By Declan Foley
I have known Eugene Gillespie since childhood and some of my memories of him are seeing him on his way to and from Summerhill College and in his Knights of Malta uniform at football matches and other public events. Up to the 1980s Old Market Street was like innumerable Sligo streets full of children playing and adults passing up and down and conversing.
Gillespie & Conlan Pork and Bacon shop was a timeless business opposite the busy D. M Hanley’s and as a child my mother would send me to buy the black and white pudding and rashers for Saturday tea, as my elder siblings had done. Across the road was MacSharry’s little shop with its unique smell of soaps and soap powders. Down the street towards the Garda barracks was McLynn’s pub and grocery and across the road Mrs.Leyden’s sweet shop and Mr.Stone’s grocery shop, and the Rock family lived on the corner. Old Market Street was and is the home of many families of Sligo lineage.
Lives Were Intertwined
I remember as a child in the back yard of my uncle and aunt, Larry and Annie Gallagher in High Street hearing the pigs squealing as Eugene’s father slaughtered them once a week.
The garden of 18 High Street backed onto the Gillespie property. By a strange coincidence 18 High Street had been the residence of my great-grandfather Lawrence Gallagher a cattle dealer, and his first residence in Sligo was the house Eugene lived in. Yet another coincidence was my great-great-grandparents were near neighbours of the Gillespie’s in Calry. As with many people in Sligo our lives were intertwined.
Eugene boarded in the Agricultural College in Ballyhaise County Cavan, and was only there six months when his father died suddenly and he had leave to assist with the family business.
Times were vastly different in those days and Eugene also worked part time for small Sligo companies as a driver salesman. He loved cars and driving and was very knowledgeable on the history of many makes, particularly Jaguar, which he, like many enthusiasts, prized for their engineering.
Some summers in the 1960s he drove a Ford Thames van for Kennedy’s of Aclare County Sligo a local ice cream maker and often filled in when Patsy Keaveney owner of a small confectionery wholesale business was on holiday or sick. I used to work for Patsy after school and during school holidays. Once when Patsy was off with a bad flu I showed Eugene the customer's shops around the county. Neighbours Never Passed By
We were in Ballaghaderren, Co Roscommon one Tuesday circa
1963, and his friend John Jordan was with us. There were three vehicles parked on the Main Street. Our van, a Morris Minor fifty yards ahead of us and a Ford Prefect 50 yards up from that. A young woman emerged from the house outside which the Morris Minor was parked, got into the car, which she started. To our horror she reversed with the car hopping because she had let the clutch out rapidly just stopping short of the van and then hopped out onto the road! The van shook with our laughter.
The arrival of the supermarket changed the face of Sligo town and small shops such as Gillespie & Conlon’s suffered.
But, a drop in business never deterred Eugene or his mother Katie, nor did it discourage their faith. Indeed Eugene had a plan to make the shop a mini-supermarket; alas it was hard to compete with the larger companies. But, the old neighbours never passed by.
Eugene worked for my father Gerry driving the car at funerals and weddings. He was dependable and had great humanity. The first ever funeral I directed on my own was with the assistance of Eugene. In the late summer of 1966 he asked me to help him on the family farm in Calry in bringing in the hay.
He had a Grey Ferguson 20 which ran on TVO paraffin. We had just started cutting the hay with what had originally being a horse drawn mower when the tractor decided to act up. So we worked at it until after midnight in the yard in Old Market Street. Night Operator
Eventually the hay was cut in the field known as “The Lawn” on Hazelwood Avenue with the able assistance of “The Calry Blackbird” Tom McLaughlin. Thursday was dole day and Tom could be heard singing the whole way home from The Calry Bar on the Mall to his way home to his wife Etta in the Goldwrappers’ beside Eugene’s grandmother.
Eugene then secured a part time position as a night operator at the Sligo Telephone Exchange, becoming permanent full time where he remained until retiring age.
His love of old cars and machinery brought him into contact with countless people throughout Ireland. Many great times he and I had attending rallies before I left for Australia in 1987,
Whenever I would call in the evening for my paper, Eugene would always say ‘There’s fresh tay made.”
Having A Laugh
And the kitchen was like old Irish houses always open to all comers. I recall an elderly nun being there one time I was home from Australia, and she telling us how she wanted to be a nun from her early childhood. She told us she made the disastrous error of telling the Mother Superior upon entering the convent “I want to be a nursing nun”. The Mother Superior answered sternly, “You will do as you are told, and you will be a teacher”. Very sadly she told us: “I subjected young girls to a horrible time with my frustration at being forced to be a teacher rather than a nurse, and I regret it to this day.” Only in Gillespie’s kitchen did this poor woman feel able to confess her troubles.
Eugene has been taken from us in a way no man should, we must console ourselves that he will always be with us in spirit until we meet again. Meantime he is having a laugh and great chats with William Lyons of Jaguar fame, Edsel Ford and Harry Ferguson as he discusses their minor engineering errors as Katie puts on the kettle yet again. And the Old Market Street neighbours Mousey Curran, Pope Joe, Terry Elyden, Pa Rooney, Eddie Gallagher and the Gannons and Jim Kivlehan and countless others are vying with Frank Carter to get a word in edgeways.
When John Butler Yeats died in New York in 1922 a younger artist friend John Sloan wrote to the Yeats family in Ireland: “A few score men such as your father in the world at any one time would cure its sickness—but our civilization produces other flowers—unsavoury blooms rank and poisonous—John Butler Yeats was one of the rare exceptions”
And so was Eugene Gillespie of Mac Giolla Easpuig agus Ố Conluain Old Market Street, Sligo.Ar dheis go raibh siad