Matt and Nellie Kennelly sold the last of the school uniforms, and The Cloth Hall closed after 123 years.
Matt is 88 and Nellie is younger. Nellie is a nurse and Matt is the draper.
I called to The Cloth Hall for a chat. There's a family friendship going way back. Four generations of us were togged out in The Cloth Hall.
Matt is a talented musician and wrote the music for my Dad's Yes and No song.
Kay, their daughter, and Nellie produce a harmonica. Matt played the Yes and No song and another of his compositions, Anois is a gCónaí, which translates to 'Now and Forever'.
Nellie's eyes lit up. I could see then how he landed her. Matt wrote the love song for Nellie.
I woke up in the middle of the night just now, and do you know the way songs replay on a loop in your head? Matt's tunes were playing away.
We lived upstairs over the pub and the music from down below rose up to our bedroom. Matt used to play in John B's and the sound of my childhood came back to me.
Nellie told us she qualified as a nurse and midwife in England. Matt wrote to her every day while she was away and Nellie wrote back every day.
They married and Nellie took care of JJ and Kay. She worked in the shop and returned to nursing when Kay and JJ went to secondary school.
Matt could measure up a young lad for the school uniform with just one look. There was no need for a tape measure.
Nothing was ever rushed. If the clothes weren't right, Matt would say as much. Said Nellie: "We had a very reliable clientele." Their customers stayed loyal. The buying of the uniform in The Cloth Hall was a September ritual. The new uniforms marked time and growing up in a tangible physical way.
The Kennellys had seen the business change so much over the years. Matt's father JJ was a master tailor. But then the ready-made suits came in and tailoring became uneconomic.
The Cloth Hall was a general drapery and sold women's as well as men's clothes. Matt and Nellie managed to survive and prosper when the chain stores were gobbling up the neighbourhood shops.
The secret to their success was that nothing was ever rushed. There was never any pressure on to buy. Matt always left a little bit of room for growth spurts. He knew instinctively how much a child would grow between autumn and summer. There was no need for the parents to go to the expense of buying two uniforms in the one year.
Kay is a teacher and JJ is a software engineer. They have their own lives and successful careers. The Kennellys closed by choice. Covid didn't beat them. Matt simply said "the time was right".
The time flew in the cosy kitchen. Matt sang again. Nellie was his groupie. Matt could play several instruments. Kay laughed, "Dad could even play the trombone until he got his dentures. "
It was what I would call a happy home.
I was ready to leave. Nellie looked at Matt and asked: "Will we do it now Matt?"
She went to the press and took out a plastic bag, and inside the bag was another sealed see-through bag, and inside that bag was an old school copy book.
Nellie placed the copy book before me on the kitchen table.
The first words I read were handwritten in stylish copperplate on the inside cover. "This is the property of John B Keane, 45 Church St. Listowel." Then, on the first soft page, were the words: "Poems and Indiscriminate Literature, by John B Keane. 20th October 1948."
Matt was sitting opposite me. Kay and Nellie looked on from behind a hatch in the kitchen. They were smiling and watching on, like the adults enjoying the opening of the presents on Christmas morning. I was in a state of grace between trance and shock as I read through the treasury of verse and prose
The poems were incredibly good. There were a few romantic poems but the first poem in the book had me worried for my Dad when he was young. The fear in the night is a theme we know only too well.
Alone in the Night.
Alone, all alone in the night, where no sounds interprets company,
Alone when the stillness of sounds proves its eternity
When the dreams that are lost forever
Are through the lone mind surging;
And shadowy things, and spectres that never
Are seen emerging.
The poem was written in November 1946 when Dad was 18.
The Wild Man of The Bogs is a short story. The first line reads "Professor Ivan Von Baakenn, to put in a nutshell, was disappointed." Wouldn't you only be dying to read the rest of the story.
Von Baakenn was hunting for the Wild Man of The Bogs, a type of a North Kerry yeti. I was in stitches. Havin' a laugh I was, with my young lad, Dad.
Here's a sarcastic side note wedged in near a poem. "Criticism is not necessary and will not be appreciated, for as a critic lives on the efforts of others, so does the multicoloured bee on the fairest flowers of the field."
Even then he was having a cut.
Matt's brother, Stan, was one of my dad's best friends and read his work. Matt said Stan was a good judge and that was probably how the copybook ended up in Kennellys.
I didn't know what to say so I said something stupid. "Be careful of those." The Kennellys had been minding the poems for over 70 years.
Nellie and Kay laughed. "Go on Matt," said Nellie.
Matt spoke slowly. "We want you to keep the copybook, Billy. It's yours now."
I was shocked. "Are you sure, Matt?"
"We decided as a family we wanted you to have it."
Still in shock, I promised to make sure the poems and stories would be displayed and made available to fans and scholars.
Off I went, back down to the pub, in the company of my young Dad, who had just stepped out of his copybook.