St. Mary’s Institute of Hotel and Crafts, Athenry
Interview with Joe Loughnane
CD: This is Clare Doyle with Joe Loughnane in the Claregalway Hotel on the 3rd October 2017. Joe can you tell me a bit about your time in St. Mary’s Institute of Hotel and Crafts, it was also known as St. Mary’s Hotel School in Athenry.
JL: Well, I suppose for me it all happened, I went to vocational school in Athenry and vocational school was vocational training and I think myself and another man named Paddy Gannon, a fella from Athenry, we decided we were going to become chefs and we needed to get moving. Now that was the time the vocational schools did not do the leaving cert, so we were up to Junior Cert level…
CD: So around 14 or 15 years old or a bit older?
JL: No, no, I was 16, I was 16 at this stage because I had done a year in the secondary school in Loughrea before I reverted back to the Tech, you know?
JL: Eventually we were interviewed; it was around the month of April or May. I thumbed into Galway from Loughrea and met this fella Paddy and actually we went to lunch in Galway where the Treasure Chest is today. I remember we went upstairs for lunch and we were very impressed with the chicken and mushroom sauce or whatever was on like. Sure we didn’t know what was going on here like. But anyway, to go to the Fr. Griffith’s Road Vocational School where Seamus Cullinan was the interviewer and he interviewed us that day. I remember, I think it was down the back of the school somewhere. I think there was a stage somewhere and we had to sit in the corner. I don’t remember much from the interview, except one of the questions he asked me name a few tourist resorts in Ireland, Salthill and something like that! That was the sum total of that!
JL: But anyway, we were called the following September to attend St. Mary’s, I think about the second or third week in September we had to report there that evening and we had got a list before- hand that all our clothes were to be marked …
JL: With our names, that was the laundry stuff and we were to have….
CD: That would be your chef’s jacket, your outfit?
JL: No, no chef’s outfit had to come later when you actually bought it while you are there
JL: The only thing I had that I had to bring with me was an old apron with us for cleaning up and washing up, kind of a bib-type apron. I think my mother found an old, an old blue shop boy’s coat at the time and she got it made up into an apron. It was a bib apron kind of a thing, that was it and I think I used it there for the two years and I think half the lads in the place used it as well after that as far as I remember because they had no aprons at all.
CD: And what year was this?
JL: That was September 1969, I went into that place
JL: My mother brought me down and a man called Billy Dervin from Loughrea in the van, up the steps of that place, there’s lovely steps in it [shows photo]. Up the steps here and was met by Seamus Cullinan at the door, Mrs Loughnane into the lounge, we sat in the lounge, tipped around, asked a few questions and goodbye to my mother and that was grand. And now remember, I didn’t see her again until Christmas and Loughrea was 11 miles away.
CD: And you lived in that building?
JL: I lived in that building, lucky enough I shared a room with my buddy from Loughrea in the new building, which is down this end of it [shows photos point to back of building].
CD: Out the back
JL: I forget the name of the room but it was a two-bedroomed room, it was grand, it was ok and we were near enough a toilet, there were a few tough men around us but we managed. And we stayed there for the 2 years. And we were broken into groups. There were two groups of chefs
JL: And there was one group, we’ll call them waiters or restaurant people. Right.
JL: And, ah, we got into it. We did our two days in the kitchen. Now, there was domestic science teachers there as well, a lady called Miss Smith and a Miss McDonagh. Then we had a chef instructor called Mr Des Maher. So Des was the big man for us and the other two were the ladies. And we were doing apple tarts in the kitchen in the evening and various sweets and desserts and we’d be in the kitchen in the morning.
CD: So, that was the way the day was broken up, you did practical at different times of the day and there was theory?
JL: Yes, we catered for ourselves in Athenry. We cooked, a group cooked the lunch Monday to Sunday every day. Now Sunday was always a bit of a hodge-smodge day. I think it was nearly a volunteer group in the kitchen to knock up something for the boys. There would be no staff around of course.
CD: And how many were in your class?
JL: There was… I think there was 14 or 15 of us.
CD: A big enough group
JL: 14 or 15. I have some of them there in the photograph. Fellas from Donegal, Kerry … let me think now where else…
CD: From all over Ireland
JL: Yeah. Galway, Westport. A few of my group from that area there. I’m stuck in the middle of them there [shows photo]
CD: And at that time in Ireland, what other catering colleges were there to your knowledge?
JL: I believe there was Rockwell, there was a catering school in the boarding school in Rockwell that catered for the students but the idea was they got a certificate out of it. And then there was Maynooth, the large seminary up in Maynooth had a small catering school attached to it. That also catered for the seminaries in Pugin Hall, a massive building up there that could seat six hundred people I only found out later. So there were kids and I believed they had an awful hard time in there. I remember one of my colleagues in the regional college told me later that they used to have to cut freshly cut chips three times a week for six and seven hundred people.
CD: That’s a lot of chips!
