Going to Ballymaloe Litfest? Here’s your survival guide

Who not to miss, where to eat and drink, and how to get home after a late night in The Big Shed

Litfest: A Food and Drinks Literacy Festival at Ballymaloe, to give it its brand new title, is expected to draw in excess of 8,000 people to the Co Cork venue this weekend. Here's what you need to know to get the most out of your visit:


The action is spread out over two areas, the Cookery School and Ballymaloe House, and they are several kilometres apart. If you’ve booked a cookery demo, head straight for the school, and arrive in time for the refreshments – tea or coffee with milk from the farm’s Jersey herd and lovely cakes and biscuits – that greet guests.

The majority of the other events, but not all (check the venue on your ticket), are centred around the hotel. The Grainstore and The Big Shed, and The Garden Tent are located here.


A shuttle bus will run between the two venues all weekend, and there is parking available at both, though there is much more availability at the hotel.

The welcome tent is probably the first place you should call in to, to pick up a programme and have any questions you may have answered. Follow this with a visit to the Box Office to check on last minute ticket availability across the two venues.


Most of the eating and drinking is done at The Big Shed, where there are food stalls, garden and craft vendors, and a bar. The welcome party takes place here on Friday night, from 7.30pm, and everyone is welcome.

There will be live music followed by a DJ, and food and drinks will be available from Buena Vida Tacos, Clanwood Organic Farm, Green Saffron, Volcano Wood Fired Pizzas, Crepes, Yum Gelato, Galty Valley, My Goodness and Julia’s Lobster Truck.

The food vendors in The Big Shed will be open from 10am to 10pm on both Saturday and Sunday. The Ballymaloe Shop Café will open from 9am-5pm both days.

Colm McCan’s Drinks Theatre won’t actually be selling alcohol, but if you buy a ticket for one of the many talks and tastings over the weekend, you won’t go thirsty.


Symposium is too stuffy a word for what will be going down in this Cathedral-like space all weekend, where “Our Responsibility” is the theme for a programme of talks, panel discussions, film screenings and general thought-provoking.

The Saturday line-up includes Cork academic Prof Ted Dinan, who will talk about Diet, Stress and Mental Health (3.25pm). This was a festival hit and much talked about last year, and is worth putting on your programme for the day.

Copenhagen chef and restaurateur Christian Puglisi opens the session at 10am with his thoughts on A Cook's Responsibility, and there will be queues out the door for Claudia Roden's talk, Every Cuisine Tells A Story, which brings things to a close at 6pm.

Ben Reade and Sashana Souza of The Edinburgh Food Studio, a crowdfunded restaurant and food research hub, will open Sunday's programme in The Grainstore. Reade, a former Ballymaloe student, previously headed up the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, and also worked with the team behind the MAD symposium.

The pair will also cook for 65 lucky ticket holders at Saturday’s sold out pop-up restaurant and have spent the week since their arrival in Cork working on a menu that “will feature foraged, fermented, Gubeen, flat fish, lamb and beeswax, with a ton of other stuff too,” according to Reade.

On Sunday afternoon, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, will propose that To Eat is a Political Statement. Chef's Table's Brian McGinn and London chef Robin Gill are also on the Sunday programme in The Grainstore. Gill will tackle the subject of Terrifying Kitchens: Respect and Responsibility.

Full weekend tickets for The Grainstore cost €170, but you can also opt for a half day (€50) or a full day ticket (€90).


Festival manager Rebecca Cronin and media manager Breffni O'Dwyer of Host pr have pivotal roles in ensuring the success of Litfest. Here are their top tips and the sessions they recommend getting to.

O’Dwyer: Wear runners/comfortable (dancing) shoes. The lemon cake at the Ballymaloe shop cafe makes a delicious breakfast – or anytime snack, for that matter. Pack a warm jumper for the evenings/early mornings in The Big Shed. Book a taxi, and remember to leave the shed in time to get it. Catch the closing speeches in The Grainstore on Sunday.

Cronin: Don't miss the symposium – it will be great. Also, Fleetwood Mac vs Abba. The Farmer's Life panel in the Carriguan room. Sumayya Usmani's cookery demonstration. Living Working and Eating in West Cork with Lord David Puttnam. Magical Places with David Prior. Buena Vida Tacos.


Last minute decision to join in the fun? Visit the Litfest FaceBook forum here, for late accommodation deals, lift share arrangements and ticket resales.


The festival has this list of taxi services that will be operating over the weekend: Michael Walsh (086-2647001); Castlemartyr Cabs (086-1599318); East Cork Cabs (021-4633444); Midleton Cabs (021-4613789); Express Cabs (021-4633133); Whitegate Cabs (087-1487717)

If you can’t make it down to Ballymaloe, keep abreast of all the events, news and happenings on irishtimes.com/food, where Marie Claire Digby will be reporting.