DREAMS of winning the Lotto might draw you in to Murphy’s shop in Bere Island, after disembarking from the car ferry operating from the pontoon located off Castletownbere in Bantry Bay.
But a more realistic reason might be the yummy scones and home-made blackberry jam on offer in Murphy’s Bakehouse.
“But we did sell a winning lotto ticket of €500,000 to a happy punter a few years ago who was part of a syndicate,” says Brendan Murphy, who owns Murphys shop.
The shop and post office is a family affair.
Brendan’s wife Edel manages the Bake-house Cafe and his sister, Mary, works in the shop and post office. Brendan also operates a ferry on the island, bringing happy campers and day-trippers to Bere Island.
“We sure had a lot of visitors to Bere Island after that lotto win!” laughs Brendan.
“Mary sold the winning quarter of a million ticket to a lucky customer four years ago,” adds Brendan who is dad to Oisin, Billy, Brendan Jnr. Michaella, Olan and Ultan.
Business was brisk there after the massive win.
“Lots of people here are doing the lotto here since!”
Murphy’s shop and post office haas been going strong now for 113 years. Having opened in 1908, it has survived both world wars and it acted as an agent and ship chandler for boats from Spain.
At its peak, the Bakehouse had three full-time bakers supplying the shop that houses the post office, and that offers banking services. These days you can buy buckets and spades, fishing nets, footballs, coal, briquettes, and gas all year round.
You can also get your milk, bread and daily paper and enjoy a cuppa and a fresh scone in the Bakehouse after shopping at Murphy’s, which is like a friendly communal venue that binds the island together.
Murphys is a family-run business now for generations.
“My grandfather PJ Murphy started the business and my dad ran it in the ’30s and ’40s,”says Brendan.
“The British Army occupied the island during the war and they got a lot of stuff from the bakehouse when it employed three full-time bakers. The Irish army were also customers at Murphys.
“Back then, we were also agents for Spanish fishing boats in the ’30s and ’40s until the decline in the ’60s and ’70s.” Who are Murphys customers now, apart from people who dream of winning the lotto?
“All the local people shop here,” says Brendan.
“We get a lot of tourists and yachting people as well. Lots of people have holiday homes here. They love the scenery and the friendliness of people.”
Brendan meets lots of people travelling on his car ferry that does eight regular trips every day.
Bere Island is the second largest island, lying in the shadow of the famous Hungry Hill with neighbours Dursey to the West and Whiddy to the East.
“People did a lot of staycations this year,” says Brendan. “So we were very busy. Everyone shopped local too, which was great. People shopped daily for bread, milk and other supplies and the for the Examiner and Echo of course! There is always a good buzz in the shop in the mornings and in the evenings. There’s a trail of people in all day.”
Some days are busier than others.
“Our pensioners come in on Friday and they do their shopping here. They enjoy having a chat and being involved in local news. The shop is like a lifeline for our elderly customers. We are all on a first-name basis.”
The Murphy children are all involved in sport. “They all play GAA,” says Brendan. “My dad was a sub in the 1945 Cork football team and my uncle Patrick played full-back for Cork. We are steeped in GAA.”
There were 211 inhabitants on Bere Island according to the 2011 census. More than 1,000 people lived on the island when the population peaked in 1926.
Apart from Fridays, the shop is extra busy after mass.
“People come in for Edel’s delicious home-made soda bread and scones and for the Sunday papers,” says Brendan.
“We also sort the mail as well. Being the only shop in the island, we all do a lot of hours. But we don’t mind. The shop is a very sociable place.”
Day trippers like picking up souvenirs to remember their trip to Bere Island.
“We sell nick-knacks like key-rings, pens and post cards,” says Brendan. “They are popular with tourists and it was a good tradition.”
The Park Run is also a big success on the island - but had been paused due to Covid-19.
“Everyone got into the spirit of it and there was coffee and scones to enjoy afterwards. Hopefully we can bring back the park run soon.”
Brendan says small local shops find it difficult to compete with the big supermarket companies like Lidl and Aldi.
“It was difficult for some small shops to survive during Covid,” says Brendan.
Lots did survive and some even thrived.
“I think the pandemic taught us a lot,” says Brendan.
“People got a greater sense of community and they realised it is important to support small shops by shopping local.
"I think Covid made people go back to their roots and they were persuaded to support their local communities and shops which is lovely. Everybody benefits.”
Will the next generation, the third, benefit and take over Murphys?
“I have five boys and one girl, so I hope one of them would take over the business in time,” says Brendan, who looks upon the business as a way of life.
“We love it. It is our life. We know everyone and we welcome visitors. Bere Island is a great place to live and work.”
“Pop over and see us soon,” Brendan tells me. “We’ll have coffee and a fresh scone out of the oven ready for you!”
I’ll do that. Very soon.