A brief history!

Roots Community Shop & Café may have opened its doors in December 2020, but the premises have been home to a shop serving the people of Kilmeedy and beyond for well over a hundred years.  Records show that the premises were opened circa 1880 by James and Ellen Gayer as a haberdashery, drapery and grocery store. One record from 1898 show sales of meat, tea, matches and tobacco to a Mrs. Hughes.

In July 1900 John Joseph Geary (Johnny) married Mary Josephine Gayer and they took over the running of the business.

It’s difficult to imagine how they managed such a wide variety of stock from such a small space.  In those times people frequently bought on credit and the books from December 21 1905 record sales to one Molly Griffin, of toys, a doll, 3 pairs of boots, 4 yards of ribbon, 2 ounces of wool, a flannelette, 2 and ¾ yards of fancy lining, 1 apron, and 2 squares of soap. They also sold groceries, including flour, bacon, tea, bread, sugar, sweets, tobacco pipes, tobacco and snuff. Johnny also sold and repaired bicycles.

Slattery’s Creamery operated in Kilmeedy village from 1890 to 1907 down the Old Boreen at the site of Martin Myles’ old forge.  In those days, Johnny would bring the butter and cream from Kilmeedy to Charleville and Newcastle West railway stations, whilst collecting shop supplies including brown meal and flour for the return journey home.

During the Spanish (“Black”) Flu of 1918, Johnny and Mary would prepare shopping orders for those who were ill, and leave them on the path outside the shop for collection – a case of history repeating itself given that we have offered that very same service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sometime around 1910 Johnny ventured into the funeral undertaking business from the shop, initially using a horse hearse, replaced by a motorized hearse in the 1920s.

Around the same time, Johnny started to sell and service cars and tractors. In 1923 they were so busy with cars and tractors, that Maurice (another of Johnny’s sons) took a sabbatical from the recently formed An Garda Síochána and worked in the garage before returning to the Gardaí in 1926.

Bryan married Eileen Keane from Colmanswell in 1936 and, along with their family, expanded the shop’s offerings. Like many shops of its time, a trip to Geary’s could get you anything from a thimble to a tractor!

They sold Calor gas, coal, boots, shoes, wellingtons, socks, bicycle lamps, nails, shoe leather and tacks for shoe repairs and wireless radios.  Other popular sellers during this era were paint, methylated spirits, turpentine, linseed oil, red lead (for anything deemed to rust) and blue stone – used to preserve thatch.  There were large bins for white flour, brown flour, bran, porridge, pollard, parata feed and yellow meal. These provisions were weighed out as the shopper needed.  Along with HB, Lucan ice cream was also a popular brand at the time in the ice cream cabinet. Paraffin oil was also a big seller in those days as it lit most homes.

The shop also sold BSA and Raleigh bicycles, with a bike frequently on display in the front left window.

Ever the entrepreneur, Bryan is also remembered for providing a hackney service from the shop, ferrying customers to and from Newcastle West, Limerick City, Charleville train station and further afield.  But it didn’t stop there! He also ran a haulage business from the shop, and his frequent trips to collect pigs from farmers in the locality and bring them to the local marts and to Clover Meats and Mattersons in Limerick City, doubled as trips to stock up on supplies for the shop on his journeys home.

This level of activity in the business required the hard work and support of many. These included, Eily Walsh from Feohanagh, Bernie Clancy from Emly, Margaret Hannigan from Tullylease, Paddy Doody from Feenagh, Peg Barry from Broadford, Joan Fitzgerald from Athea, Kitty Leahy from Castlemahon, Breda Costello from Gortadrumma, Mary Halpin from Kileedy, John Quaid from Kilmeedy, Martin Danaher from Ballingarry and  Eily Enright from Athea.  Worth a special mention is Eily Nelligan from Abbeyfeale, who worked in the shop from 1948 to 1950 and married local man Jack McCarthy. Eily lived in Kilmeedy until her death in 2021 at the age of 102.

After his wife Eileen died in 1963, Bryan continued to run the shop until his retirement in 1980.

Mick and Esther Ahern bought the shop in 1984 and took up the reins. During this time, they also ran the local post office from the shop.  Mick died in 2005 and Esther ran the shop until her retirement later that year.  In 2011, things came full circle. The shop came back into the Geary family when bought by Johnny Geary’s grandson, another John Joseph Geary.

In its long history, that has spanned three different centuries, the shop has served as a meaningful social and commercial hub for the people of Kilmeedy and our surrounding locality. It has taken a lot of vision, creativity, hard work and perseverance to unfold the next chapter of its history.  Heartfelt gratitude is due to all the people who have played a role in its history and to those who are charged with its future development as a thriving community hub.

We are excited to think, as the shop sets out on it’s next journey as Roots Community Shop and Café, that it can fulfill this purpose again, proudly serving the people of our locality for the next hundred years or more.

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