When I was a youngster growing up in the Bogside my mother shut me up with the same ultimatum many times when I was up to no good.
“If you don’t be good, I am going to get your father to stop at McLaughlin’s on the way home from work and get a cane,” she warned.
To say I was terrified wouldn’t be accurate at all; my face always went sheet white, I would tremble and believe me when I say that I was on my best behaviour for the rest of the day. My mother never bought the cane but like countless other families from all over Derry, Donegal and further afield, our house was full of items bought in McLaughlin’s Hardware Store in William Street. If you’re from Derry you’ve heard of McLaughlin’s, as it is locally known.
McLaughlin’s is 100 years old this year and from the first day the shop opened in 1913 the business became embedded in Derry’s zeitgeist. When some people think of William Street they immediately think of McLaughlin’s.
McLaughlin’s is a rare breed of a business in the sense that despite monumental consumer shifts to billion pound multi-nationals, it is still serving the people of Derry. Since the shop started trading in William Street in 1913, it has weathered two World Wars, the worst of the Troubles and several recessions; to describe McLaughlin’s as stoical would be an understatement.
On November 16, 1881 a man by the name of Hugh McLaughlin from Moville married Cathern Grant from Fahan.
Hugh and Cathern moved to Derry in the late 1800s, where Hugh, a shopkeeper, helped his six sons and two daughters start up their own small shops throughout the city. The family lived in number 72 St. Columb’s Wells.
Hugh’s eldest son, John, went on to run a successful grocery shop near St. Columb’s Wells and later, his family continued the business in Stanley’s Walk.
Sons William and Patrick ran a plumbing business in William Street and daughter, Ellen married and set-up a grocery shop in the city.
Hugh Jnr, who was born in 1894, served as a private with the Sixth Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment during World War I and was sadly killed on June 18, 1916. He is buried in Dud Corner Cemetery, Loos in northern France.
Eugene McLaughlin was born in 1896 and went on to set-up a successful coal business and the second of Hugh and Cathern’s daughters, Margaret, was born in 1898.
In 1891, James McLaughlin was born and in 1913 he set-up a hardware store in William Street; the three men who run the shop to this day, Seamus, Dessie and Liam McLaughlin are James’ grandsons.
At some time between 1901 and 1911, the McLaughlins moved to a 14-room house in Bishop Street. Not only was the house the family home but it was also where Hugh ran a successful grocery shop.
At the same time, James and his older brother John lived in number 66 St. Columb’s Wells which was also a grocer’s shop.
James and business partner, Bobby O’Donnell, opened what would eventually go on to become known as McLaughlin’s Hardware Store in William Street in 1913. Although the current shop’s address is 40-44 William Street, James and Bobby O’Donnell first started trading from number 75 William Street (where the car park beside Brewster’s Close is today).
James and Bobby also owned a shop at number eight William Street which sold a variety of religious goods but somewhere between 1913 and 1925 the business partnership ended and the shop changed from ‘McLaughlin & O’Donnell’ to ‘McLaughlin & McLaughlin’.
On October 21, 1924 James married a girl from Moville called Margaret McCauley. James lived in Bishop Street at the time and according to his marriage certificate he was a shopkeeper.
James and Margaret would go on to have four daughters and two sons; Kathleen, Margaret, Jean, Helen, Michael and Jim.
The house the family lived in at Bishop Street was also a shop. James’ wife, Margaret ran the shop but it later closed to allow the family to concentrate on their hardware business.
In 1939, to allow for an extension to Riches’ Shirt Factory, James had to vacate his hardware store at 75 William Street; he moved to number 47 William Street (directly opposite to where McLaughlin’s is today); the shop would be destroyed during riots in 1969.
The shop in 47 William Street was a wholesale hardware, cigarettes and confectionary store; it supplied many of the small shops in the city and it delivered to shops in counties Derry and Donegal.
Ironically, McLaughlin’s current location was a hardware shop as far back as the 1880s. The shop was called McLaughlin & Leonard and was owned by another James McLaughlin (no relation). The shop was taken over by the Connelly brothers in 1930s but James bought the shop in 1945/46 and the family have traded in the area ever since.
James McLaughlin died in May 1957 and the business was taken over by his sons and daughters.
A newspaper article after his death, remembered James McLaughlin as a man whose “integrity won him the respect of his business colleagues and his unassuming nature gained him a wide circle of friends amongst whom his death has occasioned deep regret”.
People from all over the North West including Donegal and Inishowen travelled to Derry for James’ funeral and he is buried in the City Cemetery.
