ANOTHER piece of history came to pass in Westport last weekend, when one of the town’s longest-established businesses closed its doors for the final time on Saturday. Three generations of women from the Flaherty family have traded for over 100 years in their ladies drapery at the corner of Bridge Street and Shop Street, but when Mary O’Donnell turned the key in the door for the final time, she also closed the book on another chapter of Westport’s past.
The story of Flaherty’s began some time in the late nineteenth century. The exact year the family began trading could not be established at short notice, but the business has been in operation on a continuous basis from the same building - and by members of the same family - ever since.
The census of 1901 informs us that there were six people resident in the premises at that time. They were Bridget, Katie, Hannah and Maggie Flaherty, and also two staff - Minnie Quinn and Delia Moran (all deceased) - who lived on the premises, as was common at the time. The business conducted according to the census was millinery (hat making). The history becomes clearer when Mary Flaherty, a niece of the aforementioned Flaherty women, took up work in the shop upon completion of her leaving cert at the age of 16. She continued working in the store until recent times, and despite her moving on in years, is alive and well to recount the tales of over six decades at the forefront of business in Westport. Mary married well-known boating and angling enthusiast Martin O’Donnell, and their daughter, Mary, was the third generation to take up running Flaherty’s drapery, over 20 years ago.
However, seeking a new challenge in life, and with her son not likely to follow her in taking over the shop, Mary decided after much deliberation that closing the business was the right thing to do. The decision, she states, was not influenced by trading factors, and she did not fall victim to the economic downturn of recent years.
Her brother, Hugh O’Donnell, will continue the family’s trading presence nearby, as he owns the Westport Marine and Picture Framing Shop just across the street from where his mother, and her aunts before her, spent their working lives.
Where once the Flaherty family and their staff lived above the shop, it now houses a beauty salon operated by Rose Jennings and Joanne O’Malley. The ground-floor of the premises will not remain empty however, as their neighbour Joe Moran - who also runs a long established family business - will shortly be occupying it with an extension of his shop.
Research by The Mayo News suggests that William Coffey and Sons Monumental Sculptors (1852) and JP Breheny and Sons Garage on Castlebar Street (1854) are the oldest family businesses still operating in the town with direct links to those who founded them. Kate McCormack and Sons Butchers is another such business still going strong. However, we would love to hear of other long-established family businesses in your area that should be on this list, and ask people to contact us by e-mail; firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone; 098 25311 if you have any suggestions.
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