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Calling time on an 80-year jewellery business

THE other day. a young mum walked into Muckley Jewellers in Youghal with her three-year-old son.

She wanted to buy him a watch for his Holy Communion, even though it is five years away.

“All her family got their keep-sakes here and she wanted to carry on the same tradition,” explains Anne Muckley.

The reason the woman was so early, is that the popular shop is closing on Christmas Eve, after 80 years in business, being run by the same family.

Anne and her husband Albert are retiring from the business.

“We’ll miss the shop, but it is timely for both of us now to retire,” says Anne, nee Kirby, originally of Glanworth, who is a public health nurse.

Albert was born and reared at 93, North Main Street.

“I’ll certainly miss it,” he admits. “We lived here, over the shop until 10 years ago when we moved to our house in Summerfield. The business was always family-run and we had no overheads.”

How do they plan to fill their time now?

“We have no major plans,” says Anne. “Closing the shop will be a major hurdle. We’ll get over that first.

“Our customers have been very loyal to us over the years. Holidaymakers from England, the USA and Australia are among our regular customers.

“It was always lovely to see visitors from abroad in the shop during the summer months. They forged special links to Youghal.”

Local people also like to keep the traditions intact, as evidenced by the mum wanting her son Communion watch.

Muckley Jewellers, a local treasure in the town of Youghal, was carefully handed down from generation to generation.

“We could write a book about the generations,” says Albert.

In 1891, a young man from the Black Forest in Germany landed in Cork.

“My grandfather, also Albert, worked at Hilser Brothers, a jewellery shop in Cork, for six years before deciding to set up his own jewellery business in Youghal,” says Albert.

He met a Midleton lass and love blossomed.

“Albert stepped off the train with his suit-case in Midleton and decided to stay. He married Agnes Ames, from Railway Road, in 1905 in Hatton Garden, which was London’s jewellery quarter and the centre of its jewellery trade.”

Albert and Agnes had six sons.

“One son, Bernard James Muckley, followed in his father’s footsteps,” says Albert.

Taking the train to Youghal, Bernard opened up his own jewellery business at 16, South Main Street, moving it later years to 93, North Main Street, where the shop became a well-known family dynasty.

“My Dad, Bernard, married Lil Barry, from Midleton,” says Albert. “They had seven children.

“Selling and mending was much of his trade at the shop. Repairs were carefully and promptly attended to. Back then, when there was no radio, the time-piece was a very important part of everyday life.

“The shop was a farmer’s joy. It stocked a selection of rings as well as clocks and watches.”

So for people getting hitched, Muckleys was the place to go?

“It was,” says Anne. “My own engagement ring came from here!”

Well, after all, diamonds are a girls’ best friend!

“We’ve sold a lot of wedding and engagement rings over the years,” says Anne. “Often, brides-to-be bring in their grandmother’ rings that they inherited to be engraved. Engraving is a big part of our business and like his father, Albert specialises in mending and maintaining manual watches and clocks.”

Did Anne meet Albert under the Clock Gate?

She laughs.

“We met in the badminton hall,” she says.

Time marched on and Albert, who had joined the family business, married Anne in 1978. The couple have a daughter, Marie, and a son, Leo.

Did working at the jewellery shop together over the years tick all their boxes?

“We always enjoyed stocking good quality Irish-made goods,” says Anne. “93% of our jewellery is Irish-made. Waterford crystal is always displayed in our shop, as we believe in supporting local business. We’d have an affinity with the Dungarvan factory.”

Albert, like his forefathers, loved the working mechanics of the manual watches.

“People liked to come to me to service their watches,” he says. “It was a trust thing. The work required precision and attention to detail.”

Anne is a good time-keeper.

“My job was to wind and check watches on a daily basis,” she says. “I had to make sure they weren’t running slow.”

The display cabinet and shop window was always just so, the gems polished and gleaming.

“Cleaning and polishing items took up many hours of the day,” says Anne.

What happened to the maintenance of time-pieces with the advent of the quartz movement in the 1980s?

“We thought business might get slower,” says Anne. “But these new watches needed new batteries and straps. It was a different type of maintenance.”

Business was brisk and often, unusual. None was turned away.

“There was a brief secondary trade when we repaired rosary beads!”

Was payment in shillings and pence? 

“Once, payment was in the form of three Hail Marys!”

The generations continue to come knocking.

“We’re seeing third generation customers now,” says Anne. 

“Children, who once received their christening bracelets from Muckleys, are coming here to buy engagement and wedding rings. People who purchased 25th wedding anniversary presents are buying presents now for 50th wedding anniversaries.”

Albert adds: “The business has been around for 80 years and you don’t stay in business that long without building up a reputation for trust-worthiness.”

The couple have built up a wealth of friendships too.

“The same people have been coming here for their special gifts for years and years,” says Anne. “Selecting a piece of jewellery is a very personal choice, and we like to be able to help people make those decisions.

Albert chimes in. “My grandfather, my father, and myself, would not be here without he loyal support of all our customers down through the years.

“We’ve been so proud to share so many special moments in people’s lives.”

Now, Anne and Albert are look forward to a sparkling retirement, marking the year of their Ruby Wedding anniversary.