DENIS O’Flynn, recently a first-time grandfather, wasn’t always such a goody two shoes. As a child, the fourth generation shopkeeper and postmaster had a knack of sneaking the liquorice without his father noticing!
“The liquorice used to come in a long box arranged in loops,” recalls Denis.
“My sisters and I could take out the loop in the middle and put the circle back together again. We were experts. Nobody ever knew.”
Back in the day, there were corsets displayed for sale in the window of O’Flynn’s grocers shop, in Ladysbridge, County Cork.
“Yes. It seemed to be quite acceptable,” says Denis, who is passionate about the need to retain local shops serving communities.
“There were no chain stores or supermarkets in those days.”
O’Flynn’s shop was opened in Easter, 1894, by Patrick O’Flynn, who started the dynasty.
“He was known everywhere as P.O,” says Denis.
“P.O worked as a rep for a drapery business, Dwyers, and he met his wife, Catherine, a seamstress, while he was peddling his wares. There were seven shops in Ladysbridge back then; O’Donnells, O’ Shaughnessy’s, Woods, Dunnes, Mrs Barry’s shop and O’Flynn’s.
“P.O built the house in Ladysbridge where he later traded, and which is still the family home today.”
P.O and Catherine were the first residents to have a parlour.
“He opened an old-style shop that stocked everything, from a needle to an anchor,” says Denis.
“He sold wellingtons, women’s nylons, hats, waders nails, soap, newspapers... the works.”
“Yes, those too,” says Denis.
“They are in the picture of the original shop window.”
When P.O died, his wife, Catherine, took over the running of the shop until their son, John, came of age.
“The main trade was after Mass on a Sunday morning,” says Dennis.
“The advent of paraffin oil had arrived, and so had the phone, which was an exciting thing for the village. The number was 122, Castlemartyr was 111,” says Denis.
Was it the hand-operated phone? The type that we all thought could broadcast each conversation to the operator?
“It was,” says Dennis.
“If anyone in the locality was sick, the shop was the first point of contact, and John and his wife, Johanna, were the go-betweens to keep everyone informed.
“In later years, I was the telegram boy, delivering the telegrams within the hour. I liked that because I always got a tip,” says Denis.
The petrol pump arrived in Ladysbridge too and it was located in the yard at the back of the shop.
“During World War II, the pumps were covered up by a coffin-like box so that they couldn’t be seen by the Germans flying overhead,” says Denis.
His father, James, trained as an electrician and he also worked for the Allen family, who employed lots of local people.
“He delivered tomatoes and vegetables,” says Denis.
“When he took over the shop in the late 1950s, he began his own delivery round. He also chauffeured the parish priest to the Stations which were held in the area. That was a very important job”.
James married Margaret, who had come to work as a telephonist in Castlemartyr Post Office.
“They met at a local dance,” says Denis. “My mother was a member of the choral society and she was very involved in the Legion of Mary.”
And Margaret Fehin had another claim to fame.
“Yes,” says Denis. “She was an extra in the film, Moby Dick.”
And she was generous too.
“You could buy four bulls’ eyes for a half-penny,” says Denis. “But there were five of the O’Donnells, so my mother always gave the children five bulls’ eyes for a half-penny so that nobody was left out.
“The sweets were delivered to our shop by a Mr Turpin. He wore a hat and scarf and he always had a Christmas box for each of us every year. When he was due to come to the shop, he sent a postcard beforehand. Mr McOstridge delivered the Ranks flour.”
It must have been every child’s dream to grow up in a shop - and especially one that sold sweets?
“Yes. It was a novelty,” says Denis.
“And we were very popular at school, because we always had sweets in our pockets.
“Silvermints were sweets that were never missed, so we had an endless supply of those.”
Denis and his three sisters, Joan, Greta and Deirdre, all put in their tuppence half-penny.
“One of my jobs was to help daddy load up the van for his round,” says Denis.
“He showed us how to use the weighing scales and he had a big red book under the counter where he kept account of the customers’ bills.
