In 1922 George McCambridge worked for James McGlade and Co, a wholesale wine & spirit merchant, in Belfast. He originally came from Cushendall in the Glens of Antrim. Around this time he had an altercation with a man who was causing trouble. The man was a member of the Black and Tans and George was warned that he should get out of Belfast as he was black listed by the Black and Tans.
In March of 1922 he got the job of manager of Powells, the Four Corners in Shop Street, Galway and at the age of 27 came to Galway. He stayed with Powells for 3 years and then leased a premise on the street. On the 3rd of July 1925 in partnership with Mr. Brennan he opened McCambridge, Brennan & Co. as a “high class grocery, provision, wine & spirit establishment” on 38 Shop Street, Galway.
The partnership continued into the 30s until George bought out Mr Brennan and the shop was changed to McCambridge’s Ltd. Around 1934/35 George’s younger brother Malcolm (known as Malachy, pictured with George) came to work for George, and worked there until 1945. In 1939 the whole premises was renovated.
At that time nothing came pre-packaged, everything had to be weighed, or bottled or bagged. Weights went for 4oz to 14 lbs and thing like salt, tea, biscuits and sugar were all weighed. Everything was wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. Spirits and beers were bottled on the premises, butter came in barrels and was hand shaped into pounds and wrapped in grease-proof paper.
Part of the premises was a bar, known as the long bar. Here Guinness was served from wooden barrels, and hand pumped.
Malcolm moved to Dublin where he established his own retail business, called McCambridges too, in Ranelagh. His grandson Michael is now running that business, which has become a very successful commercial bakery, specialising in brown bread. George and Malcolm continued to do business together, as did their sons, and as their grandsons still do. They both also had a passion for fishing, and Malcolm continued to come to Galway every year for the mayfly fishing.
The business continued to thrive and in 1950 George’s son Pat joined the business. George had married a woman from Turlough more called Evelyn Murphy and they had four sons. Pat was the third in line. George decided to close the bar in 1952, but they continued to deal in spirits and some wine. The bar was used as a storage area. The premises had continued to be leased, but in 1955 George bought it outright from Mrs Denise Drew.
The wholesale business had been a large part of the business before the war, but George had wound it down and concentrated on retail. However tourism in Galway in the 1960’s bought a number of hotels and restaurants looking for high quality foods and wines. George and Pat started to supply some of these, and the wholesale business started to grow again.
Meanwhile the wine and spirit business was growing. Pat was anxious to use their licence, and convinced George that off-licence was the way to go. In 1972 McCambridges opened the first off-licence in Galway. Pat had sourced a supplier of fine French wines in 1969 called Bouchard Pere & Fils. He shipped wines directly from their vineyards to Ireland which is still happening today. McCambridges are their oldest customer outside France, as they call us, their ‘first shipping customer’.
The shop underwent two major renovations, in 1969 and 1972 to modernise the premises. The wholesale business continued to grow and in 1981 part of premises in Bowling Green was bought and used as a store. The rest of the premises were bought in 1989 and the wholesale business was moved there.
Pat had married Ursula O’Callaghan from Cork in 1962 and they have four children. The oldest, Eoin joined the business in 1986. Eoin did his apprenticeship in the off-licence. Eoin computerised the wholesale business in the late eighties. The made-to-order sandwich bar was introduced in 1998, as was the salad bar. The confectionery business has greatly increased, where a varied and unusual range of high quality chocolates are available. The gift hamper business was started in 1996 by Natalie, Pats youngest daughter, who worked there for a time. This has increased every year, particularly at Christmas.
Natalie returned in 2002 to run the off-licence. Norma, Pats daughter came to work part-time in the business in 1997 to help continue to modernise the technology. A major upgrade of the premises was carried out in 1998 and the retail business was fully computerised in 1999. McCambridge's have had a Web site since 2000. We have upgraded the kitchen, adding a hot food counter and outdoor seating area in 2010. All our tills and IT system were upgraded in 2008. We had run a Wholesale Business in parallel with the retail business since the 70’s which we sold to Mangans Wholesale Ltd in Nov 2006. This decision was made to concentrate on the core retail business in Shop St. The newest addition is our restaurant Upstairs at McCambridge's. This opened in June 2012 and provides great food with a casual atmosphere.
McCambridge's have always had loyal and hardworking staff. Breege Flaherty, who was a buyer for the wholesale business, was with the company for more the 40 years, retiring 3 years ago. Bridie Curran, who lots of our customers know at the cheese counter had been with us for 32 years, and just recently retired. She won many prizes for her cheese displays over the years. Others to remember are Johnny Fury who had been with us for almost 40 years, when he sadly died in 1995.
Lots of people will remember May Langan, and then Bill Byrne in the office, where many a young office clerk used spend time looking for that missing 1p on the books. Dolores Burke was shop floor manager for many years and John Scarry was well known around Galway driving the McCambridges van. There were many more that came and went again to pursue their lives elsewhere. We have had many sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and relations of former employees working for us. Over the years McCambridges has touched a little bit of many lives.