Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Kilmainham Gaol 1796-1924. So Many Tales. So Many Tears.

Kilmainham Gaol 1796-1924.
So Many Tales. So Many Tears.
The (more modern) East Wing

I am looking at a pair of spoons in a case with a glass cover. Just two spoons, a little bit bigger than tea spoons. They look, in the dim light, as if they are made of plastic, maybe (but more unlikely) of bone.There is a caption alongside. It explains that they were once used by inmates of the gaol, that they were made with horn so that they could not be sharpened and used as weapons or tools in an escape.

I am in the museum rooms of Kilmainham Gaol (opened in 1796, two years later Henry Joy McCracken became its first political prisoner). There is quite a lot to see here (over 10,000 objects have been donated). Quite a lot to read also. We have just completed the mid-morning prison tour. I must be thinking about lunch because, instead of reading all the details, I find myself selecting items to do with food.
Here, Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford married

One inmate is quoted: ‘One thing that struck me in Kilmainham was the semi-starved aspect which all the convicted prisoners presented. They seemed to be utterly dejected and weak, and unable to undergo any amount of physical fatigue… I do not think that we are entitled to enfeeble the bodies of prisoners in order to reform their minds.”

The quote is from none other than Charles Stewart Parnell. He was in fact a prisoner here but a first class one. He was treated very well indeed because he was an elected politician.

In the 1916 corridor
For many years, the jailers benefitted from the extraction of fees through the sale of food and drink. It was one of the perks of the job. You read much the same about some South American prisons today. By the late 1830s, the arbitrary regime under which the rich prisoner could dine in relative style while his penniless fellow inmate starved in miserable conditions was finally eliminated. Yet, Parnell was imprisoned in 1882 and lived in some style, even able to interact with visitors.

The Great Famine (1845-49) saw an explosion in the prison population. One reason was the introduction of the Vagrancy Act in 1847. Intended to clear the streets of the unsightly poor, its effect was to swamp the prisons with those found begging in the streets. At least in prison you had the “luxury” of a meagre but life-saving prison diet but there was a downside, the chance that you’d succumb to the disease ridden overcrowded conditions.

And then there’s that box of chocolate. In March 1921, a Black and Tan officer presented death row prisoner Thomas Whelan with the treat. In the hours before his execution (14th March 1921), Whelan sent the box to a young girl Alicia Mann (8) with a message that if he were reprieved they could eat them together, if not she could eat them herself. Alicia never opened the box.

A poignant story indeed. And this is one of the saddest tours. Very popular though and, even in off season, you will need to book. Our guide was Erin and she did a great job taking a bunch of multi-national visitors through the old gaol. Men, women and babies, even young children on their own (5-year old Matthew Rossiter, for example), were imprisoned here for often trivial offences.

It was only in the latter stages of its existence as a functioning prison that Kilmainham began to hold political prisoners in large numbers, those from the rising, from the War of Independence and then from the Civil War. One of the first places you visit is the chapel, the scene of the eleventh-hour wedding of Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford in May 1916.  Plunkett was executed just hours later and Grace would be back in a few years as a Civil War prisoner.
Here James Connolly died

The Stonebreakers’ Yard where the leaders of 1916 were shot is visited later. A cross marks the spot where most of them fell. But the already seriously injured James Connolly could not make the walk across the yard and so he was shot by the opposite wall. Tears are never far away here.

The most bitter tears though are reserved for the deaths of the Civil War, inflicted by Irishman on Irishman, not just in Kilmainham (which closed in 1924) but throughout the country. If you visit, make sure you read Peter Cassidy’s final letter to his mother. He and three 19 year olds were the first executions of the Civil War. Many more would follow.

Grace Gifford's Cell
While it may be tough going at times, a visit is highly recommended. There are some light notes too from our excellent guide, including at the end when she tells us with some relish that we are "free to go". Also, did you know that films such as The Italian Job, In the Name of the Father, and Michael Collins, were partly filmed here, also RTÉ’s Rebellion drama series, along with a U2 video?

Just a tip, if you are walking. If you come from Heuston Station, follow the signs for the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Go through the IMMA entrance and courtyard and then walk the avenue through the grounds and, when you exit through the castellated gates, you’ll find the gaol directly across the road. Go back the same way and you’ll find the excellent Kemp Sisters café in the basement of the IMMA where I enjoyed a lovely lunch!

