The chair, the shed, the barber and his son
3 MIN READ
It started with a skip
Thirteen 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 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?
It once stood in Miley’s Barber Shop which closed down back in the 1990s.
After providing a comfortable place for Tullow residents to sit and get a short back and sides for over 80 years, the chair had got the chop.
When the chair met the Shed
The chair saved from the skip remained unrestored for years.
Then, in 2012, Tullow Men’s Shed started up in the town and the men at the Shed decided to take 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.”
From isolation to community via a Men’s Shed
They’re called ‘Sheds’ because the garden shed has traditionally been a sanctuary for men.
A place they can quietly disappear to when life’s day-to-day pressures and problems get too much.
A bit of peace and quiet.
But that isolation can bring its own problems.
Instead of opening up and sharing their problems, Irish men have tended to keep quiet and pretend everything is fine.
Just ‘soldiering on’ is often seen as part of being a man.
Men’s Sheds are helping men to meet up and work on community projects together to help reduce isolation.
The Irish Men’s Sheds Association have also created a website called Male Health to help men to take care of their physical and mental health.
Horsehair & a Volkswagen
But back to the chair.
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 hair (thankfully it was hair from horses not humans).
And wrapped around the horsehair 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 Morris, from the Tullow Men’s Shed, “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.
“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, 92-years-old and still a member of the Men’s 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 who had once owned it.
But the family had left Ireland.
They finally traced them to Manchester where they found a relative, Ger Miley, now in his 50s.
The men got another surprise when they discovered what Ger 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.”
The barber and chair reunion
When Frank explained the reason for getting in touch, Ger decided to return to Tullow to collect the chair in person 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 that got the chop was going to leave the town.
Ger 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 seven years now.
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 Bank of Ireland Enterprise Town event in Tullow in 2015 which changed both them and their finances.
“We made more 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 Tullow Shed has since built a 14 feet by 5 feet boat which they gave to a local crèche among many, many other projects that have benefitted the local community.
Your Men’s Shed needs you
The Shed is open to all men over 18 regardless of background or ability. 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!”
The Tullow Shed is currently raising money to put heating into the building they use for meetings and to install 2 accessible toilets for members.
Visit their Facebook page for more details.
Find out more
You can discover your closest Irish Men’s Shed here