Chef Aisling Stone

Chef Aisling Stone imparts her considerable knowledge of cooking and presentation this week.

I’m originally from Arigna but my parents moved to London when I was four years old. We moved back wheDSC_0621n I was twelve and when I was twenty I moved to Spain where I lived for seven years and met my husband, Peter. In 2008 we decided to move back to Galway so that I could study to be a professional chef at GMIT. Peter and I moved to Leitrim in 2012 and have found the warmth of the people to override the rain. After working in Lisloughrey Lodge, Kilronan Castle, the Coach House and the Oarsman I decided it was time to strike out on my own. I now run a food trailer at the farmer’s market at the Bee Park in Manorhamilton and the Grass Roof cafe at the Organic Centre.

What gets you out of bed in the morning, what inspires you? 

I have ADHD and chefing has turned that around for me; I put all my thoughts and energy into what I’m going to cook this week, and the next week, and the next… my last head chef, Seamus Thompson, said that being a chef is not a choice, it is a calling and I can’t describe that any better. I get an idea in my head and I can’t WAIT to get up and put it to work. Sometimes, like this week when I have put sweetbreads on the menu, I know there might only be one or two people who will appreciate my idea but that one or two will make my day.

What was the first thing you cooked and what age were you?

From the age of four when my parents moved I spent most of the day being minded by “Cookie”, an old London lady with many stories of the war who could make a feast out of anything. I remember watching a children’s programme about pints of cockles at the beach and Cookie sent me down Streatham high street to the deli to get some and we cooked them in vinegar. I made the ladies in the deli laugh- what a weird kid!

Do you refer to cookbooks or chefs memoirs?

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks. If they even contain one decent recipe they are worth their weight for me. I have a great one from the seventies from members of the WI which has ideas on long forgotten dishes, I love Elisabeth David’s almost novel like books that make you want to go shopping, Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen which is in comic book style, Magnus Nilsson’s Faviken which I couldn’t put down and kept me awake thinking of how his philosophy could be applied to Irish cuisine. But my favourite is Eleven Madison Park which nearly brought me to tears with the beauty of Daniel Humm’s dishes. There is also a very useful section in the back with recipes for gels, sorbets, butters and purees which I refer to constantly. You don’t have to follow recipes in books exactly as long as you understand the ingredients and cooking processes; you can make them your own.

Your menu at The Grass Roof is very cutting edge and yet comforting, tell us a bit about how you draft up your weekly menus?cafe

My menus are normally pretty much worked out a week or two in advance. I look at the weather, current affairs, seasonality and event the general mood of the population and try to orchestrate something relevant. I have some very odd dishes but also include some plain food cooked well using great ingredients. I also love to include products from local suppliers such as Chef Sham’s Sauces, Bluebell Farm organic jams, Jordan’s Atlantic sea salt, Sean McMorrow’s burgers and locally sourced vegetables from our own land, Reggie’s Veggies and of course the Organic Centre.

How involved are you in the Slow Food movement?

I’m the leader of Slow Food North West and so far I’m the only working member of the convivium! I started the group because I could see that we in Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal have so many exciting food producers, farmers and tourism businesses that I thought we should all have an opportunity to promote ourselves and network with each other. We have had some great events and there will be a big one coming up in August or September- a cruise on Lough Gill with an island forage. Keep an eye on the website and the facebook page for updates.

You grow and utilise a lot of your own food at The Grass Roof and for the van. How much time a week do you think you spend from garden to plate at your chosen field of work?

Actually my husband does the gardening as I have black fingers of death. We only have two acres and most of that is occupies by sheep, chickens and, occasionally, pigs. We have a polytunnel, a greenhouse and some newly prepared outside beds, as well as some forest area where we have planted wild garlic and a few edible weeds. Even with such a small area it is a huge amount of work and gardeners have my utmost gardenrespect.

Is it worth it?

There are times when you get knocked down; everyone has an opinion and sometimes they don’t see the bigger picture but on the whole it’s great to see people pointing and talking about the food on their table. I like to think that I can offer them at least an experience that they won’t have had anywhere else. It is very hard work but so is stacking shelves in a warehouse, at least I am lucky enough to do something that I’m passionate about.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or Coffee shop?

My absolute favourite is Kai in Galway. The last time I ate there was a couple of weeks before I started in the Grass Roof cafe and it totally changed my thinking on what I was going to do there. Closer to home I love Miso in Sligo and Cafe An Bia Slainte in Manorhamilton. I’m also super excited to see what Ethna Reynolds will do at her new place opening in Collooney next week, Nook.

What are your five essential larder items and who makes/supplies them?

First and foremost James Jordan’s amazing sea salt from Donegal, the peat smoked one in
particular which I hope to nominate for the Ark of Taste at the Slow Food Terra Madre celebrations this September in Turin. The White Hag brewing company in Ballymote produce beers that I think reflect exactly my food; Joe Kearns makes sour ale which pairs with fish, dark, treacly stout for braising beef and smoked ale for pork. Never before have I tried a beer and immediately the little hamster in my head hops up on his wheel and starts running for his life. Wild garlic is in season at the moment for a very short time and it’s such a pleasure to harvest it on the very day that it will be served to my customers. Hans and Gaby Wieland taught me how to make kombucha and I’m having a lot of fun fermenting things with it. It’s a probiotic that works with liquids to basically make them fizzy and awesome. Lately Tina Pommer has been foraging for me and providing fantastic local roots and plants for me to use at the cafe such as wild pea, goose grass, watercress and willow herb. What a wonderful opportunity to create dishes relevant only to this place and time right now.

Talk us through a typical working week for chef Aisling Stone.

It’s not really that exciting! Monday is spent in recovery from the 2016-01-26 18.59.22weekend- normally I can’t even remember my own name… Tuesday is shopping in Sligo and menu planning,
Wednesday I write up the menu and prepare ice creams, sorbets and sauces, Thursday I’m in Carrick buying vegetables from Reggie McNulty and visiting my friends in the Oarsman (my old bosses are so very kind to advise me on business), Friday I’m at Manorhamilton farmer’s market and finalising prep for the weekend and early Saturday morning until Sunday evening it’s up and at ’em, full speed ahead and all guns blazing at the Grass Roof cafe.

Slow Food North West

Ceramic Artist Peter Fulop

DSC03294-HDRWhat inspires your creativity? 

Work born out of the desire to materialize my contemplations, my inner visions through a creative process. My teacher, Professor Koie Ryoji approach to his practice and philosophy of Gutai and Sōdeisha postwar art movements of Japan inform my visual language.

Why, as an artist did you decide to focus specifically with clay, what drew you to the material?

As a child I was already gathering clay by the riverside and made sculptural pieces which I fired in our wood-burning stove. Later on I began to work as a painter but kept the clay for three dimensional  works. As young artist I went to work in a ceramic designer lab where I got a deeper insight into the process especially the alchemy side, which made me to commit myself to clay. Clay is very accessible and friendly and allows me to work in a rapid, action way of making.

Which artists or schools of practice do you admire and why?

Abstract Expressionist of the New York School, the avant-garde movements of Japan and my recent interest in the Bauhaus School with the work of artist Laszlo Moholy Nagy. To highlight some of the individual artists who greatly influence my way of thinking includes Noguchi, Takesada Matsutani,  Jun Kaneko and Cy Twombly, Kazuo Yagi.

Your latest exhibition ‘NOBU’ was inspired by the Japanese Zen tradition. How exactly was the work informed by this and does it continue to influence your work?

The philosophical linage of my teacher and contemporaries has a deep root in zen philosophy. Through my practice I examine Impermanence,  expresses the notion that all of conditioned existence in a constant state of flux, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of birth and rebirth and in any experience of loss.

You have travelled and exhibited work on an international platform. How has the experience of living and working with different cultures affected both you and your work?peterfulop_02

Certainly, meeting artists from other cultures, having the challenge to work in a new studio in a new country and engaging with the local community widening your approach on every level. Unfamiliar becomes familiar, familiar becomes unfamiliar making you to challenge your views, art practice and take your work further. Meeting colleges and making friends in different part of the world makes your Leitrim existence a cosmopolitan experience.

How do you prepare for an exhibition? do you take notes, sketches and plan ahead or is the process a more organic one?

Mostly I work with the space creating a body of work site specifically. I observe and especially when I am in a different culture I immerse myself into the surrounding atmosphere. Concept rise from these walkabouts and impressions of space, using the flow of energy I create work directly without sketches. Sometimes when I work on a large scale installation I use a master sketch to keep me informed all the way through the project, but the rest is improvisation.

Do you think artists are treated well in Ireland compared to in other countries? 

Comparing to all the countries I have visited during my residencies, Ireland has a huge amount of support for artists, on many levels and from many avenues. I feel very fortunate as without these supports I would not have travelled and exhibited nationally and internationally. In the recent years it become difficult to sell works or even to regularly exhibit resulting to look for new ways and new avenues.

peterfulop_04What are your thoughts on ‘the memory of clay’?

Clay is earth,  containing memories of millions of years as part of the circulation of life and death.

Do you agree with the idea of taking a holiday or time-out from creative practice?

Yes I do, disconnecting and keeping a distance helps to revaluate and recharge.

Talk us through a typical working day for Ceramic Artist Peter Fulop?

I hardly have a typical day, it depending on the project. I have intensive working periods when I work on a project. I work long hours when I have a good flow and take a break when the clay just not open for collaboration. It is a fact, we discuss this among ceramic artists that it is better to keep a distance when the clay is not in the mood.

Patrick Deeley Inaugural Winner of Dermot Healy Poetry Award

Patrick DeeleyTell us a little about yourself, Patrick

 I was born in the Callows of rural East Galway but have lived for many years in Dublin.  ‘Groundswell: New and Selected Poems’ is the latest of my six collections with Dedalus Press.  My books for young people include ‘The Lost Orchard’, published by O’Brien Press.  My most recent book is a memoir, ‘The Hurley Maker’s Son’, published in Ireland and the UK by Transworld.

‘The Hurley Maker’s Son’ is receiving excellent reviews.  How important is review and acknowledgement to you as a poet?

 Well, very important, of course.  Writing is hard work.  The biggest thrill for me is writing something that feels as if it’s caught what I wanted to say and brought a certain ‘magic’ to it.  The reward after is for others to read my work, and when a reviewer gets to the heart of what I’ve written it’s a validation.

What journey led you to becoming a poet?

That’s a journey best described in the memoir.  I was a dreamer as a child, awkward around the many machines my father used as a sawmiller, joiner and hurley maker.  Images ‘happened’ to me from the beginning, a heightened, cinematic take on the world.  The wetlands near home – thin-skinned, dangerous, primal – brought me face-to-face with nature and I exulted in that.  But still there was the language of timber and machines used in the carpentry shop which I slowly fell for, and the practicalities of life requiring to be attended to as I grew older, and the graft that I came to see as necessary in order to learn the craft of poem-making.

