Cobblers and shoemakers

The 1651 map of Galway shows a Shoemaker’s Tower located in what is the Eyre Square Shopping Centre today. Shoemaker’s Lane, or Bóithrín na Sudairí, the road of the shoemakers or the tanners, was where Buttermilk Walk is today. Shoemaking was always an important business but the individual shoemaker is a rare breed now, instead you associate the craft with factories like Dubarry in Ballinasloe.

The definition of the word cobbler is one who repairs shoes or boots. One thinks of them hunched over an upturned metal shoe, the smell of leather, the cutting and sewing of heels on to shoes, the hammering of nails, the cobbler’s hands as hard as nails.

There used to be a lot of them in Galway, some worked independently and most large shoe shops had their own resident cobbler. Brennan’s of Shop Street used to advertise its “Boot Factory”; O’Neill’s of Mainguard Street, known as ‘The Boot King’, had Pat O’Neill and Myles Carney as cobblers; Myles later worked in Shantalla. Ryan’s the cobblers of Abbeygate Street later moved to Athenry; John Caulfield was based in Sea Road and later moved to Woodquay.

In Williamsgate Street, where Faller’s is today, there was a small shop for the manufacture of gutta-percha boots, where gutta-percha was fixed to leather uppers by a man called Anderson or Andrews. Gutta-percha was a natural latex produced by the sap of some tropical trees and was very popular in the late 19th/early 20th century. Paddy O’Brien started as an apprentice in McDonald’s in Lower Salthill before taking over the business. Mr McDonald taught shoemaking in the Industrial School (an indication of the importance of the craft ) and was a surgical boot maker. Then there was Hill’s in William Street, Glennon’s in Shop Street, Colie Flaherty in Cross Street, and McKee’s at the Castle Barracks which later moved to Bohermore. Colie Mulkerrins of St Paul’s Road once worked near the post office, and in High Street Pat Sweeney had a premises which was later taken over by Eddie De Vere. Apologies if I have left anyone out.

Today, shoe repairs are done by Heffernan’s in Sea Road and Mr Minute in the Eyre Square Shopping Centre.

Our illustration is of a turn of the century advertisement for JJ O’Beirne’s shoe shop in Dominick Street. In typically modest fashion, JJ tells us, “I never had – I never saw a better selection of gent’s boots and shoes than I am in the happy position to show you at the moment. Come and see. I have the genuine article in ladies’ and gents’ boots and shoes; also a varied selection of children’s footwear. I sell from the hob-nailed boot to the most dainty ladies’ shoes, and at prices to suit all pockets. Your next order, please, to the house with the reputation.”

I was unable to find the location of this shoe shop, or indeed which branch of the O’Beirne family were running it, so I would be grateful if anyone can help.

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