KEEPING IT LOCAL Ana Silva, owner of Tia and Tia by the River in Louisburgh. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
The weather here in the wild west may be wintery but there is a lot of sunshine beaming from Tia, in Louisburgh. A brunch of smoked paprika sautéed potatoes, with a toasted sourdough sandwich of homemade hummus and beetroot relish with some locally grown greens and a large mug of coffee has put the heat back in the bones of this Mayo News hack. Even if it was eaten alfresco in one of the wonderful pods made by Nomadic Displays – whose factory is at the other end of the town – the smile on Ana Silva’s face is enough to warm even the most June-chilled heart. Well, this seafarer happened to be working ‘remotely’ from Clare Island and had taken the ferry – the opposite direction to the Sawdoctors’ song – in unseasonably rough conditions earlier that morning.
Tia, on the square in Louisburgh, is quite clearly one of the success stories of the pandemic. Indeed, it has expanded recently to Tia by the River too – a Tapas daytime café and evening restaurant with a Mediterranean vibe.
Meanwhile, the original café here on the Square still offers its signature hot food, a large range of takeaway with its wonder-world of homemade sweet and savoury bakes. This boutique emporium also sell a wide-range of foodstuff as well as showcasing lots of local art and crafts from savage wood sculptures to earrings.
She may be Portuguese, and a native of Lisbon, but everything is about ‘the local’ for Ana Silva.
“There is no need to leave Louisburgh to shop. We have everything from a supermarket, chemist, health food shop, hairdressers, florist, pubs, and more,” she says.
Indeed, the recent opening of Tia at the River was prompted by the fact that she heard every rental holiday-home in the area was booked out until September and there was an obvious gap for a restaurant which catered for evening dining.
“There are also a lot of longtime holiday-home owners in the area who have developed a strong bond with Loiuisburgh.”
Colurful and circuitous
SILVA’S journey to Louisburgh was certainly colourful and circuitous.
Working as an accountant in Carlow for a Portuguese company when aged just 20, a group of her friends were told there were ‘a lot of Portuguese men living in Ballyhaunis’
So, they decided one weekend to hire a mini-bus to the Mayo town and went in search of these men. She is married to one of them now for almost 20 years – José Silva, a butcher in McCormacks of Westport. Well, he had helped the gaggle of girls after the bus driver absconded back home to Carlow, leaving them without anywhere to rest their weary heads.
Always interested in cooking and baking, Ana worked in several restaurants and cafés in Westport and Castlebar before opening Tia. “I was always fascinated about how by mixing sugar, flour and eggs the most wonderful cakes can come out of an oven,” she tells The Mayo News.
She is taking a break to chat whilst her longtime assistant, Davina Durkan serves the waxing and waning queue outside the café. Some brave weather warriors are wearing shorts and sandals, ignoring the grey skies and cold wind.
Davina, whose family was central to hospitality in the town for many years, is helping to train her teenage daughter, Ella, how to work front-of-house.
Silva explains: “I’m an awful driver, everyone knows, and I was so fed up of travelling back and forth to work every day. So I asked the Stauntons – John and Brenda – if this building became available I would be interested in opening a café. They have been so good to me.”
She first opened on October 19, 2019 and has only been closed for six weeks since all the restrictions were imposed. That was from March 16 last year to the middle of May.
“The community has been really supportive of me and all my crazy ideas. We have done a huge amount of fundraising with one particular initiative, involving a local mystery chef and theme nights being very successful and popular.”
One such night was a fundraiser for the RNLI , hosted by popular local chef, Anne McCabe. They decorated the restaurant with all sorts of nautical themes as she hid behind a curtain and the assembly of guests tried to deduce who she was.
“Well, it can’t be so-and-so because she has just driven by,” or, “Well, you know he is away for work and anyway would never manage that menu!”
Teachers and students
But back to lockdowns and takeaway services.
“The teachers and pupils of Sancta Maria College have been the backbone of our custom. The kids are just brilliant, if they have forgotten their lunch money they will always be back the next day to pay,” she says.
Clearly, the teachers are not only eating the delicious fare, as we chat Katie O’Malley, from Carrowkennedy, arrives with a big bunch of rhubarb sent by her older sister, Elaine, a teacher in Sancta Maria.
“I’ll make jams or tarts from the rhubarb. We get all our salad leaves from the community polytunnel,” Silva explains, stressing that 90 percent of their products they sell in the shop are Irish with 60 percent from Connacht.
“Just the wine and olive oil are from Portugal,” Ana Silva adds.
Well, she clearly has a warm Mediterranean heart, which has adapted to the whims of the wild west weather.
Did you know?
Tia means ‘Aunt’ in Portuguese, which makes sense for the café’s name, since Ana Silva was fostered to a family of nine children all significantly older than her. She is now a tia to all their offspring – 27 nephews and nieces. On another note, she also likes to say, ‘thanks in advance’!