Sunday 18 March 2018

Willie Bennett cut generations of men's hair


The late Willie Bennett
The late Willie Bennett

Willie Bennett, who passed away aged 92 last month - was an institution in New Ross - where he ran his barber shop on the quay for over 60 years, cutting the hair of generations of New Ross men.

Born on Christmas Day, 1924, Willie was married to Nan Culleton who predeceased him by five years. He had two sons Con and Liam and two daughters Mairead and Ann, and went on to have ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Willie was a barber on the quays in New Ross for over 60 years and he continued to cut hair for a number of years after retiring from the quay at his home in Ard Mhicil, Charlton Hill.

Men from far and wide came to visit Willie's shop which was much more than a barber's. It could possibly be described as New Ross' first 'Men's Shed'. It was where men gathered for news, gossip, banter, craic and hair cutting.

Willie had a regular stream of characters who came in and read the newspaper each morning. A number of characters were the official floor sweepers and in return for sweeping the hair off the floor they would receive a few shillings which they would promptly spend in Roche's pub next door.

For returning emigrants just off the Rosslare ferry, Willie's shop was the first port of call where they caught up on happenings since they were away and found out where their long lost friends had moved to. Willie knew every family in town and knew all about them - a memory he had with him until his death. He astounded many people with the detail of stories, events and families.

It was common practice for farming men from south and west Wexford as well as South Kilkenny to come to town on a Saturday to sell or to buy animals, to do some shopping, have a few pints and then get their hair trimmed.

Willie often worked until after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. He recounted a number of times when men arrived at his house in Ard Mhicil to ask for a hair cut as they were 'getting married the next day'.

A number of people who went into the hair-cutting trade did their apprenticeships with Willie on the quay, including Billy Bennett of H20 Creative hairstylists who has many fond memories of Willie.

Willie often recounted how he often had to go to the mortuary after work in order to tidy the hair of a dead person. He also visited the sick in the Houghton and District hospitals and on a number of occasions asked his son or son in law to drive him to the country to cut the hair of a bed-ridden man who couldn't get to town.

Willie was a familiar figure in the Three Bullet Gate pub and in the 70s and 80s he was a regular visitor to JJ Kavanagh's pub in Cross Lane.

He was one of a host of characters who frequented those premises and regaled each other with tales of hurling, greyhounds, hunting, and funny incidents. There were regular scenes of great mirth and banter and Willie absorbed it all with a familiar chuckle.

He was a great observer and recorder of life, but while enjoying the cut and thrust of the repartee, he was never heard to say a bad word about anyone or to repeat a malicious remark.

Willie was an enthusiastic bird keeper for many years and his hobby was showing birds. He was an enthusiastic gardener and had a great knowledge about gardening. He grew his own vegetables and flowers from seed and many neighbours populated parts of their gardens with cuttings from Willie's garden.

Willie had a penchant for gimmicks and would regularly get his son-in-law Brian Mac Mahon, to order items from the internet that he spotted in magazines or on shopping TV.

As a result he had a sizeable collection of juicers, hand-held hoovers, flashlights, magnifying glasses and tools of every description.

In his latter years, Willie managed to live independently in his bungalow in Ard Mhicil. He had a regular stream of callers which included Tommy Fanning, Aidan Kent and Timmy Coughlan, as well as his own family members and they never tired of listening to his many stories from years gone by.

Willie was gradually finding it more difficult to get around, but was still able to make occasional visits to the Three Bullet Gate, to Corcoran's pub in the Irishtown and to Byrne's in Ballyhack where he inevitably met old customers and friends he hadn't seen in years.

He never failed to recognise them and name them.

Willie died peacefully sitting in his armchair at home while waiting on his Sunday paper on February 5. He simply fell asleep.

His warmth and kindness will be missed by all who knew him.

Willie is sadly missed by his loving sons Con and Liam; daughters Mairead and Anne; grandchildren; great-grandchildren; brother; sisters; sons-in-law; daughters-in-law; nephews; nieces; relatives and friends. A large crowd attended his funeral Mass at St. Mary & Michael's Parish Church, New Ross and his burial afterwards in St Stephen's Cemetery.

New Ross Standard