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Ireland’s Leading Independent Food & Hospitality Guide

FOOD TRAILS & FESTIVALS - TEN OF THE BEST

waterford giy

Ireland’s food events are currently so many and various that the following selection is just a sample of the best ones that will please visitors with a serious interest in food, its landscape and sustainability - and, in most cases, also offer fun and education for all age groups.

With a history going back hundreds of years, there has been plenty of time to perfect the Irish food festival and the rich diversity of local events is now a major attraction to food lovers throughout the year. Ballycastle. Co Antrim can lay claim to the oldest festival - the Auld Lammas Fair, famous for dillisk and Yellow Man, dates back to the 17th century - and the original in more recent times is the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival (1954), later joined by the Clarinbridge Oyster Festival; it was always known for being ‘one big party’ to round off the tourist season - and now balanced at Easter by the Galway Food Festival. Its Northern Ireland counterpart, The Balmoral Show, is also a huge event - and has been running since 1896!.

There are also some culinary giants - the Ballymaloe LitFest, for example, which in just four years has achieved an international reputation for its unique content and impeccable standards - and the Food on the Edge symposium which, going into its second year, is already close to doing something similar for Galway.

On a bigger scale, Bloom was started by Bord Bia 10 years ago as a gardening show and has since developed to become a major food event - and then, of course, there is Ireland’s best loved big event, the National Ploughing Championships, which has been running for over 85 years and, while it is Europe’s biggest outdoor agricultural show, has long since become a key food event as well.

Burren Food TrailThe deservedly acclaimed BURREN FOOD TRAIL (www.burren.ie) is recognised as a world leader in sustainable tourism, including food tourism. It features 22 establishments and producers in the area and, importantly, each has achieved defined food quality standards. ‘Don't just visit the Burren - Taste it!’ is the call sign and their Food Trail Mondays are a brilliant idea, offering varying events focusing on food and landscape throughout the season (Apr-Oct). Many individuals and groups have worked for years to reach the level of cooperation that ensures the high standards now offered, and their season of events is book ended with two outstanding festivals: Burren Slow Food Festival (end May) and Burren Food Fayre (end Oct). By contrast, nearby in south-west Clare, Loop Head Food Circle’s Taste the Loop Food Trail is one of Ireland’s newest local initiatives; just launched by Manchan Magan in June, it is blessed with a background of dramatic beauty, a track record in sustainable tourism - and a neighbour famed for food tourism to learn from. Members include highly regarded restaurants, cafés and bakeries such as Murphy Blacks (co-owned by Loop Head Tourism Network Chairman, Cillian Murphy) and The Pantry, in Kilkee; B&Bs like the charming Old School at Cross; horticulturist, forage and educator Brid Hedderman of Rahona Roots; and the famous pub, The Long Dock, in Carrigaholt. Varying charges apply and a leaflet with map, detailing members, is available from Tourist Information Offices.

 

Meath Food Safari

BOYNE VALLEY FOOD SERIES (www.boynevalleyfoodseries.ie). Now in its third year and promising ‘unique, mouthwatering, fun events throughout the summer’, The Boyne Valley Food Series celebrates one of Ireland’s lesser known culinary regions, in counties Meath and Louth. An outstanding example of how best to showcase the food and hospitality of a large and diverse area, the Food Series offers a calendar of events (late Apr-end Oct) including established and independently famous events like the Irish Food Festival at Sheridan's Cheesemongers (May) and Carlingford Oyster Festival (Aug) as well as a host of lesser known ones and visits to individual producers. Always seeking new ways to promote food provenance, it brings together leading restaurants, venues, farmers and food producers. Olivia Duff - a former Failte Ireland food ambassador (2012), small farmer (Maperath Farm, Kells), and co-owner of The Headfort Arms Hotel - is chairperson of the Boyne Valley Food Series. An inspired and inspirational leader, she says: “…It’s all about offering unique, immersive, food experiences which highlight the best of the Boyne Valley Region and its people; some are off the beaten track, some offer ‘bucket list experiences’, others allow the visitor to put themselves in the shoes of the producer or the farmer for a day and get under the skin of real artisan food.” Superb.

