Clonakilty is a town that is well rehearsed in the traditional Irish Céad Míle Fáilte. If the town had a middle name it would be ‘Welcome’. Blessed by both its position to the Atlantic Coast and award winning Inchydoney Beach, the rolling verdant hills peppered with happy cows, Clonakilty is a place that’s more than comfortable in its own skin. Whilst often times Kinsale is hailed as the gourmet destination of West Cork, Clonakilty is its more understated cousin that is quietly growing its reputation as a world-class gourmet destination.
Clonakilty’s proud food history dates back to the 1600’s and the market that remains still so vital to the community today. For nearly 200 years, the town was home to the Deasy & Co brewhouse, famous for its Clonakilty Wrastler porter, giving rise to “The Brewery Town” moniker. The old Mill, long since silenced, would have been vital to the brewing industry as well other essential produce; and the fertile soil lent itself to great agriculture, both animal and vegetable.
Thanks to its position on the Atlantic Coast, a vibrant seafood trade at the fish market was located close by to the Shambles (meat market) and the no-less-than 7 abattoirs that once served the town. Take a walk along the winding streets of Clonakilty today, virtually unchanged for the past 500 years, and easily imagine the bustle of the town on market day. Hand-driven cattle from nearby fields; fishwives gutting and brining; the sweet smell of malted barley from the brewery; hollering from traders on their market stalls; the gentle rhythmic sound of a water wheel powering the mill.
Whilst today this traditional market town is better known for tourists than the business of agriculture, the connection between land, sea and the townspeople remains. In today’s Clonakilty, there is a resurgent and energetic food movement that reveals a town at one with the pure joy of producing and creating great things to eat. Let me take you on a whirlwind tour for the best food producers and places to eat so you can ensure a hearty, tasty stay when you come and visit us!
Here is my list of best things to eat in Clonakilty.
Allison Roberts has been making chocolate since she was 12 years old. In 2014, she crowd-funded her way to becoming Ireland’s only third bean-to-bar Chocolate Maker working from the cocoa bean. Allison only uses fair trade ingredients to make her chocolate bars as well natural sugar alternatives making much of her chocolate diabetic friendly.
Clonakilty Brewing Company
Launching on the June bank-holiday, CBC will be rejuvenating Clonakilty’s status as a brewery town for the first time since 1948. Hand-crafted small batch beers, their American Pale Ale and Irish Porter have their own stories to tell that link back to Clonakilty’s quirky history.
Clonakilty Black Pudding
The most successful black pudding to be produced in Ireland, this Black Pudding recipe has been unchanged for over 200 years and is still sold today from the same original butchers shop on Pearse Street. Collette Twomey closely guards the secret recipe, keeping the tradition alive!
Clonakilty Homemade Ice Cream
Caroline Elliot hand-makes her 16 different flavours of ice cream daily using only milk sourced from local herds. Her brightly coloured shop at the bottom of MacCurtain Hill is the perfect spot to watch the world go by. Open all year long.
Fresh Fish Seafood Deli
Stepping inside Peter Shanahan’s bright, modern fish deli is a far cry from the fish market of old, but you can rely on the very best fresh fish being here, every day. Peter’s commitment to quality fresh fish is reflected by the daily 5am call to Union Hall pier where he hand picks the best for his Fish Deli fresh off the boats.
M J O’Neill Craft Butcher
Third generation craft butcher that has been operating in the town for just over 100 years, to this day M J O’Neill’s is the only butcher in town that still has their own herds that grazing nearby overlooking Inchydoney beach and their own abattoir (the only one left in Clonakilty). Traditional nose-to-tail butcher; Haulie’s beef and sausages are a must!
Operating every Friday, rain or shine, this market is a must-visit. Every trader on the market is worth a visit and a taste, but in particular make a beeline for the following:
April Danann – The Natural Rebel Market Stall
April’s speciality is Wild Fermented Foods…from breads to fermented drinks, even pick up a jar of your own sourdough starter. April’s knowledge in wild food is unsurpassed – stop for a chat and learn something new!
Specialising in rare breed pigs, Nathan’s herd is reared on his low-intensity farm and hand cured to produce some of the most delicious pork you will ever taste.
West Cork Larder
To taste the pastry on Steve’s pies is a thing of wonder. Handmade and award winning food to take away with you.
The Real Olive Company
Stocking a dizzying array of quality antipasti, as well as wonderful local buffalo milk mozzarella, feta and blue cheeses.
The Hungry Crow
Delicious sweet treats with a serious health conscious edge. Try the Coconut and Turmeric bars – delicious!
With such amazing local produce to choose from, many of the restaurants make use of this with exceptional results. These are my picks – the best of the best!
Food Depot – Gourmet Street Kitchen
West Cork’s original food truck headed up by MasterChef Ireland champion Diana Dodog and her husband Mike O’Donovan, this place will blow you away with the quality of food on offer. Hearty, healthy and delicious, this is cooking from the heart. Great coffee too!
What looks like a normal Irish pub from the outside is banging out plates of some of the best food in West Cork on an ever-changing lunch menu. Chef Izaak Bradley’s strict ethos of keeping things local and seasonal, the ingredients are not only hyper-local but also hyper-fresh.
The main restaurant at the Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa with huge picture windows overlooking the multi-award winning beach, Chef Adam Medcalf’s passion for Mediterranean flavours using the best of local and seasonal produce means epic flavour with an epic view.
To be found at the Clonakilty Market on Friday’s, Chef Piers Diment spent 15 years as a chef in Thailand and has brought all his knowledge and skills to bear on the most authentic tasting Thai food in West Cork sourcing authentic ingredients that you simply can’t find in the supermarket. His scratch-made fresh curry, soup, dim-sum and slow-cooked ribs don’t hang around for long!
Fine dining in this small restaurant in the sleepy village of Timoleague with excellent attention to detail and wonderful service.
Deasy’s Seafood Restaurant and Harbour Bar
Situated just a couple of kilometres outside of Clonakilty in the small fishing harbour of Ring sits this gem of a seafood restaurant. Expect excellent food served creatively using shore-foraged ingredients and the best local veggies. A deft touch with pickles and ferments adds unexpected bursts of flavour. Indulge in the cocktail aperitif which is always original and wonderful.
Venture 10 kms west to Rosscarbery for this fantastic restaurant just into its second year. Expect creative flair with vegetables; careful treatment of meat and of course fresh fish; the food is influenced by a world of flavours and the quality of local produce on its doorstep. The food is as tasty, as it is pretty!
Kate Ryan is a food writer, blogger and founder of Flavour.ie a website that is dedicated to promoting West Cork Food through writing, events and tours. Kate writes regularly for The Opinion Magazine and The Southern Star newspaper and has been featured in the Irish Examiner and Irish Times. Her blog is recipe driven showcasing the best of West Cork produce and encouraging everyday cooking with it at home as well as the best places to eat in the region. Kate hosts a very popular social dining “Supper Club” as well as organising a variety of food-related events getting people to enjoy great local food together. In the summer season, Kate also runs the only guided Walking Food Tour of Clonakilty which takes place every Friday June to August and is accredited by Fáilte Ireland for the Wild Atlantic Way. Kate is also a judge with Blas na hEireann and the Irish Quality Food Awards.
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