Let’s face it, in the past most of us Irish have had a funny relationship with food. Whether it was being forced to eat fish on Fridays or enduring a love/hate relationship with the potato, we have all had our crosses to bear.
But in the last 20 or so years, something started happening. A group of pioneering farmhouse cheese-makers decided to make the most of all the delicious, fresh milk they had on their doorsteps. These guys, arguably, were the start of a whole new wave of artisan food producers. Right now, Ireland is a heavy-hitter when it comes to the production and export of top quality grub. “You’ve got all the right geography, grass, animals, breeding and farming,” said boy-wonder chef Jamie Oliver on a recent visit, “no excuses for not having incredible, incredible stuff.” Couldn’t have said it better myself Jamie.
While we might feel nostalgic for iconic Irish brands like Jacob’s Cream Crackers (try and eat 10 without having a drink – just try it!) or wedges of Calvita cheese (see Simone Walsh’s charming painting below) these products didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Right now our own smartest eateries and best chefs are rediscovering Ireland’s culinary heritage. They’re realising what fantastic produce we have available to us and are using these ingredients to awaken our pride in Irish food. Bacon and cabbage you say? Pork belly glazed in Highbank Orchard Syrup and served with confit of carrot we say! Remember bright orange fish fingers with lumpy mash on Friday evenings? How do you like the sound of Kilmore Quay potted prawn and crabmeat with apple salad? Yums.
Hmm, but I’d murder a Marietta sandwich…
Why do they make us feel warm and fuzzy? Well, ‘cute’ is simply an evolutionary trick. It’s nature’s devious way of getting you to look after otherwise defenceless offspring. Zoologist Konrad Loranz argued in 1949 that the typical baby face of big eyes, small nose and a relatively big head makes people want to drop everything and take care of them. Clever babies…
We also seem to have a fascination with tiny man-made things. Ever get excited by looking in the windows of a really detailed doll’s house? Ever see a man go ga-ga for a train set?
There’s something so charming about real life reduced down to miniature. Maybe it’s us being sentimental and remembering childhood playfulness. Maybe we’re in awe of the talent needed to create such detail. Maybe we’re just slaves to evolution. Whatever it is, it seems to be universal, here to stay and guaranteed to ensure the survival of the species for a while to come.
There’s something about the light at this time of year. When the sun does manage to battle its way through the cloud, the freezing fog or whatever you’re having yourself – it makes everything look so much more interesting.
It’s especially atmospheric during the magic hour around sunrise and again at sunset, when the angle of the sun is so low. According to my ‘google-machine’ this is because the light has a lot more atmosphere to travel through. So by the time it gets to us it’s all diffused and moody, acting like one of those hipster photo filters on Instagram. Textures come alive. Shadows are long and deep.
Then there’s the light that we bring – not to be too philosophical – I’m talking about the candles, bulbs and firelight that come alive once the sun goes down. Strung through tree branches, dancing in window panes giving a heartening glow and flicker.
So let’s hear it for the light that brightens the darkest season of our year, wherever it comes from.
The temperature has dropped, the nights have closed in and the leaves have turned. The Autumn is well and truly here. It seems no one is immune to the sniffles, maybe everyone was taken by surprise and were a little late in putting on their scarves and hats. It didn’t help that we had an ‘Indian Summer’ in September and that the All Ireland Hurling Championship Final was delayed by three weeks.
But here at Kilkenny Design Centre we are well and truly in the spirit. We have some lovely pieces in our shop that celebrate the warm palette of Autumn and the joy of getting snuggly. Have a look at the beautiful faux fur accessories from Moore and Moore – very Anna Karenina! – or the fabulous wool throw from John Hanly woollen mills.
We are also in the process of updating our evening menu to reflect the changing seasons. Our team have been developing our Autumn/Winter menu by adding all the bounties of the harvest; nuts, spices, preserves and winter vegetables have all inspired us so keep an eye on our website for the big launch on October 11th.
