Tell us a little about M Cahill’s.
We have been welcoming the people of Limerick for 150 years. It was opened in 1870 as a snuff and tobacco factory here in Wickham Street. All through the years, through the vagaries of business, Cahills is still snuff, cigars and tobacco, and we also sell tea and chocolates. We sell all kinds of wonderful teas, which is part of our new collection. All businesses, while holding onto their old reliables, need a few new directions. What we have to develop now is our men’s gifts range – things to do with shaving, leather-wear, aftershave and shaving soap. Over the last 10 years, tea has taken on a great popularity and I’m very proud to say Cahill’s has one of the best selections of tea not only in Ireland, but this side of the world. We sell green teas, black teas, a fruit mixture tea, wellness teas, and a wonderful selection of Rooibos tea from South Africa. I must say people of all ages, old and young are really embracing it, and coming back.
What about coffee?
Well that’s our newest incarnation! Re-opening this week after the lockdown, I will have our coffee machine back on the floor again. We had it 20 years ago, and we used to sell Cuban coffee. But then the vagaries of the law came along and we were not allowed keep our coffee or anything else while we still sold cigarettes. So three years ago, I stopped selling cigarettes which has allowed me to bring back all these new items. While we don’t sell cigarettes, we are allowed to sell tobacco, snuff and cigars. But not cigarettes. It’s a very peculiar law!
You’re the oldest shop in the city, I understand…
To the best of our knowledge, yes. There are pubs older than us. There is one furniture business older than Cahill’s, but they have gone out of the city. I would like to thank the people of Limerick for all their loyal custom over the years to the shop. I’d like to thank them for their good wishes!
What are you doing to mark your 150th anniversary?
Covid-19 has scotched a lot of my plans. In March, I was ready to rock and roll. I’ve turned two of my rooms upstairs into a tea salon. We were ready to launch these, a place for people to taste tea. Hopefully in 2021, I will be able to revisit this. It will enable us to do special little events. I have a plan to have a street party to mark our 150 years. But all this is Covid-19 dependent. But from December 8, for the next 12 months, we will be having a series of events!
Where were you born and raised?
I am a country girl, and proud of it. I come from Mungret. Over the years, it’s become very suburban, but when I was a child, you’d have no idea of how country it was. Now I live in Ringmoylan, near Pallaskenry, where we have had terrific swimming all summer!
What is your educational background?
When I was 12, I was packed off to school at Mount Trenchard, a girl’s boarding school. I loved my time there, it was a Mercy convent. We had great young lives for the times that were in it. In 1976, I completed my Leaving Certificate and went to Trinity College to study to become a social worker.
How did you get to where you are today?
I had finished at Trinity College in 1980, and after spending the summer in America, found out that my father Jim had unexpectedly died, leaving this shop to my mother. My brother had just started to develop his own business, my sister was still in school. So it fell to me, as I had a bit of time, to either make the shop stand up again or sell it. In 1980, there was a terrible shortage of jobs. I had always enjoyed the shop, I was making a good living, it was a great business. When I looked around at fellow graduates, many had to go to Britain and the USA as there were no jobs here. So year passed onto year and I stayed shopkeeping with absolutely no regrets because I loved it. I am working here for 40 years now!
What does your own role entail?
I own Cahill’s, and manage it to an extent. To a great deal I enjoy it. I’m greatly assisted in my role by Jane and Fintan. They’re good staff. All the staff without exception I’ve worked with were all happier for being here. Over 100 people have worked here down through the years.
In business and life, who do you admire?
Feargal Quinn of Superquinn. He was one of the first people to voice the necessity of the role of the retailer. In an Irish context, he was what a retailer should be. I’ve always admired his writings. He was very customer-focused. He built his business and gave all Irish retailers a headline – someone to refer to, to copy. Knowing your customer, serving your customer: that’s what retail is all about.
Are you guided by any particular motto?
It’s to do your best. No matter what the circumstances are. If you can feel in yourself that you are doing your best, things should fall into place.
Away from work, what are your pastimes and hobbies?
My whole switch-off period is spent in my garden. I’m a gardener, I have been all my life. I have two dogs I don’t walk often enough! But they garden with me. But it’s what I love to do. I tell people I live in paradise, because I do.