The chair, the shed, the barber & his son
4 MIN READ
It starts with a chair found in a skip…
Ten years ago, workmen were refurbishing an old business on a main street in a small Irish town. An old, wooden chair from the premises was flung into a skip at the side of the road as they worked to open a new sweetshop. A local man, passing the skip, saw the unusual-looking chair, recognised it and took it home.
The shop was on Abbey Street in Tullow, County Carlow. And the chair saved from destruction once stood in Miley’s Barber Shop which had closed down back in the 1990s after cutting hair for over 80 years.
When the Chair met the Shed
The chair remained unrestored until Tullow Men’s Shed started up in 2012 and the men at the Shed took on the task of fixing it up. In case you’re not familiar with it, the not-for-profit Men’s Sheds initiative provides spaces in local communities for men to meet and work together on wide range of practical projects. The grassroots organisation aims to create places where men can ‘comfortably use and pass on their practical skills and knowledge’. As they put it on their website:
“Men don’t talk face to face; they talk shoulder to shoulder.”
They’re called ‘Sheds’ because, well, the shed has traditionally been a sanctuary for men. A place they can quietly disappear to where life’s day-to-day pressures and problems can’t intrude.
Horsehair & Volkswagen
When Tullow Men’s Shed began restoring the arms of the chair they opened up the arm rests and got their first surprise. The padding inside the arms wasn’t foam but horsehair and wrapped around that was a yellowed copy of the Evening Press from 1954 possibly the result of a repair job done back in the 1950s. The local news from sixty years ago provided some interesting items:
“In those days,” says Frank, “you could buy a Volkswagen car for €365 with 18,000 on the clock!”
80 years of ‘short back and sides’
The men from the Shed then became intrigued by a number on the side of the chair.
“It’s from a patent,” says Frank Morris from the Tullow Shed. “And so we checked with the patent office in America and the patent is for the mechanism that allows the chair to lean back for haircuts. It was patented in 1892.”
Paddy, 88-years-old and an active member of the Shed, remembered going to have his hair cut in Miley’s Barber Shop when he was a boy and recalled sitting in the very same chair.
“He used to sit on a board placed over the arms of the chair with his legs dangling down,” says Frank.
Once the Tullow Shed had finished restoring the chair to its former glory, they decided to track down the Miley family to present it to them. They traced the family to Manchester where they found a relative, Ged Miley, now in his 50s. The men got another surprise when they discovered what Ged did for a living.
“He owns a barber shop over there,” reveals Frank, “and he actually trained on the chair back in Tullow as a kid learning to cut hair.”
Barber and chair reunited
When Frank explained the reason for getting in touch to him, Ged decided to return to Tullow to collect the chair and give a donation to the Men’s Shed. Three generations of the Miley family had cut hair using the chair at the barber’s shop in Tullow now, for the first time in 100 years, the chair was going to leave the town. Ged had these words for the men from Shed:
“I can’t thank the guys from Tullow Men’s Shed enough for reuniting me with my father’s barber’s chair. They have done an amazing job restoring it to its original state with a little glimpse of history within it. I can assure you it will be safe and loved in the Miley household.”
An enterprising venture
The Tullow Men’s Shed has been open four years and has 20 members. At first, it had a fairly low profile in the town.
“We were in a building at the top of the town,” says Frank. “There was no footfall past it. We sold a little bit between friends and that was it.”
Then the Shed took a stand at the Enterprise Town event in Tullow in 2015 which changed both them and their finances.
“We made money from selling things at the Enterprise Town than we had in three years before that. Since then we’ve gone to lots of craft fairs and we’re more confident about going out because we know our stuff sells.”
The Shed showcased what it does at the local branch in Tullow at a Show Your Business event as part of National Enterprise Week and attended the Tullow Enterprise Town again in 2016.
Your Shed needs you
The Shed is open to all men over 18 regardless of background or ability on Monday and Wednesday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday evenings. As Frank says:
“It’s hard to get men to come the first time but when they come you can’t get rid of them!”
Find out more
You can discover your closest Enterprise Town 2017 here.