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Unsung Heroes: Meeting the library canteen ladies

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“The Pink Ladies.”

 

“The mammies.”

 

These are just a couple of the endearing titles given to the exuberant group of women who work in the Plaza Cafe in the Glucksman Library.

 

It’s apparent from the smiles on the faces of every student and staff member who leaves the cafe; these ladies are serving more than just food.

Image result for glucksman library canteen
The Glucksmann Library: Where the canteen ladies ply their trade and put a smile on the faces of students and staff alike.

The ladies in question (known as the “Pink Ladies” because of their cheery pink uniforms) are Mary Egan, Lee Tynan, Siobhan Carr, Marian Kennedy, Joan Costello, Geraldine Sheehan, and Katie Gurney, along with some students who work there on a part-time basis.

From the moment the customers walk up to the counter, they are met with the same vibrant smiles and genuine hospitality from each of these members of the cafe staff.

Mary, a server who has been working in the cafe for the past seven years, said that she could write a book about all of the great experiences she’s had while on staff.

“It’s so busy, and it’s very friendly, and it’s a very warm place and the students are lovely. They’re always up for a chat or a giggle,” she said.

The Plaza Cafe has been open since 1997, and although Geraldine is the only original staff member still employed, the group of women has maintained a consistent standard of fantastic customer service and general joyfulness.

Second-year students Diarmuid O’Brien, Neil Heffernan, and Liam Mulcahy have been coming to the cafe three to four times a week since they started at the university. They still remember the first time they came to the cafe, and met staff member Marian.

“When we came here last year, she made sure she knew our names. She said ‘Hello Diarmuid, hello Neil, and they knew my order straightaway. You feel welcome…you feel at home here,” he said.

International student Amos Bature said that he eats almost exclusively at the Plaza Cafe solely because of the staff members and the conducive atmosphere they create.

“Even though you’re paying, you don’t feel the pain of you paying for it. Honestly, it’s like they’re giving it to you for free. You can see people smiling all over. I’m not sure you go to any other cafes around the college and you find this number of students being happy,” he said.

It’s not only the students who reap the benefits of the laughter and cheer that emanate from the kitchen, but the staff members themselves.

Joan, who is in charge of the washing, said that the good-natured banter between all of the ladies was one of the things that drew her to the job in the first place.

“As time went on then I just found the craic between Marian, Lee, and the girls in the kitchen, and it was mighty,” she said, “You know, that you could laugh. You could just laugh and enjoy the fun. I love it here, I really do.”

Katie, a second-year Food Science and Health student who works at the cafe part time, has grown to love the motherly presence that her co-workers provide.

“I think for me, it’s really lovely being able to come in, because I feel like I’m surrounded by mothers, which is really nice when you’re a student away from home.

“You come in and everybody’s checking in on you, and making sure that you’re alright, and that school is going ok…they’re all Irish mammies, and they just want to feed you and love you,” she said.

Both Mary and Lee can easily provide this motherly love to their co-workers and customers, as they are both mothers themselves. Their nurturing and caring attitutes, also provided by the other mothers on staff, have become another quality that characterizes the Plaza Cafe.

“When you’re a mother yourself, it just comes to you, the mummy comes out in you. That is the one thing I can honestly say, hand and heart, when you’re a mother yourself, the mother comes across,” said Lee.

Mary added: “You look at kids, you look at young people. You always think, if that was my child, is my child happy? Make sure they’re happy, make sure they’re in good form, make sure they’re having a good day, and make sure they’re fed.”

Siobhan, who just started as the manager in September, has been impressed with the strength of teamwork that she’s witnessed amongst the ladies.

“Everyone here has a brilliant work ethic, as well. We have no dossers here. Everyone works hard. Everyone does it for the best of the place, everyone wants the place to do really well,” she said.

The camaraderie between the women, the genuine love and care for students, and the excellent food (all homemade by Lee) create a unique and uplifting experience for everyone involved

Noreen O’Keefe, the cafe’s operator, said: “The girls are the face of the plaza, they really are. They are a brilliant bunch of girls, and they work really, really hard…they’re all each other’s families.”

The students and staff at UL are fortunate to be able to receive this familial love with every visit to the cafe.

The Pink Ladies are currently looking forward to their Christmas break, as some of them work seven days a week while school is in session.

Although they receive far less credit than they are due, the ladies are a vital part of the lifeblood of the Glucksman Library, and of the university as a whole.

Whether students are stressed about a test, need some quality sustenance, or are simply missing home, they can rest assured that they’ll find remedies for all of these ailments from the delightful staff members at the Plaza Cafe.

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