Northern Ireland sweet shop celebrates six decades of serving all things yummy

Selling sweets from the jar and all the usual traditional seaside treats, Sheila’s Portstewart hasn’t changed much over the 60 years

A Northern Ireland sweet shop is celebrating its 60th birthday with cake, diamonds and all things yummy!

On February 13 1964 local lady, Sheila Conway, aged just 25, opened the doors of the iconic shop for the first time on Portstewart Promenade.

Selling sweets from the jar and the usual traditional seaside treats like honeycomb, yellowman, dulse and rock, Sheila’s Portstewart hasn’t changed much in 60 years.

Boasting everything for all weathers including buckets and spades, sledges and kites as well as the famous sweets, the tiny shop, originally named S Conway’s, has welcomed locals, visitors and students over the years becoming an unforgettable childhood memory for the thousands.

“I’ve loved every second,” explained Sheila, now aged 85. “Everyone has a story and I’ve loved sharing a tale or two myself. I have watched the town’s children grow up and now they bring their children in, or even their grandchildren. It has been an honour and I want to thank every customer over the 60 years.”

Working seven days a week, Sheila herself also became a famous face and a walk down the street always took a little longer when you’re known as the ‘sweet shop lady’.

“Everyone knew me and the shop and still do,” laughed Sheila. "Chatting with all, making friends with most, that’s just what we did. Many students who came in the 1980s and 90s still call in today to say hello and thank me for the change for the phone box or the slice of bread when they couldn’t afford a loaf!”

Local celebrities have also graced the sweet emporium including Jimeoin, James Nesbitt and Paula McIntyre. Even broadcaster and DJ Joe Lindsay recalls his student days in Portstewart and Sheila’s kindness to him and his housemates every time he’s in the town.

Sheila retired in the mid-90s but still calls in most days for a chat and a catch-up.

New owner John Bradley from the town was one of the many children calling into the shop to buy his sweets.

He recalled: “I fondly remember calling into the shop as a kid to buy my sweets and now I’m serving them! Clove rock and cherry lips haven’t lost their appeal...everyone remembers and has a story about Sheila's, even me!

“Portstewart is of course famous for its seaside views, so beach toys played a role as well as the sweets. All 1960s children wanted was a bucket and spade and the 2020s are no different. The front of the shop was always full of colour with buckets, spades, windbreaks, balls and windmills. Matching the colour of the sweets inside.

“However some things have changed….! The shop no longer sells groceries like bread and tins, a consequence of the rise of the supermarket. But sweets on the other hand….we do have!

"From the traditional clove rock, brandy balls and midget gems to the never-ending newness courtesy of social media trends, we have it all. Asking for a quarter of Witches Hats in the 1960s might have raised a few eyebrows.

“Sheila is an icon in Portstewart and so is her shop. There aren’t many shops selling the same product range in the same location for 60 years. Sheila built solid, strong foundations that we hopefully continue to build on."

To mark the 60th celebrations, John and the team hid 60 ‘diamonds’ over half-term week throughout Portstewart Promenade. The lucky treasure hunters brought the diamond back to the shop for their sweet reward, as well as keeping the diamond!

"It really was the talk of the town and the response was amazing. We also had a birthday cake in the shop on the 13th for all the customers to pop in and grab a slice,” John added.

“However the celebrations don’t end there, everyone needs to keep an eye out on the shop’s social media accounts for more Diamond Anniversary fun. Here’s to the next 60 years of Sheila’s on Portstewart Promenade!”