Cathedral and coffee in Lisburn: rocking forward, sipping back

I love the way Lisburn is holding onto its past but looking forward too.

I know that sounds like a real cliché, but here’s why.

Let’s take their coffee scene first:

There’s the wonderful Shannon’s Jewellers Coffee Dock. An 87 year old family business, with Mr Shannon still on-site every day. A hands-on family man – he just doesn’t brew the coffee (or, in our case, the tea).

Entrance to Shannon's Jewellers and Coffee Dock in Lisburn

It’s a lovely old-fashioned business, in one of Lisburn’s most historic buildings. And it’s an absolute brainwave to put a coffee shop on the 2nd floor above the jewellers. With grand chandeliers and elegant clocks to walk past before you get to the coffee shop, you can almost imagine yourself in some five-star hotel for afternoon tea in London…

Tea at Shannon's Coffee Dock in Lisburn

This is a bit of Lisburn history, keeping hold of the old (jewellery), but adapting it and thriving in the new (coffee and tea).

Just a few yards down the road from Shannon’s is a totally different coffee shop concept.

Molly’s Parlour in Castle Street is youthful, hip, into music and modern art.

Inside Molly's Parlour coffee shop in Lisburn

They do good coffee too, but the big thing is to create a space for a completely different set of people from the Shannons clientele. And it was great to feel the passion and enthusiasm of owners Vicki and Mark. You rock, guys!

Cappuccino and Rocky Road at Molly's Parlour in Lisburn

There probably are others – like the Fancy a Cuppa? team – who would happily go to either venue – or both – on a regular basis. But the target customer base, and atmosphere created, is so different, the two venues are barely rivals to each other.

And there’s a parallel in the way Lisburn’s Cathedral and Museum have developed…

I love the Linen Museum in Lisburn. It’s really all that’s left of the industry that used to dominate things round here. But it’s brilliant: you can see old looms; you can practise spinning yourself; you get a real sense of life in Lisburn from the mill owners and landed gentry through to the piece-workers and loom operators.

It brings the past alive.

But over the road you have the cathedral, which has actually been closed to the public now for some six months.

Lisburn Cathedral

I had a sneak peek at the place, just days before it reopens for normal service(s).

Wow, now this is the most forward-thinking Cathedral I’ve come across on this whole UK tour.

They’ve not only touched up the paintwork, but they’re installing a new sound system, with almost theatrical stage-lighting to enhance the atmosphere in the place, and to adapt it for every moment or different type of event taking place. They’ll have electronic screens to guide church-goers through the service, too.

And best of all, they’re going to have a coffee shop!

No, this won’t be competition for Shannon’s or Molly’s Parlour. Sure, they’ll make the odd cappuccino from their Gaggia machine, and they may well draw in a few more people to the church with a good coffee for sale.

But on Sundays, if you go to one of the services, you’ll get a free coffee afterwards. As the staff member who showed me around said: ‘it beats lugging an enormous urn of hot water round the church on a Sunday’, for the usual midday coffee and biscuits. And where else in the country can you get a cappuccino rather than an instant coffee in church on a Sunday morning?

Great foresight on the part of the cathedral authorities. Can’t wait to come back and try a cuppa there.

Hey, who knows, if the idea takes off, you might get Cathedral preliminaries to the National Baristas Championships one day. And just think of the new latte art they could develop: biblical scenes? Angels? Stars and shepherds? Crowns of thorns? Ah, this could be big….

So, Lisburn may not look any great shakes at first sight. But we think it’s got things pretty well-sorted.

Keep your history, hold on to it and make it real for people today. But also, look ahead and think about what the place needs in the future.

There are lots of lessons to be learnt from Lisburn.

Video: Coffee and Cathedral in Lisburn

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