Saturday 17 March 2018

A flavour of France - why our mouths are watering for another tasty clash

Clotilde and Paddy Fitzgibbon with daughter Laetitia in Fermoy, Co Cork Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Clotilde and Paddy Fitzgibbon with daughter Laetitia in Fermoy, Co Cork Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
The staff of Chez Max in Dublin Photo: Justin Farrelly
French food blogger Ketty Elisabeth Picture: Justin Farrelly
French fan Celia Costa Picture: Justin Farrelly
Donal Lenihan and his wife Mary in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel Picture: Mark Stedman
French fans in Dublin city centre Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Ralph Riegel and Ryan Nugent

Wolfe Tone famously cursed that he could have thrown a biscuit ashore when a French invasion fleet abandoned its efforts in heavy storms to land troops in west Cork in 1796.

While the Irish revolutionary's food import didn't make it ashore on that occasion, what was firmly planted here was an abiding love of all things French.

Cork isn't unique in Ireland for its fondness for things Gallic - with deep and historic connections between two going back centuries.

In fact, Cork's reputation as 'The City of Merchant Princes' is largely derived from an influx of French Protestant refugees, the Huguenots, in the 17th Century. They brought a vast array of craft skills with them from silver-making to brewing and left an entire part of the city known today as 'The Huguenot Quarter'.

That French connection is still being mirrored in our appetite for the breads, cheese, pastries and wines that our Gallic cousins produce.

Clotilde Fitzgibbon came to Ireland 25 years ago to perfect her English, fell in love with a local man, Paddy, and relocated to Ballylegan outside Glanworth. She puts her French cookery skills to good use with business venture 'Clotilde's Compotes'.

The only tensions arise in the sports-mad family when Ireland plays France in football or rugby. "We fly both flags outside our home just to keep everyone happy," she says.

The great French firm Pernod-Ricard now owns Irish Distillers and has helped build the Midleton distillery into not just a major tourist attraction but the fastest growing whiskey production centre in the world. In return, the Hennessy family from Killavullen, a sleepy village by the River Blackwater in north Cork, helped found one of France's great Cognac houses.

And when Thomas Jefferson, the future US president, arrived in France as an emissary for the fledgling US republic in the 1770s, he was already a noted fan of Bordeaux wines.

In his diary, he noted with more than a little surprise that the dominant wine broker and exporter in Bordeaux was Abraham Lawton, who was born and raised in Skibbereen.

Famous Irish restaurants including Ballymaloe House, Man Friday, the (now closed) Arbutus Lodge and Longueville House readily admit to their French influences.

Meanwhile, the French living in Dublin insist there is a lot of love in Paris for the Irish. But both Ireland and France know a defeat this evening will end any battle they have with England for the Six Nations title.

Chez Max restaurant owner Max Delaloubie (42) is over here 16 years, so is sitting on the fence for the clash. "I'm half-half to be honest, seriously," he said.

A Les Bleus invasion almost caught Dublin Castle unawares last night as an army of French sipped Pernod and sang 'La Marseillaise' - though unlike in previous visits to the Emerald Isle, they didn't manage to smuggle any cockerels into the country.

French food blogger Ketty Elisabeth has been living in Dublin for 12 years and enjoys the atmosphere when the two countries come together. "It's fun to see French people around. French people love Irish people, you know? And I think in general Irish people like French people as well," she said.

Meanwhile, old scores were being relived as close to 60 parliamentarians from both countries came together at the French Ambassadorial residence on Ailesbury Road ahead of their titanic rugby clash in Donnybrook this morning - a curtain-raiser for the real deal at the Aviva.

Senator Catherine Noone (who isn't quite sure if she'll be togging out) was expecting a feisty affair, although it is really about bringing the two nations closer.

"I'm threatening to put on a pair of tag shorts and head out but I'd be hesitant...last time three guys had serious injuries from this match, including two broken legs," she said.

You'd doubt that there was a multi-million euro insurance on those limbs, unlike those of 'Riverdance' icon Michael Flatley.

The Lord of the Dance will be tapping his shoes all the way around Lansdowne Road if Ireland can get the right result. A massive rugby supporter, he sounded almost starstruck talking about bumping into Ronan O'Gara.

"I love rugby, I was just talking to ROG, what a great guy," Flatley said. "I try to go to as many matches as I can, I'm a big Munster supporter, but I love all the teams.

"I flew over for this and I rarely miss a Six Nations match, whenever I can," he added.

There was also a huge crowd as former international player Donal Lenihan was honoured at the annual Ireland Funds Rugby Lunch in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel.

Over 400 guests attended the fundraiser held traditionally in advance of the first home game of the Six Nations tournament.

This year, it seems fowl is off the menu. Lenihan said: "In the old days, they used to be able to sneak in a few cockerels that were always released but you don't bring animals into foreign countries anymore, so that's gone.

"But the French have a passion for the game," he added.

Irish Independent

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