‘Like a death in the family’: Liberties grocer shuts his doors

Jack Roche (73) reflects on changing neighbourhood and his plan to read Joyce

For more than 100 years, Jack Roche's family have run a fruit and veg shop on Meath Street in the Liberties in Dublin. Now they join a litany of independent retailers to recently close their doors.

 

Jack Roche’s father and grandmother before him sold vegetables from various premises along Meath Street in the Liberties, but that tradition will end when Roche’s eponymous shop closes on Saturday.

In a community-centred area, the store has become an institution, with patrons stopping in to have a chat with the owner as much as to browse the produce.

“I’ll miss all the customers and friends I’ve made over the years. I’d count them as friends rather than customers,” says Roche.

On breaking the news of the shop’s closure, “there was tears, people crying; some of the older folk. I’m sure there was a few cheers as well!”

At 73, Roche sees it as the right time to step away from the business, and he is the latest in a litany of independent retailers to recently close their doors.

Roche has embedded himself into the fabric of the community over his seven decades in the Liberties. Born in the old Coombe hospital nearby, he chaired a local drug rehabilitation organisation until recently and is still involved in the area’s policing forum.

Saturday morning

Dropping by to get her “tomatoes and other bits” after Saturday morning Mass in St Catherine’s parish, Brigid Stewart (88) says she is at a loss as to where she will do her grocery shopping from now on.

A “Liberties woman” from birth, she still makes her way to Meath Street from her home in Drimnagh every Saturday and is able to recall encounters with Roche’s mother.

“His mother was a lovely lady, I used to see him coming in from school into her,” she says.

Roche has seen remarkable change in the neighbourhood since his youth.

“The people had little to share, but what they had they shared. If somebody wanted something and they had no money, they could take their cabbage and potatoes and fix up the next time, that was commonplace then,” he says, before ruminating on the future.

“To some degree it has changed. The whole community is changing, but there’s change everywhere.”

Jack Roche: “I’ll miss all the customers and friends I’ve made over the years. I’d count them as friends.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Jack Roche: “I’ll miss all the customers and friends I’ve made over the years. I’d count them as friends.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Roche also played an understated role in the development of budding journalists, and was always happy to distribute copies of the Liberty student newspaper from DIT Aungier Street along with providing a regular supply of tips on local goings-on to its editorial team.

Personal touch

As Josie Russell sees it, the personal touch Roche provided will be irreplaceable.

“It’s the end of the era, it’s like a death in the street,” says Russell, who runs a stall at the Liberty Market across the road.

“If you’re buying a turnip and it’s big he’ll cut it up for you. He’s just very obliging, he’ll say to you what’s nice, what’s floury in the potatoes. In the supermarkets you can’t get anyone to help you; this is more personal.”

From next Saturday, all will change yet much will stay the same for Roche, who says he will still be out of bed at 5.30am every day.

The extra free time will afford him the opportunity to complete one lifelong ambition: “In the few years I have I’ll try to read Finnegans Wake backwards, that’s one of my objectives,” says the man who was once acquainted with a nephew of James Joyce.

While it is the end of the road for his family in terms of greengrocing, Roche hopes that the store may get a new lease of life with another local trader who is considering taking it over.