A WOMAN FOR ALL SEASONS Aoife O’Neill outside her café, The Creel, on the Quay in Westport. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Name: Aoife O’Neill
Occupation: Owner of The Creel
Now that school is back, a typical morning is like many households around the country - bit of chaos despite every effort to be organised! We have four young children, three girls and a boy, all quite close in age so there is usually lots of hustle and bustle from early morning. Our youngest are identical twins who just turned six this week and they like to wake us all in a blaze of glory in the morning, there could be singing and dancing performances, and all sorts happening from 6am so once they wake there is no point in trying to sleep in. Well I can’t sleep through it but Tom, my partner, certainly can!
Once everyone has their uniform on we start making breakfast, we like to make a big hearty breakfast especially at weekends and all sit together to eat. Thankfully the kids are great eaters and will try most dishes, I often try out new ideas for the café on them and see what they think. Once everyone has found their shoes – strangely they can never be found – and have coats on, we drop them off to school.
They all attend the local school in Brackloon. They are really happy to be back to see their friends, thankfully the transition has been seamless and the teachers have put in a lot of work to make sure it’s not daunting for them. If I’m working I usually go straight to the Creel and if not, I’m trying to get back in to the habit of heading out for a run. I like to do some form of exercise and stay fit and eat healthily, I think these are so important for all aspects of our lives, not only to keep physically fit but also for mental wellbeing. I often sort out work issues or plan out ideas in my head whilst I’m out on the road. If I don’t get out for a run I might do yoga or pilates or just an exercise class.
On days off, I always try and catch up with family or friends too, maybe go for a coffee or lunch with my mum in between school time. Spending time with family is so important to me and I love when we get to meet up, in general we are a very close unit and all make an effort to support each other and catch up whenever we can.
Weekend mornings are not too much different. Unfortunately there is still no chance of a lie in! The kids all have activities they are dropped off to so we are on the road early. At the weekend we might take longer over breakfast and put a big effort in to all sitting together as it might be our only chance for the day. Both Tom (who runs the busy Towers Bar and Restaurant, also located at the Quay) and I usually work weekends and he might not get home until past bedtime so it is important to spend the morning together. We have the most amazing child-minder, Bláth, who has been with us since the kids were babies, she is part of our family unit and without her it wouldn’t be possible to keep it all going.
There were lots of mixed feelings opening up after lockdown, I was apprehensive about how the season would go, how customers and staff would adjust to new guidelines, would there be anyone around? We were all surprised just how busy it was in Westport, I think the town had one of its busiest summer seasons yet. We came in to it very prepared and informed and had worked with a health and safety company, Dynamic Safety Solutions, here in town to learn a new Covid health and safety system whilst working alongside the Government guidelines. I am very lucky to have a tremendous team in the Creel and everyone came on board and fully accepted and implemented the new protocols without any issues. The customers I must say were very obliging and accepting of the change, which helped us a lot.
This summer we were open from 8am to 9pm seven days a week, so head chef Katie was in early making breads and scones and getting breakfast ready. I am very proud of the fact that we could grow the business in such a way.
It was fantastic to meet so many staycationers, many of whom said they had never been to Westport before but would be back again, I think the welcome in Westport is really like nowhere else.
Thankfully we have lots of regulars that call to us and we love having the chats with locals and I’d like to think it’s a friendly atmosphere at the café with a great camaraderie too between the staff. My manager Pearce is from Donegal but he knows so many locals now he’s an adopted Covey! We are committed to supporting and serving high-quality local and Irish produce
I usually eat my lunch at the café or if I’m at home trying out new dishes with the kids. I love the flavours of Asian cuisine. During the summer I often didn’t get home until late at night so I usually just got straight in to bed. I’m definitely an early to bed person and love getting in to bed with a good book. I could have three books on the go at the one time, there’s nothing better than finding a great book that you can’t put down. Reading also helps me get to sleep, I find it hard to switch off sometimes so I often find I drift off to sleep with the book open. Either that or I’ll listen to music. I have loads of old CDs that I love listening to, everything from old school disco, funk, rock, 80s and I have to admit a particular penchant for 90s boybands and cheesy tunes. Each to their own!
In conversation with Áine Ryan
If money was no object, what would you do everyday?
Wake up and be grateful to be alive
Most unusual thing you have eaten?
A pigs face in Tokyo
Favourite place you have visited?
San Sebastian, Donostia, Spain
What makes you nervous?
Hazlenuts and public speaking
Name three celebrities you would invite to your Zoom party?
For some lighthearted relief Bill Murray, and if I could, two of my favourite musicians, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie
Best advice you ever got?
It may continue but it won’t last
Three things always in your fridge?
I can’t keep food in the fridge!
Most prized possession?
Sum up the coronavirus in three words?
Topic of conversation
Last book you read?
‘Notes to Self’ by Emilie Pine