In my post Going for the Messages I told you about rediscovering the shops of my childhood here in West Cork. Since then, Miss Clerke’s shop, lightly photoshopped but totally recognisable, graced the front page of the Irish Times Magazine as their illustration for their Ireland’s Best Shops competition. So it’s not just me, then. I’m not the only one with a nostalgia for the old-time shopping experience.
Evans of Bantry
In that spirit, I am revisiting a few of my favourites traditional shops. I have discovered two more shops like Miss Clerkes. First, there’s Evans, In Bantry. Proudly run by Miss Evans, it has the same look and feel of a place unchanged since the 50’s, although perhaps the pinkness of it all might be more modern. It has a lovely atmosphere – when I was in there a couple of kids were trying to decide how to spend their pocket money on sweets from the big glass jars.
On the Beara Peninsula we stopped for lunch at Miss Murphy’s store in Eyries and chatted with her about my Great Uncle who had married an Eyries woman. Since I couldn’t remember her name Miss Murphy was unable to help, but she tried, and she made us a delicious basket of sandwiches.
Some shops are a little puzzling – for example, P. Cronin Carpenter in Skibbereen. I’ve never seen it open and I’m not sure what it would sell if it did open its doors. The photo of the interior was taken through the window.
In Bantry one of the Undertaking establishments has a shop. At first I found this idea a little startling, but it makes a lot of sense once you come to appreciate Irish graveyard traditions, including how often people visit graves and leave tokens at them.
Shops in Irish country towns follow traditional opening hours. They invariably close for lunch (1PM to 2PM) and generally follow a five-day-a-week opening schedule. This can mean they are closed, besides on Sundays, on Mondays – but other days are possibilities too. None nowadays follows the old tradition of the half day. Remember that?
And remember how the groceries would be delivered – by a young lad on a messenger boy bike? You can still get delivery but now the messages come in a van.
Of course, one of the traditions we remember about country towns was that of pubs also selling groceries or dry goods – whatever people needed. You went in for a pair of wellies and a dozen eggs, and took your ease with a pint on the bar stool, or a whiskey in the snug, before you left. Levis’s Corner House in Ballydehob has preserved the grocery counter. You can hear Joseph talking about it, and about the great history of this historic pub in the excellent radio documentary “Keeping the Door Open.” It’s about far more than just this one pub – it’s about a whole way of life in rural Ireland. A way of life that still lingers in West Cork…so far.