The butcher, the baker and a fascinator-maker

The Sunday Independent.

In the past two years, 23 small businesses have opened in Kanturk, writes Lucinda O’Sullivan

‘TRY Town First’ is the slogan in Kanturk, the north Cork town where two rivers, the Allow and the Dallow, converge in a surge of rushing waters.

“We know it is not realistic to expect everyone to do all their shopping in the town, but we encourage people to buy a bit more locally, and we are promoting the town as a viable place to shop in,” said Kieran Fitzgerald, of Fitzgerald Insurance and chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.

Kanturk is a very attractive town, with a Georgian influence, a 17th century castle, a market square, two bridges, three riverside parks, and an imposing church. ‘Kanturk’ is derived from Ceann Tuirc (Boar’s Head) and a stone marks the spot where the last boar in Ireland was reputedly slain. The town has a lot going for it in that it is also less than an hour’s drive from Cork, Tralee, Limerick and Killarney. There is a strong community feel in the town, which has an annual arts festival, but most extraordinary of all, it has seen the opening of 23 new small businesses since February 2009.

I had only been in Kanturk once before at a funeral where we had ended up in the Alley Bar — a fantastic old-style pub and shop with nooks and snugs, and history hanging off its walls.

The Alley Bar is owned by Eilis O’Connor and her husband John D O’Connor. The premises was always a pub and shop, which Eilis’s father, Ned Jones, had traced back to the 1890s. There was a famous ball alley at the back, hence its name, and from the Thirties to the Fifties, there were “famous All Ireland games there”. It was owned back then by a husband and wife team of two Doctors O’Toole. In 1959, Dr O’Toole retired and the pub remained closed for a couple of years. Eilis’s father, Ned, working in the creamery company across the road, would look over and bemoan the closure of the pub where he used drink as a young man. One day he said to his wife Mary, “We’ll buy the pub!” They bought it in 1961 and now it is run by Eilis.

One of the longest standing businesses in the town is McCarthy’s Butchers. Jack McCarthy is a very pro-active artisan food producer, and a great public relations man for Kanturk. He is the fifth generation of his family business which was founded in 1892 by Callaghan McCarthy, a baker who put down his dough hook and took up a butcher’s cleaver because he couldn’t buy decent meat for his table. Looking at the old ledgers you could see where the business suddenly changed from selling bread to the next day selling meat. All of the old Kanturk names are in the book, and all are still in the area, Sullivan, Conway, Clancy, Mahony, Dillon, O’Connor, Barrons. You could also see too that the British Army was in occupation. There is also a great picture taken of a group of men “the day Parnell visited town” and Jack’s son, Tim McCarthy, the sixth generation in the business, proudly showed me his two great grandfathers.

The McCarthys, father and son, produce the most wonderful charcuterie. Last year they were crowned members of the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Black Pudding, won in the face of intense competition from 4,000 entrants in the ‘Black Pudding Capital’, the Normandy town of Mortagne au Perche, by La Confrerie des Chevaliers du Goute Boudin — who visited here in force last year.

The future for Ireland is tourism and food — we have to push our wonderful artisan produce. Specialities at McCarthy’s include Putog Ceann Toirc, Boar’s Head Pudding, Irish Whiskey Haggis, traditional dry cured bacons, honey cured roast pork, French style boudins with cream and apple, honey, garlic, an Ardrahan cheese sausage, the regular Cork-style white pudding, a new seafood sausage, and many many more inventive delicious puddings. “Pudding has gone through the roof,” says Jack, “they want it everywhere.”

Around the corner is Mark Reidy of Duhallow Seafoods, who opened his compact fish shop about six months ago and is “delighted with it”. He has been in the fish business a while, working at one point in a fish shop in Skibbereen. He was then selling fish from vans, door to door, but “it was too hit and miss” so he decided to give himself a base and open his own fish shop.

“I keep my prices reasonable and I round it down, say if it was €10.60 I’d give it for €10, I’m not stuck in my prices. The more someone buys, the better the discount.” Business is good, he says, and he is a firm believer in giving back to the community with everyone supporting one another in local business. Mark has also developed his product further by working with a local restaurant, Bob’s, which produces lasagnes, fish cakes and seafood pies which Mark sells in his shop. “These dishes offer great value; if you were to buy the ingredients yourself you couldn’t do it cheaper.”