 

Gourmet Greenway

GOURMET GREENWAY EVENTS (www.mulrannyparkhotel.ie) Mulranny Park Hotel is the only hotel on Co Mayo’s highly successful Great Western Greenway walking and cycling route (mainly) along the old Newport-Mulranny railway, closed since 1937. Building on its success and their unique situation, the hotel worked with local food producers to create the Gourmet Greenway, a trail that showcases artisan food around Mulranny, Newport, Westport and Achill Island. Now in its sixth year they have developed the trail to include Gourmet Greenway Events (May-Oct), which take place at various venues around the Greenway. “Get a real taste of Mayo and the Gourmet Greenway!” urges the flyer, and this you will surely do even if you can only make it to a single event from the series. You could enjoy the Gourmet Greenway Afternoon Tea at Kelly's Kitchen, Newport, for example, where Shauna Kelly showcases products like the Gourmet Greenway Pudding and ‘Black Goat’ sausages from her Dad, Sean Kelly’s famous butchers shop next door. Other events are based on various products including smoked salmon (a Formula 1 Salmon Weekend at the Chalet Restaurant in Keel, Achill Island), Achill Mountain Lamb, native Clew Bay and Pacific oysters, and craft beers. And, nearby, the famous Westport Food Festival (www.westportfoodfestival.ie) has changed dates this year (Jun 24-26 2016) but it will still include many of the regular highlights including a strongly educational element (the Food Forum), the Foodie Village and the ‘local knowledge’ culinary tour led by food expert Siobhan Foody.

 

Kilkenny Food Trail

TASTE OF KILKENNY FOOD TRAIL (www.visitkilkenny.ie/taste_of_kilkenny_trail) & Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food (www.savourkilkenny.com; end Oct) 2016. A richly productive county, Kilkenny is renowned for the diversity and outstanding quality of its producers and the Food Trail encourages visitors to get out and about throughout the year to enjoy the beautiful countryside and meet some of its 40 or so members - dedicated people like Helen Finnegan of Knockdrinnagh Cheese & Farm Shop (Stoneyford); Ger & Mags Kirwan of Goatsbridge Trout Farm Thomastown, whose products include trout caviar; Mary Walsh of Kilkenny Free Range at Shellumsrath, who produces premium poultry for some of the country’s top chefs; and Rod & Julie Calder-Potts whose unusual range of organic apple products includes a wonderful gin… And, with some exceptional shops, cafés and restaurants along the Trail too, it’s a very special experience. To round off the season, the Savour Kilkenny Food Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2016, is one of Ireland’s most successful food festivals, offering a balance of serious debate, food markets, cookery demonstrations, dining events - and fun.

 

listowel food fair

LISTOWEL FOOD FAIR (www.dochara.com/events-in-ireland/listowel-food-fair; 16-19 June) Dating back to 1994 and moved from its traditional November slot to high summer this year, the Listowel Food Fair is one of the longest running food festivals in Ireland, and was the first to introduce an educational element. In addition to showcasing the region’s best food producers, there are Literary and food Taste Trails, competitions - best home baker in Kerry, for example - meaningful awards (Kerry Food Hero and Cookbook of the Year among them) along with demonstrations, tastings, competitions and workshops. Well worth a detour. Another much newer but very successful event in the region that also has a strong educational theme is the Cork and Kerry Food Forum (www.foodforum.ie; Sun 26-Mon 27 June 2016, 12-5pm). A free event held in Cork City Hall, it features healthy cookery demonstrations, as well as one of the largest artisan food markets in Ireland.

 

Taste of Cavan

TASTE OF CAVAN (www.facebook.com/TasteofCavan; 12-13 Aug 2016). Having moved to the Cavan Equestrian Centre at Latt, on the edge of Cavan Town, Taste of Cavan recorded 38,500 visitors to ‘the food event of the summer’ in 2015. Now in its fifth year, Taste of Cavan justifiably claims to be established as one of the country's top food events. Championed by leading chefs including Neven Maguire, Gearoid Lynch and Richard Corrigan (well rooted in his home soil again with his latest enterprise, Virginia Lodge, thriving nearby, he enthusiastically supports the annual Virginia Pumpkin Festival too), Taste of Cavan has a dedicated following of food lovers prepared to travel great distances to attend. With over 120 stalls showcasing the best of local and regional produce, and a great range of events for all age groups, it invariably attracts a stellar line-up of demonstration chefs and food producers and now has three large arenas and top facilities to enable it to continue to develop.

 

dingle food festival

DINGLE FOOD FESTIVAL (www.dinglefood.com) Also celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Dingle Food Festival has become a firm end of season fixture in the food event calendar (30 Sep-2 Oct 2016). Including the associated Blás na hÉireann Food Awards and everything from food workshops and cookery demos to art trails, whiskey and wine tastings, and also activities for children, it really does have something for everyone. A key highlight of the festival for those who like to wander around and explore is the Taste Trail, offering food samplings in over 80 locations, paid for with tickets bought in books of ten. West Kerry’s - and especially Dingle Town’s - unique atmosphere, hospitality and entertainment are a huge draw and visitor numbers are expected to top 10,000 this year.

