Shopping for Memories

Miss Clerke

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.

MIss Murphy in her traditional shop

MIss Murphy in her traditional shop, Eyeries


Lunch is served outside

Lunch is served outside

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.

half holiday

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? 

messenger bike

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.

Levis's Pub in Ballydehob: the traditional grocery section is still intact

Levis’s Pub in Ballydehob: the traditional grocery section is still intact

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.


Ballydehob Trad Fest

Young Traditional Musicians at the Ballydehob Trad Fest

Young Traditional Musicians at the Ballydehob Trad Fest

If you like traditional music, then Ballydehob was the place to be this weekend. Féile Átha Dá Chab, the Ballydehob Traditional Music Festival, had us bouncing on our bar stools, hooting and cheering in our concert seats, and applauding the talent of hoards of youngsters.

Finale of the Four Men and a Dog Concert

Finale of the Four Men and a Dog Concert

The Festival kicked off with an outstanding concert by Four Men and a Dog. Playing, singing, telling stories, and with the unique wit of Gino Lupari (an Italian bodhran player with an Irish accent) they entertained us for over three hours in the village hall. They invited two talented local girls to play with them, and with Mairead and Maria Carey on their flutes, we were on our feet for an intense finale that left us exhilarated.

Sunday afternoon session at Levis's

Sunday afternoon session at Levis’s

Once the concert is over, where do you go? To the pubs, of course, where there were sessions going on till all hours. We were in Levis’s, but we could have been in any one of half a dozen pubs, all with great music.


Maureen Culleton/Learning how to twirl

Maureen Culleton/Learning the steps

Our friends from Devon, Chris and Gill, who are staying with us, bravely signed up for the set dancing workshop next day, along with sixteen others. They are tango dancers and in great shape, but by noon they were exhausted and had a whole new respect for this form of dancing. Maureen Culleton, highly experienced and very encouraging, introduced some new dances to the locals and put everyone through their paces. The day culminated in a Céilí (pronounced kaylee) where the set dancers danced into the wee hours to the music of the Striolán Ceilí Band from Kerry. People around here love set dancing and are very good at it. It’s an activity that brings together all ages in country villages. Here’s a good example of set dancing, with the Striolán Ceilí Band playing in the background.

In Rosie's

In Rosie’s

Robert and I aren’t set dancers so we took to the pubs (amazing how much time a couple of non-drinkers can spend in pubs!) for the sessions that were going on in most of them. Members of Four Men and a Dog were in Rosie’s, playing with local musicians. Getting to see them in such an intimate setting was great.

The Kilcoen Kids

The Kilcoe Kids

Today, Sunday, the sun came out and the streets of Ballydehob filled up with young musicians competing in the Street Seisiún Competition. Seisiún, pronounced seshoon is the Irish word for session. And a session, in case I haven’t explained this before for our non-Irish readers, is the word used for a bunch of traditional musicians getting together to make music. The younger children, of course, stole our hearts, singing, dancing and playing music on the streets. The teens were remarkably accomplished: many of them have been studying in the Comhaltas system for years.

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets

As I type, people are wandering from pub to pub on the session trail in Ballydehob. When you love something, you just don’t want it to stop! Fortunately, in this part of Ireland, the music is alive and well – and in good hands for the future.


The future is assured!

The future is assured!

Well done, Ballydehob, on another fantastic traditional music festival!

Danno enjoying a private concert

Danno enjoying a private concert