A woman walks into the shop carrying one of those cheery Henry vacuum cleaners with a smiley face on the front of it, and tells Fergus it's stopped working. He takes a look at it, writes up a docket, and tells her it will be fixed before the weekend. Expressing her surprise that it will be fixed so quickly, she jokes and tells us that the family will all be heartbroken – with Henry out of action they thought they were going to get some time off from him.
Is there any other object more domestic than a hoover? And, lest we perpetuate a stereotype, but is there anything more beloved by Irish mothers across the country than giving the place a good hoover? The woman who came into Fergus Doyle's repair shop in Harold's Cross put me in mind of early childhood Saturday morning refrains of, “Lift up your feet” while you were trying to watch cartoons, but your mother insisted on cleaning and making the house nice for you. A few years later, it was, “Get out that hoover there and make yourself useful”.
A vacuum cleaner is possibly one of the most banal, yet essential (especially for when your mother comes round) household objects to be found in a home.
In the repair shop that's officially called Home Services Repairs (but more commonly known as “The Hoover Centre" from the sign above the door), the floor space is mostly taken up with them. There are round ones, oblong ones, steel ones, plastic ones, see-through ones, tall ones, and brightly coloured ones, while the walls are draped with long hoses or hoover bags.
The shop first opened in the sixties. “My father used to work for Hoover, and when they stopped the servicing of machines, they gave all the guys areas, so my father's area was from here to, say, upper Ranelagh to Milltown, back to Crumlin, Drimnagh, Walkinstown.”
Fergus tells us there were sixteen Hoover service men in Dublin who each got their own area where they could operate and service Hoover vacuum cleaners and washing machines, which would have been a new and hi-tech addition to Irish homes at the time. His father, Gerry Doyle, went into business with two other men, John O'Dea and Dick Gregory, although Doyle eventually came to own it.
His father also managed Shelbourne Football Club in what was considered to be a golden era for the club and Irish football in general.
“He followed Shelbourne, played for them, managed them, and then eventually bought them and was chairman of the club when he died.”
His tenure as manager saw them win the League Championship once, the F.A.I. Cup twice, and qualify for Europe.
“At that time, I wouldn't bother coming in on a Monday because this [place] would be just full of reporters and soccer people and they'd be talking about the match. “
Fergus first came to the family business during his Leaving Cert year, when his father had broken his Achilles tendon and needed to be driven to work. He ended up working for his father for a time while his brothers were away, before getting married and going to live in Copenhagen for a few years.
His father passed away at the age of 79, not long after returning home from Italia '90, which prompted Fergus to return home to run the business with his brother Gerard. He has been there ever since, and runs it alone now after Gerard retired a few years ago.
As Fergus talks, his hands are often on the go. He fingers the wool of his jumper, slips his hands in and out of his pockets, rolls a cigarette, or picks up a part to describe it to us. He shows us a circuit board from a newer vacuum cleaner that he reckons costs around 80 cents to make but if it breaks the new part can cost up to €100 to get sourced and shipped from another country. That creates a situation where it's almost cheaper to buy a new one than repair the one you have. He still sees vacuum cleaners of around 50 years old that he can get working as good as new, and he points out some waiting to be collected that are 25 or 35 years old.
He thinks that newer models aren't made as well as the old ones but when asked if the old technology itself is better than the new, he answers, “Well, it's not that it's better, nobody has really improved on it, accept to dress it up.”
“A vacuum cleaner is a simple thing – a flex, switch, motor. "
Sturdy, heavy-duty looking Nilfisks with metal casing and weirdly elegant looking Hoover uprights that are decades old stand out among the more familiar vacuum cleaners we now see. Like cars, they seem in a strange way more distinguished than their modern counterparts which all blend together in a largely unvarying blur. In the window, there's even a sputnik-inspired Hoover Constellation Vacuum from the fifties which wouldn't look out of place in an episode of The Jetsons. Round in shape, they float off the ground when in use. Fergus tells us it still works but we don't press him.
Most of the vacuum cleaners on the floor are broken beyond repair but Fergus holds on to them for spare parts. In the small workshop behind the counter, a TV flickers with horse racing as he tells us he still has parts of his father's old tool kit from Hoover. He would've taken courses to learn about the technology used in the vacuum cleaners and washing machines when he first started out, but these days he can tell by the sound of things what needs fixing.
He says that repairing a vacuum cleaner, “Can take anything from half an hour to three hours, if it goes against you.”
Fergus tells us that the shop is possibly the oldest single-family business between Rathfarnham and the city, and from the days of his father and football fans dropping in for post-match analysis to now, there is a sense that it is an elemental part of Dublin 6 – a familiar constant for both locals and people who travel from further afield. The work that was done all those years ago, and the foundation that the business was built on tentatively lingers on. Although Fergus stopped the servicing of washing machines many years ago, he still gets calls from customers looking for advice on how to get something repaired and he always recommends someone he trusts.
The store even had a brush with fame when it appeared in the film Once, as the place where Glen Hansard's character works by day. Fergus' nephew, Rory Doyle (who incidentally was playing drums with The Walls at the time, and now plays with Hozier), was friends with people involved in making the movie and after some funding fell through, he suggested that they contact his uncle to see about using the shop as a location. Fergus seems pleased yet nonplussed about the cinematic debut.
It's clear what the place means to him as a whole though, and how the tradition, the family history, and indeed the position it's held in the community are all things to be maintained and tended to. He talks about the freedom of working for himself, but the pressures that brings too. With a flicker of a glint in his eye, he tells us that asides from those few years in Copenhagen, he has never worked for anyone but himself.
“It would just be ... I'm not that way.”
He has two grown-up children of his own and several nieces and nephews but doesn't envisage any of them coming on-board to take over the family business, and he reluctantly admits that he sometimes worries about what will become of it.
For now though, it feels hard to imagine a time when the shop wouldn't be there with Fergus on hand to offer some advice or to have the hoover fixed in time for the weekend.
Written by Sinead Fox / Photos by Adam O'Keeffe / ©2015 Project Bowes