P.S. Check out how our Gallery windows have been transformed! Artist Tom Campbell (exhibiting with the Blackbird Gallery) just couldn’t hold himself back, and we’re not complaining
Tonight museums, galleries, artists’ studios and more will open their doors late for a free night of entertainment, discovery and adventure. This is year seven of Culture Night. Having started in Dublin’s Temple Bar the night has since been steadily spreading across the country and has grown year by year.
It does a great job of reminding people about all the different cultural activities on their doorsteps that are open all year round. It also gives the chance for families to enjoy these places together. Schoolchildren often get to go on organised trips with their classmates, but not often do the whole family get the chance to enjoy our museums and galleries together.
In Kilkenny, the National Craft Gallery is presenting a feast of culinary culture inspired by the current exhibition ‘Utensil’. You can take part in music workshops using kitchen utensils with local percussion performers, invent your own foodie sculptures or print designs on tea cloths inspired by Jennifer Slattery’s textiles.
The Carnegie Library on John’s Quay is holding a story-telling night where storytellers, poets, singers and dancers are invited to celebrate the art of telling a right good yarn, under the direction of a Fear an Ti (Irish for man of the house).
So even if the closest you usually get to culture is eating a live yogurt(!), come out for the night and see what’s on, you never know – you might get a taste for it…
I am a stationery freak. I love pens, pencils, notebooks, pencil cases, the whole shebang. I think it comes from when I was a girl and collected ‘fancy notepaper’. Anyone else? Admit it! I did think I was alone there for a while. I wasn’t quite comfortable enough to ask outright, but once I had the courage to broach the subject with colleagues it was amazing how many came out of the closet. Recently, during one of these conversations I was told about this t-shirt on www.hairybaby.com, and that was that. Fancy Paper Pride is the way forward and so ‘back to school’ time is one of my favourite times of the year.
This time of year means different things to different people. You might be heading off to college or to school yourself, it might mean freedom or it might mean servitude. Or you might be sending a little person off to school for the first time and getting emotional at the school gate. Whether you’re celebrating or commiserating might I suggest… stationery.
Does anything smell better than a new pencil case? Or a freshly sharpened pencil? Is there any better feeling than finding that perfect pen? Well check out these little beauties.
Ursula Celano is an Irish designer who makes gifts and accessories decorated with “designs that say Ireland” and her ‘cottages’ purse would make the perfect pencil case.
You might have a tough time fitting in these ‘felt pens’ from Erin Knitwear though, they are hilarious – maybe better for home use…
Then there’s the Orla Kiely memo block with her fantastic acorn print and there’s even an Orla Kiely flask – we’ve come a long way from Wonderwoman and Superman.
But if even shopping for stationery isn’t enough to cheer you up, if you can’t get over the sight of your little person’s trembling bottom lip because they’ve never had to wear a tie before, then I recommend the Gruffalo’s milk and biscuit set for when they get home and need a hug. Sniff.
In the very early years of the 13th century, the ‘greatest knight that ever lived’ built the first stone fortress on the site of Kilkenny Castle. Sir William Marshal served four kings and became one of the most powerful men in Europe. He appears in ballads, novels and Shakespearean plays. He even inspired a Hollywood movie and was portrayed by the late Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale.
Around the same time that our gallant knight was checking out property prices along the banks of the Nore the word ‘heritage’ first came into use, coming from the Anglo-French heriter, to inherit. The modern dictionary definition of ‘heritage’ is still all about legacy, inheritance and birthright, but most people’s understanding of what heritage means is quite different – historical sites, folklore and tradition.
We’re pretty proud of our heritage here in Kilkenny Design Centre. The stables and stores that we occupy were built as part of the Castle Yard in the 1760s by the Earls of Ormonde who were residents of Kilkenny Castle at the time. In the 1960s the buildings were renovated by an award-winning architect and became the world-renowned Kilkenny Design Workshops. In 1988 the Castle Yard became home to Kilkenny Design Centre, the Crafts Council of Ireland and a series of independent craftspeople and designers.
So while we can’t exactly say that we’ve been offering an unrivalled selection of Irish gifts and award-winning food to knights of the realm since the 13th century, we can still be proud of where we’ve come from!
