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Michael Larkin who has closed his newsagents shop at Miltown Malbay. Photograph by John Kelly

End of an era for Larkin’s of Miltown Malbay

THE doors of Larkin’s newsagents in Miltown Malbay closed its doors for the last time at the weekend, marking the end of an era. After 22 years serving the local community Michael Larkin describes the final days at the store as “very emotional” as customers dropped in to wish him well.
The Kilkee native and his late wife Anne took over the shop from the Hurley family back in 1999, a few years after the couple had returned to Clare after living in New York.
“We came back from the States in 1995 and we had a bar for four years, The Lark’s Nest. We decided we had enough, I was in the bar game in New York and if I was going to make money from it I would have there. We took over from the Hurleys in 1999, we bought the shop because it was a little goldmine. There were no supermarkets around at that time and Hurley’s was THE place in town, everyone went there for their newsagency.”
While the shop is called Larkin’s, the Hurley name still looms large locally, with Michael telling us it took some time even for him to get used to the change. “We’re here 22 years and people still call it Hurley’s, for me it will always be Hurley’s. They were all born and reared upstairs, there’s real history here, and it took us a long time to put the name Larkin’s over the door.”
One of the biggest shocks for Michael in the early day, he reveals, was the popularity of The Clare Champion. “I remember when we started there used to be a queue at two o’clock when the ‘Champions would arrive, the queue was going around the corner. I couldn’t believe it, I had been living in New York so didn’t understand it, I said, what is so important about this ‘Champion. It was like the bible, everyone was reading it.”
He has many happy memories of his years in the shop with Anne, saying the business was more than just a place to buy from. “The shop was the place to come for a chat. It was rare people would come in and just go out. There was never an argument in here and we had some great banter, especially with the Americans during the summer time.”
He recalls the excitement locally when winning lotto tickets were sold in the shop. “There was four million won in Hurley’s time, and three million in our time. Then we had three people go up to Spin the Wheel and they did well too. That brought big interest, having three local people go up and you’re allowed bring 25 people up with you. Everyone was glued to the television, it created a great atmosphere.”
Reminiscing further, he tells us, “I remember every Friday there would be country women coming from the rural areas for their pension. You had the pharmacy across the road, you had the butcher across the road, you had the news agency here, and you had the fruit and veg shop next door. That was the supermarket back then. Everybody went into the pharmacy, if you saw 20 people in there, you would see the same 20 people in the butcher shop, then over here for their Clare Champion, the Ireland’s Own, the RTÉ guide, and maybe two packs of fags for himself at home. That was part of their Friday. Everybody came up and down the street, and they would all have their bags.”
However times have changed, and along with that people’s shopping habits.
“They were very loyal those people to the shops back then. They were all in their 60s that time, and now would be in the 80s and 90s, and most have passed on. We have lost all that and the young generation haven’t that loyalty. They will go anywhere they want to go to, they will go to the big supermarkets, the Aldis or the Tescos. You can see all over the country, small shops closing. It’s the way it is, but it’s desperate sad to see.”
Michael tells us that the decision to close Larkin’s was made as he has an underlying health condition, adding that since Anne’s death “the good was gone out of it”.
“I’m a year off seventy and I’m just not able to put the hours in any more. When Ann passed I took over her shift, so I’ve been here seven days a week every day for the last three years. The last two days have been very emotional here, people calling in saying they are sorry to see it close down. I really would have loved to have kept it open, but I had no choice because of my medical conditions. We kept it going as long as we could. I’ve been here every morning at 5.40am for the papers until 8 o’clock, a 14 hour day seven days a week.”
Speaking to us the morning after his last day in the shop, Michael admits it will take him some time to get used to not being at work. After addressing his medical issues, he says “who knows” what the future holds for him, though I suspect he won’t be resting on his laurels.
“I’ve never had a day off in three years. I don’t even know what it’s like to have a week off at Christmas. I was in the catering game all my life since 1970, I was in Dublin, Ennis, New York and Miltown and when you’re dealing in catering you don’t have time off like that. I’m looking forward to Christmas, to really know what it’s like to have Christmas off.
“Then again, I’m not looking forward to being off. I’m going around all day tidying up and not meeting anybody. I would usually have been here this morning at 5.40am, and I’d have lads coming in in the morning and we’d discuss hurling or football or whatever sport was on during the weekend. It was that kind of a shop. We’d have all the doggy men in here on a Thursday for the Sporting Press and we’d have these conversations. That’s the kind of a shop it was and I’ll miss that, and the people will miss it.”

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