Hugh O'Donnell

Hugh O’Donnell’s Culinary Odyssey from Killybegs to the Kitchen

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Updated on May 1, 2024

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In today’s episode of Amazing Food and Drink, we embark on an enthralling culinary journey with Hugh O’Donnell, whose roots trace back to the picturesque landscapes of Donegal.

From the abundant waters off its coast, Hugh set sail to navigate the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean aboard his own fishing vessel on a journey of discovery and cultivating a deep appreciation for the region’s fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

However, life’s currents led Hugh to new horizons, steering him towards the serene countryside of Donegal, where he delved into sheep farming. Through unwavering dedication, he not only embraced the pastoral lifestyle but also inherited a thriving sheep farm, forging a profound connection to the land and its riches.

Yet, fueled by his spirit of adventure and innovation, Hugh’s journey continued to unfold as he transformed a modest tea house into a bustling restaurant and ventured into pub management, showcasing culinary delights inspired by Donegal’s rugged beauty and creating a vibrant community hub.

As we witness the chapters of Hugh’s culinary odyssey develop, we invite you to join us in savouring every moment of this extraordinary tale.

Hugh O’Donnell: From Urban New York to Rural Ireland

Hugh O’Donnell was born in New York to immigrant parents. His mother worked in the restaurant business on Fifth Avenue and even served Marlin Monroe during “The Seven Year Itch”. In 1963, the family relocated back to Killybegs, County Donegal, where they purchased a pub, and Hugh grew up above the bar.

With a licence operating for 23 and a half hours, the pub thrived, particularly due to the fishing industry in the area.

Hugh and his siblings were actively involved in the pub’s operations from a young age, often tasked with washing glasses, stocking shelves, and even bottling drinks like Guinness, Smithwicks, Phoenix, and other brands popular at the time.

Life in the pub was bustling, especially during the summer months, when keeping an eye on the children became a challenge. As a result, Hugh and his siblings were sent to their aunt’s farm in Longford, which provided them with exposure to farming practices and self-sufficiency away from their parents.

Longford, colloquially known as a “long-forgotten county,” quickly became Hugh’s temporary home. There, amidst the serene countryside, he encountered a world teeming with agricultural activities and self-reliance.

From curing hams to slaughtering pigs, the rural setting exposed Hugh to the intricate workings of farm life, providing a profound initiation into the realm of food production.

This upbringing in the countryside, juxtaposed with his roots in a fishing community, shaped Hugh’s culinary perspective.

The Seafood Currency in Killybegs

Hugh O'Donnell

Returning to the fishing town from Longford, Hugh was greeted by the abundance of fish, which held significant value among local fishermen. Fish became a form of currency, exchanged for various goods and services, a practice all members of the community engaged in.

These bags, often left near the entrance, served as a form of exchange among locals, which further enriched Hugh’s understanding of food’s multifaceted role in different environments.

However, amidst the convivial atmosphere of the pub, some individuals occasionally departed without retrieving their bags of fish. This led to humorous remarks among the regulars, jokingly referring to the forgotten bags as “little bags of worries.” The lighthearted banter added to the charm of the pub, creating memorable moments for those partaking in the lively exchanges.

In Killybegs, renowned for its abundance of fresh seafood, pelagic fish, such as mackerel and herring, dominate the local catch. Currently, mackerel stands as the primary species, with herring facing conservation challenges due to declining stocks.

Consequently, conservation measures have been implemented to safeguard herring populations.

Despite these changes, the tradition of cooking and consuming fish remains deeply ingrained in the local culinary culture. Fish, being a natural and integral component of the diet, continues to be cherished for its freshness and nutritional value.

In the Fishing Industry

Hugh O'Donnell

Despite initially embarking on a teaching career at a secondary school, circumstances led Hugh to take a different path. Following the passing of his father in 1986 when he was 26, Hugh suddenly found himself in charge of managing the bar.

Alongside a friend who possessed a fishing licence for tonnage, Hugh ventured into the fishing industry. Subsequently, they acquired their own fishing vessel named the Mare Dawn, which had previously served in the Scottish Oil Wells.

In their fishing endeavours, Hugh and his friend initially utilised gill nets, likening them to tennis nets spread across the sea.

However, they soon recognised the ecological implications of this method, as the fine mesh posed risks to fish stocks. In addition to this, their new fisheries licence imposed some restrictions, confining their fishing grounds to specific areas such as box six and box seven, spanning from Mayo to North Donegal.

Such limitations prompted a series of efforts, including lobbying politicians and advocating for changes to the regulations, to expand their fishing range. Eventually, their persistence paid off, leading to the lifting of these constraints to safeguard the sustainability of their operation.

Opting for a more eco-friendly approach, Hugh and his friend managed to convert their vessel into a trawler. Unlike gill nets, trawlers afford fish the opportunity to swim freely, with smaller ones able to escape through the mesh, reducing the risk of entanglement.

This transition marked a significant shift in their fishing practices, offering a more sustainable approach while ensuring the viability of their fishing venture.

That said, Hugh and his friend faced the challenge of obtaining fair prices and selling their catch. At the time, the local fish buyers would often collude to set prices before the boats arrived, resulting in fishermen receiving subpar rates for their catch.

Such a practice created a closed system where bidding and purchasing were predetermined, leaving little room for negotiation or fair market value.

In an attempt to find a way out, the two friends established contact with a Spanish fish agent based in Barcelona, who proposed a direct purchase arrangement. Under this agreement, the agent would buy their fish and transport it to the Barcelona fish market via lorry, ensuring a quick sale within two days.

Hugh found the Spanish agent to be highly reliable and trustworthy and significantly boosted the boat’s profitability by approximately 40%. This newfound success translated into premium prices for their fish and marked a departure from the local market dynamics.

Subsequently, other smaller white fish boats began to emulate their approach. As a result, white fish are no longer auctioned on the pier in Killybegs, with sellers now opting to sell directly to the Barcelona market.

While such a move might not have made Hugh and his friend popular with local fish buyers, it certainly earned them favour with their bank manager, who had been concerned about their financial situation.

To this day, the process continues. In fact, Hugh claimed the entire success of that endeavour. However, numerous Spanish boats possess tonnage rights to catch fish in the Western Seaboard of Ireland.

These boats often dock in Killybegs and have their own lorries for transportation. Consequently, the fishing activity has shifted away from the town centre to outlying areas.

Some might perceive this as unfortunate for the town in a way, as there’s potential to add processing value.

However, Killybegs isn’t primarily focused on white fish. Pelagic fishing is the main source of income, particularly for fish processing and freezing. The main towns for the whitefish sector are Dunmore East on the East Coast of Ireland and Castletownbere.

Then, it was just time for another setback for Hugh and his friend when a new legislation in the southern region was introduced, particularly impacting the white fishing sector and encompassing species like monkfish, hake, and haddock.

These stocks were deemed vulnerable, prompting fishing vessels to venture further into the Atlantic beyond the continental shelf, which posed safety concerns and rendered them unfit for operation.

In response, the government implemented safety measures, offering a 50% grant to upgrade existing boats and advance to a larger vessel.

While his partner aimed to acquire a seven-million boat, with the grant covering half the cost, Hugh grew apprehensive about the risks involved in taking such a big step with such a huge investment from their side.

Recognising the uncertainty and potential challenges ahead, Hugh made the decision to step back from the venture, allowing his partner to pursue it independently.

The chosen vessel was constructed in Denmark, yet complications arose upon its arrival in Ireland.

For example, the fish stocks it was intended to target, such as Orange Roughy, underwent quota changes during the construction period, affecting the boat’s sustainability plans, altering the viability of the operation, and highlighting the unpredictable nature of the fishing industry.

Upon its maiden voyage into Killybegs, it became evident that the fate of the new boat was sealed, lacking a financially viable future. Hugh reflected on his fortunate decision to step away from the venture, recognising the precariousness of the situation.

Likewise, his former partner ultimately navigated out of the predicament by selling off the vessel.

The Tea House

Having redirected his efforts, Hugh set his mind to open a quaint restaurant. Utilising a farmhouse inherited from his father, who also ran a hill sheep farm, Hugh found himself immersed in the intricacies of farm life again.

While not the most ideal occupation due to his struggle with hay fever, Hugh gained valuable experience tending to the sheep, administering treatments, and managing the farm’s upkeep.

Amidst this rural backdrop, Hugh seized an opportunity presented by the farmhouse’s proximity to Donegal Bay. As the local council had established a viewing point nearby, affording stunning vistas of the bay, Hugh transformed the farm into a charming tea house aptly named “The Tea House.”

Positioned on what was famously dubbed the “worst bend in Ireland,” the tea house quickly garnered attention despite its challenging location.

Hugh’s venture into the culinary realm marked the beginning of a new chapter, blending his rural upbringing with a newfound passion for hospitality and gastronomy.

He recalls the simplicity and authenticity of the offerings at “The Tea House,” emphasising the focus on traditional fare like cream mashed potatoes, homemade tea cakes, brown breads, and scones.

A few years in and despite the bustling atmosphere and steady stream of customers, Hugh encountered financial challenges in running his daytime tea house, where profit margins were slim and operational costs high due to the constant need for dishwashing and upkeep.

While struggling with such daytime model limitations, Hugh serendipitously stumbled upon an alternative approach.

Understanding that evenings allowed for multiple course sales, including desserts, drinks and wine, Hugh saw an opportunity to increase profits significantly with relatively little additional effort and sought to establish a new brand identity.

Kitty Kelly’s

Inspired by memorable names like “Durty Nellies,” Hugh introduced “Kitty Kelly’s”, not just a catchy name but also one that often required an explanation of who Kitty actually was, which added an extra layer of engagement with customers.

This shift proved transformative, leading to a significant uptick in revenue and offering Hugh a newfound perspective on the business’s potential for success.

Innovative Flavours and Fresh Catches

Hugh O'Donnell

Among the diverse array of dishes offered at Kitty Kelly’s, one standout was the Seville-style mackerel marinated in oranges. The acidity of the oranges caused the fish to lighten in colour, almost resembling chicken in texture.

This innovative approach showcased their willingness to push culinary boundaries and explore new flavours, earning them a reputation for cutting-edge cuisine.

Hugh attributes their ability to offer fresh, top-quality fish directly from the boat to their strong connections within the fishing community. This ensured that the restaurant consistently served fresh and delicious seafood, establishing its reputation for excellence in culinary offerings.

In addition, Hugh noted how mudfish have undergone a transformation in perception over the years. In the past, locals often shunned mudfish, associating its distinctive appearance, particularly its unattractive head, with negative connotations, dubbing it the “devil’s fish” and believing it brought bad luck.

As a result, it was largely avoided and disregarded in culinary circles yet used as bait for lobsters along with other species like gurnard.

That’s why he took pride in featuring lesser-known fish varieties like gurnard on their menu. It was a standout choice due to its delicious flavour and unique qualities.

The journey of Hugh’s restaurant venture began around 1989 and concluded with its sale approximately 28 years later, in 2017. The establishment found new ownership in Rémy Dupont, a French chef who previously served as the head chef at the renowned Castle Moray House Hotel, and his wife Donna, a local resident.

Under Rémy’s stewardship, the restaurant has undergone a transformation towards French-style cuisine with a focus on fine dining. Hugh admires the balance struck by Rémy, noting that while the dining experience has elevated, it remains reasonably priced.

