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“It was like Are You Being Served”: Frawley’s, 14 years on

Long after the closure of the legendary department store, customers and employees share their fond memories with The Liberty.  

It has been 14 years since Frawley’s department store shut its doors for the last time. Frawley’s was an institution of old Dublin, taking pride of place on Thomas Street in Dublin 8. After 115 years of trading it shut up shop in 2007 with only lingering memories left behind. 

I’m sitting in Highlight student accommodation where Frawley’s once stood. It’s hard not to laugh that there are now students living and partying where we once bought our school uniforms, bedsheets, and communion dresses.  

My memories of Frawley’s are fond ones: travelling in with my mam and my grandmother, having breakfast in Manning’s Bakery, and weaving through Frawley’s and the Liberty Market for hours on end. These memories are shared experiences by many from the Liberties and the surrounding areas.  

Frawley’s building. Source: RTÉ

“We’re from Ballyfermot and my mother ran a savings club for Frawley’s,” Sarah Graham tells The Liberty. “She would collect two euro per club member every week and I would go in with the dockets for her.”  

Savings clubs were popular back then for many department stores, jewellery shops, and record shops. Members would save money throughout the year and would then use their savings for Christmas clothes or school uniforms. Graham adds: “I would get the 79a into town and I remember asking mam what bus I would get home!” 

“I remember being in awe as a young child watching as the goods were carefully packed by the staff,” Sarah Scully says. “My granny would hand over the money for it to be placed in a tin container on a wire. It would be sent to the upstairs of the shop and eventually sent back down with the receipt and the change.” 

Frawley’s was full of character, from the staff to the people who shopped there.

“I remember getting sent in for new trousers and the man behind the counter would tell us he put a tenner into the pocket of a pair of jeans,” Liam Kilmurray says.

“But he always told us to go straight home to our mammies and not check the pockets until we got home! I never found a tenner but the memory of this silly little act has always stuck with me.”  

Geraldine Kelly worked in Frawley’s from when she was 15 years old. Kelly went on to open Plus and Minors in the Frawley’s building after it closed. She now runs Plus and Minors in Inchicore alongside her sister Paula Kelly and Liam Hayden, who also worked in Frawley’s.  

“I started in 1974 in the toys at Christmas,” Kelly recalls. “I didn’t want to go work in Frawley’s – are you mental? I went down for the interview and asked for Mr. Lee. He asked how old I was and told me to start on the Monday!” 

“It was like Are You Being Served, that’s exactly what it was like,” Liam Hayden jokes. “I truthfully don’t have any bad memories, it was a hilarious place. We sold furniture upstairs and the lads would be upstairs playing cards and smoking at the bureaus. They’d hear the manager coming up the stairs and close the desks down with the smokes inside!” 

“There’s even a women in Ballyfermot who asked to be buried with a Frawley’s bag in her hand”

Liam Hayden, employee of Frawley’s

“There’s even a women in Ballyfermot who asked to be buried with a Frawley’s bag in her hand!”

Frawley’s was an important place to many people and was well-known around Dublin. “I remember going past Oliver Bond and seeing two fellas on a wall. I had a feeling I was going to be done! I heard one of them say to the other: ‘Don’t touch him – he’s out of Frawley’s’.” 

News that Frawley’s was closing was a devastating to hear for a large community of people. Trading for 115 years, multiple generations of families worked and shopped there and found the news upsetting to hear.

“I was broken-hearted, I really was. I’ll never forget the morning he told us we were closing,” Hayden says. “It’s so sad that it had to go.”  

In 2015, the National College of Art and Design held an art exhibition in the old Frawley’s building. The main feature of the exhibition was the original Frawley’s sign that the students borrowed from the landlord. “They had it all illuminated, people came just to look at that,” Kelly says. “That’s how famous the place was!”  

Frawley’s exhibition Image source: Geraldine Kelly

“They had a band outside and my sister Paula was asked to cut the rope on the opening night.” Kelly recalls that exhibition: “There was hundreds around, people are still talking about it to this day and will continue to talk about how much they miss it.”  

When Frawley’s turned 100 years old, Hayden wrote a poem about the good times he had there and the memories he, like many others, will have forever:  

“In years to come my mind will wander,  

I’ll think of days that used to be,   

of times I spent in dear old Frawley’s,  

the value centre of the Liberties.   

As the bells of Johns Lane ring out gayly,  

my heart will echo with their chimes,  

for I am proud that I was part  

of Dublin in rare auld times.”  

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