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A glorious ramble down the centuries telling the story of food and drink in Ireland

Margaret Hickey's book, Ireland's Green Larder, tells for the first time the story of food and drink in Ireland from the ancient field system of the Ceide Fields, established a thousand years before the Pyramids were built, right up to today's thriving food scene. Rather than focusing on battles and rulers, she digs down to what has formed the day-to-day life of the people. It's a glorious ramble down the centuries, drawing on diaries, letters, legal texts, ballads, government records, folklore and more. The story of how Queen Maeve died after being hit by a piece of hard cheese sits alongside a contemporary interview with one of Ireland's magnificent cheese makers, and Jonathan Swift's complaint about dubiously fresh salmon is countered by the tale of the writer's day trip on the wild Atlantic coast, collecting the world's freshest native oysters.

Recipes are dotted throughout the book and there's a chapter on the Irish rituals and superstitions associated with food and drink. In no country has the contrast between feast and famine been greater than in Ireland. Margaret Hickey has written a lively, stimulating book with the daily human experience at its heart - in it you'll find a larderful of food for thought.

Born near Manchester, Margaret Hickey read English at Trinity College, Dublin.

As Deputy Editor of Departures, a London-based travel magazine, she commissioned many writers, including Martin Amis, Dervla Murphy, Russell Hoban, Douglas Dunn, Norman Lewis and Howard Jacobson.

As Food and Drink Editor at Country Living magazine she commissioned a range of food writers and chefs, including Richard Corrigan, Sophie Grigson, Nigel Slater, Rick Stein and Darina Allen. She also pursued her freelance writing career, contributing articles on food, drink and travel to most of the British national press, including The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Times.

In 1999 she moved to Ireland to complete a book commissioned by UK publisher Kyle Cathie. Irish Days, a collection of oral histories, was published in 2001 and received national coverage in both Ireland and the UK. It was well reviewed by Ronald Blythe, among others, and the author was interviewed on the Pat Kenny Show, plus the TV3 morning show. The paperback version came out in 2003.

She has lectured at University College, London and University College, Limerick on the subject of oral history and had a weekly slot on Premier Radio in London during the 1990s. She is a practised speaker and has read at a number of festivals, including the Ennis Book Club Festival, Ballinasloe Arts Day and the Strokestown International Poetry Festival. She has given a lecture at the Irish Workhouse Centre.

For a number of years she was Chairperson of the Baffle Poetry Group in Loughrea, and ran its annual festival; guest writers included Vincent Woods, James Harpur, Julian Gough, Micheal O Muircheartaigh, Rita Ann Higgins and Kevin Barry.

She is currently Vice Chairperson of Portumna Arts Group, which runs Shorelines, an annual arts festival recognised by the Arts Council.

For many years she has been a regular judge at the Strokestown International Poetry Festival.

Fresh From the Sea

According to Larousse Gastronomique, the following recipe makes a typical traditional Irish dish – ‘Take a salt herring, open it out and remove the bone. Pour poteen over it and set it alight. When the flame dies down the herring is ready to eat.’ Some innocent researcher was surely unaware of the equally traditional Irish delight in pulling someone’s leg.

If the Irish now avoid rabbit and most other game, feathered or furred, and won’t eat offal, their coldest shoulder is reserved for fish and shellfish. For a great many Irish people, especially in rural areas, sea urchins, mussels and oysters are seen not as luxury items but as objects of revulsion.

In fact, throughout the centuries, the knack of enjoying fish is one that few Irish people ever really acquired. The historian Roy Foster points out that in the early 17th century ‘English observers were surprised that the rich and various resources of fish and wildfowl were not tapped by the natives: fishing, for instance, tended to be monopolised by foreigners. During the Desmond wars, an English soldier found Burrishoole on Clew Bay in Co Mayo “the best fishing place for herring and salmon in Ireland; where a ship of 500 tons could ride close to the shore and frequented annually by fifty Devonshire fishing smacks, the owners of which paid tribute to the O’Malleys.”’


Little videos

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

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Hello, my brave band of supporters! I'm sure you are looking forward to the Easter holidays. Here are some Easter eggs for you to enjoy. I had one for my breakfast, so then there were four!

Now, I have an idea that you might be interested in. I want to make a live video recording at a certain time each week. I propose every Wednesday at 12 midday. Would that be a time when you could be sure to…

Something fishy

Friday, 7 April 2017

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I was down beside the River Corrib on a lovely sunny day. It's one of the shortest rivers in Europe, but very fast flowing. In fact, the river gave its name to the little settlement that grew up on its banks. That became a town, then the city of Galway, so for a short river, it's had a big influence. 

And I'll be down beside the Corrib tomorrow, when I'm giving a talk at Galway City Museum…

A traveller's food diary and updates on our progress

Saturday, 25 March 2017

20170213 130950 prawns in costa rica

Here is a photograph of some really delicious prawns I had on a recent trip to central America. The people of Costa Rica are not wealthy, and I was interested in the way their staple is the very simple combination of rice and black beans. The staple for the very poor in Ireland was, as we know, potatoes. But Costa Rica also produces some marvellous fruit and, because it has both a Caribbean and…

Eaten bread is soon forgotten

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Me at kipling camp

I've forgotten the name of this magnificent old lady. Nellie, surely! And this was taken at Kipling Camp in India a few years ago. It doesn't really have any relevance to what I'm going to tell you all, but I thought you might like it.

