Crowley's Music Centre: An iconic Cork shop 

Ten years after the death of Mick Crowley, we hear about the locals and legends who frequented his famous MacCurtain Street store.
Crowley's Music Centre: An iconic Cork shop 
Mick Crowley of Crowleys music shop with his daughter Sheena Crowley; right, unloading equipment. 

It's ten years ago this month since the death of Michael Crowley, the owner of Crowley's Music Shop in Cork for over five decades.

Mick, as he was known, had worked in the family business since he was in his early teens, and is fondly remembered by many who knew him for his generosity and patience with young musicians and for the role his shop played in Cork's musical community.

"Tall, and long-limbed, that was the first thing you remember about him, but also, he was one of the most calm people I've ever met," Crowley's daughter Sheena says.

"He gave up school very young, because his father died what he was just ten. 

"My grandfather founded the shop, and that's were my dad wanted to be so he started missing a lot of school. 

"He left school at 13, but he was one of the most intelligent men I ever met."

Sheena's grandfather, Tadhg O Crualaoi, was a pipe-major and composer who travelled by foot around Munster fixing musical instruments. 

"He started making pipes himself, so he had a workshop in Blackpool and then he opened his shop on Merchant's Quay in 1926," Sheena says.

By just 15, Mick Crowley had taken over running the family business: "He had five sisters and his mother, and he thought he was the breadwinner and had to look after everybody."

Apart from his side-passion of rally driving, Crowley never questioned his choice of career, his daughter says; he worked in his business for 55 years, changing location to MacCurtain Street in the eighties.

"It was very hard to get him to go on holidays, it was even difficult to get him to take a lunch break," Sheena says. 

"He was in his element; to him, it was like having people in his living room."

Sheena lived in Holland and returned home to help out in the shop in the 1990s, although she had been working on her art career. 

"I'd been back about six months when I got offered a job illustrating books by this London company and it was very good money. 

I said, 'Dad, I got offered a job,' and he said, 'You have a choice now: you can go off and get great money doing the thing that you love, or you can stay here with me and the musicians and be poor for the rest of your life.' 

"He wanted to discourage me because he knew it was a tough business."

The shop eventually closed in 2013, three years after Mick Crowley passed away.

In its heyday, Crowley's would be thronged with young musicians and teens on Saturday afternoons, and Mick Crowley's calm nature would come into its own.

"The place would be in absolute chaos," Sheena says. "There'd be someone playing the whistle, someone on the drums, someone playing guitar and no-one would be in sync. 

"And Mick would be pure zen in the middle of the racket. It never phased him."

In an era where supports for beleaguered performers are being highlighted, it's interesting to consider the informal support network that organically emerged at Crowley's Music Centre, which in later years would also host in-store performances.

Young musicians could get equipment up-front and make repayments. 

"The deal would be that when they were gigging, they'd throw something off their bill," Sheena says. 

Busking brothers the Dunnes were regular customers. 
Busking brothers the Dunnes were regular customers. 

"Then they'd start earning money. The Dunne brothers were a busking violin and banjo player you used to see in front of Roches Stores. 

"They came into my father and he gave them instruments and every day they went busking, they'd come in and take a few shillings off the bill. 

"He did the same for hundreds of people. It was much more than just a shop."

Rory Gallagher bought his famous '61 Stratocaster in the shop. 

When EmmyLou Harris played Cork Opera House and her gear got left in Amsterdam, Mick stepped into the breach and the glamorous Country star paid a personal visit to thank him. 

Rory Gallagher chats to Mick Crowley at the original shop on Merchant's Quay. 
Rory Gallagher chats to Mick Crowley at the original shop on Merchant's Quay. 

Nirvana stopped by during their famed visit to Cork to play Sir Henry's.

But a cornerstone of Crowley's ethos was to treat all musicians as equals, fittingly demonstrated by Sheena's tale of the time Kris Kristofferson tried to wangle a free guitar tuner in alongside a few purchases. 

"My aunty Eileen told him to feck off," Sheena says. 

