Avoca changed my life (and my bank balance)
When I say that Avoca changed my life, I really do mean it – but perhaps not in the sense that we're used to, with these types of hyperbolic catchphrases. No, I didn't meet My Stephen in Avoca. I didn't stumble upon a missing family member in Avoca; nor did I discover a life-threatening peanut allergy. (All, I think you'll agree, life-changing moments, albeit hypothetical ones.) I've never even tried on a pair of Salsa jeans, although I believe that experience to be life-changing, too.
A long, long time ago...
I'm originally from Castlewarden, in Co Kildare. My parents' house is in Oughterard (the original Oughterard; legend has it that when Cromwell told people to go "to hell or to Connacht", those who took the latter option took the name with them), right in front of the cemetery where Arthur Guinness is buried.
My uncle, who is an architect, designed our house and my Dad built it, with a little help from his friends. I found out one night, in the Sound House nightclub in Johnstown, that locals referred to our house as "the eyesore". My poor Dad.
Little town (it's a quiet village)
I went to school in Rathcoole, a small village just over the border into Dublin, famed for The Poitin Stil, a pub that sits on the edge of the village. Most people only recognise the name because you drive by it on the way to Cork, Kerry, Limerick or Kildare Village. When I was in secondary school (Holy Family Community School, FYI), there were three places you could possibly go to pass the time: Marsella's chipper, the Poitin or Muldowney's pub, down the other end of the village.
Marsella's was within walking distance of school so, in fifth and sixth year when we were allowed out the gates at lunchtime, we'd wander down to get a bag of chips for lunch. Sometimes we'd go for carvery in the Poitin; if we were feeling particularly energetic, we'd go all the way down to Spar, another 200 or so metres away, for a chicken fillet roll.
Then came Avoca
But it was all about to change. In 2006 – although honestly, I would have guessed it was earlier than that – Avoca opened a flagship store in Rathcoole, just off the N7 (which I still call the Naas Road because I'm ancient). I was 21 and it was perfect timing – finally, we could go for classy lunches "with the girls" and gossip over fancy coffees and pastries.
Of course, we'd all been in Avoca before. I was – and still am – a particular fan of its Suffolk St branch, with its winding staircase and plethora of what my Grampa would call "goo-gaws" on the ground floor. I knew they did incredible scones that they served with jam and cream, and that their Rice Krispie squares were made with Mars bars, which made them far more decadent than the cooking-chocolate-only variety I was used to.
(I didn't think, at the time, to worry about the effect the opening of Avoca would have on my waistline. I wonder, now, where I'd be if it had never come to our small town. Perhaps on the Victoria's Secret catwalk. Who knows?)
It's still 'the place'
Whenever I go home – considering it's a 40-minute drive away, I don't go often enough – it's to Avoca we go. I go with my Mum, for those scones and a pot of tea; or with my friends, for their incredible falafel board with tzatziki and baba ganoush and warm pittas. I go with my sister, whenever she comes home from the US, to peruse the homewares and try on dresses by Selected. Sometimes, I go alone, to buy blankets for babies or newly married couples.
An old housemate of mine used to be so perplexed by my love for Avoca. It's so expensive, he'd complain. It's so twee! And, at times, it is both of those things. But I don't mind paying money for things that are delicious; I don't mind forking out for substance and style, without having to compromise between the two. I don't mind a bit of twee – we are Irish, after all.
The evolution of Avoca
Yesterday, I went along to Avoca's newest outpost in Dunboyne – a bigger store than its Rathcoole location, which I'm trying not to take personally – and I was reminded of all of the things I love about Avoca. Okay, fine; mostly I was reminded by the food, which was (as always) delicious.
We got a tour of the space – focusing mainly on food, which is always good – and it was really heartening to see all of the suppliers there, chatting to the press (and, er, bloggers) about their produce. The folks behind Poulet Bonne Femme were there chatting about their free range chickens; the Sprout brothers were in situ, offering tasters of their cold-pressed juices (prompting a friend of mine to say, "what do you mean, 'the Sprout brothers'? Are they famous?"); Lilliput Stores were there, showing off their fresh pastaria (you forget, sometimes, that fresh pasta actually has a taste – and a really, really good one).
The new Avoca is massive – and super – but it's the opposite of a superstore, in that it somehow manages to hold on to that sense of being local. It's a company that supports local businesses, that prides itself in stocking local produce – and, y'know, making really good scones. avoca.com
Full disclosure! This is not an ad. I was not paid to attend, or write about, the launch of Avoca's new shop. However! We were brought to the new store for an afternoon,
plied with alcohol given snacks and refreshments and we went home with goodies that included Lilliput Stores' balsamic vinegar, a bottle of wine by Mitchell & Son, Nature's Gold extra virgin olive oil, beetroot seeds, a tea towel and a €20 voucher for the Avoca Butcher.