Ireland’s oldest shoe store celebrates 144th birthday

Jarlath McConville
Jarlath McConville

A business icon in Lurgan, Jarlath McConville is celebrating the family’s shoe shop trading for 144 years.

PJ McConville’s is regarded as the oldest shoe store in the Northern Ireland and possibly the whole of Ireland, and Jarlath is proud of his family’s business heritage.

Jarlath himself has been running the store for 50 years and still welcomes customers who bought shoes from him all those years ago.

It all began with Jarlath’s great grandfather Paddy McConville, who sold both drapery and footwear for the first two years at 32 High St and the following year in Edward St, facing a petrol pump owned by Matt Magee in Brown St before moving to its current location in North St.

Paddy’s son Patrick, who was a buyer for the well-known Bank Buildings in Belfast, then took over the shop. He was joined by his daughter Ita, who served for 58 years before introducing Jarlath to the business. Such a success was he, a leading footwear firm in England named a gent’s shoe after him, with his name on the shoe, the box and their catalogue.

The shop harks back to an era of courtesy and friendliness, together with the personal touch. Jarlath’s store remains very much in that vein and, though there are boxes of shoes neatly stacked throughout the store, he knows exactly where everything is.

And he believes that it is this personal touch and friendly service as well as great bargains that have kept him afloat when the shadow of internet shopping led to the closure of other outlets over the years.

Even in his twilight years Jarlath is aways willing to give advice and even a song. Jarlath’s shoe shop is more than just a store. It is a place to meet to have a natter and chat about the ways of the world. “I stay clear of politics and stick to music and shoes,” he says with a grin. “I always stress that I feel at home with all sections of the community.”

Jarlath, who was honoured by the Pope with the Benemerenti Medal, has won medals for singing, Irish dancing, playing the violin and playing Gaelic and soccer. He has served on 18 different organisations including North St Traders, the Irish Council for the National Operatic and Dramatic Association of London, the local branch of the CEMA (a forerunner of the NI Arts Council) and the Lurgan Catholic Association, to name a few. He helped form Lurgan Operatic Society in 1950 and was appointed secretary in 1956, a post he held for 30 years before becoming Vice-President. He played many principal theatrical roles and on a few occasions his leading lady was local professional actress Stella McCusker.