Ten years of Irish-Celt on eBay

On the 3rd  November 1998 – according to my reliable diary, I was in the townland of Ardnacrusha on the banks of the mighty river Shannon in the county of Clare. I had a house call in this picturesque area to look at an old farmhouse kitchen dresser.  I drove past the famous hydro-electric power station. This incredible construction was built in 1929 by the newly formed Irish Free State Government. At the time it was the largest river dam and power station in the world, harnessing our natural resources.

But I digress – no actually, I don’t, please bear with me.

From the house I was in you could clearly see the dam just up the river a bit. This of course started a conversation. The old man with the dresser was 88 years young – “they tell me I am the last living man who worked on that project”, he told me. I became fascinated with the story. I remembered later that day when I got home, switching on the computer and searching for “Ardnacrusha”, but I gave up, getting quickly bored with Ardnacrusha properties for sale! Later that night I was doing my usual searching for Irish ephemera on eBay and again I entered Ardnacrusha in the search box. Low and behold what popped up but a set of early postcards, all to do with the construction of this massive power station?  Not only that, whoever this genius eBay seller was, he/she had done some serious homework on researching this subject.  They had added a complete potted history of this huge civil engineering project. Oh yes, everything, how it started in 1925, described by the Irish People as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and on and on. A fascinating story of achievement for such a small poor island country. This certainly prompted me to sign on and register on eBay. Now this event was not mentioned in my diary, I must have thought at the time, it was not really such a big deal! But then in the entry for 11th  November 1998 I have a large diary entry – “First ever internet transaction arrives” in strong underlined writing. I was proud of myself. In my late 50s with absolutely no technical computer skills and I was able to buy something across the wires. Is this the future, I said to myself? I was hooked!

Remember in 1998 we had no broadband, just a single telephone line that took all day to connect to, a “steam engine” camera that we used to take old fashioned celluloid images with. These we brought to the local chemist who sent them snail mail to the developers – no “one hour” service here. It took four days, using this system and lots of patience. Put the goods aside and wait for the photographs to arrive back from the lab. For heaven’s sake, why did we not have a digital camera? Simple answer – they were hardly available at all and where they were they were wildly expensive. The cheapest was over £700.

In technical terms, ten years ago was a thousand years ago! We didn’t even have a mobile phone and even if you were wealthy and foolish enough to buy one, you would not have coverage. The scanner we had moved the photographs across at a snail’s pace and when you had the image up and on the screen you became a tad excited! Then you had to present it to eBay and hope for the best. Now in fairness to them, they did reduce the size but if my memory serves me right, eBay would not or could not read it from my computer so you had to first put it on line on a separate .com site. Talk of a nightmare!

Another entry in my diary about six months later and also underlined: “eBay taking up far too much time and money”. Oh yes, that is another thing. When eventually you did get the old telephone line to crank up and go online, it started to cost you. Three minutes was a local phone call. My telephone bill was sky high.

I then decided I needed some training and don’t talk to me about that! Poor Anne Marie had her work cut out for her. She travelled out the twenty miles from Ennis in the depths of that winter and did her utmost to help me understand the technical language and processes needed to work this bloody thing! I truly believe that eBay should give this oul fossil sitting here in the wilds of West Clare, a gold medal for sticking with it and ‘getting it’! How did we do it? But eBay to their credit changed, simplified and modernised on a regular basis – which drove, and indeed continues to drive me mad but it has to be done.

The one great aspect of eBay which drew us into it was its community ethos. That anyone who uses eBay can be trusted to be fair and do the right thing. This certainly has worked for us. We believe that if you trust people – even though you never meet them, see them or even talk to them face to face, they will trust you back. We can count on one hand and after almost 20,000 transactions the number of ‘bad’ transactions we have had and a couple of them were breakages or ‘lost’ items in the mail. TRUST is what eBay is all about and long may that continue.

Now – to talk about the connections we have made all over the world. From Washington State, the man who snaps up any earthenware Belleek Pottery we offer for sale, to the young lad in Maryland who buys Irish coins from us, to a fantastic woman in Michigan who EVERY week for the past seven or eight years has purchased something ‘quirky’ but Irish from us and who indeed has become a very good ‘cyber’ friend (howya MJ!!). She has an “Irish Room” in her home now and loves it. The green glass fishing floats to the guy in Hawaii who told us he has two rooms in his home chock a block full of them from all over the world!! The college professor in Iowa who loves the documents and ephemera we put up and their descriptions and history. Then there’s the woman in Pennsylvania who, in 2000, wrote a long hand written letter to us saying: “I believe that those of us who have studied our Irish backgrounds, particularly those of us whose families departed because of the Famine, are searching for something we have lost, ethnically. We are trying to reclaim our identities. I think we buy, not for the material value of the item, but rather for its intrinsic value to who we are today. I’ve come to believe the blood runs strong in Celts. I believe what I read about people in the past helps me reaffirm and discover who I and we are today. And further, helps us determine where we should go from here, and what we should value. I think those of us with ethnic memories are drawn to your site. In some respects, perhaps we are trying to pick up the threads and the ties of the cloth that was broken when we were forced to cross the Atlantic so that we can reweave that same cloth”.
The above we love to quote as it really gets what we are about.

We have only written here about the Americans, but we have mailed items to Australia, Germany, France, Great Britain, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, once to Russia, Czech Republic, Korea and Japan not to mention the many Irish people who tap into Irish Celt every week

We have had customers calling to see us when in Ireland on holidays. Last month we received a call from Kim from Ohio who we had been selling to for a couple of years. We said we would be delighted to meet HIM!! We were under the impression Kim was a woman. When he eventually showed up he was a handsome man with a flowing white beard!

Just this morning we had an email from a man from Chicago enquiring about “No Irish Need Apply” posters. He remembers his grandparents talking about them.

The packing and mailing of our items takes up a good morning of our week. Eyeball the different items then eyeball the boxes to see if we have the correct sizes. We only use boxes and bubble wrap which we have received from our local stores. Big into recycling in this house! We double box the pottery items, any paper items are inserted in cardboard backed envelopes. Then begins the packing, the tissue, the bubble wrap, write the note and lick the envelope! We like to handwrite the addresses to prove that we are not robots and we reckon our customers love it! Then into the post office and get the parcels weighed and stamped and away with them!! Phew!
Now for that cup of coffee and home for a rest.

To say that eBay changed our lives would be an understatement. It transformed it. We absolutely love what we do, the buying of the items, the researching their history and writing it up, the connections and correspondence with people all over the world and finally the weekly auction itself which can throw up all sorts of surprises. Who would ever have thought that we would be doing all of this in our dotage! Sure ‘tis younger we’re getting!

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