If you are intending to go, even if you are unable to go, then you will benefit hugely from visiting the excellent website here

Also on this trip
Hands On Fun during Roe and Co Whiskey Tour

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Come to Table. The café in Brown Thomas Cork

Come to Table.
The café in Brown Thomas Cork

If you are in Cork City centre outside Brown Thomas and someone asks you the location of the restaurant in this store - there are two possible answers. If the visitor is from the US, Table (the name of the restaurant) is on the third floor, if he or she is from the UK, Table is on the second floor*. No confusion though about the quality at Table; it is excellent as we found out at a recent lunch.

We were in for lunch. After a smile and a welcome, we were shown to our table and the menu handed to us. It was headed Brunch but all the dishes listed were lunch items - no Eggs Benedict or Smoked Salmon and Eggs.

It was quite a tempting selection in any event, soup or chowder to start with (if you wished), then lots of salads, a more substantial cod dish, chicken supreme also, there were a few veggie options (including a sweet potato and red lentil dhal), a Bacon Cheeseburger plus a Tex Mex Chicken Burger.

I had put my eye immediately on the Salmon Nicoise, Marinated Green beans, Baby Potatoes, egg, crispy croutons and green leaves. And, after a hesitation or two, that was what I ordered. Very happy with this large plateful of tasty fish and veg (those green marinated beans were a standout).

CL picked the Falafel and roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Salad, lemon tahini dressing (vegan). This dish had just been added to the menu and our friendly server told her the chef would be looking for feedback. And he got a good one. Another dish packed full of flavour and not a little colour. The Kemp sisters, owners of the café, are indeed noted for light and colourful dishes, just like the modern art prints around the walls.

We took up the option of having a cup of soup with the mains. The soup of the day was Sweet Potato and Coconut. It was really top notch and so too was the brown bread that came with it. They have a short list of wines here, some bubbles too. But we went for the juices and got two very good ones indeed. CL had a generous glass (all portions are fairly generous here) of just squeezed orange juice while I hit the jackpot with a bottle of Rhubarb and Ginger Lemonade (produced by Limerick’s Wild Orchard).

Finished off with a cup of coffee and a Apple and Cinnamon Crumble with Vanilla Ice-cream from Featherbed Farm. Again that dessert was quite large; more importantly, it was also top notch, the real thing!

Table is run by sisters Peaches and Domini Kemp, who started off their joint food business about 20 years ago with “one employee, one small van and a helluva lot of prayers”. Their first venture was to introduce bagels to Ireland. More recently, they are also to be found in stores such as Brown Thomas, under the Little Museum of Dublin in Hatch and Sons, and in the Irish Museum of Modern Art. What a long way they have come!
Brown Thomas
19 Patrick Street
021 480 5555

* Apparently, the Americans start counting from the ground floor while the UK and Ireland start from the floor above the ground level. But, with the globalisation of the English language, there’s bound to be some confusion.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

An October Wander in Mayo and Galway

An October Wander in Mayo and Galway
Afternoon near Letterfrack

Dozio & Pears in TIA
So here I am in Mayo, in Louisburgh to be precise, enjoying a delicious Swiss-Irish cheese in a lovely friendly Portuguese-Irish cafe. The cheese is called Dozio ( pronounced dots-i-o) and the café is called TIA. It is the last Friday in October, it is dull and showery, but I’m nice and cozy and enjoying the grub and the  lunchtime buzz.

TIA tiles
TIA, according to Google, means aunt in Portuguese and there is a family feel about the place, lots of school kids in either with a parent (maybe an auntie) or without and a fair bit of banter between the customers and the staff. And the food is local as exemplified by the board that says the lamb chops are PJ’s. They appear on the list of more substantial meals (more like your dinner).

We study the other board and order a couple of delicious salads. There is a Sourdough toast, honey roasted ham, Barr Rua cheese (also from Dozio), relish, salad and TIA crips. The potato, chorizo, kale and fried egg combination looks attractive, well priced at €8.50. All the dishes seem well-priced and all the food is sourced locally.

Achill Island

This section also details a Chicken, Mozzarella and Ciabatta salad; another salad of Sausage rasher, fried egg with Blaa; and a Vegetarian Burger with Sautéed potatoes, salads and pickles.

