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Florists shut up shop but the Big Fella will still get his blooms

FOR the past 12 years, sisters Mary and Terry Hewitt have arranged monthly floral bouquets for the grave of Michael Collins in Glasnevin Cemetery.

And it is the only order they will continue to fulfil after they close the doors for good today on their Rosary Florists at Prospect Avenue in Glasnevin, which opened 43 years ago.

The monthly bouquet comes from a French admirer of the assassinated IRA leader.

Not many Dublin businesses can claim to have clients such as US President John F Kennedy; movie stars Grace Kelly, Boris Karloff and Roger Moore; Pope John Paul II; former President Mary McAleese; and even supermodel Naomi Campbell, all of whom ordered flowers from the shop.

"It's been a business that's been very good to us over the years. We have been so lucky as to the people we have been given the opportunity to arrange flowers for, whether they are famous or just like the rest of us," said Mary.

But it is Veronique Crombe -- a lecturer and guide at the French National Museum who orders the monthly arrangements from Paris -- who will remain their sole customer.

"She struck a chord with us. Over the years we have built up a great friendship with her. She took the trouble to ask us to look after the flowers for the grave for so long and we owe it to her to continue what she does," said Mary, who learned her trade at well-known florists, Marie James on Dublin's Dawson Street.

The sisters have made many loyal customers over the years. "Our parents were not in the business but growing up I always had an interest in flowers and Terry, who is a couple of years younger than me, followed me into the business.

"We received a lot of thank-you notes and we've kept many of them. We even received a note of thanks from the late Pope John Paul II. Our customers have always been very good to us. It gave me a real buzz working with flowers and to see the power they can have in so many different situations and the meanings behind them.

The sisters use to buy their flowers from markets dotted around the city and from supplier Noel Dunne. More recently they imported them from Holland.

It is not clear yet what will happen to the shop but yesterday people were buying vases that were up to 70 years old that the sisters collected over the decades as keepsakes to remind them of the shop.

Sunday Independent