in the early days Liam Tobin drove his own cars but as the business grew he employed chauffeurs to drive tourists around Dublin and around the country. Other motor hire companies such as that of Andrew Doyle of South King Street, Dublin, offered cars for hire with or without a chauffeur for any period of time from twelve hours to three months.[2] But in his advertisements Liam Tobin only offered a chauffeur driven service. In 1928 Liam Tobin advertised that the Gresham Motor Hire Service gives a ‘Service that Satisfies’. He informed the travelling public that his chauffeurs were most skilled at driving and courteous in manner to take people on tours of a mile or a thousand miles. Liam Tobin used advertising and the latest technology to reach his customers such as the telephone. In 1928 the company telephone number was Dublin 800.[3] The Gresham Motor Hire Company in Thomas Lane, off Upper O’Connell Street, was only a short distance from the new offices of the Irish Tourist Association.[4] Liam Tobin often advertised his business in the Association’s monthly publication, Irish Travel.

It is not known if Liam Tobin learnt to be a qualified mechanic for his vehicles but this wasn’t totally necessarily. Many chauffeurs seeking employment said they were ‘good’ mechanics while others said they could do running repairs.[5] In the 1920s and 1930s there were many different makes of cars on Irish roads such as Ford, Austin, Standard, Renault, Chrysler, Citroen, Rover, Hillman, Morris, Oxford, and Vauxhall. Some chauffeurs seeking employment said they preferred certain makes. In his 1931 advert seeking employment, A. Gilligan from Kildare said he preferred Ford cars while having knowledge of other makes.[6] 

Possibly due to his activities fighting for a free Ireland over many years Liam Tobin didn’t favour using English made cars. Instead he used American and German cars. In 1927 Liam Tobin offered for hire a Chrysler Landaulette with hydraulic brakes for safely and a livered driver. The car could be hired for a certain time or a given distance of a mile or a thousand miles.[7] In May 1928 Peter Kearney and a few friends hired a car from the Gresham Motor Hire Service for a tour of the south and west of Ireland. They first travelled from Dublin to Tramore and onto Glengarriff and Killarney. They then turned east to Adare and across the Shannon to Galway and north to Bundoran. After taking in the Atlantic sea air they returned to Dublin having completed 990 miles of motoring.[8] In 1931 Liam Tobin advertised that he had Dailmer cars for hire at his premises off Upper O’Connell Street. His 1931 phone number was Dublin 44800.[9]

By 1930 the Gresham Motor Hire Service was not the only hire company in Upper O’Connell Street with the Furey’s Motor Tours offering a service that was a leader where ‘others may follow’.[10] Yet the Gresham Motor Company was not distracted by such boasts by its competitors. Instead Liam Tobin was able to offer his customers experience drivers for his Chrysler and Daimler cars. It was providing a quality service that Liam Tobin and The Gresham Motor Hire Service were after. But after eight years in the business Liam Tobin wanted a chance of outlook. The economic war with Britain and the aftermath of the Great Depression had reduced the luxury tourist market. Shortly after 1932 Liam Tobin ceased trading and went to the U.S.A. to act as a fund raising agent for the newly established Irish Hospital Sweepstakes Company.

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[1] Long, Patrick, “Tobin, Liam”, in Dictionary of Irish Biography Online at dib.cambridge.org; Yeates, Pádraig, A City in Civil War – Dublin 1921–1924 (Dublin, 2915)

[2] Irish Travel, August 1931, Vol. 6, No. 12, p. 254

[3] Irish Travel, July 1928, Vol. 3, No. 11, p. 527

[4] Irish Travel, May 1932, Vol. 7, No. 9, pp. 191, 212

[5] The Irish Times, 15th July 1931, page 2

[6] The Irish Times, 15th July 1931, page 2

[7] Irish Travel, February 1927, Vol. 2, No. 6, p. 120

[8] Irish Travel, July 1928, Vol. 3, No. 11, pp. 512-514

[9] An Caman, October 1931, Vol. 1, Issue 5, page 4

[10] Irish Travel, August 1930, Vol. 5, No. 12, p. 281

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