Made in Ireland? Probably not
You might think it would be a doddle to travel around Ireland using only Irish transport, eating only Irish food, wearing only Irish clothes and listening to music played only on Irish instruments. You would be very wrong.
IS IT POSSIBLE to survive on Irish-made produce alone? I decided to put it to the test, to set myself the challenge of using only Irish transport, eating only Irish food and wearing only Irish clothes for a new TG4 series, Déanta in Éirinn. How hard could it be?
I would first need transport, but when I turned up at Heuston Station the Iarnród Éireann spokesman told me the company hadn’t built anything for more than 30 years. Most of the fleet now comes from South Korea, he said, as well as Germany and Spain.
A decade ago I could have hopped on to an Irish bus with ease, but it’s much harder now that much of the fleet is made in six other European countries, with only a few Irish buses manufactured by Wrightbus, in Ballymena.
I considered a bike, until I learned that Raleigh closed its Dublin factory here in 1980 when it realised it could supply the entire Irish market from its Nottingham plant.
The world’s first mass-produced private transport, the Model T Ford, was built in Cork from 1923 to 1927, and I could have got myself a Cork-built Ford until 1984, when cheaper competition from abroad closed the factory.
I heard rumours of a fish-tailed 1950s roadster, the Shamrock, built in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, and eventually tracked one of the four remaining specimens to Drogheda, but I couldn’t get a loan of it. I considered the TMC-Costin, Ireland’s greatest sports car, made in Wexford in the 1980s, but the few that remain are mostly kitted out for racetracks.
I was beginning to despair. There had to be a car that was 100 per cent made in Ireland. A car that still exists and could take me around the country in all its Celtic glory. And there is, but I had been looking in the wrong place, focusing on the past when I ought to have gone back to the future.
The DeLorean DMC-12 is not only an Irish-made car but also one of the most beautiful in the space-time continuum. Between 1981 and 1983, 9,000 of these aluminium angels were produced in Belfast, and I managed to get hold of one of them. My journey could begin – once I found some Irish fuel.
The environmentalist and broadcaster Duncan Stewart told me that while it was entirely feasible for Ireland to produce all its own transport fuel using anaerobic digesters to create biogas from farm slurry, grass and food waste, none is commercially available.
Anaerobic digesters are already widely used in China and Africa. Biomethane fuels 13 million vehicles in Europe, including most of Stockholm’s buses. But in Ireland I must either hitch the DeLorean to a donkey or compromise my ideals and buy some foreign petrol.
As hunger struck, I turned to the supermarket for some Irish food and realised just how complicated this was going to be. Packets of almonds and coconut were labelled Guaranteed Irish. Irish coconuts? Some of the coffee even boasted a Love Irish Food label.
Further reading revealed that most Boyne Valley honey isn’t Irish (though some is) and that some Donegal Catch is actually farmed off Chile. Little of it is caught in waters off Donegal.
The colourful Siúcra packaging still looks reassuringly Irish, apart from the line “Packed in the UK for Nordzucker”. The closure of the Irish sugar-beet processing factories dealt a blow to our food independence and a further blow to my consumption of anything sweet on this pilgrimage. We’ve been making jam in Ireland for thousands of years, yet while we still have oodles of fruit, the sugar now needs to be imported.
To ease my sugar cravings I went for a pint, but just as I was bringing the Guinness to my lips I began to question the Irishness of this quintessentially Irish drink. The master brewer at St James’s Gate reassured me that the barley, the yeast and water were Irish but said that the hops came from Australia, the US and Germany. So Guinness was out.