End of an era as Donovan's closes

Sinead Kelleher

There are few shops that can lay claim to a history of more than 150 years, but Donovan's shop in Kenmare town will this week bow out with over a century of history behind it.

The shop has been in the family since the 1860s and was passed down from generation to generation. Olive Donovan is the last generation to stand behind the counter following the tradition of her great-great-grandmother, great-grandmother and grandmother. 

The shop was, in its early days, known locally as Stokes's shop after its owner, Letitia Stokes, but it changed names as it was handed down the family tree. 

Olive's grandmother, Mathilda, ran it as a general grocers with fresh bread, newspapers and household items, as well as a shop for religious memorabilia and Dresden China. 

She was married to Michael Donovan, who worked as a manager next door in O'Brien Corkery's, which was then a general builders' yard and undertakers. Olive's mother, Mairead, then took it over, and in another tradition, her husband, Dermot, also worked in O'Brien Corkery's next door to the shop. In fact three generations of Donovan's were managers next door while their wives ran Donovan's shop. 

Over the years more additions were made to the shop, and Olive's mother, Mairead, branched into silverware, jewellery and china, as well as the groceries and confectionery. 

The shop was extended and the family's dining room became a new addition to the shop. Donovan's was well-known down through the years for its confectionery, and even today that is one of the last remaining items in the shop.  

Donovan's was one of the first shops to have a BBQ chicken oven, now long gone as convenience stores took over, and it also had one of the town's first ice-cream cone machines. 

Olive can recall the queues out the door, particularly after matches. "It was the bane of our lives as it had to be cleaned every day, and often it wouldn't work as the ice-cream couldn't freeze fast enough. There would be queues out the door," says Olive.

Olive and her brother and sister, Mike and Gemma, grew in the shop.

Mike now runs Café Mocha in the Square, which was where his grandfather came from. Gemma is a teacher in Castlegregory.

Olive trained as a weaver and ran her own weaving business in the town. 

All three spent much of their childhood behind the counter. Back in those days the shop was open from morning until night and only closed its doors on Christmas day and St Stephen's day. 

When O'Brien Corkery's closed in 1984, Olive's father, Dermot, went behind the counter in Donovan's, and he was a familiar face there until his death almost two years ago.

Anyone calling to the shop would see Dermot bent over while reading the national newspapers as he waited for customers. 

School children in the town were his regular customers and, during school lunch times, the shop would be full to the brim with teenagers - some of them even helping him out. 

More recently, groceries became a thing of the past with the focus more on confectionery, and religious mementos including rosary beads and Mass cards from the local parish priest. 

After Olive's father passed away, Olive took over in the interim, but now the day has come to close the shop forever. 

"It is hard to close, but it is time," she said.

"The cost of business is too high and the footfall in the street is not there... I will miss it hugely - although maybe not the hours," she added.