I'm sorry to see that the Unbound redesign has demolished the shed. I think of you all as my shedders, and will continue to do so until they arrest me.  So,…

Ambassadors, I am spoiling you!

Monday, 6 March 2017

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No, I'm not handing out Ferrero Rocher, but you must admit that 3 Shed missives in 2 days is good going. Trying to make up for the gap while I was away.

I'm sitting in my shed working up the text of the talk I'll be giving this weekend. Well, talks, actually. On FRIDAY, in the Irish WOrkhouse Centre, here in Portumna, I'll be giving a talk at A Taste of Portumna. It's an afternoon event in the…

Porridge for grown-ups! (Of all ages.)

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Clarissa pic of me

At the suggestion of my pal Merrily Harpur, I'm going to give you the porridge lecture! Well, not lecture, so much as enthusiastic encouragement to share in the good times.

Ronnie Barker was a genius in Porridge, but I'm not on about that. I want to dispel forever any qualms you have about porridge for breakfast and I want to encourage you to offer yourselves the Rolls Royce of porridges for a…

Shedding at home and abroad

Sunday, 5 March 2017

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Hello my lovely shedders


I've been quiet for a while, but under the surface, the feet have been paddling away. Here's a lovely butterfly to start off with .

I think it's a Blue Morpho, which is a butterfly we saw a lot of on our tour around a certain Central American country. (Identity to be revealed anon.)  But if it isn't, it's definitely a native, and one we found in a fabulous butterfly…

Saint Brigid's Eve

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

As promised, here's a little snippet about this auspicious day in the calendar. For farmers, the end of January marked a lengthening of the day, and if there was rain (not unheard of in Ireland) there might be an early growth of grass. For fisherfolk, the spring tide closest to St Brigid's Day was thought to be the greatest, with opportunities for collecting shellfish and cutting and gathering seaweed…

Spring coming for sure.

Monday, 30 January 2017

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Hello, my shedders! I love the Irish tradition that spring begins on 1st February, making the spring months February, March and April. Others reckon spring begins on 1st March. Yet others put it beginning on 21st March.Although winter is a season I wouldn't be without, I'm always glad when the days draw out. Would anyone care to march with me up to Leinster House to petition the government to keep…

It feels like spring!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

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Hello, my lovely shedders


I was down in east Cork this week, having lunch with Darina Allen. If you don't know who she is, I suppose I might say that she has taken the foundations laid by her mother-in-law Myrtle, and has built an entire shining city on them. She is a human dynamo, writing books, broadcasting, advising on food policy and running the phenomenally successful Ballymaloe Cookery…

New Year, Old Shed

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

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Hello my lovely Shedders, and a happy new year to you each individually. When I see the name of a new pledger, I get a real thrill and if I know that person's e-mail address, I usually drop a line. If I haven't contacted you that way don't think I'm any the less glad to have you in my shed. You are all very welcome here, and I'll make it as cosy as I can.


No, I haven't put any pictures…

A Christmas Shed

Sunday, 25 December 2016

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A very merry Christmas to all my shed friends. My hen isn't laying at the moment, for obvious reasons, but she also sends you her very best wishes. In fact, she's lucky not to have ended up on the table, as at this time of year, chickens and capons, sometimes ducks and geese, ended up as Christmas dinner for families able to stretch to such luxury.

I'm not actually in Ireland just now, but…

A poor abandoned bastable.

Monday, 12 December 2016

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I've let it grow rusty, but it could still be pressed into service again. My New Year resolution will be to restore it in pristina virtute.

Shedding again and again

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

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Hello Shedders! I wonder if you're in a fever to know why the shed isn't a shed?As the man said, curb your enthusiasm, as I'll tell you.. 

Yes, I know the photograph isn't of a shed. Duh! It was taken almost exactly a year ago when Lough Derg was flooded and the swans are swimming over a piece of land I usually walk over! I just thought you'd like it, unretouched as it is.

The shed was, of course…

Shedding again

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

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I've come across a photograph of the shed that was taken last summer. It's not much tidier now, I must admit. But it does show the full, rich life of the writer (too busy thinking of poetry to tidy the place) and those oblong things on the left of the photograph are sods of turf. Peat, some people call it. That is the way everyone in rural Ireland used to heat their houses and it's the fuel over which…

Margaret Hickey commented on this blog post.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

West facing window in my shed

Good day to you, everyone!

I thought you might like a picture of the west-facing window in my shed. That's an old bedstead you can see, plus the wooden cart on the left is actually a turf barrow - a real heritage object, now. There's a box of rusty old nails that I don't know what to do with, some adventurous ivy, plus, as you can see, the plaster is falling off the walls and the window frame has…

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