Carrot cake, coffee and on-street chatter

Features

EMBRACING CHANGE Hugh Boyle, proprietor of Christy’s Harvest, outside the Westport cafe as cyclists Declan Gallagher and Anthony Murray grab a quick coffee. Pic: Conor McKeown


Westport
Áine Ryan

THE Boxty will be back but not until June 7. Phew! That has to be a relief for the regular breakfasters at Christy’s Harvest on Westport’s Shop Street. Meanwhile, Christy’s is catching the early birds and boys in the bustling takeaway coffee culture that has infected the town since the pandemic struck last year. Owner Hugh Boyle – the inimitable Christy Irwin’s brother-in-law – tells The Mayo News the busiest time of the day for ‘the best coffee in town’ is shortly after he opens at 7.30am, when a lot of people stop en-route to work.
“I had just taken over the business for about a month and when we were closed down last September,” Boyle says, during a break from selling takeaway coffees, teas and cakes.
The Westport native is smiling though. He’s returned home after living in the UK and Canada for the last 35 years.  
He says a lot of the older regulars have begun to call by for an al-fresco beverage.
“They are so relieved because they have been vaccinated and can come out and about again and feel safe, whilst still adhering to the regulations.”
Christy’s ‘salons’ became renowned for all sorts of discussions and debates and Boyle expects that vibrancy to return to the little café as the summer progresses and restrictions ease.
For local woman, Tanya Whyte, the fact that she can have a coffee and some carrot cake without preparing it herself is a big bonus.
“I’ve been dying to come downtown and eat out. I’m fed up doing all the cooking,” she says. Whyte believes it will be a very busy summer in Westport with many staycationers choosing the popular west Mayo tourism haven for that much-needed holiday.
And with county council workers busy enhancing the pedestrian spaces on the Octagon whilst secondary school students on their lunch breaks queue up for ice-creams at Gino’s Gelato, it seems the summer season has already started. Well the sun is shining on this midweek May day in Mayo.
 
Upbeat atmosphere
Despite the fact that many of the shop shutters in the town are still down, there is an upbeat atmosphere everywhere. Over on James Street, Aoife Hamilton is taking over the running of Leafy Greens café from her sister Lucy Bracken.
“After successfully guiding Leafy Greens through the past year, a year full of change and cautious optimism, Lucy  has now decided to take a break from the catering industry and her café and focus on other goals,” Aoife explains.
She tells The Mayo News that herself and her husband are excited ‘about taking the tiller’ as the country prepares to welcome ‘visitors from elsewhere in Ireland and indeed the world as we progress on the road to the new ‘normal’.
Meanwhile, it is business as usual on James Street, albeit as ‘takeaway only’ for the coming weeks but for many that is ‘having to eat your cake, sandwich, salad or drinking your coffee whilst basking in the Westport sunshine outside’.
“Currently the café is continuing with Lucy’s ever delicious recipes until such time as myself and Philip introduce our own flavours and delights based on my international experience and Phil’s antipodean [Australian] heritage,” Aoife says.

Continental vibe
DOWN the Quay Hill another Aoife (O’Neill) is preparing for reopening and a busy summer. The fact her café, The Creel and, indeed, hubby’s Tom Bourke’s The Towers have been feted in a big Irish Times feature on best outdoor dining spots in the country will certainly pay dividends.
“We reopened the cafe for takeaway only in February of this year after closing in December due to Level 5 restrictions. I had put together a plan of how I would implement a new one-way system through the café and spent some time getting the floor plan together for the safety and comfort of customers and staff so that there was ample room to pick up food and order coffee in a yet welcoming environment”, she tells The Mayo News.
This ‘adaptation’ also led her to showcasing and using more local and Irish food-producers, with the extra space optimised to sell homemade produce, including the Creel’s own brands.   
“People really want to support local and ‘Buy Irish’ where possible. We now stock an extensive range of Irish artisan food products and make a lot of our own homemade fare for sale on our shelves and it has been really well received,” O’Neill continues.
Of course, this involved amending the menu and creating an online ‘Click and Collect’ service.
“Moving to an online platform was a game-changer for the last few months as it allowed customers the opportunity to browse our menu and order food at a time that was convenient to them, and pay online all with the click of a mouse!
“All in all opening for takeaway and adapting the business has been very positive and worthwhile it has allowed us to retain a relationship with our customers whilst keeping the connection with our staff. It has given us all a boost and we are happy to  be back at work and planning for the time when we can open for indoor dining again,” she adds. Since many of those local customers are already regular walkers along the esplanade that gives Westport Quay a continental vibe, the alfresco coffee culture is undoubtedly a key part into the future of this scenic town on the edge of the ocean. Even when the sun isn’t shining.