Mary Gallagher (right) and her sister Assumpta Elliott.

Local hairdresser hangs up the scissors after 55 years

Mary Gallagher’s hairdressing premises, Mary’s Hair Salon, in Barrack Street has been a landmark in Athlone since the mid-1970s.

However Mary’s own history working with hair goes back to the days of beehives in the early 1960s. She closed the door on her premises last Saturday, ending an Athlone era.

Mary Dunning as she was first known, was born and reared in Ardkeenan, Drum, close to where she still resides.

Mary’s parents were John and Kathleen (formerly Devine) and Mary’s father was a small farmer who worked most of his life in two Connaught Street bar and grocers – Murrays and Grenhams. 

She has five sisters, Kay, Breda, Eileen, Assumpta and Caroline and two brothers, Christy and Michael, and she lost one brother Johnny in 1972 to illness.

The South Roscommon native knew from the age of nine years that she was going to be a hairdresser and was determined to follow that career after she finished school.

Her stint at St Joseph’s College, Summerhill was cut short after her Intermediate Certificate so she could source out her future in hairdressing.

“I came into town to look for a job, and for three weeks I asked many hairdressers to take me on, and then I went to Pauline Slevin (later Furey) in Connaught Street, who gave me a job,” said Mary.

Mary started at Pauline’s salon on 21st May, 1964, and remained there for six years.

“I got great training there, she (Pauline) was brilliant,” said Mary.

Mary got married to Aidan Gallagher, who worked for many decades in Athlone UDC, in 1969, and the couple lived in Barrack Street, where Mary ran her first upstairs salon.

She remained there another six years until she moved further down the street to a building opposite the Post Office, and beside McGrath’s sweet shop. Mary worked there for 43 years until finally closing the doors last weekend.

“I knew everybody on the street during the past 50 years, and I’ve had a few women who followed me from Pauline’s and stayed with me till the present day,” she said.

“Every day of the week you would see somebody new, and they came from miles around, from east of the Shannon, and from Roscommon and Ballinasloe.”

Mary’s sisters, Breda McManus and Eileen McCaul, worked with her in the early days. Jacqueline Horan, who runs a salon in Moate worked for 13 years at Mary’s salon in Barrack Street. 

Marguerite Meares from Dysart and Ann Conlon also run their own salons in Dysart and Glasson respectively. She also worked with well-known Athlone hairstylists, Majella Fallon, Ethna Rohan, Ann Marie Maher, Kathleen Healy, Marie Harkin, Sorcha Duignan, Laura Craven and Jean Kelly.

Mary’s sister Assumpta worked at the salon until the door closed last weekend. All of Mary’s nieces also worked at the salon throughout the years.

* For full article, and more photos, see this week's Westmeath Independent