Shannagary – Michelin Star winning chef Myrtle Allen, who passed away this summer, lived long enough to see the fruits of the food culture she inspired reach throughout Ireland. A one-time Vice President of the Munster Region of Macra na Feirme, Allen revolutionised Irish restaurants by concentrating on locally produced, artisanal fare and changing her menus daily to serve the freshest meals available, reflective of the seasons. Today, her daughter Darina Allen and celebrity chef Rachel Allen continue the tradition along with her in-laws the O’Connells at Ballymaloe House and Cookery School. It is no understatement that the Allens, O’Connells and Ballymaloe House have had the most profound impact in shaping Irish cuisine since the introduction of the potato by the then Mayor of neighbouring Youghal, Sir Walter Raleigh.
The fruit of Allen’s work can be seen in the array of restaurants throughout Munster which continue to take her concepts to new levels. From the Mews in Kenmare to An Chistin Beag in Skibberean, and from the Glen of Aherlow’s Ballinacourty House in Tipperary to the Granary in Waterford, as well as Sash in Limerick’s Georgian Quarter, the elevation of Irish cuisine over the past half-century has been profound.
With Bord Bia reporting that Ireland’s diners spending more than €7.5bn each year, and expectations that it will exceed €9bn by 2020, the importance of food and dining to local economies is profound. Some 35% of these figures are driven by ‘casual dining’, including fast-food and take-aways. What analysts have recently found striking, however, is that artisanal foods and upscale ready-made meals are the fastest growing sector within that market share. While chippers and fast food will surely continue to have a significant stake in the Irish dining market, quality is emerging on par for importance in consumer choices. Market trends show that a fast-growing number of consumers are less price-point conscious and more concerned with ‘value-for-money’ and willing to pay more for artisanal foods.
It is not surprising therefore that Food Festivals have emerged as an increasingly successful enterprise throughout Ireland, despite the variable weather that often proves a challenge for such events. Not only is elevating the importance of food being the dashboard and dining room important, but these festivals are proving to have collateral benefits to the tourism sector as well. Munster boasts a significant number of food festivals that attract not only locals, but domestic and international tourists. For people passionate about food and culture, Munster showcases its best producers, chefs, artisans and providers through an array of food festivals and events that continue to grow in numbers and duration.
After fifteen years as a local event, in 2018 the Midleton Food Festival transformed into the East Cork Food & Drink Festival (FEAST). Today’s event reflects the growing number of upscale food and drink producers in the region who participate the annual celebration. This year, FEAST was launched from the Jameson Experience and Distillery, complete with a concert and extended for an entire week with events, demonstrations and tastings at various restaurants and cafes. The festival culminated on the final weekend with a street festival in Midleton. The festival’s long table lunch, Eats of East Like!, featured chefs Takashi Miyazaki and Kevin Aherne at SAGE restaurant and included mixology events at the Jameson Experience.
One of Ireland’s most successful and longest-running food festivals is The Taste of West Cork. Not only has it become a foodie’s destination staple each September, but now draws many artists, writers, craftsmen and food producers to the area, showcasing an eclectic variety of food and food creators. The festival brings together a unique mix of retailers, food markets and cooking demonstrations, tastings and cookery competitions, special dinners, brunches and banquets, talks and exhibitions, children’s events, adventures and more.
Not to be outdone by its regional sister, the local Macroom Food Festival, now in its seventh year, lights up this picturesque West Cork market town. Led by the Lee Valley Enterprise Board and Macroom Town Council, the 2018 Chairman, Don Buckley of the Castle Hotel, Macroom, and a cadre of volunteers from a variety of businesses and organisations in the town, hosts a variety of local producers, retailers, chefs and artisans in showcasing their offerings.
The Kingdom, never to be outdone by their Cork neighbours, hosts an incredible food festival in Dingle each year. Féile Bia Daingean Uí Chúis (Dingle Food Festival) is held each October. Known locally as ‘the Best Weekend of the Year’ (excepting when Kerry wins an all Ireland match), the Dingle Food Festival features over 70 venues throughout the Dingle Peninsula ‘Taste Trail’. The 2018 festival includes a wine & whiskey masterclass, Cookery demonstrations, workshops, a farmer’s forum, street festival and children’s activities.
2018 being the European Year of Cultural Heritage, Limerick City and County are featuring their famed bacon industry throughout September. Last year’s celebrations included market events, food demos, historical walks, themed events and exhibitions, food tours, panel discussions, restaurant nights with special themed menus, industry networking events. The event’s most exciting event was the Culture Night Pig Parade showcasing the county’s deep roots in the pork industry.
Waterford’s annual food festivals go from success to success. Celebrating local foods, with strong fish and barbeque offerings, the festival fills Dungarvan’s large, redeveloped market square. Waterford also features a Strawberry Festival, Harvest Festival and Festival of the Sea in Dunmore East, Passage East, Peekpoint and Ring.
Late to the game, Tipperary’s 2017 ‘Tree Trail’ proved so popular that 2018 will inaugurate an annual Clonmel Apple Fest kicking off September 28th. Wanting to celebrate Clonmel’s unique combination of land, water and food that gave the town its name – Cluan Meala (the Vale of Honey), and its unique mix of industrial and agricultural activities, the festival aspires to do for Tipperary what food festivals throughout the rest of Munster have done for their local food industry and economies. Exploiting its local heritage, the Quaker Mills provide a unique setting for cider making, exploring the region’s the cheese and butter traditions, but most of all, apple growing and eating in all its forms.
In addition to is burgeoning restaurant industry, Munster’s many food festivals, and artisan food being featured at many cultural events, tourists are finding more reasons to visit the region year-round. More information on Ireland’s food and drink festivals can be found at https://www.ireland.com/events/festivals/food-festivals/ and https://www.discoverireland.ie