Cookies on The Tuam Herald website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. We also use cookies to ensure we show you advertising that is relevant to you. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the The Tuam Herald website. However, if you would like to, you can change your cookie settings at any time by amending your browser settings.
Hide Message
  • Living

The man who made us meet at Moon's corner

Wednesday, 22nd April, 2020 11:00am
Jump to comments
The man who made us meet at Moon's corner

An advert from The Tuam Herald 1858.

The man who made us meet at Moon's corner

An advert from The Tuam Herald 1858.

By Mary Burke

"WE’LL meet at Moon’s” was the usual arrangement with old friends in the years after we departed Galway city and college life. It was the standard meeting place for all the college reunions with friends in the early 80s.

Contacting people and co-ordinating plans was far more difficult in those far off landline days. The family phone was usually tethered to the hall table and was the only source of communication, so you made precise arrangements and hoped for the best that everyone could turn up at the appointed time.

It all seems so long ago now but Moon’s was a familiar backdrop to our college days — not for fashion shopping, we poor students were not that flush with money. Our summer earnings had to stretch to rent, books and food for the year with weekend entertainment money being supplemented by parental handouts; Woolworths was more likely to be our Saturday shopping haunt but occasionally we would meander in to Moons on a Saturday mainly to disparage the fashion offerings which we would try on with no intention of purchasing or simply to get out of the rain for a while.

The other attraction was the perfume counter; the glass bottles were displayed behind the counter and you had to ask nicely for a sample but, once you got your hands on the bottle, the perfume was liberally applied. Perfumes like Charlie, Panache and Opium were popular; they were strong musky scents and we left the shop wreathed in smells that I suspect if you were to mix and bottle now, would act as very effective social distancing incentive.

In later years, Moons would be visited for a special outfit purchase and it was the place that every student got their gowns and hats for graduation. There was even a small coffee shop on the top floor that didn’t last very long, if memory serves me correctly. We never gave much thought to the family behind such an iconic piece of Galway mercantile history for 100 years and whose name disappeared over the door when it became part of the Brown Thomas empire.

Alexander Moon was born in a small village called Blair Atholl, Perthshire, Scotland in 1813. His father James was head gamekeeper on the estate of Viscount Strathallan of Drummond Castle. The Drummonds were Jacobite supporters whose estate was forfeited after the 1745 Rebellion but Captain James Drummond managed to buy back the estate in 1784 and restore the family fortunes.

James Moon married Mary Tindell in 1809 in the local church and their family life began in the gamekeeper’s cottage on the estate. James was a devout Presbyterian and instilled an ethos of hard work, morality and sobriety in his family of 11 children. Alexander was the third child born in the family of three girls and eight boys. A head gamekeeper’s job on a well-managed estate provided the certainty of a regular wage for James along with access to a plentiful supply of food to feed his large family. The Moon family were comfortable in comparison to other tenant farmers living on Highland estates.

John, Francis, and William, younger brothers of Alexander, migrated south of the border to become a baker, gamekeeper and Inland Revenue supervisor respectively. John eventually owned his own bakery in Lambeth. The rest of his siblings made their homes in Scotland; so what prompted Alexander to venture to a town in the west of Ireland at a young age. A job working for another Scotsman perhaps?

There was a large number of Scottish men employed in various trades in Galway at that time. A company of Scottish soldiers, the Atholl Highlanders, the private army of the Duke of Atholl, trained in Galway from the late 1770s to 1840. In later years a St Andrews Society was set up in Galway and its Scottish members included Alex Moon.

In May 1849 Alexander had returned to Scotland to marry 18-year-old Mary Anne Allan of Falkirk, Stirling. His address on the marriage cert is given as Galway while hers was Falkirk where she was born, so how did he manage to woo and win a girl in Scotland while working in Galway?

He was 35 when he married so maybe it was a match; in any event their first child James was born in Galway in May 1851 followed by 13 more children, the last one, Frederick William born in 1874 when Mary Anne was 43.

