Faces of the Sligo Food: Trail Jill Barber, Drumcliffe Tea House

To say Jill Barber was locally born and bred is certainly not an exaggeration. Born less than a mile from Drumcliffe where she runs the Tea House, she was baptised, confirmed and married in lovely St. Columba’s Church next door. Her family has lived in Carney for generations, farming their land near the wild Atlantic shore.

Jill recalls her late father Jim, with a cup of tea in hand, at Drumcliffe Tea House remarking that he was sitting in the exact spot where he tethered the horse and trap while the family attended the Sunday Church Service. The Tea House which she has run since 1988 is located in the old stable building. Surrounded on three sides by graves, including of course, that of W.B. Yeats, it is an unusual but somehow rather perfect setting.

Her parents instilled a strong work ethic and a love of food and of nature in Jill and her siblings. Her father was the “animal whisperer” for the community, called on when anything went wrong from calvings to colic. Walking the seashore with their Dad was something they all loved to do, learning from him how to open cockles and eat them raw and picking mussels for the pot. Her busy mother was an excellent baker and Jill still uses her recipes for scones and Guinness cake.

Jill is deeply attached to her native area and although she did move briefly to Longford on marrying a local, she soon persuaded him to try Sligo instead. Longford’s loss was Sligo’s gain and when the opportunity arose to run Drumcliffe Tea House, she took it enthusiastically. In the jaws of a recession, it should have been a daunting challenge but with the energy and bravery of youth she made an immediate success of it.

For the first decade it was a seasonal enterprise, but since then Jill has opened seven days a week all year round apart from a few well deserved weeks off in winter. She also sells an excellent range of crafts. The summer trade is a combination of locals and tourists, the latter mainly coaches. In winter the locals and a strong regular passing trade keep the business busy.

Although she has no formal training in catering, Jill’s natural organisational ability and work ethic combine perfectly with a talent for baking, giving her all the elements needed to run a successful business. She works seamlessly with a close knit team, some of whom are with her more than a decade. A recent 10 day holiday was entirely undisturbed by work problems. A pipe dream for many!

Her three children began their work experience early, standing on upturned soup pots to see over the counter in the Tea House. Working there at weekends and during holidays, they learned life skills, as well as business ones, through dealing with the public.

Drumcliffe Tea House is a lovely combination of excellent traditional fare (the apple tart has to stay on the menu!) and contemporary touches. It’s exactly what the weary traveller needs.