The shop has been our way of life for 30 years, says Cork couple

As we continue our visits to some of Cork’s corner shops, CHRIS DUNNE meets the couple behind English’s Foodstore, Conna
The shop has been our way of life for 30 years, says Cork couple

Tom and Kaye English at English's Foodstore in the village of Conna, County Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

WHEN Tom English rolled into town from Wexford to work as a farm manager, he never imagined that he’d swap his chosen career for another career as a shopkeeper — and he never knew he’d meet the love of his life, Kaye Rumley from Conna, either. He did both.

“The hours in the shop are pretty much the same as farmers’ hours,” says Tom, laughing.

“I worked as a farm manager for Seamus Beecher and I worked long hours.”

English’s shop caters for all seasons.

“Except, unlike working in farming, the seasons don’t change; we are busy all year round in the shop whatever the weather; come rain or shine.”

English’s shop in Conna was also busy during the snow and the hurricane seasons.

“We were looking after our customers whatever the weather,” says Tom, 60.

“When the Beast from the East hit and Storm Ophelia, plus the odd hurricane, we made sure everyone had bottles of gas, fuel, batteries, and food essentials to get them through the emergency.”

Tom got another job, as a delivery man.

“Sometimes, he delivered all of the above in his van to the customers who were stranded in his trusty and reliable white hi-ace van!,” says Kaye, who knows Tom is a double-jobber and sometimes even a treble jobber.

Tom and Kaye English at English's Foodstore in the village of Conna, Co Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Tom and Kaye English at English's Foodstore in the village of Conna, Co Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

Other people have jobbed around the shop too, helping out.

“My parents, Pat and Mary Rumley, were a constant support since the early days,” says Kaye.

Kaye and Tom bought the premises in 1989. They have four children — Holly, Kieran, and twins, Robert and Sally.

“It was due to my parents’ great encouragement that led us to stock bedding plants and all gardening requisites over the years,” says Kaye.

“They are both avid gardeners themselves.”

Mary, double-jobbing too, was chief bottle-washer.

“Mam was hands-on in stocking the shelves and painting for many years,” says Kaye.

“She fed Tom and the team with her great breakfasts and super shepherd’s pies!”

Mary knew the way to Tom’s heart and to his staff’s hearts was through their stomachs.

“Mam was a great cook,” says Kaye. 

“She was also a huge help with rearing the family and she was always on call and never once said no to a call from Conna.”

Back in the day, when Tom rolled into town, there was one grocery shop and Conna Post Office.

A shop stocking everything required from table to garden seemed like a good option.

“We bought the premises and then the yard in 1995 when we expanded,” says Tom. “The original shop that was here, owned by the late Mrs Power, was very small.

“In the beginning, farmers were our main customers. Now we have everyone stopping by to stock up on groceries, coal, gas, pet food, and garden supplies.”

The fresh cream cakes must be best sellers?

“Indeed they are,” says Tom, offering me one to try.

“The cakes are delivered to us fresh every morning.”

Being in Monty’s Pass country, and festival country, Tom and Kaye must rub shoulders with the good and the great?

“There was fierce excitement when Monty’s Pass won the Grand National at the festival in Aintree,” says Tom. “The buzz in the village was phenomenal.”

He is a festival man himself.

“Being on the community council, I was part of the organising committee for the Conna Castle Festival every year. We had the best of them come and perform, Meat Loaf, Smokey, Shakin’ Stevens, The Stunning, Kings of Leon, and Susan McCann among them. Thousands of people came from all over to the castle. It was a great festival and very popular. Often I’d be out at the castle until 3am and then back here to open up at 7am!”

He was keen.

“We love our music!” says Tom laughing.

He is popular too.

“Ah well, we’d know all our customers by name and their kids too! We’d have known all their people back along.

“We’re open from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week, so we meet lots of people every day.”

There have been lots of new arrivals to the village too.

Tom and Kaye English inside the store. Picture Dan Linehan
Tom and Kaye English inside the store. Picture Dan Linehan

“We have three new housing estates here,” says Tom.

“A number of people re-located to Conna from Glanmire. We have a very strong community and the social centre and the crèche are great facilities.”

English’s shop is in a great catchment area.

“Our loyal customers come from Conna, Tallow, Cappaquin, Lismore and beyond. The passing trade is brisk. Our staff of five are always busy.”

But not too busy to pass the time of day obviously?

“They are great for the chat,” says Tom, smiling.

Rearing four children and working round the clock must have been full-on?

“Yes, it was hectic for many years,” says Kaye who has just arrived from giving a driving lesson to her youngest son before he takes his driving test.

The English’s took time out over the years from their busy schedule.

“We loved going on holidays to France on the ferry,” says Tom. “We did it for years. The kids loved it.”

People love coming to the shop for their supplies and for a friendly word.

“Country life is nice,” says Tom.

 “There are great characters around. Some of them come in two or three times a day. In the morning, they come for the milk and the paper. Later, they might come in for a choc-ice or some ham for their tea.

“A lovely lady, Nell Beecher, comes in to us a couple of times a day. She is like an old friend.”

Tom and Kaye made lots of firm friends over the years.

“We surely did,” says Tom, who knew some lean times too over the years.

“Yes, there were some lean times. We saw it as our duty to keep the door open for our customers and we always carried on.”

Business was often brisker than usual.

“The point-to-points were always a great occasion. A lot of jockeys live around here.”

They wouldn’t be eating the fresh cream cakes delivered every day though?

Tom and Kaye laugh.

“That’s for sure!”

So what would the jockeys typically purchase?

“Sausage rolls and Red Bull!”

Has Tom any desire to retire from store life and take it easy?

“I love the shop,” says Tom.

“I have 2025 in my mind to take things easier; I don’t look beyond that.

“It would be nice to travel more and I love to garden.

“The shop has been a way of life for us for over 30 years.”

It’s a way of life for his staff too.

“Aisling is with us 15 years. If she leaves, we’ll all leave!”

And English’s is a lifeline for Tom and Kaye’s loyal customers.

“We do our best,” says Tom.

And as he hands me a coffee to go with the fresh cream cake, I can well believe that.

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