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Put spring in your step with feast of festivals

The City of the Tribes hosts its first festival, a welcome addition to the busy foodie trail, says Lucinda O'Sullivan

WE are facing into a spring / summer of more food festivals around the country than ever before. This is really fantastic for many reasons, and not just that we can stuff our faces.

Sitting around the table together with family and friends is a great thing to do. It bonds people in good times and in bad. Food festivals are in a way an extension of sitting around the table and are wonderful, for community spirit, as well as exposure for the small artisan producers and for the local restaurants.

These festivals attract new visitors into areas they might not have otherwise gone to, where they can spend money in a way that relaxes the mind and the spirit. It's a win-win situation. Most have a similar set-up with food markets, tasting trails and cookery demonstrations, but each region's influences and characters make their events special.

The inaugural Galway Food Festival kicks off on Easter weekend where there will be a lot of good food, not to mention craic, in the City of the Tribes. Chairperson of the new Galway Food Festival is JP McMahon who owns the hugely popular Cava Spanish restaurant, as well as Aniar, his more recent eatery with chef Enda McEvoy, who did a stint in Noma in Copenhagen, the world's number one restaurant.

The new festival will feature open-air markets promoting local produce and producers, including the renowned Galway market, restaurant trails, cookery demonstrations, a festival village at Fishmarket Square, food tours to local artisan producers, foraging, food talks, tastings, wine workshops with industry experts, and children's activities.

The festival will also include lots of what Galway does best -- street performances, music trails and family-friendly entertainment. There is a comprehensive programme but some of the individual events that caught my eye were gluten-free baking at the Skeffington Arms Hotel on Good Friday, April 6 at 3pm; food tour to the Connemara Smokehouse departing from Jury's Inn at 10am on Saturday; traditional preservation in the modern kitchen with Enda McEvoy at Aniar on Saturday at noon; nose to tail eating, using the whole hog with Ray Collerans and JP McMahon at the demo tent in the festival village at 4pm.

On Easter Sunday at 11am there is cooking with seaweed demo with Martin O'Donnell of West Restaurant at The Twelve Hotel taking place at the tent in the festival village; how to taste a glass of wine with Febvre Wines at 2pm at Aniar and at 7pm there is a pop-up restaurant at St Jude's B&B in Salthill which is offering a 'taste of the West menu' with wine in aid of Cancer Care West with Heather Flaherty of the Gourmet Tart Company. Tickets are €75.

The fun continues on bank holiday Monday. See www.galwayfoodfestival.com

The Waterford Festival of Food takes place in Dungarvan from Thursday to Sunday, April 12-15. Chef Paul Flynn, along with Martin Shanahan from Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, will give visitors a sneak preview of their new TV series Surf 'n' Turf. The event will be guided by Masterchef judge, Nick Munier, and Richard Reeve of the Chop House in Lismore.

There will also be a fast and furious fun cookery demonstration contest with RTE's John Murray as MC, and London-based celebrity chef Angela Hartnett, who has Irish/Welsh Italian parentage, will be cooking in the Tannery on Friday 13. Tickets €60 from The Tannery. (Tel: 058 45420).

The festival is tailored to appeal to entire families and includes a host of free events (and some ticketed) over the weekend, with something for all ages and tastes. There are seaweed seminars, foraging trails, the mobile farm at King John's Castle, community picnic in the park, restaurant trails and cookery demos. Check out www.waterfordfestivaloffood.com

Over the May Bank Holiday weekend (May 4 to 6) you can head off to the Renvyle Peninsula for the Connemara Mussel Festival, which is in its seventh year. The Atlantic feeds Killary Harbour twice daily with thousands of gallons of fresh seawater bringing the natural food source of phytoplankton to the mussels, which are said to have a distinctive sweet flavour.

Here celebrations will include music, craic, amateur and professional mussel-cooking competitions, archaeological walks, fly-fishing, and children's activities. There will be cookery demonstrations by the wonderful Tim O'Sullivan of Renvyle House Hotel, who is a master with fish. Mairin Ui Chomain who was inspired by Tim, and launched her cookbook Irish Mussel Cuisine at last year's festival, will be there. More info at www.connemaramusselfestival.com

That same weekend, on Sunday, May 6, Gourmet Greystones swings into action with the team leading the foodie charge including Asheesh Dewan of the Chakra and Jaipur restaurants, and Amy Caviston and Shane Willis of A Caviston, Greystones, Co Wicklow.

There will be a black pudding-making workshop with the extraordinary Jack McCarthy of Kanturk, who not only fed Queen Elizabeth with his pudding, but also has just returned from the Normandy town of Mortagne au Perche with two more gold medals and a silver for his boudins. There will also be a sausage-making workshop with Ed Hick and cheese and butter-making with David Tiernan of Glebe Brethan, and a series of cookery demonstrations by renowned chefs. www.greystoneschamber.ie

In Co Clare in Lisdoonvarna, the highly popular Slow Food Festival will take place from May 18--20. I was there last year and there was a great turnout of local producers, including Birgitta Curtin of the Burren Smokehouse, whose wonderful smoked salmon was also on the menu at Dublin Castle for Queen Elizabeth's visit.

The main events are at the Pavilion Theatre in Lisdoonvarna. The daily entrance fee is €5 and under-18s are free. Cookery demos will include Inchiquin House Cookery School and Aidan McGrath of Wild Honey Inn, who will also be organising a dinner at the inn on Thursday, May 17, featuring a celebrity chef.

There will be lots of music in Lisdoonvarna, talks by fisher folk Frank Fleming who is branding Irish sustainably caught fish, and Michael and Patricia Murphy, on wild salmon from the River Nore. You can also walk the Burren Farm with tea at 'Fr Ted's House' on Sunday morning. www.slowfoodclare.com

This is but a snapshot of the many food festivals around the country up to mid-May. Go enjoy.

Sunday Independent