Belfast Telegraph

Doors close at Tivoli the oldest barbers in Belfast

By Fionola Meredith

The oldest barber shop in Belfast, the Tivoli in Lower Garfield Street, has pulled down its shutters for what may be the last time.

The Tivoli, which opened as a barbers in 1912, has maintained a vibrant presence in Belfast city centre for generations. It lasted right throughout the chaos of the Troubles, and kept going even in recent years as the other shops in this once-elegant thoroughfare – Belfast's only curved street – fell to rack and ruin all around it.

Veteran Belfast Telegraph sportswriter Malcolm Brodie was a regular customer, and George Best often popped in for a trim. But three weeks ago the current proprietor Eddie McGlinchey was dismayed when the owners notified him that he must vacate the premises immediately.

He was told that the state of the building, which is listed, meant that it was no longer safe for the shop to be open.

"It's a real emotional wrench," said Eddie as she stared into the stark, stripped-out interior of the Tivoli close to tears.

"The shop has been in our family since 1936. My grandfather raised 12 kids here, and then my father Philip and my uncle Alfie took it over. When my dad died 15 years ago, I stepped in. It's more than a business, it's a big part of the McGlinchey family – and a big part of the history of Belfast."

Eddie has collected a wealth of photographs, art works and other memorabilia displayed in the shop over the years, including a framed front page from the New York Times from 1912 reporting on the sinking of the Titanic, and a photograph of George Best getting his locks coiffed.

Eddie's grandfather, who founded the business, was strict but scrupulously fair; every customer got the same attention whether he was a shipyard worker or a wealthy businessman.

There are many tales from Eddie's barber's chair.

On Saturdays the shop had to cope with more than 350 shaves a day, with queues stretching out the door and right down North Street. It was gruelling for the staff.

In an interview recorded in the 1980s, former employee Patrick Loughran recalled: "By the time you lathered up 350 bristly chins, your fingertips were red-raw and sometimes even bleeding. I often wonder how I stuck it."

In the 1930s a shave cost sixpence, while a haircut would set you back 10p. The closure of the Tivoli has angered many people in Belfast.

Playwright Martin Lynch said that "as someone who ran these streets as a boy, it's very sad to see the last vestiges of this historic part of the city disappear".

But while there is disappointment, there is little shock. Groups like the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) and the Forum for Alternative Belfast (FAB), which campaigns for a better and more equitable built environment in the city, have been crying out for help for the Tivoli and Lower Garfield Street for many years.

So far, their cries have gone unheard.

Although Eddie has been provided with alternative premises in North Street, which he said he is grateful for, the businessman said it was scant compensation for what has been lost.

But perhaps there is one glimmer of hope for the Tivoli barbershop.

"I ask the newly-appointed Minister for the Environment, Mark H Durkan, to instruct the owners to carry out immediate repairs, as they are obliged to do with a historic listed building of this quality," said Declan Hill of FAB.

It's a plea for the building itself; for the shop, its workers and customers; and for a rich and colourful piece of our shared history. But is anyone listening?

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