Slane shopkeeper still tots up with pen and paper

Visitors such as Sinead O’Connor and Tommy Makem once enjoyed tea at one of the country’s oldest galvanised shops, which is hoping to ensure its future with nostalgia.

Slane shopkeeper still tots up with pen and paper

Wholesome thick-cut corn beef and wafer-covered slices of ice-cream are all being re-introduced to Smiths Shop at Rossin, Slane, Co Meath.

Tressa Smith, 80, and her son James Martin have no use for a till — they tot up in their heads, using a pen and the back of a brown paper bag to calculate the customer’s bill.

To walk into the blue-painted building, which has been used as a shop for more than 100 years, is like stepping back in time. A simple wooden counter, an old-style balance scales, and jars of sweets are only lacking that distinct smell of tobacco to transport you back to the grocery shops of yesteryear.

Reopening after six months, James and his mum are reintroducing the very things that made the shop a household name in the past.

“We have opened our tea-rooms again and we’re going to have traditional music and food on the go during the Fleadh Cheoil, which is being held in Drogheda next month,” said James, 49, who has worked behind his mum’s counter since he was just three years old.

“Mam and her sister Sumpty took it over from the Corcorans 55 years ago and they were ahead of their time in a world where businesswomen were almost unheard of.

“Mam and Sumpty always added up totals in their head using a brown bag and a pen and I’m the same. It keeps the mind active.

 “We also used to measure out all our tea and sugar and if you wanted a quart of tobacco, we’d cut it between the ‘Mick’ and the ‘Mc’ of the brand Mick McQuaid. All that is gone now.”

The shop was closed for six months after Tressa fell ill and needed James to look after her. It was during this time that James decided he wasn’t going to let the business die on its feet.

“I couldn’t let it go so we’ve opened up the tea-rooms again, we’re getting traditional artists in, and we’re introducing local arts and crafts as well as bringing back old favourites like the corned beef and the ice-cream,” he said.

The shop was the stop-off point for coaches to Newgrange before interpretative centre was built, which diverted visitors via the other side of the Boyne.

“Everyone used to stop off here 30 years ago for tea and scones,” said James.

“Over the years, we had Sinead O’Connor in for tea and folk singer Tommy Makem who used to drop off his family at Newgrange and come here for a chat with my late father Jim, while waiting for them.

“We also had the chief of the Mohawks from the US and the second-in-command to the Dali Lama to name but a few.

“Pearl Jam, who played Slane twice, wrote a song about an old lady behind a counter and we’d like to think it was about mam but, of course, we’re not sure.”

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