A Summary of an Interview with Mr Eric (Alex) Parkes, Former Manager of the Waldorf Barbershop, Westmoreland St, Dublin.
"The proprietor of the Waldorf, Mr Liam Finnegan, asked me to interview Eric, to record his memories of the foundation and early days of this iconic Dublin landmark. The interview took place in the Waldorf, after closing time, on the 24th June 1997.
The original Waldorf Barbershop was opened in 1929 at No. 37 Westmoreland Street by Mr. Thomas O’Byrne.
Mr O’Byrne was a flamboyant character who learned the hairdressing trade as a young man before ‘going to sea’ for a few years. He worked as a barber on the transatlantic liners and while ashore in New York he visited the famous Waldorf Hotel Barbershop which was the biggest in the World. It is said that there were 68 barbers employed there and it was open for business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
When he returned home, he took over a small barbershop in Harold’s Cross before opening the Dublin Waldorf under the offices of Suttons Coal Importers. Despite the fact that the opening coincided with the 1929 Wall Street Crash, he built up the business until it became the most fashionable barber shop in Dublin frequented by the top celebrities in pre-war Dublin, showbiz people, judges, politicians and businessmen. Eric remembers the top politicians of the time, Seán Lemass, Seán McEntee and Todd Andrews coming in, often together.
He related an amusing story concerning the late former-President, Cearbhaill Ó Dálaigh who frequented the shop when he was a practising lawyer, before he became President. Mr. Ó Dálaigh’s hair began to thin while he was still quite a young man. Eric recalls that he was easy to get on with and had a great sense of humour. One day he jokingly warned Eric not to charge him the same price for cutting his hair as the man in the next chair, who had a full ‘mane’ of hair. “I’ll be charging you the same price all right”, Eric told the balding Ó Dálaigh, “but it will include a ‘search fee’”.
The Theatre Royal’s big band leader at the time Jimmy Campbell was a regular caller to have “Dorfix” applied to his head. “Dorfix” was an in-house-made fixing lotion that Jimmy liked so that his hair would not budge while he was conducting the band. All the main show-business people from the Royal used the Waldorf, and most of the visiting international stars appearing on the ‘bill’ were brought down for shaves, haircuts, or just general grooming. The most famous of these were; Frank Sinatra, James Cagney, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Guy Mitchell, Bill Haley and the Comets, (from the US), and George Formby, Frankie Vaughan, Billy Fury and Tommy Steele, from Britain.
After the war, Mr. O’Byrne decided to expand and in 1946 he opened another shop across the street under the Kildare Gents Outfitters at No. 13, and he named it “The Adare Barbershop”. This spanking new Art Deco/American style shop was an immediate success and attracted a new clientele. Within a few years Mr O’Byrne had become extremely affluent, bought a big car, became a natty dresser and moved his residence to Mount Merrion.
In contrast Eric Parkes became active in the Irish Hairdressers and Allied Workers Union. He was at various times in the 1950’s and 60’, President and Secretary of the Dublin Branch and was a delegate to the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. He became a member of the Labour Party and knew Big Jim Larkin well.
In the late 1960’s however, business began to slow up in the bigger shops. Labour costs began to climb and hair fashions changed to the detriment of the trade. Mr. O’Byrne who by now was advancing in years, closed the original shop and moved everyone across the street to No. 13. The Adare became the Waldorf-Adare and then, just “The Waldorf”. In 1971, there were just six barbers left and Mr. O’Byrne let them run the shop themselves.
In 1973, he decided to retire officially but instead of selling or closing the Waldorf, he agreed to sub-lease it to a co-operative formed by the six remaining barbers. They invested their redundancy pay and got a loan from the local bank Manager (who was also a client) and bought out the lease. Inevitably, they elected Eric Parkes as co-op Chairman/Shop Manager. Joe Jordan was the last of the 6 to retire in 1995 aged 84, but the Waldorf, lovingly restored to its pristine 1940’s condition by Liam Finnegan, still lives on. “It is great to come down now and then and have a trim and a chat about old times” said Eric. “I just love the memories”. "
-- John Flannery - 24th June 1997