MYLESDAY:This year marks the centenary of the birth of Flann O’Brien. Rather than allowing Joyce to steal all the thunder with Bloomsday, MylesDay will celebrate the works of Flann – not to mention Brian O’Nolan and Myles na gCopaleen, his other pen names – next Friday, April 1st (yes, this was the date of his death rather than birth, but the organisers felt it was a more appropriate date).

The venue is the Palace Bar on Fleet Street, Dublin from 2pm. Drop by, read a favourite piece from his work, or provide any other reminisence that would be of interest to fans.

Soup kitchen

WHEN IVAN VARIAN lost his job as project manager of an audio-visual installations company, he couldn’t have guessed that less than two years later, he’d be spending his weekdays slaving over a hot stove from 5.30am.

Varian’s redundancy in 2009 provided him with the impetus to follow his dream of becoming a professional chef. Having grown up with foodie parents who placed an emphasis on locally sourced and homegrown produce, cooking has always been more than a hobby for the Dalkey native. Last year, he spent three months at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and he and his partner Ellie Balfe recently founded the Dalkey Food Company, which is run from the rented kitchen of The Queens pub in Dalkey village. Varian spends his mornings making inventively flavoured fresh soups and breads and delivering them to local businesses in time for the lunchtime rush.

“Cooking occupied most of my free time and free thought,” he explains. “When I was made redundant, retraining was really the only sensible option, and cheffing was the most logical step. Darina and the team are amazing; you learn so many different concepts and processes, all under-pinned with the slow food ethos.”

Although his time at Ballymaloe was ultimately rewarding, it was a gruelling full-time course that meant visits back to Dublin to see his fiancée and their young daughter were restricted.

“Truthfully, it was bit of a stretch on our reserves, as we missed each other – but we all knew how important it was, and we were invested in it. I was a single parent from Monday to Friday, and oh, how I respect them now,” says Balfe, who brought her business knowledge as a freelance make-up artist to the partnership.

In fact, the Dalkey Food Company was her idea from the start. “I was remarking one day on how it was hard to find really great soup in cafes, or a varied flavour choice on the supermarket shelves. Sure, the classics are well represented by the existing soup producers, but I thought it would be good to see some new, creative flavours brought to the market,” she says. “Ivan and I got talking about how seasonality is so important in ensuring that both the flavours and nutrients are maximised, and we thought it’d be an interesting idea to have a range of seasonal soups, where the flavours match what is in season.”

The duo plan to expand the company in the coming months by launching informal cookery classes and bringing their soups to retail outlets. And they’re confident that their simple business ethos will see them through: “Eat fresh, eat local, eat seasonal.” Varian is pictured below with his daughter Lucienne. See

Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen

It’s got to be the whackiest tourism initiative going but the organisers of the National Leprechaun Hunt expect thousands of people to travel to the medieval village of Carlingford in Co Louth tomorrow in search of the little people. Following its official designation as an EU Special Protection Area for Little People last year (and the IMF had nothing to do with it, we’re assured), the Leprechaun Hunt was re-launched with gusto. Kevin Woods, who led the original hunt in 1989 (following the discovery of a leprechaun suit and bones by – ahem – a local businessman) asks people to refrain from capturing any real leprechauns. Instead, there will be 100 ceramic leprechauns hidden on Slieve Foy mountain and visitors will pay €5 for prospecting licences. Prospective miners will assemble at the fairgreen in Carlingford at 1.30pm before the official hunt on the mountain overlooking the village begins. Each leprechaun has a reward, the value of which is written under his heel. See, tel: 042-9373033.

Wake up and smell the garlic

If you’d like to sample the delights of wild garlic, simply follow your nose. At this time of year, great swathes of the lush pointed leaves are bursting through the earth in woodlands and riverbanks across the country, and you’re likely to smell them before you see them. The scent is pungent, herbal and intensely garlicky, but if you pluck a leaf and munch it, you find that the flavour is mild and delicate, more akin to chives. Wild garlic – otherwise known as ramsons – is good finely chopped and stirred through buttery pasta. It also gives a subtle flavour and colour to mashed potato, and makes a fine last-minute addition to a leek and potato soup or a simple risotto. Jamie Oliver adds a handful of leaves to homemade soda bread. At Rathmullan House in Donegal, wild garlic sometimes turns up as an exceptionally fresh and vibrant green pesto – spring on a plate. The starry white flowers are edible too, but by the time they bloom the leaves are getting rather tough, dusty and past their best. So now is the time to get picking, when the plant is young and tender. One word of warning – wild garlic bears a passing resemblance to lily of the valley, which is poisonous, so check that what you’re picking has a strong garlicky aroma before tucking in. The leaves will keep for a few days in a glass of water on the kitchen windowsill.


