From the window of Paul McGilloway’s shop at the bottom of Creggan’s New Road, you get the sense that if cities have heartbeats, you’re pretty close to Derry’s at this busy junction. Traffic from the Bogside, Creggan and the city centre converge on the much debated double mini roundabouts outside ‘Framed to Perfection.’ When Phil Coulter was writing songs about the town he loved so well, he could have been standing right here.
On Tuesday morning, there’s nobody standing there apart from Paul himself, who’s opening the shop, and a woman looking to get a picture framed. She’s one of the many who’ll pass through the doors on any given day of the week. The understated shop, refreshingly, seems to have been recession proof.
Creggan man Paul loves the work and he loves the location, and that comes across in his work. In the age of the chainstore, he’s the proud owner of a busy, independent, corner shop That’s mostly due to a demand for high quality craftsmanship but success you feel is due in part to the father of four’s personality.
Born and reared in Creggan, this is a man who knows his market. He doesn’t have a till. He doesn’t deal in email or online ordering. If you want your picture framed, you walk into the shop with it.
In April, Paul will have been in the framing business for 30 years. Over the course of that time he’s dealt in what he describes as the three main stays of his business.
“Really, over the years, it’s all come back to religion, politics and sport,” he smiles.
“Religion comes with the First Communions, confirmations and weddings and politics came into it a lot during The Troubles and we still do a lot of sport, framing football jersies and the like. I suppose you see a lot of life in general in this job, with photos of every occasion under the sun coming in all the time.”
Paul fell into the picture framing business by happy accident, and has the teachers at his old school St Joseph’s to thank for it all.
“The whole time at St Joseph’s I’d always wanted to be a carpenter and when I finished school I tried to get onto a training course but there weren’t enough spaces. I’d been working in an engineering factory then for around a year and after that went back to visit some of the teachers at my old school.
“One of them - Noleen Ball - asked me if I could frame a picture for her. I’d alwas been interested in art and woodwork but I’d never put the two of them together before and I didn’t really know where to start so I got help from another teacher, Michael Quigley, who told me what I needed and I made a start. It took me a week to do that first one and after that people just started asking me to frame things and it grew from there really. I owe a massive thank you to St Joseph’s really. Those teachers really gave me a start and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
In 1983 Paul was awarded a Local Enterprise Development Unit (LEDU) grant and got his framing business off the ground, opening his shop on Carlisle Road.
It wasn’t far from his home in Rinmore Drive, but far enough to mean that he was slightly out of his comfort zone.
“I was a Catholic going to work on Carlisle Road and we were still pretty much in the middle of the Troubles so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about that at the time,” he says.
“But at the time, when I was there, I was working around some of the best neighbours ever. The shop was above a place called the International Craft Shop and next door to Adairs and all the people there really looked after me. Religion and politics didn’t come into it. I was in good company there,”
Paul worked there until 1994 when he sold the business and started working with a photographer in Letterkenny. He also decided he wanted to go back to school and did a foundation course for mature students. In 1997 he was faced with the prospect of either continuing with his studies or going back into the world of business,
“I was looking for a corner shop, I always had it in my head that a corner shop would be perfect for what I was doing and I was in a shop across the street from here when someone told me this building was empty so in 1998 I moved in and I’ve been here since.”
Framed to perfection is as much a part of the landscape now as the famous street signs surrounding it. Paul lives with his wife Paula in nearby Jacqueline way. The pair both grew up in Creggan and have happily based themselves not far from their old stomping ground.
Paul wouldn’t argue with the fact that he’s a Derry man through and through. His childhood in Rinmore Drive was one filled with adventure, when he was too young to realise the severity of what was going on around him.
“The Troubles were our social life,” he says. “We were young and it all seemed like a bit of craic just. As sad and bad as scary as it was, that was life at the time,” he says.
One of a family of ten, Paul’s parents Vera and the late Danny, reared their children in a community which while it seemed intimidating and dangerous to the outside world, was safer than most places are 40 years later.
“We spent our days up the back of Creggan and going out along the border to the Black Hut - they were the best days of my life. It was a great great time.”
He now has four children of his own, Patricia, Bronagh, Sinead and Emmett and a grandson, Caiden.
Contemplating his 30 years in business, he remarks that it coincides with his wedding anniversary. In that time, the business side of things has been fortunately consistent and Paul says demand is higher than ever for the popular local service. He’s established himself as a firm favourite among local businesses and schools and prides himself on being part of the community he clearly loves. Over the year’s he’s seen all the major events in the life of a number of local families who continue to bring their precious snapshots to him.
“I’ve been lucky with the business, and I owe that in part to the lare Dr. Vera Furness who was part of LEDU and advised me on everything, including restarting the business after I’d gone back to school. I have absolutely no regrets and I’ll always be grateful for the support she gave me,” he says,
Taking in the view from the shop window, Paul looks like a man happy in his work.
“You can see the the world from here, within a 40 yard radius you have the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinnes, Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and veteran socialist Eamon McCann. You can’t get better than that!”
A keen triathlete, these days he spends most of his time outside the business running, swimming and cycling and is currently the race director of the City of Culture Sprint Triathlon which takes place in June. When there’s time left in between, he’s enjoying spending time with the newest addition to his family, his grandson, Caiden.
As he prepares to celebrate 30 years in the picture framing business, Paul’s mission is simple.
“I just hope the business keeps going for as long as possible because I’ve been lucky with it so far,” he smiles.
And with that, there’s another picture waiting to be framed.