"He said, 'I'm very well-known, I'm a professional musician,' and my aunty Eileen said, 'exactly, you're the one who's able to afford it.'"

Sheena Crowley is curating a collection of songs by musicians from Cork and further afield in memory of Mick Crowley that will be available at the Crowley's Music Centre YouTube channel.

A second home: Memories of a marvellous music shop 

Christy Moore: Mick always had a welcome for visiting musicians. Picture: Rory Coomey
Christy Moore: Mick always had a welcome for visiting musicians. Picture: Rory Coomey

Christy Moore

 "I always loved visiting Crowley’s. It was an essential part of visits to Cork. 

"Mick always had a welcome for visiting players and there was a great atmosphere in the shop, which is sadly missed. 

"Over a period of 25 years I found two very fine second-hand guitars there, one a vintage Gibson, the other an old Yamaha FG 180.

"Once I broke a string in The Opera House and made a light-hearted throw-away reference to Crowleys which was ill-advised and not in good taste. 

"I said it jokingly and without malice, but by the time it got back to Mick the story had grown 'wings.' 

"Understandably, he was very upset and he wrote me a very strong letter….I printed an apology in De Paper, either the Echo or the Examiner, I can't remember which. 

"Thankfully, Mick forgave my stupid remark and we got back on good terms again."

John Spillane: Mick Crowley was tall, aloof, business-like and always wore a shirt and tie. Picture: Miki Barlok
John Spillane: Mick Crowley was tall, aloof, business-like and always wore a shirt and tie. Picture: Miki Barlok

John Spillane 

 "In the late '70s, myself and my friends would go into Crowley's on Saturdays and look at the guitars and maybe buy plectrums or a set of strings. 

"There were always guys trying out guitars and showing off, playing Stairway to Heaven or The Needle and the Damage Done. 

"We bought a PA system from Mick Crowley on hire-purchase, and my friend’s dad had to put his house up as collateral for it.

"Mick Crowley was tall, aloof, business-like, and always wore a shirt and tie. 

"I bought a beautiful Fender Precision Bass there in 1979 that served me for many years and through many bands. 

"The shop was like a community centre for musicians. 

"You’d meet very interesting out-of-towners, and many local rockers and traditional players."

Stephen Travers: Crowley's was like an Aladdin's Cave to me. Picture: Cillian Kelly
Stephen Travers: Crowley's was like an Aladdin's Cave to me. Picture: Cillian Kelly

Stephen Travers (bass player, Miami Showband)

"I was 19 when I finally saved enough cash to purchase my first brand new bass amp. 

"There was no question as to where I would buy it even though Crowley’s music shop was 72 miles from my home in Carrick-on-Suir. 

"At that time, Crowley’s was on Merchants Quay and, while it was much smaller than their later MacCurtain Street store, it was an Aladdin’s Cave to me.

"I told the tall man behind the counter that I wanted to buy a bass amp. 

"A young man who had been trying out a six-string, turned around to me and said, 'You won’t beat a Marshall.' 

"The tall man was Mick Crowley and the young man was Rory Gallagher. 

"Mick and I became firm friends, a friendship that lasted until his passing."

John Blek: It was a dream job, a real creative hub in the city
John Blek: It was a dream job, a real creative hub in the city

John Blek

 "For me, Crowley's became a second home. When I was 17, I wanted to leave school to pursue music full time but my mother bribed me to stay in education, saying she'd buy me a guitar if I finished the Leaving Cert. 

"For an entire year, almost every weekend I would go into the shop to do my research.

"I plagued Sheena and the lads with questions but they were always so encouraging. 

"Years later I ended up working there. It was a dream job, a real creative hub in the city and a source of great joy for me personally."

Mick Flannery: My parents would stop and bow as though it were a sacred shrine.
Mick Flannery: My parents would stop and bow as though it were a sacred shrine.

Mick Flannery

 "I loved going into Crowley’s music shop. Over the years, I got to know Mick and Sheena and the staff, and they were always friendly and supportive. 

"At night if I and my parents were walking past the shop my parents, would stop and bow as though it were a sacred shrine. 

"I wish it was still there."

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