Protected Structures and Religious Nutcases

In which I find an old gem and an old busybody.

I found myself in Clonmel yesterday for business reasons, and since I had plenty of time before my meeting, I wandered around, admiring the town.  It’s not a place  I knew much about, surprisingly, considering how close it is to Limerick, but I was very taken by it: a handsome, unspoilt settlement with a laid-back feel not entirely unlike the ambience of a place like Westport.

I usually have a camera with me, but not this time, since it’s considered bad form to go into a business meeting and slam a dirty big SLR on the table, but still, I agree, a story about Clonmel deserves proper photography.

There you go.  Must try harder.  Now move on.

Blundering down Gladstone Street, my eye settled on an extraordinary shopfront, all battered and storm-torn, and my inbuilt desolation-meter said Stop!  What’s this?

DW Parke Chemist Clonmel

As I lined myself up to take a picture with my phone (something I detest doing normally), a squat, rotund, red-faced woman of 70-something appeared in front of me.

What are ya doin’?

Eh, I’m taking a picture.

Why are ya takin’ a picture?

Because this is one of the finest shop-fronts I have ever seen.

The woman smiled at me, a strange thousand-yard rictus.  He’s a genius.


Him, said the woman jerking her head  backwards towards the shop.  A genius.

Really?  I said.  Is he still open for business?  It all seems a little battered.

The woman cackled.  No.  He lives  in there … with his sister.

What?  Are we talking Norman Bates here?

The woman ignored me.  In there.  With his sister.  A genius.

I studied the front of the huge old Georgian house with its lovely sliding-sash windows, the original handcrafted timber glazing bars still in place, 170 years of craftsmanship surviving so many changes.  I compared them with the lumpen PVC replacement windows of the  adjoining two houses, flanking the Parke premises  on each side and briefly, the word idiots flashed across my mind, but still the woman was talking , like a fat little scarf-wearing chainsaw.

He has priests on both sides of him.  Imagine that.

I could imagine nothing worse, I said.


Nothing worse than a broken window.

No, agreed the woman, with a doubtful frown.  Are you a  Catholic?

I’m not, I said.

Ah, you’re a Protestant so, she said, summoning up the tolerant smile that small-town people of a certain age reserve for the reassuring old Church of Ireland.

I’m not.  I’m only taking a picture of a shop.  Why do you care what I am?

Where are you from?


That seemed to settle it.

Limerick?  What do you believe in?

I believe in going about my business.

Have you God in your life?

There is no God.  Anyway, I have to go.

No God?  You have no life.

My life is fine, thanks.

Now, I don’t know where they teach that condescending smile.  Maybe there’s a school for old bigots where they learn this move, but in any case, my little busybody had the drill nailed.  The last time I saw a smile-snarl like that, it was on the appalling old harridan, Míne Bean Uí Chribín or assorted members of the Youth Defence family.

You have no life!!

I have.

You have no life without God!!  None!!

I thought her head was going to rotate but thankfully it stayed more or less in one place.  I must be getting very old.  There was a time when I’d have offered such a person a two-syllable farewell, but I surprised myself by turning into Cary Grant.

Good day to you, I said, urbanely, and turned away while the mad lady of Clonmel cackled into the light summer breeze.

It was only later that I realised how I should have answered her questioning, but not with that feeble there-is-no-God nonsense.  When the lady asked if I was a Catholic or a Protestant, I should have said I was a Satanist.  That would have softened her harsh old cough, and if it didn’t the chemist might have had something if she banged on the door.

Yet again, my innate courtesy toward older people has let me  down.  Damn you, polite upbringing!



PS.  DW Parke Chemist shop, 23 Gladstone Street,  is a protected structure, item No 95 in the Clonmel register of protected structures.  The council has the power under section IV of the Planning and Development Act,2000,  to ensure that such an important item of the built  heritage is properly protected.








8 thoughts on “Protected Structures and Religious Nutcases

  1. thank you for that Bock.. made me smile (something I find increasingly harder to do these days..)

    I especially liked the multicoloured lights in the image, perfectly spaced

  2. A great tale Bock and thanks for brightening up a grey day.

    I love the old shopfront and didn’t realise phones could take pictures of such quality. This photo could become a work of art with a little experimentation with layers. If you duplicate the image and set the layer bending mode to ‘Overlay’ you might begin to see some possibilities. This gives punchier colour and more contrast. However I hope I am not preaching to the converted pardon the pun :-)

  3. Window seems to have been broken since last time I was past – pity, as I think that window had similar age (going to guess 1990s) ephemera in it also.

    Always found it unusual how a chemist, of all heavily regulated businesses, could just close its doors and be left like that but there is or was a few around the country that I’ve seen as such – one in Dundrum that’s now gone and one in Dun Laoighaire up a side street.

  4. “There is no God” Oh my. I’m surprised she didn’t put a hex on you there and then.

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