With a third generation running the family hairdressers and a fourth generation in the trade, the Halfords will be cutting hair in Gorey for some time to come.

Written by Rose Doyle, Journalist

"Leo Halford was born at 1 Connaught Street, Phibsborough, Dublin 7 in 1888. He was my grandfather and he ended up as a barber in Gorey." Sean Halford, beginning the story of how the family hairdressing business came to be in the south-east town, has marshalled the facts in writing, hair-styling equipment, photographs and, very firmly, his head. The designer salon in which he happily holds forth, and the designer coffee-maker which has made us coffee, are a far cry from how things were when Leo Halford came to Gorey as a barber in 1923. “Leo joined the English army medical corps and took part in the First World War,” says Sean Halford. “He went to France and Belgium and helped in the Battle of Mons. My grandmother used tell the story of the ‘angel of Mons’. When he came home he went to work for the Darling family barber business in the Curragh army camp, in the shop under the clock tower. He met Violet Darling, a daughter of the family, and they married in about 1919-20. They soon moved to Gorey.”

So far so good, so romantic even. When Leo and Violet Halford arrived in Gorey they had two children, a boy called Noel and a girl called Pauline. Noel would grow up to become father to Sean Halford. “A man who comes in here,” his son says, “remembers lifting my father off the bus the first day he arrived. The family started in a shop on Esmond Street, which is now a dry cleaners, and moved here, to 42 Main Street, about a year later.”  He's not sure why Leo and Violet Halford choose to come to Gorey but is sure that history has proven it a happy choice. Leo Halford quickly involved himself with life in the town, notably with the founding of the local Red Cross. “He did ladies and gents’ hair with the shop divided into ladies and gents’ rooms. Some of the people who came to him are still coming for cuts. He used do a ‘shingle bob’, tight at the back and graduated. Vidal Sassoon ran with it and made it famous.”

Sean Halford produces an early Marcel Waver, a piece of hairdressing equipment with the look of a surgical instrument. “You heated it over a spirit lamp.” he explains. “I'd say it burned the head off many people. We’ve moved on to the Pink GHD.” He produces one such, a bright and efficient looking wand which is a danger to no one.  Haircuts, in the 1920s/1930s cost 1/- in Leo Halford’s Ladies’ and Gents’  Hairdressing  Rooms, a shave 6d. An early 1930s ad promises, on the personal word of L Halford, proprietor: “First-class haircutting, shaving, etc, etc. Cleanliness and civility guaranteed.” An unrelated ad, for Nixon, the local Ford dealer, offers five-seater saloons from £195. Leo Halford died in 1953 and Noel Halford, by then married to Anna Mary Kirwan from Bolacreen, outside Gorey, took over the running of the business. Violet outlived Leo by 16 years, dying in 1969.

“Noel and Annie married in 1950 and had eight of us,” Sean says. “I was the first born. Then came Billy, Marian, June, Violet, Pauline, Teresa and Patricia. We lived here always, the whole 10 of us over the shop, and were reared in very hard times. Hairdressers used be open all the hours before the closing order came in. After that my father closed at 10pm on Friday and Saturday, and the rest of the week at 8pm with a half day on Wednesday. A shave by then cost 1/6 or 2/ - and a haircut 2/6d. He was really only doing gents’ hair then. My mother did dressmaking here in the house, making wedding dresses, etc.” Sean Halford’s first job as a boy was the time-worn and traditional one of sweeping the salon floor — with the additional chore of sweeping the street just outside, “which also had to be kept clean. Myself and my brother Billy were lather-boys, too, preparing for the shave.” Sean Halford went to the local CBS followed by the local vocational school. In 1967 he “came in and served my time with my father. You learned your trade by shaving a balloon,” he lifts an elderly, lethal looking razor, “you had to have a good edge on the razor. If you nicked the balloon that was a face cut! My father was a hard taskmaster and you always called the customer mister. In those days, too, the hairdressers was a meeting place, particularly on Saturday night. It was a great place for story telling.”

The 1960s, he says “were tough on barbers. Long hair was the thing and I remember young fellas coming in and wanting only a bit taken off and then their fathers sending them back and it all ending in tears and crying.” There were “lots of colonels and lords in this area, people who got good land close to the sea. I remember an auld colonel with a monocle and one eye who, when my father asked him how he’d like his hair cut, said: ‘In silence, barber, in silence’.” He pays tribute to men who worked as lather-boys before himself and Billy, to Mick Kinch and the McRedmond brothers Danny and Joe, “all still alive. It always gave a bit of employment and tips; on a good weekend you might make 5/-. Jack Dempsey the boxer had a shave here, and Jimmy O'Dea came in when touring.” Noel Halford turned his hand to other money-making ventures during the rearing of the eight young Halfords. “He did sign painting” says Sean, “and crib figures. He made bird cages and sold them with canaries in them. There could be 30/40 around the place, all breeding or being swapped.”

Sean Halford left hair dressing in 1971, “fed-up and wanting to spread my wings. I went as far from hairdressing as I could - 2,000ft underground working in the copper mines in Avoca.” In 1973 he married Kay Sheil, from Cluanin, near Gorey. “Kay had nothing to do with hairdressing but she has now!.  She runs the show here.”  Sean Halford’s road back to hairdressing on Main Street, Gorey was hard working, and circuitous. He moved from Avoca Mines to work for NET Teo, and to live at nearby Gorey Hill with Kay to rear their five children; Claire, John, Deirdre, Ciaran and Maeve. He worked weekends with his father but in 1986 took redundancy from NET Teo, retrained with Aidan Fitzgerald's salon in Blackrock, Co Dublin, and, in 1988 with the blessings of his father, employed four people and opened his own salon with Kay at 79 Main Street, Gorey. He admits it “was a bit of a struggle trying to educate five Children in pre-Celtic Tiger times!”

As with his grandfather before him he became involved in town affairs, with the junior chamber, Gorey Town Commissioners and the traders’ association.  Noel and Anna Halford died in 1992. “My father was still cutting hair the night before he died and my mother was killed by a truck in the street outside the door," he takes a breath, "it was terrible. Really terrible." In 1993 he and Kay sold 79 Main Street, bought the original business at 42 Street and, with the support of family and customers, gutted and rebuilt the building. “We moved back in here with all five children. We now employ 20 people and live over the shop.” They extended again in 1999-2000, putting in a colouring section. This year the entire salon has been refitted and, never a man to stop moving forward, Sean Halford now plans to extend the studio into the upstairs and move with Kay to a new home at Gorey Hill. “Our vision of the future is to provide ever more services to people,” he says. “Our daughter Maeve trained with the Peter Mark group , the only one of the five to go into hairdressing!. The plan is for her to come back when she's spread her wings a bit more. We’ve an 18-month old grandson and he'll be the fifth generation of us to sweep the floor.”