Friday 23 March 2018

Tom Monaghan: 'If I didn't come into the shop every morning, I'd be long dead'

Tom Monaghan (87) is the owner of Monaghans, a cashmere specialist shop. He opened it in 1960. Born in Tuam, Co Galway, he lives in Leopardstown with his wife, Tess. They have four children - Karen, Suzanne, Paul and Jim - and 12 grandchildren

Tom Monaghan founded his cashmere specialist business with his wife Tess in 1960. Photo: Dave Conachy
Tom Monaghan founded his cashmere specialist business with his wife Tess in 1960. Photo: Dave Conachy

Ciara Dwyer

I get up at 6.30am. I never had an alarm, because I didn't want to wake my wife, Tess. But I never left the house without giving her a cup of tea in bed. Then I'd leave to go to work, to my shop, Monaghans.

For the past 10 years, Tess has had Alzheimer's. Now and then, she knows who I am. This morning, when I went into her, she was quite bright, but yesterday she didn't raise her head at all. It's difficult, but we're fortunate that she has wonderful carers. Tess is intravenously fed in the side. The doctors in the hospital didn't want to do this, but we knew that she wasn't ready to go, so they reluctantly agreed. Thank god, she is still with us. She is there when I go home in the evening.

We started the business together in 1960. Tess used to do the bookkeeping. She didn't need a totting machine. When I first opened the shop, I'd go home terribly depressed, because business would be so awful. Tess would always say, 'Tomorrow will be better'. And she was quite right.

I have porridge for breakfast, and then I take an aspirin to keep the blood thin. I have to do some exercises in the mornings. I've had trouble with my legs. It's down to all those years standing in the shop. I put cream on my legs and then I put on elasticated stockings. Shaving is slower than usual. I have a tremor in my right hand, so I have to be extra careful. It's important to dress well for work. You have to create a good front. I always wear a suit and tie, but I suppose I should be wearing sweaters every day, because I sell so many of them. I either walk to the bus stop, or I get a lift from my daughter, Suzanne. I get Mass in Clarendon Street church, and then I come into the shop.

It's only since I started the business that I started going to Mass. The morning Mass is very convenient, and so near. The shop used to be in the Grafton Arcade, and now it's in the Royal Hibernian Way. I've always prayed for the success of my family and my wife. Sometimes I sit there and think that I'm a hypocrite, because I'm not thinking about what's going on. But when I come out, I always feel lighter.

The shop opens at 9am. The boys - Martin and John - do a great job. If you don't have good staff, the business won't thrive. I don't do the selling any more, but I like to meet the customers. I couldn't stay at home. This is my life. If I wasn't coming in here every morning, I'd be long dead. The shop gets me out of bed, and it gets the mind going. A lot of my friends are dead, and those who are retired have nothing to do but play golf. I never played golf in my life. I had no pastimes. But any spare time I had, I spent it on our farm in Kilcock. We keep horses, mostly brood mares.

We sell merino wools, lambswool and cashmere - which comes from the goat. Back in 1960, not many people in Ireland knew about cashmere, but it was the Americans who demanded it. If they didn't want an Aran sweater, they wanted a cashmere one. Now cashmere makes up 40pc of our sales. The beauty about them is that they keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. The best cashmere comes from the belly of the [cashmere] goat, and the cheaper sort comes from the back, which is exposed to the weather. Cheap cashmere jumpers don't wear well; they go at the elbows.

We only deal with the best. These sweaters can cost from €150 to €700, but they are going to be around in 10 years' time. We stand over that. When I first started the business, men's sweaters were navy-blue, beige, or maybe bottle-green. Now men love colours like sky-blue and pink.

We've met a lot of conmen down through the years. The latest one was last year. This man rang up and ordered six cashmere sweaters, but I was suspicious of him. He said that he had read about the shop on the internet. I told him that we only had two, but that we'd have the other four the following week. We were going to mail the order to him, but he said that a taxi man would collect them. When the taxi man arrived in, the first credit card was declined, but he had a pile of them. It was lucky that we hadn't sent the sweaters. Years of experience teaches you how to handle these situations.

We have a marvellous clientele. Now, our customers include the daughters and sons of our clients. It's important to cater for these younger generations. My daughter, Suzanne, is involved in ranges for the new generation. I've had a lot of film stars in the shop. Maureen O'Hara was a very good customer.

There is more to sales than collecting money. It's about the camaraderie. Some people just come in for the chat, and then they end up buying something. When you chat to people, you realise that we all have the same problems during life - bringing up a family and financial problems. I can equate to that, because I've been through it all. For the first 12 years in business, we didn't have a holiday. We couldn't afford one. In business, like in marriage, you have to make sacrifices.

I have a sandwich during the day, and then I'm in the shop until 5.30pm or 6pm. When I get home, I have my dinner. Tess isn't with me then, because she is in bed all the time. Sometimes it gets me down, but the shop keeps me going. It keeps me tuned in and as sharp as I can be, at my age. I might forget what I said a few hours ago, but at least I'm trying.

The carers get Tess ready for bed at 7pm. I try and chat with her for a few seconds, but if she's not responding, I just walk away. I miss talking to her. She was a great wife and a marvellous mother. Then I listen to the news and go to bed. Since Tess got sick, I haven't been to the theatre or a film. Going with somebody else wouldn't be the same.

Monaghans, 4-5 Royal Hibernian Way, Dawson St, D2, tel: (01) 679-4451, or see

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