A Family Affair - JJ Barber Jewellers from 1869 to the present
Our family jewellery store first opened in 1869, on Artillery Quay in Fermoy - now known as O’Neill Crowley Quay.
Fermoy was then an important Garrison Town for the British Army, and large numbers of troops were stationed in the town's two barracks.
John Joseph (JJ) Barber was Barrack Master, and set his son JJ up in the town as a jeweller. Although records from the time are scant, it is likely that he trained in England as a watchmaker.
Fermoy is situated in the Blackwater Valley at a beautiful crossing of the river Blackwater, an important Salmon fishing river. So, as well as jewellery, watches, trophies and medals, the shop for many years also supplied fishing tackle to local and visiting anglers. The business thrived and passed from father to son, although several strong women also feature in its history, running the business in the absence of their husbands in wartime or during illness.
During the War of Independence the jewellery shop, along with many businesses in Fermoy, was looted extensively by the British Army. This was in retaliation for the exoneration by a local jury of several IRA men accused of ambushing a group of British soldiers. One soldier, 20 year old Private William Jones, was killed, and another, Private Lloyd, was injured. Private Jones was, reputedly, the first British soldier killed in the War of Independence. Simon's Grandfather, another JJ, was the foreman of that Jury and our shop was reputedly the first to be targeted.
Lieutenant Colonel Hughes-Hallett, posted in Fermoy at the time, recalled: “[they] proceeded to every shop or place of business of the coroner and the members of the jury… the jeweller’s (Barbers), the Boot Shop (Tylers) and the Publican (Lombards) and the foreman of the Jury, etc, were all faithfully dealt with. Trays of rings and watches were soon being flung into the river. A chain of men . . . smashed bottles on the pavement, and drink flowed in a stream down the gutter.”
In recent years, items including pocket watches were recovered from the riverbed by Fermoy Sub Aqua Club, and several of these were returned to family. They had lain for well over 90 years at the bottom of the riverbed, testament to a troubled era. They are now framed and form a precious part of our family memorabilia.
In 1974, Simon's father Dermot decided to move the shop to its present location on Patrick Street in Fermoy. JJ Barber Jewellers, now under the custodianship of Simon Barber, is the oldest business in Fermoy, and continues to be very much a part of the local community. Our local customers come to us with wedding rings and pieces of jewellery that were purchased here by their grandparents and great grandparents, as well as the stories that come with them. We have often been honoured to remake these pieces, re setting family heirlooms to serve another generation, and continuing the story of JJ Barber Jewellers in the town and life of Fermoy.
And it is in these same premises that Simon Barber has his workshop today. Surrounded by the tools and treasures of generations past, Simon works to create modern treasures, timeless pieces crafted by hand, to serve new generations.