The annual National Heritage Week Photo Competition is now open for entries. Images do not have to be taken during National Heritage Week but must have been taken in 2012. This year’s theme is Built Heritage. Simply submit an image(s) that you think captures Ireland’s Built Heritage. Images can be the interior or exterior of your favourite building, monument or ruin (historic or contemporary), a feature that captures your imagination (a window, door, handle, stairway), an interesting streetscape, a group of buildings, or examples of where built heritage meets natural heritage. To enter, upload your pictures to the official Heritage Week Photo Competition Site:http://pix.ie/group/heritageweek . The closing date for entries is 31st August 2012.
Do you like Shakespeare? It’s almost like being asked if you like music, or food. Shakespeare just is, and sometimes it feels like he always has been. He is credited with so many of the phrases we use today, but not just the clever turns of phrase that you might be familiar with like “neither a borrower nor a lender be”, or “the better part of valor is discretion”. I was blown away when I learned that he came up with “break the ice” and “full circle”. The fact that he first wrote “love is blind” would make me think that not only was he a wordsmith, but a bit of a psychologist too – or else he just had very low standards.
So… “where is this coming from?” you might ask! Well we are getting very excited here at the design centre, because the cast and crew from Shakespeare’s own Globe Theatre are coming to town to perform As You Like It in our beautiful back garden – the Castle Yard – as part of Kilkenny Arts Festival. This particular comedy has given us the phrase “all the world’s a stage” and is the origin of “too much of a good thing”. A little less glamorous is the fact that it also gave us the word ‘puke’, but you can’t have everything…
Clouds; there’s a lot of them about these days, but they’re not all bad.
Cloud computing is the new black. It is so-called because a cloud-shaped symbol is used to signify the complex structure that contains the, um… well it’s not that difficult, it’s just, um… Oh I don’t know. It’s big and it has lots of information and it’s ‘out there’ somewhere.
This past weekend, when millions of eyes were trained on the Olympic Stadium in London for Danny Boyle’s wonderful extravaganza of seemingly random daftness (loved it!) a slightly smaller group was gathered in Sligo and Leitrim and their eyes were trained elsewhere. The Irish Cloud Appreciation Society (or TICAS for short) is for people who like to look up – even if it results in a hailstone in the eye.
I’m guessing that most of you have never heard of TICAS, but if you think about it, it’s an organisation that makes total sense. Apparently conditions in Ireland are some of the best in the world for observing clouds in all their glorious forms, whether you’re interested in classification (nerd!), forecasting (masochist!) or imagining fluffy sheep (hopeless romantic!)
So the key to enjoying clouds is all about perspective, even if all you’re looking for is that silver lining!
We got some lovely postcards in the Design Centre the other week from Kilgraney House – a real hidden gem of the Kilkenny countryside, overlooking the Barrow Valley. The postcards advertise their summer show, which is currently exhibited in the Kilgraney Studio Gallery and is called ‘Pattern’. So it got me thinking…
Why do we like patterns so much? There must be something reassuring about the repetition of familiar shapes and colours.
The tableware in our evening restaurant is bedecked with a simple, elegant blossom pattern and comes from Ray Power in Castle Arch Pottery, right next door to us here in the Castle Yard. On holidays in the Loire Valley Ray wandered into a family run cafe in a small village. The tableware they were using had a lovely light feel to it, with lots of different pieces that came from different ranges, gathered by the family over the years. He sketched some ideas there and then on a napkin, and these ultimately became the Blossom Range. We decided to echo this blossom pattern on our linen drops that divide the room into more intimate spaces.
You can’t talk about patterns these days without mentioning the first lady of motifs – Orla Kiely. Her work has been all over the papers in the last few months with the Duchess of Cornwall’s appearance in one of her designs. It’s been said that “Kiely takes nature’s accidental designs, polishes them up, and moulds them into patterns of her own”. Inspired by her mother’s kitsch kitchen, filled with olive green formica cupboards and gloss orange ceilings; Ireland in the sixties and seventies; the greens, the yellows, the clouds, the skies and the sea…