Anne Hailes: Why Gaby Childrenswear will be much missed

Gabrielle Brady and Dinah Weiner at the Gaby shop in Belfast Picture: HughRussell

FIFTY-eight years ago a gentleman visited a property in Belfast's Gresham Street, a second-hand clothes shop with very little going for it. However, he saw the potential of the Smithfield area, he bought the shop and it became a thriving part of local commerce.

His name was Gabriel Weiner, so it seemed logical to name the shop Gaby, and an important slice of our history was born.

Last week people started queueing round the block both to buy in the closing-down sale but also to tell the family how much they will be missed. Dinah Weiner told me so many stories about the days when she and her late sister Thelma Cobain ran the shop with their mother and father, famous for ‘special occasion’ wear for children including First Communion outfits and accessories for both boys and girls, either off the peg or designer made.

For the boys, shorts and Aran jumpers were replaced with fashionable junior versions of tailored three-piece suits.

“We had three generations coming into the shop – the child, mother and grandmother – and it was emotional to serve them over the years; they became friends. We knew they’d been saving for that special outfit and it was important that they trusted us to have just what they wanted.”

And three generations have also been involved in Gaby, the father, his two daughters and his granddaughter Gabrielle Brady who, alongside her husband Martin, has been running the business in recent times with a loyal staff who were considered ‘family’.

Dinah Weiner, Gabrielle Brady and her late mother Thelma Cobain

When we talked, Dinah made me laugh with her memories.

“One Monday morning I put out some black plastic bags filled with papers so they could be picked up when the bin lorry came round. I went off into town on a message and when I came back the entire Smithfield area had been cordoned off and shoppers and shop keepers all evacuated. My black bags became suspect bombs!”

She was forgiven and excused the charge of leaving unidentified objects on the pavement.

There were times when it wasn’t funny.

“In 1975 the shop was totally demolished by a bomb. Ninth of January; we were lined up against a wall, and told ‘Happy New Year’ and with no back entrance to the shop we had to race past the device on to Gresham Street just before Gaby was burnt to the ground.”

But rather than going out of business, the family took over an empty shop three doors down and traded there until they were able to rebuild.

“Even there I was working at a shelf at the back of the shop and found a watch and a cigarette box and a traveller who was in with me said: 'Get out quickly, it’s an incendiary.”

Again it was back to the drawing board when they lost all their stock for the second time.

In the middle of this mayhem CastleCourt was being built and their original shop was demolished, only to be rebuilt again. You’d think they’d consider giving up – but no.

While this was happening they moved into the Elm Bar, a new window was put in to display their stock and they did a roaring trade. However, the pub was raided and the staff wages and profits were taken. Thankfully, once back into their Gresham Street premises, things got better.

Gaby and Joe Kavanagh were the first tenants in the CastleCourt shopping centre and both names have gone down in local history, with Gaby developing an international clientele.

Skilful Marketing

With the use of the internet, people throughout the world have had a chance to view the Holy Communion range, flower girls' dresses for weddings, Christening robes and special lines in Christmas outfits, red coats, little fur muffs, shoes and pillbox hats.

“We posted out all over the UK and to America. People even came from Scotland on the Glasgow boat to spend a day with us. We’ve served many families. The Rev Jessie Jackson’s wife came in to buy, as did Ronan Keating, but our dearest and closest customers were those who lived locally so you can imagine how sad we’ve been at having to close the business.”

Gabrielle explained that since her mum Thelma passed away last year she has had to consider the future.

“All my adult life I worked alongside my mum, my aunt and my granny. This has made the decision very emotional for us all.”

Also for the hundreds of families from all backgrounds; when the news broke last week immediately over 2,000 message were sent to Gabrielle, which hopefully will be some comfort.


Dear Mr or Ms Yellow Box Person,

There is a crying need for two additional yellow boxes in Belfast – firstly at the junction of Dunbar Link and Corporation Street outside the Salvation Army building. At rush hour these two lanes converge and no-one wants to give way; therefore, when the green light signals drivers from either road to advance, they can’t because cars are blocking the way forward.

The reason is the traffic lights a few yards further on where Waring Street enters George’s Square approaching Customs House. Again no-one will give way, so drivers sit fuming at each other.

Another yellow box at these lights would go a long way to managing this traffic. Now that schools are on holiday the situation is slightly better but that will only be for a limited period.

I hope you will give some thought to this request.

Yours sincerely.

PS: When I’m at it, what about taking a leaf out of the road services in the south of Ireland? Red stop light at roadworks with a countdown clock to green. Saves a lot of aggression building up when you know you’ve only 30 seconds or whatever to wait.

Remember the advice in the 1967s drought?

Toilet: If it’s yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down.

Bathroom: Bath with a friend!

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