An Irish Chef in France

Now living in the Languedoc, where they take guests - and feed them very well - Waterford chef Martin Dwyer and his wife Sile have been closed this season due to Covid, which has given them time to enjoy the quirks of their old house and find out more about its history  

When you have been locked in for the bones of nine months you don’t tend to have a lot of stuff to chat about. That is, if you are lucky enough to come up against a friend online, or on the phone, or even by post.

We do realise that we are fortunate out here in France with our rambling old house and the countryside just outside our door and with sunshine, but still, it’s a long time on our own for a couple who are used to having a fairly constant stream of guests coming and going. However, you have to work with what you have been given.

The weather here is a great help, nearly constant sun cheers me and high summer temperatures are much less debilitating when you don’t have to cook and clean up for a houseful of guests.

As we entered into our second phase of lockdown in October I decided to set myself a challenge, a very easy challenge. I decided that I would write a daily entry on Face Book about aspects of my house which my “readers” might find interesting, so with that in mind - every day - I stuck up a photo under the title of “Petits Coins du Presbytere “( Little corners of the Presbytery)

For those of you who haven’t come across my life history before here is a quick resumé:
Having worked in kitchens all my life I ran a my own restaurant in Waterford for fifteen years before my wife Sile and I sold up, and fulfilled a lifelong ambition by buying an old presbytery in the south of France and converting it into a B&B. This has been running successfully now for over ten years until the Covid 19 stopped us in our tracks.

The area we settled in is in the Languedoc, which is more or less halfway between the Alps and the Atlantic coast. We are about 20km from the Mediterranean and about 150km from the Spanish border.

Our village is called Thezan les Beziers and it is about 800 years old. Our Presbytery is just near the Church in the centre and we know that part of it at any rate was within the old town walls so some of its walls go back a long way.

The village was what they call a circulade, which means that the walls formed a circle around the centre where there was usually a castle or a church.

We do know that our house wasn’t always a presbytery, in France even in the 1920s the Catholic church was in decline. Most of the churches had been taken over by the municipal authorities and, even though still used for services, they were also allowed to be used by lay people. I found an old post-card of the outside of the church from around 1900 in which you can see a banner over the church door. I have managed to blow it up and it says that “this building is for the use of ALL the townspeople of Thezan”

At about the same time the original Presbytère, which was a much bigger building than the one we occupy, was changed in use to the girls school and our building, in 1925 ( the date is on the wall) was converted into Le Presbytère. At the same time we reckon a road which passed along the back of our house was turned into a garden where the priests could say their offices. Our house now as it stands, is a lot larger than the houses around it. It actually touches nine other houses, so we think at the time of the conversion two or even three village houses were joined together to make the presbytery. This helps to explain all the incongruous doorways and passage ways which our builder found when we were converting the house. One particular blocked up doorway was set at an angle in the wall and a visiting urban archaeologist told us that this was at latest 15th century, when doorways were sometimes angled to give advantage to the defenders right arm, the one armed with a sword. Another doorway was blocked up and would have led into our neighbour’s living room. Our builder, who was from the village , told us that these interconnecting doors were often found in old houses in Thezan.

The most exciting find however was when our neighbours bought a barn which abuts our garden but on the lower street level. At the back of the building they found a doorway which led to an old stone arched stairway which had led into our little garden but the exit had long been blocked off . This would have connected to our old stone garden steps. Plainly this was a public route at one time, and at the bottom it would have led outside the village walls.

I must admit that I often wondered why the old building was so equipped for defence. Even though the medieval times were not exactly peaceful there was, I would have thought, more unrest in the north of France.

It was however during this lockdown that I began to get a possible answer to my questions. As well as having a close look at the house for my “Petits Coins du Presbytère”, I was reading a book called “Distant Mirror” about the “calamitous” 14th century in France. In one part Barbara Tuchman, the author, explains that these wars, mainly between England and France, in their way gave rise to a dangerous amount of brigandage. As neither side could afford to keep a standing army they trained men who, after the battles, would be let loose to their own devices. This soldiery then became bands of outlaws who roamed through the country often attacking small towns and villages to pillage, rob and slaughter. This offers an explanation of the life saving measures in the old houses like ours. If the walls were breached and the enemy at the door an escape could be offered into a neighbour’s house and should the danger be even more grave the passage through the house and down the stairway would provide them with an escape outside the walls. Living in an old house in France sometimes brings history right into your life.


Martin Dwyer started cooking professionally over 40 years ago in the legendary “Snaffles Restaurant” in Dublin. After a time in a Relais Chateau in Anjou and in “The Wife of Bath” in Kent he opened his own acclaimed restaurant, “Dwyers”, in Waterford in 1989. In 2004 he sold this and moved south to France where he and his wife Síle bought and restored an old presbytery in a village in the Languedoc. They now run Le Presbytère as a French style Chambre d’Hôte. Martin however is far too passionate about food to give up cooking so they now enjoy serving dinner to their customers on the terrace of Le Presbytère on warm summer evenings. Martin runs occasional cookery courses in Le Presbytère and Síle’s brother Colm does week long Nature Strolls discovering the Flora and Fauna of the Languedoc.
Le Presbytère can be seen at:;


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