On March 23rd -24th 2018 Coventry experienced its first ever edition of ‘Shop front Festival’. The festival invited everyone to come and play, perform and enjoy a 2 day City Centre Celebration. http://www.theatreabsolute.co.uk/shop-front-festival/
The “festival featured some of the UK’s most exciting and established theatre makers and artists working in dance, circus, music, visual and creative communities local to Coventry together with those from further afield” - and me!
On the Saturday, at the recently renovated old Grammar School, I hosted Edible Irish Stories - an interactive food experience where everyone was invited to knead, listen, laugh, dance - and of course eat!
This work was born from a long standing interest that I have in food and heritage and which Theatre Absolute http://www.theatreabsolute.co.uk/ and the Shop Front Team were able to help me give life to.
The key concept for this work was to help people to experience food as more than something we simply eat for the purposes of satiety, but rather as something that connects us, both as and to our past, connects us to each other, to a culture, to the moment and our emotions.
Why Irish food? Irish immigration to Britain is not new, indeed for over 400 years Irish people have been settling in Coventry, but most people associate the ‘first wave’ of large numbers during the famine crisis of 1845 to 1849 when over a million Irish people came over to the UK. People found work in factories, silk ribbon making and as labourers.
The ‘second wave’ of immigration to Coventry was during the period between the 1930’s and and 1960’s when Irish people were actively recruited by Coventry employers to work in hospitals, construction and transport.
Areas such as Caldicotts Yard, Gosford Street and Jordan Well, then Foleshill, Spon End and Coundon were the most popular areas Irish immigrants settled and with them they brought a richness of culture which we still see throughout the City.
Irish pubs and clubs, dance halls, bands and Claddagh Groups formed and it was at a few of these that I was able to meet with, and learn from, some of the second wave of immigrants who came here during the 1960’s. Whilst I could have covered many, many topics, my focus was firmly on food and I learned more than I could have hoped to.
A firm belief of mine is that no matter how much you think you know about certain foods, how much you read and google, how keen you are to understand the significance of a dish, it’s only when you actually have those face to face conversations with people who have ‘been there, seen it, done it’ or in this case ‘lived there, cooked it and ate it’ does it all come to life.
Remembering food fondly was the steer of this project and the fondest of all memories were those enveloped in the arms of kinship. Men did not have a key place in the kitchen, other than to run though and dip a crust of bread into stew or warm tired feet in front of the hearth. The kitchen was by far the preserve of the matriarch and the other women and girls in the family who in the hardest of times would manage to feed even the largest of families.
As with this performance piece though, and the point of this work, these are not my stories to tell and you can find Bread Stories and Savoury Stories filmed by Jon Randle below.
And for a video capturing the performance, filmed and edited by Simon Shaw who actively contributes to many Coventry events not least the Fringe for the Earlsdon Festival.
Of course nobody is able to stage anything like this alone and my list of thanks is long but necessary.
Firstly, for helping me to bring a concept to life
Orit Azaz fhttps://uk.linkedin.com/in/orit-azaz-37926913
The performance was hosted by the brilliant Bob Brolly MBE http://www.bobbrolly.co.uk/ who bought us all together and was a consummate host (all I did was talk about where the toilets were and how to escape!)
Coventry Irish Society,http://coventryirishsociety.co.uk/ especially Ciaran Davies for supplying support and contacts with groups and individuals most notable the Claddagh Group who meet on Tuesday mornings at Flannelys.
Filming on day
Simon Shaw, Community film maker, photographer and Earlsdon Fringe Festival coordinator.
Sophie Taylor from The Mayfield Makery https://www.facebook.com/The-Mayfield-Makery-Sophies-Homemade-287873791228063/ who is a designer maker local to Coventry, creating bespoke handmade items for any occasion. She also specialises in transforming spaces creatively to suit any occasion and has extensive experience working with Pop Up Shops.
Yvonne Saidi who has been teaching dance in Coventry in various forms for a number of years. Starting as a salsa teacher with adults then moving into teaching in school clubs combining salsa and modern dancing choreographing dances alongside the children. Yvonne is a Cuban salsa tutor for coventry adult education service working with a team of dance tutors providing varying dance styles to adult learners.
