LONG before the advent of discount supermarkets like Aldi, Tesco and Lidl, rural Ireland depended on mobile shops.
The sight of the van trundling up the lane was a welcome one for families living in the most isolated parts of Donegal. Not only did the mobile shop deliver groceries, the owner brought a fresh social aspect to life in the countryside. The kettle was put on to boil in anticipation of the shopkeeper’s arrival, bringing with them the weekly newspaper and all the gossip from the nearest town.
For almost 40 years such a service has been provided by Glenswilly man Dan McDaid. But a change in shopping habits, advances in technology and a dwindling customer base have finally forced Dan to pack up his mobile shop for good.
On Friday he made his final delivery on what has been a long, happy and very interesting journey.
“I’ve been at it since I was 19 when I started working for my brother Hughie,” said Dan ahead of his last run.
“At that time we were delivering bread to shops and houses and you could have found us anywhere, Glenswilly, Gartan, Churchill, Rathmullan. We had two vans on the road at that time and we would have started work around 6.30am, getting bread in from the likes of Gallagher’s Bakery in Ardara and then from the bakeries in Letterkenny. I did that until 1998 when I decided to go out on my own.”
Hughie McDaid held on to the commercial side of things, the shops and hotels. Dan concentrated solely on delivering to homes and quickly built up a strong customer base.
“Some of my customers were well out and a lot of them were people who couldn’t drive or older people who couldn’t get out and about. And once they saw the van, they were out at the door or at the bottom of the lane waiting on you. It was nice because you were meeting people every week and their reaction on seeing you was lovely. And the tea, there was always tea. The people out there are very good and on a cold day they would insist that you come in for a cup. I’ve been having tea in the same house, Ferry’s of Rathmullan, for 36 years. In fact the first day I arrived in 1983 I said no and the lady told me if I didn’t take a cup then I wouldn’t be invited back.”
It has not been all tea and buns though and Dan recalls turning up at homes only to find the resident had taken a tumble or suffered a health scare. On one very sad occasion he found one of his customers had passed away in their house.
“It’s different now because people have home help and so on but years ago you could have turned up to find someone had taken a turn. That happened on a few occasions. I remember going to one door and finding the man dead in the house,” he revealed.
Dan’s shop carried more than just food stuffs. It was a mini-supermarket on wheels, capable of delivering a week’s groceries to a home. From cereal to fresh meat to the local newspaper to Fairy Liquid, he stocked it all. And if there was something a person needed and he hadn’t got it, he made sure to find it and bring it with him on his next visit.
Dan McDaid’s mobile shop was, quite simply, a vital service. But like many traditions, such shops have become a scarce sight on Ireland’s country roads.
Fifteen years ago Creeslough man Michael McGinley called it a day and passed his customers on to Dan. The 55-year-old has battled on since, his work being as much a labour of love as a financially-viable business model. Finally though, he too has been forced to park up permanently.
“It is a regret for me because I love it. And people will miss it too but unfortunately it’s a dying trade. It has become very difficult to get new customers because things have changed. The next generation, they are all out working during the day and they can stop and grab their groceries on the way home. If I had more customers I would keep going but the nephew has offered me a job and I have decided to take it.
“I will definitely miss it, just being out and about, having the craic and meeting different customers each day. People will be sad to see it going although some might be glad to get rid of me,” laughed the Glenswilly man.
Taking no time out from work, Dan started his new job on Monday. After 36 years, his famous mobile shop has finally reached the end of the road.
“I can’t thank people enough. It is their support that has got me to where I am today and I will miss every single one of them. I wouldn’t have lasted this long without them and I’ll miss them, I really will.”