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Eileen is up to 90!


Eileen Cunniffe pictured behind the counter at Jeremiah Higgins’ shop on Main Street in Claremorris. She has worked for 75 years in the family business.
?Eileen Cunniffe pictured behind the counter at Jeremiah Higgins’ shop on Main Street in Claremorris. She has worked for 75 years in the family business.?Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Eileen is up to 90!

Claremorris shopkeeper still going strong after 75 years

Edwin McGreal

Can there be anyone in this country as long in the one job as Eileen Cunniffe from Claremorris?
Eileen, neé Higgins, has been a constant fixture behind the counter of Jeremiah Higgins’ drapery and gift shop for an incredible 75 years.
Eileen turned 90 earlier this month and has been working in the family business since the age of 15, after she left boarding school at Gortnor Abbey in Crossmolina.
Initially Eileen and her sister Delia ran the business with their parents Jeremiah and Elizabeth before taking it over themselves. Delia died in 2012 and in recent years Eileen has run the business with the help of her assistant Sibylle Siegele.
Every trading day Eileen comes in from her home on the Ballyhaunis Road to the shop on Main Street. She would be well entitled to her retirement at this stage but admits simply that life would not be the same without it.
“I couldn’t bear to be gone from it,” she tells The Mayo News. “The customers are so used to me and I’m so used to them. Meeting people is what I like the most. People expect me to be here. I love the shop. I’d die if I’m not here in the shop,” she added.
Eileen is in good health for a woman of her age. Though she walks with the aid of a stick and is a little hard of hearing, it is hard to credit her age when you talk to her in the shop. What’s her secret to long life?
“Well I never drank or smoked. I always eat healthy food. I eat well. I don’t eat chocolate in between meals. Well, not much,” she chuckled.

Radio listener
Unless Mayo are playing, Eileen tends not to watch television but listens to Radio 1 frequently.
“And every day I have to read the paper inside out. The Independent, I have to get it,” she adds.
She reveals her political colours and wears them proudly.
“We were never Dev’s side because Dev would take the land off you. We were the other side. My husband Joe was Fianna Fáil but I always stayed Fine Gael,” she said.
Eileen Cunniffe has noticed a lot of change over the years.
“We always had a nice trade here but now it’s quiet. The money isn’t in it,” she notes.
“Years ago customers would put things down and pay you again – you’d get it back alright. People were very straight,” she adds.
The shop itself is the oldest in Claremorris and must be one of the oldest in the country. The family can definitely trace it back to 1820 and it’s possible it goes back further still. It’s remained in the family since and Eileen admits it ‘means a lot’ to be so long established.
Eileen drove up until ten years ago. These days her son Martin and his wife Noreen are of great assistance to her.
Eileen and her seven siblings were all born above the shop on Main Street. The quaint store sells a range of goods such as wool clothing, candles and handbags, linen, shirts, frames and, an nod to the 21st century, leather iPad covers.
“I’m here every day, except if I’m sick. Sibylle who works here says ‘Eileen is made of iron’!”
It’s hard to argue with that.