Brian Cronin's Opening Speech at the 40th Kinsale Gourmet Festival
In the Autumn edition of the Kinsale & District Newsletter we featured the opening of the 40th Kinsale Gourmet Festival by well known former Kinsale hotelier, Brian Cronin. Space constraints didn't allow us to reproduce the entire speech in the Newsletter so we have decided to post it here as it outlines the history of the Good Food Circle and the Gourmet Festival, well worth a read!
'Good evening everybody
It is a great thrill for both Anne and myself to find ourselves back in Kinsale and to meet up with so many old friends - and I'm delighted to see you all looking splendiferous and obviously raring to go headlong into this, the 40th Gourmet Festival.
I’d like to tell you, particularly those of who you don’t know the full story, of how it all started:
The Kinsale Good Food Circle, The Gourmet Festival itself, and the people who were behind its creation and vision. The unique working-together spirit, the voluntary involvement, and the sense of commitment of individuals that have made Kinsale stand out from other Irish Towns over the years. Kinsale was a bellwether for what was to follow around the country in tourism, food, and community co-operation.
FIRSTLY, LET’S THINK ABOUT KINSALE - GOURMET LEGACY:
Kinsale has always punched well above its weight for such a small town. Achieving the title of Ireland’s Tidiest Town in 1986, and the European Floral Competition a year later, was a great example of a combination of committed locals from all walks of life working together with our Local Authority and - my goodness - isn’t the town looking of well?? I’m delighted to see the current chairman of the Tidy Towns Committee here with his colleagues, Dan Cummins, Teddy McNamara and architect Billy Houlihan.
Another exciting development was the creation of the International Wine Museum in The French Prison, telling the story of Ireland’s ‘Wine Geese’ families.So indeed were the four International Food Forums in the 1980s which were the inspiration of our great friend Joe Walsh, at the time Minister for Food and Agriculture. Joe in fact was so involved with us in in our efforts that he became known as the Minister for Kinsale!
There are many other examples of events created by enthusiastic and committed people which helped to put Kinsale on the map, and I was glad to have played a small role in some of those.
Another outstanding example of somebody who made an exceptional contribution to the town was the superb Guardwell Homes Sheltered Housing scheme and several other projects which Gourmet Festival Founder member Heide Roche, with the support of her husband Stanley and a small local committee, brought to fruition. I suggest that those who haven’t seen the Guardwell homes should drop by and take a look over the weekend. Both schemes are adjacent to St. Multose Church in the town centre. Heide isn’t here tonight as she has been ill - and is represented here tonight by Guardwell Homes manager Claire Barr, and I’m sure you will all join with me in wishing Heide we a speedy recovery.
SECONDLY, THE KINSALE GOURMET FESTIVAL
its HISTORY AND PEOPLE:
When Anne and I arrived here with our growing brood in 1972, things were in a pretty gloomy state in the country generally. The Ulster Troubles had decimated our Tourism Industry, having always relied heavily on the British and American Markets. In fact, Anne’s childhood memory of driving through Kinsale on a windy day to go to the Old Head with her parents for a day out was her father putting his foot to the floor of the car coming through the town in case they were flattened by falling slates! That was a long time ago and Kinsale has changed dramatically since then. Ireland and Kinsale -writ large- was now coming out of troubled times as many will remember.
My great old friend Gerry Galvin, whose wife Marie is with us tonight, arrived the same week as I did: he to manage the Trident Hotel and me to manage Acton’s. By the way Marie is a brand-new Granny as of last week and travelled from Connemara especially to be with us tonight, so let's give her a cheer. Gerry and I were able to combine our experience and the facilities that both hotels were able to offer and use them as a base for promoting our restaurants. On one occasion our local veterinary surgeon Frank O’Keeffe -who at the time was President of the Veterinary Association of Ireland - approached us and said that he would like to bring their annual conference to Kinsale. Problem was although there were sufficient bedrooms to accommodate all the delegates that neither venue had a room large enough to seat the 350 delegates. So we decided to stagger the dinner with half of the delegates sitting in each Hotel and then have a car standing by to drive the Minister of Agriculture (Joe Walsh) once he finished his address in the Trident Hotel to race down the road to make the same speech second time round in Actons Hotel. Luckily there weren't any traffic jams on the Pier Road and the whole thing worked like a charm! Gerry and I had worked closely together some years previously in a Hotel across the water. But that’s another story.
