The presence at the heart of commercial and community life in Athleague village of the Keane family business for a full century will be formally celebrated this weekend.
This great success story began when Michael and Nora Keane established the Keane’s family business in 1909 in the premises now known as The Bridge House (public bar).
One hundred years and two further generations later, Keane’s – having moved to a new location in 1991 – remains at the very heart of life in Athleague.
In 1909 the business set up by Michael and Nora Keane – grandparents of current proprietor Bernard Keane – was small and modest, initially at least, typical of most general merchants’ of the time.
Keane’s family business grew however and became part of the fabric of life in the area. Today, Keane’s Centra in Athleague is a modern 21st century premises and the Keanes now employ about 65 people between their outlets in Athleague and Lanesboro.
It all began when Michael Keane, a native of Kilbegnet, and his wife Nora (nee Hughes, from Mountmary) purchased a premises in Athleague village and established a general merchants.’ The premises incorporated a pub and shop and the purchase was made in 1909 after the couple returned from England.
Michael and Nora Keane ran their business for over thirty years, with Michael passing away in 1943. At that point, his son, Matthew, took over the shop, while another son, Malachy or ‘Mally’, ran the bar.
In October 1949 a local young woman, Peggy Kelly, began working in Keane’s shop as an assistant. Peggy married Matthew Keane in 1954 and, 60 years on, Peggy still helps out in the present-day premises!
Matthew and Peggy Keane ran the family business throughout the fifties and sixties and into the seventies, up to Matthew’s untimely death at the age of 55 in 1974. By then, a very young Bernard Keane, one of Matthew and Peggy’s six children, had got quite a taste of the business through helping out in the shop after school. Soon he would become the third generation to run the business.
As Ireland changed, the Keane family business moved with the times. The premises was extended in the 1960’s. In 1967 Malachy Keane died and his wife, Rita, took over the running of the pub. Rita passed away in 1987. A local man, Frankie Donnelly, leased the pub for three years before it was sold to Clement Connaughton. Frank and Margaret McCrann subsequently owned it while the current proprietors are Michael and Sharon Conneally.
In 1991 Bernard Keane built a new store at a new location on the Galway Road on a site purchased by the family many years previously. The new location was of course where Keane’s stands today.
Matthew and Peggy Keane had six children…Rhona, Eileen, Michael, Bernard, Martina and Dermot. In 1979 Bernard took over on a full-time basis. In 1986 Bernard married Margaret (nee Healy) and the couple have been the driving force behind the Keane success story ever since.
Bernard’s memories of an Athleague milestone
Bernard and Margaret (Mags) Keane are the popular couple who have overseen the continued expansion of the Keane family business over the last three decades or so.
Bernard Keane, grandson of the original owners, acknowledges that Keane’s has changed dramatically over the years.
“I remember as a young lad in the 1960’s and ‘70’s you had a number of small shops, including our own, in Athleague. Some that spring to mind are Healy’s, Connaughton’s, Haughey’s, Hamrock’s, Finneran’s and Cormican’s.
“My father and mother’s shop at the time could best be described as a general merchant’s. It stocked everything…it was a drapery and grocery…but you could also get gates, barrels, cartridges, even coffins!”
Bernard says that the original building (now The Bridge House) consisted of a shop on one side and a bar on the other (in addition to private accommodation).
“There was a snug in the bar for the ladies. I wouldn’t have been in the bar much as a child but I remember the shop well. It’s funny the things you remember. I remember the first ever fish fingers coming…they came loose, people could buy them in ones or in sixes!
“The popular biscuits of the time were Kimberley and Mikado and I remember the tobacco was cut there and then for the customer, generally two ounces. One customer in particular who I remember was George Galvin, he was very particular about the colour and the smell of the tobacco!”
In the 1960’s Keane’s was essentially a drapery, grocer’s and general merchants. In 1979 the drapery side of the business ceased and Keane’s became a modern, self-service store.
The Keane’s became a part of the Spar franchise in 1986 and made the big move to Galway Road and a new premises in 1991.
“It was very much a case of moving into a modern era,” reflects Bernard. The existing building at Galway Road, which the Keanes had leased to Farrell Brothers (Agri Stores) was knocked (a new building was constructed to accommodate Farrell’s).
“We built a 3,000 square foot building which was three times the size of the original store. It was a new, modern, bright supermarket. It was the beginning of an era of high quality local supermarkets in rural Ireland at the time.”
In 1991 Bernard and Mags, Bernard’s mother, Peggy and staff member Eileen Connolly, who had worked in the previous Keane’s premises, were the only full-time staff. Some part-time staff were also employed.
Keane’s had moved into a new league in many respects – and the business hasn’t looked back since. Expansion and progress have been hallmarks of the management of Bernard and his wife Margaret (Mags). Today, 20 people are employed in the Athleague store.
Bernard says: “As turnover grew, the business developed. We added a meat counter in 2000 and four years earlier, in 1996, we opened a premises in Lanesboro. We introduced a hot deli in Athleague and that revolutionised the business further.” In 2002 the premises in Athleague was developed further when the existing warehouse was aligned to it, making the store bigger. In 2008 Keane’s in Athleague joined forces with Centra. In Easter of this year an off-license was opened on the premises.
Keane’s in Athleague now spans 7,500 square foot, 3,500 of which is devoted to retail. It is now recognised as one of the most progressive and modern such businesses in the West of Ireland.
The impressive expansion of the Keane’s business took in new areas too over the years. Bernard and Margaret opened what is now Keane’s Supervalu in Lanesboro in 1996 and in 1999 they purchased Clarke’s store in Ballygar – and opened a branch there.
Bernard Keane says: “We enjoyed our years in Ballygar. However we sold the premises there to Gerry Holmes in 2004. We did so because at the time we wanted to develop our business in Lanesboro and I was finding it very difficult to divide my time between Athleague, Ballygar and Lanesboro. I very much enjoyed my time in Ballygar but the focus was now on Lanesboro.”
And how ‘Lanesboro’ has gone from strength to strength! After selling their premises in Ballygar the Keane’s knocked the Lanesboro store and built a new 11,500 square foot premises. Bernard Keane says: “We employ 45 people there and thankfully it’s going well.”
Reflecting on this weekend’s special milestone celebrations, Bernard says the family are proud “that the business has survived into a third generation, as very few do.” He paid tribute to his wife Mags, his mother Peggy and current and former staff of Keane’s.
What has been the secret to Keane’s longevity?
“I suppose we’ve made gradual changes at the right time over the years. I think good service and a personal touch has been important too. We have always tried to move with the times and to modernise. We’re proud of where we are now and we are looking forward to the future.
“People in Athleague have been good to us, with many generations of the same families being loyal customers. I know my father – or my grandfather – wouldn’t know what to make of the business now!”
Join Keane’s birthday celebrations this Friday!
The Keane family would like to extend a very special invitation to all their friends, customers and prospective new customers to join them for 100th birthday celebrations this weekend, beginning on Friday, June 19 (cheese and wine reception at 11am).
As part of Keane’s 100th birthday celebrations there are 100 special offers in store.
* See also page 30.
Keane’s Opening hours
Keane’s Centra in Athleague is open seven days a week. Opening hours are: Monday to Saturday 7 am to 10 pm. Sundays 9 am to 8 pm. Contact Keane’s in Athleague on 090-6663849. (Keane’s SuperValu in Lanesboro, 043-3321320).