Old Galway

F.W.Woolworth and Co

20th April, 2006

F.W.Woolworth and Co. opened their shop on Eyre Square in 1953, on the site of what had once been The Royal Hotel. About 500girls answered their advertisement for staff. The queue of applicants was 100 yards long, many of them having to wait all day to be interviewed. Officials of the firm were taken aback by the huge response. They initially employed about 50 people.

It was a very big shop, L-shaped getting wider towards the back. It was open plan, with the counters arranged in a series of squares. These were higher than traditional counters, and covered in tiered displays of various goods�and variety was what this shop had. Down towards the back (where there was an exit that brought you out near the Savoy) they sold drapery and kitchenware and household goods. They had a hardware section with unusual (for that time) plastic wallets of screwdrivers etc.; there was a garden section along the left wall with all kinds of bulbs and packets of seeds; You could buy stationery and cigarette lighters and, importantly, they had the first photographic booth in town. You know the kind where you paid a half dollar for 4 passport sized photographs, and you could make an eejit of yourself in the process behind the curtain because nobody was looking. This booth was around the corner on the right. Years later, they had another one on the platform in the station.

"Woolies", as it quickly became known, had a special kind of atmosphere that made it different to any other shop in town. The first thing you noticed on entering was the delicious smell of all those sweets that were in open compartments on the counter piles of marshmallows or liquorice allsorts or creamy toffees, not in jars, not in tins, not in boxes but laid out in the open for all to see and to smell. For children it was cruel, almost like forbidden fruit, very tempting and maybe an odd young Galwegian might have succumbed to that temptation.

As if that was not enough, there was this machine near the right hand door that produced the most beautiful ice cream cornets, with twirls on top, and of course the apparatus that kept the salted peanuts warm more seductive smells.

A little further in were the displays of dinky cars and trucks, and the toy soldiers and cowboys and Indians and forts and castles and things. Equally fascinating was the system for taking cash�.it was placed in a metal cylinder which was shot through a series of tubes to a central office, and moments later came back with your change and receipt. Is it any wonder that "Woolies" became a place for young teenagers to hang out in after school, and is remembered with affection and nostalgia today.

Our picture today shows the staff in 1959. They are front row, left to right; Dolly O'Boyle ; Nora Coyne ; Mary Rose Byres ; Maura Barnett ; Mary Kelly ; Una Flaherty ; Jack Healy , manager ; Anne Wynne ; Jerry McSweeney ; Mary Canny ; Chrissie Noone ; Bridget Lawless ; Maureen Nolan ; Una Costelloe and Jessie Donnelly.

2nd row. Annie Newell ; Marion Lawless ; Nora Wynne ; Mary O'Connor ; Bridie O'Flaherty ; Mary Myles ; Mary Walsh ; Kathleen Forde ; Theresa Colleran ; ------------------ ; Bernadette Monaghan.

Back row. Peter Carr ; Bridget Collins ; Mary King ; Mary Kate Griffin ; Mary O'Connor ; Annette Clancy ; Eleanor Creaven ; May Redington ; Anne Cunningham ; Josephine Cooley ; Theresa Rabbitt ; Mary Smith ; Rita Cooley and Michael Kelly.

Our thanks to Bridie Colleran for all the help with this image.

Please forward any queries/comments to oldgalway@kennys.ie