Galway Region of Gastronomy 2018 is a step closer

Entrance to Claregalway Castle

Galway has been officially deignated the European Region of Gastronomy 2018, the first place in Ireland to receive this title. Galway will be one of just two European Regions of Gastronomy in 2018. Much work in heritage has taken place in the past weeks leading to the launch of the project on 6th September last. One source of information has been the Duchas digitised Schools Collection material and another is a group of oral recordings capturing reminiscences about food and agriculture.

When Duchas began to digitise and make available the material from the Schools’ Collection, part of the National Folklore collection, the original participants, some 50,000 pupils would scarcely have believed their collected stories would be so far-reaching.

Started in 1937, the Scheme resulted in the collection of half a million pages, each bound together in volumes giving the name of the school, parish, barony, county and teacher responsible. Today, these stories reflect our traditions, songs, poems, stories and oral and local history, captured at a time when few had electricity and running water.

It is ironic that the digitisation process brought this old material and new technology together. Never have we been able to communicate so effectively across time zones, continents and cultures, yet can we say that the art of story-telling is still alive in our parishes, to say nothing of our knowledge of old cures and proverbs. These stories were previously passed down by the older generation, and the Folklore Collection shows how important it is to capture and save this information for future generations.

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

As part of the Region of Gastronomy heritage project much of the Schools’ Collection as it relates to food in Co. Galway has been recaptured, tagged and mapped. And while stories about butter-making, May Day customs and homemade cures may be of their time, they reflect an era when hard-manual labour was the main-stay of every family and food was used carefully, almost with reverence.

As our way of using what we have learned from the folklore made available by Duchas, and to reflect both a modern take on food consumption and reminiscences of food in the past, several interviews were undertaken. Many people still remember either watching the churning or doing it themselves. Bread-making was a daily task, one not undertaken to the same degree today in our busy lives. Christmas and Easter were special times, as were the Stations and special food was eaten, unavailable or perhaps not affordable at other times of the year. Each of the interviewees spoke fondly of the food eaten as children, remembering too the work of their mothers in tending and sometimes killing chickens and their fathers’ work on the land, saving hay or turf. Life was sometimes difficult but in most cases a family meal was always eaten together in the evening.

Rituals were observed, like sharing the few rashers of bacon with the neighbours after the pig had been killed, and this kindness was returned. Words like ‘flummery’ and ‘noggin’ are now longer in use and the folklore collection as well as these oral recordings try to show and preserve how food today is both the same and different as that enjoyed by our parents and grandparents. Coffee, tomatoes and pineapple are common today but at one time in our very recent past these were considered new-fangled and different.

We hope that the interviews can continue, building up an oral history archive for Galway relating to food and gastronomy in the region. In this way, in 50 or 100 years from now, people can look back and see how we lived, what we ate, how we produced it and what it meant to our lives.

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