Hugh recalls a recent visit where he enjoyed a three-course Sunday lunch with coffee for just 26 euros.

Premium Gins and Homemade Tonics

Hugh O'Donnell

Initially, Hugh approached the role of a publican with some apprehension, recognising the need for a larger-than-life personality to run a successful bar. However, as time progressed, he found himself evolving into the role and began to shape the bar to reflect his own creative personality.

Embracing his penchant for innovation, Hugh introduced unique elements to the bar experience, such as being an early adopter of the gin craze.

Before the gin revolution took hold, the bar was not known for its gin offerings. However, Hugh recognised the potential of the premium gin trend and swiftly incorporated it into the bar’s offerings.

Well, this move proved transformative for the establishment, attracting customers with an extensive selection of premium gins paired with a variety of tonics.

Continuing his quest for novel experiences, Hugh recently encountered a vendor during a trip to Cheshire who offered artisanal syrups for crafting homemade tonic water, an innovative approach that Hugh thoroughly admired.

However, when considering bringing this concept back to the bar, he realised the need to explore sensible sourcing options, as the supplier operated on a small scale.

Reflecting on potential solutions, Hugh contemplated the possibility of developing their own syrups or seeking partnerships with local suppliers, leveraging the resources available, such as the Tourism College in Killybegs.

This strategic thinking aligned with Hugh’s entrepreneurial spirit, which had already led him to explore various ventures in the bar, fishing, and restaurant industries.

Now A Chef

Hugh O'Donnell

Recognising the challenges of staffing in the restaurant business, particularly the difficulty of securing coverage for days off, Hugh recalled how his chef, Louise Ivers, introduced him to the concept of cook-ins.

This arrangement involved Hugh preparing the necessary dishes himself to cover for the chef’s days off, demonstrating his hands-on approach to problem-solving and commitment to maintaining quality service in his establishments.

Hugh successfully managed to maintain operations seamlessly during Louise’s days off without drawing attention to her absence. This was the moment when Hugh realised he needed to add cheffing to his list of endeavours.

Soon enough, Hugh enrolled in the Tourism College in Killybegs for a chef course offered through a three-day release programme. The flexibility of this arrangement allowed him to balance his culinary education with his other responsibilities. Subsequently, he pursued a year of study in advanced culinary art.

Although he contemplated further academic pursuits, he later decided that additional degrees might not significantly enhance his career prospects as hands-on experience would.

Completing his qualification at the college provided Hugh with valuable insights into the mindset of chefs and the challenges they encounter, including the demands for precision and efficiency amidst the chaos of a busy kitchen.

Despite the pressure, the atmosphere shifts once dishes are served in the restaurant, where patrons enjoy their meals amidst serene surroundings and soothing music.

With such a profound understanding of the psychological dynamics at play among chefs and armed with his culinary qualification, Hugh delved into various aspects of kitchen management, including pricing strategies, menu planning, and resource allocation in the absence of a chef.

This newfound knowledge empowered him to make informed decisions and fostered strong relationships within the kitchen team.

During busy service nights, Hugh’s versatility shone through as he seamlessly transitioned between washing dishes, preparing starters, assisting with desserts, or cooking main courses.

Hugh’s willingness to lend a helping hand provided invaluable support to his colleagues during moments of intense pressure and helped them overcome challenges and maintain efficiency.

Hugh also recognised the challenge of distinguishing between valid orders and potential voids in the sheer volume of incoming orders, which often left the kitchen team wondering about the actual number of orders to prepare.

Despite the ambiguity, they braced themselves for the task ahead, ready to tackle the influx of orders, whether they numbered in the hundreds or fewer.

22 Main Street

Hugh O'Donnell

Turning his attention back to the bar, Hugh made the decision to appoint a manager for the restaurant, recognising the manager’s capability in running the establishment even better than himself. This allowed him to focus on his growing frustration with missing the culinary aspect of the business.

Consequently, he transformed the back bar into a gastro bar in Killybegs, known as 22 Main Street.

Initially, the gastro bar didn’t attract the same high numbers as Kitty Kelly’s, averaging around 30 to 40 customers per night compared to Kitty’s 80 to 100. However, by the end of the second year, they had surged to nearly matching the numbers at Kitty Kelly’s.

At 22 Main Street, their culinary style centred around seafood, particularly shellfish. They experimented with grilling and deep-frying oysters, often incorporating bacon and melted cheese to create mouthwatering dishes.

This approach resonated well with their patrons and contributed to the restaurant’s growing success.

Additionally, the local food scene was evolving, with small artisanal producers like Filligans Chutney in Glenties adding diversity and quality to the offerings available in the area.

Reflecting on the evolution of their menu offerings, Hugh highlighted a shift towards innovative combinations, such as pairing calamari with peach and cardamom chutney alongside Greek yoghurt, departing from traditional accompaniments like tartar sauce or garlic mayonnaise.

This experimentation brought a fresh and unique flavour profile to their dishes.

Killybegs Seafood Festival

In addition to culinary innovations, Hugh established the Killybegs Seafood Festival. This annual event, hosted in collaboration with the local Tourism College, featured appearances by celebrity chefs such as Neven Maguire and Seamus O’Collier.

Seamus O’Collier’s creative approach to sushi, incorporating Irish elements like Tato crisps, gave an Irish twist to sushi and showcased the festival’s commitment to presenting diverse and imaginative culinary experiences.

Hugh elaborated on the innovative techniques employed during the Killybegs Seafood Festival, including the incorporation of nori seaweed seeds in baking, which added a unique dimension to the culinary offerings. This forward-thinking approach contributed to the festival’s reputation for cutting-edge cuisine.

Over the course of three years, the festival thrived, benefiting from Hugh’s strong connections with the local Tourism College. Having completed a culinary course there himself and subsequently bringing in renowned chefs to collaborate with the college, Hugh fostered a mutually beneficial relationship.

This rapport facilitated opportunities for student placements during the summer months, providing valuable training experiences within his establishment.

Then, A Food Ambassador

As a result of his involvement in the Killybegs Seafood Festival and his extensive experience and contributions to the culinary scene, Hugh was selected as a Fáilte Ireland Food Ambassador when Fáilte Ireland launched the Wild Atlantic Way as part of the brand development for the West Coast of Ireland.

In that particular year, three out of seven food ambassadors hailed from Donegal, including Mary McGedigan from The Taste of Donegal and Zack Geller, a prominent food blogger. Hugh’s selection reflected his significant impact and influence within the culinary community.

Over the course of two years, a total of 14 food ambassadors were selected from various regions along the designated route. Their primary role was to convey the message of local food sourcing, emphasising aspects such as provenance and sustainability.

The goal was to highlight the connection between food and its origin, promoting the idea of “food on a plate, place on a plate.”

This concept was gaining international recognition, particularly in the context of tourism along the West Coast of Ireland. Visitors driving along the coast would encounter picturesque landscapes with the sea on one side and lush pastures with sheep and lambs on the other.

However, there was often a disconnect between the natural surroundings and the offerings on restaurant menus. Many establishments failed to incorporate locally sourced ingredients like fish or lamb into their menus, opting instead for more generic options like chicken.

This mismatch between the environment and the dining experience posed a challenge for promoting the region’s culinary identity.

Over time, people were naturally becoming more attuned to culinary trends and the importance of local sourcing. So, concerted efforts have been made to enhance the region’s culinary identity, and these initiatives have been highly successful.

The brand development has progressed significantly, reflecting the growing recognition of the region’s gastronomic offerings.

In Killybegs, there’s a fortunate advantage with one of its iconic attractions, the Slieve League. This natural wonder draws a significant number of visitors, being renowned as the highest sea cliffs in Europe. This geographical feature serves as a magnet for tourism, contributing to the area’s overall appeal and economic vitality.

From Crisis to Community Leadership

Returning to the topic of the bar, there was a fire incident at Hugh’s establishment. His mother, who is now 99 and had a history of serving Marlin Monroe, was fortunately rescued by the fire brigade just in time. As a result of their bravery, the fire brigade received a presidential award.

The fire incident led to a two-year hiatus from the food industry for Hugh. During this break, he contemplated his priorities and decided to shift his focus solely to the bar.

Recognising the toll that managing multiple ventures can take on personal well-being, he sought to reclaim some time for himself as well.

As his role expanded within the Food Ambassador programme, Hugh found himself participating in benchmark trips to Norway and joining the steering board for the Donegal Food Strategy. The goal was to elevate Donegal as the primary artisan food-producing region in Ireland.

Over the course of six years, significant progress was made, with Hugh noting the achievement of critical acclaim. Guided by Richard Burke, a food consultant, the strategy focused on meeting specific criteria and targets. While not all goals were met, the initiative successfully achieved 90% of them.

One notable accomplishment involved facilitating meetings between local shellfish producers and experts from Scotland and the Shetland Islands.

These experts introduced methods for purifying oysters and mussels, enabling Donegal producers to access the French market at premium prices, a significant improvement from previous pricing structures.

Through concerted efforts, participants in the initiative secured significantly higher prices for their products. Initially lacking a cheese producer in Donegal, the region now boasts one, basically a farmhouse conveniently located near Kitty Kelly’s.

The cheese-making farmhouse is beginning to expand into local retailers, which is quite a significant step for them. They’re likely involved in programmes like the Food Ambassador initiative with supermarkets such as SuperValu, which provides valuable access to wider markets.

Ice Cream

In Donegal, there’s a significant dairy industry with prosperous dairy farmers and the presence of Donegal Creameries, a major player in the sector.

Hugh finds it surprising that they haven’t explored the potential of producing ice cream before. Perhaps they’ve been content with milk production, especially since milk quotas are no longer in place, but acknowledges that there may not be substantial profits in just producing milk anymore.

Hugh believes that the future lies in adding value to products, and he sees ice cream production as a promising avenue for Donegal Creameries to pursue. What further supports this belief is the fact that Donegal shares borders with six other counties.

Considering all these areas together, that is nearly 1.75 million people within easy travelling distance, which makes Donegal a significant potential market.

Despite not yet reaching its full potential yet, Donegal boasts significant attractions that are gradually being discovered by more people. With endorsements from National Geographic and Lonely Planet, the county has garnered attention as a must-visit destination.

In the process of market development, early visitors are often the pioneers who spread the word to others, leading to a surge in interest. While Donegal hasn’t yet reached this critical mass point, there’s optimism that it will happen eventually, with more people possibly considering relocating to the area.

Innovations and Ambience

Hugh’s Bar, bought in 1960, holds the distinction of being one of the longest-serving bars in the region under continuous family ownership. Known for their creativity, they are introducing several new features this year.

Among them is a sun lounge equipped with an electronic retractable roof, allowing patrons to enjoy the sunshine or shelter from cloudy weather.

Additionally, Hugh plans to enhance the bar’s live music experience by opening the doors to the sun lounge, creating a natural auditorium ambience.

Expanding their culinary offerings, they are launching the Little Italian Kitchen at Hugh’s, venturing into new territory by focusing solely on wine, craft beers, and of course, their delicious pizzas.

They’ve made a deliberate decision not to offer chips, desserts, or other extras, but they are introducing a delightful treat: Glenellish ice cream served in nostalgic cinema-style tubs complete with a little stick inside. It’s a retro touch that adds to the hip and cool vibe of the establishment.