The tourism season in Kinsale – such as it was then - extended for just six weeks or so, from the Whit Bank Holiday weekend in June to the annual Kinsale Regatta in August. We gathered a few others around us, one of them being Peggy Green - known to every body as Mrs Green -w ho had started a Deep Sea Angling Centre in Kinsale some years before, and we formed an organisation called Kinsale Community Promotions which later became the Kinsale Chamber of Tourism.
We roped in the town’s three restaurateurs - Hedli McNiece who started Kinsale’s first restaurant the Spinnaker and specialised in shellfish, Peter Barry who started the Man Friday and decided to concentrate on meat and steak dishes, and Gino Gaio whose restaurant, had a decidedly Italian flavour! So now we had five!
So with these and a number of others from the town we decided to concentrate on the home Irish market with a series of fun weekends during April and May. These ‘Wild Geese’ weekends were highly successful and part of the weekend programmes included dining out at the restaurant of one’s choice. We soon realised that working together, promoting Kinsale first and foremost, and then recommending each other’s restaurants to our guests, was a recipe for success.
Gerry Galvin started his own Vintage Restaurant, I took over the Blue Haven and Pat Murphy started the White Lady Inn - so now we were six! (I am delighted that Pat Murphy's wife Anne and son Eamon are with us tonight too). Lars and Birgitta Safflund started their Bacchus with a decidedly Swedish flavour, and were soon followed by Heide Roche with her lovely Bistro restaurant, whose chef at the time Michael Riese added some decidedly Germanic touches to his menus. Now we had 8!
Each of these eight restaurants had distinctively different styles of food and atmosphere but what they all shared in common was a commitment to raise their standards of food and service to as high a level as possible, using local and fresh ingredients and foods in season while simultaneously promoting Kinsale as a Gourmet Centre. Recommending what you might think were ‘competing’ restaurants was a completely new concept and one of the features that made Kinsale successful and distinctively different.
In those early days many new ideas were tried out with varying degrees of success. One of the better ideas was for us to invite a Food Inspector - or Grub Spy if you like- selected by a contact in the Irish Tourist Board, to visit each restaurant in turn and then deliver a detailed report of their experience to the restaurant concerned. These reports turned out to be invaluable and a learning curve for all of us. The reviews we routinely give these days on TripAdvisor, for every service we experience, were a long way away from the standards of the early 1970s.
I mentioned involvement and commitment earlier on. The words sound very similar, but there is a distinct difference. The traditional Irish Breakfast is a perfect example. Two animals are involved in the Irish Breakfast - the hen and the pig. The hen is involved, but the pig is committed!! I guess that Kinsale had, and needed, more than its share of both.
Others who joined our group leading up to that first Gourmet Festival in 1977 were Dick Burmby of the Monastery Hotel and then local lads Kieran and Tony Greenway with their family run Skippers Restaurant just behind us here in Lower O’Connell Street. So now we had 10!
Others who joined that initial group were Jim and Paula Edwards who had already being running their successful restaurant Jim Edwards for several years, as indeed had Wendy Tisdall with her stylish Max’s Wine Bar, the first really good Wine Bar in the country, Michael and Rose Frawley of the Antibes Room at the White House House. As you may know Kinsale is twinned with Antibes Juan les Pins on the French Riviera and Michael who was the town Mayor at the time led a very hard working twinning group over there to make sure that Antibes was up to Kinsale standard.
