Ballymahon woman Helen Egan celebrated her 30th year serving her local community on Thursday last. On Monday November 8th 1982, Helen began her first shift at Hanly’s Newsagents on Main Street in the south Longford town and has been an integral member of staff and a part of the local fabric ever since.
Completing her Leaving Certificate the previous summer, Helen left Ballymahon Vocational School with the intention of pursuing a secretarial career before a job at the local newsagents cropped up. She explains: “At a time when jobs were scarce, I had to take it. I had begun the (secretarial) course and studied it for about a month and a half but once the opportunity to work here (Hanly’s) came up I couldn’t turn it down.”
So what is the secret to Helen’s longevity? “I’ve been working with some great staff, they’ve all been lovely to work with and the locals are part of the routine that makes it easier. You are really made feel part of the family working in Hanly’s. I thought I would only be here for about a year, but 30 years later I’m still here and I’m very happy and my colleagues, two of whom have been here 12 and 13 years, are happy because they feel the same.”
Comparing life in Ballymahon in the early 80s to today, Helen says: “Things are similar enough around the town although you have the usual changes such as a lot more foreigners living in the area and the outskirts have expanded slightly from when I started.” Helen has also noted the fact that, like with any area in the country, the pace of daily life has changed. “People are in more of a hurry these days too. A few years ago they would stop and chat but you haven’t got as much time now, I suppose, and it’s a case of just get what you need and go.”
Helen has also witnessed the shop grow and change with the times. “When I started out, there was only one or two other staff working here. Sheila McGowan, the then owner and Annie Hanly were the only other staff here with me and now we have both morning and evening staff along with weekend staff who work to keep themselves in college.”
Having worked all the way through the recession of the mid-eighties and the downturn after the death of the Celtic Tiger, Helen believes the personal touch is what keeps community establishments such as Hanly’s prominent. While larger stores such as Tesco and Supervalu may be the popular choice for the average consumer, it’s the connection between staff and customer that Helen feels counts. “I go into bigger shops and really you’re a number to them as soon as you walk in the door. Here, you are more important and we have great banter and craic with the locals coming in here that you just don’t get in other supermarkets.
“Working in Hanly’s, you also know exactly what the individual wants and you get to know people over the years.”
This landmark occasion did not go unnoticed by current store proprietor Ambrose McGowan, as Helen illustrates: “He (Ambrose) called me up to the front of the store and all of a sudden there’s a cake and flowers there for me. I couldn’t believe it as I didn’t think anyone would remember and then there’s a massive fuss over me with customers coming over congratulating me. I was mortified!”
A special time of the year for Helen is Christmas and with the festive period just around the corner, the Ballymahon woman is looking forward to enjoying the end of year celebrations with her customers. “It’s my favourite time of year to work, especially the week leading up to the day. We sometimes keep the Christmas toys upstairs in the shop for Santa to collect when the kids have gone off to bed. The look on their faces when I ask them what he’s bringing is priceless.”