Learning from the Masters

matt + jackie

It’s midsummer – and time for the Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival in Ballydehob. Amongst the distinguished guests this year are these two regulars: Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly. They hail from the Sliabh Luachra on the Cork, Kerry and Limerick borders. I’ve made mention of this area before, particularly in Slides or Jigs and The City of Shrone: the name means ‘Rushy Mountains’. I can’t resist quoting from this anonymous and wry review of a book published in 2003:

…I’ve just come across a book which may interest serious Sliabh Luachra obsessives, though not those merely in search of new polkas and slides.  “Sliabh Luachra Milestones”, by Diarmuid Moynihan, is an attempt at the first general history of the area, and grew out of a thesis on early road development in Sliabh Luachra.  It covers, in outline at least, such topics as archaeology, Christianity (traces have been found, apparently), early descriptions by English invaders, historical events, settlement patterns, maps, and of course, roads…

rushy glen

The rushy glens of Sliabh Luachra – from a woodcut by Robert Gibbings

So, am I a Sliabh Luachra obsessive? I think I probably am… It all started in the 1970s when my good friend Danny gave me two books by Robert Gibbings – Lovely is the Lee (J M Dent 1945) and Sweet Cork of Thee (J M Dent 1951). They are my most treasured books in our extensive collection of Irish literature and both are set, in part, in the Sliabh Luachra – and it was these books that set me on a journey that – 40 years later – has brought me here to Nead an Iolair, and to the wealth of musical tradition that we enjoy.

Gibbings books

Sweet Cork title

Jackie Daly is only a year older than I am, yet I remember looking up to him as a master when I first started listening to Irish music half a century ago: I suppose we must both have been more youthful then! He grew up with the music of course: his father played the melodeon, and he played at local ‘crossroads dances’ with a neighbouring mentor Jim Keefe. I still have – and still play – the recordings of Sliabh Luachra musicians that I bought in the early 1970s (and which are still available from Topic Records). Matt Cranitch is a distinguished and respected fiddle player who has also has an academic career and has lectured widely on Irish traditional music.

Here’s a taster from the Festival sessions – Matt, Jackie and friends finishing up a set of iconic Sliabh Lauchra slides in Rosie’s Bar

I was fortunate to attend a workshop with Matt and Jackie in Levis’s on Saturday. After a fascinating talk on their traditions we all ended up learning a set of polkas. Wonderful! Those without instruments were cajoled to sing the tunes, so it was a communal affair.

Here you’ll catch the end of a tale by Jackie and a few bars of a beautiful slow air (Maidin Ró-Mhoch) from Matt

The workshop took place in the intimate setting of the back parlour of Levis’s Corner House – on its way to becoming one of the top music venues in Ireland through the efforts of Joe and Caroline yet always keeping its distinctive character.

Levis midsummer day

It takes me a little while to pick up new tunes but the duo were good and patient teachers and we were doing quite well by the end of the session. I thoroughly recommend their latest CD Rolling On (2014), which includes Maidin Ró-Mhoch and many other fine Sliabh Luachra pieces.

As usual, Ballydehob has embraced this festival – one of many through the summer – and the town is rocking in the rain… there are visitors from afar: Hyttetu – a maritime themed male voice choir from Norway, Swansea shantymen Baggyrinkle and very many others, including someone who has been at the forefront of the Irish folk music scene for many years, Andy Irvine.

yellow poster

festival time!

Festival time – midsummer’s day!

So many thanks to all the organisers, particularly Dick Miles and Cathy Cook, and the landlords of all our local hostelries: it wouldn’t happen without them. Now I’m off home to get dry and practice those tunes!

3 polkas

 

Black Pudding

Breakfast at Budd's

Breakfast at Budd’s of Ballydehob – all local ingredients

When did black pudding assume foodie status?

