Yet another inspiring story attached to the tea room we found in Armagh.
Armagh is Ireland’s Cathedral HQ. It has two cathedrals, and they’re both called St Patrick’s! The Catholic one has the best views over town, but the Church of Ireland one has all the history: hey its first bishop was Patrick himself, yes THE Patrick, back in 444AD.
Lots changed in town when a guy called Richard Robinson became Bishop in the mid-1700s. He closed down the local racecourse, which was a bit of a shame, but he built an observatory at a time when looking at planets was truly revolutionary.
It’s a pity not more is known about his coffee (or tea) drinking habits. He was a contemporary of Samuel Johnson, who drank 24 cups a day apparently, and he was clearly an intellect to match Johnson. I shall have to ask the historians who know him better than me to look out for cuppa references…
I mention all this history to start with because there’s a wonderful street in Armagh called Vicars Hill, right opposite the (older) cathedral. It’s a row of little Georgian terraced houses, one of which has a collection of Bishop Robinson’s coins and other artefacts; with a house next door now run as a delightful tea room.
One Eighty on the Hill is not just any old tea room, though.
It’s actually run by a charity called Step by Step NI, which helps young people with learning difficulties get training and find employment. The name One Eighty was chosen because their aim is to turn these kids’ lives around 180 degrees – it’s apparently a concept copied from a doughnut shop in California!
They opened first in Portadown, and that is where they bake the cakes on offer in Armagh. The Armagh tea room opened in February 2012, and it’s proving a great hit with locals and visitors alike.
Coffee is good here, as well as tea (we were back for both, having failed to find anywhere else in town that fitted the Fancy a Cuppa? mould). It’s all served in beautiful bone china, and you can sit either by the old fireplace or in the window looking out over the Cathedral, or out the back if the weather’s good enough, on the terrace looking down the hill the other side.
It’s the cakes that take pride of place, though. They look great, sitting in the corner of the parlour; they taste fantastic; and they’re all baked in a good cause, by one of the 20 or so trainees taken on so far by the Step by Step charity.
What more could you ask of a tea room?
The rest of town was a bit disappointing on the cuppa front, though. Lots of caffs, but most felt either soulless (ironic in such a spiritual place) or served up very mediocre tea and coffee. None of them rocked my boat, that’s for sure…
This is obviously great for expanding the One Eighty customer base, but surely there’s room for another quality, family-run independent coffee shop or tea room in Armagh?
As it was, after touring the two cathedrals, having fascinating chats with the director of Armagh’s library (where they have a first proof of Gulliver’s Travels), the curator of the museum displaying that Roman coin collection, and the Armagh County Museum (thanks to him for pointing out the old 4 furlong marker from the racecourse), it was back to One Eighty on the Hill for tea in the afternoon.
It’s probably a good thing I don’t live in Armagh, or 180 might become my body weight – and I’m talking kilos here, not pounds, their cakes and biscuits are that good…
A fitting place to end our Northern Ireland cathedral tour. And a reminder that in just a few weeks’ time, we’ll be finishing the rest of the UK tour with a visit to Canterbury, the HQ of Cathedrals in England. But that’s still 4 weeks away.
Next stop, Arundel…