Before the era where you could do your week’s grocery shopping on a computer screen or have exotic ready cooked meals delivered to your door, the humble small local shop was the place most provision were had. There was a network of such small family stores that ran right across every community in the county. The first one in Roscad, although by no means the first in Creeslough, was run by Mary ‘Jim Pat’ McFadden, nee Moore, one of the Jedan’s from Doe Point.
After she married local Home Assistance Officer, Jim Pat McFadden, she established her first shop in the 1920’s. It would hard to believe that almost 90 years later the shop-keeping tradition would still be in the family, albeit just across the border in Strabane, but we’ll return to that in due course.
Mary located her first shop in the old family house which was located next to their later home, now the residence of her daughter Agnes and husband Jim Carroll. The original house later became a byre after they had a new stone dwelling erected next to it in the early 1930’s and the shop moved with them. Once complete, a room at the rear of the kitchen was set aside for “the new shop” but, of course, it still maintained its regular customers much as before.
There was a book maintained for shopping “Tick”, which could be settled up at a later date. Open all hours is one phrase that could be used to describe the arbitrary opening times of the business. If there was someone at home, which invariable was Mary herself looking after her growing young family, then it was business as usual. It stocked bread, eggs, flour meal, tobacco, Beecham’s, powers and a dental nightmare arrangement of confectionary that made it a Mecca for children of all ages when they had a few pennies in their pockets! During the war years a sign was erected – “No Jar: No Jam”.
As the bread arrived, the local customers, who were mostly neighbours and little passing trade, would call to get it while it was fresh. The story goes that the late Bob Wilson, who lived with his brothers just across the road, used to tell Mary to keep his bread “a few days as it was too fresh”.
There were some real old characters who called, such as the Wilson’s, Jimmy Anton and Sam Gallagher from Grogagh. As well as his provisions Sam’s visits would often coincide with a boxing match being screen on the old black and white TV. They were two devoted fight fans and Mary’s son-in-law often sent copies of ‘Boxing News’ over from London. Conversation between the pair would often start with “Did he go the distance?”
The small shop became a local institution and Mary ran it for the best part of 50 years until shortly before she passed away in 1981. For a number of years later Agnes continued to run it but like many small businesses in the modern world they became unviable and it later closed its doors for good although the seeds for another budding shop keeper in the family were sown in this era.
Mary and Jim’s oldest son, James, always maintained a keen interest in the goings on in the shop. He would help his mother out when he got the chance, often just keeping his younger siblings from the sweetie jars! Although he left Roscad in search of work in the late 1940’s, little could the family have known that he would also go on to build a retail institution of his own up the road in Co Tyrone!
When a young James McFadden left home in 1946, his journey to his first job in Derry took him over twelve hours to get to via bus, car, train and boat. James recalls how he caught the bus at eight that morning at the ‘new line’ bound for Letterkenny, where he met with a traveling salesman as they trundled on to Ramelton and Rathmullan making frequent stops along the way. In Rathmullan they took the ferry to Fahan to link with the Derry bound train from Buncrana arriving at Pennyburn Station at eight in the evening.
Jim laughs as he recalls his journey 62-years-ago, saying, like a dog, once he crossed water he must have lost the scent from home. “I went out with my cardboard suitcase as it was in them days and I got the bus at the New line to go to Letterkenny. It pulled in near where the railway used to be. The man who I was going to serve my time with, by the name of Mullen in Duke Street, his brother was a traveler for the IAWS in Ballybofey and they had an office in Letterkenny as well, he was doing his day’s journey when he met me.
“He wasn’t going straight to Derry but was calling into shops all along the way, down in Ramelton and along there. We ended up in Rathmullan at half six in the evening. He left the car in the Rathmullan Hotel yard and we went to the pier and we got on the wee boat and we crossed over to Fahan. We waited on the Swilly railway coming from Buncrana. We got on the train there and landed up in Pennyburn station. We came out of the station and on to the road.
“The war was only over and the air raid shelters were still on the streets and a bus arrived. It was a utility bus with no soft seats and I remember coming up the Strand Road and to me Derry was a big looking city. There was a queue for the Strand Cinema that was full of sailors and it looked like it was three miles long, it probably was only a hundred yards, but I had never seen anything like it before,” he recalls.
Although a regular visitor back home, Jim has gone on to become one of the best know business faces in his now adopted home in Strabane. McFadden’s of Bridge Street, his family run newsagents and convenience store, has been a thriving local landmark for almost four decades. Born in 1928 and the eldest of a family of 14, he explained that although he had little formal education he was used to seeing his father’s paperwork and the way his mother ran the shop and credits both for giving him a helping hand when he went into the retail trade himself.
His first job brought him to Duke Street in Derry and where the long hours of work came with little reward.
“The first place I went to was on Duke Street. It was a grocery and a bar and I did what they called ‘serving your time’ and you got very little pay. As I say now, you were only in out of the cold,” he laughs. Although his employers did pay the princely sum of ten bob a week, and this was better than what many young men got for serving there time learning the ropes of a new job.
From there he moved to Devine and Co Tea Merchants, serving in their Lifford shop in 1948. “I move to Devine’s Tea then. The Cope bought a lot of Devine’s tea and the man who traveled for them was Pat Devine. He must have asked Brian McGinley would he know any young fella’s who would be reliable for working in the shop, with their time keeping and so on. Brian said to me would I come up to Strabane for an interview, that was 1948. So I started with Devine’s and I stayed with them for 23 years,” James said.
“What was a big help to me was the wee shop at home. My father was the Home Assistance Officer and I was used to seeing papers and the like as well.” During his time he met local girl, Patricia Quinn, and they married in 1955. The couple went on to have a family of eight, sons Gerard, Seamus, Paul and Rory, daughters, Patricia, Mary, Nuala and Maeve. Now the extended McFadden family runs large with wives husbands, and many grand children.
From his long service with Devine’s he moved to Kelly’s Supermarket on the Railway road for a couple of years before an opportunity came his way to go into business for himself. He took over the running of Billy Bonner’s shop and newsagents when he retired in 1972. James and Patricia, who always did the books, moved their growing family into the flat above the shop and although he admits “conditions weren’t great”, his hard work and friendly demeanor won him a loyal customer based and it became a small enclave for the many Donegal people passing through the town centre on their way to Dublin in days before the bypass.
As time changed; in 1986 he developed the current shop site on the other side of the bridge where his business, which he runs with son Seamus, stands today. Here he built what became a local institution famed for the extensive variety of magazines, periodicals and newspapers, as well as a dawn-till-dusk convenience store serving the local community. He managed to keep going through out the troubles and says during this time local people showed “great resilience” in getting on with everyday life.
He faced a number of challenges himself during his time in business, including two robberies and one very near miss when a plastic bullet, fired in through his shop window, whizzed passed his head. “We traded all through the Troubles of course. It was a tough time and I remember having to pull the whole family out and go up to local centre for shelter and the army coming in and searching the place. The plastic bullet just passed the back of my head and it went through the glass door of the shop. The thing didn’t shatter, it just left a perfect whole where it came through. I picked it up, I should have kept it as a keepsake but the police came and took it away,” he stated.
Now Jim can still be found behind the counter of the business he spent a large part of his life building up. At 82 years of age he still has a hands on approach to running the place and is one of the most recognizable faces in local business in the west Tyrone/east Donegal area. Given his status as an exiled Donegal man the Sam Maguire even made a guest appearance at his shop in 1992, years before his adopted county came to prominence in bringing the title home to Tyrone!
From 2011 Edition By Eamonn McFadden