I love the company every day — I’m never lonely

As we continue our series on Cork’s old corner shops, CHRIS DUNNE pops in to Murphy Grocers in Kinsale
I love the company every day — I’m never lonely

LOVES WHAT SHE DOES: Sheila Murphy, owner of Murphys’ shop on Pearse Street, Kinsale, Co Cork. Picture: Larry Cummins

LIKE mother, like daughter, so the saying goes. Sheila Murphy, like her late mother Ellen McCarthy, who was a popular and successful shopkeeper, is a real people person.

“It is in the blood!” says Sheila, who was one of six siblings.

“My dad, Jim, was a small farmer from Bandon,” adds Sheila, whose grocery shop on Pearse Street in Kinsale was a hive of activity when I visited.

“My mother opened the shop and we all helped her out ever since we were young,” says Sheila who can double-job, chatting and serving her customers at the same time.

Sheila is never idle, and never partakes in idle chat, but instead always has a kind word and a bit of news and useful information for her loyal customers and for the eager visitors who visit the harbour town.

“You’ll never guess who was in here last week with his girlfriend,” says Sheila.

I am all ears.

“Ryan Tubridy came into the shop one morning to get fresh scones.

“He was on a mini-break from his radio show.”

Like me, Sheila is a fan of Tubs.

“I was so thrilled to see him,” says Sheila.

Tell us more.

“His girlfriend seemed really nice and friendly,” whispers Sheila to me over the counter top, where gooey buns and crusty soda bread take pride of place.

Obviously, Ryan Tubridy, travelling from Dublin, knows that Cork is the ‘real’ capital of Ireland.

“He likes going to Galway, but he loved it here,” says Sheila.

Lots of famous celebrities know which side their bread is buttered when they come to Kinsale and seek out top quality fresh produce, served with a smiling face and a cheery word.

In 2004, the Duchess of York dropped in to Sheila Murphy’s shop to say ‘Hi’ and to get her fresh supply of goods for her travels.

“Sarah Ferguson called in here once,” confirms Sheila, speaking of Prince Andrew’s ex-wife.

I always wondered is she a natural redhead?

“He fiery red hair is magnificent,” says Sheila who takes stock of all her customers, both their attributes and their needs!

“Sarah was a guest of the showjumper Robert Spillane who owns an equestrian centre,” adds Sheila.

“She was really nice and she said that she loved the countryside here. Sarah has Irish roots.”

What did she buy in Sheila Murphy’s?

 Sheila Murphy outside her shop in Kinsale. Picture: Larry Cummins
Sheila Murphy outside her shop in Kinsale. Picture: Larry Cummins

“As far as I recall she bought Easter eggs for her girls,” says Sheila, whose memory is as sharp as her business-sense.

The Duchess of York is a descendant of the Powerscourt Wicklow family.

Did any other famous faces grace the popular shop over the years?

“There were various well-known actors in here over the years who all loved being in Kinsale,” says Sheila.

“Bill Nighy of Love Actually fame is one actor who stands out. He’s a real gentleman and left a lasting impression.”

Sheila, after leaving school, never left Kinsale.

“When my mother retired, I just drifted into the shop,” she says.

“I used to work here during the school holidays. My sisters did too. Nora still helps me out.”

Time moves on.

“When my mother retired, I said I’d try it out. That was 35 years ago,” says Sheila.

“The years just seemed to roll on and on. I never looked back.”

Business was on a roll.

“The main street is always busy,” says Sheila.

“We have our regular customers and constant passing trade.

“Tourism is big business here and visitors flock to Kinsale.

“There is a huge boating community present in the town as well.”

They all have to be fed and watered.

“They sure do,” says Sheila laughing, and who duly obliges seven days a week from 7am to 6pm.

Sheila has a little help from her friends who provide her with delicious home-baking and goodies.

Local farmers deliver fresh fruit and vegetables to her shop every day.

“The local ICA ladies do home-baking for me; bracks, tea-cakes Madeira cakes, and apple tarts,” says Sheila.

“They are known for their baking all over. They are great bakers.”

The bread and butter pudding has my name written all over it.

“Do you want it heated?” Sheila inquires.

I can’t wait that long, even though I know a minute on the lips is a lifetime on the hips.

Surrounded by all these goodies, how does Sheila resist them and keep slim and trim?

“I’m on my feet all day,” says Sheila. “And in my spare time; I do a bit of walking and cycling. There are great walks here.”

When does she have any spare time?

“Not very often!” says Sheila, enjoying the bit of banter.

She is kept on her toes.

“We had a break-in one Christmas Eve 10 years ago,” says Sheila. “It was lunch-time and I was making the dinner and I heard the commotion. I called the guards.

“The robbers got away with cigarettes and money. They got in around the side of the building and removed some boards to gain access. I got a fright.”

Sheila doesn’t frighten easily.

“I still enjoyed Christmas and I was back at work soon afterwards.”

She felt more secure when she installed shutters on the windows.

“The shop is secure now,” says Sheila.

She is also secure in the knowledge that she is surrounded by good friends and by good neighbours.

“Everyone is very kind,” says Sheila.

“I have very good friends and good neighbours.”

She has a good hairdresser too.

“The owner of Amazonas next door is a good friend of mine. She’s in here a few times a day!”

Sheila, who never married, is never lonely.

“I’m home alone, but here in the shop I’m never lonely,” she says.

“I love the company every day and having the cráic with people. I simply love it.”

Sheila’s shop on Pearse Street is the love of her life.

“I always kept going, even in the lean times.”

The arrival of multi-national competitors never fazed her. Nothing fazes Sheila Murphy.

After all, she was never fazed by the rich and famous that she met in her shop.

“The biggest change I’ve seen in Kinsale is the arrival of Lidl and Aldi,” says Sheila.

She has kept her cohort of customers over more than three decades. And she’s kept them happy.

“The big multi-nationals didn’t affect my trade,” says Sheila.

“I’ve always had my regulars, the passing trade and the tourists.

“At the end of the day, all anyone wants is a friendly face, a kind word and good service,” adds Sheila cheerfully.

And a decent slice of bread and butter pudding. Don’t forget that. I certainly haven’t.

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