Pete Shiel 1892 - 1964

Native of Drimkeary, Ballinakill

John Holohan

Agreement with Singer Sewing Machine Co for lease of sewing machine.
Letter from Seán Lemass acknowledging proceeds of National Collection taken at Abbey in July 1930.
Receipt for money received from Peter Shiel.

Peter Shiel was born on 20th October 1892, a twin of Thomas, the first born to parents, Thomas Shiel, a farmer and Mary Shiel, nee Fahy from Derrybrien and they lived in Drimkeary, Ballinakill.

Peter, always known as Pete, came to live in Abbey at a young age.  He lived with his sister Mrs Ned Kelly in the Kelly home which was situated between Lynch’s house and Hanrahan’s Bar in the centre of Abbey village.

Pete was a tailor and he set up business in the small thatched house that was adjoining Tim Kelly’s Forge, close to the front gate of Kilnalahan Cemetery and across the road from where  Abbey Community Centre now stands..

From the notebooks he kept, it is clear that he was quite busy making suits and clothes not just for the local men of the parish, but for people in all the surrounding  areas.  We have old documents from some of the suppliers of suiting materials, linings and ladies and gents patterns showing the purchases made by Pete.  These included the businesses of Joseph Largey, Ormond Quay, Dublin; Heaton Bros, Athlone, Martin Mahony & Bros Ltd, Cork and Callanan & Co Ltd, Dublin.  Pete used the old-style Singer sewing machine and from the documents in our possession, he had a lease agreement with Singer Sewing Machine Co Ltd for supply of sewing machines.  Periodical payments had to be made either directly to Singer or to their collector who would call to collect payments.

Pete was a popular man in the village and his ‘open house’ workshop became a visiting point for young and old alike.  He enjoyed stories and his notebooks, in addition to the names and measurements of his many customers, contain simple verses that he composed as a diversion from his work.

As there were no cooking facilities in his little workshop, Pete availed of the hospitality of neighbours and was a regular visitor in many local houses.  One such house was the very hospitable home of Tom and Annie Callanan, Culleen where he was a regular visitor and where he enjoyed many a meal.

At a time of political unrest and a turbulent time in the country, Pete joined the local IRA branch and became actively involved in all skirmishes and events that took place.  The most notable event was the raid for arms on the home of the Magistrate for the area, Mr Farran, who lived in a remote area some miles from Woodford.  This escapade is recounted in an article by Mike Donnelly on this website, in the topics section.  Pete was a tall and very thin man and it was known that a group of IRA from an adjoining parish referred to the Abbey IRA lads as having a ‘walking pull-thru’ – referring to Pete.  For those who might not be familiar with this expression, a ‘pull-thru’ was for cleaning the barrel of a gun!

After the signing of the Treaty, Pete was firmly on the Anti-Treaty side and became a staunch Fianna Fáil supporter.  He organised meetings and undertook responsibility for organising the Annual National Collection for Fianna Fáil.  A letter from Seán Lemass in 1930 acknowledges his involvement in this work.

Around 1950, Pete answered an advertisement for a teacher/tailor position in the Letterfrack Industrial School and was successful.  He cycled the long journey of over ninety miles to his new job but was back in Abbey within a few weeks saying the job didn’t suit him!

During the early years of my life, spent in Abbey, Pete was a major character of Abbey Village.  He was a most popular, social and inoffensive man who enjoyed a few drinks and who never did any harm to anyone.  He contributed whenever there was a ‘sing-song’ and his party piece was ‘Come back to Erin Mavourneen’!

Pete died in 1964 and he is buried in Kilnalahan cemetery close to where he had set up his tailoring business.



This page was added on 25/02/2023.

Comments about this page

  • I love this article and it fully captures the character.
    I now, eagerly, await the inside story of his neighbour, blacksmith, Tim Kelly. Keep the ink flowing, John.

    By Tom Keane (18/04/2023)
  • Very interesting, I remember Pete in Kelly’s house and around the village.

    By Angela Sellars (11/04/2023)

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