Veteran Dublin street trader Tessie retires from the Hill after 60 years

Tessie Carroll leaves ‘the Tuggers’ market after 60 years selling clothes and bric-a-brac

After 60 years of trading, Tessie Carroll brings her pram of clothes and bric-a-brac to the Cumberland Street market for the last time. Video: Kathleen Harris

 

Almost every Saturday for the last 60 years Tessie Carroll has wheeled a pram full of clothes, bric-a-brac and bedding from her Hill Street home to the flea market around the corner and set up shop.

On Saturday for the last time, she followed that well worn path. The 86-year-old has now decided to step back from the street trading that has supported her family since the 1950s.

On maps, the road on which she laid out her stock is called Cumberland Street North but Tessie and her fellow street traders know it by different names.

Sometimes the street,which runs parallel to O’Connell Street, is called the Cobbles even though the stones were paved over donkeys years ago. Sometimes it’s known as the Tuggers although the tugs-of-war over desirable clothes that were once common are barely a memory.

Tessie simply calls it the Hill. “I’m bailing out,” she said as she got her stall ready. “Today I say goodbye to the Hill.”

So why now?

“There’s no money here anymore,” she said. “It’s gone very bad. They put up the price of my licence - it’s € 400 - and they want tax too. But sure I don’t earn enough for that when I’m only out a couple of hours of a Saturday.”

She broke off when she saw a potential sale. “Do you want anything there blossom?” she asked a man rummaging through clothes piled up on the footpath at her feet.

He looked at her with confusion in his eyes.

“Ah I’m only calling you blossom because you’re in full bloom,” she laughed. His confusion deepened.

‘Awful quiet’

“This place used always be buzzing with people from Sean MacDermott Street but they’ve been moved on and it’s awful quiet,” she said. “We see every nationality now but they want stuff for very cheap. They want things for 50 cent. I’m not getting out of bed at four in the morning to sell something for 50 cent.”

As she talked a man approached holding a pair of jeans.

“How much?” he asked.

“Three euro love,” she said.

“Two,” he responsed.

“Ah go way outta that. Go home and bother your mother,” she said, turning away.

He sheepishly handed over €3.

“My brother sold on the Hill and I’d see him coming back with a few bob so when I was 26 and with two young babies I gave it a go. I’d never sold anything in my life but my son was only three weeks old and I’d to take care of the children,” she recalled.

“My husband was working with the CIE and only earning a few bob and it wouldn’t feed us and dress us, so I’d to pull down the cart with all my stuff and go back and bring down the babies.”

Jumble sales

She used to get things to sell at jumble sales and auctions off Capel Street “and in Protestant halls all over Dublin”.

“The protestants were always great,” she recalled. “There’d be about 50 of us at the auctions bidding against one another. You couldn’t even lift your finger to scratch your head or they’d be looking for your money.”

As she sold another pair of jeans - a pair of snot-green Levi’s for €3 - she posed “just like James Joyce with his stick” and continued her stroll down memory lane.

“I was born on Summerhill and when I was five my family moved us to Whitehall. We’d to walk to school on Rutland Street every morning and walk home. We’d no time to play we were spending so much time walking.”

That only lasted three years and when she was eight she moved back to the north inner city.

“We came back to Temple Street,” she said. “My father was a dairy man but couldn’t get any work in Whitehall because it was out in the country.

First they moved into a top story flat in a rundown building where her mother used to make them all take off their shoes even in the dead of winter so they wouldn’t disturb the people living underneath them.

“But then we got a basement in a tenement,” she recalled. “And that was grand. We moved again to Sean MacDermott Street to a top storey flat which was hard on my father because his breathing was very bad with all the smoking. He’d always have to take a rest at the top of the stairs after the climb.”

Umbrella factory

At 16 she got a job in the Grant Barnett umbrella factory “just across the road from Arnotts”.

“I worked then as a checker. But then I was married at 22 out of Sean McDermott Street and we moved to Foley Street where I had two children.”

Then 60 years ago, the couple and their growing family were offered a newly built council flat on Hill Street.

“My poor husband , he’s dead nine years, but he lived on the Hill, drank in Hill 16 and now he’s buried up on a hill in Glasnevin. This is his gabardine work coat,” she said with pride in her voice.

The babies she brought down in the pram are all grown up and take care of their mammy on market days. She wanted her departure from the Hill to be as quiet as her arrival.

“I wanted to blow out as quietly as I blew in,” she told them. They were having none of it and arranged for a proper goodbye from her fellow traders who lined up to hug her and wish her well.

“I don’t know what I am going to do with myself now,” she said. “I’ll probably still get up early. Sure what else would I do?” She laughs again and then starts singing. “Those were the days my friend, I thought they’d never end . . . But they effin did.”