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A taste of history in our food and drink



Sulky car at the Kilconnell Fair. Pic: Gerry Stronge.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy meets author Margaret Hickey and hears of the saga behind her epic book Ireland’s Green Larder

It would be fair to describe Ireland’s Green Larder, a unique book that explores Irish history through our food and drink, as a slow burner.

Its author Margaret Hickey, a former Deputy Editor with Country Living, was commissioned to write this book in the early 2000s by English publishing company, Hodder Headline.

And write it she did, travelling the length and breadth of the country and delving into historic and contemporary sources to research the role of food in Ireland’s history.

Margaret’s previous book Irish Days, published in 2001, was a collection of living history from people across a spectrum of Irish society. It was praised by broadcasters Gay Byrne and Pat Kenny, while an extract from Irish Days was also included on the Leaving Cert course.

Her latest offering, Ireland’s Green Larder, covers an era from 1,000 years before the pyramids of Egypt up to the present day, with excerpts from diaries, poems, ballads, law texts, folklore, historians and more.

It also includes recipes and beautiful, specially commissioned, line drawings.

“I begin with an introductory chapter, explaining what the book is about and why I’ve written it,” explains English-born Margaret who has lived in Portumna since 1999. Her father’s family came from nearby Woodford and although he spent most of his life in England, Ireland was home.

“It’s a book about what ordinary people did and ate – the plain people of Ireland and how they managed, going back as far as possible,” she says.

Margaret’s research took her to places such as the Ulster Folk Museum outside Belfast as well as Mayo’s prehistoric Céide Fields. She talks enthusiastically about an era when people lived on grains, meat and ‘Bán Bia’ or ‘white food’ made from dairy produce.

There was huge regard for milk in ancient society, with more than 30 terms to describe it, all of them poetic.

“And people liked it better when it was tangy,” she says. “Sweet, or fresh, milk was for children and people who were unwell.”

Grains were plentiful, with oats and barley being used in many ways, including for flatbreads. People also had meat and fish occasionally.

This was hundreds of years before potatoes made an appearance. As for soda bread, it didn’t come in until about the 16th century, explains Margaret.

“Before that, there was a type of sourdough bread which people made using yeast that was in the air. They’d leave the dough out to capture the air,” she says.

Her research into this bread unearthed a letter from the Bishop of Elphin, instructing his housekeeper how to make it. He was also particular about his beer, she says, adding that weak beer was safer to drink than water because water could be contaminated.

Moving along through history, Margaret wrote about other vegetables, meat and fish and says she’s still amazed that for a country that’s surrounded by the sea and filled with rivers and lakes, Irish people never had a ‘grá’ for fish.

“Compared to countries like Portugal or Japan, fish was never loved here.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.


Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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