While other dining options in the area offer diverse experiences, including two excellent coffee shops and a forthcoming fusion restaurant, Hugh recognises that sometimes simplicity is key.

When craving pizza paired with a glass of wine and a straightforward dessert like ice cream, the abundance of choices elsewhere matters less. What matters most is that the food is delicious and satisfying.

This new venture is set to make a big impact despite its limited seating capacity of just 22 people. However, the intimate setting promises to be a charming experience for diners. Located in their old kitchen, complete with the nostalgic Stanley Range at its centre, the ambience is cosy and inviting.

The seating arrangement, with chairs placed around the central feature, adds to the warmth of the space. With two rooms combined, the setting is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

One of the windows offers a picturesque view of the bustling main street, adding to the overall appeal of the dining experience.

With the launch just around the corner, preparations are in full swing to ensure a smooth start. There’s a lot to organise and coordinate, but Hugh is determined to get everything in order before the grand opening.

Beyond the main area, there’s a room at the back that used to house the gastro bar, which has since been repurposed for hosting functions. During quieter periods with a light booking calendar, they often organise pop-up theme nights to add excitement. 

These themed events range from Italian to Vietnamese cuisine, featuring authentic dishes like fish cooked in banana leaves. Priced at around €15, the package typically includes two glasses of wine and small, tapas-sized portions.

Following the dining experience, guests can enjoy music from a vintage DJ or even live performances, perhaps featuring tunes from Abba.

Hugh is intending to rebrand this room at the back and is aiming to move away from the association with the previous name, 22 Main Street, which was linked to Gastro Food. The new name, Hugh’s Bar Eilhe, derives from the Irish Gaelic word “Efaida,” meaning “other,” signifying that it is Hugh’s Other Bar.

The room itself is described as beautiful, featuring a large fireplace, sliding barn doors, and decorative ladders suspended from the ceiling with lights, creating a highly atmospheric ambience. With a capacity of 70 to 100 guests, it is an ideal venue for various events such as birthdays, communions, and funeral gatherings.

Hugh emphasises the importance of setting boundaries, acknowledging that it can be challenging to turn away certain types of events. However, he believes it’s better to decline hosting 18th birthday parties if there are concerns about potential issues.

Gin Galore and Monthly Club Events

Hugh O'Donnell

Hugh’s Bar, known as Hughies Bar, has delved into the realm of premium gins, boasting a selection of 12 distinct varieties paired with 12 different tonics and garnishes like rosemary and basil.

Additionally, they host a monthly club event, complete with wine and sharing boards, which have gained popularity over time.

If the event continues to grow, they may need to relocate it to the Function Room, also known as Bar Room Ella.

This initiative has proven successful in attracting customers who may not typically go out during the week, and it addresses concerns about drinking and driving by offering alternatives like espressos and cappuccinos.

An interesting aspect of their wine service is that they utilise casks from a company in Kildare instead of traditional bottled wine, pouring directly from the cask into elegant crystal decanters.

The reason is that traditional wine storage methods often involve adding sulphates to preserve wine in smaller bottles, leading to potential hangovers. However, wine stored in casks eliminates this issue, allowing for consumption without the same sulphate-related repercussions.

The Wine Lab, a venture Hugh engaged with in its early stages, offers a variety of options Hugh carefully selected. From small wineries, he sources a range of grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Italian Pinot Grigio, and Italian Merlot.

Hugh’s area is constantly evolving. Take, for instance, the new gin distillery that incorporates seaweed botanicals from the shore, lending the gin a unique and distinctive flavour.

Hugh had plans to introduce this new offering, pairing it with freshly shucked oysters to provide patrons with a delightful and refreshing experience.

Shucking oysters isn’t an easy task; it’s a skill unto itself. When explaining the technique for shucking oysters, Hugh often likens it to opening a door with a hinge. He emphasises the importance of approaching the oyster from the correct angle to avoid damaging it.

Some people struggle with this delicate process, but Hugh advises gently coaxing the oyster out of its shell to preserve its integrity.

Once the shell is open, Hugh highlights the significance of retaining the flavourful juices that naturally accumulate within. He suggests using a spoon to carefully detach the oyster meat from the shell roof.

By turning the oyster upside down afterwards, with the curvier side facing upwards, it presents a fuller appearance, enhancing the overall dining experience.

In Dublin’s Temple Bar area, there’s a small spot Hugh knows well. The owner there has a unique setup—no kitchen appliances, just a blow torch. If you’re in the mood for oysters au gratin, he’ll bring them right to your table.

With a sprinkle of cheese and a quick blast from the torch, you’re served a delicious gratin without the need for traditional cooking methods.

Donegal’s Hidden Gems

In the whole Donegal Southwest region, there are numerous highlights worth mentioning. 

First of all, there is Dawros Bay House in Rosbeg, located outside Arda, a simply breathtaking oldie worldie hotel. Accommodation exudes a charm reminiscent of Craggy Island where Father Ted was located.

The surrounding area is rich in seafood, with lobster, crab, and local fish readily available due to the small fishing community. The area also features a sizable caravan park where visitors can keep their caravans for the summer.

In Ardra, for example, there’s Nancy’s Pub, a beloved spot among locals and visitors alike. Eddie Doherty’s Weaving is another noteworthy spot. Weaving, often overlooked, is perhaps Donegal’s best-kept secret, boasting a significant number of talented weavers and a thriving knitwear industry.

Studio Donegal is nestled in the heart of Kilcar, a seemingly sleepy village with remarkable full employment, even during economic downturns.

The wool industry is the lifeblood of Kilcar, a fact not widely known. Every aspect of the wool trade, from carpet production for aeroplanes to fabric for seat coverings, thrives in Kilcar.

These are just a few examples that showcase the excellence of Donegal’s craftsmanship and industry.

Exploring Ireland’s Food Culture

Hugh O'Donnell

In Ireland, food holds a central position in the national narrative, ingrained deeply within its identity as an island nation.

Some years back, as part of its National Development Plan, Ireland set out to establish itself as a centre of excellence in food production across various sectors, including its culinary establishments.

However, upon returning from travels to destinations such as Spain and the UK, Hugh noted a distinct contrast in the regulatory landscape. Ireland’s regulations appear more stringent, demanding adherence to numerous criteria at every step.

While this may be perceived as both advantageous and burdensome, the underlying rationale is evident: as a country with a profound investment in food production, maintaining exemplary standards at all levels is imperative, even at a micro-local level.

This is where the concept of HACCP, originally conceived by NASA for space missions, becomes pivotal, now adopted as a standard practice in kitchen operations. Interestingly, in countries like Spain, one may observe outdoor cooking with a more relaxed regulatory framework.

Exploring Ireland’s Regional Tourism Success

Hugh O'Donnell

The success of the Wild Atlantic Way has been remarkable. It’s now recognised as the longest coastal route globally, thanks to the meticulous measurement of every detail along the bay. This smart marketing approach has proven immensely beneficial for businesses along the route.

Inspired by this success, other regions across the country have urged Fáilte Ireland to develop similarly impactful brands for their areas. One notable example is the Ancient East in Dublin, which highlights historical sites like Newgrange and Viking heritage.

Following the Wild Atlantic Way’s blueprint, local sourcing and traditional dishes have been integrated into menus, offering a taste of the region’s rich history.

Another success story is the Boyne Valley, centred around areas like Virginia and Kells, which has emerged as a prestigious food region, celebrating its culinary heritage with pride.

The latest addition to their portfolio is the Hidden Midlands, a region with immense potential yet often overlooked by visitors.

Stretching from Longford and WestMeath to Burberry and beyond, this area offers a wealth of attractions waiting to be discovered. While many tourists opt for the easy route along the coastline, the Hidden Midlands, with hidden gems like Athlone, entices travellers to explore its rich cultural and natural offerings.

As for Donegal, Hugh believes that it is not just a destination but rather a state of mind, and he emphasises the importance of marketing this unique essence to visitors.

He sees it as a subtle yet beautiful narrative that revolves around the landscape, suggesting that video clips might be more effective in conveying the story compared to traditional SEO methods.

People from Donegal have historically migrated to various places, such as Scotland, particularly Glasgow, and then further down to cities like Birmingham, Liverpool, and Newcastle, wherever there were mining opportunities.

Due to this migration, Donegal people have become well-travelled and adept at picking up nuances and accents quickly. Hugh sees Donegal as a melting pot of different influences and experiences.

Hugh reflects on the evolution of the Slow Food movement, noting its origins and subsequent popularisation in California. He acknowledges the global impact of this movement on culinary culture.

From a tourism perspective, Hugh emphasises the importance of food experiences in shaping memorable holidays.

While traditional focus has been on accommodation and activities, he believes that enhancing the food experience is essential.

Despite the richness of Irish cuisine, it may not always rank highly in global culinary discussions. That is why, Hugh believes, efforts to elevate Irish cuisine on the world stage must continue.

In Donegal, Jack Gallagher demonstrates exceptional skill in encouraging individuals to label dishes as Irish cuisine, a strategy that proves effective in enhancing visibility.

The more people tag their dishes as Irish food, the higher the likelihood of appearing in search results, ultimately elevating the prominence of Irish cuisine. It’s a straightforward approach that yields significant results.

Thanks to its essential nature, food remains a timeless necessity, ensuring a perpetual demand. Acknowledging the presence of competition, particularly from supermarkets offering affordable meal options, they highlight the inherent advantage of Irish culture. 

With a tendency toward sociability ingrained in the Irish psyche, characterised by a reluctance to remain indoors, people are drawn to dining out as a means of escaping cabin fever and embracing the call of the wild.

This cultural inclination serves as a unique asset for restaurants, distinguishing them from alternative dining options.

Hugh recalls a colleague from Northwest tourism, Paul McLean. According to him, there was a distinct cultural tendency among the locals.

Even in a comfortable setting with pleasant ambiance, such as a cosy bar with background music and a fireplace, conversation flowing, if word got around that another pub down the road was bustling, people would immediately abandon their seats and flock there, despite the potential overcrowding.

This behaviour, described as typical, reflects a cultural inclination towards seeking lively social environments, even at the expense of comfort.

Hugh’s Vision for a Multifaceted Bar

Hugh envisions the future of his establishment as one centred around the unique layout of the pub, which consists of a series of interconnected rooms. This setup allows patrons to transition seamlessly from one space to another, creating a sense of journey and exploration within the venue.

Additionally, designated smoking areas at the back further enhance the experience, providing additional options for patrons to enjoy different atmospheres.

Whether it’s indulging in quality food, savouring a well-crafted cocktail, or joining a lively party at the rear of the establishment, Hugh believes that this multifaceted approach contributes to the overall appeal and success of the pub.

Incorporating pizza into the pub’s offerings can also enhance the experience for patrons, especially during and after parties or as convenient meeting points. Pizza is a versatile option that can appeal to a wide range of tastes and preferences.

Whether patrons are looking for a quick bite while mingling or a satisfying meal to enjoy with friends, Hugh is confident that offering quality pizza can attract repeat customers and contribute to the overall success of the establishment.

Video Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:00)
In this episode of Amazing Food and Drink, I’m going to be talking about my food journey from Donegal, a little fishing port called Killy Bags, in the southwest of the county. Be looking at my journey through owning a fishing boat, to sheep farming, to inheriting a sheep farm, to opening a little tea house, turning it into a restaurant, and running a pub, and becoming a chef. So bear with me as the story gets told.

