In Ballyfermot, a Woman Takes a Chance on Opening a Cafe

Hazel De Nortúin says her teachers at Gaelscoil Inse Chór used to tell her, “Ná bí glic”. In English, “don’t be a chancer”.

But her decision to open a café last summer in the clubhouse of a pitch and putt course in Ballyfermot was a case of chancing her arm, she says.

That’s how she arrived at a name for the new venture: Café Glic.

De Nortúin, who is also a People Before Profit councillor, has never been a barista.

She last worked in hospitality while studying engineering at university, doing part-time shifts in pizza restaurants, she says.

But she wanted to set up a spot for people to eat, enjoy specialty coffee, and also, speak Irish.

“This was a big chance to see if it would work or not,” says De Nortúin.

Now and Then

Inside the café on Tuesday morning, the French doors had been folded open onto the Longmeadows Pitch and Putt golf course where twos and threes rambled onto the fairways.

The 10-acre course drifts down from Sarsfield Road towards St Laurence’s Road, before looping back on itself. The Liffey borders the course to the north, and beyond that, Phoenix Park.

A little more than 20 years ago, the site of the course was landfill.

“It’s a reclaimed dump,” says De Nortúin, looking out to the course from the outdoor seating area of the clubhouse café.

“We can highlight what you can do with these pockets around the city that can’t be built on by housing, or whatever,” she says.

Dublin City Council lease out most of the building to the golf club.

De Nortúin says she wants to promote the café as an open space, there to serve the community. “Originally what it was planned for,” she says.

De Nortúin’s motivation for the space stems from her passion for the Irish language, she says, and the lack of Irish language services in the area.

De Nortúin speaks fluent Irish. In 2017, before she was a councillor, she set up a not-for-profit naíonra in Ballyfermot – an Irish-language playschool – after she wasn’t able to get her son into her alma mater, Gaelscoil Inse Chór.

“But it was kind of isolated,” she says, of the playschool. Yet there was an interest in the Irish language in her area, with pockets of Irish-speakers in local GAA clubs, ciorcal comhrá groups, and her old school.

The aim for the café was to become a base, she says. “Where we can then come together.”

The space in the clubhouse had been vacant, she said. It had been home to The Pavillion Café, operated by the golf club’s board of management, before it closed in 2018.

When she approached the council about funding for the new café, she underlined its role as a community service, she says. “I came from a community development background.”

Like the naíonra, the café is not-for-profit. “I would never muddy that space,” she says.

From working with the council on the naíonra – which is also housed in a public building – she built a level of trust, De Nortúin says. “I had a relationship already built with the council of, that I never really gain from that.”

“I would always put forward that I’m fighting for Irish language, and that we fought, but I would never use the platform to build on,” she says.

With guidance from 3fe, the small coffee chain, and council funding for barista equipment and to renovate the vacant space, De Nortúin was able to get her idea off the ground.

“Sometimes in Ballyfermot, we get told no an awful lot when we’re trying to get stuff in,” she says. “So it’s great to see a lot of stuff popping up now, we’re cutting through that narrative.”

Café Glic first opened in August 2020. But lockdowns of varying degrees meant the café was restricted to a limited takeaway service for a significant period since then, and at times, had to close their doors completely.

After staying closed since January, Café Glic was relaunched with a full menu and outdoor seating area in May.

Community groups have started to stop by. Local school children came for a round and a bite to eat before the school year was out. Ballyfermot Anti-Racism Network launched at the café late last summer.

“You can always pull people together around the space, and it’s not easy to find spaces around here,” De Nortúin says.

Home to a Scene

Last week, in between customer orders, Renée Norton worked the hefty, electric pink Victoria Arduino coffee machine at the café counter.

Working in the café gives her an opportunity to converse in her native tongue, she says, which is rare. “It’s good when people do come in, to actually speak to them and stuff.”

Tomás Ó Briain dropped by Café Glic for the first time this past Tuesday. He chats to De Nortúin in Irish. He’s part of a local conversation group, Cumann Gael Cois Life.

“Beidh sé go han mhaith ar fád, bualadh le daoine, le cheile, ag caint cupla focail,” he says.

“It’ll be really great, meeting with people, together, speaking a few words.”

De Nortúin says she wants to foster an easy-going environment where people of all levels of Irish can practice.

The café menu is partially written in Irish in the hope that people pick up a few words, she says, while still being accessible.

“The problem is, when you have the Irish – I’d say it’s the same on all languages – if you don’t use them, you just lose them more and more,” she says.

As restrictions around crowds and indoor dining ease, De Nortúin says she hopes to organise events that bring more Irish speakers together.

Maidín Gaeilge events, casual conversation group sessions, could bring people into the space to chat.

And, De Nortúin says, she hopes to run a full itinerary when Seachtain na Gaeilge – a national festival held every March promoting Irish language and culture – rolls around again.

Organising a céile would allow the café to link in with local music groups such as the Ballyer Trad Hub, she says.

A Tradition

Café Glic is in its infancy, but one item on the menu has a long connection to pitch and putt club.

Fry-ups have been served at the club since 2009 or 2010, when it began operating a café. Café Glic is keeping that tradition.

“We don’t play pitch and putt or anything like that, we just come for the grub,” said customer Marie O’Sullivan from Rialto, on Tuesday.

O’Sullivan and her husband used to come to The Pavillion and they’ve been to Café Glic three times now. They’re waiting on a fry-up.

“They do it fresh. There’s girls in there cooking our breakfast now as we speak,” she says.

“It’s a cheap fry, but great quality,” De Nortúin says.

For €7, visitors get a loaded plate, with two sausages, two rashers, two eggs, two puddings, beans, toast and a steaming cup of tea.

“Even when we reopened, I stuck with the same suppliers, just to not upset anyone, [not to] rock the boat a bit,” says De Nortúin.

It’s the café’s main seller. De Nortúin says she hopes that the community will shape the future of Café Glic.

She doesn’t like to be the main driver, she says. “I like to set things up, and I get feedback then and let other people drive some ideas as well.”

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Author:

Fiachra Gallagher: Fiachra Gallagher is a freelance journalist, with an interest in community, sports, and immigration.

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