Philip and Joss Horgan of the Man Friday which continues to blaze a trail after so many years , Michael and Carolanne Buckley with their Cottage Loft, Michael and Marie Riese with the Vintage (MARK-2), Bernard and Angela Hurley with Bernard’s, Peter and Finnula Jordan of Seasons, Denis and Geraldine Kieran of Shrimps, Carole Norman of Crackpots, Raoul and Seiko de Gendre of the Vintage (MARK-3), Jean Marc with his Chez Jean Marc, and indeed many others -it’s a long list - and I’m not even - at this stage - mentioning other members of the present Good Food Circle - but I will! I will!
We have had many distinguished guests to the Gourmet Festival over the years such as Keith Floyd who made his home here, my old pal Derek Davis who was MC of the festival in recent years (and I am delighted to know that Una Davis and her son and daughter in law are here with us tonight) Distinguished Food Writers and journalists such as Lucinda O’Sullivan whose regular columns in the Sunday Independent are a must read for every foodie and Leo McMahon of the Southern Star who retired only last week and has been a great fan of Kinsale for so many years - both of whom are with us tonight with their respective partners Brendan and Eileen, Georgina Campbell; Kevin Myers of the Irish Times and Sunday Times who has frequently highlighted his Kinsale visits in glowing terms and Hugh Leonard with his column in the Sunday Independent. I will get back to Hugh later! All of these individuals gave us much needed encouragement support and promotion, as they saw what was so great about the efforts being made by so many.
THIRDLY, THE KINSALE GOURMET DRAMAS:
We have had our fair share of dramas over the years. That first Gourmet Festival was a great test of stamina for all of us; having to run a festival and then to have to dash back to our individual restaurants to prove that the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Many of our guests that weekend were invitees and included members of the press and journalistic world.
However, disaster nearly struck on the final night when a member of the Garda Siochana (not from the local force I might add) intervened at a late hour and brought to our attention that we didn’t have a licence extension as our Saturday night had now become Sunday morning and we would have to clear our Festival Club forthwith. We came up with a very Irish solution to an Irish problem and having put the word around to all our VIP guests we all quietly repaired to the Blue Haven Hotel. One of our guests that night was the late Hugh Leonard who wrote about the affair in vivid detail on the following weekend’s Sunday Independent. He finished his article by mentioning that a member of the local Gardai tapped on the bar window and suggested that we should keep the noise down as the sing-song was keeping all the neighbours awake!!
I see out there somebody that I’d like to give a special mention to. If you, like us, were watching TV a few weeks ago you would have seen the Irish team being led into the stadium for the opening of the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. We felt so proud seeing John holding up that tri-colour. Lets give a special cheer ladies and gentlemen.
In closing I would like to thank Chairman Liam Edwards and his colleagues in the Good Food Circle, not alone for inviting Anne and I here for this lovely occasion, but also for continuing their efforts to keep Kinsale and its restaurants in the public eye after so many years. I know that several new restaurants have come on stream in the town of late and I would urge them to join the Good Food Circle, keep that working together spirit alive and continue with the Gourmet Festival - in whatever form it may take - for many years to come.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you have a wonderful evening and weekend and without further ado I would ask you in a moment to raise your glasses and join me in a toast to the Good Food Circle
and they are
Julie and John Finn of Finns' Table
Martin and Marie Shanahan of Fishy Fishy
Jim and Paula Edwards and family of Jim Edwards
Philip and Joss Horgan and family of the Man Friday
Hal McElroy of Pier `one at the Trident Hotel
Michael and Rose Frawley of `Restaurant d’Antibes at the White House
Tomas Wrixon of Sidney’s Bar at Actons Hotel
Ciaran Fitzgerald of the Blue Haven Hotel
Pearse and Mary O’Sullivan of Toddies at the Bulman
and Anthony Collins and Roman Minihane of the White Lady
and now for the toast!
Please Repeat after me
and Long life!
to the Kinsale Good Food Circle
I would now like to declare the 2016 Kinsale Gourmet Festival