Storm Erik had brought hailstones to Roscommon town just minutes after I stepped out to buy a coffee and a newspaper. I was walking down Church Street at the time so decided to duck into the National Council for the Blind charity shop.
In the midst of all the racks of clothing and shelves of bric-a-brac, a woman stood behind the till. She told me her name was Helen Jollivet and that she had moved to Ireland in 2016 from Zimbabwe.
“Why Ireland?” I asked.
“Well, we had been here before when my husband played golf for Zimbabwe,” she said. “We love the place”.
Helen’s husband Mike had been a police officer in Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe. They left the African country because it was becoming too dangerous for them to live there.
“There were more and more attacks. I don’t think it was really down to race, I just think that the people were getting desperate because they needed money because there was no work,” Helen said.
She showed me around and praised not only the work of the charity but also the generosity of the people of Roscommon and volunteers like Catherine Brennan, Erika Klemparova, Helena Clarke and Eileen Newland, whom she described as her “right hand”.
“Before I started here I had to do a training course in Dublin and I just couldn’t get over the work they (NCBI) were doing. A full-time job came up and so now I’m here and I love it.
“We would have a good turnover of stock. The people here are fantastic with their donations of clothes, shoes, bags, handbags, scarves, jewellery,” she said.
Helen continued: “A lot of people, when they’re moving house, leave a lot of things in the loft so when people move in they put it in boxes and bring it to us. We get pictures, paintings…that horse picture is very unusual…”
The picture was black and white but in pristine condition and captioned ‘The Roberts Cup, Colombo 1917. Won by Argonaut’. Helen said it had arrived in a box of donations.
“There’s everything from potato mashers to…well a woman is coming in later today with a three-piece suite and a couch that can be folded out into a bed”.
Among the dozens of items of jewellery, Helen singled out a glass ornament in the shape of a double bass musical instrument and speculated that it had been presented as an award at one time.
There were countless other items in the store too including a computer desk, a box of card tricks, a CD holder in the shape of a saxophone and a practically new men’s suit which was showcased in the window as part of the Valentine’s display in place at the time of my visit.
Helen said the shop has regular customers as well as donors. One man, who collects all types of cameras, calls regularly to check up on the latest arrivals.
“We hold on to any cameras or camera equipment that comes in for him. He’ll have a look at whatever we have and if he doesn’t want it then he can at least advise us on the cost,” Helen said before a woman arrived to browse through the hidden gems on offer and we had to say goodbye.