Memories of my First Communion suit

Fr Jason Murphy pens another lovely reflection - this time on memories of picking out his First Communion Suit...

The ring of the bell over the door announced your entrance from the world of the everyday along a busy street of passing cars and trundling lorries, stray dogs and busy women in head scarves who were stopped in their passing by the lure of skin-coloured nylons basking in sun-kissed hues, laid out in the window of Teresa Gilcreest’s drapery and haberdashery store. The men beneath peaked caps enticed by the smell of porter wafting from the White Star Bar next door paid little attention as their women folk pointed to the sale on ‘Long Johns’ with elasticated waists that were neatly laid out on the floor of the gleaming window, foretelling perhaps of a long winter to come.

Here one entered into a world where the sounds of the everyday were absorbed within by the shelves of bed linen and curtain material of paisley and flower pattern. Blue shirts and white shirts and striped buttoned ones too, neatly folded, each on top of the other, stacked high the length of the walls around. Ladies’ two pieces and three pieces for sunny, summer outings on Martin’s coaches to Knock, all hung on rails in hues of pink, mauves and green, pillow cases and cushion cases and all sizes of laced doilies illumined by an electric bulb beneath the glass counter.

There were men’s trousers for formal wear and shades of brown for day wear, black ones with pronounced creases for sudden deaths and funerals. Shelves of white boxes were stacked high behind the counter to the right of which sat Terry on a high stool peering in to the ticking mechanism of a clock that was wound too tightly; tick - tock ,tick - tock the sound of time pieces restored to the fullness of health awaiting their retrieval from Terry Gilcreest’s home of respite care.

The white boxes were taken down only on request and, from these cardboard chests of Pandora’s wears were removed, finger and thumb, in the most discreet and subtle fashion, far from the prying eye, all sorts of women’s apparel.

It was a world wherein the language spoken was that of cotton and corduroy, linen and lace, twill and tweed, lambswool, marino, cashmere and mohair sheared from a goat that roamed wild in the breeze. There was velvet and suede and Heaven forbid polyester and spandex too. Herein size mattered - whether it was your inner leg or outer leg or the dreaded tape thrown around your waist, the ever-increasing sizes with the passing of the years, to say nothing of the burgeoning necks of the well-fed farmers from Derryerry too.

It was a place that was otherworldly, akin to Lewis’ Narnia entered through the attic door, a cushioned kind of reality where the voices of the everyday were suspended in a time and place, the only difference being that she who held sway in this kingdom of fabrics and materials was nothing like the ice queen that the children encountered beyond the door of the wardrobe, here the Queen of bedlinen was as soft and as warm as the flannelette sheets that she sold.

I remember standing in the centre of the floor in the weeks of May leading up to my First Holy Communion day as she measured all three feet of me, high up and low down with her measuring tape hung around her neck and, from the dark corners of the shop, carried forth, to my great delight, a navy blue velvet jacket with a bow tie and frill to match. I couldn’t wait to take it from its wooden hanger to try it on over a crisp white shirt and light grey trousers and black polished shoes bought in John Fay’s shoe shop below.

Here I watched as the transformation took place in the long mirror before my very eyes… the boy in his corduroy trousers well-worn at the knees and a woolly jumper a little baubled at the sleeves, transformed into a little doyen as he thought at the touch of Teresa’s hands just as others were transformed in this place of buy and sell into a much-enhanced version of themselves in readiness for a wedding or a christening or for a First Communion day.

Standing in the aisle of Dunnes Stores or other such high street shops compares little to the experience in Teresa’s drapery. It was a place one could call to, to pay up on a set of matching bed sheets as a wedding present for a neighbour’s child, a place of comfort and consolation as women gathered to talk on the ordinary and the everyday over a set of handkerchiefs bought for a mankind’s birthday . She was at the centre of a community and part our lives and most especially at the centre of the lives of little boys and girls as they approached in the month of May, their First Holy Communion Day.


Bring joy to the lives of those who sit beneath our shadow