May’s Toy Wonderland! Limerick toy shop owner to feature in Christmas TV documentary

WHEN it comes to toys, Mai Roche is a child’s best friend and her shop in Church St, Abbeyfeale is children’s toy heaven.

Even still, after 60 years in the business, Mai continues to love her job and continues to love the toys.

She has, she admits, a particular taste for tractors. “I always sell tractors here. I love them,’ she said, before appearing in a new TV documentary The Toy Shop which premieres this Wednesday on RTÉ.

Big tractors, she added with some satisfaction, are her biggest sellers and she’s thrilled that now girls are getting in on the act with pink tractors. She also noted, with great pleasure, that business is more or less a year-round affair.

There are always children with birthdays to buy, there are always children with communion money that they are crazy to spend.

Above all, you have to think about loyal customers and loyal suppliers. “I still deal with the same audience and have great clients,” she explained.

And, unlike larger toy retailers, Mai can offer customers the ability to set aside money week after week until a toy is fully paid for.

May’s Toy Wonderland, however, started out a little differently. In 1959 as a young woman, Mai Dempsey arrived in Abbeyfeale from Clonard, County Meath, to take up employment in what was then Dan Ward’s pharmacy.

She was supposed to return home after three years, but instead met and fell in love with Michael Roche, a local farmer. They moved into premises in Church St, which was, May recalls, a licensed premises at the time.

Known as The Shebeen, it was also a grocery store and sold toys.

Later the license was sold and Mai, mother of six sons and a daughter, decided to specialize in toys. “I opened the toy store a long time ago,” she laughed. It was, she said, to have “an interest”.

This interest has kept her happy and content for many years now and she has no intention of retiring. “I’m fit and able, I’m fine. The memory is good all the time,” she said.

It’s not until she finally closes her eyes that the boutique will hit the market, she said. Her children, she added, all live locally but have gone their own way.

Mai’s shop is one of 16 independent toy shops nationwide to be featured in The Toy Shop documentary. It is, say the makers of the program, a story about the fundamental and underappreciated role of toys in all of our lives, and the part they play in shaping our lives and making dreams come true.

He taps into the memories of owners and young customers and captures the joy and excitement of toys.

Mai was happy to be part of the program. “It was something different,” she said, recalling she was selling a tractor to a customer when the film crew arrived.

The Toy Shop is produced by Atom Films, a company no stranger to Abbeyfeale. They did the “Abbeyfealegood” program as well as Older Than Ireland and The Irish Wedding.

The Toy Shop is released on RTÉ One this Wednesday December 22 at 9.30pm.