Levis’s of Ballydehob: Behind the Shop Counter

It’s a storied kinda place – everyone who has ever been to Ballydehob knows it and everyone has something to tell you about that time when . . .

It was run by two sister, the famous Nell and Julia Levis, as a shop and a pub. The shop was on one side and the pub on the other – a familiar layout in rural Ireland.

The shop side is all set up for a music gig in the upper photo

For a wonderful introduction to Levis’s I heartily recommend the documentary Keeping the Doors Open, one of the RTE Docs on One series, this one by Leanne O’Donnell. Made in 2014 it tells the story of the passing of Nell and Julia’s banner to the next generation, Joe and Caroline, who have re-invented it as the unlikeliest of music venues. Unlikely, because it still looks exactly as it did in Nell and Julia’s day. But highly successful – just take a look at its list of awards and browse the upcoming acts.

Sulphur Cake – what on earth . . .?

And those acts take place behind the counter and in front of the old grocery shelves. It’s surprisingly effective – a juxtaposition of old and new, of the domestic and the artistic. Try driving through Ballydehob on the night of a gig, with people spilling out into the street and others arriving in the hopes of somehow squirming into the already packed pub. Amazingly, they usually succeed. 

In the last couple of years the grocery side stars again! Every Wednesday local producers arrive with their vegetables, breads and juices and the place comes alive once more as a mini farmer’s market. You have to get there early!

And of course it’s still very much a village pub, where locals and visitors can go for a drink and the chat of an evening. And occasionally it does a stint as a workshop – see Robert’s post today on making ‘Wran’ hats. Nothing on the shelves in the grocery side is for sale any more. Most of reached its ‘best before’ date over 20 years ago, if not longer.

Joe (Nell and Julia’s grand-nephew) allowed me some time on my own over the last couple of days to take a good look at the shelves on the grocery side and this post is a photo-homage to those shelves. They represent only a section of what’s there, gently resting under layers of dust and memory.

Need some basic groceries? Some cleaning supplies or sewing notions? How about tobacco or sweets? And because Ballydehob was a haven for artists (and we have our own Arts Museum to prove it) you might run out of oils or pastels at the wrong moment.

All that medicinal stuff our mothers used to dose us with – Syrup of Figs, anybody? Looks like that kind of thing was in demand in Ballydehob. And if all else failed, well there was always an appeal to Lourdes.

We all love a bit of nostalgia, don’t we? What do you see that you remember from childhood? What stories do these images conjure up for you?

And when are you coming over for a pint?


14 thoughts

  1. My father – born in 1937 and brought up in Tipperary during the 1940s – referred to them as ‘bug rakes’… a term still applied to each and every comb since! What wonderful, evocative images. Thank you.


    • Hi Perran – I thought they were beard pins too, and like you I was puzzled, but they were actually hair pins by the firm of Kirby Beard. The bowden window rings a vague bell, all right.


  2. Flea Combs! I don’t know the correct name but I remember every Wednesday night at school Matron would torture us by scouring our heads in search of them. Don’t think she ever found one! Sorry we missed Levi’s – next time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In my childhood days it was called the ‘nit comb’ by my mother.
      Wonderful set of pictures the revealing close up camera at its best.


      • I was a summer visitor way back in the 60s as a kid. I came with my Grandfather, Peter Duggan, brother of Julia Levis (Nell and Julia’s Mum). Then the old grocery/sundries shop in the Corner House was real, kind of a 1960s Irish convenience store. That was when their phone number was “Ballydehob 3”. I remember a pig’s head covered by a screen dome sitting on the counter. I’m sure it was a delicacy to some, but I found it less than appealing! You could an get “ice lolly” across the street for thrippence and buy a pen knife for sixpence. The ice cream was sliced with a knife and placed between 2 wafers – delicious!

        Donkey and horse carts were in common use, clomping down the street with their drivers barely prompting their ponies and donkeys, as they fully knew the way. Across Greenmount road from the bar rear entrance, there was a blacksmith. He always seemed busy back then, pumping the bellows, hammering and fitting shoes. I used to watch him slamming red hot iron Us into submission as a leary animal shuffled nearby, waiting for his new shoe.

        I could walk up the road about a mile, past the school to “the farm” where Mick Levis, Julia and Nell’s brother, tended to a couple of cows, 2 fields, and one outdoor building. He was a no-nonsense guy who broke his cigarettes in half, smoking one stub at a time, as some kind of attempt a tobacco conservation. Mick milked his cow patiently as the animal’s tail repeatedly brushed across his hairless head. He explained to me that going though this tail wiping process for years was the primary cause of his alopecia. At 9 years old, I believed him, of course!


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