CHANGING PLACES: A series with Carmel Kelly-Palmer

‘I am working at my dream job, hoping to make Dad proud’

By Carmel Kelly-Palmer

Rodrigo Oliveira Marques left his home town of Bage, Brazil in 2006 to live in Roscommon, where his father, Geraldo Marques, (known as Toko) had already taken up residency in 2003. A much-loved personality in Roscommon town, Toko married Mella Stephens, daughter of Padraig and Alice Stephens, a well-known family from Roscommon town.

Rodrigo begins: “My father lived on a farm until he was about 30 years of age. Working on a farm in Brazil one spends at least eight hours of the day on horseback, working with the animals, so you need very good, strong ‘tack’ for the work required. This is where my Dad started learning the trade of making and fixing his leather ‘tack’. ‘Tacking up’ means fitting a horse with all of the items necessary for riding it”.

Rodrigo was born in 1993. Around that time his father had to move to the city, starting work with a friend in a shoe outlet.

“After a couple of years my Dad decided to open his own shoe business (in Brazil), working there until he moved to Ireland in 2003. As a very young child I always followed my Dad into his workshop, fascinated by the way he worked and moved with such speed.

“He would go from the long wide bench to machines, bending, cutting, changing. He was always very quiet and I was too…the only part of me moving were my eyes, darting back and forth and following his every move, wondering how he moved so fast, from the bench to the machines against the wall. I knew when he started to sing all had turned out well – another good day in the workshop!”

  Rodrigo made that move to Roscommon in 2006, finishing secondary school in 2012. He secured some work after leaving school but wasn’t particularly happy in any of those roles. His father was in full-time employment here and also had a workshop at his home.

“I spent much time in there with him, gradually picking up the skill of crafting and making leather shoes. He decided we were going to open our own leather shop in Roscommon town. There he was crafting bespoke leather shoes and my brother Bruno and myself were taking care of the shoe repair service which we also offered. Unfortunately, that only lasted for one year as Dad was diagnosed with cancer and one year later he died.

“I needed to leave Roscommon then and decided on going to Galway. On my first day on a walk around the city I went into a shoe repair shop and within about 10 minutes there I got a job. Working there for a few months I was focused on the shop next door, called Mishnóc, where leather products were sold, and I became friendly with Mark, a man who worked there.

“The job at the shoe repair shop did not work out and  my good friend Mark spoke to the boss of Mishnóc, telling him my story. To my relief and surprise a few days later I received a telephone call from him asking if I would be interested in making a few handmade leather belts and in endeavouring to sell them in the shop.

“Tinged with relief and excitement I produced the belts, which were sold within a week. He employed me then on a full-time basis with the intention of making real, honest handmade leather goods.

“In our craft workshop in Athenry, I started slowly, only making a few belts and cross-body satchels, moving on to crafting handbags and all leather products sold in our Mishnóc shop premises. In the  workshop one carries out a variety of necessary tasks, cutting, moulding, shaping, stitching and many other procedures before finally producing a unique supply of leather products.

“I am now over six years working for Mishnóc, an exclusive quality leather product shop, selling luxurious and timeless leather products at Unit 3, Cathedral Buildings, Abbeygate Street Lower, Galway. ‘Mishnóc’ is an anglicisation of the Irish ‘misneach’, meaning ‘courage’.

“It has been a real and exciting journey for me, learning something new every day, and improving my skills. We have a range of handmade products in the shop, from a five euro keychain to beautiful, exclusive quality leather bags. My boss, Pat Delaney, visits Italy every year to source the best leather and accessories for our products.

“I am absolutely fortunate to have this opportunity of being creative and also to use the skills which Dad, an artist and craftsman, passed on to me.

“I am living in Galway, my favourite city in Ireland, close to my brother Bruno and sister Marina, and working at my dream job, hoping to make Dad proud.

“But Roscommon will always be my second home and I love going back on a regular basis to visit my stepmum Mella, all the family and my many good friends.

“In Roscommon, I feel closer to my Dad, where his memory will always be kept alive by those who loved him”.