Irish carriage business closes in 112 years

Written by B. B. Estabrook, CNN Carriage company Fleet has closed its doors after 112 years in business — and not by choice. “We were pushing with the pen behind our backs, practically” owner…

Irish carriage business closes in 112 years

Written by B. B. Estabrook, CNN

Carriage company Fleet has closed its doors after 112 years in business — and not by choice.

“We were pushing with the pen behind our backs, practically” owner John Carmack told CNN

The Dublin-based carriages had completed one last carriage ride for the last time on Saturday.

The wheels came off Fleet’s wooden carts for good on Saturday. Credit: Fleet

“Going to your last market, I can tell you that’s a death penalty, really,” the Fleet founder told CNN

“And we could have offered that option, but I didn’t think it was appropriate to do that for our customers and our staff. It was a hard one.”

In 1904, Carmack and his father — or “cabin crew” — Halbert, started ferrying passengers on the city’s street trams. When the trams were banned in 1907, they began building wooden cart trolleys instead. The current Fleet cobbler’s shop is a descendant of the first shop’s first leg.

Fleet takes the bricks back to the first shop, and never seems to make the same one twice.

Carmack, 48, was the only person at the shop on Friday, as a fleet of family and friends arrived. It was also his last day, but the idea of an immediate trip home was never on the table.

An elegy for the Fleet

It was the death of another man that saw the Fleet opt out of a change of future. Tim Brown’s death in early 2018 had led Carmack to consider closing the business he loved so much.

“Our archives are pretty full, and we actually have a (storage) facility for the business,” he said.

Wedding couples, scouts, horse-riders, river cruisers, family reunions, donkey rides, bikers, buskers and students all sought the Fleet’s transport. “Everybody loves the product,” he said.

A customer with her cargo in tow. Credit: Fleet

Carmack’s father had never seen a customer make a bad experience, and would make a tea to prove it. He would also recall the Dickensian story of the man who spent five years in the cloakroom for a faulty cart when he turned up unannounced in 1858.

His family’s loyal customers remembered him too. “The Facebook page is full of comments,” Carmack said. “The Facebook page is full of messages, just general condolence from our customers.”

There were a few elderly customers who would have liked the perfect cart, but some were too sick to get out of bed. Those were the only ones left, Carmack said.

Carmack’s children had no plans to follow him in building the business. “We never planned on going into the carriages side of things,” he said. “We are fine and healthy,” he said.

Closing business comes easy, he said. “Closing business came quite easy. It’s also people you will miss.”

The store was opened by the Conners family in 1910. Credit: Fleet

He has some fond memories of working with his father. “He came into work and he would have a cigar and a big turkey sandwich and actually make the best dinner in the world for us,” he said.

“And he would never, ever say, ‘yeah, but I should be bringing the kids home at that time.’ My mother came in and would have a tea for him, and then tell the kids, ‘You’re going out.'”

The Fleet lived on far longer than the family, though Carmack and his siblings decided to sell. The business remained in the family until the present day. He said he wouldn’t miss the physical product, but the people who worked there.

Wedding guests were uncertain which carriages would be taken down. Credit: Fleet

And what of his customers, the few who still wanted to travel in the Fleet? Carmack didn’t have any.

“The Guinness Book of Records holder for the longest carriage … will be on the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and he was given a big box for it,” he said.

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