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

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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.

BEST MEMORIES

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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Last chance to enter Spa GAA’s fundraising draw

By Sean Moriarty There is just less than one week left to enter Spa GAA’s fundraising raffle. The ‘Cairde Spa’ draw takes place on Thursday night (February 2) the Spa’s […]

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By Sean Moriarty

There is just less than one week left to enter Spa GAA’s fundraising raffle.

The ‘Cairde Spa’ draw takes place on Thursday night (February 2) the Spa’s clubhouse at 7pm.

Funds raised will go towards the upgrade and development works planned over the next few years.

Guest of honour on the night is national GAA president Larry McCarthy and the Sam Maguire Cup will make an appearance too.

“Apart from ongoing and essential maintenance work, the club has a number of development projects in the pipeline. The money is being raised towards improving our grounds to provide top class facilities that can be used year-round, including car parking, perimeter fencing for pitches, ladies and juveniles dressing rooms, outdoor skills wall, player dug outs for senior and juvenile pitches, safety enhancements and lighting on the walking track, landscaping, scoreboard, viewing gallery to the sports hall, alignment of entrance to the grounds and a remembrance garden,” said Michael Cronin, Club Chairman.

“We are calling on everyone to get behind the fundraiser. Our vision is to provide top class grounds and facilities where everyone is welcome to use and participate fully in our activities, games and culture. In order to achieve this vision, we are setting out exciting new developments and investments in our facilities – and we need your support.”

There are 10 prizes up for grabs: 1st Prize: €15,000, 2nd Prize: €3,000, 3rd Prize: €2,000, 4th Prize: €1,000, 5th Prize: Two nights dinner and B&B at the Killarney Park Hotel, 6th Prize: €500 Voucher for Killarney Carpets & Furniture, 7th Prize: €300 Voucher for O’Sullivan’s Cycles, 8th Prize: €250 Voucher for Killarney Oils, 9th Prize: €150 Voucher for Killarney Hardware and 10th Prize: A signed Kerry jersey.

Tickets are €100 each and can be collected/returned at the clubhouse this Saturday (10.30am-12noon), Monday (7-8pm) or Wednesday (7-8pm), and tickets are also available online on spagaa.com.

Any queries contact Andy (087 2236754), Michael (085 8213027), Assumpta (087 6779292) or Deirdre (085 1216359) or any Club Officers.

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Marian Players excited to get back on stage

By Michelle Crean With a cast of over 50 it’s no small undertaking – but that won’t deter one panto group who are only too happy to get back on […]

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By Michelle Crean

With a cast of over 50 it’s no small undertaking – but that won’t deter one panto group who are only too happy to get back on stage this weekend.

It’s been two years since they staged a show due to COVID but the Marian Players Rathmore are rearing to go tomorrow night (Saturday) with their hilarious show ‘Dame Annie Goes West’.

A medley of comedy and colour, combined with music and dance, locals from both sides of the border have been working together to make it a great production.

“We’re very excited, we can’t wait! It’s great to be back,” Mary Hickey told the Killarney Advertiser.

“They [the cast] got together in October and they’re at it since.”

Val Moynihan is the “genius behind it”, she added, and it’s produced by her son Brian Hickey, and co-written with Eilish Coakley.

She said that they have loads working in the background also doing the stage curtains, lighting and making costumes amongst other tasks.

“It’s a pantomime without the pantomime in the background! It’s a whole community effort both sides of the border.”

Evening shows start at 7.30pm tomorrow (Saturday) and again Sunday (January 29) at 3pm.

Mid-week shows continue on Wednesday next (February 1) at 7.30pm, Thursday (February 2) at 7.30pm and also Saturday (February 4) at 7.30pm and Sunday (February 5) at 3pm.

The booking office (085 2031730) will be open every day from 2pm to 6pm to reserve seats and collect tickets and is located adjacent to the community centre, next to Christy’s Take Away.

Seats may be reserved over the phone too and paid for using a bank card. All proceeds are going to Kerry Parents & Friends Association.

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