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Hilliard’s history recalled as Marie and Mary take a step back in time




I had an afternoon with two ladies which I can only describe as ‘a tonic’ as we took a trip down memory lane at the newly revamped Hilliards on Main Street.

STEEPED IN HISTORY: The staff at Hilliard's Department Store 1964 which hangs by the bar at the all new Hilliard's seeped in history of its original existence. Photo: Marie Carroll-O'Sullivan

It was a department store historically home to the finest handcrafted goods, renowned all over Ireland for its quality selection, and that's just exactly how Marie (Ryan) Healy and Mary (O’Driscoll) Harmon remember it.

“Ladies, what is your first impression of the all new Hilliards,” I asked.

“A big change from my memories of Hilliards Marie, but isn’t it a beautiful piece of history restored so tastefully,” Mary replied.

Marie added that she thinks Dick Hilliard, Richard's father, "would be so proud".

"If only they could see the amazing turn around,” she said.

“Wasn’t it known as the Brown Thomas of Killarney ladies - or so I’m told,” Pat Sheahan Jnr said as he busied himself prepping the bar for another day.

“That it was and more,” the women agreed, and from there on in I hardly asked a question! The stories and conversation just flowed and my shorthand was put to the test.

Marie Healy, at just 14-years-old, applied for a position at Hilliards whilst attending the Vocational School.

“My brother Kieran and father Mickey Ryan both worked for Hilliards so I said I’d see where the interview would take me. In April 1962, I began working at the haberdashery with long standing members of staff, Rita Cronin (RIP) and Ann O’Shea. I was soon upgraded to handbags and wool and years later upstairs to ladies underwear. In 1968 I left to be married. In those days Marie, one could not work after marriage. Things changed in the '80s and as Hilliards prepared for their famous August sale I was asked back to help out and there I stayed until they closed their doors in 1994 when I moved further afield to Avoca where I spent the next 18 years."

At the age of 16 Mary Harmon began working at Hilliards.

“I replaced Ann O’Shea in haberdashery, working closely with Rita Cronin. The haberdashery was located at the front door, the concierge of Hilliards so to speak. I later moved across the road to work with Jim Cronin and Ina Breen in the Waterford Crystal and silverware section. Like a magpie, I was a huge fan of all things shiny. We would make weekly deposits from our pay cheques to purchase, slowly working our way through various suites of crystal, Lismore, Tramore etc., and when we were done we’d anticipate our next suite carefully. In 1977 I was married and left Hilliards where I also left the some of the best memories of my life.”

The ladies recalled the Club Card system at Hilliards.

Mary explained that was "not a bit like today's" where customers get a certain amount of points for their shopping which results in money-off vouchers for future purchases.

Much like Mary’s deposits on her array of Waterford Crystal, customers would physically visit the accounts office weekly and pay forward for Christmas - a savings scheme which the Hilliards made no profit.

"What you put in you got out at Christmas, a very special time at Hilliards. Timmy O’Donoghue was our acting Santa and many of the staff, including myself, played elves. Ah the craic was mighty Marie. Anyone who worked at Hilliards became long serving members of staff,” Marie explained.


I asked both of them what their best memory was whilst working at Hilliards.

“Going out the door home,” Mary exclaimed with laughter. “Not at all Marie, we didn’t have a lot of money but by God we had so much fun."

“I’m going to say it was the day we conquered the Germans, what do you think Mary?” Marie asked. See what I mean, these girls kept me intrigued throughout. “Ah that was a great night” Mary replied. “We were taking part in ‘Tops of the Town’ at the Town Hall. Locals would be queueing overnight for tickets to this prestigious event. Rehearsals kept us busy through the most of Lent. We were a determined bunch. The Germans I am referring to were Liebherr Marie. Money was no object and their musical performance came complete with waterfall props. Lucky for us the event took place on St Patrick’s Day and our own performance was Irish themed. We won and we were on cloud nine with the cash prize and our celebratory gathering at the Muckross Hotel which was owned at the time by Anne Colgan.”

