Like most places nowadays, we have the usual suspects when it comes to retail – there’s a Centra service station as you come in from the Glanduff side and a SuperValu in the middle of the town, and there are plans for an Aldi or a Lidl (nobody is ever sure which) that has been in a nebulous state of development for a few years.
However, up until relatively recently we had an old-fashioned demarcation in terms of shops.
Agnes O’Neill ran the grocery store, which combined nicely with her self-appointed role as guardian and monitor of everything that went on.
The windows of the shop were tinted, meaning that when a car went past you’d see the reflection of her glasses as she peered out to ascertain whether it was a local or ‘outsiders’.
Her husband Willie John was as deaf as a post – you’d ask for ham and he’d shout, “Jam?! What kind of jam?!” but that didn’t stop him, once the message had got through, placing a ‘steadying’ hand on the scales as he weighed the meat.
Agnes’s vigilance was an out-of-hours service too. When I got my first car, an old Fiesta, in the early 90s and spent a bit too long at my then-girlfriend’s house one night, Agnes was on to my mother the next morning asking if any one of us was in hospital as she had seen a car come back “fierce late” and worried if something was wrong.
At the other end of the scale was Peggy Nash, whose shop was ostensibly a drapery but it wasn’t far off the Harrods “anything from a thimble to an elephant” approach. The joke about Peggy was that if someone asked for shoes and they weren’t in stock, she’d give them her own pair. This sense of service led her to produce the camogie team’s first set of jerseys in the 1960s and, while the team didn’t enjoy many wins in the first few years, they were the best-dressed side in the county as Peggy had produced a jersey to size for each member of the admittedly under-populated panel.
Then there was Bridge News, owned by the Healy family, with Clem Healy taking ownership in around 1978 or so after his parents died young. He was in his mid-30s at the time; coming to the end of a functional and unspectacular playing career, but he would prove to be a valuable backroom member.
With wealth in the family, he didn’t really need to run the shop but he used his days to build his knowledge by reading every book and magazine in stock – and thankfully he never told our parents when we occasionally bought top-shelf material. When he was small, he was a bit gullible: when some older children told him the statue of the Baby Jesus in the church loved chocolate, he brought a bar of Dairy Milk from the shop, put it on the altar and marvelled to find it gone the next day. He fed Our Lord sweets for quite a while before cottoning on.
A bachelor, time on his hands allowed him to undertake night courses to gain qualifications in both physiotherapy and psychology. The latter helped him to understand how humans behaved – this was best illustrated in how he changed the forever-ignored Please close the door sign in the shop to Please close the dore – he knew there’d be no shortage of corrections, but at least the people began to close it.
His two diplomas meant he soon began a dual role as the senior team’s “physicologist”.
“It’s easy to sort out bodies,” he’d say, “it’s the minds that can be inoperable.”
In fairness to him, he was good in both roles, imparting useful advice that seemed obvious once relayed. Our goalkeeper, Ned O’Neill, was told that, if the opposition hit wide, the puck out should be sent out immediately to give us some momentum but, if a goal was let in, he should take a few seconds. “Don’t worry if we’re losing,” Clem said, “the ref will add the time. Just take a breath and gather yourself. They’ll be looking to get going but we want to puncture their momentum.”
And, while he was generally honourable in his business, sometimes corners had to be cut. In 1992, we got to the county U21 final with Clem triple-jobbing as he was a selector too. At half-time, we were down a few points to Locknashinagh but Noel Power – our best player in the first half – was complaining of a sore right arm.
“If you’re full-forward for us, you’re the best U21 full-forward in the county,” Clem geed him up. “And if you’re the best in this county, you’re the best in Ireland! Your left side is better than most fellas’ rights and when you get the ball, they’ll be expecting you to go right, so it suits to go left. Go out there and win that game for us!”
Which, to be fair, Noel duly did, scoring 2-5 as we won comfortably in the end. As the celebrations broke out and we waited for the presentation, Clem made his way to a mobbed Noel and quietly whispered: “Noel boy, you’d better come away to the hospital with me, that right arm is broken.