When good old days were no so good

Irish Examiner - County - - News - Ailín Quin­lan

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.

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