Easing Covid rules: ‘Our last day of trading was Christmas Eve, so this is like our new year’

Optimism and excitement as Ennistymon retailers open their doors after lockdown

Brendan Lynch in his fiddle shop,  Byrne’s Violin Shop, on Parliment Street, Ennistymon. Photograph:  Eamon Ward

Brendan Lynch in his fiddle shop, Byrne’s Violin Shop, on Parliment Street, Ennistymon. Photograph: Eamon Ward

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Sandra McCormack has run her boutique Off the Rails for 20 years at Blake’s Corner in Ennistymon, the market town in north Clare. On Monday, she marked the relaxation of Covid-19 rules with a delayed Christmas sale.

“We didn’t have time to have a proper sale after Christmas so we have our winter stock on a rail for €15 where there are dresses that would have been selling for €140. But there’s no point holding on to things,” she said.

“It is heartbreaking. But we are lucky to still be here. We have a wonderful loyal community,” said McCormack. “All the pre-ordered stuff was arriving all through February and March so that was stressful, with boxes everywhere.”

Despite the 15 months of restrictions, Ennistymon has managed to remain busier than most towns throughout the three lockdowns since it is a main hub for food shopping in north Clare with a Supervalu and an Aldi.

Noreen Twomey Walsh in her shop Serendipity on Main Street, Ennistymon. Photograph: Eamon Ward
Noreen Twomey Walsh in her shop Serendipity on Main Street, Ennistymon. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Passersby called out “welcome back” to Noreen Twomey Walsh, whose cottage homewares shop, Serendipity, first opened in July 2020: “This is our first time open this year and we are excited but it’s been hard. I love the interaction with the people and I missed that,” she said.

There were days when you were so down, so depressed, but ultimately you just have to try and look at the positives

She and her husband, John, relocated their shop from Ennis to Ennistymon in the middle of the first lockdown. “We decided to have an easier life, come back home and that’s where we are, loving it.

“We’ve had problems with English suppliers due to Brexit; you can’t source some things and then there’s the tariffs. We’ve looked to France, the Netherlands, Germany, [and] Denmark for linens, we have our Irish suppliers too, through there are not too many left,” she said.

The couple rent the premises and used Government supports to help pay the bills while their shop was closed.

Carol McGann and Marie O’Donoghue in Fancy That on Main Street, Ennistymon. Photograph: Eamon Ward
Carol McGann and Marie O’Donoghue in Fancy That on Main Street, Ennistymon. Photograph: Eamon Ward

A few doors up, Carol McGann is back behind the counter in her gifts and homewares shop, Fancy That. “Our last day of trading was Christmas Eve, so this is like our new year. All that stock is in storage now, unfortunately we lost out on clearing stuff out. Between Covid and Brexit there’s been a huge impact but stock was still coming in, it had to be paid for, so it’s been tough, financially and mentally.

“We got a break on our rates until June, but we still had rent and insurance and ESB. I wouldn’t like to tell you how much I’ve paid out since January and nothing coming in. There were days when you were so down, so depressed, but ultimately you just have to try and look at the positives,” she said.

In the town square, weaver Jean Moran is back at the loom in her studio and shop where she sells one-off hand-spun garments and art.

“I am renting and I’ve had all the bills to pay but in one way during lockdown you are spending less than you normally would so it balances out,” she said. She had a good summer season in 2020 with Irish tourists making a concerted effort to support local business.

“It’s like their eyes could see crafts again and they appreciate it and they genuinely want to support us,” said Moran.

The same thing happened to musician Brendan Lynch at the bottom of Parliament Street when the public came through the door of his small specialist fiddle shop, expertly restored after he bought the Georgian building six years ago. The original countertop and shelving were saved during the work, used now to display fiddles sourced at auction, as well as architectural prints. He plans to host intimate music sessions in his shop, called Byrne’s Violin Shop, to showcase his skills this summer.

“The Irish visitors come to town and they are bowled over by the shopfronts; they come in with their kids, I play them a tune and they want a bit of art to take away with them. A totally different animal than your tourist from America that comes in and loves the shop and thinks they’ve walked into a concert but they wouldn’t buy a thing,” he said.

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