End of an era for Kerr’s of Timahoe

Eoin O’Sullivan

Eoin O’Sullivan

After 36 years of grocery trading Arthur Kerr and his wife Gillian finally decided to put up the feet and call it a day.

On Saturday July 2, a large number of people assembled from far and near on the sun splashed village green of Timahoe, to celebrate the occasion and to pay compliments to the popular couple.

The shop has been in the family for three generations since 1888 and has literally been a corner stone of village life throughout that period. It was an emotional occasion not just for the Kerr’s but also for the customers who shopped in the quaint grocery stores for decades. Kitty Butler who came to live in the area in 1958 expressed her own sentiment: “there was hardly a day that I didn’t go into the shop throughout all these years, I will miss it terribly”.

Arthur smiles when he recounts that the shop was there long before Dunne stores, Tesco, Aldi, or any of the other well known outlets.

“It has been operating for over 3 different centuries, seen two world wars, the Easter rising, the foundation of the state and the sinking of the Titanic. It gives you some idea of how long it’s been in existence. but time does not stand still,” he said.

Reflecting on his retirement he stated: “To close down something that has been open since 1888 is not an easy decision to make. I got a second chance in the 1990, when I suffered a lot with arthritis, and thanks to a great surgeon in Tullamore Hospital I got two artificial hips which got me off a walking stick and gave me a new lease of life. At 65 years of age you have to make decisions and we feel this is the time to do it”.

The former Timahoe shopkeeper indicated that times were good in the shop.

“Though the hours were long (12 hrs a day) we didn’t mind, as we were meeting someone different all the time. The customers weren’t looked upon as customers, more as friends and you treated everyone equally. You would get to know what cigarettes they smoked, so when you saw them coming you could have their brand waiting on the counter,” he said..

When the Kerr’s took over the post office in 2001 it helped the business, but it also had its drawbacks as two upsetting incidents were to befall them. In 2004 they were broken into and robbed in the dead of night. Arthur describes the terrifying experience involving him and his wife,

“We were tied up and left there in the kitchen. There was no talking to them as there were four in it,” he said.

Thankfully they escaped serious injury. He also reacalled another unpleasant event in 2009 which made the front page of the Leinster Express.

“On a Friday morning one lad came in wearing a balaclava and he had a gun in his hand which he pointed into my face. Needless to say I gave him the money. Those were probably the two lowest points which would make you think of giving up, but if you give up to them you are only giving in to them,” he said.

On a more lighter note, there were some great discussions at times in the shop and Arthur explains that mainly football, cattle trade, the weather and of course politics were the main topics.

“I always tried my best to keep the political debate as short as possible. As regards football many a match was played several times over on the shop floor, but still with the same result. There was great customer loyalty. If you were loyal to the customers, they remained loyal to you. For this I must thank them. Without them I wouldn’t have had a business,” said Arthur.

A few well known visitors stand out in Arthur’s mind. He recalls how many years ago, Martyn Lewis, the BBC news reader, came into his shop looking for relatives who lived in the area.

Bertie Ahern briefly called in before he became Taoiseach. During the late nineties and early 2000 the village experienced the presence of a large number of holidaymakers from all over the world as they enjoyed the amenities of a local horse drawn caravan service. Many called to the grocery store and the local shopkeeper was quick to capture their signature for his consequential visitor’s book.

Arthur still retains an old accounts ledger which dates back to 1888, and would regularly present it to people who are eager to look up the names of families and relatives as well as check the prices of merchandise in the olden days.

For a period of time up until fifty years ago the building housed a bakery where two local brothers, Bob and Joe Kelly were employed. The fresh bread was sold daily in the shop. During the Second World War people who snared rabbits, took their catch to the store where they were bought and exported to Liverpool.

The large number of well wishers who came to the village last Saturday was testament to the popularity of the local grocer and his wife. Charlie and Elaine Kerr were also present to give a rousing send off to their parents.

As he now sets sail into the calm waters of retirement, Arthur has these words of appreciation. “We want to express gratitude to all the people for their custom down through the years. From the schoolchildren, right up to the older pensioners. To each and everyone of them, we thank you.”