Thursday, February 29, 1996

Mulhall Barbers Athy - Alex Kelly, Matt Murray, Tosh Doyle

Mens barber shops have given way to unisex hair stylists who cater for all-comers no matter how long or short their tresses. Here in Athy we have retained two establishments which in another generation would be called barber shops but which given the advent of electric razors are now best called male hairdressers. Both Gerry Lynch and Peter Delaney carry on a craft which in my younger days in Athy was largely the preserve of the Mulhalls. Indeed Peter Delaney carries on business in what was “Smiler” Mulhall’s barber shop. The Mulhall brothers, Michael known as “Hocker”, Christy known as “Gus” and Jim known as “Smiler”, were amazingly the first generation of Mulhalls to carry on business as barbers. Their father James married Nell Mulroe, a girl from Spiddal, Co. Galway whose family had come to live in Athy at the end of the last century. Jim and Nell emigrated to New York where they lived for many years and where some of their six children were born. Returning to Athy James took up employment with the local Council collecting refuse with a horse and cart. This work he carried on for many years, all the time living at Leinster Street in the premises now occupied by Data Print. Their eldest son William entered the postal services in London in 1913 and like so many others enlisted to fight in World War I. He was gassed and succumbed to malaria, returning to recuperate in a soldiers home in England where he was traced by his family. Returning to Athy he was to join up again during World War II and was wounded on D-Day. After the war he remained in England where he later died while employed in London.

His brother Michael “Hocker” who was born in America married Ellen Rainsford of Rathstewart and in time set up business as a barber in his parents premises in Leinster Street. His own son Jim also became a barber, as did his grandson Shay, both of whom operate out of a premises in Finglas in Dublin. “Hocker” died in 1947 and his business in Leinster Street was taken over by his brother Christy “Gus” who had previously worked as a barber in Mackens of O’Connell Street, Dublin. Christy married Meg Neill, a butcher’s daughter from Leinster Street and their son Jimmy also followed his father into the barbers business working in Dublin. “Gus” died in the 1950’s and the premises now occupied by Data Print was in time acquired by Nortons.

The third brother Jim “Smiler” had his barber shop in Duke Street where Peter Delaney currently carries on his craft. “Smiler” spent twenty-one years in America and there met Bridie Hackett of Co. Tyrone whom he married. They had no family. Like some of his brothers and sisters “Smiler” had dual American and Irish citizenship. His barber’s business in Duke Street flourished until he died in the 1970’s when it was acquired by the present owner.

The daughters of the late James and Nell Mulhall married and lived in Dublin. Margaret married a Leonard of Rathstewart and lived in Cabra while Molly married a Bramley from where I cannot say and lived in Drimnagh.

The Mulhall family tradition as barbers first established with the three Athy brothers continues today with “Hocker’s” son Jim Mulhall sometimes resident of Grangemellon and “Hocker’s” grandson Shay. “Gus’s” son Jimmy is also a barber and like his cousins operates out of premises in Dublin.

As I prepared this Eye on the Past I was informed of the death of Tosh Doyle, late of St. Patrick’s Avenue. Following close on the passing of Matt Murray and Alex Kelly, the loss of this triumvirate of elders of Athy is a sad blow for our town. I had spoken to Matt in relation to his involvement in the GAA in Athy while Alex unfortunately was on a lenghtening list of people I had hoped to interview in the future. Sadly the opportunity has now gone and I can only now hope to recapture the music and story of this remarkable musician by reference to secondary sources.

I had the good fortune to interview Tosh Doyle in the company of his old friend Tim O’Sullivan on a long October evening in 1994. As I later wrote, listening to Tosh was to open the flood gates of memory. He was a man with a story to tell and in its telling Tosh reaffirmed my belief in the relevance of oral history. He recalled the past and the people who inhabited his memories with an accuracy which was uncanny for a man then nearing eighty years of age. He was a modest man who was liked by his neighbours in Athy, for everyone was Tosh’s neighbour. He was the man who was happiest in his own place. May Tosh, Alex and Matt rest in peace.

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