I spent a number of enjoyable years in the northern town of Monaghan. Northern, that is to someone like myself who had never previously ventured further than a few miles beyond the northern extremities of the Dublin metropolis. Monaghan, of course, is well ensconced within the 26 counties, but just a few miles out the road from Monaghan town is the border which divides and separates the six counties from the rest of the Irish hinterland. It was in Monaghan that my two sons were born in the Hillgrove Nursing Home which I believe has long since closed. The Monaghan folk were, and presumably still are, a friendly lot, always enquiring about the “care”, something which it took me some time to find out was a reference to one’s family. That same northern friendliness which I learned to associate with Monaghan folk is to be found in abundance in the man who made his home in Athy 41 years ago. Pat Flood is from Lattin, Monaghan and he came to Athy in 1963, having acquired from Russell Murphy, the liquidator to Jackson’s Limited, the spacious store yard and outbuildings which were but part of the huge Jackson emporium once so familiar to the people of Athy.
Pat will be celebrating his 83rd birthday on 13th March and his story is one which is bound up with the development of Irish commerce and more particularly the hardware businesses of Irish provincial life. One of five brothers and five sisters, Pat attended Derrygoodey National School where he was taught by his aunt, whose son Jim Drum was the inventor of the famous “Drum” battery. He finished his formal education at 15 years of age, and like so many other young men and women of the 1930’s entered into a four year apprenticeship as a hardware assistant. It is difficult nowadays to appreciate that in those pre-War days and for several years after the second World War ended young school leavers had few job opportunities, and like Pat Flood had to pay substantial monies to shopkeepers for the privilege of entering into an apprenticeship as a shop assistant. In Pat’s case the payment of £35 was made so that he could start his four year apprenticeship with Keelaghans of Ballybay.
I made reference earlier to Jackson’s emporium, but truly, the retail establishments of those pre-War days were extraordinary in terms of the range of services they offered and the goods they sold. Keelaghans of Ballybay was one such establishment and under its roof it combined the businesses of hardware, grocery, undertaker, boot and shoe shop, pub, auctioneering and drapery. For the first year of his apprenticeship Pat received no wages. He lived in, as did most of the shop assistants of that time, which for Pat and his work colleagues meant living over the shop where they worked from 8.00a.m. until 6.00p.m. and much later on some nights of the week. In his spare time Pat served in the Local Security Force, a non military force auxiliary to the regular army which was set up and trained by the Gardai at the start of World War II. Later on when part of the L.S.F. became the Local Defence Force, Pat did service with that group, all the time serving in Ballybay which because of its closeness to the Northern border was at times quite a busy place.
On completion of his apprenticeship Pat was earning 10 shillings a week [which in present day currency amounts to fifty cent], as well as receiving board and lodgings. He then moved to McCawley’s Hardware of Granard, Co. Longford, where his pay was three pounds and ten shillings a week, again with board and lodgings. He stayed with McCawley’s until 1947 when the business was sold. A short trip across the County border, this time to Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim brought Pat to Campbell’s Hardware Store where he remained for six months. By then he was required to find and pay for his own lodgings, but in return his wages has jumped to £7 per week.
Somehow or other the attractions of life in Drumshanbo paled in comparison to Cavan town and so another move was on the cards as Pat took up a job with Providers Limited which at that time was part of the Smith Group. He was to stay in Cavan for 16 years and left there for Athy in 1963. Pat recalls 1947, not so much as the year of his removal to Cavan, but rather as “the year of the big snow”. Ten years after his first arrival in Cavan he married Mary Maye of Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo who was one of the management team in the local Ulster Arms Hotel. On the occasion of his marriage Pat was the recipient of an illuminated address in which tributes were paid to his “frank sincerity, honesty, discretion and wit which makes him one of the most popular businessmen in Ireland today”.
The early 1960’s was a time of change in Ireland, not all of it however conducive to the continued prosperity of long established businesses such as Jackson’s of Leinster Street where a wide range of services and goods were provided. The commercial world was becoming more and more specialised and Jackson’s felt the wind of change as business declined, eventually leading to the liquidation of the company. Jackson’s extensive premises was sold off in two lots by Russell Murphy, a Dublin based accountant who many years later would achieve notoriety for his unorthodox financial dexterity which caused his clients, including Gay Byrne and Hugh Leonard to suffer huge financial losses. Chapman & Timoney acquired Jackson’s Garage which occupied what is now Perry’s Supermarket, while Pat Flood and two business associates paid the sum of £10,500 for the rest of the premises. It was from there that Pat carried on a hardware business under the style “Quinn & Company” for the following 25 years.
At least three hardware businesses which were in operation in Athy during Pat’s time have since closed down. These were Duthie Larges of Leinster Street, Shaw’s of Duke Street and Doyle Brothers of William Street. Another change noted by Pat who worked for 52 years in the hardware business was the disappearance of the Lampson pulley system which many of us will remember in Shaw’s, Bryan Brothers and Jacksons in years gone by. This was the cash carrying system where the customers payment was whisked overhead on a pulley system from the counter to the cashier and from where a receipt and change returned. It seems like another world when one mentions the cash pulley system, no longer to be seen any more, but which was once the height of shopping sophistication.
Pat sold the hardware shop in 1988 and after over half a century in the hardware business he retired to Chanterlands where he indulges in his two favourite pastimes, wine making and gardening. Retailing is still in his blood and from time to time Pat can be found helping out in his son’s shop [Noah’s Ark] in Leinster Street. As a past President of Athy Lions Club and a long time member of the Old Folks Committee, Pat has played, and continues to play his part in the local community. He is a most likeable man who has endeared himself to those with whom he has come in contact over the years. Always good humoured, his courtesy is legendary, for the man from Monaghan is never known to give offence. Like his northern kinsmen, he is a family orientated man for whom the “care” is the most important part of his life. On the occasion of his forthcoming 83rd birthday may we extend happy birthday greetings to the man from Lattin.