Next Saturday, from 2-3.30pm, the Chester Beatty Library will host an Easter collage workshop for six- to 11-year-olds, and Saturday and Sunday are family days, with activity packs, booklets, puzzles, crosswords and colouring books specially prepared for the Shahnama exhibition – and all for free. See or tel: 01-4070750

Clash of the ash

This table is the work of John Lee, whose work went down a treat at the Saatchi Gallery last year and who has just been awarded this year’s £10,000 bursary from the Crafts Council. The Letterfrack-trained designer, based in Pagestown, Maynooth, Co Kildare, is going to use the bursary to take a 3-D modelling computer-aided design course in Limerick. You can admire more of his bespoke chairs, tables, chests and hardwood whatnots on



Barack Obama’s visitBetter start planting flowers and cutting the grass verges, stat

Costa CoffeeOn the corner of Dublin’s Dawson and Nassau Streets – our new favourite people-watching spot

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at ImmaWe haven’t been this excited since the Vertical Thoughts show. From April 6th

‘The Big Sleep’Bogart and Bacalls swoonsome 1946 classic is showing at the IFI this week (left)

Easter eggsThere’s no official line about waiting until Easter Sunday to gorge . . . is there?

‘Blood, Bones and Butter’Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir about being a woman chef in a New York kitchen full of male chefs has got foodies talking. It outdoes Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, they say

Sloe ginForgot about at Christmas and just discovered it at the back of the cupboard. Yum

Agricultural jacketsFirst the Barbour and now the quilted jacket rule city streets as well as country roads

New pond and pavilion at Dublin’s St Anne’s ParkLooks like it has been there for years

Live blogs during matchesWe loved watching the Ireland v England match on with the diaspora commenting live from Manila, Sao Paulo and beyond


‘Country Strong’We like you, Gwyneth, but country music is a bridge too far

Paddy’s Day comedownWe were just getting used to seeing the world through green-tinted specs

SXSW envyThank God it’s over. Hearing people blather on about the next big things at the Texan festival was getting irksome

Royal wedding overkillApril 29th can’t come (and go) quickly enough

Dogs in coatsWe have seen a mutt in a pink babygro, and a mutt in a high-viz vest. What next – dogs in smoking jackets?

Spring’s changeable natureBright and breezy one minute, cold and surly the next. Rather like our moods

WORD ON THE STREET/Manny: What it means: Meet the manny, or man-nanny, an increasingly popular accessory for female celebrities with kids. Elle McPherson has one, a hunky chap named Mike Tanner who teaches her sons Flynn (13) and Cy (8) how to surf. British actress Keeley Hawes has a manny who looks a bit like her husband, actor Matthew Macfadyen. The trend was started by the likes of Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Britney Spears. Britney’s ex, Kevin Federline, was said to be none too happy that she chose a manny who was better-looking than him.

For mums, it’s a win-win situation. Their manny can take out the trash, carry the shopping and teach their kids the offside rule. But it’s not just a celebrity fad – attitudes towards men in childcare roles have softened in recent years, and fewer parents see a problem with letting a man mind their kids.

Last year Northern Ireland’s Childcare Association (Nicma), encouraged men to think about a career in childminding, saying they can “provide a valuable role model in childrens’ lives”.

How to say it: Okay, we can hire a manny, but he better be short, ugly and have a golf handicap of 18.

Belfast film festival breaks boundaries

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE that the Belfast Film Festival (next Thursday until April 14th), once just a small offshoot of Féile an Phobail, is now in its 11th year. Firmly established as a much-loved Belfast institution, the Film Festival has a sense of style, imagination and exuberance all its own. Alongside high-profile gala screenings, you’ll find science fiction, fantasy, horror, documentary, experimental cinema and every point in between. Despite its strong international flavour, this is one festival that remembers its roots, and there’s plenty of support for Irish actors, directors and producers. The opening night premiere is Killing Bono, a rock ’n’ roll comedy about two brothers struggling to forge their way through the 1980s music scene, featuring Belfast man Martin McCann. And Patricia Quinn – owner of the infamous lips featured in the opening sequence of The Rocky Horror Picture Show – will be making a triumphant return to her native city.

The festival has made a name for itself by screening films in all sorts of unexpected locations, from churches to river-boats, and this year festival-goers can enjoy a special screening of the classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (below) on the roof garden of the opulent Merchant Hotel. If that’s too tame, why not take part in a special sing-along-a-Wickerman event, which promises goody bags, buttock-slapping, and plenty of audience interaction.

The 2011 festival will also see the Irish launch of the world’s first “emotional response” cinema. Through hand sensors connected to the audience, each person’s heart rate and skin response will be measured during the film, and the resulting signals are sent to the Biosuite system, triggering subtle changes in the unfolding story – both acoustically and visually. From martinis at the Merchant through pagan hymn singing to wired-up horror – it could only happen at the Belfast Film Festival.


Unicef’s 14th annual Mothers’ Day fundraising lunch takes place next Friday, April 1st, in the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin 4, with all proceeds going to the UN’s Safe Motherhood programmes. It’s always a fun, sparkling outing and will this year include the razzle dazzle of a fashion show by Arnotts. Go with friends or bring yer ma. Tickets (€85) are available from or tel: 01-8090277.