Fifty years of cutting hair came to an end for Leo Swift last weekend.
The well-known gents hairdresser hung up his scissors, combs and razors after half a century, as he celebrated his retirement with a party for family, friends, neighbours and customers at his Irishtown, Clonmel salon on Saturday evening.
“I have mixed feelings about retiring, anybody would”, he says.
“I’ve been dealing with people face-to-face every day and it’ll be a change to no longer do that. It also takes a lot out of you standing on your feet for all those years”.
Leo arrived in Clonmel in January 1965 on the advice of a friend, a commercial rep from Dublin who travelled the country and recommended the town to him.
“It was a good recommendation, absolutely”, he says. However he had explored the possibility of establishing a business in Dungarvan but decided against the Waterford town because “it looked quite quaint, with lots of women walking around in shawls. It didn’t look modern enough, not that anywhere looked too modern in 1964”.
After a brief spell learning the trade in London in the early 1960s his first salon was based at the corner of Gladstone Street and Market Street, where he was joined by his brother Jim (a ladies hardresser) in the original Maison Swift before Leo moved to Irishtown, in the shadow of the West Gate, in 2004. Hairdressing is in the blood - the Swifts’ father, James, was a barber.
Originally from Monaghan town, fifty years in South Tipperary haven’t completely diluted the gentle lilt of Leo’s northern accent.
The appeal of his home province is still strong, as Leo and his wife Shirley are looking forward to returning to Donegal, one of their favourite spots “when he has the freedom. I’ve no plans for a world cruise and I’m not into long flights any more”.
The couple have three adult children - David, who lives in France but works across the border in Switzerland; Hilary, who lives in Mallow and Lesley, who lives near Fethard.
Outside of the salon Leo has been involved with St. Mary’s Choral Society since 1975 and is a former chairman of the society. He also sang with male vocal group The Gordonaires and is a member of a couple of bridge clubs, “another thing I’ll be doing more of in the future”.
He was also a founder member of Clonmel’s Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1967 and recalled the great festivals that it organised, which attracted some of the top stars of the day including singers Butch Moore; Maxi, Dick and Twink and comedy duo Tom and Paschal.
Leo’s retirement also means that Irishtown’s commercial landscape will change, as his premises has been bought by next-door neighbours Funfair Casino.