What was the first poem you published and in what publication did it appear? Did you celebrate?THMS1 (10)

My first three poems were published by David Marcus in New Irish Writing in The Irish Press in January 1978.  He was very supportive and published over thirty of my early poems in the space of a few years.  I pinned the first ones on the wall of my bedsit, and the landlord kicked up as he said the poems were causing the plasterwork to crumble.  Yes, I celebrated with a few pints, and I had a laugh at the good of what he said.

What poet/poets do you return to over and over?

Keats, Theodore Roethke, Padraic Fallon, Edna St. Vincent Millay.  So many of the old ones.  And, among contemporary poets, Derek Mahon, Macdara Woods, Padraig Rooney – numerous others for particular poems that strike me as truly achieved.

How do you approach your practice, are you consistent and disciplined, do you ever get writers block?

I’m not disciplined in terms of devoting time every day to writing.  But once I become hooked on an idea or image, I could spend all night working at the poem.  Previously I had a busy job as administrative principal of a primary school and this took up most of my time.  Writer’s block doesn’t arise – or so I tell myself.  I gather experiences and the poems come out of these.

Do you have a favourite place to write? (It could be a country, a room, chair…) and are you superstitious? (favourite pen/ brand of notebook)

No to both questions.

Has your writing ever surprised you, does it have a life of its own?

Yes, if writing is any good it has to surprise its author as much as the next person.  Hopefully it does have a life of its own – at least when I look back at my best work, I wonder how it came to be written by me.  But, in the long term, I’ll have to wait and see, not that the possibility of literary immortality would ever cost me a thought.

In what way has teaching informed your work as a poet?

When I started as a teacher I encouraged the children to make poems out of their own experience and to use their own colloquial expression – that was in Ballyfermot, a place rich in music and lore – and then I decided to keep the idiomatic language of my neighbours in East Galway towards the forefront of my own poems, though inevitably other influences have coloured and tempered this with the passing years.

How important is the publisher/poet relationship?

Each has to trust and believe in the other.

Talk us through a typical working day for poet Patrick Deeley.

I work mostly in the evenings or late into the night.  Lately, since the publication of the memoir and the fact that people seem enthused about it, I do what seem to be more conventionally ‘writerly’ things – draft articles, attend interviews, travel on promotional work.  I get up early most mornings, go for a long walk beside the River Dodder, visit my wife Judy in her art studio, cook meals, attend hurling matches, read books, listen to music, meet my friends or talk to them on the phone.  Any or all of these experiences can trigger a poem.  I become immersed in writing for several months on a specific book, and when it’s done I take a break.


Extract from ‘The Hurley Maker’s Son’, a memoir by Patrick Deeley

 ‘Will you go to Owenie’s and get me a few messages?’ my mother asked. ‘You can buy sweets yourself if you want.’

This was the most familiar road of my childhood – to and from school, to and from herding the cattle in Mullagh Beg, to and from hurling practice in the big field beyond Mullagh Cross. But now night was falling as I headed out, a reluctant eleven-year-old, to buy the ‘red packet’ tea – Rajabaree – my mother had requested, and the ten Gold Flake cigarettes that would last my father for a week and a half.

Things sounded louder in the dark. The breeze sighed and relented. A sudden little thrash – a bird or a mouse or a rat – stilled me for a moment, then again my footsteps echoed on tarmacadam and I heard the steady whisper of my pulse behind my ears.

Bushes and briars clung to either ditch. Primroses, golden-hearted in their radiance, seemed to shine ever more intensely as the darkness thickened. I had a sense of something strange about to happen, but on my night-walks this feeling invariably accompanied me. I could put names to all the farmhouse lights, steady and scattered in the blacked-out distance. The smells of the teacher’s pansies and tulips wafted up over her wall and her big, rust-coloured sheepdog barked. A recently installed porch-lamp bloomed whitely across the fields as I reached the height beyond the hairpin bend. There stood the Master’s house, its prize apples ripening behind a high thicket.

I came to the church and caught the faint gleam of its stained-glass windows and the pale outline of the Celtic cross that dominated the smaller monuments in the priests’ graveyard. A bat zinged past my ear, unnerving me slightly. An old woman whom I didn’t recognise emerged through the heavy oak door, gathered her bicycle where it leaned against the church wall, stepped daintily onto a pedal and eased away downhill without saying a word.

My mother had given me a five-naggin bottle for refilling with holy water but I didn’t want to be caught dead carrying it into Owenie’s. I plonked it behind the font in the church porch and headed out again. Everything held a memory. There was the ridge of tar against which I bumped my big toe in barefoot weather, and twisting above it the elderberry bush whose bitter juice purpled my lips in autumn. Beyond a rusty gate the meadow where I’d dived to catch a grasshopper and come up with a pocket watch stretched away towards the furze bushes under whose thorns I burned my mouth while smoking a crooked pipe. Across the road from the church the beech trees seemed to whisper about the windfall burrs and cupules I’d sifted through for nuts that might still be edible. Nearby, on a concrete pedestal with steps leading up to it, the pump that slaked my thirst on warm evenings after school pretended it was a dinosaur, its spout the small head and its handle the long tail not quite touching the ground.

Just as I passed the hollow where a girl lifted her dress and said she would show me hers if I would show her mine, the cables above me started their thin piping. Owenie’s grocery shop with the petrol pump and the blue and yellow Maxol sign held high on a dinged pole and the wide clean gable window came into view. I nodded at the bags of flour and the trays of chocolates and the Fizz Bombs and the Black Maria liquorices and the shelves of boxes and the bacon slicer and the array of foodstuffs in tins and the smell of fresh bread, and Owenie massaged his broad brow and said God but you’re out late, what can I get you?

He handed me the tea and the packet of Gold Flake and then took a big, square-faced bull’s-eye jar and twisted off its lid. He fluffed a brown paper bag open with his fingers and placed it on the Avery weighing scale with the numerous demarcations and the super-sensitive needle. His elbow jerked as he dug the scoop into the jar and chucked the bull’s-eyes into the bag. He studied the needle, nudged a few extra bull’s-eyes in and spun the bag closed using both hands. ‘That’s it now,’ he said.

I picked the bag up by one dog-ear, paid him and left.

The night felt colder suddenly and I remembered how Ena and Simon saw a white mist rising with a whoosh above the bushes and came home pale and frightened. I broke into a gallop and told myself it was just for the heck of it. Past the Maxol sign I ran, past the level field where the showbands played in the six-pole marquee, past the water pump, past the church before I realised my mistake and turned reluctantly back.

The oak-panelled door was hard to push open. I fumbled for my mother’s bottle and delved it into the holy water font where it filled with a bubbling noise. I looked through the porch glass, towards the long central aisle, the small red sanctuary lamp flickering as though about to drown, the greyish marble altar encircled by the communicants’ rail. A strange feeling gripped me and I peered in more closely, all but pressing my nose to the glass. A black shape appeared to be standing on the altar. I gaped, my whole body tingling now. Could it be Georgie the beggar up to his mischief for he was well known to sleep some nights in the organ-loft? But Georgie was stooped and shrunk where this figure stood tall and imposing. Suddenly the figure raised its arms – seeming to open as it did so a crinkled and convoluted fan of webbing – and lifted off the altar and glided headlong towards me down the empty, dim-lit nave. I scampered from the porch, leaving the bottle dunked in the font, and fled homeward scarcely noticing that the night had begun to spit rain.

‘Don’t you know well it’s your imagination,’ my mother said, handing me a sympathetic drink of hot chocolate after I tumbled out the story to her. ‘The church is a sacred place and nothing bad would ever happen to a person there.’

‘I saw it.’

‘You imagined it.’

There was no talking to her. But now when I look back along the most familiar road, I wonder if I imagined not just the incident in the church but everything down to the gallery of our faces, the little world that was matter-of-fact in each farmhouse out on its own with the door unlocked and no need to knock when you happened to call. I look back and see how my whole life amounts to a dream, but, for all that, I still mourn the loss of the beautiful, fiercely ‘real’ hallucinations that entranced me in early childhood.

‘You just imagined it all,’ my mother said, reasonable as could be, but in that kitchen on that particular night and for several nights afterwards I feared the dark figure and prayed with desperate fervour to be spared his reappearance.

Mrs Heagney visited on my twelfth birthday and handed me a slim, velvety box. Inside there was a fountain pen, navy-blue with a golden nib and a golden lever.

‘It’s too good to use,’ I told her.

‘You’ll get used to it,’ she said with a brusque tinkle in her voice and I caught the soft, earnest look behind the shimmer of her glasses as she showed me how to unscrew the pen at the middle to reveal the ink gut. This set me thinking of the long black insect that lived under a stone in the Callows and I told her as much.

‘Oh, indeed,’ she replied. ‘I didn’t forget to bring the jar of ink.’

We twiddled the pieces back together and worked the lever so the pen filled with a croaking sound. I found a scrap of paper and put down the insect’s name – devil’s coach-horse – and it felt as if I had tapped into something that called a halt, offered a stay, something that was meant for me.




Jo Lewis from Inspirational Homes

inspirational homesHow did you start with the green door?

The idea from that came from renovating our cottage here 20 years ago. It took 7 years to get our house to the stage where we could live in it comfortably.  Such a huge amount of work was involved and we found, because we were new to the area, we didn’t necessarily know the best places to go for everything.  At the end of the process, I thought ‘gosh we’ve got so much information about sustainable building now that we could share this with everybody, it seemed like the most sensible thing to do.  I thought it would be great to have a website where people could put up any information they might have, a web site that is for those who are local, and one that’s localised.  For example straw bale building in America is a totally different experience to building with straw here, you have totally different weather conditions and different environments so it was important to make the website a local one that specialised in the North West of Ireland.  With that in mind, I approached Leader and they funded the necessary research.  I spent the summer of 2010 driving around Leitrim finding people who had homes that had any kind of eco status to them.  It was fascinating.  Anybody who was trying to build or renovate or live in a sustainable way was part of the world I went to visit.  I took photographs of what they were doing, wrote down notes and diagrams, and went back to edit at home.

 Was there an abundance of it?

Yes there were loads of interesting builds out there.  I visited forty homes, I couldn’t believe it.  A real nerve was tapped, a real source of energy, sustainable energy. for crona You’d go and see one person and they would say ‘Oh you must visit this other person down the road, they’re doing something similar in a different way’ so you would discover a variety of ways of building and making on different budgets, with different priorities. Some people might want a new sustainable build, but small and affordable and other people might have an old building they really want to hang on to for historical reasons and I’d document their struggle in how they managed to do that.  Some people are living off grid and others are living without septic tanks so it’s all very interesting.  All of this went on the website and it was launched organically really. Then I thought wouldn’t it be great to have an open house event. There had been one in London and in Dublin but there hadn’t been a rural equivalent. I asked the home owners if they would be interested in an open home event and I didn’t think that many would want to say yes, but they all said yes, every single one of them.  I had no idea just how popular it was going to be!