I wanted to take the girl's photo with the staff image in the background and had a sneaky look at the impressive cocktail menu on offer. I noticed many of the cocktails were named after the staff we had just mentioned such as ‘Ina in China’, ‘Rita in Hosiery’ and we all laughed as I noted ‘Mary’s Corset’ which immediately raised the question as to the where about of my name's sake "Marie’s Cocktail". At this point, Pat Jnr popped his head up from the bar saying “Oh sure Marie’s ‘The Silhouette’ - didn’t you say you worked in the ladies lingerie Marie?"

We all laughed and I could see that Marie was pleasantly pleased with the response.

On studying the staff image which hangs on the wall by the bar, Marie Healy could name every person. Mary Harmon excused herself saying “I was ‘as láithair’ (absent) that day”.

“Most of the staff have passed away now,” Marie said, as she pointed herself out third from the right, front row standing. “But I know one thing, they would be truly proud of the history seeped in the premises today. I know I am. It’s beautiful.”

Enter Caroline Clarke, complete with clipboard.

“I'd say you sold me my First Holy Communion dress and my first bra Marie!"

Marie laughed, later remarking on how wonderful it was that Hilliards and Reidys were back side by side where they belong.

“Ladies we’re short staffed, is there any chance ye would consider returning to Hilliards part-time?" Pat asked. Click! My job here was done, complete with the look I was going for for this pair of ‘tonics’!

Thank you Marie Healy and Mary Harmon, and also Pat for allowing us our chat for the Killarney Advertiser, outside of opening hours. The pleasure was all mine.

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American choir to perform in St Mary’s Cathedral

Music lovers are in for a rare treat on Monday night when a top US choir visits Killarney. The Colquitt Accapella choir under the direction of Mr. Jimmy L. Jarvis […]



Music lovers are in for a rare treat on Monday night when a top US choir visits Killarney.

The Colquitt Accapella choir under the direction of Mr. Jimmy L. Jarvis Jr is from the city of Moultie in the state of Georgia in the United States of America.

The choir performs multiple times a year and also produces and performs a large musical every year, with the latest production being ‘The Addams Family’ which was a sold out success.

The Colquitt Choir will be performing at St Mary’s Cathedral thanks to support form the KDYS.

More information is available from the KDYS on 066 71 21674 or

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HeartBeat’s cook off – be early!

This month HeartBeat Killarney has come up with a new slant on safe cooking. A free copy of the cook book ‘101 Square Meals – Easy recipes for everyday life’ […]




This month HeartBeat Killarney has come up with a new slant on safe cooking.

A free copy of the cook book ‘101 Square Meals – Easy recipes for everyday life’ will be available to all those who come early to the May meeting on Tuesday night.

This book from Safefood which is supported by the HSE & MABS will come to life on the night as chefs from The International Hotel Killarney have very kindly volunteered to cook some of the recipes in the book for a tasting session during the meeting.

Nutritionist Paula Duggan will be on hand to discuss the nutritional benefits of each recipe prepared for tasting. She can also advise on any tweaks required to meet individual tastes and needs.

There will be four main recipes available to taste during the course of the evening; Meat Loaf, Baked Stuffed Fish, Chicken Fingers and Spanish Tortillas. There is a fifth recipe for tasting on the night but all that Chairperson Billy O’Sullivan will say about it is “It will be available at the end of the night with a cup of tea and we hope it will send everyone home with a smile on their face.”

This is a night that the HeartBeat group has worked long and hard to make happen.

“It came together because of the amazing generosity of Tracy Coyne, Catriona White and the wonderful Kitchen Team at the International.” said Billy. In these times when the price of foods has risen dramatically it is still possible to eat healthily with the guidance from this book. There are lots of tips also on food storage, freezing food, kitchen hygiene and food allergens.

HeartBeat meetings are FREE and all are welcome to come along on Tuesday May 30th at 8pm at the Parish Centre beside The Church of the Resurrection Park Road V93 WN32.


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