By Helen Riddell
WHEN it came to shoes, there was only one man to go to in Beara, and that was Jim Blake, of Adrigole.
As the last shoemaker on the Beara Peninsula, his death on, August 11th aged 93, brought an end to shoemaking on the peninsula.
Known simply as ‘The Shoemaker’, Jim was born in 1928 in Crooha, Adrigole, one of a family of 12.
His mother died in childbirth when he was just seven, leaving his older siblings to help his father rear the family.
In 1950, aged 22, he began his trade as a shoemaker, apprenticed to local shoemaker – Mike Con – where he stayed for three years, before setting up on his own at Cappanaparka, Adrigole.
Jim’s nephew Joseph Blake spoke fondly of his uncle. ‘He had a remarkable ability to know where everything was in his workshop, and an ability to lay his hands on a pair of shoes that had been left with him many months previously. He loved to meet people, every transaction was an event for him, and he sold a pair of shoes, just the day before he died.’
However, as it transpired, Jim, even managed to sell a pair of shoes after his death. His good friend and neighbour, Mary Hulsizer, said how days before he died, a man had gone to him looking for a pair of shoes.
‘Days after Jim died, this man mentioned to my husband how Jim had said he would get the shoes for him, but then sadly Jim had died. So we had a look for the shoes and found them for this man, so even from beyond the grave, Jim was still selling shoes!’ said Mary.
Mary and her husband Phil who are based in the USA, said how Jim had been a great neighbour.
‘We inherited a house in Adrigole and Jim looked after it for us when we weren’t here. He became a great friend and was such good fun.’
As well as shoes, Jim also mended belts, bags, and football boots. He once came to the rescue of former Cork senior footballer Ciarán O’Sullivan who, the day before a county final, discovered a hole in his boots.
‘It was too late to break in a pair of new boots so I called into Jim to see if he could do anything, and sure enough he mended them. When Jim did a job, he did it well, and that day we won the county final.’
Jim was also a coal merchant and each winter would have pallets of coal delivered to his house. Joseph said Jim enjoyed negotiating the price with the sales rep to ensure he always got the best price for his neighbours.
‘Many a winter’s night, in all kinds of weather, Jim would have people call and he’d head out with his flashlight to help them load up the coal,’ said Joseph.
Jim had a deep love of everything revolving around politics and was in his element when an election was called. He had a remarkable memory when it came to elections and could recount the votes received by different politicians going back 40 or 50 years.
However, for him, the one politician who stood head and shoulders above the rest was the former Minister, the late Michael Pat Murphy. When Michael Pat’s granddaughter Katie Murphy was elected in 2019, he delighted in telling people he had helped to get three generations of the Murphy family elected, as Katie’s late father Michael Pat Murphy Jnr was also a county councillor.
Jim was waked in his workshop, surrounded by the tools of his trade.
Following requiem mass at St Fachtna’s Church, he was laid to rest at Kilcaskin Cemetery, Adrigole.