So I thought this is so generous. I went back to Leader and received some more funding.  Because we all live remotely, we like company when we have it.  So the home owners threw open their doors and the people came in their droves for the first Green Door in 2011.  It was so hugely popular, everybody had visitors and the feedback was really positive especially from the home owners.  You struggle to build or renovate to create something unusual and it might be successful or not, but you’ve got nobody to tell about your journey so when somebody interested actually comes around and says ‘That’s Fantastic’, if you have ten people coming through the door telling you that If you have fifty people telling you that, by the end of the day it’s a great feeling.   People being happy to share information that was the key to the success of the event.  The home owners all said how surprised they were that people were genuinely interested in particular things, about the heating, about the insulation suppliers and that kind of thing.  People were writing down advice, some people sat for hours in other people’s kitchens and just chatted.  So we really tapped into something there I think.  The home owners had put their sweat and blood into these builds to create a sustainable long-lasting home that was created or renovated with respect and friendship for the environment and this dedication really resonated with the visitors.  It’s all about seeing into the future and knowing that in the long run you’ll get payback.

mike and joWhat parts of renovating your own property were the most surprising, difficult or challenging?

Saving the old house.  If someone else had something similar, they’d probably have said, ‘just knock it down and lets start afresh, it would be cheaper and easier’.  It wasn’t in too bad of a shape, it’s a traditional three roomed cottage, several hundred years old, built straight onto the clay, no foundations. The walls were built well but at the top they were all getting crumbly, they were full of infill, rubbly stuff at the top so we had to put a lot of work into straightening the top of the walls, tying them together. A framework had to go around the tops of the walls and we used lime and sand mortar to fill it in to make it solid, and the straw bale extension with render on both sides fitted into that framework.  Then the roof went on top of that.  It has a lovely feel to it, it’s a curved room so it’s worth the challenges it brought us.  In America there are straw bale houses that are over a hundred years old so as long as the property is managed well a straw bale home should last forever.

Why Straw Bale?

Well when we were still in England working in the restaurant, Mike did a lot of research on the various methods of building and restoring in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. He took a course in straw bale building and when we moved to Ireland we drew up our plans and took them to local architect Colin Bell. He worked on drawings for the site for us from which Mike could build following his instructions. Colin is great at tying with self-builders, he works very well with them.  He offers and gives a lot of support and encouragement.  We brought in local craftspeople who were amazing in helping to build the staircase for example.

Tell us about your Supper Club, the menus are tantalising.

Three years ago Mike came up with the idea of trying a Supper Club.  We thought we’d do one and see how it went so we sold out for that one night.  Then we thought we’ll do it again and this time we did it two nights in a row, because we have to change the whole layout of the house, the living room becomes a dining room.  There are twenty five each night so our house becomes a restaurant for those weekends.  It’s just the two of us but we work well together. We worked together in professional kitchens for years so it’s good fun. I love the hosting end of things, the meeting and greeting.  Mike does most of the cooking (apart from the desserts which I prepare), it gives him his outlet without having to open a restaurant.

Inspirational Homes exists because of the huge creative sector living in this part of Ireland. They came to this area because housing was affordable and the landscape pristine, wild and beautiful.  Green Door and Inspirational Homes exists because those creative types who came to live here were and are passionate about sustainable living, eco considerate building and restoring, locally sourced materials and employing and collaborating with skilled craftspeople. It continues to grow and gain a following because of this demographic, which is unique in Ireland.  When the Organic Centre became established in 1995 it drew more like minded people to this area, then the Sculpture Centre became established which drew even more again so more creative people wanted to settle here.  Then The Glens Centre attracted artists involved in performance, music and writing.  The Bee Park works directly with these people and liaises with the arts centre to create a good environment for everyone living here.  It’s a great place!

Inspirational Homes
Networking for future-proof homes    

Green-Door Weekends

Festival of Rural Architecture and Design


Steve Farrell from Benwiskin Brewery

benwiskin barley flip

Who what where inspires you?

I’m very weather dependent so I find a good sunny day is the most inspiring thing for me

How did you get into brewing?

While studying and working in New Zealand. I studied oenology there and worked at the wonderful boutique winery Moana Park before gaining further experience as chief winemaker for Sanchez Muliterno and Hermanos del villar in Spain. With a young child about to begin school, coming home to Ireland felt like the most logical thing to do, I decided to change tack and become a brewer and started trying out different ideas using my winemaking background to inform the process.  There Is a lot of satisfaction creating new brews it is also exceptionally relaxing and zen like, very few things get me going like creating a brew. You are actually creating a living entity.

How has the locality of the North West of Ireland influenced your approach to product creativity?

This neck of the woods has soul, the quality of produce from organic foods to the best beef and lamb in Ireland is all grown here. Glencar water has been rated the fifth purest in the world.  Everything about here should and does influence you, it’s a beautiful place a place full of nooks and crannies, a wild place full of myth and mystery.

How does New World wine making differ to Old World, do you have a preference?

They are getting closer to each other, countries like New Zealand and Australia were instrumental in bringing scientific techniques to the making of wine while the Old world wineries were very dependent on Terroir. Quantity was the mantra for wine making for a long while during the 1980’s, but since the mid ‘90s old world methods were combined with the New World approach of sophisticated lab work in winemaking to ensure that the ripened fruit is showcased and prepared in the best way possible resulting in better and better quality at all ends of the price spectrum.

Rossinver Blonde5How long did it take to come up with the recipes for Clooneen Red and Rossinver Blonde?

It seemed to take for ever but through trial and error I think we came up with the right balance. Trialling it out on the good folk of Manorhamilton was key and I think we have a very Manorhamiltonian style of beer now what with the quality of water we have here and key advice from the locals (although slurred after many trials).  The Clooneen is what I would consider a decent blend of both Irish Red and English Pale Ale styles while not being as bitter as American Pale Ale styles.  Rossinver is a Blonde Ale which is milder in style and ideal for summer drinking with its fresh citrusy notes.

Any new products in the pipeline?

There are always new ideas in the pipeline and I have a book full of brews that need to be trialled.  The prime aim is to get the brewery going here in Manorhamilton and when that is up and running we can experiment with small batches

Which breweries do you admire and enjoy tasting?

I like them all, I think a lot of the beers in Ireland are very exciting and you can almost taste the enthusiasm.  The breweries closest to us such as Carrig, White Hag, Donegal Brewing and Black Donkey all have their own unique styles and are truly well worth trying out.

Did the giant of all breweries Guinness have any influence over your craft?

If you mean from the time I lived in Dublin, possibly, you cant ignore Guinness especially when you live in an apartment block called ‘The Maltings’ right next door and I used to walk past the old derelict storehouses with barley growing out of the cracks in the walls in still, however that would be that.  I am working on a stout at the moment called ‘Ballagh Black’ which will be a much more intense version of stout than the normal Guinness drinker would be used to.

How does brewing differ from winemaking?

Quite different, the only similarity is fermentation.  Winemaking is very dependent on timing when fruit is ripe, what the quality of fruit is like and patience is necessary whereas with Brewing you can start any time although again ingredients and patience are crucial.  Fruit for winemaking has got to be harvested early in the morning before the sun has risen in order to keep the temperature of the berries down as bringing down the temperature of your juice is quite an expenditure in wineries.  In Brewing it is quite the opposite as we need heat for both the mashing of the grains and the boiling steps and this can be the majority of expenditure in breweries.  Fermentation in red wine making and brewing take about the same amount of time but white wine fermentation can take up to 3 weeks.

Any advice for aspiring brewers?

Just do it.  Get an all grain kit and treat it as fun, it’s not as difficult as it may seem and the end result is a product you will enjoy if not only for yourself.  It’s a great thing to do and truly soul satisfying. Sláinte


Interiors Designer Gráinne McGarty


mcgarty design roc group interior


Tell us  a little about yourself.

A Dub who spent many summers in the countryside with a keen interest in drawing and looking at wild flowers.

What fires your imagination, what things take your breath away?

At the moment North Leitrim takes my breadth away. Nature re-emerging with it’s smells and sounds. I like to photograph my surrounding and old buildings, taking note of interesting textures that could be applied to an interior space. Visiting art galleries and museums are constant source of inspiration.

How did you get into design, was it something you always wanted to pursue? 

Theatre and Set Design was my initial focus and the course was Environmental / Spatial design. Design is a very varied area but I specialised in Interior architecture whilst also studying Furniture, Set design, Exhibition design and Fabric printing. I loved the different stages of interior architecture and trying to grasp the technical drawing aspect to it, and model making which I came to love. The fabric printing element was exciting too, starting with sketches and bringing that image to fabric using screen printing.

What is your favourite part of the design process?

All of it, with the exception of the sometimes tight schedules ! I enjoy meeting clients, whether they be shop owners or business owners/ managers. So many can be very passionate about their businesses and their field. Observing how they currently use a space and how we can work together to improve it. I find it fascinating how the small details of a clients daily routines can inform a design. After this I love the development of ideas, sketching, forming the technical drawings to ensure it all works from a spatial point of view. I still get a real kick from being on site and the smell of fresh plaster !

 In what way does interior design differ from architectural design?

Interior Design /Architecture is really the remodelling of an existing space where architecture in the main is creating new buildings. The projects can vary from designing an office starting with an empty shell with no walls, or working with an existing space. Interior environments are very dependant on the materials used to create a particular atmosphere in tandem with lighting which is also critical. The flow of movement within a space is the key to it’s success. Increasingly, as we spend more time indoors in our work environments it becomes important to analyse the relationships workers have and the interplay of functions within the spaces.

Which designers do you admire?

Many designers have inspired me over the years. Finnish architect Alvar Aalto is one who gave consideration to all elements within a space. I spent time in Finland and visited some of Aalto’s building’s and it has stayed with me. His attention to detail from lighting design to the handle one touches entering a building produced a people focused design approach. Another was Zaha Hadid who died suddenly just a few weeks ago was an architect of incredible vision, and her hand drawings with unbelievable. Another is Eileen Gray, who is now receiving well deserved recognition for her contribution to architecture and design.

Any design form you dislike or think is bad design?

Lighting Design is an area lacking in many interior spaces I feel. In many cases, particularly residential design, the rooms of the house are placed incorrectly in terms of orientation. It is important to maximise natural light during the day. Artificial light can dramatically alter ones mood within a space, and the correct colour temperature of lamps is key. I have worked on several healthcare projects recently and found this to be an area that was lacking. Colour is also an area which very often receives little attention in interior schemes and can be highly influential to our mood and use of the space.

What cities are your favourites from a design/ architectural perspective?

