01 Jul 2022

The barbers of Old Naas

'We need your head to run our business'

It’s amazing at times what can trigger something in the auld mind. Take last week for instance.

One of the lads in the office innocently asked what age should he bring his son for his first ‘official’ haircut to the barbers?

First response, from one of the females present: “Did you try cutting it yourself.”

“No” came the instant reply “and I won’t be either.”

“Does anyone remember their very first visit to the barbers?” my colleague inquired.

No takers on that one. But it got me thinking. Thinking back to the time when going to the barbers was a bit like going to confession on the last Friday of every month when we were marched down from school to the church of Our Lady & St David’s in Naas.

A visit to the barbers was also one of those monthly chores but while you might get away with a five-week gap from the gruaige chore, there certainly was no way you were allowed to go five Friday’s without a visit to the dark and dingy confessional box.

Back then there were only a handful of barber shops, unlike today where if you look around most towns and villages one thing there is no shortage of is barbers. For some strange reason they seem to pop up all over the place.

I can readily identify with barbers as my grandfather and uncles were in the trade, situated on the Main Street of Naas (opposite the Town Hall) for many a year. From what I can recall they were the only barbers on the Main Street (although I am open to correction on that one).

There was a slogan in the front window of the shop that was known far and wide. It was simple and to the point and simply stated: “We need your head to run our business.”

My head was of little use though as I never had to part with the thrupence or sixpence for the cut but for my troubles I could only go when it was very slack, usually on a Monday after school, and if anyone arrived in when I was patiently sitting waiting for the nod to get into the chair, they would always be taken before me.

I absolutely dreaded it.

I remember one day asking one of the uncles if he would give me a ‘square cut’ finish at the back, which was all the rage at that time.

Now the uncles were what I would call bread and butter barbers, no fancy frills and certainly no ‘square cut’ finishes.

My suggestion did not get much of a hearing. Here I was on a buckshee hair cut dictating the type of cut I wanted.

It didn’t go down particularly well I can tell you. There were a few (inaudible) words mumbled before the razor appeared and was run up the back of my neck with a speed that I had never experienced before, or since; much to my annoyance I can tell you.

Little did the uncle realise at the time, that all these years later that particular ‘cut’ I asked for is now practically the norm with younger folk these days. So in one way you could say that Callaghans the Barbers were ahead of their time.

Another well known barber in the town of Naas those days was Charlie Byrne.

Charlie was situated in New Row, just down from Joe Plant’s sweet shop and where the Harbour Hotel is now situated. Charlie, along with his able lieutenant Noelie Behan, operated from that small premises for many a year.

Guilfoyles was another shop, situated in Basin Street which was handy as Paddy White’s bookies was just around the corner, and lads having a bet could run in and out while waiting for a seat, particularly on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Down around Chapel Lane Noel Delaney was another well known character who operated another barbers. There was never any shortage of craic and banter in Noel’s; a great character and a mighty chatter. Noel’s son carries on the family tradition these days up around the Kilcullen Road.

Along with the many new barbers around the town such as The Boston Barber Company, The Turkish Barber, The Barber Shop, Squires, amongst others, there are many who have been operating successfully now for a fair few years.

Michael O’Brien’s (great Kildare GAA follower) is the proprietor of Shylocks and caters for ladies and gents on the Main Street opposite the Leader offices is one that springs to mind

And you couldn’t forget Seamie Curran who is in situ around Chapel Lane, close to where Noel Delaney use to operate from.

Seamie is known to have opened at sunrise for a certain former Minister for Finance who was always anxious to look prim and proper on his way to the Dáil. Another well known client of Seamie’s is a present day judge, a former schoolmate, but in his (the judge) case, there would hardly be a need to sweep the floor when he (Seamie) was finished tidying up that particular crown.

As for my work colleague who enquired when he should bring his lad for his first cut, sure now is as good a time as any. A piece of board that used to be placed on the barber’s seat when we were kids is still operating in many shops.

Amazing really with all the modern technology; TV in many shops; electronic chairs that can be raised and lowered, brought forward and back as required; all the different fandangles that are used to ensure the right ‘cut’; yet still the plank of wood for the very young customer is still in operation; the red and white poles remain in situ and the slogan that was in the front of the grandfather’s shop window is as relative today as it was back in … well … days gone by shall we say.

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