Speaker 2 (00:29)
So welcome to Amazing Food and Drink TV. We’re here today with Hugh O’Donnell, the owner and founder of Hugh’s Bar in Kelly Bags. And he also owned a restaurant previously called Kitty Kelly’s. And Hugh is going to tell us all about his story. And Hugh, thanks very much for coming in. And over to you. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Speaker 1 (00:50)
Thank you very much. Well, I’m from Donegal. I was actually born in New York. My parents were emigrants, and my mother used to work in the restaurant business on Fifth Avenue. She served Marlin Monroe during the seventh Year Rich. My God. And they moved back in ’63, and they bought the pub, the family pub, and we were brought up over the bar. And so it was a 23 and a half hour licence that time. So the bar because of the fishing industry, it came as a fishing port. So basically, we very quickly became cannon father for the bar, and we would be thrown in there to wash glasses and stock shelves. And at that time, we used to bottle the Guinness as well and the bottles of Smithwakes and Phoenix and all those double diamond, all those whole brands that are nearly all gone by our Guinness and Smithwakes. So it was a pleasant operating and it was really nice. Sometimes during the summer, it would be hard going to try and keep an eye on us. So we were shipped up to our aunts farm up in Longford, which was a great treasure chest of farming and self-sufficiency and And away from the parents.

Speaker 1 (02:01)
And away from the parents, but in the middle of nowhere, really. And what’s the slang word for longford, long forgotten county? That is right. So we used to see hams curing and hanging down from ceilings and pigs being killed and horses and cows and milk and dairy and the whole lot up there. So I think I got a great induction into food. And plus the fact I was being brought up in a fishing town when I came home from longford. So you’re always bags of fish. And the fishermen used bags of fish like a currency. They might give you a bag and you get something in return for it.

Speaker 2 (02:38)
A couple of pints?

Speaker 1 (02:39)
Well, yeah. And the other people, everybody was trading with wee bags of fish. And these bags of fish would be lying at the window as you came in the door. And sometimes after a few pints, the owner of the bags of fish would forget to take them with them. So a few locals used to say, See them bags? They’re little bags of worries. People We’ll bring them in and they leave without them. Very good. Without the fish.

Speaker 2 (03:05)
As a silly slicker, that is absolutely yelling to me, but it sounds brilliant.

Speaker 1 (03:09)
It’s really lovely. We always have great fresh fish in Killibags. Killibags is, by and large, a pelagic town, so it’s landing pelagic, meaning oily fish, like mackereel and heron. Mackereel is the main fish at the moment. Heron stocks went under threat and there was a lot of conservation measures. And so we were always cooking fish, and It was natural food, and it was always a part of the diet.

Speaker 2 (03:35)
Tell me, would they sell the fish locally or is it for the export market?

Speaker 1 (03:39)
Well, at the time, it was locally. There was an auction hall on the pier, and the buyers would come in and buy it and that. But years later, after I came home from college, my father died in 1986. I was 26, so I ended up being sucked into the bar to take over the bar. It Previous to that, I was a teacher in a secondary school, so I was just starting my teaching career and I came back to do this. And so I then, along with a friend of mine who had a fishing licence for tonnage, there was a a lottery system going for new licences. He applied for it and he got the new licence. He asked me to come involved in the fishing industry with him. So we ended up buying our own fishing boat called the Mare Dawn. And prior to this, it had been at the Scottish Oil Wells. We had to do a full scale conversion into a fishing trawler. Now, when I say trawler, we started off making it a gill netter first. Basically, a gill net hasn’t really looked upon as politically correct anymore because it’s just visualised- Trolls everything?

Speaker 1 (04:51)
Well, it’s like a tennis net in the middle of the tennis court, and we’re all swimming in and we get caught by the gill. It’s a very fine mesh, and it’s really probably not eco friendly to fish stocks. So we were doing that, but there were some conditions attached to the fisheries licence, the new one that we just won. And we weren’t allowed. We were only allowed to fish box seven and box seven Sorry, box six and box seven, which is off Mayo, up to North Donegal. So we weren’t allowed to go down south to Kerry, or we weren’t allowed to get up to the Rock Hall area and that type of thing. So we had to fight away a lot of campaigning and going to politicians to see could we get the restrictions lifted, which we eventually did because they were threatening the sustainability of the boat. And by begging and borrowing, we actually managed to convert it to a trawler. So trawler is like pulling a shopping bag after you and this fish have a choice to swim in or out. You know what I mean? If they’re small enough, they get out at the other side and they don’t get caught by the gillet, you see.

Speaker 1 (05:55)
So that was much more eco friendly. And I have to say we got great success with it. Then a new piece of legislation came into place in the south where the white fishing sector, which was what we were in, mug Fish, Hake, Haddock, that everything called. That was those stocks were under threat, and the boats that were out of fishing them were having to go further out into the Atlantic beyond the continental shelf. They were really not fit for purpose, and they were unsafe. So the government came in with this safety measure to upgrade these boats so you could qualify for a 50 % grant. So my partner wanted to go on to the next level, and he wanted to buy a seven million boat, and we were going to get 3.5 million on grants, but we would have had to… Come up with a 3.5 million. So I was getting nervous at this stage, and I decided, no, I needed to get out and let him go further on his own, which he did. But the boat was built in Denmark, and by the time it arrived in Ireland, the actual stocks that it was fishing and had based all its sustainability on, like Orange Ruffy and that, they were ex-quota, and suddenly quotas were slapped on them while the boat was being constructed.

Speaker 1 (07:21)
So by the time that boat sailed in the Killy bags on its maiden voyage, it was doomed. It didn’t have a financial viable future. Oh, my God. So I was very, very lucky to get out of it. And my friend, my ex-partner, was very lucky to eventually get out of it after selling it off on that.

Speaker 2 (07:37)
Thank God.

Speaker 1 (07:38)
But I had turned my energy to opening a little restaurant. It was a little farm house that we had. My father also had a farm, which I had taken over. It was basically a hill sheep farm. I’m not saying it was the best-shaped farm, but I learned how to put in lamb in beds back into the yos and do their feet. Very good God. Do the inject them and dose them and that type of thing for worms. So it was pleasant doing it, but it suffered from hay fever and it wasn’t a great occupation to be doing with hay fever. But we had this little house, and It was just the old farm house that had been basically restored. And the council had developed a little viewing point overlooking Donegal Bay, which is just about 100 metres away from the house. So I decided to turn it into a tea house. Amazing. So it was just called the tea house, and it’s on the worst bend in Ireland. I mean, you would have to really bless yourself to get off the road. But it did a huge business, and we started off doing Irish stew and cod, salted cod and white sauce.

Speaker 1 (08:47)
All traditional stuff. Cream mashed potato, that type of thing. No airs and graces. We made our own tea racks and brown breads and scones. It was really, really busy. But in hindsight, when you I look back on it, it was really hard to make money because you’re getting low spend and you’re busy washing all these cups and saucers and everything has to go through the washer again. So by accident, I stumbled in to be taking it on as an evening restaurant and I could see the huge increase.

Speaker 2 (09:18)
And were you doing both?

Speaker 1 (09:19)
No, I started off as the. And after a couple of years of that, I decided the money was in the evening because let’s face it, you can sell a starter, A pre-dinner drink, starter, a main course, a dessert, a bottle of wine, maybe an Irish coffee, and phone them a taxi. So the sales were quadrupled for the same effort and energy and all that. And so in order to move away from the tea house, we had to come up with a new brand. I was just a great believer in anything like Dirty Nellies with two Ys. I came up with Kitty Kelly’s. Yeah, it was very catchy. It was catchy, but I spent an awful lot of time explaining who Kitty was.

Speaker 2 (10:06)
She made up a backstory for her. It was your great grandma.

Speaker 1 (10:09)
Yes. And we came up with a lot of stories, but I think we stretched the credibility of a factor on it. So basically, I started at about ’89, and I only sold the restaurant two years ago, in about ‘217. And I sold it to a really nice couple, a French man, Rémy Dupont and his wife Donna, who’s local. But Rémy was the head chef in Castle Moray House Hotel, which a lot of people would know about.

Speaker 2 (10:36)
He had been there a money’s a time.

Speaker 1 (10:37)
And he’s French-style cook, and he’s taking it now, and he’s taking it to a new level where it’s very much fine dining. I love it. I still like going up there. But the fine dining, when you say fine dining, it’s not a rip-off fine dining. It’s very affordable. The last time I was up, it was 26 euro for Sunday lunch for three courses and coffee.

Speaker 2 (11:01)
Fantastic. If it’s anything like the food was in Castle Mary House, it’s out of this world. He does a dish with monkface, tails, Prawns, and garlic on top and give you bread. Oh, my God.

Speaker 1 (11:12)
We had. We stole that dish off him originally and put it on our menu. It was really lovely and a big cellar. But we had loads of lovely dishes at the time and we were very experimental. We were doing macril in Seville style, and we were marinating it in orange and segments of orange. It really bleached the orange. The acidity of the orange bleached the fish. The fish was nearly white. It was nearly like chicken. It broke down the bone texture and made it-Cutting edge stuff.

Speaker 2 (11:45)
It was really lovely.

Speaker 1 (11:47)
Of course, we did our own desserts and everything was homemade, and I think we were a bit ahead of the policy. But the fact that I had such strong links with the fishing, I was able to get really good quality fish fresh off the boat into the restaurant.

Speaker 2 (12:03)
And nearly design your menu around that then? Yeah.

Speaker 1 (12:05)
And then we used fish that you wouldn’t really see, like gurnard. I mean, gurnard is such a lovely fish. I’ve had gurnard.

Speaker 2 (12:13)

Speaker 1 (12:16)
And it’s like mugfish. Mugfish years ago wasn’t appreciated by local people. And the head of the mugfish is quite ugly. And they used to think it was called the devil’s fish. And nobody really wanted to touch it.

Speaker 2 (12:30)
They used it for bait, if I’m not wrong, I think the ones did.

Speaker 1 (12:31)
No, they would think it was bad luck to have on the boat. I think it was the French that introduced us to mugfish. And what else? The garnet brought in, and the garnet’s used as bait for lobsters. And that’s how much… There’s a hierarchy of respect amongst the fish world, and the fishermen don’t have much respect for garnet, even though I think it’s a great fish, beautiful fish. I think the best I’ve I’ve never seen a cook was here in Belfast with more than seafood bar. They’re big fans of us. Andy Ray. Yeah. So the other thing I learnt as well in dealing with fish was going back to the time of the fishing boat to Mary Dawn, you You asked me earlier, where do we sell the fish? It was always local. But by the time we were selling fish the first year when we’d done the trawler, we were really getting the worst price possible. And what was happening was that the fish buyers had nearly agreed the price before the boat arrived in. You I’ll bid on this and you buy so and so’s fish, and I’ll buy that. So there was no real- It was like a close shop.

Speaker 1 (13:34)
It was like a cartel, the robber. And we weren’t really getting beyond the sustainable, the viable price we would have given.

Speaker 2 (13:44)
A break-even stuff, yeah.