I go for the Warm Roast Pear Salad, Dozio Cheese and excellent homemade brown bread (12.00). Danilo Dozio and Helen Grady are making cheese in Mayo, using ancient recipes from Canton Ticino in the South of Switzerland. They make a few different varieties including the soft Zing (with apricot) that I so enjoyed with my salad. Meanwhile CL was loving the Warm Chicken salad, pickles, wedges and a Chilli Mayo (10.90). And it was two happy customers that left the Halloween decorated café to continue our journey to Clifden in the heart of Connemara.
The Breaffy House Hotel, our base for the middle night.

Our trip had started two days earlier near Ballina with a visit to relatives. Later that evening, we dined in the quirky Gallery Wine Bar in Westport, details at end. The following day, on the Thursday, we took up an invite to visit the Foxford Woollen Mills and its gorgeous revamped café. Terrific food here also from Chef Kathleen Flavin and you may read about the mill and the meal here…

The morning hadn’t been great but the sun was out and about as we left the mills and so we decided to head for Achill (a change of plan as we had been thinking of visiting the nearby National Museum featuring country living, our rainy day option). And quite a few stops were made and many photos taken as we made our way around the nearer loop (we didn’t go as far as Keem Bay), taking in the sights including the Grace O’Malley castle.
Superb burger, with local beef and bacon and topped with Dubliner cheese, at Oxtail in Balla.

That evening, we headed out to Balla for an excellent evening meal at the Oxtail Kitchen (you’ll find it above the Shebeen Pub on the main street). Here, Balla born Patrick McEllin and French lady Rebecca Miton, support local farmers and producers through the ever changing menu, a menu Patrick describes as classical with a modern twist. We certainly enjoyed our visit. Details also at end.

The following morning we met up with a friend of ours in Westport and enjoyed a chat and the coffee in Leafy Greens before heading west along the road to Louisburgh. First though, we stopped to see the impressive famine memorial in Newport and the horrors of the famine would again be in our minds as we headed to Leenane via the beautiful Doolough valley, haunting and maybe haunted by the happenings there during the famine, and now commemorated by a plain stone memorial as you go through the Doolough Pass. A yearly walk is held along this route in memory of the Doolough dead  of 1847 and to highlight the starvation of the world’s poor today. Otherwise though it is a lovely drive and a terrific cycle route (I’m told!).
Detail from the famine ship memorial in Muirisk

On then through some spectacular roads, including the final Sky Road, to Clifden. That night we would dine in the Marconi Restaurant in Foyle’s Hotel in a room whose decor recalls the exploits here of Marconi and also the story of Alcock and Browne. A good meal was followed (indeed accompanied) by pints of Bridewell, the local brew. Some excellent music in Mullarkey’s Bar meant a pleasant extension to the evening.
The famine memorial in the lovely Doo Lough Valley

Napoleon was all over the
place, even in the bathroom!
We spent the night in the Napoleon room of the quirky and hospitable, if expensive, Quay House, an 8-minute stroll from the town centre. The Quay, which closes up for the winter, has one of the brightest and well appointed breakfast rooms in the country, a conservatory room indeed and a breakfast to match.

Thus fortified, we started up the trusty Toyota and headed south, enjoying the benefit of the newly extended motorway, at least to Limerick. After that we drove through a lot of bends and a whole lot of broken promises by politicians before our home city came into sight.
Anyone for breakfast? The gorgeous conservatory at Clifden's Quay House.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Foxford Mills & Cafe. The Nun. The Accountant. The Chef.

Foxford Mills & Cafe.
The Nun. The Accountant. The Chef.
In 1892, a determined nun created Foxford Woollen Mills. And it had its ups and downs, employing a peak of 240 in the ‘50s, until 1987 when the receiver moved in. An accountant with the receiver still saw potential and made a bid and Foxford was revived. Nowadays, with over 70 employed, it is confident and thriving, both as a production unit and as a visitor centre, workers and tourists well fed by a determined chef in the kitchen who has recruited a posse of local producers, a move that would no doubt have had the blessing of the founder.

That founder was the redoubtable Sister Arsenius, originally known as Agnes Morrogh Bernard (family from Cork). At the age of 50, the sister and a few companions arrived in Westport to establish her Sisters of Charity order there. She was struck by the grinding poverty and the depressing hopelessness, the people held down by the landlord system (focus of the Land League campaign of the time). Famine was still a factor, and indeed there was a localised one as late as 1879.
The Western Care Association are Foxford's new charity partner for this year and are pictured here with MD Joe Queenan (far right) 

The Sister still saw opportunity in the gloom and concentrated on setting up the wooden mills with water from the fast flowing Moy, labour and sheep all at hand. But she had no experience. She approached a Protestant Freemason who had a mills in Ulster for advice. He wasn’t that keen at first but the nun was not for turning and eventually he helped set up the mills.