Berlin and the Potsdamer Platz which is a collection of buildings by different architects creating a new quarter, with wonderfully exciting spaces. Another city I love is Venice where the layout has informed the way the city is used. Having to walk around with no cars and the related noise and pollution creates a special atmosphere and wonderful public spaces.

How does Ireland rate in this perspective and in particular, rural towns?

Irish Architecture is in a good place with lots of interesting work carried out over the last 20 years. I suppose it needs to filter down to smaller towns. A Town Architect has proven to be a huge asset to towns such as  Westport. A master plan with a vision for the town, focuses the energies of community groups and business owners. Also a design template with regard to design guidelines for shop exteriors and signage is a helpful tool for a small town to ensure future development adheres to the overall plan. Cork County Council produced an interesting document 15 years ago specifically related to housing and is an interesting guide to planning new housing. 

Is there any Irish building/Street or town you would love to re-design or alter in some way?

One that comes to mind immediately is the main street of Sligo which I would pedestrianize and populate with trees, shrubs and flowers. Seating could then be brought out onto the street for cafes and informal gatherings,creating spaces to linger.

Talk us through the design process from initial consultation to seeing your vision in 3D.

I meet a client and view the office, shop, hotel etc and walk through the space getting a sense of problem areas. I then establish a design brief where client’s requirements are listed. From here I develop a concept scheme with sketches and then onto a design scheme and at this stage there are several meetings to establish the definitive layout. Three Dimensional Visuals are an important part of the presentation method either hand drawn or computer generated. A technical drawing package follows to tender the project and appoint contractor or trades people as appropriate. Finally building work commences, with site visits and visits to joinery work shops and other suppliers. Very often projects are rolled out over several years so it’s important to have a strong vision for the project at the start.

This week we feature Poet Monica Corish

Poet Monica Corish discusses, among other things, her extraordinary new book ‘A Dying Language’, which will be published by the Irish Hospice Foundation Press. Poems from the collection have won the North West Words Poetry Prize and been shortlisted or commended for a number of awards, including the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine. They have been published widely in Ireland and the UK, including in Poetry Ireland Review.

Monica Corish

Tell us a little about yourself.

I started out studying science. After graduating from college I travelled in Africa. Later I trained as a nurse and worked in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Angola. In 2005, the same year that I moved from Dublin to Kinlough, I developed chronic cervical and lumbar disc injuries and had to give up nursing and working overseas. Now I am a full-time writer and writing workshop leader.

You will be launching your new book ‘A Dying Language’ at this year’s festival. Can you explain the theme to us?  

In May 2011, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Because my sister and I are trained nurses, we, along with our siblings and extended family, were able to care for her at home until her death in November 2011. For six months I travelled every week by train from Sligo to Limerick, writing my way through those journeys, coming to terms with what was happening, making sense of the changes in my mother, the strains in our family, and my own reactions – the writing of the poems helped to contain my grief.

In the year following my mother’s death I realised that, although the poems are very particular to one death, one family, one set of relationships, they also have a universal quality. It has been suggested to me that the collection describes a particularly Irish way of death, and I can see how that might be true.

Was the process a difficult one, meaning was it actually difficult to craft the work, to mould it?

Writing the first drafts wasn’t difficult. During a harrowing season of my life, the writing – a kind of intensive, intentional journaling – gave me some ease. But crafting the first drafts towards completion was challenging – I knew it would be hard to be objective about this material. I was fortunate to receive generous funding from the Arts and Disability Forum to be mentored by the poet Gréagóir O’Dúill. Gréagóir and I worked intensively over a nine-month period, scrutinising each poem together, tempering, tightening, exploring where I was holding back, deciding what could be stripped away. It was a rigorous process that strengthened the collection and sharpened my editing skills. I’m deeply grateful for the experience.

Finding a publisher was also a challenge. Although I did well with individual poems, I could not find a poetry press that was willing to take on the full collection. (Doghouse, the press that published my first collection, closed its doors in 2014.) It might have been different if I was a better-known poet, with an established, dedicated readership. One publisher told me honestly that, while he found the work strong, he believed he would not find an audience for it. So I was delighted when the Irish Hospice Foundation Press agreed to publish the book. After all the waiting, I believe this may be the best possible outcome.

The process of caring for a dying parent is an intense one. How do you think it changes a person?

I think it depends entirely on the individual, her or his relationship with her parent, her relationship with illness and death, and the type of death the parent experiences. An unexpected or tormented death is a very different thing to a death that is expected, even embraced.

So I can only speak for myself: I felt very blessed to be able to care for both my mother and my father at home in their final months and days. (My father died in July 2013. His death was very different to my mother’s: less of a tragedy, more expected, even welcomed by him, after a chronic and debilitating illness of many years’ duration.) It wasn’t all easy by any means, but the residual tangles and snarls of our child-parent relationships burned away, and we came into an easy place together. Now that they’re gone I don’t feel “sticky” around them; I feel washed clean.

I suppose I’ve become more familiar with Death as well. There is a poem in the collection, “Give Me the Death I Need”, that begins with the lines:

I want to be able to hold death

tenderly, like a baby.

To say it’s only death, old friend,

old trouble…

I can’t say I have arrived there, but I’m closer to that stance than I was before I cared for my dying parents.

What poets do you admire and why?  Which writers inspired you to write?

I didn’t start writing until I was in my thirties. Soon afterwards, I came across Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s “Rogha Dánta”, translated by Michael Hartnett. It was a lightbulb moment for me, the realisation that a woman I identified with could be a poet – an Irish woman, writing about a life and a world that I recognised. Studying for the Leaving Cert, our poetry textbook was “Soundings”, and Emily Dickinson was the only woman poet in the book. While I loved her poems, Emily’s life was not one I could imagine for myself – too reclusive, too strange, too far away. Our English teacher, Miss Hyland, also introduced us to Sylvia Plath’s poetry. It was powerful, different to anything I’d heard before, but there was such tragedy there – this was definitely not a life-story I wanted to emulate. I love that Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill always seems to be enjoying herself, at play, even when her poems are sorrowful or fierce.

And now? It changes and shifts with time. The poets on my bedside table these days are Rumi, Carol Anne Duffy, Mary Oliver, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sinead Morrisey, Mark Doty… Why these poets and not others? Because something in me resonates to their words, but is also surprised and challenged, pointed in new directions; or perhaps for the same reason that I prefer apples to oranges. I also love a good anthology: anything out of Bloodaxe, or compiled by Niall McMonagle, is sure to be a delight, and a doorway into new poets.

When writing, do you have a particular approach? Is there a system attached to your professional day?

No. If I can – if I’m in a spacious period in my life – I will spend a few hours in bed in the morning, scribbling, reading, rubbing word-sticks together, hoping for fire. If a piece sparks I will work on it further, get it into the computer, bring it to my critique group, see how it develops over time, maybe send it out to a magazine or competition. But I’m not a systematic person – unless I have a deadline, in which case I can be fiercely systematic – so many pieces, both dross and potential gems, languish in the notebooks. At other times, when I’m busy doing my taxes, promoting workshops, worrying about money, everyday hassles, then the river of words can go underground. But I don’t fret any more – I know it will come back.

You are in relationship with another writer, Tom Sigafoos. Do you discuss or critique one another’s work?

We do – we are very fortunate. We are each other’s first, gentle, ideal reader, but we are also robust in our critiques of each other’s work. And we are both good at knowing when to completely ignore the others critique!

You are very much involved in community work. Describe how you approach giving a lecture of a course on writing? Is it stressful or nurturing?

The method I use in my workshops is called the Amherst Method, developed by Pat Schneider and described in her book “Writing Alone and with Others”. It’s a tremendously nurturing way of working, not only for the workshop participants but also for the workshop leader. I write with the group, read my work, take the same risks they do. Occasionally there are stresses that grow out of group dynamics, but these are rare.

What I do find stressful is promoting my workshops. If I never had to engage with social media or digital marketing again, I would be a happy woman. However, needs must – writing workshops are my bread and butter. If I won the lotto I would still lead some workshops, but I would absolutely pay someone else to promote them.

How important is funding and recognition to a writer?

They have been immensely important to me. Funding buys me time to concentrate completely on writing, or on compiling a collection, and that is a pure delight. I feel very fortunate to live in Leitrim, where the Arts Office supports a valuable range of funding and other initiatives – it’s not like this in some other counties. As for recognition – whether it be in the form of awards, publication, or readers’ responses – it lets me know that I’m not just talking to myself. Also, success breeds success – one form of recognition opens the door to others; being published in a prestigious journal or winning a prize can greatly increase the chances of receiving a bursary; and contrariwise.

Talk us through a typical working week

There is no such thing.

In conversation with Painter Emma Stroude

I was raised in the North of England and studied in London at Chelsea School of Art and The Slade. After that I headed to Dublin where I lived for 6 years before falling in love with the North West and moving to Sligo in 2002.  Ireland’s history and Atlantic coastline influence the two diverse themes which run parallel in my practice. One stems from my interest in women’s role in Irish history resulting in an ever evolving series of charcoal portraits of key female figures. The other is born from my fascination with relationships between light, water and the landscape.

Emma Widows Studio Shot

How did you come to being a full time artist?   I reached a time in my life when it was ‘now or never’. My job had become all consuming and I knew that I had given it all that I had to offer. If I didn’t give myself the chance to become a full time artist I would have been left with the ‘what if?’ question for the rest of my life. It has been very difficult from a financial point of view but I have no regrets.

Talk us through a typical working week.   My ideal working week would be studio Monday to Thursday and on Fridays I facilitate Graphite & Easel life drawing sessions at The Model in Sligo. I find that weekly life drawing supports my studio practice immensely. But it’s rare that a week is as straight forward as that depending on upcoming exhibitions, applications, research, meetings etc. One week is rarely the same as the next…..but that makes for an interesting life!

What artists do you admire? 

I could give you a long list here……..

Kathe Kollwitz is a favourite for her sensitivity of line. She gets so much from so little.

Piet Mondrian’s trees are a fascination of mine. They’re so beautiful and you can see the abstraction coming long before it clearly manifests itself in his work.

Dégas, Vermeer and Caravaggio for light.

Paula Rego and Balthus for atmosphere and the suggestion of a story.

Jenny Saville for pushing the out the boundaries of work on the body.

Rothko for sheer emotion.

I think I’d better stop here.

Do you keep notebooks, have you a system when approaching your work and do you prefer solitary practice or group activities?    I do keep notebooks that contain mostly scribblings of words and ideas that I want to hold on to for my work rather than drawings. I find sketchbooks a bit limiting as I enjoy the more physical side of drawing and the pages never seem quite big enough.   I do prefer solitary practice in the studio. I like the quiet and the chance for clear thought. I went to Cill Rialaig on a residency just before Christmas and was completely blown away by the experience of being able to work solidly for a week without interruption. After a few days my mind felt emptied of the clutter and able to think and see clearly for the first time in a long time. I have recently however stepped outside of my comfort zone and worked on a collaborative project between Joe Hunt (projection designer), The Hyde Bridge Gallery in Sligo and myself called Spotlights and Shadows, part of Sligo’s 1916 Commemorations. I have to say this has been a brilliant experience and the results have surpassed my original expectations so I’m definitely open to working in this way again.

