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Three generations, Thomas O Mara, his mother Annette and son Fionn in their shop at Flagmount. Photograph by John Kelly.

Housing and jobs key to survival of shops in East Clare

THE lack of housing and employment have emerged as key issues to safeguard the future viability of rural shops in East Clare.

O’Meara’s grocery and agri-business supplier is the only retail outlet in Flagmont village, operating out of the same premises since 1897.

It was all started by John O’Meara. His great grandson, Thomas O’Meara, has been managing the shop since 2010, with valuable assistance from his mother, Annette.

It provides a valuable service to people in East Clare from 9am to 8pm, six days a week and 9am to 1pm on Sunday.

The key to its success is it provides, in the words of Thomas, a “bit of everything”, grocery, fuel, convenience goods and a large variety of agricultural supplies.

The long hours in a rural shop mean it is very much a “vocation” for this family-run business.

Asked if there is a magic wand solution to keep rural shops alive, Thomas says there is no quick-fix solution, but he believes measures must be taken to increase employment and make it easier for locals to buy and build one-off houses.

With a relatively new community centre and crèche and national school in the village, Thomas points out people will commute to work if they have somewhere nice to live.

“The shop is safe for my generation. We are busy and we are very appreciative of our very loyal customer base.

“Will it be attractive for my son to take over, when I retire sometime in the next 30 years?” he asks rhetorically.

Fifteen years ago, there were three shops in Whitegate, until the closure of Solan’s Shop. Mary Burke runs a post office and shop and Michael Treacy has the second retail outlet.

Mr Treacy is the second generation to run a grocery and newsagent business, which has been in the village for 80 years.

He says commercial rates and insurance are his big costs and he relies mainly on the support of his loyal customers in the local community and tourists during the summer months.

There are three shops in Feakle and two in Broadford – the Country Store and Moloney’s.

Broadford community activist PJ Mason insists the local shops play a vital role in the local community, and the local shopkeeper keeps his customers informed about what is happening in the locality.

“Apart from their economic value, shops are now providing somewhere for people to sit down, have tea and refreshments and have a chat.

“A lot of rural pubs are closed during the day, so shops have taken over the role of a pub by providing an important focal point and social outlet,” he said.

There is no grocery shop in Meelick or Parteen village, with residents now forced to travel more than three miles to Barry’s in Blackwater, Ardnacrusha or Clancy’s in Griffin’s Cross. The last shop in Meelick, which was situated in Elton Court closed last year.

Donal O’Shea, whose family ran a shop in Knockalisheen for years, said it is sad to see the demise of rural shops.

“The local grocery shop is part of the social fabric of rural Ireland. People used to love to drop in buy a paper and have a chat with their local shopkeeper,” he said.

Dan Danaher

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