John J Taaffe and his wife Henrietta arrived in Galway in the mid-1920s from Co Cork. He had been associated with Bantry Woolen Mills which unfortunately went out of business when the factory was burnt down during the War of Independence. With his background in the textile industry, it was probably natural for John to open a drapery shop at number 12 William Street. As you can see from the beautiful Gaelic writing on the facade, he was a fan of the Irish language. He and Henrietta had five children, Joseph, Eddie, Netta, Una and Flo.
Their business was a wholesale and retail drapery. They specialized in selling woolen and tweed items, but as you can see from the window in our photo (taken in the late 1920s) they sold many lines of general drapery. The store quickly became a big hit, a Galway institution. They did a lot of publicity…. In 1941, “All the products of our big summer sale are offered without taking into account today’s values, some of which cannot be repeated at any price. We have weird lines and dirty store merchandise that we clean at a fraction of their value. In general, very big savings can be made by visiting us immediately. So don’t delay! A week or two later, they might be advertising the latest line of trendy hats for women. John died in 1946 and with the onset of the post-war tourism boom the business changed as Taaffe became a favorite calling spot for visitors charmed by the store’s almost Dickensian charm and decidedly old-fashioned way. to deal with customers.
It was now run by Eddie and Una, and under his leadership they began to do very good mail-order business with American customers but, under circumstances which included an element of sadness and the ill health of Eddie and d ‘Una, it started to decline and eventually, in 1996, Taaffe went out of business and closed.
The family lived above the store. There was a large garden at the back which included a tennis court and they often had parties there. They were well known in business, social and sports circles. Indeed, Eddie and Una could be described as great “characters” from Galway. Una went to school with the Dominicans at Taylor’s Hill. She has always stood out and has often said that she never missed a Galway racing meeting for 40 years. A great athlete, especially in tennis, she was a good rower and also a hockey player. She has done quite a bit of theater with various theater groups in town. She was a beauty, sculptural and always well dressed.
She died in 2006, predeceased by her brother Eddie in 2001. Her neighbor Colm Powell said of her: “Others would say she was a character but she was more than that, she was extraordinarily charitable and she and Eddie were extremely religious. I hated seeing her come down a slope.
Read more Old Galway Stories with Tom Kenny on The Old Galway.