The Humble Spud


I get annoyed when people dismiss certain vegetables out of hand as ‘fattening’. I spoke with a lady the other day who said she couldn’t eat potatoes because they had too many ‘empty carbs’ and she questioned ‘what’s in them anyway?’ Firstly, you don’t have to eat potatoes for breakfast, lunch and tea. Secondly, we could all learn to shown some restraint with portion size. But to rule out an incredibly nutritious vegetable altogether I think is wrong – especially one that has such a strong history with this country to the point where it has become synonymous with Ireland.

How the potato got to Ireland in the first place is a bit of a mystery. Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins have all been credited with introducing the tuber into Europe. The usual story for Ireland is that Sir Walter Raleigh brought it here when he was came to help suppress the Desmond Rebellions between 1579 and 1583. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support this dating from that time in any of the Raleigh-related estate records. Some evidence comes in the form of hearsay some 100 years later through the minutes of a Royal Society meeting held 13th December 1693 when it’s president Sir Robert Southwell (1635-1702) stated that his grandfather had ‘brought potatoes into Ireland who had them from Sir Walter Raleigh after his return from Virginia’. This may or may not have been the case. There does seem to be a connection with Spain however as an early name for potato was An Spáinneach. A likely scenario is that the first potatoes reached us from Spain via commercial trading routes.

Either way, Ireland fell in love with the spud. And as a staple food of a country, potatoes weren’t a bad option. They were one of the few staples that one could live nutritionally on exclusively which was the case for about 40% of the population in the 1800s. Potatoes are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron and zinc, and of course the First World dreaded starch. All was good until 1845 when the potatoes were struck by blight and this, coupled with Ireland’s political and commercial practices at the time, resulted in the famine.

When Irish people think of potatoes their eyes often glaze over at the thought of freshly boiled new potatoes and rubbing the thin skins off before eating them with butter, salt and some new onions. Or colcannon, which is one of the most celebrated of Irish potato recipes and one of our favourites. It has all the simple goodness of floury potatoes, kale, milk, butter and scallions – Heaven! Maybe this is what the lady meant when she said that she couldn’t eat potatoes as they were fattening. But is there any dish that can evoke an Irish childhood more?


What you need:

  • 2lb or 1kg of Floury potatoes
  • 400g chopped kale
  • 1¼ cup/ 320ml milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

What to do:

  1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot until tender. Always start with cold water, never using hot water. Otherwise you will end up with floury outside and a hard middle.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to a pan over a medium heat. Add the kale and cook until just wilted. This should take about 5 minutes.
  3. Strain the potatoes. Add the milk, butter and scallions to the pot and let simmer gently for 2 minutes to infuse the milk with the scallion. Add the kale and the peeled potatoes to the pot. Mash until smooth.
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. To serve traditionally, make a crater on top of each portion using the back of a spoon. Add a knob of butter to each crater so that every forkful of colcannon can be dipped into the lake of melted butter.

Published in The Western People 20th July 2015


Planting parsley on Good Friday


According to tradition, parsley should only be planted on one day: Good Friday. If planted on any other day, the planter would risk an almost certain dire end as parsley was once associated with death and the devil. The ancient Greeks feared the herb more than most and one day, in a particular battle, some clever Celt sent a donkey out adorned head to hoof with the green stuff and the Greek soldiers turned and fled!

Fortunately, parsley’s bad reputation faded over the years and it has since been rightly prized for its flavour as well as its many health benefits.  Recent studies show that parsley is one of the richest sources of a compound called apigenin, a cancer cell killing flavonoid that is found in many plants, of which dried parsley is the cream of the crop. Of course, parsley is also full of iron, vitamins K, A, C and B complex as well as what we are all lacking, magnesium.  I try to use it as much as I can and my favourite way of using it is in stuffing.

Everyone likes good stuffing. I’ve seen it on family state occasions such as Christmas and Easter when there is a large gathering and the vegans or vegetarians in the family find out that all the stuffing has dairy or sausage meat and there is none that’s suitable for them. There is nothing worse than violent vegans! I speak from experience.

In Europe, lamb as the main feature for Easter dinner goes back earlier than Easter, to the first Passover of the Jewish tradition when the sacrificial lamb was eaten. As Hebrews converted to Christianity they brought these traditions with them and as the Christians often refer to Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’, the traditions merged. In the United States however, ham is the traditional Easter staple. Traditionally meat was slaughtered in autumn, and the fresh pork that wasn’t consumed in the cold winter before lent was cured in spring. This type of curing used hard salt and took time and the first hams were ready just in time for Easter.

The recipe below is for a simple sage and onion stuffing. It can be embellished with different herbs or vegetables depending on what you need it for. If stuffing a duck, you can add a diced fennel bulb or finely chopped sticks of celery. Rosemary or mint can be added instead of sage for lamb. For Easter Sunday we usually have a stuffed rack of Pork for dinner. We stuff it with this stuffing as well as dried apricots that we pre-soak  in some good apple juice.  It’s a colourful as well as very tasty combination.