Kathleen On the Wall Spotlights & Shadows 2016The Portrait in all of its guises is a signature of your style.  Can you explore this for us, describe what you see.   Whether it be a person or a house or even a landscape, I do tend to draw/paint them as portraits. I guess I’m back to that search for a presence on the canvas. When I’m working on the women I imagine that they are already inside the canvas waiting to be found and it is my work to find them and reveal them rather than to put them on the surface myself. There is a definite moment when a presence emerges and a dialogue between me and the subject begins. Following that the struggle is in finding a state of resolve where both of us can exist independently of the other and I can walk away without feeling compelled to return and work some more.

 Do you have a favourite form of artistic medium? Is there one that you find particularly challenging?   I am addicted to oils when it comes to painting and find now that I cannot step outside of that, nothing else can give me what I am looking for in my work. When drawing, charcoal on a fine grain canvas is definitely my favourite. The canvas is robust enough to take vigorous work where paper cannot. I can use water, brushes, rags, anything that comes to hand for making the right mark and the canvas will stand up to it.

In this centenary year of 2016 you were drawn towards working on images of the ‘Women of the Rising’, tell us a bit about that, how did you approach your subjects? Was it a difficult process?  Making work on the Women of the Rising has been the result of an unusual chain of events and twists of fate. I had just left my full time job and was taking part in drawing sessions lead by Michael Wann at The Model to try and get back to my own practice as an artist. Originally my intention was to challenge myself to develop my skills in working figuratively and in portraiture as up until 2012 my work had been largely abstract. I was looking for an interesting face to draw and trawling the internet came upon a photograph of Maud Gonne. Her strong bone structure and defiant gaze appealed to me. I felt she was telling me to step up to the mark, to be fearless and courageous in my approach and that she would settle for nothing less. I drew her over and over again in an effort to find weight and substance in the drawings, searching for a presence on the page. The more I drew the more interested I became in who she was and I began to research her life, discovering that she was very fitting subject matter for the challenge I had set for myself, fearlessness and determination being values she held dear and ones I felt I needed to possess to carry out the work I had begun.

Sinéad McCoole, author of Easter Widows, saw my drawings on line and asked me to show them at her book launch in Sligo. Already interested now in the era and in Maud Gonne’s work as an activist, when I discovered the subject matter of the book I felt compelled to make portraits of the 7 women whom the book is about, whose husbands were all executed for their part in The Easter Rising of 1916. Maud Gonne was of course among them. Inspired by their stories and the remarkable lives they lead I have continued to research more women. The latest works are portraits of Margaret Skinneder, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Constance Markievicz.

Making portraits of women from the early 1900s is difficult as I am limited to using photography that can sometimes be of poor quality. I try to use the photographs as starting points and develop the drawing beyond the photograph, my ultimate aim is to reignite a presence on the canvas and to somehow do justice to the memory and the legacy of the person I am drawing.

Would you consider politics an important aspect in your work?   I don’t want to make a political statement with the work, rather my intention is to make work about women from a female perspective and present it to the viewer for their own consideration. Hopefully the work arouses curiosity in some of the more hidden personal stories of 1916 rather than the political ones.

How does family life affect your work? Does it inform your practice?   I don’t think it informs my practice but it definitely shapes it. We’re a one car family of five so after dropping the kids to school it’s straight to the studio for 9.30 until 2pm when I have to hit the road again. I like the routine of this though and I find the rhythm of it suits my practice. I try to keep practical work to my studio time and any admin type work at the laptop for the evenings.

The North West is a very fertile area for artists and creative alike. Was this a factor in your deciding to live here?   It wasn’t but I actually felt quite overwhelmed when I immersed myself in the art world of the North West 4 years ago and discovered such a dynamic community of artists willing to share information and eager to push each other forward as well as developing their own careers as artists. I’m hoping that I can pay forward some of the generosity shown to me in these early years of becoming a full time artist.

My studio is actually at the home of another Sligo artist, Lorna Watkins and although we work separately (she has her studio at The Model) we do bounce ideas off each other and use each other as sounding boards, a friendship and working relationship that I am truly grateful for.

Emma Stroude’s work relating to 1916 can currently be seen in ‘100’ at LUAN Gallery Athlone, ‘NWO’ at Leitrim Sculpture Centre and ‘Spotlights & Shadows’ at The Hyde Bridge Gallery Sligo (After dark). A solo exhibition of new work ‘Glow’ will begin at Hamilton Gallery, Sligo on May 5th. Please visit her website for more details –

Tamara Samson, Intuitive, Holistic Cook


Tamara lives and works in Ireland’s North West.  Cooking for her is a vocation which has involved many years of investigative travel during which she has discovered the authentic globe on which we precariously perch, through the cultural identity of food.  Her experiences are literally mouth-watering. Here, She talks Goat Stews and Cheeses, Chillies, Cherries, Coriander, Cumin and Crayfish.

South Africa, where I grew up is a very multicultural country. We have the second largest population of Indians outside of India, up on the east coast.  I’m from Cape Town where there is very large Malay population so our traditional food dishes really would be biryanis, boboties, samosas, curries, chutneys, pickles and things like that, then we have huge Italian, Greek, Portuguese communities in the Cape so I was exposed to different cuisines from a young age.  I had a lot of Italian and Greek friends so I was always eating different meals.  My mother would have made boboties and biryanis, it goes without saying it was just a part of the way we lived.  So from a young age I just loved food and the different cultures I was exposed to through it.

I grew up on the beach with the rocks on the coast just littered with mussels, we used to go mussel picking every weekend.  We all had a crayfish licence when I was little, we would go out in the boat at about four or five in the morning dropping the nets and we’d sit out at sea for an hour or so, my father would pull up the nets and he’d measure the tails so we never took anything too small and then we’d come home with fresh crayfish, fresh pearlemoen, (a type of abalone) and fresh mussels.  The Crayfish would be done on the braai, we’d make a salad with the legs and we’d make our own cocktail sauce with brandy, Worcestershire sauce, lemon, tomato sauce, mayonnaise and fresh herbs.  I remember my dad hammering the perlemoen with a mallet to tenderise it and that would be done with garlic on the pan for perlemoen Steaks.  So I’ve always loved food and had a pretty fun life, spent mostly down on the beach.

I left South Africa after school to go travelling for a year and never returned.  But any time I go home now I always mourn leaving, I’m always sad leaving, I love South Africa, it’s an incredible country. People there are very resilient, very passionate and passionate about their country so I do miss it.

I went first to the Canaries because I have an aunt that lives there, I speak Spanish it’s my second language. I spent six months there and then on to Israel for eight months where the food is just… well it blows your mind!  Just the freshness of the food, the Middle East and Asia are probably my favourite cuisines because of the freshness of the ingredients, the vibrancy, the colour, the variety, it’s just incredible I love it, light fresh food. The falafels and the salads are just to die for!

Then it just continued, in Japan I became obsessed with Sushi!, and then South America, wow! Another culinary experience.  Each place was so individual and so unique with what it had to offer. When I flew into Argentina I’d been a vegetarian for seven years and after about a month or so I just couldn’t …. I thought ‘when in Rome’! I thought to hell with it I’m just gonna start, so I had my first steak after seven years in Argentina and then again in Uruguay. Then onto Chile, Peru and Ecuador and the fish! the ceviche, the beautiful fish stews with coconut, so amazing!  In northern Argentina I ate a lot of goats stew, goats cheese and tiraz – these are little corn parcels where the corn is taken off the cob and made into a sort of stew, then wrapped back into the leaves and steamed.  I was in India for a few months and there, I literally abandoned the fork, abandoned the spoon and it was just straight in with my hands eating as they do, eating everything and anything, it was all delicious.

In Asia I lived on a beach – any time I went to Thailand I lived on a beach and again just fresh food, made to order on the streets of Bangkok, all the wonderful street food and you pay something like 20 – 50 baht which is like a dollar for this incredible meal and you’re so satisfied and the smells!

I was eight years in Galway on and off, I did a lot of my travelling from Galway where I’d work for six to eight months, go travelling for another six to eight months and come back.  I’ve been two and half years up in Leitrim. I could do with a bit more sunshine that’s for sure but I love it.  It’s the people, the people are what has kept me here I suppose.  I could live in any of those places that I’ve travelled to for the beauty of the country and the nature, but here it’s a combination of firstly being able to speak the language with the people and it’s important for me to have the same kind of cultural background, so for me the culture of Ireland is extremely important.  Across the world with globalisation they’re trying to homogenise culture, to water it down.  So that’s why I travel, I want to experience other cultures, other ways of life but at the end of the day, for me it’s important to be surrounded by people that are my own culture because that’s where the connections are made and the strongest connections I have ever made in my life are here in Ireland; the strongest!  So I’m staying! Maybe when my son is older and has left school I may seek out the sun again, but I’m here and I love it, I love it!

As I was telling you, when I started travelling I began to develop my palette and there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t try. But then I became very aware of social issues and I became very aware of the planet so it’s been in recent years that my whole awareness has changed with regards food. Where the product comes from has become a burning issue for me, how it is sourced, how the product has been grown, and the conditions of the workers, of the actual product itself.  I’m very passionate about chemical free food.  I have foraged here in Leitrim, for wild garlic, damson, nettles, the edible flowers, berries. I believe in eating off the land, eating what’s available wherever you live. It makes things more interesting, the food is of the mountains, of the shores and oceans and forests.

Something that really stands out for me from foraging now through my memory is…

I was living in Turkey for a while, we popped over to Bulgaria and were walking around Sophia meandering the backstreets when we saw this entrance with stairs going up and a young girl standing outside, she must have been ten or twelve. We asked what the place was and she explained that it was a restaurant, a family place where her parents and grandmother prepared the food.  So she brought us a menu and we didn’t know what to order as it was all in Bulgarian so she said come in come in, all very authentic, very ornate inside; quite dark.  She took us down into almost a cellar like area and just sat down, all this food came out on these beautiful decorated platters. There were salads, meats and soups, oh the soups! Then we got to the equivalent of rakí, a Turkish drink not unlike anise, it was such a wonderful experience, we met the granny, she came out afterwards to say hello. None of them spoke English but it didn’t matter. We spent all afternoon there, it was the real deal, like eating in someone’s house.  It was eating in someone’s house!