A grant from the Congested District Board was also a big factor, local weavers were trained and soon the Foxford Mills were up and running, it’s klaxon at morning, lunch (twice) and evening, setting the agenda for the town and the surrounding farms as our enthusiastic guide Alison told us on our tour of the mills. By the way, a portion of all tickets prices is allocated to various charities.
One of the superb dishes that we enjoyed during our visit to the café in the Mills.
Chef Kathleen
Alison does most of her talking before you actually enter the production as there is a lot of noise in there! Setting up and operating the machinery takes much of patience and precision - not too sure I’d last too long there! But the results are fantastic, great designs and natural colours.

Did you know that some well-known phrases have come from the various stages of production in mills like these, such as Tenter Hooks and No Strings Attached. Later, during lunch, I found out for the very first time that the Mayo village of Balla is actually pronounced as Bal (like pal), the final “a” being silent.

Back to that lunch with MD Joe Queenan, the accountant who stepped in and, with various supports (including a vital Business Expansion Scheme (BES)), eventually revived Foxford Mills after the 1987 crisis. Today over 70 people are employed here and their products are sold in mid to high-end stores. Some 33% is exported mainly to the US, the UK, Scandinavia. The Asian market is being targeted but Joe expects that their internet sales will be their next big outlet. “Online is becoming more and more important.”

They have deliberately retained the quality in design and product, innovation is also key, and have found their niche in the mid to high-end. They recognised early on that there is no way they could compete with the major manufacturers in Asia. 

Fascinating story behind this Michael Collins
throw. Read it here
Joe and indeed the people of Westport know that the founding Sister pursued “a holistic approach, …founding bands, …helping farmers get their products to market, …the kids to get an education.., and more”, a point also emphasised by Alison.

And you sense he is quite proud now of the mills and indeed of the café (which has a come a long way in the last ten years), proud to lead a company that does real work, produces real products and serves real food.

In the bright and airy upstairs café, we meet head chef Kathleen Flavin, an articulate chef with a vision that translates beautifully to the plate as we would soon find out.

She loves that she gets to work every day in the bright place, a luxury not afforded to that many chefs! In this recently renovated and updated room, Kathleen has a great rapport with her customers, answering their queries and helping with recipes - check out the cafe’s Facebook page here.  

After a hearty greeting, Kathleen immediately told us that the food is local and seasonal and called out a long list of local suppliers, many of whose photos are to be seen on one of the walls. These include Dozio’s Cheese, the Reel Deel Brewery, Killary Fjord Shellfish, John Clarke’s Smoked Salmon and Clive’s Butcher Shop.

Most of the herbs and leaves come from their own gardens and both Kathleen and Joe are rightly proud of that as well. As many of us are now beginning to realise, the shorter the journey, the better your food.
The Mills shop in Foxford sells many other top notch Irish products, including Modern Eire and Finline Furniture.
The focus is very much on healthy but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a delicious dessert here. We did, just after two of the very best salads we’ve ever tasted.

And if you’d like to take something home with you, that’s not a problem as Kathleen and her crew have various jams and preserves (how about pickled plums?) prepared and packed in jars. Oh by the way, she loves baking too. Yes, the Christmas puddings are ready and on the shelves. And there’s a great selection of cook books on offer here as well in the shop, underlining Joe’s words about a seamless connection between the two.

So there you are. A great place to visit. A great place to eat. Great products to buy. And great people too. I think Sister Arsenius would be rather proud of the accountant and chef and the team that are carrying Foxford Mills into the future.

Also on this trip: The Gallery Wine Bar, Westport
October Wander in Mayo & Galway

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Mauritius to Mitchelstown. How a long trip pays off for Eight Degrees. Brains, brawn. Long hours and hard work too!

Mauritius to Mitchelstown.
How a long trip pays off for Eight Degrees.
Brains, brawn. Long hours and hard work too!
Scott (left) and Cam

It’s not eight degrees when we visit the brewery. It’s just hovering between two and three and the Galtee Mountains are looking well under a lace-cap of new snow. Reminds me of the Swiss town of Engleberg even if the Galtees are nowhere near as high as the Alps.

