Austin Seagrave (left), with Brian Seagrave and his family - Kieran, Laura, wife Angela and Darragh. Missing from photo is daughter Laura.

‘Open when we’re here, closed when we ain’t’

Seagraves' in Belturbet closed for the final time on Christmas Eve, December 24.

For almost a century Seagraves’ newsagents has been mainstay on Belturbet’s Bridge Street.

Its closure for the final time on Christmas Eve, December 24, attracted a common refrain that it marked the “end of an era”. It did, agrees shop proprietor Brian, who had held the reins with help from wife Angela and family for almost 47 years.

Scribbled on the back of Brian’s hand as he leans across his iconic shop counter one last time to speak with Celt is the number ‘16,744’.

“I don’t work Christmas, so leaving that aside, I’ve done 16,744 days delivering papers and milk,” he marvels at the computation of a life’s work.

But the shop meant much more than just that - more to Brian, and more to the community it so loyally served.

Seagraves was first opened in 1927 by Brian’s uncle Cathal, before Brian took over the running in 1976. Little had “changed” since. The patchwork hard tiled floor is as it was, and only the counter moved, behind which Brian held court to countless visitors whiling away the day unencumbered, solving life’s problems, or dissecting every breaking ball from the previous weekend’s matches.

A GAA referee himself, and proud Drumlane man whose shop was a stone’s throw across into Rory’s territory, Brian recalls "mighty" chats about football over the years.

It’s a feature of retirement he expects to “miss most”.

“I’ll never forget it for as long as I live.”

From his perch within, or on deliveries in his recognisable white van, Brian has witnessed generations of “change”.

“Maybe 30 years ago, there could’ve been 40 shops in Belturbet, 21 pubs,” he says rhyming off just a few he once counted as near neighbours. “Eileen Baxter, Jim Cassidy’s, John Gerard Flynn’s, The Lawn, Sweeney’s, Twinny’s, Gerry Farrelly’s, The Cosy...”

Seagraves’ shop is itself a time capsule capturing what life Bridge Street once was. Perched on the wall is a sign for ‘Knorr’ packet sauces, a crumple cornered ‘Will’s Champion Plug’ advertisement sits next to it. Hanging on a wall opposite, beside the classic Monaghan Milk graphic, is a pock-marked ‘Craven A’ cigarettes clock. “That’s been there a lifetime. It hasn’t ticked a tock in years,” laughs Brian who points out invoices and requisite slips pinned to the wall, all from local businesses, and dating back nearly as long as Seagrave’s shop has been around.

Another change in the times, says Brian, and most pertinent to his specific line of work, is the vanishing sale of newspapers. “You look at the number of papers sold in the 1970s compared to now. Younger people aren’t buying them,” he puts plainly, before stressing the important role local media still plays.

When the next edition of the Celt hits shelves, Brian’s blue-fronted shop will have uncharacteristically been closed almost a week.

“It’s all online for younger people now, online shopping, and it's closing shops on streets, which is sad. There’ll hardly be a shop left to go into and talk football in Belturbet in a few years,” he laments.

Yet Brian believes Belturbet has “brilliant potential”, and that the people of the erneside town are “very special”.

Brian’s “decision” to close for good came as the toil of a seven-day week took its toll. Long hours, and few holidays, means the newsagent business has always been a tough game. Brian reaches for a sign, which he says is his “favourite”. It says: 'Open when we're here, closed when we ain't'.

“I’ve grandchildren, and I want to be able to spend more time with them. I’ve raised a family on this shop floor.”

Missing from this memorable Seagrave family occasion is Brian’s eldest daughter Laura, rushed into hospital four days early to give birth to her third child.

Brian continues: “I can’t complain about business, I’ve been blessed. The people of Belturbet have been more than good to me. That’s the very sad thing about it. The last couple of days have been very difficult. I’d one particular lady in, getting milk and papers 60 years, and she was crying. I really was taken aback.”

He becomes emotional, briefly, when Austin Seagrave, the late Cathal’s son arrives.

Embraces are shared too with the likes of Malcom O’Keefe who helped Brian out in the shop in his younger years. “Here is the man, here is the man!” roars Brian approvingly, finger pointed and grabbing his former protégé around the shoulder. Others like him to pick up with the milk and paper run were Malcom’s brother Adrian, Georgie Morton, Gordon North, and Pat Sullivan. “They all served their time”.

In ways, Brian says, he “never realised” the impact the service he provided had in the lives of people, many of whom turned out in droves to wish him and his family well last Saturday.

As Brian held the shop open for the final few hours, spirits were high and ‘hot toddies’ were served in abundance.

Christmas Eve traffic was brought to a standstill to allow Brian command an audience of those in attendance.

He told the crowd that those he was thinking of most were the people no longer with us, and he thanked both his family, in particular his wife of 38 years Angela, and the community of Belturbet, Drumlane and surrounding areas for their unwavering support during his time in business.

“I’ve nothing but admiration for the people,” he said. “I mean that. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I’ve nothing but gratitude to every single one of you.”