I remember another time, I landed up in a place in Fiji, it was like little India, not a palm tree in sight, not a beach in sight and I ended up in the bus drivers home. He said I could stay there for the weekend, so I went there and left after the following weekend! I met the whole family and of course the granny and learnt lots about food from them.  I ate jackfruit and whatever they were offering me. I just love it whenever people invite me into their homes, you get the authentic experience. That’s why I switched from being a vegetarian, I don’t like to refuse food, to refuse someone’s hospitality and warmth especially if I am in someone’s home.

At the moment it’s definitely more of an ethical journey for me.  I want to try and focus on making food my business – literally.  I’ll be doing a business course over the summer and I’m starting doing a course about the science of food.  I’d love to give cooking demos, I’d love to go into people’s homes and cook them their dinner parties. It all started in Galway, a group of us were getting together in a friend’s house and I said I’ll bring all the food. So I went down with all this wonderful food and they all raved about it, and then they asked if I would be willing to do a cooking demo.  There were 11 people and we had it in a beautiful house out in Barna.  The family organised two girls to come to the house to look after the kids from all five families and I just took over her kitchen and put on this amazing spread.  Claire wrote a fabulous review for me, I was delighted. Check out the review that was written about it here!  I would love to do more pop up supper clubs that type of things.  Spontaneity! Passion! I love how food brings people together, I get so much joy out of that, of sitting with my friends and eating together, there is nothing more I love to do other than eating with my friends and drinking wine.  The flavours! The tasting! The aromas!

I love pasta on a rainy day, as I said, we have a strong Italian community in south Africa and I remember my father saying to me when I was about eight I think ‘One day you will marry an Italian’, so I’m obviously living in the wrong country!

I remember in Spain spending a few days there, and one night just bar hopping, you can go from place to place to place and try the speciality pinchos two or three of them in each place, get a little drop of wine or a little drop of beer along the way and off you go to the next one and I remember we got the mushrooms, it was myself John and Jo, John ordered the mushrooms without checking the price and we got this little plate of mushrooms for 16 euro! They were meant to be so fabulous and they were fabulous but also fabulously expensive!  So when I travel, most of the journey is spent eating, that’s how you tap into the culture right into the essence of a nationality – the core.

In Ireland, I’m getting to know the local small producers that are providing local produce, amazing natural ingredients and I’m delighted to support the likes of Seán McMorrow Butchers. They rear their own beef and lamb and the quality is excellent. There is a new butcher in Boyle that is producing organic meat so I look forward to supporting them too.  I’m beginning to learn more about suppliers now in Ireland and supporting anyone that’s producing quality sustainable and fresh local produce.

Now, I would love to have a little food cart, I really would.  Another thing I would like to do is to cook for health retreats, yoga retreats because I want to provide healthy, wholesome, light, fresh food. I love the idea of preparing fresh, vibrant meals.

My favourite salad recipe is bursting with flavour and goodness. It’s generally got fennel, red cabbage, fresh carrot, asparagus, cucumber and red onion. I always grate in fresh garlic and ginger, chop in fresh chillies, it could have scallions in it, fresh coriander and just fresh lemon juice and olive oil, Himalaya salt crunched in and right at the end avocado; tonnes of avocado, It’s an explosion of flavours. I don’t bother anymore with salad dressings because I find I’ve got all the flavours right in there in the salad itself.  All you need is the lemon and the salt to bring it all out.  That’s generally my salad at home. I’ve become obsessed with fennel, fresh fennel, throw it into anything.  It’s amazing in a risotto, in a curry as well, a Thai curry or even an Indian tomato curry, Oh really nice.

I take my own staples with me wherever I go.  I take my own coffee, my own raw organic sugar, my own salt.  When I go to Galway and I go to Galway a lot, my clothes bag is smaller than my food bag! I want to feed my child too and I want to know he’s getting fed properly. I do all my veg shopping from Tír Na Nóg or from Gareth, an organic veg supplier, he used to be at the Manorhamilton Farmers Market.  On a Wednesday the organic veg order comes in to Tír Na Nóg so I go there then and I get everything. You know sometimes there are some things you have to get from the shop. Aubergine, I can’t always find organic aubergine, I’m obsessed with aubergine, it’s one of my favourite vegetables in the world! Middle Eastern food, Turkish food isn’t complete without aubergine and it’s probably, I would have to say, if I had to, if I was forced to take a particular cuisine with me to the grave, it would have to be Middle Eastern.  Something with aubergine!

I really feel I have had a blessed life, I had paradise on my doorstep. Cape Town’s a very large city but you don’t feel like you are living in a city. You’re surrounded by the mountains and the ocean wherever you are, if you’re a little bit inland you have the forests, and then the vineyards of Stellenbosch and the beautiful rolling hills, the fruit trees of the fruit growers, orange trees, lemon trees, peach trees and cherry trees it’s just all fresh and beautiful.

Food is life and life is fantastic! I love it, love it, love it!!!

Joel Smith, Wordsmith


Writer, Poet and Photographer Joel Smith read English at Trinity College Dublin and travelled to Spain before moving to Manorhamilton where he lives with his wife Ruth and their four children, Hannah, Nóra, Eilish and Sáidbh.  Family life and his work with the local community have both deeply influenced his work as has his strong connection with the surrounding countryside of Co. Leitrim.

big dog10

Big Dog – Courtesy Joel Smith Photography

I love to get up early in the morning (if no children have come in to visit me in the middle of the night), especially at the weekends and do something before the rest of the world is up. I love going into the forests or down by the lakes but it’s also a good time to write so I just have to accept I can’t be in two places at once. I also do a bit of photography which has led to a series of posters of the rich natural life to be found here in the North West.

I tend to go to my studio each day and put in an hour of writing before or after work.

My work as a journalist for Paddy Power led to a humorous blog and I find that humour is a vital factor in what I do. I’ve also done a bit of stand up. The funniest book I have ever read is Al Franken’s “Why Not Me” about his challenge for the presidency. Growing up I used to love the Lord of the Rings, it’s an epic saga that stands the test of time. I also love Robert Graves and Graham Greene. There is consolation in the fact that Greene got rejected several times. Poetry wise I used to love Browning growing up but at the moment my favourite poet is John Montague.

The best advice I can give to any writer is write and read as much as you can. I think the sooner you get a rejection out of the way the better; it’s largely the story of a writer’s life. The beauty is now you can self-publish your work and therefore have full control over how the book is presented and formatted right down to being in charge of distribution. I have written a lot of stories with my children in mind and if I can captivate them I know I’m going in the right direction.



A Patron of The Arts


I who had nothing now have something,

From the sister of the man who married my sister,

I have bought a drawing and it is framed on my wall.


A patron of the arts

One of those men who commisioned Michelangelo´s David,

Like Medici of Florence, I am Smith or Mac Gabhann of Dublin (formerly of Tir Eoghan).


You may kiss my ring if you wish.


In the picture he is bowing, he is bowing,

To silent applause bursting in my ears.


After the drawing I know he will depart from the stage

And wipe the sweat from his brow,

For in this performance, as in every performance

He has given his everything.


I will walk the streets of Terenure and Killyclogher as a man of no small importance.

“There he is again, look at his pompous walk.

Is he a Cardinal?”They will ask, “No, too young,” says the other,

“A Bishop then or else a patron of  the Tyrone & Fermanagh Mental Hospital?”

Ah, if only. Happy days with a London Bobby’s hat on my head ineffectually doing the gardening.

But I cannot just simply and consciously regress, for I am a man of no small importance, a man of property; like the Medicis of Florence or those O’Neills of Tyrone or Maguires of Fermanagh.



The Retired Detective – Joel Smith

You know, when I was a young man or even a slightly middle aged man working in Scotland Yard I never thought I would end up living in Ireland while my wife, a teacher, learned Irish (eternally – I’m afraid she is destined never to overcome her accent). It’s very different here, smaller, more connected with the past, safer in some ways, more dangerous in others.


When I came into the force I was told by an old hand who was shortly to retire, “It doesn’t get any better you know, it just gets worse”. Of course he was right. I passed on the same information to a young constable before I left.

I had no illusions about the Irish when I came here. I’d lived through the various bombings I wasn’t searching for lucky Leprechauns or even happy-go-lucky people. Still and all I like it here, not expecting too much, anything is a plus. As you know we built this house together, my darling and I. They say you need to build two houses before you get it just right. We won’t be building another one.

It is dark tonight, clouded over but dry. As I look out of my window to the other side of the valley I reflect upon the words of Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes:

It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.
“You horrify me!”
“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”

These last few months have proven these fictional words to be very true. I did not expect to be somehow involved in detecting a murder in the townland where I live. That’s what they call them here, townlands – we have postcodes, they have townlands. These townlands are usually just descriptions of prominent geographical features like big rocks or the mouths of rivers. I live in Gublaun, it means the full mouth of the river or so I am told.

In any case somebody has been poisoning my neighbours for some time. I am lucky enough to have a separate well, which nevertheless I have had sampled and given the all clear. Strangely as an outsider, I have a kind of blessed anonymity – I don’t exist. I never worked the land here, put seaweed or manure on the soil, helped someone else to save the hay, fell out with my brother over land, drank the pub or looked after my parents while my love slipped away from me. Neither am I one of those decent people that are like dolmens of respectability, acknowledged by one and all to be good arbiters of the community.  It helps of course that I am Protestant, although not doctrinaire and since the Reverend Noel has gone you are as likely to find me at mass with Fr Goode for I cannot bear the Rev Clifford, he is much too Dick Emery for me.

It was early spring, I remember because on my way cycling down (yes I even have a bicycle) to my friend Dennis’ house I had enjoyed seeing the bluebells and smelling the fresh garlic. Let me describe Dennis for you. He is, or was rather, a big man, somewhat shrunken now due to sickness but with a full wire brush head of black only slightly grey hair. He had befriended us shortly after we arrived here and I with my usual suspicious nature had taken my time to warm to him, but he worked down at the Organic Centre and had such knowledge about nature, about mammals and fish and all the things that you know I love, that I found myself in admiration of him and we played backgammon and draughts regularly ( he did not know how to play chess unfortunately and professed himself correctly as, too old to learn).  For the past six weeks however he had been sick, losing weight and suffering from chronic diarrhea. Once or twice a week I had continued to call down on him and we played our game often punctuated by visits to the bathroom. I was sad to see his decline.

“Ah Dave, I heard you at the gate. Thanks for coming but I don’t think I’ll be much of a challenge for you today.”

“How are you feeling Dennis?”

“Same old same old, only worse. The doctors keep telling me to drink more water to flush it out of my system – but that only seems to make it worse. Would you mind getting me a drink of water all the same Dave?”

I poured one for him and one for myself.

“It’s a bit cloudy, isn’t it Dennis?”

“That’s always the way with well water Dave. You’re not in the city now.”

