THE Round Tower in Cloyne and the Christy Ring statue are well-known landmarks in the east Cork village. Local people mention Mrs Mac’s at the crossroads in the centre of the village in the same breath. The corner shop at the crossroads is a well-known and much-loved landmark at the centre of village life.
Motherway’s shop is celebrating its 100th birthday next year.
“My grandmother was 89 in March,” says Margaret McCarthy’s grand-daughter, Hannah, who is giving her mother, Caroline Cannon, a hand in the shop since her grandmother is taking time off due to a recent illness at the end of March.
Mrs Mac, as she is fondly known by young and old alike, is ‘in the shop 63 years’ and is a familiar figure to generations of Cloyne families who frequented the shop over the years.
“My grandad brought the shop from his Aunt Jo Motherway, when my grandparents married, they ran our family’s grocery shop and sawmill together,” says Hannah.
“My grandparents never changed the name over the shop after they married. It was always Motherway’s after my Aunt Jo but locals call the shop Mrs Macs.”
It was always open.
“There were five shops in Cloyne including the PO,” says Margaret’s son, Donie.
“We had a land-line here linked to the post office that everybody used to make phone calls and to get calls.
“On Christmas morning, you often had people coming to the shop who were expecting a phone call from ‘their’ Jimmy in the UK or Mary in the USA! That was nothing out of the ordinary.
“All year the shop was open seven days a week, from 7am to 10.30pm.”
Motherway’s was always well stocked.
“We sold underpants, socks, needles, thread, biscuits, cheese, flour tea-bags, candles and batteries, among other things,” says Donie.
“The shelves were piled high, crammed, packed up to the ceiling and along the windows behind the counter with jars of sweets and jars of jams. The kids loved buying penny sweets, seeing how many they could get for a penny. I remember Robert McGowan from Cork used to supply the sweets to us.
“Back then, the sugar, flour, tea and biscuits were loose and everything had to be weighed out.
“Later on we got a meat slicer for our own cooked ham that we sold. Back then, people loved the Sunday supper of fresh ham or corned beef with tomatoes, eggs and lettuce with fresh crusty brown bread.”
The shop evolved with the times.
“There was no supermarket back in the day where a weekly shop was done, everyone shopped locally,” says Donie.
“Now there’s pasta and kidney beans on the shelf and almond milk in the fridge!”
Did Donie serve behind the counter?
“I tried to get out of it!” replies Donie, who was more comfortable working at his father’s sawmill.
“But I often got roped in at times!”
Motherway’s catered for everyone in many ways.
Locals availed of ‘The Book’ system that allowed them to pay their bill weekly.
“The Book is a requirement operated to this day for our customers,” says Caroline. “It is a facility enabling people to pay their bill on a Friday when they get paid.
“My mother was always good with figures and accounts.”
She must be a smooth operator?
“Her helper at home was Kitty Griffin, she helped Mam out, which was great considering the long hours Mam spent in the shop. Our friendly staff over the years were always loyal and hard-working.”
Mrs Mac’s was always synonymous with fresh home-made apple–tart, scrumptious scones and crusty brown bread. Ask anyone in east Cork where to get a decent apple tart and their answer was always ‘at Mrs Mac’s’.
“The deli was a massive addition to the shop,” says Donie.
“There were seven of us children raised here and often the stock for the shop would be stored in the middle of us in the living room, which is where the deli is now.
“The staff in the shop looking for something would come and ask Mam and it would be in some corner!”
Hannah, like her mother Caroline, who returned from the UK in the late 1990s to work with Margaret, is a chip off the old block and she enjoys the interaction with the customers, having a friendly word for everyone.
“Nan loves the shop and everything about it. Having the chat and keeping up with what’s happening in the village is all part of her day. Nan is always here seven days a week for up to 10 hours a day.
“She really missed working when she had to cocoon during the lockdown, but returned to work after just six weeks. Nan is recovering well and will always be at the heart of the shop.” says Hannah.
Margaret, who raised children in her corner shop premises and who was a young widow in her fifties, can rely on her family and trusted staff to take the reins while she’s recuperating.
The breakfast rolls, the flaky sausage rolls, the fresh sandwiches and fresh scones, are still part and parcel of every day trading.
“When myself and the family returned home from the UK, I saw the potential for a deli here,” says Caroline, who is a Ballymaloe-trained chef and previously worked in Adare Manor and Ashford Castle.
“Living in the suburbs in the UK, I saw how a good deli operated and how it could work here too.
"So when I returned to Cloyne to work with my mother, I decided to renovate the shop in 2004 and add the deli, not really knowing how it would pan out. We’ve never looked back. The business was already up and running before we extended the shop.”
The locals took to the new venture with a grain of salt.
“At the start, if there was no mayo or no coleslaw included, it didn’t sell!” says Caroline laughing.
“Pretty soon, though, the quiches, often with olives and goat’s cheese, became popular as people began taking away food and eating on the go. They tried out new things. Now, of course, more people are working from home so getting a tasty, hot nutritious lunch on their doorstep is ideal.”
It’s not just people who are working from home who are tempted by the delights of the deli served up by Karen, Geraldine and Katie.
“Angela Lansbury, who has a house in Churchtown South, is a regular customer. Christy Ring often shopped here and so did his sister, Mary Agnes.”
Regular customers were sorely missed during the pandemic.
“It was eerily quiet when the builders were off work,” says Caroline.
“When we were able to open up again, it was very busy as everyone shopped local and didn’t tend to go to Midleton or travel to the city.
“We delivered groceries to those who were cocooning or who couldn’t get out to shop for staples like milk and bread.”
Motherway’s is all set to enter a new century of trading in the village of Cloyne, where it is loved so well and where it has served the people of Cloyne so well through the years.
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