Walk into the stillness of the woods and you find a garden centre with rows of vibrant plants and flowers. Not far from Galway city and yet immersed in the countryside.
Polytunnels brimming with greenery. People milling around, spending a leisurely Saturday morning looking for plants.
Aoife Cunningham, the café manager is collecting eggs from the chickens ahead of a busy brunch.
The wooden deck leading to the café has been recently renovated. There are tables overlooking the gardens. The perfect spot for a coffee and a chat.
The sound of coffee grinding greets you as you walk in. The smell of home baking wafts from the kitchen.
Plants and trinkets line the windowsills. Candles are lighting. The humdrum of chatter and mismatched teacups clinking.
Warm smiles and welcomes from the Cunningham family. Sit down and grab a book from the shelf. Look at the stone walls, built in 1840 and immerse yourself in history. You are transported to another time and another Dangan.
A Dangan where the cafe you stand in was once a shed full of hundreds of chickens. When the garden centre and cafe were not yet set up.
“We didn’t start in horticulture, the café used to be full of chickens. 500-600 chickens. We didn’t alter the structure of the building.”
Peter Cunningham sips an Americano as he recalls growing up here, painting a vivid picture of the past.
When their Dad retired, the Cunninghams moved to Dangan in 1962. Until then, they lived in an apartment in the City centre.
“You couldn’t even get into the garden it was so overgrown. Bit by bit we started hacking back the briars and we discovered all these lovely apple trees and pear trees. The family that were there before us, their kids were in the medical line and the old couple couldn’t manage it on their own.”
Despite the overgrowth, Peter’s mother, Mrs Cunningham saw potential in the gardens. She moved here from Finland after coming for a summer to help her sister with her children.
Meanwhile, her sister studied Celtic and lived in Connemara. During her time in Galway Mrs Cunningham set up a food truck and would sell her produce to the markets. Then she met her husband in the city, where she would go to buy her rations.
“This was mummy’s enterprise. Mummy always had a love for plants, and she kept telling us this story- any misdemeanour when they were kids, they were sent out to the garden to weed, but mummy loved weeding.”
What was supposed to be a punishment was really a reward for Mrs Cunningham, as she “loved anything to do with the soil or plants.”
“We had a great childhood here. Building forts from hay, having wars with the neighbours.
Peter and Paddy went to horticultural school in Piltown in Kilkenny to learn more about the trade.
Before they left their mother gave them a crash course in vegetable growing.
“Myself and Paddy finished boarding school in 75 and we got a scholarship to go to horticultural school in Kilkenny,” Peter says.
“Where the glass house is now, we grew lots of fruit and veg for the market. Saturday was our big market day. We didn’t open to the public for a while- we started off with veg and then bedding plants.”
“We opened up as a garden centre then and stopped doing the market in about 95 because it started getting so busy at the garden centre.”
Aoife Cunningham, Peter’s daughter, who manages the café with her mother Etna comes to join us for a coffee.
She says her father and uncle played a lot of music growing up and everyone in the family was very musical. They would also have music nights and parties in Dangan.
Nowadays, Aoife says people still come in and talk about the parties and their fond memories of Mrs Cunningham.
“She was understanding of young people. She was always in the kitchen- we would always play cards. We were late birds, smoking and playing 110 until all hours. Mummy was kind of the hub of the works,” Peter says.
“I wanted to bring the music back to Dangan since they grew up playing music here,” Aoife adds, referencing the wine and cheese nights that now happen in the café in the evenings.
Peter plays jazz at the events, connecting the two generations. Aoife also shares this passion for music, working as a music therapist.
“By day, cafe and garden centre and in the evening there are jazz and wine nights.”
Aoife talks about new generations building on the work of previous generations.
“Peter and Paddy built on what their Mom did.”
And now Aoife is building on her father and uncle’s work. The café has also hosted book clubs, gigs and movie nights. Immersed in the middle of the garden centre, with fairy lights, candles and soft jazz, the cosy ambience in the café at night is hard to beat.