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Cummins’ roll back the years

South of the border

 Willie McHugh

Cummins’ roll back the years


Willie McHugh

MRS Fox on Ballinrobe’s New Street sent someone to Cummins’ shop on a June evening in the mid 60’s to purchase a packet of biscuits. We can only assume visitors arrived unexpectedly to her door and she hadn’t a thing in the house to give them.
There was a great run in biscuits back then and little wonder Scribbaus and Co. Ltd of Dublin supplied confectionary on a monthly basis to Cummins’ of Ballinrobe.
There’s more. On June 26 Father Greally CC purchased six eggs, 1lb of butter, jelly, a bottle of salad cream, a jar of coffee and a tin of custard. Maybe the Archbishop was calling by and the padre was putting on a decent spread from him.
It was while browsing through old ledger books on display last weekend as Cummins’ Hardware celebrated 65 years in business that we siphoned those nuggets of information.  
But what caught our eye most was the beautiful hand writing the transactions were recorded in. Nancy Burke, a New Street neighbour of the Cummins’ family, was the bookkeeper.
It was an era long before database, excel, Microsoft Office and any of the modern methods of account keeping. But Nancy paid attention to the littlest of detail. Bridgie Browne, the retired Abbey St newsagent, did the accounts for Cummins’ Hardware also.
Little did Nancy or Bridgie realise their clearly legible fountain pen entries would in time double as data for a social history of how business was conducted back then.
It was the Ireland of pounds, shillings and pence. LSD as it was known then. Days of weighing by ounces, pounds, stone, hundred weights and ton. Measuring by flagons, pints and gallons. Of Indian meal, Juana, paraffin oil and methylated spirits. Of beauty board and emulsion and readying for the stations and the arrival of yanks from America or wherever it was they came from back then.
Last Friday Cummins notched up 65 years of trading that encompasses the old world with the new. Family-owned and ran businesses like Cummins are a rarity nowadays. Richard and Vinny Cummins aren’t just two faceless directors. 
They work alongside their staff. Workers like Michael Maughan who has chalked up 25 years or James Shaughnessy with 24 and Ronan Mannion who is closing in on his 20th summer in a shop that caters mainly for the farmer, the builder and the DIY trade. 
And no business outlet has two better front of house or back door personnel than Martina Hughes or Siobhan Campbell. They afford all customers a genuine word of welcome and engage them in friendly banter. And Patricia Hughes now keeps the accounts in order.
There’s camaraderie among Cummins’ staff. Always has been as was evident when Trish Forde lined up former employees John O’Connell, Martin Concannon and John Burke for a photo at their celebration party held outside the premises on Friday night last.
Ann Clarke travelled from Ballindine to join in the festivities. Formerly Ann O’Dea from Ballyhenry, above Kilmaine, she worked alongside the trio for umpteen years.
On spotting Ann they broke ranks leaving the bewildered photographer staring down an empty lens. “Aaragh Jaysus Anneen, is it yourself that’s in it and you looking as good as ever,” John O’Connell said by way of a greeting as the reunited quartet hugged and embraced. 
It said everything good that needed saying about morale in the workplace and the lovely legacy it leaves. Later they reminisced about other times in the company of PJ O’Hara, Tom Duffy and other former workers.
Friday’s shindig was Cummins’ Hardware way of thanking their customers and staff.  They plied them with ice cream, sweets, fine wine, food and good ale. Mid West Radio arrived and Gerry Glennon said hello to anyone left at home to say hello to.
As a tribute to his staff Richard Cummins requested DJ Geoffrey to play, ‘Simply the Best’ as night became morning.
And that they surely are.

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