A NEW book has been published charting the history of one of West Cork’s best known businesses.
Jeffers of Bandon – a History tracks the journey from John Jeffers’ humble beginnings in 1855 as a Bandon grocers’ messenger boy, to Jeffers’ growth into one of the biggest employers in the local area.
It is a first book for Isla Jeffers, a counsellor working with young people in Cork. She is a member of Millbrook Writers’ Group, but up to now has concentrated on short stories and occasional poetry. The book started as a project intended for the family.
“I am married to Alex Jeffers, the one who is the piano tuner and pilot,” Isla says. “Jeffers of Bandon, the piano businesstarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> on the bypass in Bandon, is our business.
“My brother-in-law David Jeffers rang me eight months ago and asked me would I write the history of Jeffers in business in Bandon. It was his idea and it’s fair to say none of this would have happened without him!
“At the time, I thought it would be a brief Google doc that I’d email around the family and I think that’s what David had in mind too. I never intended it to be a book but as I dug into the research it began to grow.”
John Jeffers came to Bandon at just 14 years of age to work as a grocers’ messenger boy at Moriarty’s (at 85, South Main Street, now the little Vodafone shop next door to O’Farrell’s). He worked his way up through the business to become manager.
“It’s testimony to him that when Miss Moriarty died in 1883, she left both the business and premises to John in her will,” Ilsa says. “He ran it faithfully as Moriarty’s for the next 21 years.
“His son, Jasper, joined him there as an accountant and it was Jasper that went on to establish the business as Jeffers in 1904. It was a busy grocery and bakery business, and in 1906 they expanded, buying the next door premises at No.86 (upper half of O’Farrells) and 10 years later moved down the street to 92 (most recently O’Learys fashions).”
The author believes the story gives an insight into the history of the town as well as the business.
“Jeffers became one of the largest employers in the local area,” Isla explains. “Many in Bandon were either customers, employees or both! The staff list at the back of the book dates from 1904 and covers nine pages.
“The company employed more than 60 people at a time, over 80 at busy times like Christmas.
“In addition to the bakery and grocery business there was also a mill, wholesale, café, piggery and auctioneering business.
“In 1960, Jeffers opened the first supermarket in West Cork and later branched out to sports, electrical and music.
“Jeffers are part of the fabric of Bandon. There are many faces in the staff photographs in the book, particularly from entries to the fancy dress parade and staff outings, the girls all style in their dresses and the lads looking dapper in their suits.
“Several weddings occurred as a result of couples meeting while working at Jeffers.”
The history of Jeffers also includes navigating to turbulent times in Ireland’s history, as Ilsa discovered.
“As Protestant merchants, they navigated a neutral path through the War of Independence, supplying groceries to IRA men on the run and baking bread for British soldiers,” Isla says.
“One night, when the Crown forces were torching the South Main Street, they were about to set light to Jeffers when the shout went up from the officer, ‘Don’t burn that if you want bread in the morning!
“During the Civil War, Jasper Jeffers visited Tom Hales, commanding officer of the Cork 3rd Brigade, for permission to go to Cork for yeast. Tom Hales wrote a note in pencil on a page of his diary, tore it out, and handed it to Jasper. Dated 13/8/22, it was written just nine days before the death of Michael Collins. A period of great change and danger, it would have taken good local knowledge and some courage to undertake such a journey. Jeffers must have really needed the yeast. Sure, they couldn’t bake the bread without it.”
Isla says her research also gave her fresh insight into the family into which she married.
“There are recurring themes throughout the different generations,” she says. “Jeffers have a vitality for life and embrace every day of it with a ready smile. There’s an entrepreneurial flair alongside a dogged determination to work hard. There’s continual innovation and a desire to face a challenge head on and overcome it.
“There’s a love of meeting people, of making music, an infectious sense of fun and a rock solid faith in God, the foundation on which all the work stands.”
Along with their faith, they retain a deep love for the sea.
“Jeffers were probably French Huguenots and came to Courtmacsherry in 1691,” Ilsa tells me. “Cúirt Mhic Shéafraidh in Irish, literally place of the son of Jeffers.
“Family folklore maintains that Courtmacsherry is named after Jeffers. While this assertion may be dubious at best, the Jeffers’ draw to the sea is strong, with many seafarers, coastguards and lighthouse keepers in the family.
“Merchants and mariners, even the Jeffers who earn their living with their feet on dry ground have a deep-rooted grá for the water. The sea is in their genes.”
For this reason, Jeffers of Bandon – a History (€15) is being sold in aid of the Bandon branch of the RNLI and the Seamen’s Christian Friend Society.
Books are available in Bandon from all bookshops and Jeffers Pianos, in Cork from Unbound on Bridge St. and online from www.teachsolas.ie.