A few doors down is Tina Sheehan, who opened her children’s clothing shop, Jemma Jim, in October 2009. “It’s great,” Tina says, “we have a lot of fun. We haven’t been here in times past when people were having massive profits whereas, you know, we think it’s going great.”

Tina worked with Mallow Urban Council for four years but then her contract was up. “I have an eight-year-old daughter, I always loved clothes and fashion and previously worked with children, but I just didn’t want to go back into a formal setting.”

Tina’s motto is to be “more affordable — that’s what we are looking for. If people want to spend €10 or €25 on a couple of things, great. We supply gift wrapping it keeps customers’ costs down.” They have outfits for children of all ages, equipment and toys, First Communion plus debs dresses. “Some little girls don’t want to spend a lot so I have lovely dresses from €65 up to the very top at €300, likewise Communion dresses run from €50 to €200.” Tina encourages girls to buy classics that they can wear again, and also to loan dresses to one another. “All I wanted to do was to bring affordable fashion, and also to do big sizes for children, I am very sensitive about that, I want shopping to be fun for kids, not a nightmare!”

Across the street from Duhallow Seafoods is Kanturk Photo Framing, where Bertie Harman originally had a “chipper” in 1994. He then bought the building and started a video business, moving into the photographic business and framing.

“After Christmas was quiet,” Bertie says, “but it has really picked up particularly with the recent arts festival.”

Madison Avenue is a shoe shop owned by Geraldine O’Callaghan from west Limerick, which opened in Kanturk in December 2010 after two years in Mallow. “The first year in Mallow was going okay but my location wasn’t good. If you are not constantly being seen by the customer on the main thoroughfare, you are forgotten very rapidly.”

Geraldine stocks children’s shoes such as Startrite, Ricosta and Pablosky. She also stocks ladies’ shoes, including Rockport, an American label. “Obviously price points have had to come down hugely in the recession. The first year I opened you could easily sell shoes for €150 to €200 but now it is hard to sell anything past €80. There is a massive change so you have to have different price points, stocking ranges that are good for this economy.”

Kate’s Kitchen is a deli that also opened in December 2010. “It’s up and down but it’s good, I always have people coming back for repeat orders,” says owner Catriona O’Keeffe.

Catriona, who has twin girls aged seven, bakes scones, brown breads, carrot cakes and lemon drizzle cakes every day — you would hang around just for the aromas! Catriona also makes daily potato salad, pesto pasta and Waldorf salad. She boils her own hams, glazes them with honey and brown sugar and she gets steak mince for her shepherd’s pies from McCarthy’s, of course. She also stocks jams and preserves, Ardrahan cheeses and Ardrahan Lullaby milk, which has a naturally higher level of melatonin so helps you sleep. “I am busy until 2 o’clock every day cooking and baking. I have total control over quality when I do it myself but I now also have three girls working part-time to help.”

Denise Hickey took over the Perfect Fit from previous owners in November 2010. Denise also has a DVD, games and consoles shop but was always looking for the right underwear and shapewear for herself and the right shop came up! “It was a big jump from DVDs to lingerie,” she says. “In general, you do have your quiet days but occasions have a lot to do with the business. People want the right bra for a wedding, Communion, Confirmation, or under a dress for a Saturday night!

Martina Drew of the Crowning Glory opened her shop in 2009. “I was unemployed for six months and I decided this was either the time to do it or not. I am delighted with the business.” She started out with accessories, handbags, jewellery and fascinators. “I now make my own fascinators in all colours to match people’s outfits for weddings and special occasions and in the last month I have gone into ladies’ fashions, going up to size 26.”

“We work off one another here — I send people over to The Perfect Fit for underwear and Denise would send people to me. The wedding season is big and I have lots of orders now for fascinators — cerise pink is big this summer — but I have to make sure people aren’t going to the same wedding.” Wise woman!

Finally I met Teddy Ambrose of Ambrose Ironworks. Teddy comes from a long line of blacksmiths who have been in business in Kanturk since the family came to Ireland from Heidelberg in Germany in the 18th century.

So from putogs to bras, seafood to shoes, cupcakes to iron craft, there is plenty on offer in Kanturk. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and it is imperative that we remember this when we spend our euro. It’s all about Meitheal!

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