Old drapery store has dressed generations of Cork people

Nevilles drapery in Youghal have been trading for more than 70 years. CHRIS DUNNE catches up with the sisters who run the store
Old drapery store has dressed generations of Cork people

Ann and Pauline Neville pictured outside Wm Nevilles Drapery Store in Youghal. Picture: Howard Crowdy

WHEN William Neville purchased 11, North Main Street in Youghal in 1945, he bought the most expensive shop on the street.

“The premises cost £1,200,” says Ann Neville, who runs the drapery store with her sister, Pauline, that stocks ladies’, gents’ and children’s wear, school uniforms, sheets, towels, table-cloths and curtains. As well as offering embroidery services, Nevilles is also a very sociable spot for a friendly chat.

“Back in the day when Fair Day was on in the Green across the road, we’d have lots of women shopping in town that day and they’d often sit on a chair outside the shop counter and have a chat,” says Ann.

They had other things too back in the day.

“A few of the ladies indulged in smoking fags as well when they were allowed smoke indoors.

“Fair Day was a day to celebrate, when animals were sold and deals were done.”

Sisters Pauline and Ann Neville of Nevilles pictured inside their extensive Drapery Store in Youghal. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Sisters Pauline and Ann Neville of Nevilles pictured inside their extensive Drapery Store in Youghal. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Entering Nevilles is like going back in time, the time before we shopped on Amazon and Done Deal. Here, men got fitted for the ‘good’ suit, ladies got kitted out for the family wedding, measurements were taken for curtains, the towels for the wedding present were bought, and shopping local was a nice day out when you caught up with other people and enjoyed a bit of local news.

“The floor that you’re standing on is the original wooden floor,” says Ann.

“It has lasted this long without any major marking or deterioration. It’s amazing.”

Was William Neville always a draper and a businessman?

“He was from farming stock in Ballynoe,” says Ann.

“His wife, Kathleen, was from Leamlara. They purchased the premises and opened the business. They learned the trade together.”

They were traditional people.

“They got married in St Patrick’s Church, Cork, and had their wedding reception in the Metropole Hotel before heading to Dublin on honeymoon.”

The couple had five daughters; Bridget, Mary, Bernadette, Ann and Pauline. Mary, who worked in the shop with Ann and Pauline, sadly passed away in 2009.

“Yes, she died of cancer age 51,” says Ann, showing me Mary’s photograph proudly hanging high up on the shop wall.

“Mary loved the shop,” adds Ann. “She had no interest in school.”

Ann and Pauline make a good team. They do all their buying for the shop together and they know their local customers by their first names.

“Our customers come from Youghal, Cork, West Waterford and Tallow,” says Ann.

“Youghal is a great town for tourists. When Covid happened and people were allowed to travel more than 5km and outside of their own county, everyone headed to the seaside!”

Every cloud and all that...

“We were really busy,” adds Ann.

Ann and Pauline Neville behind one of the counters at their store in Youghal. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Ann and Pauline Neville behind one of the counters at their store in Youghal. Picture: Howard Crowdy

The sisters were really busy when visitors flocked from further afield other than their own county, at a major event, in recent years.

“Ironman was amazing. The town was buzzing,” says Ann.

“Everyone made an effort and they got into the swing of things and the town never looked so well.”

Youghal has hosted celebrities too over the years.

“Growing up, daddy told us all about the film Moby Dick that was made in Youghal and all about the famous film-stars who arrived here in 1954 like Gregory Peck. Our neighbour was an extra in the film. It was a big deal.”

The shop hosted other visitors that weren’t so welcome.

“Once, a bull came charging through the shop! He escaped from the Fair across the road - he was finally safely rounded up.”

Nevilles is a big store that used to sell hardware goods also.

“Daddy expanded the shop when I was a little girl,” says Ann.

“So the shop goes right back to where there was steps one time when we did hardware. Now the shop is taken up with ladies’, men’s, and children’s wear up to the age of three. We cater for babies to pensioners.”

The sisters cater for all tastes too.

“Pauline is an artist as well,” says Ann, showing me some of her scenic paintings that adorn the walls of the shop. “She designs scarves too which sell well.”

Nevilles has the olde world charm of days gone by.

“Yes, people say that when they come in to shop with us. We like to offer a personal service to each customer.”

They had one happy customer.

“The competitor who won Ironman in 2019, Alistair Brownlee, paid us a visit and he bought a t-shirt! We enjoyed meeting him.”

People always enjoy meeting in the local shop which is often the hub of the community.

“We’d always have a great chat and a laugh with the ladies long ago when they came to town to do their shopping and they were in a great mood choosing a dress or skirt for an occasion. It was a social highlight in their lives. It still is for people who like to shop local. Everyone put in their two-pence halfpenny making a choice of purchase in bygone days.

“We all had an opinion on the style of dress, or suit, what would look well and what would go nicely with the outfit. When animals sold on Fair Day, the gentlemen would come over to the shop and treat themselves or their wives.”

The whole family enjoyed a shopping trip out.

 “When we were young, the women would often come in to shop and leave the buggy or pram outside the shop. We’d keep an eye on the child. That never happens now.”

Ann and Pauline Neville in the store, which was opened by William Neville in 1945. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Ann and Pauline Neville in the store, which was opened by William Neville in 1945. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Other things were different.

“The shirts came in boxes, so did ladies underwear. The jeans came in bundles. Suit lengths and buttons came delivered to be made up to measure.

“Parcels were made up with brown paper and twine to go to customers’ family members in the UK or the USA.”

How did the shop survive during hard times like during the recessions of the 1980s and in 2008?

“We had generations shop with us. It was a tradition.

“Fortunately we could always keep our door open,” says Ann.

“After the war ended in 1945, things were difficult for people, but we always made it easy for them to settle up with us. Nowadays we see a lot more shopping done with credit cards.”

When Nevilles celebrated its 70th birthday, it was a cause for celebration.

“We had a great celebration for that,” says Ann.

“We had mass celebrated in the shop and the shop counter served as the altar. We fitted in as many people as we could, there were at least 30 to 40 people in here. We had tea and cake. It was like an open day!”

Stories were told.

“People came from everywhere,” says Ann.

“Mums and dads told stories about getting their First Communion suit here, others told of doing their Christmas shopping and getting everything here for all the family, a one-stop shop.

“People like buying gifts here that were personalised like the sheets or towels. Pauline’s scarves make lovely gifts and her artwork has lovely names, like sunset, spring, iris and swan lake. The colours are fabulous.”

The circus often came to town.

“The Fossett family often shopped with us when they were in town. The circus attracted both young and old and it created a bit of excitement in the town.”

The train from Cork to Youghal bought holiday-makers, day trippers and shoppers.

“There were three trains running on a Sunday morning,” says Ann.

“It was great to see all the visitors arriving from the city. Business was always good during the hot summers and when the sun was shining.”

The 12th of July saw visitors from further afield.

“People used come down from the North. They were nice people.”

Ann and Pauline are people-people. What do they like about running Nevilles?

“We like meeting the customers and having time for them,” says Ann.

“We like them to enjoy the experience and hopefully come back to shop with us again!”

The sisters move with the times.

“We do more business online now and we have an Instagram page.”

The ladies take huge pride in their shop that William Neville purchased in 1945.

“It is a lifestyle for us,” says Ann.

“We couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

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