Proof of the Pudding

Clonakilty, County Cork


Photo of black pudding by Robyn Mackenzie

I once knew a waitress who worked in a hotel in Galway. Every morning, she’d ask the guests if they wanted a “full Irish” breakfast.

“What in that?” the American guests would ask.
“There’s bacon,” she told them. “And sausage, tomato, black pudding….”
“And what’s in the black pudding?”
“It’s delicious. You should try it.”
“But what’s in it?”
“Well… pork, oatmeal and, umm… blood.”
“Oh, gee.” They shuddered. “I’ll skip the black pudding then.”

Which is a shame.  Because black pudding of the right kind is damn delicious. And the best kind of black pudding comes from Clonakilty in County Cork.

You do not like them,
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may I say.
– Green Eggs and Ham, Dr Suess (1960)

The recipe for Clonakilty Black Pudding was created by Johanna O’Brien in the 1800s. She was a farmer’s wife, making a few extra bob by selling her eggs, butter, and other produce to Harrington’s Butchers. She passed the recipe to Phillip Harrington, who handed it down through his family.

When Edward Twomey took over the business in the 1970s, he found the process of making black pudding a chore and attempted to stop. Outrage ensued! People were travelling from all over Munster to get their black pudding; pensioners took the bus from Cork to stock up. He realised he was onto a good thing, and Clonakilty Black Pudding became the cornerstone of the new supply company, Carbery Meats. Soon they were winning awards and supplying produce to supermarkets in Ireland and worldwide. Johanna O’Brien’s recipe is still used, with its secret mix of spices known only to the Twomey family.

Black pudding itself has probably been eaten for a long time. Why would you waste a good (and tasty) source of nutrition? In the words of Fergus Henderson (author of Nose to Tail Eating), “If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing.” Traditionally part of a fried breakfast, black pudding is also yummy in a starter or salad, especially when paired with apple to counteract the saltiness. Other Europeans have their own versions: boudin noir (French), morcilla (Spanish), blutwurst (German), kaszanka (Polish).

In 2016, black pudding was proclaimed to be a “superfood”, but unfortunately this turned out to be a marketing hoax. It is high in iron and zinc (good for you) but also in saturated fat and salt (not). It’s best enjoyed in moderation, which means you should invest in the best. And didn’t I just tell you the best comes from Clonakilty?


Pirates of the Wild Atlantic

Kinsale, County Cork

Photo of Kinsale Harbour by P.J. McKenna

On the approach to Kinsale Harbour, there is a cliff called Hangman’s Point. The name tells you exactly what you’d expect; a few centuries ago, you might see a body dangling from the scaffold.

When Captain William Baugh sailed into the harbour in 1612, he may have looked nervously towards Hangman’s Point. Baugh and his pirate crew had been terrorizing ships from Orkney to North Africa. King James I offered an amnesty for reformed pirates, and Baugh agreed to come ashore to negotiate with the Admiralty and thereby avoid the noose. But Baugh was far from reformed. His ship, The Lion, was laden with newly-stolen plunder.

A pirate captain was essentially the leader of a criminal gang, requiring the same mixture of ruthlessness and charisma. Life on board any ship was harsh, but at least a pirate crew had a democracy of sorts: the crew typically signed a code of conduct, got an agreed share of the booty, and could vote their captain out if they wished. This was no consolation to the victims of their brutal raids, who considered themselves lucky if they escaped with their lives.

On the journey towards Kinsale, Baugh had spotted three French ships and the temptation was too much. His crew attacked the ships, adding fabrics, gold and silver plate, and precious stones to their own cargo. The estimated value of Baugh’s share was close to £4000 as The Lion entered Kinsale Harbour.

The constable of the fort at Kinsale was Henry Skipwith, and he knew how this game was played. He got 800 pieces of eight for his cooperation, and his wife received gifts of silverware, linen, and canvas. The rest of the local community were sweetened by Baugh’s generosity as he negotiated the conditions of his pardon. French diplomats in London protested, but to no avail. Baugh took advantage of this time to romance Skipwith’s daughter, and the young woman was reportedly quite taken by this dashing English pirate.

Among those recipients of Baugh’s bounty was locally-based British naval officer, Sir William St. John, who by some accounts had been in league with Baugh all along. But St John proved that the pirate code was more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules, and he sailed off with the ship and much of the plundered goods.

Captain William Baugh was left destitute in Kinsale and died in a debtor’s prison, cursing the name of William St. John.

Almost a century later, a lawyer named William Cormac lived across the bay from Hangman’s Point. His indiscretion with a maidservant gave him a daughter named Anne, and the three of them escaped the wrath of his wife’s family by sailing to North Carolina. Red-haired Anne proved quite the handful; at 16 she married a small-time pirate, James Bonny, although she would later leave him for the more flamboyant “Calico Jack” Rackham.

Kinsale girl Anne Bonny became one of the most notorious pirates of the 18th century Caribbean.


Pirates of the Kinsale Coastline Irish Independent review of “Kinsale Harbour – A History” by John Thuillier

Anne Bonny, Badass of the Week (strong language)