It’s nice to have a bit of banter with your barista when you’re getting your coffee first thing in the morning. At Grounded Espresso on Merchants Quay in Newry, if Barry’s around, there’s not much chance of going away with a long face.
Actually, I warmed to Newry before I even met Barry.
There I was peering at this statue of a labourer with shovel and tool box, wondering why it was just standing there at the end of Canal Street, when this guy just stops and begins telling me its story…
And so I learnt about the Newry Navvy.
The word ‘navvy’ comes from navigator (amazing what you learn, isn’t it?) and these guys were the labourers who dug one of the first navigation canals in the country, here in Newry. Navvies then travelled the world, toolbox, fiddle and suitcase in hand, and became known the world over as Paddy. (Now, there you go, and I’d always avoided using the word… – you’ll have to wait for our video to get a peek at Newry’s statue, though!).
But then came coffee at Grounded Espresso.
Well, first up, their coffee is excellent; roasted in Belfast by a small roaster called Baillie. And their cakes are pretty good, too – we chose that national institution over here in Northern Ireland, a Fifteen, though Barry reckons it should be called a ‘Thirty’ here because the local baker makes them so big…
You’re bombarded with messages in here, but actually they’re quite fun. It’s not just the ‘boom boom’ lines on all the cups and napkins, written by the staff themselves: “Slow down, Tiger, I’m hot” on my cup; “This is to wipe the smile on your face” on my napkin…But also lot of messages about sustainable coffee growing and the theme of supporting local businesses and the local community.
Because if there’s one thing you can say about Grounded Espresso, it’s that they focus on the local. They even closed down their second branch in Belfast, and opened a new one a lot closer to base in Newry, so keeping the local feel to the place.
Newry is not really a place for sightseeing. Barry might disagree on this, and he argues that it’s the kind of town you need to get under the surface of to understand what makes it tick. But it’s hard to do that when you only have a few hours in town.
As well as the Navvy sculpture, there’s the town hall built right on top of the river; there’s an old bakery up on the hill, which gave me the false impression that it might also be selling cakes, but it closed down in the 1990s and is now a museum with the tourist information office (quite interesting place, mind).
I guess Newry is a bit like York in Pennsylvania, from our Cuppa US tour: appearing a bit run-down and grim on the surface, but actually thriving underneath.
And Grounded Espresso are making great play by their evening openings too: they organised an Oktober Fest (that’s surely a first for a coffee shop), and have regular gig of an evening, keeping the ambience buzzing till gone midnight.
I did more than scratch the surface in the search for good tea in Newry. I scoured every street in the centre of town and stuck my head round the door of many a place: butchers, bakers, caffs, pubs. There was even this big brass tea pot, which gave me hope for a few seconds, but it actually belongs to a lawyer’s now.
I knew I should have listened to Barry…He reckons Grounded Espresso do the best tea in town; all loose-leaf. But I didn’t have time to go back and try it out.
Yes, of course, there is also a Catholic Cathedral – that’s why we were here in the first place. A very active church, where I actually felt that a casual visit was disturbing people at prayer. Not often you find that in our cathedrals today!