In late September 2021, Dún Laoghaire was hit by a bombshell. John Hyland, who had traded in Upper Georges Street for 35 years, suddenly announced his retirement. People retire every day, but this made the front page of both the Irish Times and Irish Independent.
Tributes poured in from far and wide. Tom Dunne wrote movingly of Hyland in the Irish Examiner: “A newspaper vendor to you, a minor god to me. He is one of my last connections to a world that no longer exists, a lost Amazonian surrounded not by rainforest but newspapers and magazines.”
During 2020 and 2021 the vast majority of shops along the entire length of George’s Street were shut. Dún Laoghaire’s regally named main street was already struggling during the best of times, back in those halcyon days when we had the luxury of not having firsthand experience of a pandemic.
At 46a, Upper George’s Street, a small newsagents and grocery store didn’t close for a single day. This magical little shop continued to supply the community with their daily grocery needs, plus an extensive stock of provincial and international newspapers, ranging from The Sligo Champion to Die Welt, and a cornucopia of magazines and periodicals you would never find in larger shops.
The sign outside read, ‘The magazine you want is here.’ The New York Review of Books. Marine Times. Times Literary Supplement. London Review of Books. The Spectator. History Today. The Oldie. Uncut. Mojo. Louder Than War. Wire. Bookforum. Angling Times. You name it. John stocked it.
Sometime in Spring 2020, I was picking up a copy of The New Statesman from John. His debit card machine wasn’t working. Like most us of us, I’d completely got out of the habit of carrying or handling cash. Rather than deprive of me of my weekend read (one of the few things I looked forward to last year each week) he kindly said, ‘Pay me again when you can’.
Such acts of kindness are typical of John, who is a living and breathing personification of the phrase local institution. Even if you never darkened the door of his tiny but well-stocked shop, you knew it.
‘Dun Leary’s Last Corner Shop’ colourfully colonised the corner of Clarinda Park West and Upper George’s Street with a display of papers literally pouring out into the street. Special offers were scrawled on luridly coloured backgrounds declaring ‘the magazine you want is here’, or ‘Dun Learys (sic) last corner ship is cheaper than Tesco (for some things the same price for many other things)’, and the accurate appraisal ‘your corner shop sells everything.’
Mr. Hyland used to own Lucky Alex’s ‘The Magazine King’ across the road on Upper George’s Street beside Stoneview Place, which is currently a fireplace showroom. Lucky Alex’s stocked the widest selection of magazines in town and quite possibly the borough. It once sold a winning lottery ticket, scooping a lucky customer £4.3 million, hence its name.
Lucky Alex’s stayed open 24 hours a day, so if an insomniac wanted a copy of Wire magazine at 4.30am they had somewhere to go. Back then, there was a far more vibrant night time economy in Dún Laoghaire. Walters on George’s Street Upper was one of the few bars serving relatively late seven nights a week anywhere on the Southside. In addition to Walters, there were two nightclubs and an Abrakebabra.
Lucky’s makes an appearance in a book published last year entitled So Much For The 30 Year Plan: Therapy? – The Authorised Biography by Simon Young. Therapy? singer Andy Cairns reveals that he lived in Dún Laoghaire for a while in the 90s.
“Before I met my wife, I’d moved from Bray in County Wicklow to a place called Dún Laoghaire in 1995,’ Cairns explains. “It’s a rough-and-ready port town. At this point I’d been using quite a lot of narcotics, so I’d be up to all hours. I smoked heavily and would often need to go and find some cigarettes at four in the morning. There was one shop that was open twenty-four hours. The only people who’d be out would be me out of my mind on coke, some drunks and prostitutes.”
About 16 years ago Hyland sold Lucky’s and leased a corner shop across the road, which became the much loved Dún Laoghaire institution that generated headlines on September 28, 2021. Deirdre Falvey and John Dixon’s news piece on September 27, 2021 about the shop’s closure became the most read story on the Irish Times website.
John’s shop was a tonic for the ubiquitous rise of identikit branches of Spar and Centra and the advent of discount supermarkets. Initially, we thought we were losing this wonderful store forever. The happy ending is that we are not.
On Tuesday, October 19, 2021, the shop re-opened under the management of Rahul Mahajan, who informs me that he intends to start stocking a wide selection of magazines in the coming weeks.
John Hyland may have left the building, but the Last Corner Shop lives on.