The recipe below makes enough stuffing for 1 large chicken or a 3lb rack of pork. You may want to make some extra as it will never be wasted. If you are not keen on tying your own joint, remember that you can bring your own stuffing into your butcher and they can stuff your joint for you.  Leave out the butter in the following recipe if you have any vegans in the house!


You will need:

A little butter and a little oil

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

12-18 fresh sage leaves OR 1 level tablespoon of dried sage

1 large bunch of parsley, chopped OR if using dried, 2 good handfuls

Half a small stale white loaf, blitzed into breadcrumbs

Sea salt and black pepper


What to do:

Melt the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onion and sage. Sauté gently until the onion is soft and translucent but not browned. Add the chopped parsley and take off the heat. Add the breadcrumb, season well and stir. Leave to cool.

If using the dried apricots in the rack of pork, pre-soak in apple juice for at least 1 hour until plump. Add a row of apricots into the stuffing cavity and fill it with the cooled bread mixture. Tie the joint at intervals, or better still, get your butcher to do it for you!

Enjoy, and happy Easter!


This article was published in The Western People on 30th March 2015

The Start!

De Búrca Launch - 13/10/2014

De Búrca Launch – 13/10/2014

Re-post of article published her in October 2014.


Below is the extract of what has been published in the press since we’ve opened. Because it is mishmash of what I’ve submitted to the press and what has been published, I won’t quote anyone, but it’s pretty true (except for the bit about me dancing on the block naked at the launch):


Seán Bourke and Sarah Ní Shúilleabháin had talked about opening their own butcher shop for a very long time. The conversation started in earnest on their honeymoon in Normandy where they had rented a cottage on the outskirts of a small town called Coutances. Every afternoon they used to go to the local butcher shop in the town. They could get loin pork chops on the bone, rind on or shin of beef or a rib of beef on the bone with a lovely spattering of yellow fat. And the meat tasted really good. They remembered meat like it from when they were children and they wondered why they couldn’t get these cuts so readily in Ireland anymore.

Coutances 1

Seán had trained as a butcher in Castlebar before moving to Dublin with Sarah in 1998 where she studied Biomedical Science. Seán worked in Troy’s Butcher Shop on Moore Street and in Dugpak on the North Strand Road. They both then moved to Nenagh in Tipperary in 2001 where Sean worked in Hanlon’s butcher Shop and Sarah worked as a Medical Scientist with the HSE. The conversation continued about meat and their own butcher shop.


Nenagh was too small for another butcher shop and so they looked back home to the west. Seán is a local from Breaffy and Sarah is from Loch con Aortha in Connemara. They looked at Galway and at Mayo and finally settled on Castlebar. They were originally interested in premises just off Main Street but thankfully that didn’t work out, because they took a chance and walked into McHale’s on Main Street to chat with Martin and to say to him that if he was ever thinking of renting the shop that they might be interested. He took their number, and three months later in January 2014, he called. It was only a matter of weeks before the lease was signed and Sean started work in the shop on Friday the 4th of April. Sarah was to stay in Nenagh with their two little girls until things got up and running in the shop. However, it became clear on that Friday that this was something they were going to do together as a family. Sarah handed in her notice to the HSE the following Monday and she and the girls joined Sean in Castlebar two weeks later. The renovation of the shop started almost immediately. They couldn’t afford to close the shop to renovate so they spent nights and weekends working to reorganise the layout to suit the very clear vision they had for De Búrca’s. Sarah had been gathering images and photos of shops and renovation ideas since their honeymoon in 2007 for their own shop one day – alot of the ideas have now being implemented. They wanted to open a shop that was sustainable in terms of meat – in other words they buy in locally reared whole animals on the bone and used the whole animal nose to tail. They are very close to reaching their target of complete sustainability. Chicken is a stumbling block for them in this aim because customers want more chicken fillets than what they can afford to buy in whole. Developing their processing side has helped them in being more sustainable in terms of meat because it allows them to use the whole animal more easily and the wonderful by-products of this are their sausages.


They have always had a keen interest in making sausages and have practiced sausage making for years at home. It was a more daunting prospect to make sausages for the public and they wondered how they would be received. Their sausages are very meaty. They are made with the best locally-reared pork and their own spice and herb blends in natural casings. They have been experimenting with recipes for years and currently have their version of a Traditional sausage, a Cumberland sausage and a Hot Italian sausage for sale in the shop. They are currently working on a North African Merguez-style lamb sausage and a Garlic Pork sausage. In their counter you will see the usual cuts of meat, the striploin and T-bone steaks, the legs of lamb and the roasts of beef. You will also see shin of beef with a neat pile of marrow bones beside it for stews. You will see the pork loin chops on the bone and pork shoulder chops for braising. You might see an oxtail tied neatly in a circle if you’re lucky because the minute it’s put out in the counter it is sold. You can have your ox tongue plain or pickled. Seán takes great pride in his counter display and especially now as the shop is almost nearing the end of the renovation and is starting to look how they envisioned it.