The Thatch and Thyme, Main St, Kildorrery, Co Cork.
Lower the volume on regular crawthumping lipservice emanating from much of the body politic to instead focus on specific actions and strategies of real substance — or the lack thereof — and it becomes increasingly obvious with each passing year the State has largely given up on ‘Rural Ireland’ and, in particular, the farming community that was once the bedrock of this nation.
Nowadays, it seems rural Ireland is no more than a giant land bank to serve the needs of industrial agri-biz save those locations blessed by nature’s lottery with sufficient allure to qualify as a tourist destination.
Make no bones about it, any small rural community battling for survival in 21st century Ireland needs to look within. How do you do that? Well, perhaps begin with a masterclass in Kildorrery, a little village halfway between on the N73 between mallow and Mitchelstown and Charleville, in north Cork, where the local community first took matters into their own hands as far back as 1993, as a once thriving village of multiple shops and pubs began to fade away on foot of the closure of the local creamery some years previous.
A community group was founded to kickstart a series of initiatives too lengthy to list here but including building social housing for the elderly and a new community centre amongst a portfolio of community-owned property.
Kildorrery is a main street bisected by a cross road at the peak of a hill perch overlooking rich agricultural land stretching for miles around and though we fetch up on a bleak January day of gloomy half-light and rain, the little village wears well the evident care that comes from genuine civic pride, neat as a pin and bristling with life.
Thatch & Thyme is sited in the aforementioned community centre, leased by local chef/restaurateur Joanne McEldowney (rent is sunk back into other local civic projects, a textbook example of a self-generating circular economy) and though I am angling for a different table in the warm and welcoming room, the better to observe proceedings, our server politely but emphatically steers my brother and I towards the only two-seater in the room as it dawns on me that we are early for lunch.
By 1pm, the room and ante-room are both completely full, all locals as far as I can tell; no doubt the pretty little garden dining area to the rear would be equally rammed in more clement weather. There are restaurants in infinitely more populous Cork city that would kill for this kind of midweek trade in winter’s depths.
The brother has a BLT: Lisduff streaky bacon, tomato, lettuce and mayo on toasted batch loaf and his purported lack of appetite vanishes in the face of this fine rendition of an old classic, most especially when paired with flavoursome carrot and coriander soup sporting a light, creamy froth.
I order two dishes to try to properly take the temperature of the menu; half of either would have sufficed to sate my hunger, such is the bounty (a subsequent ‘doggy bag’ making for an ample dinner later that evening). Warm chicken and chorizo salad features tender fowl and sweet spicy nuggets of the cured sausage along with spiced coriander chickpeas, fresh, tart tzatsiki, and a mixed salad of lovely fresh leaves with honey mustard dressing.
The Bluebell Falls goat’s cheese and beetroot tart with maple glazed hazelnuts arrives with a cornucopia of salads: earthy, gently pickled golden beetroot; nutty sesame and chilli noodles with red onion and red pepper; a pleasingly rugged coleslaw and more of that salad. The ingredients of the tart are all decent though the rather prosaic and rudimentary assemblage would benefit from a tad more craft and consideration.
We finish with coffees and excellent chocolate tart from a selection of fine pastries and desserts, all criminally inexpensive.
McEldowney shuns the class of fey offering that has Instagrammers fussing over filters; rather, this is very tasty, betimes delicious, home-style cooking of well-sourced ingredients, thoughtfully and lovingly rendered, with her local audience lapping it up, and if my takeaway wild venison bourguignon with smoked bacon and mushrooms is anything to go by, her weekend night BYOB four-coursers (just €40) are most probably a step up again. Power to the people, indeed.
Monday to Friday: 8.30am to 5pm; Saturday: 8.30am to 4.30pm; Friday and Saturday: 7.30pm to 10pm