Local hardware shop legend says a final goodbye to Tullamore

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The selection of pictures on display in the shop window of Cloonan's Hardware, William Street, Tullamore, in tribute to the late Paddy Cloonan

The selection of pictures on display in the shop window of Cloonan's Hardware, William Street, Tullamore, in tribute to the late Paddy Cloonan

TULLAMORE was last week mourning the passing of one of its most popular business figures and characters, Paddy Cloonan.

Paddy, founder of Cloonan's Hardware in the heart of the town on William Street, died on Tuesday, July 7 at the age of 92.

He completed the Leaving Certificate at Tullamore CBS at the age of just 16 and won a university scholarship, one of just two school leavers in Offaly to do so that year.

Interviewed by the Tullamore Tribune in 2018 he remarked: “Some people thought because I got a university scholarship I must have been very bright but I wasn't, it was because the standard of education was very poor at the time.”

In the same interview he revealed he decided to study dentistry but was not accepted by the college because of his young age. He was told to return the following year.

“I went to work in a hardware shop for the year and I never went back, I got stuck in the rut and stayed in it all my life,” he said.

He added: “When I was a young married man and then had five children, what we were expected to do, if we were lucky, was give our children a good education and good teeth and let them off.”

Paddy was predeceased a number of years ago by his wife Colette.

A keen GAA fan, he joined the St Vincent's Club in the capital when he was working in Dublin and with championships delayed by the war, he ended up playing for that club and Tullamore at the same time, legally amassing a remarkable eight county minor football and hurling titles.

A corner-back and half-back, he wore the Dublin colours in two minor All-Ireland finals, winning one in hurling but maintained he “wasn't much good”.

“I wasn't much to look at but I was tight. I was very good with a fast ball into a forward off the ground.”

He said the well known Killoughey man, Justin Graham, inflicted the injury which curtailed his career.

When the pair were engaged in “high jinks” on a pitch once, “Justin caught me by the arm and pulled my arm out of the socket”.

Looking back nearly 70 years to when he established Cloonan's Hardware, he confessed: “How I survived I'll never know, times were so primitive.”

In those “simple times”, they literally used to deliver goods in a handcart and of course, the axels of those carts had to be greased, “the same as any farmer would”.

“We used to sell cart grease and I never heard the word 'marketing' let me tell you, but I had a slogan for cart grease which the public loved: Cloonan's cart grease, you can't lick it.”

The shop sold a “bit of everything”, even beds and bedding, and he enjoys one tale in particular about the Cloonan's mattresses.

The Travellers would buy 10 or 12 mattresses at a time and “go out the country” and sell them on to farmers.

They would then do the farmer a favour by taking away the old mattress.

At around that time, tractors were replacing horses and that gradually led to a shortage of horsehair.

“They were taking the horsehair from the old mattresses to the top upholsterers and getting big money for it in Dublin. So they were ahead of the posse,” said Paddy.  “It was more than recycling, it was a smart move.”

So what gave Cloonan's the edge across seven decades? Was it being competitive on price? “No,” replied Paddy. Was it good customer service? “No," he repeated.

“I suppose we gave attention and help in every way we could,” Paddy then added, nonetheless pointing out that the shop is traditional.

“People like our shop for some reason, it's a bit old fashioned I know, but there's a feeling we'll have stuff others wouldn't have,” he said.

He told the story of a man who came to Cloonan's in Tullamore from Roscommon seeking a part for an Aladdin oil lamp. Paddy told him he would have it but it would take some time to find it. He suggested a visit to the shop two doors down.

“Go out to Galvin's and just walk around and look at that shop,” he told his customer.

“There's no shop in Roscommon or Athlone or anywhere like that menswear, go in there.”

The man returned and was presented with the part, which cost “a fiver”.

“I remember him saying it was the dearest thing he ever bought because he went into Galvin's and spent £300.”

Though his wealth of retail and business experienced is probably unmatched, Paddy was too humble to utter words of advice.

“I'm not fit to advise anybody. I'm not qualified,” he said. “I'm perfectly serious, you get old people saying A, B and C. A lot of it bullshit.”

He continued: “I suffered from a lack of ambition all my life. The fact that I was in business so long is only proof of what a fool I was. People who are in business prospered and got big in business.”

“I was never big in business, I had a small business. I never had any ability, that's a fact and I should know.”

When it was put to him that many people, worn down by depersonalised retail multiples, take the view that a small business of such longevity might in fact be a priceless asset to any community, he replied: “They like it, I suppose. I can't blame them for liking it. I'm lucky enough they did.”

Books of condolence were opened on the street outside Cloonan's Hardware on Thursday, July 9 and queues of wellwishers formed to sign them.

Indeed, those queues merely mirrored the lines of customers outside Cloonan's all day everyday during the months of Covid-19 retail lockdown when it remained open as an essential service provider.

Customers and current and former employees all paid tribute to the man and lined the route along the street as the remains proceeded up the town from the Church of the Assumption following Requiem Mass to Clonminch cemetery.

Paddy will be sadly missed by his loving children Stephen, Brona, Morna, Brian and Nicki, grandchildren Jeanne, Peter, Barry, Rory, Andrew, Sadhbh, Sibéal, Mark, Joy, Aifric and Tashi and great grandchildren April and Olive; sons-in-law Stephen, Ken and Brian and daughters-in-law Kate and Rhona; nieces, nephews, relatives and friends.