That night and forgive me dear if you feel I am being crude, I spent an inordinate time sitting on the toilet. The things that go through your head when you are sitting there for a long time. It’s almost like sitting in church – especially when you feel like you are dying and indeed there are of course the accompanying sensations of panic and relief and then hope and despair. But somehow as I came to the end of the episode – I had shrugged off your stepmother’s attempt to give me Imodium  – I reflected that maybe Dennis’ water was polluted. Perhaps a leveret or something of that nature had strayed into the well and drowned.

That morning I was too unwell to investigate but as the day wore on I gradually got some strength back and that evening – twilight, with bats plentiful and active but the dreaded midges were thankfully scarce – I gingerly made my way into the field with the well that Dennis and his neighbours sourced their water from and using a crook that Eloise had bought to give our new house an olde worlde look, I fished about until I pulled out a lamb whose throat had been slit and put it in a bag that I had in my pocket (always carry a bag here – otherwise the shops will make you pay for them).  It was too late to bother Dennis with the news even though I could see the glow of his lights from where I was so I marched home and threw the dead animal in the garage after wrapping it in a few more bags.

I was a bit disconcerted but neither displeased, or even surprised. I had a hot whisky or two. Somebody was poisoning Dennis, that much was clear but who or why? I had heard whispers in the pub about Dennis’ behaviour as a young man. Suggestions that he had been a wild child in the sixties, the first man to smoke marijuana in Rossinver, perhaps, it was said, he had even got a girl from Ballyshannon pregnant before heading off on the hippy trail. I had taken all these stories with a pinch of salt. After all, to be alternative in Rossinver in the sixties you probably just had to be late for mass a few times. Even so it was clear that Dennis was a bit of a hippy so maybe some of it was true.

Eloise looked at me concernedly, with the implication that I’d had enough. I suggested she go off to bed and I would follow within the half hour. I poured myself a final whiskey, this time cold with a little water, turned on the classical radio station and allowed the music, the spring part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

I switched off the lights with the cheering thought of radically improving my friend’s health with an early morning call. I took a large glass of water and ate a couple of grapes hoping to deflect an almost certain headache.

The next morning I woke up uncharacteristically late. Eloise had gone to work and I was left to have breakfast on my own.

After eating my porridge and switching off the dirge on the radio I drank juice and tea and cycled down to Dennis’ hoping the air would clear my head. The smells of wildflower were lost on me that morning and I roughly forced open the stiff gate at Dennis’ house. I knocked loudly but there was no answer. I knew something was wrong because it was now 11 0’ Clock and the habits of an old gardener die hard – Dennis was always up by 7.30am at the latest, even when sick – he had told me. I looked in the window and I could see him sprawled on the ground, vomit on the blanket beside him. I had a key so instead of bursting the door open I used the purple headed key (I must admit to colour coding my keys with those little plastic key covers).

I rushed over to him and started talking mindlessly and hopefully reassuringly (old habits die hard – it’s a bit like talking to a baby you know he doesn’t understand but it reassures him.) knowing that he almost certainly couldn’t hear me. He was pale looking, unconscious, and vomit splattered. Dried blood hugged the corners of his mouth, but he was still breathing. I rang the ambulance and the Garda (Irish Police) and though I thought about taking him in myself, I knew he’d get priority in an ambulance. So I waited for the ambulance and left a note on the door for the Gardai with my address.

That evening I had made a nice risotto and drank a few glasses of wine when two Gardai (the plural of Garda – you see the language is rubbing off on me after all) arrived. Even though I’m an ex-cop it’s strange to say, now that I’m no longer one of ‘them’ I found myself drawing back a little. Everybody thinks the cops are after you for something, even me. I noted or thought that they were looking at my car and the UK reg. Strictly speaking I should have changed it to an Irish Reg.

Ushering them in I looked at them in the light and offered them tea or coffee which neither of them accepted. One was young, innocent looking and open countenanced, he was broad but youth kept him from looking fat. That wouldn’t last forever. The other was just a little older in age but seemed a lot older in experience. He had short fair hair almost military-like. The dark haired one was called Liam, the blonde Martin. Liam asked the general questions, Martin followed up with the detail.

“Do you still have the lamb sir?” The black haired one.

“Yes I am afraid I ended up putting it in the freezer. Sorry Darling.”

“Did it have a yellow tag on it sir or a splash of colour?” Said the blonde.

“No nothing that I saw but maybe you would care to have a look at it.”

As we made our way to the freezer in the garage the blonde took the opportunity to casually ask about 20 questions about me, how long I had lived here,  what had I done before I retired, What were the neighbours like?”

“Would you mind if the superintendent called out to you sometime Dave (they are not as quick with sir as we used to be, I always liked it in the lower ranks, impersonal and aggressive). I think he would be very interested to meet you.”

“No not at all.” I wondered what did the superintendent want with a retired old cop from England?

The stink was foul as I opened out the sheep for us to look at and I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed that one of the ears had been cut off. Presumably to dispose of the tag that had been on it.

Shortly afterwards Martin and Liam were called away, taking the sheep with them.

Before they went I managed to ask them had they any suspicions. The black haired one said something on the lines of top secret but the other shook his head, “nothing yet Dave but we’ll ask around.”

I found it a strangely honest way of doing business.

Next morning I resolved to cut down on my drinking and went to Sligo to visit my friend Dennis. I cursed the expense of parking at the hospital but didn’t know the town well enough to find an alternative.

Already Dennis looked a good deal better. I told him what I had found.

“Fuck me,” he said uncharacteristically swearing (but he certainly had the right) “some bastard is trying to poison me. I should have stayed in Australia.”

I asked the obvious questions.

“Does anyone dislike you, have you ever given anyone a reason to do something like this?”

“I’m sure a lot of people hate me and a lot of people like me the same as anybody else but I can’t think of anyone who would have the energy to do this to me.”

“What about your neighbours, did any of them get sick? Who else uses the well?”

“There’s me and Seamie and Mickey. That’s all as far as I know. There used to be another wee man, John James but he died last year.”

“It’s no wonder if the well was poisoned. Will I talk to them?”

“Do, and tell them not to drink the water.”

“Anything I need to know about them?”

“They’re brothers and they don’t talk to each other.”


“Love. A mother’s love.”

“Go on.” He had a great knack of wracking up the tension before telling a story.

“Well, there were two sons and one daughter in the family, the father died when I was young while the mother died just last year. I used to go out with Mary Mac when we were young but she had the sense to leave for America. I still get a postcard from her now and then. Seamie and Mickey were both home birds. Mickey was the go-er. He farmed the land, got up early in the morning, ran it as a business, bought more land, more livestock, better livestock, bought better land. Seamie was a mummy’s boy, gentle and intelligent but at heart he was a little bit lazy. As his mum got older he took care of her. He had a heart of gold, she could barely remember her name in the end. Mrs Mac loved Seamie and when she died she gave him the home house. Fair enough you might say but Mickey didn’t look at it that way, even though he had moved into his own house twenty years earlier. This, he felt was a betrayal of all he had worked for. In her will she said she wanted to be buried in Carlow beside her mother and father but Seamie had ignored her wishes, burying her instead at the graveyard beside the Lough. That was another reason for Mickey to hate Seamie. There were plenty of black looks at the funeral, but I don’t think Seamie even noticed them. He’s been drunk almost from that day to this.”

“Those are some neighbours to have.”

“Well they’re not the best and they’re not the worst. Seamie won’t mind you calling in on him but you better tell Mickey that I’ve asked you to tell him to keep an eye on the place until I come back.”

By the time I left Dennis I was hungry and had something to eat in town, getting out of the hospital with my customary shiver of distaste and relief. Sitting in Lyons’ I treated myself to a civilized fry and the Times. I always found that when I was in Ireland I wanted British news and vice versa.

Just a few hours later I parked outside the house of Seamus McMorrow. It was a respectable little bungalow, painted blue. It was at least eighty years old and a few flower boxes decorated the outside. The garden which had been tended so carefully at one stage now seemed to be tumbling over on itself, not quite gone to seed but heading in that direction. It was a classic sunshine and showers day and I waited for a moment inside the car as rain lashed down with an intensity that I knew couldn’t last this time of year and listened to the sound of yet more dismal economic numbers on the radio. Eventually I flicked it on to radio in the Irish language and felt some relief at not knowing what was being said yet somehow having a bit of company.

When the blue sky re-emerged I pulled my coat tight around me as the cold wind chased the heat out of the valley and hurried along to knock and ring the bell at the same time. Knocking at thousands of doors in your career teaches you to do away with the niceties and this struck me as a house were the doorbell hadn’t worked for years and probably never would again.

I heard a jump and the door was opened wide with a “hullo!” Even from this vantage point I could see that the house wasn’t in all that bad a shape, there was no smell and it wasn’t very messy. “Hello. My name is David Hawthorn. I just live up the road. I live up on the old Manorhamilton road beside Patsy Sweeney and I’m a friend of Dennis Rooney.”

The trick I find with these situations is to get as many name checks in as quickly as you can. I try to be as clear as I can to allay any suspicion. I told him I was originally from England but I was retired here and my wife was working as a teacher in Kiltyclogher. It usually works but in this case I could see he was a sociable enough chap and he let me in, offering me a cup of tea which I accepted.

I was surprised to find that everything was in a general kind of order and Seamie was drinking tea and reading the Irish Times at the table with the radio on in the background. The smell of turf in the house and on him was exactly what I had expected. His poor mother was probably in great shape in the graveyard, nicely cured from the bog smoke.

Seamie had his trousers tucked into his boots and a beanie hat on top of grey hair that had once been fair. He looked as if he might be about to do some farm work but I could tell he was simply reading the paper.  We sat down and I noted that there was quite a few empty bottles of beer in his recycling box and in the kitchen there were four or five 5 litre bottles of water.

“I heard Dennis was in hospital? Do they know what’s wrong with him?”

“Yes. It’s the water. Someone has been poisoning it. But,” and I motioned over to the water bottles “it looks like you already knew that.”

“Well I didn’t know that.” He wasn’t defensive in the least. “But I did know that the water tasted funny and I did know that my brother hates me enough to poison the well.”

“And you didn’t think to tell Dennis? Or the Gardai?”

“Well I thought Dennis would taste bad water and not drink it. Any animal would.”

“He’s not an animal.”

“Yes I know. I’m sorry. How is he now?”


“Are you going to tell the Gardai?”

“I already have.”

“Well.” He considered his tea and then drank from it. “Could you give me a lift into town?”

“What for?”

“Well, the Central will be open now.”

“So you’re just going to drink yourself stupid?”

“No, but I am going to have a drink.”

A few minutes later I found myself driving him into town. My wipers were working only on the intermittent. I really would have to find a better garage man.

We were listening to the death notices on the local radio station so I took that as a weak cue to broach the subject again.

“How would you have felt if we’d heard Dennis’ name called out on those notices?”

“Bad. Dennis is a friend. I’m not poisoning him.”