Breakfast Pack

Black pudding (a blood sausage) was always a popular breakfast staple in Ireland – served in all decent bed-and-breakfasts on a ‘Full Irish’ plate along with white pudding, sausages, rashers and eggs, and sometimes tomatoes and mushrooms, accompanied by homemade brown soda bread. I never liked it – “Please, no black pudding on mine.”

West Cork Pies' Black Pudding 'Brunch' Scotch Eggs, at the Skibbereen Market

West Cork Pies‘ Black Pudding ‘Brunch’ Scotch Eggs, at the Skibbereen Market

But somewhere in the last ten years black pudding has been transformed into the gourmet must-have ingredient du jour: added to scallops or crab, used to lend interest to staid sausage rolls and scotch eggs, served as canapés with the requisite goat’s cheese and caramelised onions.

The black pudding selection at Field's of Skibbereen

The black pudding selection at Field’s of Skibbereen

And it’s delicious! Artisan butchers and food producers all over the country have been developing their own recipes and flavours, although the basic ingredients (pig’s blood and oatmeal) have remained the same. Some credit Clonakilty Black Pudding with leading the charge. They use beef rather than pork and their exact formula is a closely guarded secret. Their website has lots of recipes and the history page features a video on how the pudding is made. This has become such a celebrated West Cork product that there has been talk of a Black Pudding Visitor Centre!

Clon web page

Nowadays, every supermarket meat section will sport an array of artisan black and white puddings. Here in West Cork we find local varieties such as McCarthy’s of Kanturk, Putóg De Róiste (an Irish-speaking black pudding from the Ballyvourney Gaeltacht), Hodgins of Michelstown, as well as Rudd’s from County Offaly, further afield. There are mass-produced varieties too, and supermarket chain generic puddings, all of which have their fans.

Avril Allshire at a function in Rosscarbery, handing around her black pudding swirls – our first taste of them; The Rosscarbery Recipes range of products on sale at Fields

My own favourite is made by Rosscarbery Recipes. This is totally attributable to Avril Allshire, the cheerful producer whom I have met on numerous occasions demonstrating ways to eat their black pudding or serving it up at events. She’s always up for a chat and she loves to share her enthusiasm and her recipes. She and husband Willy and two sons run Caherbeg Free Range pig farm (the Facebook page is full of adorable piggy pics), as well as the Rosscarbery Recipes food range and are totally committed to food quality, to provenance control, and to traditional curing methods that result in delicious pork products. They’ve even developed a gluten-free black pudding!

The Allshire Family with awards for their food products. Avril, William and the two boys are totally involved in all aspects of the business

The Allshire Family with awards for their food products. Avril, William and the two boys are totally involved in all aspects of the business

Avril’s Black Pudding Swirls have become my go-to appetiser recipe and I am sharing it at the end of the post, taken directly from her website but adapted for our non-West Cork readers.

An Chístín Beag's black pudding potato cakes.

An Chístín Beag’s black pudding potato cakes

The other way I have come to love black pudding is in potato cakes. As served by the fabulous An Chístín Beag (The Little Kitchen) in Skibbereen, this is a way to start your day off right, especially if you’re planning a hike! According to Pauline, you simply add chopped up black pudding to mashed potato, shape it into cakes, and fry. There’s got to be more to it than that, I insist – egg? flour? But no, that’s it. I think it helps if you leave them in the fridge to chill and firm up a bit before you cook them.

The choir Christmas get-together at Rosie's Pub. My contribution was the black pudding swirls, recipe below.

The choir Christmas get-together at Rosie’s Pub. My contribution was the black pudding swirls, recipe below

What about you and black pudding? Love it? Hate it? Got a favourite? Figured out how to get hold of it outside Ireland or the UK?

Making the swirls

Making the swirls

Rosscarbery Recipes’ Black Pudding Swirls

By Avrill Allshire (additional notes by Roaringwater Journal)

Ingredients:

1 pack of Field’s Puff Pastry; (any ready-to-bake puff pastry will do, 500g or 1lb)

1 Rosscarbery Recipes Black Pudding; (Any good-quality black pudding can be substituted, 300g or 11oz)

1 large egg.

