A corner shop at the heart of a Cork city community

In the latest feature on Cork’s Corner Shops, CHRIS DUNNE visits McSweeney’s on Gardiner’s Hill in Cork city
A corner shop at the heart of a Cork city community

Regina O'Shaughnessy, owner, McSweeney's Shop, Gardiner's Hill, Cork. Pictures: Denis Minihane.

KATHLEEN (Katty) McSweeney was a born shopkeeper who started her business quite humbly in a small garage before she acquired the corner shop across the road on Gardiner’s Hill.

“She began selling potatoes and fresh vegetables from the small garage,” says Regina O’Shaughnessy, Katty’s granddaughter, who now runs the corner shop.

“The Lee family owned this shop and they put it up for sale in 1950 and my grandmother saw an opportunity to open a shop and sell a variety of goods.”

And Katty did just that.

Now happy customers could cheerily buy a vast array of goods.

“She sold pigs’ heads and trotters, meats and fish, the Echo and the Examiner,” says Regina.

“There were no supermarkets back then and the shop was very busy.”

Katty needed help.

“My mother, Joan, was taken out of school at 14 to join my grandmother in the shop,” says Regina.

“My grandfather was in the background, but he didn’t work in the shop. Joan was one of three sisters. Kathleen and Eileen weren’t involved in the shop.”

Joan became known as Miss Lovely.

Regina O'Shaughnessy, owner, McSweeney's Shop, Gardiner's Hill.
Regina O'Shaughnessy, owner, McSweeney's Shop, Gardiner's Hill.

“She had a beautiful smile for everybody,” says Regina, who has kept up the tradition of meeting and greeting the customers with a cheery smile.

“She loved selling nice home-made cakes and tarts. A young lad who loved the home-baking christened my mother Miss Lovely! He said everything she sold was ‘just lovely’.”

Joan sold lots of things and lots of lovely goodies.

“There was always a huge array of home-made goods for sale,” says Regina, who has kept up that great tradition.

“There was everything for sale that a cook would require.

“Flour, butter, tea, sugar, preserves, as well as fish and meat were sold in the shop, as well as curds, marmalades, jams, barm-bracks, buns, scones, apples, oranges, pears, fruit juices and minerals; chocolate and sweets were stocked too.”

McSweeneys foodstore traded early until late.

“The shop was opened from 8am until 10pm,” says Regina.

“Over the years, trends changed and the garage shops began to stock food-stuffs, and drinks, etc, so we didn’t do such long hours then.”

There was no commuting involved for the McSweeney ladies.

“We lived in the house next door,” Regina says. “So we combined both the shop and home.”

Miss Lovely met her husband Patrick Tierney from Co. Tipperary at a ballroom dance in Mitchelstown. The couple married in 1961.

“She had a great time going round to all the dances in dad’s green van!” says Regina.

The green van was a good asset to have.

“The van was used to deliver messages to our customers.”

Patrick passed away in 2018.

“And mam had a stroke in 2011 when she was 88,” says Regina.

Joan is still Miss Lovely.

“My sisters, Ainé and Susan and I care for our mother. It is a pleasure to take care of her; she still has that beautiful smile,” says Regina, who is mum to twins, Emmet and Cliona.

“The twins helped out in the shop on school holidays and during their college years,” says Regina. “My niece, Jane, is a great help in the shop. I get a day off on Fridays!”

Regina, like her grandmother and her mother before her, loves working in the shop and she loves meeting the customers and her neighbours every day.

“I’d know all my regular customers by name,” says Regina, who is a real people person. 

“Our local honey, free-range eggs, home-cooked ham and Maher’s coffee are a great attraction.”

A friend and neighbour put pen to paper, capturing the uniqueness of McSweeney’s corner shop in verse.

“One of my elderly customers, Richard Goodison, who grew up in the area, wrote a lovely poem about the shop that we put in the window,” says Regina. “There is a great sense of community here, and people who move here sense that. Many newcomers got to know their neighbours through the shop.”

Regina O'Shaughnessy, owner, McSweeney's Shop, Gardiner's Hill, Cork.
Regina O'Shaughnessy, owner, McSweeney's Shop, Gardiner's Hill, Cork.

Regina shops local for her home-made supplies.

“Our home-baking and honey is all locally sourced,” she says.

Many of McSweeney’s customers are local too.

“We have all age groups shopping here,” says Regina. 

“There is a school nearby and we get the children in and their parents too. Many of our customers are elderly who live in Kelleher’s Buildings and they love coming in for a chat when they pop in for their paper, milk and bread. It is like a social event for them!

“During lockdown we delivered the papers to people who were cocooning.”

McSweeney’s provided another service during lockdown.

“We decided to sell second-hand books in aid of the Mercy Sisters who provide shelter for people. My mother did a lot for charity in the past. During Covid, people were delighted with the second-hand books,” says Regina.

“We put a table outside for them and people could leave a donation when they chose a book. It proved very popular.”

McSweeneys is a busy hub atop Gardiner’s Hill, Montenotte.

“My mother worked up until the day she got the stroke,” says Regina.

“The shop became her social life. She never wanted to retire. Her choice was to continue. It was a way of life for her.”

Like mother, like daughter.

“I love the social aspect and meeting people,” says Regina.

“Even as a teenager I loved it: I was always called upon when it was busy. I worked with mam up until she got the stroke. We had a second shop on the Old Youghal Road, St Anne’s Stores, but we closed that and decided to concentrate on the shop here in Gardiner’s Hill.”

“We have a nice business here, even though shopping trends have changed completely with the arrival of Lidl and Aldi,” says Regina, who won’t be retiring any day soon.

“The business will retire me!” she adds.

Local poet Richard Goodison sums up the essence of McSweeney’s in this excerpt from his poem about the shop.

When Joan retired eventually her daughter took her place;

Regina runs the shop now; it’s still a friendly place.

And there are the ladies they serve in shop and back.

They’re ever bright and cheerful,

There’s kindliness and ‘cráic’.

This store you’ll find’s the central hub, with local news connecting,

Many keep in contact there,

Their social life perfecting.

New books sold for charity

When seats are safe for a chat,

Greeting cards, yes, some for prayer,

Shop local; here it’s at.

Postage stamps and ‘Lotto’ play,

And now some bank-like services,

Deliveries to the elderly,

Where else are things so marvellous?!

Here it is so many years on

The shop that ‘Katty’ started

Through plagues, pandemics,

helping still, McSweeneys Supermarket.

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