Emma Connolly takes a trip around West Cork’s newest tourist attraction – the home of one of the region’s most iconic food brands, Clonakilty Blackpudding
A PORTABLE TV from the ‘80s, tucked into the corner of Clonakilty Food Company’s new visitor centre, is a most gorgeous way to remember the man who helped make it the success it is today.
It plays a clip of Edward Twomey being interviewed by Gay Byrne in The Late Late Show audience in 1989.
Gay is clearly impressed with the West Cork man and tells how he had recently been in a top restaurant where Clonakilty blackpudding was on the menu as a starter, served with an apple sauce.
The broadcaster then teases the audience by telling them they’ve all got a pass for the town’s Model Railway Village – before coming clean that Edward had actually brought them all a hamper of Clonakilty Food Company goodies. Considering this was over 30 years ago, this was quite a progressive marketing tactic by the West Cork man and typical of his business acumen.
Sadly, Edward passed away in 2005, and his wife Colette – now at the helm – recalls the night well.
‘It was actually our son Jonathan’s 7th birthday. He was at home and I asked Gay to wish him happy birthday, but he never did!’ she laughs.
The award-winning businesswoman admits that the clip is something that ‘catches’ her from time to time, regardless of how often she sees it.
The visitor centre opened at the end of the summer in their HQ on the town’s Western Road, where they moved from Little Island three years ago.
Through an interactive audio tour, it tells the story of the iconic West Cork food brand – Clonakilty Blackpudding. It’s a well-told tale, but it also includes lots of information on what life was like in rural Ireland in the late 1880s. It’s informative, but not dull, with lots of light touches, including a picture of Colette in the butcher shop’s cash kiosk, from a few years back.
There’s also a chance to guess the combination for a safe which supposedly contains the secret pudding spice ingredients – known only to Colette. I wasn’t successful!
It takes around 45 minutes in all and there’s access to a viewing gallery where you can see onto the factory floor, before getting to sample some Clonakilty delicacies in their café which is where I caught up with a busy Colette.
She’s on Zoom calls pretty much ‘round the clock these days, liaising with Bord Bia, as they cross t’s and dot i’s ahead of Brexit.
It’s essentially the last lap of what’s been a long and expensive period to ensure all their administration and certification is in order for the changes on the way. At this stage, though, Colette says she’s not stressed by it.
‘If the pound went to par with the euro, we’d be out of business, it’s that fickle. But I’m not stressed as it’s out of our control. It would only be stressful if we decided that what we were doing wasn’t economically worthwhile,’ she said.
Safe to say she’s not easily phased, and she adds: ‘Look, you go around one corner and there’s another corner. You can’t let the obstacles get to you and you have to love what you do.’
She is obviously very concerned about ensuring her manufacturing facility remains Covid-free and admits that of course the fear is of being shut down.
‘You’re only ever one cough away from someone being infected,’ she said.
They do have temperature checks on their teams of workers, who don’t interact, and she welcomes talk of mandatory weekly Covid testing in meat plants.
‘That would help to get ahead of anything happening,’ she said. There are lots of moveable parts to Colette’s business. Outside of the food company, she bought Lisselan House and Golf Course in 2019, just on the edge of town.
While she’s yet to announce her plans for the house, the 12-hole golf course will be extended to 18 holes by 2022. She doesn’t intend developing it as a luxury club and favours functionality.
‘I think going down that route has destroyed a lot of golf clubs,’ she said.
Her son Ed is involved in the food business; Jonathan is involved in their farming enterprise (they’re currently selling a farm in Robert’s Cove), while Patrick is in Hong Kong where he has a business supplying hotels with aquariums.
Next on the cards is developing more vegetarian food products and giving the butcher shop on Pearse Street, what she calls a ‘long overdue revamp’.
For more see clonakiltyblackpudding.ie. Booking is essential for the tour.