By Graham Clifford

A chance meeting with a group of young Irish people in a London pub pointed Mohamed Belmekki in the direction of the land where he would find success, love and a home from home.

Though born in the French city of Strasbourg, Mohamed, the youngest son in a family of eight children, grew up in the picturesque and historical Algerian city of Oran on the Mediterranean coast.

“When I was 17, I left home for New York as I had a brother and sister in the city,” he explains from the Sultans Barber shop he owns on Fermoy’s MacCurtain Street.

He continues: “It was a big wake up call for me. My english was very poor and I was working 12-hour shifts in restaurants in Manhattan and then worked for a while in a car wash. I thought America was going to be like I saw in the movies – but it wasn’t.”

Mohamed took english classes, worked hard and found his way onto the barber shop floor.

“My father was a barber back home, two of my brothers used to work in the business and a sister of mine who now lives in Cork City works as a hairdresser – so it was something I was very used to and confident in,” says Mohamed.

But after four years in the Big Apple, he decided to return home.

Within six-months the then 21-year old began to get itchy feet. He packed his bags, this time destined for London. But again, he realised that wasn’t the place for him.

“I’d decided to leave London and was in a bar with a friend of mine one night when we ran into these Irish guys who were really nice. We got talking and they told me about Cork, that there was plenty of work and that it was the best place to go to, better than Dublin. Two days after meeting them I arrived in Cork and the next day I was working in a barber’s shop in the city,” recalls Mohamed.

Quickly the smiling barber made his mark, his skills sought after amongst various industry leaders in Cork.

“I worked in the Karizma Turkish Barbers on Oliver Plunkett Street and then in Midleton. Soon I realised that I had what it took to start my own business. One of our customers in Karizma was Paul O’Driscoll. He had this premises in Fermoy and so in 2011, we opened our doors and it’s been brilliant ever since.”


But he admits his nerves were jangling on day one. It would be the support of his partner Susan which got him through it.

“If it wasn’t for Susan, I don’t know how I would have coped. She was amazing, encouraging and supporting me all the way. We’ve been together for ten years now. She’s a fantastic person. We might do something soon, we’re looking at buying a home together, it’s all good,” he explains with a smile.

A proud member of Fermoy’s Muslim community, Mohamed regularly attends prayers on O’Neill Crowley Quay.

“Friday prayers are the most well-attended obviously and unless I’m very busy in the shop I try to go. Our little mosque opened last year, and we get people there from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and lots of other countries. Its lovely to be able to pray in peace. We also raise money for charities no matter the religion… Muslim, Christian, Jewish… it doesn’t matter.”

Mohamed is regularly asked about his religion and home country.

“At first I thought ‘why am I being asked all these questions?’ but now I understand, it’s just that people are curious. Many have never travelled and are intrigued. Some are fearful of the unknown. Now I love to answer the questions. I explain that not all Muslims are the same just as all Christians aren’t the same. As an immigrant and a Muslim in Ireland I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve discovered but proud too to explain my culture. Fermoy has become my second home and the people I meet in my shop everyday like a second family.”