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The Gem
Harbour Road, Howth, Co. Dublin

Background - 1918-1941

I'm not sure when the actual premises was built, but so far, I've ascertained that as far back as 1918 it was the "White House", lived in by Peter Flynn and his wife.

The tramway wall at the back of the house.
He appears to have died around 1920 when the house passes into his wife's name and by 1920 is called "Hotel House" suggesting that it was some form of boarding house.

By 1930 it had become a tea-rooms, suggesting that the provision of accommodation may have gotten too much for Mrs. Flynn.

By 1940 it had been taken over by Lil Duffy (née Burgess) and turned into a confectioners (shop).

At that stage the commercial part of the premises consisted of only the ground floor on the left hand side. The entrance was in the centre. The rest of the building, the ground floor on the right and all the upstairs, was family accommodation.

The Occupation - 1942-1949

My parents were married in 1942 and took over the business.

Paul in Gem backyard with cardboard box and rocking horse
My mother had been obliged to resign her job in he Department of Social Welfare, on marriage. My father continued working as a clerk in CIE in Broadstone. The running of the business fell mainly to my mother. This is an occupation she took up again later in Ballybrack, in the southside of the county.

By all accounts they made a good go of the business (see below) and I spent the first 4-5 years of my life in this house.

I particularly remember the trams. They crossed the road on a viaduct just before the railway station on their way to the summit. You can see the continuation of the viaduct wall going up just behind the house in the photo above.

I also remember Findlater's shop. The O'Leary family lived over it. He was a bookie and I was friendly, even at that tender age, with the daughter Noreen.

Paul and Hilda Miles
Patsy Murphy's fish shop was up the Church Road at the back of the courthouse.

My father knew the fishermen and occasionally got a bucket of fish from the early morning catch.

Gordon Brewster died in the shop. Gordon was the Chief Artist of Independent Newspapers Ltd. and the son of a former manager of Independent Newspapers. He is reported to have been a brilliant cartoonist for the Independent group of newspapers and also did work for commercial firms throughout the country.

Hilda Miles, whose father was a steward in Howth Castle, and who lived in the lodge, used to help in the shop and with looking after me. She subsequently married and went to the USA.

Howth railway would have been GNR rather than CIE but the northern company later merged with CIE.

The Business

My parents never owned the Gem. I think they had it on a sublease from Lil Duffy who probably had it leased from someone else.

Lil, meanwhile, had moved up to the summit where she is recorded as being in two locations, Balkill Rd., and Kitestown Rd. She may have been living in Balkill Rd. (No. 12, Monitor House) and had some sort of commercial venture in Kitestown Bungalow.

Paul at 4, painted by the station porter.
Lil had been running the business for about two years when my parents took over and bought the goodwill from her. The mechanics of this transaction don't seem to have been sorted out until 1946. A letter from Cremin McCarthy, auditors and accountants, to my mother at this time sheds some light on the business.

Turnover in 1946 was running at £3,168, or in Euro prices of 2006 around €109K; gross profit was £619 (€21K) and net profit £293 (€10K). This was a 75% increase in net profit over the three years since my parents took over. The goodwill in 1946 was estimated to be worth £525 (€18K) up from £250 (just under €9K) when they took over. So they had more than doubled the value of the business in three years. Not bad.


We left Howth for Dollymount Park around 1949, stayed there about a year, went on to stay with my Granny in Orwell Gardens between about 1951 and 1954 and then went on to Ballybrack, where my mother ran the CNC newsagents in the village up until the 1970s.

Howth was a very tightly knit community when my parents arrived there and I remember my mother saying to me that no matter how long we might have stayed there we'd always be runners (blow-ins).

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