Village with no shop creates its own

 

By Peter Gleeson

A village in North Tipperary that had no grocery store to serve its parish has opened a community owned village shop and tearoom.

The people of Loughmore got tired of having to drive three miles to Templemore, or six miles to Thurles, to purchase the most basic commodities after their last remaining village shop closed six years ago.

But in a show of terrific community spirit, the locals got together and rowed in behind The Cottage, the most beautiful little grocery store and teahouse you could ever imagine.

Set in the heart of the village in an attractively restored traditional stone cottage that dates back to at least 1850, this is much more than just a place where you can go to buy a carton of milk or a packet of tea bags.

The Cottage is a mecca for people to meet in pleasant and sociable surroundings. In the lovely little tearoom you can order lots of appetising choices such as homemade soup and brown bread, or tea and scones.

And, thanks to The Cottage, Loughmore is now distinctly cosmopolitan. For, in what other small rural community could you order an Americano, a latte or a double espresso, all made from a very poshlooking coffee machine? It’s truly the height of sophistication gone rural!

The Cottage is the brainchild two local women, Mary Fogarty and Maeve O’ Hair who co-manage the business. It is run on the principles of the system advocated by Horace Plunkett, the founder of the co-op movement, which co-incidentally celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

 “Maeve and I both had the same vision and we came together on it. I think fate brought us together. It was driven by a motivation to do something for the parish. We are doing it for the love of it,” Mary Fogarty told The Guardian when the newspaper visited last week.

The Cottage is the first co-op shop of its kind in the Republic but now LEADER, which provided 75 percent funding, is hoping that communities in other villages that lost their grocery shops will follow the example of Loughmore.

The concept is hugely popular in the UK where the number of communityowned village shops has increased dramatically; from just 33 in 1992 to 283 today, according to the Horace Plunkett Foundation, which says a further 20 are anticipated to open in the current year.

The Cottage in Loughmore is set in a scenic location, in view of a magnificent castle once owned by the Palatinate barons, the Purcells, and just a stone’s throw from the River Suir.

Though only opened since the end of August, The Cottage was supported by virtually every person in the parish who bought €10 shares to get the venture up and running.

Already delegations from other villages in Offaly, Clare and Wicklow have come to see if the model can be rolled out in their communities.

“We saw a great need in the parish for a social hub to bring people together so that they could socialise and to offer the services of a shop. Some people in rural areas do feel very isolated and we believe this venture will help bring our community closer,” says Maeve O’ Hair.

Timber from the old church and school in the village were used in the tasteful renovation of the The Cottage. The tearoom has a real down-at-home feel about it, adorned with a rustic kitchen dresser and a set of china which was recently acquired from the famous singer Roger Whittaker.

The neat timber shelves in the little shop are stocked with all the usual commodities you would expect to find in a village grocery store. But there is also a range of homemade foods sourced locally, such as breads, confectionary, jams and vegetables.

“Everything is sourced within five food miles. The flavour is so local and that is a huge selling point for us,” says Mary.

The establishment of The Cottage has so far sparked the creation of four microbusinesses in the parish which are supplying food to the shop and an alcove in the tearoom doubles as an exhibition space for local craftworks and a small number of secondhand books that are also on sale.

Volunteers from the parish staff The Cottage, rotating on a two-hour basis. They seem happy to do so for no financial reward. “It has brought out the best in everybody and everything in the parish,” says Mary.

Maeve says they hope in the future to make The Cottage a venue for art exhibitions, poetry readings and book launches.

A little marquee is already in situ to the rear of the premises for the staging of a monthly food and craft market, the first starting on this Sunday, October 7th.

There is also a lovely al fresco dining area out the back. Even in the cool of late autumn it is a cosy little microclimate, enshrouded as it is by a border of colourful shrubs, a tall bamboo fence and old chestnut and sycamore trees that provide shelter from the elements.

“It’s start of something wonderful for all of rural Ireland,” says Mary. On that she could be right – if this idea takes off in other villages.