Denis O’Gorman - ‘It’s more than about just cutting hair’

Matt Britton


Matt Britton

If you’re like many men nowadays you probably walk into the nearest unisex hair salon for a quick wash and blow-dry and as a result miss out on one of the best experiences you are likely to get in the short space of an hour.

If you’re like many men nowadays you probably walk into the nearest unisex hair salon for a quick wash and blow-dry and as a result miss out on one of the best experiences you are likely to get in the short space of an hour.

The traditional barber shop is simply a great place to be where men meet up with other men and join some great characters with some great stories to tell. It offers much more than a haircut; it is a social occasion where everybody is involved - the barber, the person getting his haircut and those waiting their turn.

Denis O’Gorman, Donegal’s well known barber is keeping the tradition very much alive in Donegal Town where he continues with the business established by his father.

“The barbershop of today is much more than just about cutting hair,” Denis said.

“It can be a confessional box, a place where one just wants to get something off his chest or just engage in some great conversation.

“I suppose I was really just born into the profession - both my father and uncle were both barbers; one in Bundoran and the other here in Donegal Town and people travelled from all parts of the county to get their haircuts with them.

“People used to joke that if you wanted the latest news there was no need to buy the Democrat you just called into the barbers!

“Even though I was born in Ballyshannon, I grew up in Mountcharles in the early ‘60s. I was part of a large family and there was an awful lot of young people in the area and it was a great place to live.

“We had loads of wide open spaces where we played football from early morning to late and then had the beach just down the road. You couldn’t have wished for a better environment.

“It was a closely knit community and when we weren’t playing football, Mrs. Campbell had us cleaning up the beaches, painting the bathing huts and keeping the area in good shape for the visitors.

“It had a great community spirit and we all automatically became altar boys, joined the school choir and played in the local band.

“Mouncharles had a great tradition of football, most of it surrounding the local St. Naul’s GAA Club but there was a bit of a rebel in me and I decided to play soccer.

“A crowd of us would play on ‘The Bank’ in front of our houses - we had no proper facilities then but we kicked a ball whenever we could.

“There was very little live football on show in those days - if you had a television you could watch the FA Cup Final and the European Cup on a grainy black and white screen, the All Ireland finals and then there was always the Railway Cup on radio on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I suppose I am known far and wide for my support of Manchester Utd. and I have a major confession to make today - I started supporting them because I liked the colour of their jerseys! It was as simple as that.

“I cannot count how many times I have been over at Old Trafford but I suppose if I hadn’t been going I might be driving a high spec Merc by now!

“Recently I took my young son over to Old Trafford only to see The Blues thrashing us and then to the All Ireland semi-final where we all know the Blues of Dublin got the better of us - he is not exactly the biggest fan of the colour blue now!”

Both Denis’ father and uncle actively encouraged him to carry on the family tradition and after completing his education in the ‘Old Tech’ in Donegal Town, Denis went off to Sligo to do his ANCO course and later to Castlebar where he served his time.

The young barber returned to Donegal where he worked alongside his father in Quay St. for many years.

“I think my father could see that I was cut out to be a barber - he could see I had the personality, ‘the gift of the gab’ and the communication skills which are essential in this job.

“When you come back as a young fella fully trained, you think you know everything but I was soon to discover that there was a lot more to barbering than cutting hair.

“You can be taught anything but one thing you can never learn is a good personality - you either have it or you don’t and I was blessed that I did have it and actually enjoyed talking with people.

“In those years with my father, I learned more about people and the town - some great characters would drop in like PJ and Willie McGowan, Dom Breslin, John Ward, Guard Dillon and many others - these people were mines of information and could spend the day talking about bygone days or current affairs of the time. They all knew so much about the town and it’s people.

“Unfortunately some of these characters have passed on and with them many untold stories of the area.

“It was through meeting with these men that I developed my interest in the history of the town and especially the old historic photographs.

“When I look at some of the older photographs of the area I can actually relate to the scenes - they become alive for me. I can easily visualise the ships coming up the bay to collect the logs or deliver the coal as if I were actually there. I think that we all should hold on to these old images and indeed share them with others. They give people a sense of belonging to something that is much greater than themselves.”

Dennis’ Barbershop is a treasure trove of old photographs which grace the walls interspersed with pictures of one Eric Cantona, George Best and many scenes from Old Trafford.

“I could never devote the time to all these things without the support of my wife Ann and the three kids, Barry, Ben and Annie Rose - I don’t know where they get the patience at times.

Denis devotes his spare time to capturing present day scenes with his camera for some future historian and also in his role as the successful manager of Eany Celtic where in his own words he was “A bad player but a relatively good manager”

Concluding Denis said, “I love getting up in the morning and doing what I am doing. I look forward to going to work - to me it is not really work, it is a labour of love.

“ I listen and I learn and there is never a day that I turn the key on the door and leave without discovering something new.”