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Johnny Murphy Shoe Repairs calls time on his business in Cronin's Yard Market Place, Ennis this week Photograph by Natasha Barton

Johnny to call time on Ennis institution this Saturday

“This is no ordinary shop,” says Johnny Murphy as he prepares to close the doors of his family shoe repair shop in Ennis for the final time this Saturday.
More than six decades after the business was first started by his father John Murphy Senior, Johnny has announced the closure of Ennis institution ‘Johnny Murphy Shoe Repairs’ in Cronin’s Yard/Taylor’s Lane.
Since news of the decision to close was revealed, Johnny has been inundated with good wishes and messages of support from valued customers and friends.
In fact, when The Clare Champion caught up with Johnny this week to reminisce on his time in the trade he had to pause a number of times to answer calls from people wishing him well.
He tells us he has been touched by the outpouring of support and goodwill admitting that this has been an emotional week. “You would be made a stone if it wasn’t,” he smiles.
Sitting in his shop surrounded by shoes of all shapes and sizes, handbags, hurling helmets and beloved family photographs he says, “I’ll miss it, I’m kind of institutionalised into working a long day. I will miss having the chats with people, they’ll tell you their life story. And I’ll miss being up town, I’m very much a Townie and I’m very comfortable in my shop up town so it will be a change”.
Johnny’s father John Sr, a native of Loughrea, first came to Ennis in 1951 when he began working in James ‘The Yank’ Kellys. Living in temporary digs it was while looking for more permanent accommodation that he came to Mrs Doyle on the Clon Road, and his life changed forever.
It was there he met the love of his life, Mrs Doyle’s eldest daughter Breda. They later married and went on to have three children, Gerard, Johnny and Mary. In 1956, a year before the wedding, he opened his own business on O’Connell Street at the Ennis Foresters Club.
Johnny recalls, “On the day they went to open, rather than going to an empty shop two fellas were sent down to collect shoes and put them on the floor so there would be a line of work. One of them was my uncle Brendan Doyle, and the other was Tony Mulvey.”
Johnny first began working with his father in the shop during summer holidays in the late ‘70s as a youngster. “I started when I was 12 or 13, I would go and serve mass at the Friary then go up and help out. From the minute you walked in, you were handed something to do. I’d work summers, then when I had my Leaving Certificate done, and it was my 17th birthday that week, I went straight in. 43 years later and here we are.” He has memories of Dan Brohan from Spancillhill and Tommy Browne from Lisscasey working alongside his father.
In 2002 the shop moved to Cronin’s Yard, and Johnny has many fond recollections of his years there. Asked what had kept the business going for so many years, he answers, “Hard work. A hell of a lot. To be willing to stand behind your own counter six days a week and sometimes to take a lower wage than other people would. It’s family. It’s tradition. The love for it.”
As well as shoes, Johnny’s skilful hands have repaired many other items in the shop, from handbags and hurling helmets to sacred heart pictures and rosary beads.
He fixed Seanie McMahon’s helmet in ‘95 for the All Ireland semi final and kitted out Anthony Daly’s boots in the same year for the Munster final.
And players from Éire Óg could often be seen bringing their ‘lucky’ helmets in to be repaired ahead of a match.
He explains, “The clip they use in hurling helmets are only available through the shoe trade, there is a term for the supply of components and materials in the trade which is grindery. All the young fellas had their father’s heart broken going to hardware shops but they couldn’t get them anywhere only. It developed when one fella in the dressing room said, ‘I got my helmet fixed’ and it grew from there.”
He laughs, “I used to tease them when they came in from other clubs saying, I only do Éire Óg and I would be winking at them. I’ve done a good few helmets for Éire Óg’s club and intercounty players, they usually have their lucky helmets for the matches and they want to make sure they can still use them.”
Asked about the holy pictures and rosary beads he smiles, “People bring them in because they think I can fix anything. I’d give it a go, and they’ll say a prayer for you afterwards.”
The arrival of evening mass on a Saturday, and the opening of Dunnes Stores in the heart of Ennis town had a massively positive effect on business.
“Guys used to drop in shoes at half four on a Saturday and say any chance of a pair of heels before closing time. They would go shopping, collect the shoes and then go to mass. All in a two or three hour period. We had all the big draws to town at that stage, there was no supermarkets on the periphery. Anything you needed was in town and Saturday was a boom day.
“Saturday years ago was literally trade from the country. I remember my father asking a fella from town where was he all week arriving on a Saturday when nine times out of 10 it was a country person you were dealing with.”
The Celtic Tiger, and it’s aftermath, were other memorable periods for Johnny and the business, though for very different reasons.
“We were going from being busy to people nearly having too much and being a bit wasteful buying on a whim. I remember the two colours that were being purchased during the Celtic Tiger were red and burgundy. They had plenty of money on the card. But these were whimsical buys and they put them into the press at home. Then the economy changed and the money tightened. They opened the door to the press and they brought in the shoes to have them died black or brown. You just see changes as years go by with people’s attitudes to money or the way the economy is at the time. Since 2008 / 2009 things have kind of trundled along because the economy has been very mixed.”
Covid saw Johnny close up the shop for a time, and he is grateful that supports were in place for businesses. He tells us the pandemic “wiped out the ladies’ high heel” due to shortages of materials, less formal occasions and more and more working from home. “High heels went out the window and events were few enough. All of a sudden instead we were fixing runners, walking boots and backpacks.”
The decision to close up the shop was made due to the culmination of a number of factors, he tells us. “The lease is up on the building and the trade is changing and evolving. We worked on leather predominantly back in the ‘70s and in the early 80s. But as you moved into the ‘90s products changed, materials changed and they were harder to work on with less money out of it. Leather was easy to work on, it will do what you want it to do, plastic just wouldn’t. I use the analogy, it’s like walking around with a Beatles album under your arm thinking that it is number one today. It is not. Here we are, time has moved on. It’s 2023.”
He continues, “It’s not as busy as it used to be in its heyday. Others in this business are doing keys and other things. You would nearly want several irons in the fire because sometimes it can go quiet.
“We were so busy at one time that my father wouldn’t allow handbags, he even had a sign up. And at one stage in Ennis we didn’t have to do zips. There was a shop Tylers, and all the zips went to Dublin to be done on the famous freight train. Those were different times.”
He has been overwhelmed with the reaction to the announcement the shop is closing. “This is no ordinary shop. There is a feel about it and a lot of people get that, as I have seen through the outpouring of messages and calls I have got. I was surprised at the reaction, but we have always had a high expectancy of ourselves here. Not looking for reward, but one thing matches the other and it’s great that what we have been doing has been worth all the effort.”
Looking ahead to his retirement, Johnny is looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren, his lively dog, playing a round of golf, getting into the garden and travelling to support Leeds United.
On behalf of his family he thanked the people of Clare and beyond for their constant custom since 1956, concluding, “We will miss the chats and characters met along the way. So onto the next chapter.”

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