When good old days were no so good
Today’s shopkeepers face many challenges, not least those posed by online shopping and anti-social behaviour — but 100 to 150 years ago, retailers in one west Cork town ago had to contend with everything from filthy streets to stone-throwing, and competition from hawkers selling fruit and vegetables at pop-up stalls.
According to retired librarian, Carmel Flanagan, who carried out detailed research into the social history of the area using UDC minute books, there were many challenges for Clonakilty shopkeepers between the period 1870 and 1920.
These included the keeping of pigs by householders close to shopping streets; the lack of regular refuse collections; manure dropped by passing horses; anti-social behaviour; gangs congregating on street corners, and even games of hurling being played on the street.
On top of that, shopkeepers — many of whom were women at the time — also had to battle against competition from people outside the town who were regularly coming in and setting up stalls selling potatoes or apples.
Her lecture, “Hard Times — Shops and Shopkeepers in Clonakilty 1870–1920”, was the title of a recent public lecture presented as part of Dúchas Clonakilty Heritage’s public lecture series.
In her presentation on Thursday, January 25, at The Parish Centre, Ms Flahavan showed that the shop-keepers of long ago had much to contend with:
“People were throwing household refuse onto the streets. There was manure from passing horses and some pigs which were being kept close to the shopping streets,” she revealed. Eventually, she reported, stalls selling apples were banned from the streets, while potato sellers were ordered to only sell their produce at the local market.
“There was also an issue with anti-social behaviour — people playing hurling on the street, obstructing pavements and congregating on street corners,” she said, adding that stone-throwing in certain parts of the town was identified as another problem.
It was not until the Urban District Council was formed in the early part of the 20th century that regular refuse collections — or street scavenging — were organised.
As time progressed, shop- keepers embraced the opportunities of advertising in the local press.
Ms Flahavan, a member of Dúchas has a particular interest in social history and the development of shopping trends.
She worked as a librarian in the Carlow County Library service up to 2014, where one of her special responsibilities was local studies, and was the researcher for the County Carlow pages on the “Ask About Ireland” website (www.askaboutireland.ie).
Clonakilty in the good old days were not as trouble-free as you might think; challenges to shop keepers included the lack of regular refuse collections; manure dropped by passing horses; gangs congregating on street corners, and even games of hurling being played on the street.