“Are you Going Up Town” is the title of a wonderful book that explores the shops of Limerick City through the years, and the Limerick shopping experience there that was so special. Written by Hélène Bradley Davies, Ursula Callaghan and Maura Cronin, the book is a result of them asking “Where do we shop and why do we shop there?” Simple questions really, but the response varies from – ‘That’s where my mother went’, to ‘They have the best selection’, to the simple fact of the particular shop’s closeness to home.
The book is full of wonderful pictuers of Limerick from the 1800s onwards and charts the development of shops and of shopping in the city, showing how retailing animated the thoroughfares and the fine buildings of the new town, as well as the medieval streets and lanes of the older parts of the city. The authors write about, and have pictures of the shops of bygone days and the wide array of goods that they offered while also featuring the shop owners, their employees, and the shoppers. A major strength of the book is the use of memories recounted by the shoppers, shop owners and assistants who were interviewed for this project. The clarity and vibrancy of their reminiscences are astonishing, with interviewees able to remember entire streets of shops that are long gone, their proprietors and their employees
The book describes historical trends in the range and type of goods being sold in shops, as well as changes in the organisation of retailing, such as the rise of the department store and the retail chain store or “multiple”, and the decline of the small family shop. As well as the history of local shops and shopping, the authors expertly delineate various aspects of the geography of retailing. It is clear that shopping in all periods was a different experience for different social classes, and in different parts of the city.
This is not just a social history. As well as leading the reader on a fascinating journey through the city of yesteryear, it provides an important reference point for current debates on the future of Limerick. As the city wrestles with profound changes in retailing, in particular the rise of on-line shopping, the book invites us to think seriously about the future of the city centre.
Ger Sweeney spoke to one of the authors, Dr. Ursula Callaghan about the book. The interview was heard on his Irish radio programme on Spain-based Talk Radio Europe. Their chat can be heard below.