GENERATION GAME Kevin Curry pictured with his grandchildren JJ and Alanna last week after Curry’s shop in Breaffy closed after 35 years in business. Pic: Alison Laredo
Wednesday last and Kevin Curry was paying an emotional farewell to customers in his shop in Breaffy.
After 35 years of trading, he closed the door on the family grocery for the last time.
He’s in no doubt that it is the right thing to do for himself but closing the book on such a treasure of memories was always going to be bittersweet.
Kevin and his wife Patricia reared their five children in the shop. He watched boys and girls grow into men and women; people in the prime of their lives grow older; too many customers of all ages pass from this world and the world we live in itself transform.
He was there, seven days a week, watching it all. Never knowing who would next come in the door, what ball hopping or joking would ensue.
Their shop was a social centre too and sometimes the Currys could become as much social workers as shopkeepers, always there with a friendly ear.
For kids growing up in Breaffy, it was a joy to have a shop in the village providing us with sweets, ice-cream and fizzy drinks. Kevin Curry saw a lot of pocket money over the years.
When they took on the Vivo brand, they ended up with a lot of products hard to get in the west of Ireland. Dr Pepper cola brought people out from Castlebar, where it couldn’t be got, to see what the fuss was about. They also had a range of ice-creams that was unique to them – and sure they all had to be sampled.
There was not a huge amount of money around in those early years though and the hardened economic times actually contributed to Curry’s opening.
Charlie and ‘tightening our belts’
Charlie Haughey was Taoiseach in 1987 when Kevin Curry started in Breaffy on November 7 that year and Haughey had an indirect role in it.
Kevin and his wife Patricia, a native of Scotland, had moved to Nuremberg in Germany and their eldest child Aaron was born there in 1983. They ran a pizza parlour and did well off troops from the nearby US Army base there.
But a longing for home was always in Kevin.
“I always planned to make it back to Westport but I didn’t quite get that far,” he recalls.
They came back to Mayo in 1985 and lived in Knockthomas in Castlebar. Patricia got a job with Western Care and Kevin started work as an ambulance assistant.
But when cutbacks came, Kevin found himself as ‘last in, first out’.
“Charlie was telling us to tighten our belts in the 1980s, little did we know what he was spending on his shirts himself! His cutbacks left me out of work,” Kevin recalls.
He started helping out Johnny Connor in his shop in Knockthomas in the evenings and Johnny suggested he look into the old Divney’s shop in Breaffy.
Divney’s had run a successful supermarket there decades ago and other businesses had set up since but the building was now idle.
As luck would have it, Kevin and Patricia had subsequently moved to Creggnavar, over the road from the shop in Breaffy.
Six months later Curry’s Country Store was open.
It was a time before the proliferation of delis and standalone groceries were more successful then than now. Trade was brisk, even at a time when Knock Airport was busy ferrying our brightest and best out of the country.
“I had some great customers when I think back on it. They were salt of the earth. There were some tough years but we got through it.
“I knew the road outside was good for me too … If I could stop a few passing, I’d be okay,” he said.
It was tough work, seven days a week for 52 weeks a year. The hours might have been shorter in the past couple of years as Currys scaled back operations somewhat but there were plenty of long days. Start would be 8.30am and they could be open until 11pm some nights, waiting for the delivery of the local papers. Indeed his late brother Martin was a former reporter and Editor with this newspaper.
Christmas Day was not sacrosanct either. A knock on the door usually meant someone had run out of cigarettes.
In 1990 the family moved into the shop, having converted the old living quarters. Kevin and Patricia’s five kids were all pretty much reared there as a result.
And they all did their bit too. The bell would ring in the sitting room and if they were home from school, Aaron, Seán, Paul, Kevin or Siobhán would head out and serve.
“We have lots of lovely memories. I’ll miss the people and the craic. It was a great shop for news and gossip and having the craic with all the customers down through the years.
“Jeez we’d some great characters here. So many, I’ll definitely run the risk of leaving out names,” said Kevin.
A native of John’s Row in Westport, Kevin is still a proud Covey. But he got involved in the local GAA club in Breaffy, taking teams with ‘my great aul buddy’ the late Kevin Jordan.
They were a great double act and instilled in so many players a pride and passion for the game.
“We had seven or eight years involved with the Bord na nÓg in Breaffy. They were the best years of my life. We’d be over there with our own kids. Our Kevin would be over there in nappies playing football!”
The post office which joined the business in 2001 will remain open. Currys took that over from Tom and Mary Fahey. It had been in their family for over a century.
In a shorter space of time, the Currys left their own legacy too.