The Irish Homecoming: Ireland’s cafe culture - catching up with the ladies and current events


I’m not sure if they were aware I was around the corner washing my hands while they reapplied their lipstick and had a good bitching session.  The conversation didn’t last long, but a promise to keep their opinions to themselves was made before they rejoined the group.

Because it’s the middle of the day on a Monday, I make the assumption that most of these women, if not all, are either stay at home mothers (kids are in school) or non-working wives.

I thought about what my friends and I chat about when we are together, and something suddenly struck me. When I’m with my friends we spend endless amounts of time talking about our kids (their bad and good habits, their sleeping and feeding patterns and the joy they bring to our lives).

We also go on about our husbands or partners, set plans in motion for a night out and are always on hand to offer advice (even if we’re not asked) to one of the girls at the table about their life.

What I found interesting with these groups of women was the superficial chat or lack of personal connection. It was more like the ladies were acquaintances rather than friends. They knew and put up with each other, but when their lunch ended I wondered if they ever chatted on the phone, met up outside of lunch or even cared for one another.

Last weekend as I met a friend for a cup of coffee in one of the more traditional smaller coffee shops in Limerick city the conversations were very different from today. But they had more heart.

Two grandmothers (one accompanied by her grandchild of about three years) drank tea and smoked a cigarette outside the coffee shop on one of Limerick’s busiest streets. They were both blonde, obviously dyed. The burlier of the two found herself giving out about her daughter, her daughter’s choice of boyfriends and lack of interest in getting a job.

Her friend with the grandchild told her several times to “kick her out” of the family home and force her to look after herself, something the first lady was “seriously thinking about.” The frustration was quickly forgotten when a woman they knew pulling a shopping cart passed them on the street.

They began to discuss this woman’s misfortunes, the death of one of her sons and the lack of “get up and go” in the woman ever since. Before they quenched their cigarettes and finished their tea they made plans with one another for dinner later that evening in one of their homes. They parted ways in different directions.

I thought to myself they seem to have a hard life but their spirits are good. They are strong women. They were dressed very bland (one in black pants that was too big for her and the other in a skirt to her knee, exposing her varicose veins).  They both wore white trainers and coats.

Inside the door of the coffee shop sat a young couple very much in the throes of love.  I see the girl, who looks about 19, repeatedly hugging her man and looking for that physical comfort.

By the gist of the conversation he was going to Dublin to college and she was going to try and see if she could get a transfer from her job in a clothing store in Limerick to join him. He seemed excited to be heading for a new experience. She looked miserable.

Two mothers with five children between them lunched at a big table inside the restaurant. While I was paying for my bun and tea I couldn’t but overhear their raised voices. They laughed at some episode of the English soap Coronation Street – “did you see the cut of her dress” – they said in reference to one of the characters.

They also disciplined their kids several times in the short space I was queuing to pay for the food – “sit your backside down now Jack” and “If you don’t come here now you’re not going to Granny’s house later.” The threats didn’t really work but the moms didn’t let it faze them. They were enjoying the comradeship that obviously existed between them, and that’s all that mattered in that space of time.

I guess it doesn’t matter if we’re ladies who lunch or women having a quick cuppa and chat -- we all like to have female friends no matter of our age. We all enjoy the exclusivity of female relationships, and there are many different relationships that can exist with various friends.

It’s nice to lunch like a lady, talk current affairs, dress nice and sip coffee, but it’s also nice (nicer in my opinion) to have a good old natter with our closest friends, talk about our nearest and dearest (whether its good or bad) and share a laugh.