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Open all eras: How Ireland’s oldest shop has survived for more than 200 years


Noreen and Aishling Cunniffe in Jeremiah Higgins in Claremorris, Co Mayo, the oldest shop in Ireland. Photo : Keith Heneghan

Noreen and Aishling Cunniffe in Jeremiah Higgins in Claremorris, Co Mayo, the oldest shop in Ireland. Photo : Keith Heneghan

Noreen and Aishling Cunniffe in Jeremiah Higgins in Claremorris, Co Mayo, the oldest shop in Ireland. Photo : Keith Heneghan

The future is looking assured for what is believed to be the oldest store in Ireland.

Jeremiah Higgins has traded on Main Street in Claremorris, Co Mayo, since 1820.

It has survived the traumas of the Great Famine, the 1918 flu epidemic, the War of Independence, the Civil War, two World Wars and a huge amount of social change.

But it never closed its doors until the Covid pandemic hit.

“It was a difficult time,” said co-owner Noreen Cunniffe, who runs the shop with her husband, Martin.

He is the fifth generation of the family to run it, and the couple’s two children, Jonathan and Aishling, are waiting in the wings to become the sixth.

“The lockdown was hard because in the shop’s 200-year history it had never closed,” Ms Cunniffe said.

“We carried on online but it wasn’t the same, of course, as the store is a very much ‘come in and feel the ambience’ experience.

“But we also felt that as the shop had survived famine, wars and huge change it would survive a pandemic too.”

Jeremiah Higgins is as much a mini-museum as it is a store.

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Along with toys that once belonged to generations of Higgins children, the shop is home to old bills, invoices and other historical documents, including clothing patterns and artefacts.

The shop was founded by Patrick Higgins. It was then passed down to his son, Thomas, who bequeathed it to his son, Jeremiah.

Jeremiah then left it to his daughters, Eileen and Delia (known as the twins, even though there were six years between them), who subsequently left Jeremiah’s name over the door.

In the beginning, the owners made and sold leather goods before branching out into drapery, haberdashery and giftware.

Other forebears put their stamp on the shop, including Eileen and Delia, who ran it from the end of World War II until 2015.

Delia was the crafter and very good with her hands, Ms Cunniffe said.

Both had a reputation for being mischievous and full of fun.

“Jonathan is studying computer science and Aishling is planning to study law next September,” Ms Cunniffe said.

“Both grew up in the shop, and inspired by their granny and grand-aunt they are conscious of its history and tradition and hope to carry on the legacy by retaining the history but also moving forward with the times.

“Nothing was thrown out and we are lucky we inherited that history. We are also passing it on.”

Today, the business employs four people other than members of the Higgins family, and the lion’s share of its business comes from people living within a 30-mile radius.

These days its website is attracting a new breed of customer.

The shop stocks an eclectic mix of products, including soft furnishings, leather goods and quirky pieces of jewellery.

Most of what is for sale is made in Ireland and Scotland, followed by Italian ranges and others from Britain.

The shop also supports craftspeople in a bid to preserve traditional skills, and the owners are planning to make space upstairs in the old feather loft available to professional crafters.

The family are about to launch a range of their own soft furnishings, Butterlinen Woodland Design, themed on Irish wildlife and landscapes

The pieces will be exclusive to the shop and designed in Ireland.

“These products are woven in quality jacquard material and the cushions are filled with feather and down that is sourced from Westport company Northern Feather,” Ms Cunniffe said.

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