James’ daughter Kathleen left the business in the early 1960s and emigrated to Australia and in the years leading up to the start of the Troubles, the business was known as ‘McLaughlin and McLaughlin’; it was in the ownership of brother’s Michael and Jim McLaughlin. Michael and Jim’s sister, Margaret, ran the office and after one of the business’ five fires she set-up a temporary office in the shop window. At this time, McLaughlin’s managed two premises; where the current store is today and a shop directly across the street.
In August 1969 the premises at 47 William Street (across the street from where the business is now) was completely destroyed but the business continued to trade out of numbers 42-44 William Street.
Jim and his wife Lilly had six children together but tragically Lilly died in early January 1970.
Derry was well and truly in the grip of the Troubles in the early 1970s and the William Street area which became locally known as ‘Aggro Corner’, was synonymous with some of the worst rioting the city ever saw,
In August 1970 and April 1972 fires destroyed the rear of McLaughlin’s shop but the business continued on at the front but on July 15, 1972 the shop was blown up and burned. The shop was so badly damaged that it had to be completely demolished but still the business continued to trade.
A temporary office was set-up above the Lion Bar just down the street. It was at this time that Michael and his sister Margaret were robbed at gun point. The family then set-up a temporary building on the site of the demolished shop.
Sadly, in May 1975, Michael’s wife, Mary, died suddenly at the age of 47. It was a great tragedy for the family but Michael was a bastion of strength for his family.
The horrors that came with the Troubles were visited too regularly on the streets of Derry during the 1970s and 80s but because of the way the McLaughlin family treated their customers, they continued to come back again and again. To this day they have customers who have been using the shop for more than 60 years.
On February 14, 1976 rioting broke out on William Street. The riot erupted after the death of Provisional IRA member, Frank Stagg, who died on February 12 in Wakefield Prison after 62 days on hunger strike. A new temporary building was erected shortly afterwards in 1976.
The temporary structure was made of timber and had corrugated tin on the outside and was painted army green. The structure was surrounded with chain-link fencing and barbed wire and this was where the McLaughlin family traded until 1987 when the current shop was rebuilt.
You wouldn’t think it to look at the place now but the area around where McLaughlin’s is today witnessed some of the worst violence of the Troubles.
In December 1977 INLA member, Colm McNutt, was killed by the SAS in a car park directly across the street from the shop. On another occasion, Michael McLaughlin had to close the shop early after a gun battle broke out after rioting. Michael attempted to escort a Mrs. Herrity to a car park opposite the shop but when flashes of tracer bullets started to fly across their path they took shelter behind a car. Mrs. Herrity froze with fear and despite Michael’s best efforts to move her out of harm’s way she remained powerless and the only thing she could do to assuage the fear was start reciting the ‘Our Father’. Fortunately both escaped the incident unscathed.
McLaughlin’s is not just a hardware store. It’s a hardware shop, yes but it’s a hardware shop hard-wired into the consciousness of the people of Derry and Donegal.
Nowadays, people from Derry travel across the border to Donegal to fill-up their cars on cheaper petrol and diesel. People living in Donegal do something similar when they travel North of the border to avail of a strong euro but none of this would have been accepted when James McLaughlin was running his shops during the 1940s and 50s.
Then it was a case of matching supply with demand - razor blades were in short supply in the North of Ireland because of the war effort during World War II while cigarettes were scarce in the South; James smuggled cigarettes over the border and exchanged them for razor blades which he brought back to Derry.
It was still illegal to bring goods bought in the North of Ireland across the border and into the South in the 1960s. However, when a customer from Donegal bought a pram in the hardware shop, Jim McLaughlin and his wife Lilly put one of their own children in the pram and wheeled it across the border as if out for an afternoon stroll. Jim and Lilly met with the customer across the border and gave them the pram.
Jim left the business in 1972 and his brother Michael, who to this day, is still well known throughout Derry continued operations. The company then changed its name in 1978 from ‘McLaughlin and McLaughlin’ to ‘Michael McLaughlin & Sons Ltd’. Sadly, Michael passed away in 1995 but his three sons, Seamus, Dessie and Liam have carried on the family tradition and they run the shop to this day.
The bullets, bottles, stones and small time smuggling have long since vanished from William Street and the area where regular gun battles between the British army and the IRA once took place now houses market sellers, take-aways and revellers waiting in queues for a taxi home, but McLaughlin’s remains.
They haven’t gone away you know...