SUNDAY, September 16th in Skibbereen will be a day to remember because on that day two events fused to show the town’s past and present.
On one hand, people took the opportunity to visit the arts centre to see a world-famous exhibition about the famine – an event that had laid waste to so much of the town’s population.
And, on the other, an estimated 12,000 people filled Main Street and the town’s central car park to sample the delights of the Taste of West Cork Food Festival as part of the Sunday Street Market.
The juxtaposition of the past and all of the good that the present has to offer, as well as the incandescent sunshine, made for a memorable community celebration.
‘Early in the day, there was a vibe that the weather was going to be phenomenal,’ said Fiona Field, the festival manager, ‘and from there it gathered momentum.’
People came to taste cuisine from all over the world at the different food stalls, as well as sampling the best of local produce.
They came too to see the fantastic cooking demonstrations, and to pour over the contents of the 85 stalls.
Fiona said: ‘Every one of the stalls were busy and when it came to clearing up at the end of the day, you could see their massive smiles of delight – even if they were a bit exhausted.’ Throughout the 10-day festival, there were 225 events in 41 towns and villages, as well as eight islands, and it had everything.
On the serious side of things, there were several conferences including the day-long forum ‘Our Farms, Our Food, Our Future’ at the Town Hall, which looked at the connection between food choices and how food is grown and produced.
Another forum examined ‘Famine to Feast – From Survival to Innovation’ at the sailing club in Baltimore, and the festival manager said: ‘It proved to be a melting pot of ideas and also offered up some great ideals for future collaborations.’
The Live Life Well students’ food and lifestyle conference last Friday proved to be revelatory, too, with US Masterchef Shaun O’Neale explaining how out of 380,000 entrants he was chosen as the winner in 2016, and how working with food has changed his life.
Described as ‘zany and interactive’ the event – held in Skibbereen Community School – proved to be a huge success.
So successful, in fact, that it is likely to be an annual event and will possibly be rolled out to other schools throughout West Cork.
Avril Allshire’s Fiction, Fads & Phonies conference at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in Clonakilty explored what it means to be a true ‘foodie’ – in other words, it appealed to people who are interested in the production, quality and provenance of the food they eat.
The festival costs €110,000 to run every year and the organisers also get a lot of help from Cork County Council, Sean and Rose O’Driscoll, Fáilte Ireland and the Gwendoline Harold Barry Trust – to mention but a few – and it almost always manages to break even.
The range of the festival is hard to encapsulate. Take, for example, the fact that Derry and Sallyanne Clarke of l’Ecrivain Restaurant in Dublin make the journey to Sherkin Island to host a barbeque which this year managed to raise more than €4,000 for the RNLI.
Whether an event was aimed at attracting 400, 40 or even four, Fiona said: ‘They each had their own appeal and brought delight to participants and the event organisers who clearly take great pride in what they do.’
Delighted that this year’s festival has generated so much interest, Fiona said: ‘This is five years of the vision of the chairperson, Helen Collins, becoming a reality.’
From early on, it was evident that the number of overseas visitors had increased considerably, but that is hardly surprising when you have bloggers like Sonia Peronaci from Italy practically instructing her 600,000 followers on social media that they need to get ‘A Taste of West Cork.’