Speaker 1 (13:45)
So we came in contact with a Spanish guy from Barcelona who was a fish agent, and he wanted to buy our fish direct, and he would take it over by lorry to Barcelona and sell it within two days on the Barcelona fish market, and we would get the price, and he would get a cut. And I know a lot of these things are something you put your faith in God and say, I don’t know, is that going to work? Will we ever see that?

Speaker 2 (14:09)
I’ll have a fish again, yeah.

Speaker 1 (14:10)
But he was really solid and really reputable, and he got us. He increased the profitability of the boat by something like 40 %. Oh, my God. We were getting premium prices, and we had broke away from this local market. And we weren’t too popular with fish buyers, but we were very popular with our bank manager, who was worrying about us. And then other with smaller white fish boats start to follow suit. So at the moment, you will not get a white fish sold on the pier in Kelly Beggs. Auction Hall is gone. Auction hall is gone. And people are constantly selling direct to the Barcelona market.

Speaker 2 (14:47)
Brilliant. And that still happens this day?

Speaker 1 (14:48)
Still happens this day. Now, as well as that, Adort Lake claimed the whole success of that. But a lot of Spanish boats have actual tonnage rights to catch fish in the Western Seaboard of Ireland. And they land in Kilibags, and they have their own lorries as well that land. So it’s out, out, out of town.

Speaker 2 (15:08)

Speaker 1 (15:10)
One could argue it’s sad for the town, in a sense, because you could add on processing value. But Killibags is just not a huge white fish town. Pelagic is the way that people make money, for fish processing, freezing. And Dunmore East, down in the East Coast of Ireland, and Castletown Bear, they’re the main towns. That’s the capital of the whitefish sector. We’re the capital of the oil fishing.

Speaker 2 (15:33)
I didn’t know that.

Speaker 1 (15:34)
That’s news to me. Good theme for a festival, the oil fishing.

Speaker 2 (15:37)
The oil fishing, pretty good indeed. You were a teacher, you’ve been a sheep farmer, a fisherman, and then a publican?

Speaker 1 (15:45)
Well, the publican, yeah. And I have to say in the beginning, I was probably apprehensive. Again, bar was just you have to have a big, gregarious personalities for some of them, for a bar, fishing down and know the price of fish and all that things. I suppose what happened was I evolved into the bar and I became comfortable with the bar, but I began to get the bar to reflect my own personality. I would The Factor myself as very creative. I’m always trying to do things that are different. We were the first to get in on the gin. We were never really a gin and tonic bar prior to the gin craze and the premium gin craze and the big goblet glasses and everything. We were very quick in there and that was huge for bars. It really rescued a lot of bars. It give the customer- The gin revolution? It did. It give people an introduction to tonics. We have 12 premium gins, and we have twelve tonics to match. Brilliant. Just back from Chesair there, the taste of Chesair, and I came across this guy who does these little vials of syrups that you can use for making your own tonic.

Speaker 1 (17:00)
Use the soda water and you add the syrup and then you add it to the gin. So it lets everybody become a mixologist. Very innovative. Loved it and I must see- Are you bringing it back to who? Well, I took that little gift box back, but I’m going to have to see, is there a sensible way of buying it and sourcing it. I think he’s very small scale at the moment. He’s in the University in Chester at the moment. Or develop your own? Or develop your own because we have a tourism college in Kelly bags. So when I came back to Kelly bags, got involved in the bar, then got involved in the fishing, and then got involved in the restaurant business. The next thing that was screaming out at me is I had only one chef at the time, and she was brilliant, but she needed two days off a week, and it was really hard to get that extra person to fill in for two days. So she introduced me to cook in. Louise Ivers was her name, and she got me to cook all the dishes that I needed to cook for her days off.

Speaker 1 (17:56)
So I managed to do it without anybody really noticing Louise wasn’t there.

Speaker 2 (18:01)
So I have to add chef now to this, Loomis? Chef now.

Speaker 1 (18:04)
So I went to the Tourism College in Killy bags, and I did the chef course over three-day release programme that they had, which was brilliant. And I was going to go on afterwards, and I did one year of the degree in advanced culinary art, but I really felt I didn’t really want another degree. I had one already, and I wasn’t making a huge use out of it, and I didn’t think this extra one was going to do a lot more. I thought for me, it would be better to spend my time going to the cookery school and do practical demos and work with other people, which I still do to this day. I got my qualification out of the college, which was great. Because then it give me an insight into the chef’s head. A lot of chefs gets accused of being temperamental. Oh, the panic and the shout and the scream. You can understand why. It’s a huge pressure cooker in a kitchen. Nice and hot. It was ready to explode at any given time. Then you go out to the restaurant and there’s nice piano music. It’s all calm. Everybody’s drinking a gin tonic or Pinogresio when everything’s nice and calm.

Speaker 1 (19:14)
Bedlam in the kitchen. Bedlam in the kitchen. I understood the whole psychology of chef and where everything was coming from. I was able to, with my qualification then, I was able to look at pricing. I was able to plan menus use in the absence of a chef. I was able to understand how much extra work, if we were doing a new dish, how much extra work that would put on a chef, and did we have enough manpower in the kitchen to do these things. We were able to make reasonable and rational decisions and liaising with the chef. So it lent itself to great relationships in the kitchen. And on a busy night, when it’s under pressure, you get in there and you can wash dishes or you can do starters or you can help with desserts or do the main courses. You’re very flexible. And it’s that extra set of hands for maybe 15 to 20 minutes, which is all they need to pull themselves up. Yeah, just to get them over. And I mean, there’s nothing worse than these printers and kitchens that keep churning out reams and reams of papers and you don’t know what’s…

Speaker 1 (20:16)
What’s what? Half of them could be voids, and you’re just saying, Oh, my God, many people’s out there. So there are 200s come in.

Speaker 2 (20:23)
You are the archetype of Jack-of-all trades, I have to say. Unbelievable.

Speaker 1 (20:27)
So going back then to the bar, I then decided… I got a guy to manage the restaurant for me, and he was actually doing it better than I was doing it, and I let him add it. I then was getting frustrated. I was missing the food. I turned our back bar into a gastrobar in Kelly bags. It became known as 22 Main Street. I really enjoyed that because we obviously didn’t have the high numbers that Katie Kelly’s was doing. It was Katie’s would have been doing 80 to 100 a night. We were maybe starting off with 30, 40. But by the end of year two, we were up at about nearly 80 to 100. So both restaurants were doing extremely well. Our style down there was we really were doing a lot of the shellfish. And we were grilling oysters. We were deep-frying oysters with a little bit of bacon and then melted cheese. And salivating here. We’re doing all that type of thing, and it was really working very well for us. Then as well as all that, the food scene was improving all the time, and there was small artists and producers moving into the area, and say, filigons chutneys down in Glenties.

Speaker 1 (21:45)
I’ve never heard of them. They’re really great chutneys. I think they got into Harrods there. Very good. They’ve been in Harrods for a while. I would say, for example, we were doing Calimari with a peach and cardamom chutney and a Greek yoghurt as well as a dip, which was a big move away from tart or sauce or a mayonnaise. Completely different. Garlic, mayonnaise. This was all happening as well. Then I established the Killebeck Seafood Festival, and we were using the local tourism college, and we were taking in celebrity chefs from, let’s say, Neve and Maguire. There was a guy called Seamus O’Collier down in Cork. He was doing sushi using Tato crisps and rolling the crunchy crisps inside before he rolled the sushi roll. Very good. Rice. And he was really interesting. He was doing an Irish version of sushi.

Speaker 2 (22:40)
Yeah, it’s a twist Irish twist on sushi.

Speaker 1 (22:42)
Very good. And then baking and using the seed the nori seaweed as well. So it was all a nice combination. It was very cutting edge. So we run that for about three years. And I suppose with my connexion with the tourism college, having done the course, then Then starting up the bringing in chefs to the area and using the tourism college as a venue. It was all helping develop a good relationship with the college. Very good. I was able to, during the summer, I was getting considered for placements for students to come to me and get placed for training.

Speaker 2 (23:20)
Very good indeed.

Speaker 1 (23:22)
Then I suppose as a result of that, while the The Fáilte Ireland were launched in the Wild Atlantic Way as part of the brand development for the West Coast of Ireland, and I got selected as a Fáilte Ireland Food Ambassador. I suppose it was from my experience because you had to be recommended by your peers to get involved in this. So there were three that year out of a total of seven came from Donegal. Another one was Mary McGedigan from The Taste of Donegal, and then Zack Geller, who’s quite an established food blogger at the moment. And then you also had Donald Daherday from Harry’s and Harry’s Shack, maybe up here in the north.

Speaker 2 (24:06)
Yeah, I’ve heard of Harry’s Shack. And what were your roles then as Food Ambassador?

Speaker 1 (24:09)
Well, say like so, Donald Daurier was brought on the previous year to me, and then I was brought on the next year. So there was two years where they recruited, we’ll say, 7, 7, 14 food investors from all over the… Wherever the route was. So I suppose our role was… The idea was that we would bring back the message of what local food food was and the sourcing and the main provenance, sustainability. Provenance, food on a plate, place on a plate. And that time, even though that was gathering its own attraction anyway internationally, I suppose in a sense, if you were a tourist and you came to the West Coast of Ireland, you drove up that and you had the sea on one side and you had the land and the lambs and the sheep on the other. And then you went to a menu that night and there was neither fish nor lamb on the menu. And you were getting chicken and you didn’t see a chicken for the whole duration. This is where the problem was.

Speaker 2 (25:01)
And Indian curries, yeah.

Speaker 1 (25:03)
So this was the problem had to be addressed. But by and large, it’s well addressed now. I think people were getting there on their own way anyway by reading trends and seeing what was happening. But it’s very successful now and the brand has developed leaps and bounds. And we’re very lucky where we are in Kelly bags in that we have one of the iconic attractions, and that’s Sleeve League. That really pulls a lot of people in, and it’s the highest sea clips in Europe.

Speaker 2 (25:35)
It’s very scary, not bad, I tell you.

Speaker 1 (25:36)
Well, there’s been a huge improvement on the road, and you wouldn’t have any way you’re talking about, but you’re going to go up and you see your bonnet of the car going up, but you’re not too sure how you’re going to get back down.

Speaker 2 (25:46)
I want to come down, down again.

Speaker 1 (25:47)
Have you gone over the cliff or not? But you have a lovely wee boat trip you can do from Thielen Port, which is on the new Lastar. A fellow called Paddy Burn has it, and it takes It takes 2 hours. It leaves every 2 hours from the port, 10 o’clock, 12 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 4 o’clock. Where does it go? And it just takes you around the bay and to see the cliffs from the sea. It’s one of the most magnificent because views you’re ever going to see. It looks like columns from a cathedral going up into the skies. It’s really a spiritual experience.

Speaker 2 (26:20)
Oh, I have to go and do that.

Speaker 1 (26:21)
And a nice day, and it’s not too choppy where you go. He doesn’t go out of it. It’s too rough. Too rough. He’s two boats now, and he’s a good- Things are going well then for him.