No danger of getting cold though for the founders and workers at Eight Degrees as they are mightily engaged in moving operations from the old brewery to their German giant from Mauritius. The giant has been asleep in Mitchelstown -he did after all have a long journey - but now there are signs of life as Cam, Caroline and Scott are bringing it all together in a large unit in an industrial park on the northern edge of the North Cork town.

The three principals, especially Scott and Cam (seeking to make good beer like they had enjoyed down under), had started off with a home brew kit (still in use!). They had some success with that and indeed won a prize at a “home-brew” competition. The cottage in Kildorrery was getting crowded so, having started on the serious side in 2010, they began brewing in 2011.
Caroline (left) with the two of us.

Their first real brewery, including a legendary forklift that could only reverse (work that one out), came from the Carlow Brewing Company and that too is still installed in a nearby unit on the estate and has much more work ahead of it.

The home-brewing was all very well and valuable experience was gained. But it was still a nervous group that prepared for their first public outing, a beer festival at the Franciscan Well. And a shock was in store for the rookies when that batch of ale turned out to be bad! They can laugh at it now. Then though the pressure was on, big time! And the relief was palpable when the second batch was spot on and ready for the festival.

But how would the public take to it? Cam and Scott waited nervously with their one beer, their one tap. An older guy (don’t think it was me!) came over and tried it, hummed and hawed for a moment or two and then gave the thumbs up. It proved quite a hit at the Well and there was no turning back for Howling Gale. It is still their top seller - just goes to show the importance of getting it right at the beginning. By the way, Bohemian Pilsner, another of their originals, is their number two.
Top seller.
Right from the start!

And where can you find the Eight Degrees beers? All over, basically. They’ve been exporting to Italy (their #1 export market) since 2012. France also takes the beers, indeed you can find them in most of Europe. The UK too of course (with that pesky Brexit question mark).  

Beirut in the Lebanon is a relatively new market for them and they had a very enjoyable promotion there last St Patrick’s Day. The beers also travel to Australia, Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong and they have just gone into Japan.

They find it hard to keep up with the amount of outlets themselves but you can get pretty up-to-date info here.

Showcases the best home grown barley
Caroline is our guide as we go through B2, their high quality, if secondhand (“there is a Done Deal for breweries” she tells us) brewery from Mauritius. By 2014, “things were looking good” for Eight Degrees, so good in fact that expansion was on the horizon though no-one thought the gate to it was lying unused on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

There was quite a buzz as “the lads headed off to Mauritius” and did the deal in September 2014. Apparently, there were two competing breweries on the island, one closed and that opened the door for the successful Eight Degrees bid. There was no delay in the delivery and it arrived in Mitchelstown in January 2015.
A work in progress.

But scarce resources meant they weren’t able to proceed with the project and B2 stayed in storage for two years or so. Progress was slow but their new base began to be adapted in August 2016 and it is still a hive of activity with brewing going on in what is something of an indoor construction site. 
A tank from their first brewery.
They thought it was big!

By the way, one of the important factors for the area is that there are ten full time employees in Eight Degrees and the commissioning of B2 has given employment to various contractors. Some going!

They have a bottling plant too of course as they like to keep full control of their beers from start to finish. They moved into canning about six months back. The canning is done on site by a visiting contractor and that means they can keep an eye on it. Only certain beers are canned while some are sold in a variety of formats. And Caroline told me the canning has worked out very well for them.

It’s been quite a year for the trio behind the firm. Last May, they sold Eight Degrees Brewing to Irish Distillers, Ireland’s leading supplier of spirits and wines and producer of the world’s most well-known and successful Irish whiskeys.

At the time, Caroline told me: When we set up the brewery in 2010, it was with the idea of brewing naturally adventurous, great tasting beers that were more exciting and innovative than anything else in the market. Becoming part of the Irish Distillers family means that we have the long-term capabilities to continue on this mission as well as being part of the very exciting Jameson Caskmates story.
A new limited edition Red IPA

The recent Blowhard Imperial Stout is the first result of the union; there'll be more so watch this space.

Caroline, who has a distinguished background in food writing, didn’t expect to be a factotum in a brewery. She is as enthusiastic as any of the lads. She loves the give and take between the various micro-brewers; they help one another and she is more than thankful for the help Eight Degrees got in the early days.

The enthusiasm comes through when she talks about the malted barley. “I love how it comes up the road to us from Togher, much of it grown in the fields around here. It is a high quality barley and we showcased it in the Full Irish which has those great rounded flavours.”

Looks as if we can expect a flavourful future from the hard-working team at Eight Degrees!