An era in Cork when the corner shop ruled supreme

A generation or two ago, Cork people shopped local and even a trip into the city was a rare occurrence when all they needed was on their doorstep, recalls JO KERRIGAN in her latest Throwback Thursday article
An era in Cork when the corner shop ruled supreme

ONE-STOP SHOP: Bridie McCarthy’s shop on Shandon Street, Cork, had everything, recalls Pat Murray. “Groceries, bags of sugar, potatoes, carrots, sweets, cigarettes, lemonade, and even toys.”

AN article we ran way back in April, on shopping in Cork as it used to be, generated a lot of interest among readers and many of you sent in your own childhood memories, which emphasised the very important role played by the local or corner shop back then.

In most communities around the city — Mayfield, Bishopstown, Rochestown, Douglas, Blackpool, for instance — going into the centre to do your shopping was a rare event.

For normal everyday needs, you stayed in your own area , and used the local general store like everybody else did.

Paul Lombard grew up in Rochestown and indeed still lives there. “It was only a small village then, although it has now sprawled into a little town of its own, with so many housing estate developments over the years,” he said.

“But it is now lacking the corner shop and pub, both of which were part and parcel of all villages in those days.”

He laments the fact that the Cork-Crosshaven train had ceased running before his time. “What a beautiful scenic journey it must have been!”

The local shop for the Lombard family was Forde’s.

“There were two Forde sisters living over the shop, Jennie, and Julia. We kids would be sent up from the nearby terrace of houses to do the daily evening shop for our own family, as well as for some of the neighbours living in the terrace.

“We would be given hand-written lists, with things like a schull, a basket loaf, a batch, or a pan.”

Everybody favoured a different kind of loaf and you would be in trouble if you brought the wrong size or shape.

Then there would be the Evening Echo of course, tins of peas or beans, Marietta biscuits, wafer biscuits, and, for the wealthy, chocolate Goldgrain.

“The selection was limited as one shop could only hold so much. People only bought as things were needed to feed the family, which probably limited the amount of food that was wasted.”

Certainly the bulk buying of today was unknown, but we should also remember that most households didn’t have a fridge, let alone a freezer, in the 1950s.

Then there were the cigarettes required: 5, 10 or 20 Woodbines, 10 or 20 Players Navy Cut, Sweet Afton in its distinctive packaging.... Strongly disapproved of today, but part of life back then.

Paul recalled: “Sometimes, not every night by any means, but now and again, we would brazenly yet innocently say ‘we never got the 5 Woodbines, Miss Forde’. All the goods having been wrapped in brown paper would be reopened again, the contents checked, and a pack of 5 Woodbines put in.

“Then a few of us young boys (as we would be shopping for different houses) would have ‘a drag of a Woodbine’ walking down the road. They were strong!”

Paul stresses that he is talking of a time, many years ago, when he and his pals were aged 8-10 years old. “Smoking was considered cool then! You saw it on the movies, you wanted to be like that.”

Johnny Campbell grew up on the Lower Glanmire Road, close to St Patrick’s Church.

He said: “We actually had an account in ‘Johnny’ Walker’s shop on Summerhill North. He was a rotund, good-natured, Englishman whose son ran the Midleton Dairy in MacCurtain Street for a time. He sold everything you needed and the newspapers too.

“I would often be sent up for the messages and would take the short cut up that incredibly steep flight of steps from St Patrick’s. They’re closed off now.

“Further up Summerhill, McAuliffe’s sold only vegetables, and perhaps eggs occasionally. Mossie, a florid faced man with a strong, almost impenetrable accent, delivered orders to houses up and down the hill.

“My cousins lived in Clarence Terrace so I remember the shops at St Lukes very well. There was a shop cum cafè diagonally across from Henchy’s which had a really stonking juke box and I used to hang around outside hoping the customers would put on some decent music. I think it was called O’Keeffe’s but I know it was later owned by a couple called Seánie and Agnes.”

Back down on the Lower Road, Johnny remembers Cudmore’s with its intriguing aroma of fruit, and those biscuit tins with glass lids where you could sometimes buy broken biscuits cheaply.

Next door was Fanning’s Chemist, with barley sugar sticks in a jar on the counter for good small children.

“At the V on the corner with Summerhill was the intriguingly-named Cigar Divan which had strange smells of tobacco,” recalled Johnny. “Going a bit further away to the V in Coburg Street, across from the Inchigeelagh Dairy (John Creedon’s home), was another cafè which also had a juke box though not as good as St Luke’s.

“But the daddy of them all was definitely Hadji Bey’s in McCurtain Street. It was such a beautiful shop apart altogether from the wonderful chocolates and Turkish Delight.

