On July 1st, The Tannery restaurant will be open 25 years. In 1997, I was 32 and Máire was 28. We were determined to move home to set up a restaurant. I couldn’t be more of a townie, as I grew up on the town square, over my parents’ chemist shop. She’s from Fews, a townland just outside Kilmacthomas with a church and a small primary school. We got married in that church.
I never thought we’d end up back in Dungarvan, but we fell in love with the building. The place had history and I was smitten. My grandfather worked all his life in the leather factory on the very floor our restaurant now sits. All it had back then were rusty remnants and gritty, stinking memories from when I was a child. I remember cycling down the lane as fast as I could, holding my breath so as not to inhale the bleach and death. Not the most obvious place to open a restaurant.
We wanted to quietly make a difference. After a few years, we bought one building around the corner for bedrooms, as people were travelling to us, then another for more rooms and a cookery school. We were slowly evolving; there was no grand plan. On occasion it has been turbulent. The town has changed too. Then came the greenway and it felt like the world discovered us.
How do you describe all those years in a few paragraphs? All those wonderful people who worked and continue to work for us — they all have a part in our story.
Running a restaurant is a vocation, and cooking is what I still love to do. We’ve met all sorts of people along the way: our locals, who kept us open in the quiet winter months; our summer people, who have come every year since we opened, some no longer with us but we remember and treasure them all. They pulled us through and now their grandchildren keep the tradition. It lifts our hearts to see them. There is a bond.
This week’s recipes are not restaurant dishes, but rather one-pot summery plates. They reflect the changes that access to what would have been seen as exotic ingredients 25 years ago, have brought to our food.