“People usually paid for their newspapers every week, but they had a tab for other items. Everyone was very honourable, and even though you didn’t get paid on a regular basis, you were always guaranteed your money,” says Denis.
“If a farmer sold an animal at the mart, then they settled their bill. It might take up to six months, but that didn’t matter.”
Denis loved travelling to the various merchants in Cork with his father for the goods.
“O’Gillie and Moore were merchants who supplied baking items,” he says.
“They were on Parnell Place and we called there by appointment. As a kid I was amazed by the workings of the pulley. It dropped the pallet of stuff from what seemed like a hole in the ceiling onto the ground.”
And Denis remembers being star-struck when the famous hurler, Christy Ring, came into O’Flynn’s for a chat.
“He was a rep for Shell oil,” says Dennis.
“I remember he always sat on the shop counter. He enjoyed hero status, a bit like Roy Keane does today.”
One night Denis got one hell of a fright when his curiosity got the better of him.
“We always wondered about the long box that was kept up high on a shelf over the front door,” he says.
“One night I heard the phone ringing and then a knock at the front door soon afterwards. I heard low voices having a conversation. I crept out onto the landing and peeked through the banisters. Daddy opened the long box and he laid the contents on the shop counter and I thought a person fell out! It turned out to be a habit. The hood had fallen down when it unfolded. I got some fright, I can tell you!”
By now a mineral fridge had been installed in the village shop. TK red lemonade and orange were summer favourites. And ice-cream became one of the more popular products.
“We sold shoulders and hocks of bacon too,” says Denis.
“And starch was in big demand. We had never heard of it.
“The chapel woman, Mrs Power, was a regular visitor for starch. We later discovered that the starch was for the white table-cloths
used when people hosted the stations.”
While the shop was a meeting place for people to shop and chat, the parish priest found it was a good way of networking too.
“We had one particular priest who always had his office outside opposite us near the church grounds,” says Denis.
“He saw the people coming and going. As they left the shop, the priest would walk over and ask the person behind the counter the name of the person who just left. Then he’d shout out ‘Good day John’, or ‘Good day Mary’, and everyone felt very important, because they thought that the priest knew their name!”
Denis and his sisters learned a few handy tricks of the trade too.
“We knew how to parcel the basket pan with twine wrapped in the Examiner so that it wouldn’t roll around in the van,” says Denis.
“We all got turns travelling in the van for deliveries with dad. The hours were long but the days were enjoyable.”
Denis was well schooled in all aspects of the shop when he took it over in the early 1980s after his parents passed away. And his wife Margaret and their children, Ciara, Donnacha and Eadaoin became a part of O’Flynn’s shop.
“They all helped out and still do,” says Denis.
Currently, Eadaoin O’Flynn is working in the shop and more recently Eabha Harrington, Denis’s eight-month-old granddaughter has been hauled in, loving the attention from all the local customers!
“The family tradition is continuing,” says Denis.
“Lots of local girls work for us during the summer months too. Many of their mothers say the experience really helped them in their communication skills.
“We expanded the business gradually and of course, acquired the Post Office,” says Denis.
“When the petrol pump regulations changed, we bought a Greenfields site in the village, and we trade under the Mace brand.”
Things have come a long way since P. O’Flynn spotted Catherine the seamstress on his travels when he was a rep.
“Some things have,” says Denis.
“We order from an iPad now. But we still call it a ‘want’ sheet like in the old days.
“You still must be nice to people if you want them to come in the next day. That hasn’t changed.”
The local shopkeeper and the good relations with customers haven’t changed either.
“During lockdown, I delivered groceries and papers to cocooners who couldn’t come to the shop. We are always thankful for our loyal support from our customers, it is good to give something back.”
This year, Denis installed a cone machine which went down well with his customers and the day-trippers on their way to Garryvoe Beach.
“It came in handy for staycationers and during the recent heat- wave,” he says.
Having the 99 when the sun shines is an age- old tradition in the country and in the city.
It is amazing that O’Flynns shop is as old as The Echo.
“And both are still going strong,” says Denis.
Next week: Murphy’s shop on Bere Island.
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