When Irish author and historian Barbara Walsh gained a doctorate in history from Lancaster University in 1999, she had already enjoyed a long and productive career which had encompassed a number of creative outlets as a writer, artist, broadcaster and multi-media producer. This activity included features, short stories, plays and commercial work for radio and TV. In her childhood years Barbara had seen Woolworth at close quarters during the time her father rose through the Company's Store management levels to reach the position of Superintendent of Stores. He had served several years in England and Ireland when promoted to take control of the premier Irish store in Henry Street, Dublin after World War II, a position which liaised closely with the work of the Republic's Buying Office.
Barbara is an accomplished author. Her books Roman Catholic Nuns in England and Wales, 1800-1937 (Irish Academic Press) and Forgotten Aviator Hubert Latham: A High-Flying Gentlemen (Tempus Publishing) have received critical acclaim. Her latest publication, When the Shopping was Good: Woolworths and the Irish Main Street (Irish Academic Press, 2011) is the definitive history of the Company's forty-one Irish stores. It tracks the rapid expansion of outlets in Ireland since the first opening of a branch in Dublin in 1914, and explores the inter-war period, followed by the boom years of the 1950s and turbulent decades of the second half of the twentieth century up to the time of the controversial decision to withdraw from the Republic in 1984 and closure of the remaining Ulster branches in January 2009.
Barbara's presentation will give an insight into the social, political and economic factors that lay behind Woolworth's successful introduction of 'modernity' into the retail scene in Ireland. The stores in the Republic were the chain's main engine of growth in the 1950s with results that continued to out-perform branches on the mainland right up to the surprise withdrawal in 1984. A last minute reprieve saved the Ulster stores, which continued to prosper and expand right up to 2008.