It was the end of an era in Ferbane on Saturday evening last when James Hamill turned the key in his garage door for the last time after 94 years of the family business.
The neighbouring business, the Black Boot Bar and Restaurant, was packed to capacity with the crowd spilling out onto the road for the surprise gathering in honour of Mr Hamill. The softly spoken and rather shy businessman was greeted and feted by locals, well wishers, customers and staff members alike and age held no boundaries. Stories were swapped, the past recalled, nostalgia filled the air, hands were shaken, good wishes flowed and above all, good humour and kindly words were the order of the evening as people remarked how they were delighted to be able to share the evening with Jimmy Hamill.
The organiser of the event John Bennett, a former employee who retired himself in recent years, said he certainly had no regrets about his working life there and spoke glowingly of his former employer describing him as ‘a gentle, honest gentleman’. He brought laughter from the crowd when he quipped that if he had got a pound for every car that was sold and every one that was repaired while he was there, he would be a millionaire today! He paid tribute to Mary Keyes and P.J. Devery who he said served about 38 years in the business and were also retiring alongside their employer, and he wished all former employees “who served their time down through the years” the best of luck “and the most important thing, good health for the rest of their lives”. Speaking about the loss of the business to the town of Ferbane, John said that other neighbouring businesses would feel the knock on effect of the closure. “People who were waiting for a car would ramble around the town, go and have a cup of coffee or a breakfast or maybe had their dinner and employees the very same, they might even have their lunch out so that will be sorely missed in the town as well,” he said.
James Hamill thanked everyone for coming. Thanking John Bennett for organising the evening, he said John assured him there was only going to be the usual three or four. “I warned him,” he said, “but look at the turn out. When I walked in that door I was speechless and at my age, I couldn’t remember half the people as well,” he quipped. He spoke with great fondness and sincerity about his former customers. “We had the best clients that ever came into a place, the nicest people and that’s what I’ll miss the most, it’s not selling the cars, it’s the nice people. I see some have come a long distance here from Galway, Roscommon, Longford and I’m absolutely shocked, and I hope you all enjoy the evening,” he said.
He paid tribute to all his loyal employees down through the years and said “I don’t think we ever had a cross word between any of us because we were all too busy running around doing our own bit,” he laughed.
The Hamill family business started back in 1925 and has passed through three generations. James’ grandfather who was also James, opened a garage and secured the Ford dealership for the area. When his son Patrick took over the reins, he continued to expand and develop the business until his own son James, the present owner, took over in 1964 after completing his apprenticeship with Ford in Cork. He worked alongside his late father gaining valuable experience and learning a lot about the everyday running of the business. “We also had differences of opinion too and then we had to go to my mother for arbitration but she didn’t take sides,” said a smiling James as he fondly recalled. With none of his own family interested in following in his footsteps, James decided last year to give up the Ford dealership and commence his retirement process. “There are huge changes coming in the motor industry and it will get very expensive to get diagnostic machinery with electric and hybrid cars now on the market. The way I see it the only ones that will survive are those that are in the business in a big way. I can’t see the ordinary garage being able to survive as such and if they do it will be on a smaller scale,” he said. Insurance was another factor that helped James to make up his mind about his future. “Insurance is crippling and overheads are gone very high and that’s why you need a much bigger operation to work out of so that was another reason that helped me decide on my retirement,” he said.
“So I’m going to throw up my feet and if the back holds up I’m going to play golf with Lowry and see if I can earn a few bob for the first time in my life,” he laughed.