Cork shopkeeper: “We won’t see you stuck, we only close on Christmas day!”

In the final part of our series on Cork’s Corner Shops, CHRIS DUNNE chats to Charlie Murphy, who runs a store in Blackrock
Cork shopkeeper: “We won’t see you stuck, we only close on Christmas day!”

Charlie Murphy at Murphy's Foodstore on the Blackrock Road, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

CHARLIE Murphy, who trades in Blackrock, likes being ‘the gaffer’ in his shop and says he never has ‘one of those days’ but he does have ‘one of those hours’ sometimes.

“We call 7am to 8am the s**t hour!” says Charlie, laughing. He's the latest shopkeeper to feature in our Cork's Corner Shops series.

“It’s when people realise, ‘oh s**t, I’ve no milk, no bread or nothing for the lunch! Hence, the s**t hour!”

Charlie likes being one of the locals.

“I live in Cork city so I don’t have far to commute to work,” he says.

“The shop is very much a local shop and when we opened here first in 1989, we got great reaction from the locals. Before it was Circle K, it was BP, then Stat Oil and then Topaz.”

Charlie’s shop has everything - an ATM, coal, fuel, a deli, a variety of drinks and groceries as well as a handy car wash in the forecourt run by the obliging Marcin. The lovely flowers for sale come from Swantons in Skibbereen.

“And the Old Mill cakes are delicious,” says Charlie.

 Charlie Murphy at Murphy's Foodstore on the Blackrock Road, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Charlie Murphy at Murphy's Foodstore on the Blackrock Road, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Does he indulge in the cakes?

“I try to be good!” he laughs.

Charlie, dad to Clodagh and Sally, is well-known in Cork as he played rugby with Cork Con.

“My grandfather, my father and my brother, Kenny, all played rugby for Cork,” says Charlie.

He has another claim to fame.

“A few years ago I had a triple by-pass,” says Charlie, who is married to Emer.

“The staff in CUH were magnificent, so I decided to try and give something back. One sunny Saturday in July we had no charge for the car-wash and we asked punters to donate for a fundraiser to secure a defibrillator for the village. We made €1,500 in one day and we left a collection bucket out for a few more days and we were able to secure two defibrillators, one for the village and one for the shop. There is 24 hour access to them. It was a great community effort,” says Charlie.

He knows all his customers.

“We are touching on the fourth generation,” he says.

“We’ve seen births, weddings and funerals. Every day is different.

“I’d know all the customers, even the builders working in the area. They often return for work after a few years and we get reacquainted. That’s the nature of the business.”

The nature of the business, Circle K, sometimes calls for outside help.

“An odd time you’ll get an unfortunate motorist who puts petrol into a diesel car,” says Charlie.

“Luckily we have a local mechanic who can sort that out on the spot and I can drop the driver home. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen the odd time. And we’d never see anybody stuck.”

The customers are loyal.

“If anybody forgets their money or bank card when shopping, they always come back straight away to pay,” says Charlie.

“That’s the beauty of knowing all our customers.

“We call this a country shop in the city, we have a word for everybody.”

Everybody supports their local shop.

“I think lockdown brought a lot of people back to the local shop,” says Charlie.

Where was his local shop when he was growing up in Cork?

“Lehane’s in Bishopstown was our local shop,” says Charlie. “It is now O’Herlihys Centra.

Charlie enjoys the banter with his regular customers.

“There’s one man who comes into the shop who is always boasting about a new tonic for baldness that he got from America,” says Charlie.

“He tells me you have to rub in the tonic clock-wise not anti-clockwise. He slags me when there is a queue in the shop; it’s a bit of fun!”

Charlie is an early bird and he often delivers freshly made scones to schools and businesses in the area.

“We are well-known for our scones that Yvonne makes here in the shop,” says Charlie.

“They are made with tender loving care. The offices and schools in the area put in their orders for scones on a regular basis.”

The schoolchildren like visiting Charlie Murphy’s shop.

“They often come with their teachers and SNA’s,” says Charlie.

“It is lovely to see the teachers and the SNA’s outside of the classroom.

“The kids are learning social skills when they are shopping. They sit outside on the wall afterwards and they get a lollipop!”

 Charlie Murphy at Murphy's Foodstore on the Blackrock Road, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Charlie Murphy at Murphy's Foodstore on the Blackrock Road, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

A section of fore-court outside the shop was put to good use during lockdown.

“There was a pizza van, Samouni, operating and there was line-dancing going on at weekends during lockdown,” says Charlie.

“People loved it when they couldn’t go outside their 10km or 5km to meet up or to socialise.”

Charlie’s shop is a hive of activity on any given day.

“Lucy and I open up at 7am and we get the rolls on and the deli open,” says Charlie.

“It’s a case of lights, camera, action! The builders are usually in first for their coffee and some for cigarettes, some do the Lotto. Then the customers who have no milk or bread, or nothing for the lunch come in!

“We never get frazzled, we get well organised. After the morning rush we stock up and tidy up. At lunch-time we do the second bake and the lunch hour rush happens. After that is the school pick up.

“Then I do odd jobs, make sure the forecourt is safe, clean and tidy, and I might make a run to cash and carry.”

Charlie is a busy man. Does he have any spare time?

“My wife Emer, is a retired nurse and I am never idle! I’m always busy cutting grass or in the garden. I leave the shop around 7pm and the part-timers, who are all local kids, come in to work then.”

Charlie works closely with his brothers, Noel, Charlie and Kenny, who all have an interest in the business. Noel has a shop in Vicar’s Road, Togher.

“As young lads we all worked in Musgraves. Our sister Gillian, who works from head office in Vicar’s Road, is the real boss!” says Charlie laughing.

“We all have our own way of communicating and we might talk every day or even every week for family chats. We work together but we don’t interfere with each other.”

People walking by or passing by Charlie Murphy’s often call in to shop there.

“We have a lot of walkers around here,” says Charlie.

“And the Marina was like Patrick Street in the last year or so!

“We were lucky we could stay open. We only close on Christmas Day.

“During the pandemic we were happy to help people out with deliveries. We have very loyal customers and they are very pleasant people.”

Charlie is a local now too, isn’t he?

“I’m still a blow in-to Blackrock!” laughs Charlie. “You have to be second or third generation to be a native of Blackrock!”

He has been in flying form since his triple bypass.

“I was back at work within six months. I just got on with it,” says Charlie.

“I was one of the lucky ones.”

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