In March 1858 a notice posted in The Tuam Herald announced a new trading partnership. Farquharson and Moon would begin trading in April in the newly built Eglinton Building on William Street with George Farquharson and Alexander Moon as sole traders. Landed Estate Court Rentals of 1852 show that both men had a lease of 150 years and were paying a yearly rent of £90. Ten years later in October 1868 another notice in The Tuam Herald showed that Alexander Moon had bought the business on the retirement of George Farquharson.

Alex Moon’s focus was on those with money, the well-heeled local gentry and business class. He advertised his fine wares weekly in every local paper in Galway and Mayo. He also took out small adverts in Dublin and Belfast papers boasting of the quality of his merchandise and the skill of the tailors and dressmakers he employed. He even offered to post out patterns and cloth to customers.

It was common then in businesses for shop assistants to be apprenticed under contract to their employer and to live on the premises. Hours were long, meal breaks short, and stringent rules relating to all aspects of their employment had to be adhered to. Being late, not being properly dressed, allowing a customer to leave the premises without making a purchase could all result in a fine which was taken from their wages.

A hard taskmaster

IT seems Mr Moon liked to keep a close eye on his workers and was not tolerant of any breach of contract. There were frequent appearances in the Petty Sessions courts for absence from work in Moons. In 1868, Mary Henry of Bowling Green was summoned to appear for being unlawfully absent from work one day in November. She was ordered to return to her service. Ann Lane and Anne O’Malley were in court in 1871 with Alex Moon complaining they were absent without permission from work on several occasions and were not complying with the terms of their apprenticeship.

Mr Blake the prosecutor said to the presiding Justices “I will ask you to send them to gaol for three months and get their hair cut and who knows but somebody may buy it.” Justice James Campbell addressed the girls: “We have no alternative but to send you to gaol if you do not go back to your work.” Naturally, they agreed.

Over the next 20 years Alex Moon was the complainant on numerous occasions to the Petty Courts not just about his employees but also complaining of trespass on his property and stealing of sand from his foreshore at White Strand and Grattan Lodge by men from the town. Despite the frequent non-appearance of the men in court and the dismissal of such cases he continued to make complaints. Nevertheless, his business was thriving. His wife, Mary Ann Moon, died in 1881 of heart failure, and was buried in Bohermore Cemetery. Alexander Moon then moved to a large house in Ardmore, Taylors Hill with his family.

A description of the business in 1891 disclosed that 100 people were employed by Moons including 40 girls working as dressmakers. Their handmade Connemara tweeds, flannel petticoats and Claddagh cloaks were popular and sold in Ireland, Britain and Europe. The ground floor had 15 departments for men’s and women’s fashions while the first floor sold house furnishing and carpets. The top floor was home to the drapery assistants.

When Alexander Moon died in August 1902, his will, probated in Tuam, left £14,362 to his son Charles and a small amount to Rev C Clarke, Presbyterian clergyman. Charles was managing the business. He had married Florence Holmes from Birmingham in 1893 and they were living in Dangan House with their three children, Blanche, Florence and Charles Alexander but they moved to Taylors Hill after the death of his father.

Florence was born into a suffragist house in Birmingham and she was an active member in Galway, becoming a founder member of the Connaught Women’s Franchise League; she organised meetings, wrote reports and lobbied the local MP Stephen Gwynn on the importance of the education of women. “We want power,” she wrote in a letter to local newspapers in 1913.

The Moons left Galway during the War of Independence and settled in the picturesque town of Fowey, Cornwall. Some affection for Galway remained as their house overlooking the cove there was named Menlo. Elisha Kane Jackson, a bookkeeper from Belfast, had married Beatrice Moon, daughter of Alexander and he continued to manage the business.

Blanche Moon died aged 31 in 1926. She was married to Clive Ryland, a murder mystery author. Her father Charles died in 1935 and Florence in 1938 at the Vicarage in Fowey, home of her daughter Florence Guest, the local Vicar’s wife.

Charles Moon junior was a petroleum engineer and lived in New York and London. The Moon and Jackson families retained an interest and directorship in the business until full ownership eventually transferred to Brown Thomas.

To older Galwegians, that intersection of William Street and Eglinton Street remains Moon’s Corner.

Purchase a digital edition gift subscription for 1 YEAR  for those overseas. Local news on the move and accessible on all platforms; desktop, tablet and smartphones