Ciara O’hArtghaile owner at Ursa Minor bakehouse: mother, baker and entrepreneur.
It is inevitable that becoming a mother can challenge your ideals and shift your outlook but I don’t think anyone can prepare you for how much it can change you; you become a new person, in a way. It is the most wonderful, challenging, happy, amazing and exhausting time!
So many mums I know seem to start the journey of motherhood during an already busy time in their lives-moving house, changing jobs or relocating.
When we started our business back in 2014, I was pregnant with our first son, Cillian. Incidentally we were calling the bump our little bear which is where Ursa Minor (little bear in Latin) came from! We had been inspired by our travels especially in New Zealand and the beautiful cafe culture they have there, fresh, local seasonal ingredients and each place unique. But more than that the dedication to good food, coffee and, of course, sourdough! In pregnancy I was questioning my own health and how nutrition helps development in the womb and I was conscious of minimising the processed food and chemicals that we had in our diets so that I could give my baby the best, most nutritious and honest food.
We traded at markets that summer, me becoming heavier and heavier but we loved it and had such a positive response, especially from our community which spurred us on! Cillian arrived in late September and the haze of motherhood and self-doubt was all encompassing for a few months. But once I got used to very little sleep and the rhythm of parenthood I started to think about the future of the business and how it could support us as a family.
We wanted to open a space more permanently and offer more. After a successful crowd funding campaign, we opened Ursa Minor in a tiny space, 3 days a week. This meant I could still have a lot of time with Cillian and often we’d be off foraging for edible baking ingredients or picking flowers for the cafe!
After a couple of years, we realised we could expand a bit and bring the cafe and bakery together in one space and open 5 days. We made a conscious decision to have 2 days off as we created the business for ourselves; a lifestyle and family was always going to be the most important thing!
There was a bit of work to do in the new space and I was now pregnant again! There is never a perfect time! Despite the nausea and exhaustion, we had a great few opening months. When it was time, I left my role in the capable and skilled hands of Julie, it was tricky to let go but thankfully Michael was a super sleeper in the first few months so I could pop in and out of work doing a few wedding cake orders and workshops. Julie is also a mummy of two so we have a great relationship and help each other out when we can. I love how mums seem to have a special connection, a desire to help guide and support our sisters.
My mummy friends are a constant support and inspiration, you are never alone! Each and every one of them have had unimaginable challenges and yet still have extra love and compassion to lend to a friend. I also felt a connection with other mummy bakers and through social media we forged relationships, gleaned advice from each other or just had a moan!
My sister in law Uanfind is an absolute mummy hero, she started a PhD when pregnant with her first baby and finished it just after the birth of her second! She is an educational psychologist so is perfect for specialist advice but is an amazing, supportive friend; never judging, always listening.
Dervla, owner of cafe Pudding Row in Sligo is another inspiring mummy; proving being an amazing parent and running a successful business could happen!
My own mummy is my rock and I have so much love and admiration to her for giving us such a nurturing and supportive childhood on which I base a lot of my own values.
I am very much a working mum but I’m also fortunate to have a lot of time with the boys too. Although I’m only working in the cafe 3 days a week, I have all the ‘office stuff’ to do which sometimes I really can’t face! Rota's, payroll and stock ordering are not the most exciting! A glass of wine helps!
But that’s the reality, we have had to learn on the job, no holiday pay or pension for us right now but we’re doing what we can to build something for the boys and for all of our community.
I am always honest about my life, the business and raising children. It’s definitely not easy but I don’t have experience of the alternative. It was a natural, organic process. We constantly reevaluate what we’re doing, questioning if we’re still passionate about it.
Actually, if anything, the boys have ignited more fire; we want to help drive a change in the food industry here, to help educate, to encourage people to use seasonal produce and to support local, small business. We want the best for our children so they have all they need to become wonderful, informed and happy adults, because surely in the end, that’s all that really matters.
Words and images by Ciara O’hArtghaile