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No more news from Bridgie Browne

South of the border

Willie McHugh

No more news from Bridgie Browne



Willie McHugh

ON Saturday evening last Bridget Browne’s shop on Ballinrobe’s Abbey Street officially ceased trading. Her friends sold the last of her remaining stock, turned the lock on her door, and closed the wooden gate for the final time.
A Ballinrobe institution is no more.  
Bridgie Browne’s Shop was as much part of the south Mayo town as The Bowers Walk, The Bulkaun, the Creagh gates or the Shoe Corner on The Neale Road. It was a throwback to the era of the parish pump where people gathered, idled time away, and exchanged news.
It started out as a butcher shop. The rails that sides of beef and fletches of bacon hung from are still there. When Bridget Walsh took over the premises she opened it as a drapery and newsagents. But only when the mantle was passed over to Bridgie Browne did it become an integral Ballinrobe part of everyday living.
As a young girl Bridgie Browne emigrated from her Killour home to Liverpool where she trained as a school teacher. She taught in Plymouth for many years but every school summer holiday and midterm break was spent with her family back in Mayo.
Eventually she gave up her teaching post and returned home for good. She worked in a local hardware outlet doing accounts and bookkeeping. At lunch-time she visited Bridget Walsh in her Abbey Street premises. They were related, and one afternoon Bridget suggested that Bridgie might consider taking over the business. A simple ‘yes’ short-circuited the route beyond any protracted negotiations or contractual signings.
This was more than a newsagent’s outlet. There was as much news to be had listening at this counter as in reading all the newspapers or surfing the net.
All of Ballinrobe’s ‘breaking news’ first broke here. The discipline to buying a newspaper could be experienced best in Bridgie Browne’s shop. No matter the time of day there was always a customer holding court there. And every exchange a harmless banter where no offence was caused or an angry word ever uttered.
“A Seafóid Shop” is how Bridgie described her premises when she reminisced last week about the happy days she spent on Abbey Street. Daily, habitual callers like Betty Walsh arriving with her shopping trolley.
Others like Luke Carney, Willie O’Connor or Seán Costello from down the street coming in for the morning paper and a chat. Her abiding memory will be of enjoying every minute there and having the nicest customers anyone could ever have.
A haberdashery of shelves packed tight with envelopes, biros, copies, jigsaws and jotters.  Newspapers from the printing presses of the world. The Times and Indo, local Mayo publications, the Guardian and Daily Express.
Country people came every January to buy Old Moore’s Almanac. And weekly customers like Mrs Caulfield from Carnalecka arrived to purchase Ireland’s Own.
In another era first Tuesday was Ballinrobe Court day and she looked forward to Michael Commins visiting. She sold Mass cards too and the names of the dead were recorded in a dog-eared notebook and stashed away in a packing with the few euro for the mass offering.
Saturday was for studying the form in the Racing Post and someone was dispatched to the bookmakers across the road to place a small wager. Monday was officially a ‘half day’.
Bridgie supplied wool for half the garments knitted around the firesides of the region. A knitter herself, she could read a pattern and dispense advice about ‘plain’ and ‘purl’ and how to ‘knit one’ and ‘slip one’.
A parliament of chattering classes gathered inside Bridgie Browne’s door discussing local happenings and great world events was a Ballinrobe norm. Her floor space registered a bigger footfall than the main escalator in Macy’s of New York.
Ballinrobe has bolted another door and pulled a curtain on a window of the past. An era of storytelling and spreading the news in Bridgie Browne’s shop is gone forever more.

 

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