Speaker 2 (26:32)

Speaker 1 (26:33)
So going back to the bar then again, we had a fire in the bar. My mother, who used to serve Marlin, was upstairs over the bar in bed. She was like a hedgehog on the bed. She didn’t realise it was a fire at all in the house. And she was rescued by the fire brigade just in time. Thank God. The fire brigade got a presidential award for bravery. So she’s She’s 99 now at the moment. You’re joking. She’s in a nursing home, but she’s in great form, and she just had her birthday the last day. Happy birthday. Thank you. Then what the fire came around, say, six years ago So we were just in the recession, and the whole dining scene had changed, and everybody was rushing down to the bottom and putting on dinner for two and a bottle of wine at discounts. It’s very hard for a restaurant to make money at that. You’re just really keeping the show on the road, and you might be eating into your savings and subsidising the event. So it was really a good time for me because what happened was it knocked my restaurant out of business because I had to move the bar into the restaurant sector.

Speaker 2 (27:47)
Until where the fire fire was.

Speaker 1 (27:49)
Yes. That gave me a two-year stop from the food. So when I got out there, I said, God, it sold kitties at this stage. I was out of the food in ’22, and I was saying, I think I want to just focus on the bar for a while and just have a little bit more time for myself. Because these things, they’re great to start and you get a great buzz out of them, but they do eat you up and they swallow you at the same time.

Speaker 2 (28:18)
In the morning, the night, no getting away from it.

Speaker 1 (28:20)
So as my role then with the Food Ambassador thing was growing, we were going to Norway on benchmark trips. And then I also was selected to join the board, steering board for the Donegal Food Strategy to try and bring Donegal up to be the main recognised artisan food producing region in Ireland. And I think after six years, we have achieved that we’ve got great critical acclaim. We’ve worked under the guidance of Richard Burke. He’s a food consultant. And he’s been, I would say, he has a criteria to see, evaluate us, to see where we’re at and do we achieve our targets. We don’t achieve all of them, but we achieve 90 % of them. And we’ve done things like really good things. We’ve had, for example, We’ve brought, say, people who have these purifiers, and Scotland will say, and the Shetland, and they purify their own oysters and mussels, and they remove the toxins, right? Okay. And then by And having that done, they can sell to the French market at a premium price. Whereas in Donegal, they weren’t doing this, and they were selling to the French market at a depressed price. So we brought these shellfish purifiers over to meet the local shellfish producers.

Speaker 1 (29:48)
And we’ve got them now, anybody that got involved, we’ve got them a much more premium price for their product. When we started off, we didn’t have a cheese producer in Donegal, and we have now, which is great, and it’s only the road from Katie Kelly.

Speaker 2 (30:01)
It’s unbelievable. I didn’t know that.

Speaker 1 (30:02)
Yeah. I’m going to have to think of the name of the cheese. I think it’s Ardmor or something like that. No, it’s not. It’s Killard Cheese. It’s nice. It’s like a light cheddar. It’s very, very nice.

Speaker 2 (30:21)
Just by you in Kelly Bings?

Speaker 1 (30:22)
Just past Katie Kelly’s on the way, and just leave the egg on the right-hand side. It’s a farmhouse. This is really a farmhouse set up operation.

Speaker 2 (30:31)
And quite still a cottage industry, not into the retailers?

Speaker 1 (30:34)
Well, they’re just getting into local retailers. They probably do the Food Ambassador programme with super value and shops like that. Very good. To get access to that. And these are all things that we We’re trying to work on to improve. Our big challenge now is getting an ice cream producer in Donegal to produce their own ice cream. I think it’s huge. Just as I say, back from Chester, they have a big operation that started very small and has moved into a theme park and all the various add-ons for children to do an activity. Really, really interesting. They’re the second biggest attraction after Chester Zoo. So as a piece of infrastructure in the county, what it would do for bednights in the area if you had families travelling. And the nearest thing- To the ice cream country.

Speaker 2 (31:21)
Is that a big dairy?

Speaker 1 (31:23)
We have huge dairy. And we have really wealthy dairy farmers. And we have Donegal Creameries. That’s a huge And it would be great if we could get them to- Isn’t it amazing that they haven’t put two and two together before? Well, I suppose they’re happy producing milk, but you know yourself, milk quotas are gone. Not much money, I’m sure, anymore. You have to look at the whole name of the game from here on in is adding value to your product. And I think if they were to go down that route- No better way to do it and produce nice cream.

Speaker 2 (31:51)
But it’s the add-ons they can do.

Speaker 1 (31:55)
Go to Tate Park and you’ll see exactly what I’m on about. People say we don’t have the population in Doyal Gal, but they forget about the six counties on our border, and they forget about Mayo, and Slag, and Lytrum. And when you put it all together, you have nearly 1.75 million people on your not far travelling time to go and visit them.

Speaker 2 (32:16)
I spent my whole childhood in Donegal during the summer.

Speaker 1 (32:17)
So I think there’s huge potential there. Anybody watching this now can get there.

Speaker 2 (32:26)
I get their thinking caps on. You’ve just given them an idea.

Speaker 1 (32:29)
An artist, an ice cream producer. Absolutely. But there’s other people that can go in at a smaller level and have a few little goats and dairy cows around the place. And children love that.

Speaker 2 (32:47)
Absolutely. Petting farms and that stuff. So just when you’re on that, how has tourism had an impact on Dunning all? Positively, negatively, not in any way?

Speaker 1 (33:00)
Well, Dunning all was always a home for people from Northern Ireland. I think probably not as popular now because with the introduction of a good airport infrastructure in Northern Ireland with easyJet and Yeah, we’ve got Dari Airport on your doorstep. People are flying out to Bella Medina and Croatia and different places.

Speaker 2 (33:22)
We had spoken previously, you said about easyJet had nearly killed the trade.

Speaker 1 (33:25)
So you’re up against that. That’s a new competitor. There are people who absolutely love Donegal. And Donegal, sometimes, it’s not described as much as a destination, but a state of mind. And you have to go there to find it and treasure it. And it’s probably different Different for most other places in that people are going and they want to see Galway, for example, and they want to crack in the pubs and a huge tradition of music scene. Doing All isn’t really at that level because it hasn’t that critical mass of tourism.

Speaker 2 (34:03)
It hasn’t really got that centre the way Galway City would have, for example.

Speaker 1 (34:06)
But it has huge attractions. I think people are beginning to discover. We’ve got a lot of profile. We’ve been described as the coolest place on the planet, National Geographic. Lonely Planet describes us as the place to visit. So you know, sometimes when a market is developing, they maintain that the first two and a half % of the visitors are the discoverers. And they go away and they tell the next two and a half % of the market who are imitators. And they then splur the word very fast. And it becomes you reach that critical mass plateau where you’re getting everybody wants to go there. Absolutely. We haven’t quite reached that point. But I do think at some stage we will meet it and we will get there. And then you’ll see, I think what will happen with Donegal is more and more people will go there to relocate. Perfect I’ll give you an example for you. This lovely lady who’s from Gorda Harka originally. I’ve been in Gorda Harka. Went off and was working in the restaurant business, food, shopping over in Scotland. She came back, she was small holding, and this goat arrived on her doorstep one day and took up refuge.

Speaker 1 (35:17)
And she started looking after the goat, and then she got another goat to keep her company. She didn’t realise it was a female goat and a male goat. She ended up with it, and then she had loads of goats. And she’s now her own goat meat business. Now, goat meat in Donegal was really never on a menu. And it’s more a Tyrone dish, and it’s more a County Claire dish, and maybe Galway. Don’t think it even stretched into Mayo. But I was reading recently, it’s the most ethical food you can eat at this present moment in time as an alternative to beef because the goats don’t belch the CO₂ like the way cows do. Cows do, yeah. And the kid goats are not wanted because the The main demand for goats is for goat cheese. So that’s the female goat. So if you were to put Kid on your menu, but this woman has actually discovered a niche market for herself, and she accidentally moved over to go to her to support herself. And her mother helps her out, and they go to all the food festivals, and they produce this goat meat. I don’t know if you ever had goat meat.

Speaker 2 (36:22)
I had goat curry once. I quite like it. It was strong, but it was nice.

Speaker 1 (36:26)
Well, the nicest thing I ever eat is a rack of a rack of goat meat because it’s so flavoured with herbs because of what they eat.

Speaker 2 (36:35)
What they eat, yeah. Because they were waiting very dead to eat anything.

Speaker 1 (36:38)
Are they? Yeah. And they love herbs, and they love the good herbs. So you’re going to get all that marinating through. If you What was the ooosing through the meat.

Speaker 2 (36:47)
That’s a great story. What do you do with that business? I just offhand a can’t.

Speaker 1 (36:52)
I met her at a food expo there recently, and it just was so taken. And she serves them up. But if you’re at a food festival, you’ll probably see her. She uses brioche baps and she uses some of Filling in’s chutney. It’s a great combination and it’s a great local story.

Speaker 2 (37:09)
I like to get you in there.

Speaker 1 (37:12)
But as I’m saying, go back to tourism, we’ve had two examples there. We’ve had the easy jet versus the slow tourism. I think rural tourism is a big thing there to be discovered in Donegal. And there’s a girl called Maire O’Gollacher, and she set up for the AirBnB. We’ve had a decline on BnBs. At one time, that’s where you stayed when you came to Donegal. That’s right. You stayed with the band of tea. And they’ve, because of their age and profile, their family is rare. The families do not want to ever- Do not want to do it. Do not want to do it. And these people are stuck with these houses with maybe four or five on suite bedrooms, big car parking facilities and full planning permission and nobody to run them. And it would be great to see if the government could introduce some scheme that would incentivise people.

Speaker 2 (38:11)
To reintroduce them.

Speaker 1 (38:12)
Yeah. I often think that the backpacker, the Irish person that emigrated to Australia, coming back, their visas are expiring and they have to come back to do something. I think we should be thinking of making things easier for them. Say, for example, they go to a bank to get a loan, their earnings in Australia are not taken into consideration. So what do they have? What earning records do they have to show that they’re capable of paying back loans? Probably none. None? Yeah. So we’ve got to look at the issues like that as they come up and come up with solutions for them. But I think more than Galeher from Guidoor is a great example. She set up a little Airbnb college.

Speaker 2 (38:55)
I actually stayed in Galeher’s BNB in Bombay.

Speaker 1 (38:58)
That was Huda Huy Bugs, maybe.

Speaker 2 (39:00)
Just opposite Huy Bugs, yeah. Just opposite Huy Bugs, not a wee lane. We stayed in Mrs. Galeher. He was the banalty. I’m not sure whether it was or not. I’d say that’s Huy Bungro, was it?

Speaker 1 (39:11)
Yeah. Yeah, that’s Huy Bugs’ mother. Oh my God. There you are. So she did B&B up there. She also did BNB down in the main house. But what I’m saying is, way back, it was very hard to market yourself. You saw the signs on the road, BNB, Atlantic house or Clover house or something like that. And who does that anymore? You don’t go from home without having a place to stay. No, absolutely not. You do this through your AirBnB or Bookings. Com. And any BnB that has stayed with or gone down that road has been really full capacity. And if you’re not using it, you’re not at the races. So it’s just an example of where maybe the age group wasn’t right for moving with the technology. What is so easy to sell your AirBnB now rooms or your Bookings. Com rooms All you have to do is put it up on that site with Satnav and text messages. Easy.

Speaker 2 (40:06)
And even set up your own website. It’s another way of doing it, too.

Speaker 1 (40:09)
And you don’t really need the ban of tea anymore, or the breakfast, because you can early do your own or continental.