 

sligo food trail

The recently launched SLIGO FOOD TRAIL is an ambitious and well funded initiative, presenting Sligo as a must-visit destination for food lovers to discover. Building on the success of the annual Só Sligo Food Festival (www.sosligo.ie/events; 14-19 Jun 2016) and the Só Sligo Yeats Food Trail, the new trail lists over 60 food-related highlights in Co Sligo and one important extra - The Organic Centre - nearby in Co Leitrim. Most are restaurants, pubs and accommodation, but there are also several markets, some excellent producers - such as the White Hag Brewery at Ballymote and Coopershill Farm (venison) at Riverstown - activities, including seaweed foraging with experts Dr Prannie Rhatigan (author of The Irish Seaweed Kitchen) or Marc Torrades, and bread making classes with My Strandhill Bakery. For details, visit www.sligofoodtrail.ie; an attractive combination map and information booklet is also available free, from Tourist Information Offices.

 

open farm

OPEN FARM WEEKEND (www.openfarmweekend.com; 18-19 Jun); supported by Bank of Ireland, this uniquely educational weekend of ‘food, farming and fun’ is an annual event that will involve special tastings on each farm this year as part of the NI Year of Food and Drink 2016. In 2015, over 21,000 people visited farms across Northern Ireland ‘to see, hear, smell, touch and be part of the farming story’, and it would be great to see this replicated in other regions. Northern Ireland events have a special character that’s unique to the region and other notable food events this summer include the Comber Earlies Food Festival (Comber, 25 Jun), the Fine Food Festival at the Irish Game Fair at Shanes Castle, Co Antrium (www.irishgamefair.com, 25-26 Jun) and Flavours of the Foyle Seafood Festival (Derry/Londonderry, July). For further details of these and many more special food and drink events across Northern Ireland, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com/food/Food-Festivals-and-Events

 

waterford giy

WEST WATERFORD FESTIVAL OF FOOD (www.westwaterfordfestivaloffood.com; April) & Waterford Harvest Festival (www.waterfordharvestfestival.ie; 9-11 Sep 2016) With these two terrific festivals book ending the season, Co Waterford is making a major statement about its contribution to Irish food culture. Kicking off the season in spring, the Dungarvan event has celebrated the gently beautiful, highly productive and outstandingly hospitable area that is West Waterford since 2008. It has some formidable native talent behind it, not least Paul & Maire Flynn of The Tannery. At the other end of the season, the three day Waterford Harvest Festival is an exuberant affair that celebrates all that is good about the region's food, heritage and culture; in traditional celebration of the harvest, visitors are invited to ‘savour the tastes of the region and for family and friends to enjoy the fruits of their labours’. There is huge talent and dedication here too, and a key component this year is sure to be to be GIY’s national food education centre GROW HQ, which is due to open in September.

 

taste of west cork food festival

A TASTE OF WEST CORK FOOD FESTIVAL (www.atasteofwestcork.com; 9-17 Sep 2016). Not so much a food festival, more a celebration of all of the things that make West Cork so special, A Taste of West Cork takes place over a 10-day period and in a wide range of venues in the towns, villages and islands of the area. It showcases the rich culture and heritage of this scenic part of Ireland, particularly (but not solely) as seen through its exceptional food. The festival programme includes “guest chefs preparing spectacular meals with fresh locally sourced produce, daily workshops, historic and scenic walks in dramatic locations, farm tours to the artisan food producers, themed restaurant evenings, art and craft exhibitions, food tastings, music recitals, theatre evenings, starlight kayaking, whale watching and so much more. A Taste of West Cork proudly promotes West Cork as a tourist destination and jewel along the Wild Atlantic Way.”

 

wild food harvest festival

WILD FOOD HARVEST FESTIVAL (www.wildandslow.com; BrookLodge & Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow 12-13 Nov 2016) A pre-Christmas treat for Slow Food Ireland members and all who appreciate wild and natural foods, the sixth Wild Food Harvest Festival is the culmination of the year’s Wild&Slow community-based educational programme around the traditional skills used in gathering and preserving wild foods, including pickling, drying, curing, smoking, and preserving in oils, sugars and salts. Uniquely focused and totally authentic, it’s a magical European Winter-Fest style market festival complete with the blazing wood-burning braziers that have become trademark of BrookLodge events, and it ‘celebrates everything that is good about Irish food: fresh, local, traditional and wild’. All are invited to gather and prepare their own wild food products, and encouraged to present them for sale at what will undoubtedly be Europe’s largest wild foods harvest market. ‘From fish to pheasant, from the deep dark flavour of venison to the sticky sweetness of wild blackberry jam, a contented reliance on nature’s gifts is as Slow as it gets.’

 

 

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