“Mr Batmazian lived next door to us on the Lower Road in fact, and once in a while would bring home a box of marzipan offcuts!”

Kieran McCrum, now living in Ohio, USA, was brought up in Mayfield and remembers well the local shops.

“There was one attached to the post office, about 10 minutes’ walk from our house. The other main shop was Curtins, owned and run by Mrs Curtin and her daughters. She was a formidable woman; and no ‘caffling’ was allowed in her shop The veggies and spuds were out the back; and she sold everything needed including peat briquettes!

“She employed a sizeable man whose last name was Foley. I never knew his first name so I’m guessing he used to get annoyed when I kept calling him ‘Foley’. He had one leg shorter than the other so he had to wear one of those old-time lift boots to lessen the limp.

“I remember many happy times being sent for the messages by my mother. I’d always have to be bribed with getting something for myself, though!”

Mary Holly’s family got their ‘messages’ from Dennehy’s at Dennehy’s Cross. “That family had a grocery shop and garage on one corner of the cross and a pub diagonally across from them. Hence the name.

“The Dennehy’s ‘boy’ (in reality a young man) called every morning and Mum gave him a list of the items needed,” recalled Mary. “He came back in the delivery van around lunchtime with the order.

“We had an account with Dennehy’s and Dad would go down at the end of the month to Mrs English, who was the lady who ran the shop, and pay the account. If anything extra was needed in a hurry, one of us would be dispatched to the shop to get it.”

FIRST CLASS DELIVERY: Milk vendor Paddy Long Snr with his horse Kitty and cart outside O’Sullivan’s shop at the top of Green Street, opposite Greenmount School, in Cork City in 1943.
FIRST CLASS DELIVERY: Milk vendor Paddy Long Snr with his horse Kitty and cart outside O’Sullivan’s shop at the top of Green Street, opposite Greenmount School, in Cork City in 1943.

Milk, she remembers, was delivered by Paddy Herlihy, who lived near the Viaduct. “He was married to my mother’s cousin. We used a sweet gallon into which he would pour the milk.

“I remember the day when he arrived and called into the kitchen ‘No need for the gallon this morning, it’s bottles from now on’. After that, we would put out the number of empty bottles at night that signified how many pints were needed next morning.

“When Paddy retired, Seamus Murphy from Glasheen Road took over his round. The milkman would call once a month in the evening and the account would be paid.”

Like many other families, the Hollys didn’t have a telephone or a car in those days. “Meat was ordered from Barrett’s stall in the English Market on Saturdays when Mum went to town. The Barrett family were our neighbours. Mum would know what she needed for the week and it was delivered as required by Con Roche, who drove a horse and covered wagon.

“Con didn’t drive motor vehicles, and when he retired, that service was never replaced. Timmy Mulcahy drove for McCarthys, the bakers in Daunt’s Square. He called every day, so we always had fresh bread.”

Pat Murray, who grew up on Blarney Street, says it was amazing how much those little local shops could hold, in such variety.

“We used Bridie’s, halfway up Shandon Street, and she had simply everything. Groceries, bags of sugar, potatoes, carrots, sweets, cigarettes, lemonade, and even toys.”

For sweets alone, he and his brothers would favour ‘Nosey’ O’Keefe’s at the bottom of Shandon Street.

“He was called Nosey because he had to know everything about everybody who came in, and what they were doing. A sort of early news channel, I suppose.

“We would buy some boiled sweets on our way down into town and they would last the whole way there and back if you were careful.”

A shopkeeper and her staff pictured at M. Valence’s ‘millinery and general drapery shop’ in Co. Cork around 1917
A shopkeeper and her staff pictured at M. Valence’s ‘millinery and general drapery shop’ in Co. Cork around 1917

The local shop. Or shops, since quite often there would be two or three on one stretch of road. Supplying all the needs of the housewives who were tasked with finding three good meals a day for their families.

Willingly weighing out 3½ pounds of potatoes, a quarter of peas in the pod (why can’t we get those any more?), shaking out a few cigarettes for those who couldn’t afford the luxury of a full packet. Keeping a cash book with a record of what each family had bought, and totting it up when the housewife came in to ‘settle up’.

Tolerating the constant demands of small children with only a penny to spend but wanting full value and a bit over for that same coin.

Working late to accommodate those coming home after dark, and often willing to open up after closing time to help someone in an emergency.

Today’s glossy supermarkets simply don’t have the same personal touch, do they? Oh the goods are amazing, the prices excellent, but it’s not the same. We lost something when the corner shop went.

Can you remember your local shop? Let us hear your memories! Email jokerrigan1@ gmail.com

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