After five generations, the owners and staff of a family bakery in Milltown, in the heart of Co Kerry, are to hang up their aprons, dust off the flour, and switch off the ovens for the last time next month.
At the age of 67, the last of the owner-bakers at Larkin’s bakery, Gerard McCarthy, is due for retirement after working for more than 45 years.
He and his wife Helen and their family of three daughters and one son have kept the bread rising in a business that has lasted longer than many other bakeries in Munster.
Milltown may be one of be Kerry’s fastest-growing towns — jumping from 200 to 2,000 in population within 14 years — but Larkin’s bakery, which was established in 1859, faces pressure from big supermarkets.
Larkin’s has scooped several awards over the years, including gold medals at Blas na hÉireann.
“I am very grateful to have been in business for so long and owe a huge debt of gratitude to a lot of people for their support over the years,” Gerard said in a post on the bakery’s social media outlets, paying special tribute to his 10 hard working and loyal staff.
It is not all gloom for customers, however, as the prized recipes for the bakery’s flagship Larkin soda bread, barm brack, and health breads are being handed over to Harrington’s Bakery in Kenmare, another family-run business, which will continue to distribute the products.
But it is a sad day for the family, Milltown, and rural Ireland, said the proprietors’ son Paudie.
Paudie, who works in finance in Cork, helps out every weekend in the business, but there is no one else in the family to take it over.
Closures such as Larkin’s are sadly a common story in rural Ireland now, he said.
The small bakeries have long shed the turf-fired ovens and replaced them with more manageable electric and diesel. However, instore and frozen part-baked products in supermarkets have cut into the traditional market.
“Lidl and Aldi and such are very efficient and their products have a long shelf-life,” said Paudie.
In contrast, Larkin’s old- style bread, using few preservatives, had a short shelf-life. Old people like the traditional bread but younger people’s tastes are changing, he noted.
The lack of small shops in towns and villages across Kerry now has spelt the end.
The small shops are disappearing in most towns and with them the outlets for Larkin’s and other bakeries. “The outlets simply are not there,” he said.
The last loaves of bread, barm brack, and buttery buns and batches will leave Larkin’s on March 28.
Fianna Fáil councillor Michael O’Shea, a former mayor of Kerry, points to the irony of Milltown, as Kerry’s fastest-growing town, losing an outlet such as Larkin’s bakery. Several small businesses have already closed down in the village and outlets are empty, he said.
Milltown is in a ‘triangle’ between Killorglin, Tralee, and Killarney and is developing as a commuter town. It is a dormitory town where people leave for work each day and return at night. It had grown from 203 people in 2006 to 2,000 now and, with a new bypass, is earmarked for thousands more.
This year, 150 houses are to be built in Milltown in private and social agency schemes, and schools are at capacity.
“We need a steering group of all main departments — health, education, and such to provide the services,” said Mr O’Shea.