Memories of the travelling shop
The Museum of Country Life in Turlough never fails to come up with events and topics of wide public appeal and few more so than a fascinating and heart-warming account of the travelling shop of years ago
The talk attracted a large audience to the Museum, since the travelling shop was an integral part of rural life in Mayo right through the 30s and in some areas up to the present day.
The talk was given by Michael John Gallagher (pictured), who himself operated a travelling shop from 1947 to 1982. His area operated from Ballylahan Bridge to Foxford, and was bounded on its outer edges by Kilkelly, Knock and Bohola. He had started the business with a horse-drawn van, soon progressing to a small motor van and in later years moving on to a custom-built, specially-equipped large vehicle.
Michael John’s talk was a fascinating look at a particular slice of Mayo social history, covering a time when the weekly visit of the travelling shop was a high point and when its operator was the information link between isolated homes and communities. Apart from the provisions for the week, the travelling shop brought news of everyday events, who had died and who was sick, who got married and who had left for England, what crops were going best and where and how the hens were laying in far distant parts of his beat. For many isolated dwellers, he was the only outsider to visit the village from one end of the week to the next. Little wonder, then, that he felt the obligation to stick to his round no matter what the weather or how inaccessible the roadways.
In his own talk, Michael John Gallagher recalled the days of shortages and rationing following World War II, of the difficulty of doing business when petrol was scarce. He remembered the ‘big snow’ of 1947 when snow drifted to a height of eight feet in places, bringing the country to a standstill and which did not thaw fully until early June.
Almost 60 years since he first embarked on the roads of east Mayo, Michael John Gallagher is still hale and hearty, enjoying his retirement, and with a volume of warm memories which deserve to be preserved for posterity. In particular, he remembers with affection his loyal customers, some of whom attended the talk in Turlough.
Local historian, Noel O’Neill, who has written a short account of the talk for the Castlebar website, reminds us that other interesting talks and demonstrations are held at the Museum of Country Life each Sunday and Wednesday at 2.30pm. There is no admission charge, but booking is advisable