Thursday, April 20th 1916, and with days to go until the Easter Rising, the Aud arrived in Tralee Bay, two days earlier than expected. The Rebellion was imminent, and with this in mind, Padraig Pearse along with his brother Willie made his way to Rathmines; with St. Enda’s not far away, they turned down Castlewood Avenue and into Doran’s Barbers. There they sat in silence as one after the other got their hair cut for the last time; it’s not so hard to believe that one of the brothers at least knew his fate.
They did not speak much as they awaited their turn in the chair: but then, they never did, he remembers; and, whatever thoughts were in the minds of Patrick and Willie Pearse, the 20-year-old John had no foreboding that he was giving the brothers their last haircut.
John Doran, interviewed in the Irish Independent, March 28th, 1973.
The Pearse brothers are only a small part of the history of a business stretching back over a century. John’s brother James opened the shop on January 2nd 1912, then aged twenty four. The 1911 census lists him as a hairdresser, as it does John quoted above, fifteen when the census was taken. They were sons to Christina, (listed a widow on both the 1901 and 1911 census returns) and lived in a house on Chancery Lane, not far from Christchurch Cathedral. Their father was a hackney owner, and kept horses stabled nearby until his death sometime prior to 1901. John and James were just two of a family of thirteen.
Annual rent on the premises at Castlewood Avenue in 1912 was £52, and on opening, a haircut in the shop cost fourpence and a shave thruppence. Along with his wife, four girls and two boys, James lived above the barbers until the early 1930’s when the family moved around the corner to Oakley Road; born and reared above the shop, Jimmy and William would go into the family business. Their father James didn’t retire until his late seventies and it wasn’t until then in 1966 and at fifty years of age that Jimmy took on the role of proprietor.
Jimmy, born in 1916, started cutting hair in 1930 at fourteen years old, with Willy starting at the same age five years later. Rathmines, and Castlewood Avenue was a different place then, the number 18 tram with it’s red triangle identifier passing the front door of the shop. The township of Rathmines existed as a seperate entity to Dublin City until 1930, when it was amalgamated into Dublin City Council.
I was born upstairs eighty six years ago, in 1916. I’m not a Dubliner though, I’m a Rathmines man. The oldest one around they say, though I’m not saying that. Dublin didn’t come here, to Rathmines, until the 1930’s. Rathmines Urban District Council made their own electricity until then.
Jimmy, in an interview with Rose Doyle, Irish Times, October 16th, 2002.
The tramlines were taken up in the forties, but Jimmy and the shop remained, unchanged. In the same manner as his father, Jimmy worked in the shop for sixty eight years, only retiring in 1998 and passing on the mantle to the shops current owner Robert Feighery who served his time in the Merchant Barbers, itself running for over half a century. Jimmy remained a regular visitor to the shop after retiring, dropping in a couple of times a week for a chat with the barber and his customers until his death on New Years Eve, 2010.
The shop remains largely as Jimmy left it, with a polished wood floor, benches lining two walls, two wash basins and a large collection of historical memorabilia connected with the shop including framed electricity meter reading cards dating back to the shop’s opening, stamped with “G.F. Pilditch, M.I.E.E. at the Electricity Works, Town Hall, Rathmines,” a picture of Jimmy and Willie with Brendan Gleeson, and various clippings of the shop from books and newspapers it has appeared in. Also on the wall is a large portrait of Padraig and Willie Pearse, and a selection of Bohs newspaper clippings, including one from the day after the League win in 2001; the Red and Black exterior evidence of Robbie’s footballing allegiance.
In the same interview with Rose Doyle quoted above, given in the shop in 2002, Jimmy said:
Sometimes a fella comes in and says ‘you cut my hair 30 years ago.’ Some are fifth generation customers, and there a number who are fourth generation. Famous people come and go, but everyone’s the same importance here. When a fella pays, and goes out the door, he’s all the same!
The Waldorf stakes a brave claim that it is Dublin’s oldest barbers, but I don’t think it can beat that.