“NEARLY everything has changed on Patrick Street since I started selling the Evening Echo at Cavandish’s Corner,” says newspaper vendor, Michael O’Regan. Anyone who has strolled down Pana will be familiar with Mick — he is the longest serving Echo boy on Cork’s main thoroughfare and has sold around a million of them in total. Generations of shoppers will know him as the “Echo boy” who sells the newspaper at the corner of Princes Street and Patrick Street. He first stood there with his bundle of Echos under his arm in 1960. At that time John XXIII was Pope, John F Kennedy was about to be elected President of the USA, Sean Lemass was Taoiseach and the price of the Evening Echo was 2 old pence (2d).
“It was Donal O’Mahony who gave me my start,” Michael said. “His father Johnny didn’t think there was room for me, but Donal felt I would make a go of it and he gave me Cavandish’s corner (now Barratts Shoes).
“That was 44 years ago and I’m there since. I have only been out of work three times in all those years. I broke my leg once, then I was sick and last year I broke my collar bone.”
Between 1960 and 1969, Michael worked every afternoon. Then, Donal O’Mahony gave him a morning pitch outside the Bank of Ireland at 10, Patrick Street (between Roches Stores and St Patrick’s Bridge).
“When I first got the morning pitch, I could not start until 10am,” he said. “This was because another man, Paddy Foley, had the pitch until then. All went well until 1971 when the bank told me I’d have to go because I was using their window. I got very upset. I felt I was only making a living and I was not causing any trouble. Eventually the bank backed down and it was all forgotten about.
“In 1988 the bank came to me a second time. They told me I’d have to go. I told them ‘I’m not doing anything out of the way to anyone’. So this time they allowed me to use half the sill and they gave me a stand to display my papers. But the stand was too big and I had nowhere to put it by night; I used to chain it to a tree in the taxi rank in the middle to Patrick Street. But I was nervous in case someone got hurt. Eventually I heard of someone in the trade who wanted a stand, so I gave it to them.
“When the Bank closed on the 30th of November, 2001, I was lucky the premises was bought by my namesake, Jim O’Regan and his wife Pam. They now run the ladies’ Spanish boutique called Mango. I get on very well with them and all their staff. I have a new stand now and I’m grateful to Mr Lee Cutler and Mr Brian O’Sullivan of Marks & Spencer for allowing me store it by night.”
Michael O’Regan was born in Gilabbey Street, near St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. His family moved to Ballyphehane in the mid-1960s and he has lived there since. It is tough work selling newspapers on Patrick Street all day, six days a week, only resting on the Sabbath.
“I used to be very busy at weekends. On Saturday nights the Football Final editions of the Evening Press and the H e ra l d used to arrive in Cork by train. There were about five of us who used to go around the pubs and sell them.
“And I used to have a Sunday morning pitch on Oliver Plunkett Street facing the GPO. The papers were very cheap in those days (6d), but the traffic changed — South Mall was two ways in those days — and it started to deteriorate. I gave it up as it would no longer pay me.
“Now I like to take a break for myself on a Sunday. I like to get away from Cork, as I am in Cork six days a week. I like to see different atmospheres. I go to different places on different weeks. I might go to Galway or Dublin or Limerick. Sometimes I might go to Killarney.
“I don’t take holidays as such, but I take the long weekend off and I don’t work Bank Holidays, except Good Friday. That’s because all the shops are open now on Good Friday and I have to be there to serve the public as well.” Michael has met many famous people in the course of his work.
“Down through the years, I’ve met Bertie Ahern, Peter Barry and all the politicians when they were canvassing. Cork historian Dr Sean Pettit and his wife Aruba (Coghlan) are very good friends of mine. Every year they invite me to the ballet. I always go. I like it, it’s very good. I have other friends who help me out too, people like Gerard Daly. He brings my English papers down from Cornell News (distributors) every day. He’s a great help.”
During his years as a vendor, Michael has become an observer of people’s behaviour.
“The weather plays a big part in selling papers. If it’s a wet and windy day, people won’t come into town. If they do they are running and racing for buses and they won’t buy their papers off of me. I think it’s because they’re afraid they might get wet papers, which is not true.
“When the summer comes in, it’s just as bad. They’re all at the beach sunning themselves. Town is deserted. Our sales drop, but it picks up again in September. Christmas is good too, especially the New Year sales. When the schools go back, it’s normal trading after that.”
During his working life, Michael has watched Cork transform from a provincial city to the brink of the European Capital of Culture 2005. He approves of many of the changes but has concerns for the future.
“I know Mahon Point is opening in February and I have nothing against Mahon, or anywhere else for that matter. I just hope that the people will still come to town. I hope that we, the street vendors, will still be there to serve them. We’re newspaper men who work for them. I can’t tell people what to do, I’m just making my point that I hope people will come to town.”
The currency has changed twice since Michael O’Regan first called “ Echo, Evening Echooo” over the noise of the traffic on Patrick Street; the Evening Echo has changed too. It was broadsheet size and now it is tabloid, while the street has undergone a multi-million Euro redesign in preparation for the Year of Culture. Michael O’Regan is part of the living tradition of newspaper vendors that link the old with the new. They are part of our culture and they help create the unique atmosphere of Cork; the city that Michael O’Regan and all the Echo boys have served with pride.
This article first appeared in Holly Bough, 2004.