Speaker 2 (40:15)
Although if you’re looking for the whole experience, I remember a turf fire being lit and lovely breakfast. Actually, the men got more than the girls, which I loved. You got an extra slice of bacon.

Speaker 1 (40:29)
Yeah. I honestly think our figures in Ireland for B&B, you just have to call it decimation because they have collapsed. I feel there hasn’t been enough done to arrest it because it’s not just the BNB. The BNB is part of the local economy. If you don’t have enough bed nights in your area, those people are going to get in to the car and go to the Giants Causeway. Yeah, they’re going to go somewhere else. They’re not going to stay in your region. So every region, it doesn’t matter where you are, should be trying to keep their visitor for at least two nights, sell them an extra night. And if they’re any good at the hosting, they should be able to really do a good sales job on it. And I think that’s where we’re going to miss out a little bit because they’re not there. If they’re not there at night, they’re not going to be there for the music to help the local public and pay for the band, create the atmosphere. They’re not going to be there to buy the petrol the next day. They’re not going to be there to buy the lunch maybe the local bar before they go away.

Speaker 2 (41:32)
So there’s a lot of money draining out.

Speaker 1 (41:35)
Yes. And I think the source of the solution is to revigorate the B&B sector.

Speaker 2 (41:43)
Okay. And have you any plans of doing anything with your own bar in that respect?

Speaker 1 (41:47)
Well, Hugh’s bar, as I said, was bought in 1960. So we’re probably the longest serving bar in the region and under the same family ownership. So We have, as I say, we’ve been very creative. This year, for example, we are introducing a sun lounge with one of these electronic rifts that we were on the track for. A tractable route? A tractable route. Oh, very good. Heated lance and And when it shines, it’s a real sun trap. And if it gets anyway moody, tempers, cloudy, we can pull it over. Pull the bag over again. So that’s a big plus this year. I also was planning to put my music, live music, right there and open the doors from the bar so it becomes a natural auditorium. Oh, very good. And then we’re opening, we’re going back into the food on a smaller scale. We’re opening the little Italian Kitchen at Huy’s. Brilliant. So that’s going to be a little pizzeria. We’re going to do some artisan toppings and we’re going to try and be creative there. We’re going to do black pudding, chronic healthy black pudding and casual blue cheese. We’re going to try some duck cuisine with caramelised red onion and marinated pears.

Speaker 2 (43:04)
Very inventive.

Speaker 1 (43:05)
So we’re really pushing the boat out on the topping. We’re not doing anything else other than wine, craft beers. We’re not doing chips. We’re not doing desserts or tourmercies, but we are doing a nice Glenellish ice cream tub, as you would have bought in the cinema, with the little stick inside. Oh, lovely. So it’s really- Retro. It’s hip and cool and cash. And I think There are other places doing… Like, Katie Kelly is doing the fine food and Tara Hotel, and my town, the Bayview Hotel. They’re all doing different things and two really good coffee shops and a fusion restaurant opening up. So the choice is there. But I just find that sometimes it’s not always about the choice of it. It’s about I’m in pizza mode. I want a glass of wine. I want a simple piece of ice cream. As long as it’s tasty and it’s good.

Speaker 2 (43:59)
People will come back. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (44:01)
So that’s going to be a big one. We can’t seat any more than 22 people. But it’s a lovely setting. It’s actually our old kitchen that we were brought up on with the Stanley Range. It’s in the middle of the things. So the chairs are all around it. So it’s really lovely. It’s two rooms together and they look beautiful. One of the windows looks out onto the main street.

Speaker 2 (44:22)
And when’s that starting?

Speaker 1 (44:24)
We’re starting about next week. So I have to get my act together here.

Speaker 2 (44:28)
I have to come up. It sounds gorgeous.

Speaker 1 (44:29)
Just more than welcome. And then we have a room at the back, which was the gastrobar. I told her we closed that down with the thing. So what we do there now is we do a lot of functions. If we have a slack calendar and we don’t have a lot of bookings for a month, we’ll do a pop-up theme night. So we do, say, for example, a pop-up Italian, or the last one we did was a pop-up Vietnamese night. And the food is very authentic. And we would do fish in a banana skin, depending on the theme. It was something like €15 and you got two glasses of wine. Small courses, like Tata’s size portions. Then you’d have music afterwards or a vintage DJ and a lot of Abba.

Speaker 2 (45:18)
And this is a separate function room then?

Speaker 1 (45:19)
This is my function room at the back. Now, I’m about to rebrand that because I don’t want to go back to being 22 Main Street because that- People associated with the gastrofood. So we’re calling it Huy’s Bar Eilhe. Now Eilhe, as in the Irish Gaelic word, Efaida, I-L-E, which is the Irish for other. So it’s Huy’s Other Bar. Brilliant. But it’s a beautiful room. It’s got a big fireplace. It’s got sliding doors, barn doors. It’s got ladders on the ceiling coming down with lights on them. And it’s just very atmospheric. Brilliant. And it can do party function from 70 to 100. And So ideal for birthdays or communions or even funeral parties? Funeral parties, christenings. We’ve had everybody in. The only thing we really don’t do is we don’t do 18th birthday parties. We just find the age is too young and they’re not used to being in an environment with the boost and all that. So they can be hard work. I could go downhill very quickly. I could go downhill. Then every 18, I’ll have a friend 17 or 16, and then you’re into the role. Of course, in your dicey area then.

Speaker 1 (46:33)
Yeah, and you can’t be… You’re worse in the world if you turn them away. So you’re better off saying no. Okay. That’s my view.

Speaker 2 (46:40)
But that apart, it caters for basically anyone?

Speaker 1 (46:44)
Yes. Hubies Bar, as I say, we got in on the brand gins with the 12 premium gins with the 12 different tonics, pairing them with garnishes, rosemary, basil, the whole shebang. Shebang, yeah. Then we do a big club once a month. Very good. That’s grown to be- With wine, no doubt. Oh, yes. With wine, we’ll throw up a few sharing boards, and it’s very popular now. It’s really growing. If we get any bigger, we’ll have to move it into the Function Room. The Function Room. Bar Room Ella. But it’s really nice. We’re doing the snogs and it’s really good. It just brings people out that wouldn’t maybe be out during the week. And a lot of people are not drinking and driving. It’s a big issue now. Yeah, of course. So you have Espresos and cappuccino and we have a nice coffee. The interesting thing about our wine is we do this company in Kildare use casks. So we don’t use a bottle of wine, but we have lovely crystal decanters, and we pour the wine into that from the cask. Direct from the cask?

Speaker 2 (47:56)
Just like where you get an Italy, or you go off for Yeah, we can do all that.

Speaker 1 (48:02)
They’re called the Wine Lab. I got in with them at the very early stages. Now, I have to say, it’s not many people who are going to go out using them, and they keep saying they’re going to me, threatening to say that they’re not going to send wine up to me all the way to I think they just. But Dublin is their big market. But it’s fabulous in the sense, as you know, wine isn’t suited really or designed to be stored in small capacities. And the smaller the bottle, like the quarter bottle you put it into, you need to douch it with loads of sulphates to keep it preserved. And it’s the sulphates that will give you the mother of all hangovers the next day. Whereas you can drink oceans and oceans When it’s in the cask? In the cask, and you will not get that.

Speaker 2 (48:49)
I’m sure there’s loads of our viewers will be glad to hear that view.

Speaker 1 (48:54)
Hangover-free wine. It’s beautiful. And it’s really well, selectively. Have you got red, white, different grape breads? He takes them from Small Wine Ries, pie & Dock. He has a nice Cabernet Sauvignon, a merlot from there. And he has Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, He has an Italian Pinot Grigio. He has an Italian Merlot.

Speaker 2 (49:19)
It’s all the popular ones.

Speaker 1 (49:21)
I must say, I’m really impressed with it. It’s lovely. I love drinking it myself.

Speaker 2 (49:29)
I would maybe try one just to be sociable. Tell me, in terms of Donegal, what’s your favourite place? Now, obviously, Kelly bags, I’m sure, because you’re from Kelly bags.

Speaker 1 (49:39)
Well, I have places I like going to. There’s one real hidden gem. It’s called Dyras Bay in Rossbeg. It was outside Ardra, and you have to head towards Nahr in Portnou where the golf course is, and you swing left. And it’s called the Santa Maria Drive. And that was one of the Spanish armada boats that sunk there. And that’s what was called the Santa Maria, sunk at that point. And it’s just breathtaking. And this place called Dairies Bay Hotel. And there’s no insult now to the owners to describe it a bit like Craggy Island where Father Ted was found. It’s not a modern hotel. Oldie Worldie? Yes. It was his charm. And what you see coming in, and to see the lobster, the crab, the local fish. It’s a small fishing community. It’s a big caravan theme, not a caravan theme, but a caravan park. People come in, they have to keep their caravan for the summer there. And as I say, you’re not far from Port New, but it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s just unbelievably beautiful. And what’s it called again? It’s called Dyras Bay.

Speaker 2 (50:54)
Dyras Bay. I’d gone the odd drive all my childhood and then I was in arms, and I’ve never heard of it.

Speaker 1 (50:59)
Well, they actually seem to be getting… They’re very popular with Belfast people. And they seem to be getting a lot of weddings, and they set up a marquee, and they can take it outside, I’d say, carers to do it. Very good. It’s not really on the beach. It’s overlooking the bay on the little pier. All right. Okay. But there’s a lot of vegetation between you and the pier, but it’s lovely. It’s lovely Huydandrums and that type of bushing going on with loads of colour. I just sometimes think when you’re sitting there, you think you’re in a Greek Island.

Speaker 2 (51:33)
That’s the best way. Well, if you get the weather in Donegal, sometimes it’s better in the Greek Island. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (51:38)
But the whole Donegal Southwest is lovely. You have Ardra. Nancy’s Pub. Nancy’s Pub. Great. You have Eddie Doherty’s Weaving. I mean, it’s tough. Weaving is, I think, the biggest secret of Donegal is the amount of weavers we have and the amount of knitwear. I mean, fishermen out of Ireland, up outside Kilcar. Studio Donny Gaal in the middle of Kilcar. I mean, Kilcar is this little sleepy village that has full employment. I never went down during the recession or anything. It’s all to do with the wool. Every carpet that’s made in an aeroplane or the seat covering fabric is made in Kilcar. I didn’t know. So at every level of the wool story is taking part there. There are a lot of wool There’s more stories that basically highlight how good Donegal is.

Speaker 2 (52:34)
We chatted before with Come on Air, and you were saying about some of the stories that you have to tell and Donegal has to tell. It could bring far more visitors.

Speaker 1 (52:44)
Yeah. This is it. We’re improving all the time. We have our new gin distillery that uses seaweed botanicals from the shore, which gives it that nice- Distinctive flavour. Distinctive flavour. I was going to introduce them this year and going to do a fresh oyster, shucked, and a little shot of the gin.

Speaker 2 (53:09)
Oh, lovely.

Speaker 1 (53:10)
Down it goes, down the hatch. But it’s a lovely sensation.

Speaker 2 (53:14)
It makes a nice difference from Guinness. Guinness and oysters, Guinness and gin locally.

Speaker 1 (53:19)
Shopping oysters are not easy, and it’s a skill in its own. We’ll have to do a video on it sometime. Absolutely. How to open it up.