Method:

About an hour beforehand, take the puff pastry and the black pudding from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Whip the egg.

Roughly chop the black pudding and blitz in the food processor with half the whipped egg. If you don’t have a food processor, use a fork or wooden spoon. The idea is to get it to a spreadable consistency.

Dust your rolling surface with flour and roll the puff pastry into a large rectangle. Lay the Black Pudding mixture on the puff pastry. Spread it out evenly but not to the edge of one long side which should be brushed with a little of the whipped egg. Roll from the other side. Finish the roll by pressing gently onto the whipped egg end. Slice in 1cm slices and place on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet. Brush each slice with the whipped egg.

Put in the oven and bake until a golden brown. This will take anywhere from 12 to 15 mins, so keep an eye on it.

Remove and allow to cool. Makes about 50 swirls.

swirls finished

Yummers!

Shauna and Robert tasting

Ballydehob Trad Fest

Young Traditional Musicians at the Ballydehob Trad Fest

Young Traditional Musicians at the Ballydehob Trad Fest

If you like traditional music, then Ballydehob was the place to be this weekend. Féile Átha Dá Chab, the Ballydehob Traditional Music Festival, had us bouncing on our bar stools, hooting and cheering in our concert seats, and applauding the talent of hoards of youngsters.

Finale of the Four Men and a Dog Concert

Finale of the Four Men and a Dog Concert

The Festival kicked off with an outstanding concert by Four Men and a Dog. Playing, singing, telling stories, and with the unique wit of Gino Lupari (an Italian bodhran player with an Irish accent) they entertained us for over three hours in the village hall. They invited two talented local girls to play with them, and with Mairead and Maria Carey on their flutes, we were on our feet for an intense finale that left us exhilarated.

Sunday afternoon session at Levis's

Sunday afternoon session at Levis’s

Once the concert is over, where do you go? To the pubs, of course, where there were sessions going on till all hours. We were in Levis’s, but we could have been in any one of half a dozen pubs, all with great music.

 

Maureen Culleton/Learning how to twirl

Maureen Culleton/Learning the steps

Our friends from Devon, Chris and Gill, who are staying with us, bravely signed up for the set dancing workshop next day, along with sixteen others. They are tango dancers and in great shape, but by noon they were exhausted and had a whole new respect for this form of dancing. Maureen Culleton, highly experienced and very encouraging, introduced some new dances to the locals and put everyone through their paces. The day culminated in a Céilí (pronounced kaylee) where the set dancers danced into the wee hours to the music of the Striolán Ceilí Band from Kerry. People around here love set dancing and are very good at it. It’s an activity that brings together all ages in country villages. Here’s a good example of set dancing, with the Striolán Ceilí Band playing in the background.

In Rosie's

In Rosie’s

Robert and I aren’t set dancers so we took to the pubs (amazing how much time a couple of non-drinkers can spend in pubs!) for the sessions that were going on in most of them. Members of Four Men and a Dog were in Rosie’s, playing with local musicians. Getting to see them in such an intimate setting was great.

The Kilcoen Kids

The Kilcoe Kids

Today, Sunday, the sun came out and the streets of Ballydehob filled up with young musicians competing in the Street Seisiún Competition. Seisiún, pronounced seshoon is the Irish word for session. And a session, in case I haven’t explained this before for our non-Irish readers, is the word used for a bunch of traditional musicians getting together to make music. The younger children, of course, stole our hearts, singing, dancing and playing music on the streets. The teens were remarkably accomplished: many of them have been studying in the Comhaltas system for years.

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets

As I type, people are wandering from pub to pub on the session trail in Ballydehob. When you love something, you just don’t want it to stop! Fortunately, in this part of Ireland, the music is alive and well – and in good hands for the future.

 

The future is assured!

The future is assured!

Well done, Ballydehob, on another fantastic traditional music festival!

Danno enjoying a private concert

Danno enjoying a private concert