Jarlath Mulhern and Hughie from Coventry Comhaltas The Coventry Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann is an active and dedicated group of musicians, committed to passing on Irish music tradition. You can find them at the Hearsall Inn on a Tuesday night . https://coventrycomhaltas.wordpress.com/
The poem below was ready beautifully by Graeme Mulvaney who truly brought some words to life - and helped out so much on the day I owe a good few pints of the black stuff!
Julie Boyle, Catherine Thompson , Claire Madocks and Jessica Pinson for help with tech venues and lets not forget ovens!
well that would be me and there will be plenty more blog posts coming up about Irish food soon.
I would like to end by posting the poem I mentioned earlier which was pulled together from all of the transcripts that I took, every snippet of information recorded, the scribbled notes when I ran out of paper and had to write on the back of napkins, the memories which I was so privileged to have shared with me and the hunger I would return home with after talking so longingly and lovingly about food - though not many stories will beat Fred’s Christmas turkey!
Edible Irish Memories
The Backbone of Irish hospitality
Is to offer all visitors a cup of good tea
Served up quick to keep tempers sweet
Heaven forbid you made it weak.
Water nearly boiling and full fat milk
The texture of which was rich like silk
Tea was always mashed in the pot
A cup of Barry’s hits the spot.
Skills passed down through generations
Makes for a fine bread making nation
Soda, Barmbrack, Ballywindland Rolls
Pratie Oaten and Farls all fill a hole.
Soda bread with crab apple jam
Picked fresh and free, wheeled home in a pram.
Stewed in the pot until just set
None left over, that’s a sure bet.
On Saturday an Ulster fry up we’d eat
Black and white pudding you just can’t compete
Rashers, sausages and eggs fried in dripping
Running to the table, lips a licking.
Irish stew, colcannon and ham
Oxtail and pigs tails boiled up in the pan
Corned beef, rabbit; a turkey if you're lucky
You’ll need to be brave though as the birds come still clucking!
No part of the pig goes to waste
Sows ear crackling, what a taste
Saturday night TV snack
A pigs foot each, eaten on our laps.
Crubeens eaten free at the bar
Battered, fried and salty so your drink won’t go far
Served with sauce from Michael Kelly
Treats to fill up any man's belly.
During times of hunger many mouths were fed
With Indian meal known as ‘yellow bread’
Imported grains from across the seas
Native American charity.
Coarse and hard like chicken feed
Indian meal met many a need
And soon became a family staple
Yellow bread and scones upon the table.
Gur cake from Dublin, Donkey Gudge in Cork
A ‘flies funeral’ you'd eat with a fork
Sandwiched in between pastry sheets
This dried fruit recipe was hard to beat.
A weekly trip to the local store
The choice of sweets a childs galore
Cleves toffee slabs broke with a hammer
For the Brandy balls there's still a clamour
Honeybee for ten a penny
Sailors chews from County kerry
Liquorice Pipes, caramel creams
Double centres, sweetshop dreams.
Yellow Man for Mary Anne
Cidona sparkling from the can
Rumba bars and O’Kane Cakes
Orangeade till our stomachs ached.
Coastal dishes, the taste of the sea
Balnamoon Skink and Carageen
Dublin lawyer, potted herrings
Cods Roe and Bacon, perfect for sharing.
Food and folklore go hand in hand
Dagdas stew made him most grand
Bread and milk left on a sill at night
To keep the fairy folk from giving you a fright
St Patricks, irish Johnny, Vicarage
Cherry Dog Porter and irish Rink
Slim, boiled, Carvie and honey
Homemade cakes, bang on the money!
A warm glow from inside a Shebeen
With a risky jug of Irish Potcheen
Distilled from potatoes, this strong, clear liquor
Will be sure to get you drunk a lot quicker.
Coventry’s Irish Community
The Coventry Irish Society
Have provided the memories for this to be created
Irish food and heritage celebrated
To all those who have taken part
Thanks you all from the bottom of our heart.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!