Speaker 2 (53:26)
Are you good at it?

Speaker 1 (53:27)
Well, I’m better at it. You need You know what you need? You need the stainless steel glove, beat it, the glove, and you hold that in one hand, and then you have it.

Speaker 2 (53:37)
Turn and twist, I think, do it? Yes.

Speaker 1 (53:38)
If you think of it in the sense that over here, the knuckle is like the hinge of a door. So you’ve got to get in on the other side, get in there and pull the door back on the hinge. A lot of people just murder the thing. That would be me. And the oyster’s distress coming out. It tightens up. So we have to coax the oyster out of the shell, nearly. Brilliant. And the other big secret is, once you get the shell open, the juice of the Atlantic is in there, and you have to preserve that. You can’t let that go. That’s where all the flavour is. So what you do is, spoon, it’s attached, the little oyster meat muscle is attached to the roof of the shell that you take dislodged. So you go with a spoon and scrape it off that nicely and neatly, and turn the oyster upside down so that the curvy bit is facing In the diner. It’s not the flat bit. Yeah, make it look nice. It looks fuller. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (54:35)
I can really taste it. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (54:37)
But there’s a guy, I know in Dublin, and he’s down there around… Where is he? He’s in a temple bar area. And it means the tiniest little place. And he has a blow torch. And if you want, we’ll say, oysters or gratin, he just takes them to your table, sprinkles the cheese, blows them with the torch, and hands you the old gratin. No cookers, no, nothing.

Speaker 2 (54:59)
That’s like theatre in itself, isn’t it?

Speaker 1 (55:00)
Yeah, it’s theatre, it’s lovely. Brilliant. And then he has all his oysters zoned where they’re from. So it could be Galway oysters, or Dingle oysters, or Waterford oysters, Carlene Ford oysters.

Speaker 2 (55:12)
It’s all different. Brilliant. So he has all done a grow in Ireland. So on that, how important do you think food culture is the Ireland?

Speaker 1 (55:22)
Well, food is our story. We are an island and we are a food producer. And some years ago, Ireland, done with its National Development Plan, decided it was going to be a centre of excellence for food production at every level, and that applied to us restaurant there. And when we go away to Spain, and even when I was over in the UK there, I think things are much more relaxed. They’re less regulatory. Then we come back to this where just everything has all our boxes has to be ticked. Now, it’s either a good thing or a bad thing, but the argument is because we’re such a food producer nation, we can’t let the production fall down at any level, even at a micro local level. And that’s very important. And so the HACCP was designed by NASA for space flights, and we’re using it in kitchens. And it’s every day. No restaurants in UK and everywhere else is using them as well. But when you go to Spain and you go to… You can see cooking happening outside.

Speaker 2 (56:28)
It’s not as litigious, for want of a better word.

Speaker 1 (56:31)
So it’s much more relaxed.

Speaker 2 (56:33)
In fairness, I would have thought done and go be quite like that.

Speaker 1 (56:36)
Oh God, no. We’re at the cutting edge. Very good.

Speaker 2 (56:42)
Tell me, what are the key marketing campaigns that you’ve seen that you’ve been impressed with to promote Donegal?

Speaker 1 (56:51)
Well, I suppose the Wild Atlantic Way has been very successful. God, it’s the longest world coastal route now because of all the- I didn’t know it, actually. Yeah. Because they’ve measured everything in and out of Bantree Bay and all the way up and there and out, every little craggy and lettuce measure, which is great smart marketing. And And anybody in the business will say to you that it’s been a huge saving for them. I think on the back of the success, other parts of the country were calling on Fáilte Ireland to develop other equally as good brands for their part of the woods. So then they developed the ancient east in Dublin, which was like Newgrange and all that part of where they deemed the Vikings would have arrived and all that story was put together. And they replicated their successes from the Wild Atlantic way and using local source and meat dishes and things that would have been popular way back and putting it on the menus. You’ve had the Bound Valley, which is up around Virginia, Kale, is going to draw it. That’s been very, very successful in just finding itself as a regional food region, a really prestigious food region.

Speaker 1 (58:12)
Very good. Then the latest brand now they have developed is the the hidden Midlands, which is fabulous area because it didn’t need developing. You’re talking about Loughford, West Meath, to Burberry, and all these areas that are really forgotten about. The visitor takes the easy path to go up the coastline. That’s lovely. But it’s to get them into the- The Athlones.

Speaker 2 (58:45)
The Athlones, yeah.

Speaker 1 (58:46)
And there’s some fabulous food stories all over the country and lots of artists and producers moving into West Meath and setting up lovely little bars and restaurants, gastro-bars.

Speaker 2 (58:59)
And it’s Brilliant. What about Donegal itself? Anything that’s really impressed you by Donegal or anything we could do to improve it?

Speaker 1 (59:07)
Well, I believe that Donegal, as I said earlier, it’s really a state of mind, and it’s how you market a state of mind to a person as opposed to a destination. It’s a subtle piece of marketing we need, but it’s a beautiful story. I mean, the landscape tells the story, and it’s more use of video clips, and that is, one time it was all about SEO. I think it’s about, probably is it video?

Speaker 2 (59:39)
Seo is still, but content and video is where it’s at.

Speaker 1 (59:43)
I think that that’s where we need to develop that end of it for ourselves. We have a lovely story to tell. I agree. People say we speak very lyrically, and there’s a nice melodic nuance to our voices. Not too sure. Someone described me as sounding like Daniel O’Diamond.

Speaker 2 (01:00:07)
Yeah, I’m pretty sure you do. But your Donegal accent is actually quite no other. They’re not too dissimilar to Belfast. You’re listening to maybe Shay given or Paki Honours speaking, they’re quite northern, obviously. But I mean, like the six counties northern. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (01:00:21)
Well, don’t forget, don’t all people migrated to and emigrated to Scotland. Glasgow. Glasgow. And then they moved down to Birmingham and Liverpool and New Castle and anywhere there was mining. So they have well-travelled and they pick up nuance and they pick up accents very quick. So I think we’re like a melting pot.

Speaker 2 (01:00:44)
Absolutely. But your accents are lovely. Nice soft, lilt to it, where I think ours are quite harsh.

Speaker 1 (01:00:51)
I wanted to soften yourself.

Speaker 2 (01:00:54)
Tell me, I wanted to ask you about Bord Bay. Did Bord Bay help with food and marketing or anything like that in Donegal?

Speaker 1 (01:01:05)
They do. But Bored Bea is like, you can use it as a resource. Let’s say you want a recipe and you want a good old traditional bacon, cabbage recipe and how it’s been modernised and given it a new look. Or you can use Bord Beia for help for export, which is where they really probably play a blind or there. And then you can obviously, not too sure who did they actually The green origin, I’m not too sure did Board B bring it out or who brought it out, but I’m sure they’re in there in the development of it. And then they put their hands to many other projects as well, or they give endorsements to, I’m sure, and the food innovation hubs and that type of thing. Maybe they team up with Chagas, which is the farm development group.

Speaker 2 (01:01:55)
Were they team up with Fáilte at all?

Speaker 1 (01:01:58)
Well, I suppose they do. Fáilte Ireland has really developed their own food tourism chapter because as you know, the slow food thing really came out of California. Well, it didn’t come out of California.

Speaker 2 (01:02:13)
It came out of- Southern America, Southern States.

Speaker 1 (01:02:14)
It moved from there. And I think California give it the best spin on it and took it to their hearts. And then that’s become a global movement. And I suppose as a tourism marketing agency and as tourism group, you just don’t take a holiday. I mean, the things you remember in a holiday is your food experiences. But there wasn’t really all emphasis was on where you stay and what you do. But you have to factor in to strengthen the food experience. And as good as we are at Irish food, we’re still, if you do searches on us, if you say, World’s best cuisines, we’re not going to be coming up there number one or two. So I think we have to do work.

Speaker 2 (01:02:57)
Yeah, we understand ourselves quite a bit, don’t we?

Speaker 1 (01:02:59)
And we have to Great. Jack Gallagher now in Donegal is very good at getting people to tag dishes as Irish food. Brilliant. And the more people tag their dishes as Irish food, the more it will appear in searches and push us up there. And that’s as simple as we sometimes…

Speaker 2 (01:03:19)
We hide our light under a bushel. We do. I think it’s a cultural thing, isn’t it? Yeah, we do indeed. And in terms of food and drink in Ireland, what’s the future in your opinion?

Speaker 1 (01:03:30)
Well, I do believe food is never going to go out of fashion because we have to eat it, and there’s always going to be a demand. There’s always going to be competition. You see supermarkets moving into the space of two dinners at home and a bottle of wine for 12 or 14 euros. And that’s an area that restaurants can’t compete with. The best thing we have is our psyche as an Irish people because we’re lonely creatures and we don’t like staying at home. We get cabin fever and we have to be out and we miss the call of the wild. That’s just our genetic code and we have to get out there and we may try and stay off drinking food for a while, but by the Jesus, we do have to rush out there.

Speaker 2 (01:04:18)
If you look at the Irish diaspora throughout the world, actually, you’re so ready with that.

Speaker 1 (01:04:23)
I remember this guy knew in Northwest tourism, he was a predecessor to Donegal Tourism. And Paul McLean was his name. And he says, Whatever it is about us, we could go into a very comfortable bar and there’d be lovely seating, and there’d be lovely background music, and there’d be a fire, and there would be chit-chat. And someone would come in and say, Jesus, you can’t get in down the road in such a pub. That’s jammer. And we’d be up out of the seats, and we’d go down there to be crushed to death. That’s just the way we are.

Speaker 2 (01:04:56)
The nature of the beast. Absolutely. And so in terms of Hues, what’s the future?

Speaker 1 (01:05:04)
Well, I believe our future is to… Because of the way we’re composed as a pub with a whole series of little rooms, you move from one to the other. And it’s like taking a little journey and you can go in one door and out another door. And obviously, there’s smoking areas as well, out the back and this type of thing. You can just make a complete journey. And you can go from food to A good quality cocktail to have a party at the back. And it works beautifully.

Speaker 2 (01:05:35)
And a pizza on your way around.

Speaker 1 (01:05:36)
And a pizza on your way around. I think it can work for when and after parties and meeting points. I think when you’re doing a food offering, even as basic as doing pizzas, as long as you’re doing it right, and people will- Will come back?

Speaker 2 (01:05:53)
Yeah. Tell us more importantly.

Speaker 1 (01:05:55)
Yeah, this is it.

Speaker 2 (01:05:56)
If anyone wants to find out about Huey’s, I know you’re in the middle of getting the website built, but you’ve got a Facebook site.

Speaker 1 (01:06:02)
Yeah, we have Huey’s Bar in Killebegs, really, is our Facebook page. You might find two of them actually there.

Speaker 2 (01:06:08)
Brilliant. I’ll put some links underneath this video. So Huey, that was absolutely fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing that very interesting story. Thank you. And I will hope to see you soon in Huey’s Bar in Killy Bags. We’ll work on your accent. A good man yourself. Thanks very much, Huy. So that was Amazing Food and Drink TV with the inevitable Huy O’Donnell from Huy’s Pub in Killy Bags. And I really hope you go up there and give Hugh a bit of a turn because it’s a fantastic place.

Speaker 1 (01:06:40)
Thanks very much for watching.

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