SITUATED in the heart of Cork’s principal street, TW Murrays could in many ways be considered the great grandfather of Patrick Street.
It’s a treasure trove for ‘boys and their toys’, retailing everything from fishing tackle to guns and other miscellaneous items such as Zippo lighters and novelty keyrings.
It’s been in Cork since before the Great Famine hit and has had a colourful past, most notably an IRA raid in 1919 in which a number of arms and ammunition were stolen.
John O’Connell, 91, currently owns the famous shop, which prides itself on a rich heritage in Cork.
“It started in 1828 by a man called Richardson and then it was taken over by Mr TW Murray and it has been in that name ever since. It was taken over by the O’Keefe family in 1902 and then my father took it over in the 1940s. I took the shop over around 1950,” Mr O’Connell told The Echo.
“I’m a chartered accountant by training so I only took it over on his death because I decided to keep it going, you know, because it’s a traditional business.
“It’s for the tradition as much as the business that I’ve kept it going all the years.”
When I pop into the shop, Murrays is a hive of activity.
It’s chock-a-block with customers purchasing Christmas gifts, but John along with his son George have everything under control, flitting from customer to customer advising them on the best products to suit their individual needs.
Both have a wealth of information and are happy to help.
“They’re absolutely marvellous the people that come into the shop. They’re more friends than customers really. They’re all good company. The fishermen and the hunting men, they’re all ‘good craic’ as they say in Cork, you know?” John laughed.
Indeed, Murrays has certainly got a je ne sais quoi about it, and it’s what intrigues visitors walking down Patrick Street.
“We’re unique in the extent that we’re probably the only fishing and shooting shop on the main street in the whole of Europe,” John says. “Everyone who calls to Murrays from abroad is delighted at the fact that there’s something different on Patrick Street to the ordinary run of the mill places, so we try to keep it as traditional as we can.
“We like to improve, of course, but tradition has to be at the heart of the business.”
Whilst traditional retail is constantly under more pressure due to the boom in online shopping, John is aware of the challenges facing the business and determined to overcome them.
“The challenges we face is that hunting and shooting are getting a bit scarcer because land is getting more scarce all the time,” he says. “And the farmers have to be more particular because of course people are suing them for going on the land and they’re not as welcoming as they were at one stage or another, which is not surprising really.
“At one stage they were so welcoming that they’d have you in for dinner and you couldn’t get any shooting or anything done. But, you know, we move to other things and cater to other sports apart from fishing and hunting.”
Perhaps one of the main challenges traders on Patrick Street have had to contend with is the Pana ban, controversially introduced in 2018.
“That’s a bit of a nuisance. It’s a bit of a laugh at the moment though because it’s neither here nor there. The council are quite happy I’d say that they’re having their way but in actual fact, they’re not having their way at all because most of the time there’s traffic going up and down the whole time.
“It’s a typical Irish situation at the moment, frankly.”
Despite the changes that may come their way, a loyal cohort of customers remains a constant and it’s something John is particularly grateful for. “Every day of the week there’s something new really. In general, it’s the people that come in, they make themselves memorable because they come from all over and they tell you they remember buying something here fifty years ago. It’s really lovely to hear.”
At 91 years of age, retirement isn’t something John envisages for himself anytime soon.
“Coming in every day keeps me on my feet, otherwise what else would I be doing? I like to think the discipline is something that keeps you going. If you don’t have discipline, you’d get nowhere.”