The changing face of Shop Street

Nothing remains static in this dynamic world. In nature, we see growth, development and decay. Our very life would be an impossibility without this all-pervading law of change or motion. Nothing remains constant no matter how good it has been. To be wedded to the past and to shut eyes to the future is a form of mental slavery. Nostalgia is all very well, but we must always be unafraid of change.

Do you remember a time when all of the shops on the street had a family name over the door, a time when those who lived and worked on the street knew all of their neighbors?

Let’s take Shop Street as an example, a short thoroughfare occupied by businesses like Griffin’s Bakery, Donnellan’s Hardware, O’Gorman’s bookshop, Divilly’s butchers, Brennan’s drapery, Naughton’s hardware, Lydon’s bakery and restaurant, Herterich’s pork butchers, Tyler’s shoe shop, Lipton’s grocery . Most of these names have been replaced by brand names.

All one heard on the street in those days was Irish or English being spoken, today one hears a multiplicity of languages.

The old order has changed and is about to change some more with the announcement that McCambridges is about to change ownership. George McCambridge was a native of County Antrim who disarmed a dangerous Black & Tan in a pub and threw him out. He was subsequently threatened by the Tans and forced to move so he came to Galway exactly 100 years ago and got a job as manager of Powell’s, which was then a grocery store. Within a few years, he teamed up with Francis Brennan and they jointly set up a ‘High-class grocery, provision, wine and spirit establishment’ in a premises at 38, Shop Street. McCambridge, Brennan & Company opened their doors on July 3rd, 1925. In the early 1930s George bought out Francis and changed the name of the business to McCambridge Ltd.

George was certainly not afraid of change. This was an era when butter came in barrels, tea came in chests, sugar came in sacks, beer came in barrels. Very little came prepacked, everything had to be weighed, wrapped or bottled on site. George’s son Pat joined the firm in 1950. They had a long public bar running along one wall. In 1952, they decided to close this section, but continued to deal in spirits and wine. They developed a thriving wholesale business and gradually expanded the retail shop, opening one of the first off-licences in Galway.

They always had a loyal staff… names like Bridie Curran, Johnny Furey, May Langan, Dolores Burke, John Scarry, Sheila Flaherty and Nicky Daly became very recognizable to the regulars who patronized the shop. Pat’s son Eoin joined the company and computerized the business, his sisters Natalie and Norma put their own stamp on things opening a coffee shop and developing gift hampers.

Now, after almost a century in business, McCambridges will change hands. It cannot have been an easy decision for the family to make and Galway will certainly miss them. We wish them every success in the future. Ní behid a likke ann aris!

Tom Kenny

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