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Rachel Gaffney's Letter from Texas

Cork City Hall

The famous foodie who’s flying the tricolour for us in Texas tells us about a recent visit home to Cork

It had been many years since I made this familiar walk over Parnell bridge, crossing the South Channel of the River Lee towards Cork’s City Hall. Despite the passage of time its familiarity returned and I was that 19 year old girl again, with my backpack slung over my shoulder.

Some twenty six years later I was looking at this vista through a different lens. I have heard about people moving away, returning and, having supposedly taken their surroundings for granted, have a newly found appreciation for them.

That seems to be the common thought. Simply that we have taken it for granted and that we did not appreciate what was in front of us all the time. Is that it? Did I take everything for granted? Why then did I not appreciate this city and county of Cork each and every time I returned home from London in the 1990’s? I had ten days ahead of me to try and answer this question.

I was meeting with an old friend, whose office was located in Cork’s City Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1920 and rebuilt by the British government. It overlooks the River Lee and is faced with dressed limestone quarried from Little Island - a simple yet impressive piece of architecture that has welcomed people over the years from all parts of the world.

I walked through the doors and announced myself to the receptionist as my appointment was with Cork’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Des Cahill. Growing up in Cork, I had never once questioned the title of Lord Mayor and not Mayor like most cities. Following a visit to Cork in 1900, Queen Victoria bestowed this title on the head of the Cork Corporation. A copy of this charter can be seen hanging on the walls of the Lord Mayor’s chambers.

My eyes were drawn to the Cork Coat of Arms woven into the centre of the carpet. ‘Statio Bene Fide Carinis’ which means safe place for ships. Cork harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world, and also one of the safest.

Rachel Gaffney signing the visitor book in Cork City Hall

These chambers could tell many a story. President John F Kennedy’s signature can be found in one of the guest books and, as of April 2017, even mine can be found there! A Visit to City Hall Cork is encouraged. They would love you to sign the visitors book.

I heard so many stories that I had never heard before that I now know I must return and have an idea germinating within. I wandered back over Parnell Bridge and walked down the South Mall, my head full of new stories and characters. I was on my way to meet my brother for breakfast at Nash19, located on Princess Street. As I walked, I became more aware of the familiar lilt of the Cork accents around me.

My brother knew immediately what he was ordering for breakfast. “It had to be The Little Corker” he said. Bacon, sausage, black pudding, egg and buttered Arbutus Toast. “What’s Arbutus Toast?” he asked.

Luckily for us, we were talking with the owner, Claire Nash and she explained to him that Arbutus Toast was named after Arbutus Bread. Arbutus Bread, was founded by Declan Ryan, Ireland’s first Michelin star chef.

So, it was no surprise that he was also the first person to make sourdough bread in Ireland in 1999. Every ingredient on this breakfast plate was sourced locally. The sausage and black pudding came from the historic English Market down the street, the eggs were free range, the presentation artistic and the service friendly and efficient.

As luck would have it, or in typical Cork fashion, it just so happened that Declan Ryan (pictured receiving the Georgina Campbell Natural Food Award 2016) was visiting Nash19 with his wife, Patsy, for their morning cup of coffee. What followed was a treat that could not have been planned any better and one that I would not otherwise had a chance to enjoy had I planned and scheduled my day. Claire Nash invited Declan and Patsy Ryan to join us.

Patsy & Declan Ryan receiving Natural Food Award from Georgina Campbell

Here I learned so much more about my own home city, things that one simply cannot learn from going ‘online’. Story telling is such a vital part of history. It is the handing down of information from one generation to the next. I heard all about his days operating the historic restaurant and hotel, “Arbutus Lodge”. We discovered that they (both Ryans) knew my aunt and uncle very well. Mostly, we talked about food and service and not necessarily in that order.

We exchanged telephone numbers and email addresses and took photographs and I made plans to visit his bakery during my next visit in June. Claire told me all about the upcoming Long Table Dinner for 400 guests on June 18 on the South Mall. Twelve of Cork’s restaurants are working together to make this world class dinner happen outdoors, highlighting and showcasing the very best of ingredients from Cork. This promises to be quite an exceptional event (click for more)

I had just spent my first morning in Cork. It was 1pm and in such a short space of time, I had seen, heard and tasted a lot. Had I taken anything for granted before? I really don’t think I did. I have had time since returning from this trip home to Cork to think about it a little more and all I can think is that I have matured a little more.

My love of learning is never ending and my natural curiosity and love for positive people is as strong as it ever was, perhaps even more so. Coming home to Cork now means that I have so much more to see, learn, taste and experience. May I remind you that what I wrote about happened in just one morning and I spent ten days there. Imagine what you could experience if you visited Cork.


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Rachel Gaffney's Real Ireland

http://rachelgaffneys.com/


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