“But your brother is!”

“He might be, but I’m too cute for him.” He said it mischievously, unaware of the gravity of what had happened, this casual poisoning.

I parked outside the pub. I had been told as part of my orientation that the litter/dog/traffic warden had taken redundancy and they had no money to replace her, so parking was free in Manorhamilton.

I went in with him and I have to tell you that it had been twenty or more years since I had seen a pub as dirty as this. It was the kind of place where licensing, hygiene and smoking laws were routinely ignored. There was a dog sleeping under one of the bar stools. Groups of punters looked at us and gave a friendly wave to Seamie and a wary glance to me.

At first I had a seven up while he drank beer but when he moved on to whisky I joined him. He was likeable, friendly and smart, in another environment he might have done well but then so could we all. I asked him, apologizing before hand for my knowledge and my curiosity, why he hadn’t buried his mother according to her wishes.

“She wrote that damn will twenty years ago and I’ve been caring for her ever since.” I noted he still talked about her in the present tense. “But I’ll be damned if I’d see her body go all the way to Carlow where I’d never be able to talk to her again.” His eyes went watery. Well, you’re allowed to be emotional when you’re drunk and a man, especially if you’re talking about your mother. “I love my mum and I go down to the grave to talk to her most days, that’s all there is to it. She’s been my work for the past two decades.”

I drank with him for a long time. Pausing only to eat a delicious roast dinner and texting Elouise that I would be late home.

Eventually when I left the pub, I walked up and down the main street. Entering a more civilized pub where I normally drank, I realised just how drunk I was. I left quickly and cast away all ideas of drink driving home and reached for a taxi card I had picked up in the aforementioned dirtiest pub in Ireland.

I was still on the street fumbling with my mobile phone when a car flashed me and I recognised one of the gardai from the other day, the smarter one. Someone else was in the back, the car was unmarked. “Martin.” I said “Hello there, I’m just waiting for a lift home.”

“Hello David. The superintendent is in the back – he’d like to talk to you.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do,” said the voice in the back “but it’s just a friendly chat – and we’ll bring you home.”

So I got in. I was in my amiable and curious rather than aggressive drunken phase.

He turned on the light in the back seat so I could see him properly and shook my hand.

What a friendly looking fellow I thought – always bad news.

“Hello Mr Hawthorne, do you mind if I call you David?”

“No, not at all. And what will I call you? Superintendent? ”

“No need for formalities between two colleagues. Call me Robert.”

“Bobby?” He bristled

“No, Robert.”

I was pleased to find a way of annoying him so soon.

He switched the light off.

“We thought you were going to do a little drink driving.”

“And that would have been that. I would have co-operated then for sure because you would have had something on me”. It was a dirty old trick that cops throughout the world used but it was something I didn’t relish being tried on me.

“By the way what do you want me to co-operate on?”

He paused clearly annoyed.

“You’re a trained cop, living on this side of the border. Look, let’s cut the shite. We need eyes and ears there for everything from vehicle registration to dissident activity.”

I was taken aback by his straight talking.

“I’m a retired English cop.” I paused for a moment, thinking out loud . “Are you planning to pay me?”

“Possibly,” he said unsure of his ground.

“Thank you very much but I’m a little too old to be a community informer. Maybe you could drop me here.”

I was still about three miles from home.

“Do as he says Martin.”

I slammed the door and the car did a hasty three point turn and sped off.

There was a lot to consider but it was a beautiful summer’s night and I was glad of the walk. The lambs and their mothers were talking to each other in the fields, startled now and again by my presence. I was a little shocked myself when a wood pigeon shot out of some trees beside an old school house. There was an outdoor tap at its gate and I let it run for a while and then wet my whistle. It was late, Elouise wouldn’t be pleased with me. The stars did look beautiful. There was a good moon so I felt relatively safe walking and when my journey had come to an end I was almost disappointed. Noisily I made my way to the kitchen. Elouise had left a cooked ham salad sandwich on the table for me and a glass of water. I ate it and went to bed hangdogedly.

I groaned awake about 11am determined to change my new found drinking habits. I drank water for breakfast and read Elouise’s note.

Remember we have guests for dinner. Don’t be drunk before, during or after please!

This was pure outrage on her part, in general we got on so well because she was willing to tolerate so much. I really would have to pull myself together. By 2pm I was well enough to cook myself scrambled egg and drink a little orange juice. At 4pm I was feeling angry enough to visit Mickey. I cycled down this time and brought my bike inside the cattle grided entry of an imposing house. I had heard that his wife ran a computer school in Sligo so she would probably be away while he, reputedly a workaholic, farmed and built houses. Sure enough he was outside, painting his own two storey house when he could surely have got a few of his men to do it.

“Hello there!” The sun was shining making my dehydration even worse.

“Hello. You’re Dennis’ friend. David, is that your name? How is Dennis anyway, the old bastard?”

“Better now you’re not poisoning him.”

“That’s a pretty serious allegation. Any animal could have wandered into that well.”

“And had his ear cut off?”

“Just be careful mister with that allegation that you’re spreading. That’s libel or defamation or some fucking thing.”

“So you did do it?”

He climbed down the ladder. Went right up to my face and spat on the ground. “What do you think?” His wiry curly hair seemed to stand on end, chin and teeth jutted out at me. I thought he was going to try and kill me there and then.

I just blinked at him. Looked at his wall and said “I think you missed a bit.”

I stood my ground and let the silence envelope us until he moved away and started painting again. Teeth still gritted. “By the way” he shouted. “Be careful on that bicycle. Anyone could kill you on these country roads and if you come onto my lands again I’ll shoot you as a trespasser.”

“You know,” I said “I carry a small fire arm myself for personal protection. I hope we don’t get into some sort of scuffle.” I let it be at that not waiting for the comeback which would probably involve him taking his double barrelled shot gun out.

Back home, I checked my revolver, loaded it and put in a kitchen cabinet. Then started to prepare dinner. Elouise was back early and prepared a starter of melon and Parma ham. She always did that, I don’t know why. I made onion soup and a main course of home made chips with peas and gravy and home made steak ready to go on the pan. Finally, I had a good kitchen with a good gas hob and oven. I did love this house.

The couple arrived at 6 and we had drinks although I stuck to coke for the time being while Elouise looked approvingly on. The woman, young girl really was quite pregnant (about 6 months she told us) in her later twenties and called Isabella. Her mother was Italian and had worked in the embassy when he fell in love with her Leitrim mother. She had moved to leitrim two years ago with her husband Caoimhin (pronounced quee-veen) who worked as a teacher with Elouise. He was from Fermanagh but his Irish was flawless (or so I was given to understand). Self taught, he also sang in the language. He was earnest, amiable and curious about my time in Scotland Yard.

Eventually Elouise could see I was drying out of conversation and with some relief on my part she said “Darling why don’t you have a drink, the red is really very nice”.

“Ah well,” I said trying to mask my eagerness “I’ll give it a try.”

Dinner was going well, Caoimhin was asking my opinion on the hunger strikes. It turned out his uncle from Monaghan had been on the first hunger strike and his health, mental and physical had never been the same again since. Forty two days he had lasted before it was called off.

“Better than bombings.” I said.

I was just about to put out dessert when I heard a shot. Everyone looked up for a second then continued talking. “Caoimhin, I’m a bit worried about one of our neighbours. I wonder would you mind coming down with me to take a look and see that he’s okay?” I asked Elouise to phone the Gardai.

A very ready fellow, Caoimhin jumped in the car with me. It always helps to have a witness in case things go pear shaped. I slowed down in front of Mickey’s house. Sprawled higgledy piggeldy on the cattle grid, blood seeping through the bars and into the earth, was poor old Seamie.

We got out of the car. I warned Caoimhin to hang back.

“What the fuck do you want? Look what you’ve done!” The shout was from an upstairs window. Mickey held a shotgun loosely in his hands.

“Can I check to see whether he’s alive or dead?”

“You can check all you like, but he’s dead.”

I stepped cautiously over to him and felt for his pulse but I could tell by his colour and the amount of blood around his shoulder that he was gone.

“You’re right. I shouted up to him. He’s dead.”

His face crumpled.

“What happened?”

“He was drunk, he’d been on the phone. He said he wanted to see me one last time before the Gardai took me away. I told him not to come, that if he came I’d shoot him.”

“What are you going to do now”.

“I don’t know.”

“You may as well just throw the gun down and I’ll bring you in.”

I could hear a fast car in the background and cursed myself for getting Elouise to call the Gardai.

The Gardai had the sense to park a little way back and out of the corner of my eye I could see the two of them Martin and Liam coming over the side wall of the house. This was turning into a bit of a disaster, why could they not have radioed for a specialist unit?

“Do you want me to come inside Mickey?”

“No, I don’t want you to come inside.  A lot of this is your fault.” And he put the shotgun back to his shoulder and pointed it at me.

“Do you want me to go away Mickey?”

“No, I want you to stay right there you little English bastard and sweat for a while.”

He was sweating too.

I was torn between wanting to keep the conversation going and keeping my mouth shut for fear of further provocation.

One of the Gardai tripped on a can of paint and made a noise.

“What the fuck was that?”

I winced.

“Eh, Eh, it’s only me Mickey.” Liam the Garda, stepped gingerly into sight with his hands up in the air.

“Get the fuck over there!” He motioned Liam to go beside me with his gun.

Meanwhile I could see that Martin had gotten in the back door and at this stage was probably crawling up the stairs.

“Well that was very clever. Now he has two hostages”. I said, Caoimhin meanwhile with excellent instincts of self preservation had managed to get himself on the far side of the pillar and out of danger for the time being.

“Who said anything about hostages?”

“What else do you call it when you’re pointing a gun at people and won’t let them go anywhere? Remember what happened at Abbeylara (this was an infamous siege incident which had been badly mishandled by the Gardai). Take some advice from an ex-cop, put the gun down and go in here with Martin to the barracks and believe me, it will be simple from then on, it will be all process.”

He pondered that for a moment then raised the gun as if to fire but I could make out movement in the background, we heard a commotion, a bang and Mickey was being tossed out of the window onto the ground. Falling hard onto his head, his shotgun falling and shooting off harmlessly. I walked over the unconscious body of Mickey on the ground and kicked him gently with my foot. Did something monstrous happen to this man when he was a boy to put such rage in him or was it just the lack of a mother’s love.

Martin was at the window and Liam gave a ‘kehoe’. When Martin came out I shook his hand.

“I can’t say it was textbook, but you did it anyway.”

Martin just nodded. Caomhin popped his head back up in disbelief and we waited around for an ambulance and statements. Caomhin was allowed to go back up to the house for a bottle of whiskey. Sitting there on a garden bench sipping my whiskey as the sun started to set over Lough Melvin I wondered at how I had nearly been killed and resolved to be both less friendly with people and less curious. From now on, I would be an island.