JL: Well it’s a lot of peeling of potatoes as well. There was no frozen jobs remember in those days. We had none of this in Athenry, we just had to cook. Porridge in the morning was made the night before. We heated it up. We went to Mass every morning
JL: Down in the church in Athenry. Mass. Back again. Got ready, had the breakfast which was bread and porridge and toast, whatever it was. The teachers’ table was in the dining room with us, the teacher who was on duty of course. Then the staff would arrive and we would go to our various theory classes out the back. [Points to photo] They would be in the that building out the back there
JL: And one group would go out to the kitchen, one group had a type of a theory class downstairs. Of course one group also… some of us went to the laundry, we had laundry to be done.
CD: Yes, so you basically had to manage all that yourselves?
JL: Yes we had to manage all that ourselves. It was good craic. Now, we had all our own interaction. We had coffee break, a break at 11 o’clock and then back into the kitchen again and out the back. Fellas were smoking of course in them days. When you borrowed a cigarette off a guy three pulls were in a drag .
JL: If you wanted a drag you were allowed to have three pulls. So if I was a smoker and you had no cigarettes you asked me could I have a drag, please? You were allowed have three pulls
CD: So there were rules?
JL: Oh there were certain rules. Now it didn’t worry me, I was not a smoker. We were out for two hours every Saturday. My mother sent me a ten shilling note and I went down town on Saturday and buy the can of Coke or the bar of chocolate or whatever it was. Maybe get the Sunday Independent on a Sunday morning. Sure what else could you do anyway?
CD: And what kind of food were you preparing or learning to prepare?
JL: We had a cookbook called Practical Cookery, Ceserani and Kempton were the thing. Now, we held onto it. It’s still on the go over in the regional college today, about the fifteenth edition of course I should say, it’s moved on.
CD: Yes, it’s been updated
JL: I had that book from Athenry called Practical Cookery. We probably started on the soups, hors d’oeuvre, fish courses and the pasta dishes and the roasts and the stews and the braised meats and then we had the desserts. I suppose we had the common stuff. Ones I can remember. I remember a Mulligatawny Soup, t’was a spicy curry soup and that was great stuff at the time. Yeah.
JL: I remember making minestrone soup there once and I remember we used to do cream of chicken soup. These are all good soups now to be making. I remember doing braised beef one day, having this lovely sauce and doing glazed vegetables. I remember doing Bavarian Cream, the favourite dessert that was made with egg yolks, sugar, milk, a bit of cream and it was set with gelatine. And we used to pour this into moulds and turn them out and sure we thought… and then Crème Caramels
CD: Very fancy
JL: Don’t talk to me about Crème Caramels! Except for the Crème Caramels we used to do them in a bigger bowl. The trick was you had it set enough and cooled down enough that when you turned it out it didn’t just go …
CD: It didn’t …
JL: It didn’t go all over the place, yeah. Apple tarts of course and flans
JL: And various gateaux and cake
CD: And was there any one culinary influence like say French cuisine or was there a bit of everything involved?
JL: Yeah French cuisine wasn’t much, except the book was probably an English Cookery book that was used in polytechnics in England I’d say. There was a French influence in because the French terms were used in it
JL: So, if I said to you fillets of sole bonne femme which we used to do. Fillets of sole bonne femme in Athenry in 1970 were fillets of sole cooked in white wine, mushrooms and onions in the oven. Take them out, a sauce made from the liquid with cream and egg yolks. I can tell you, this was good!
JL: Happy days, sure I remember all this like!
CD: And once your two years was over then, did you have further study after that then?
JL: After the first year we were sent out to a hotel, the following May…
CD: Kind of like a work placement?
JL A work placement. And I was sent to the Old Grounds Hotel in Ennis. I got the train from Athenry; it wasn’t too far away, down the branch line down to Limerick, got off at Ennis. I remember I walked up from Ennis Station up to the Old Grounds Hotel, it wasn’t too far off. I walked in and I remember I had a letter for the Manager, a Mr Oatfield, I don’t even remember what ever happened to the man. He says to me… he give me a quick run around the place, he welcomed me to the place and he let me stay in the hotel for two nights until I got accommodation somewhere…
JL: And he said you are going to be in the Grill Room for the summer! Grill Room, I couldn’t even cook a pork chop!
CD: You soon had to learn
JL: I wasn’t long learning; steaks and chips!
CD: And were you kind of a junior member of staff
JL: I was only a Commis Chef then, that was it
JL: My second Christmas, when I went back to Athenry then that Christmas, I think I needed money and I was living in Loughrea, my mother, my mother is from Crannagh near Ardrahan and she had a brother living over there near Tulira Castle, do you know just down from Labane. She said they were looking for a Cook for the Christmas and I said sure I’ll go, amn’t I a Cook!
JL: So I went down there, I got a lift down to Tulira Castle, booked in, the Cook was gone and I met this lady who was kind of in charge there and Lord and Lady Hemphill was there and I was their Cook for the Christmas. Now I had been watching my mother cook turkeys for years
JL: And I said, sure I’ll manage this and I did the plum puddings, the puddings were made, all I had to do was heat them up even though I had a massive, massive mishap with reheating the plum pudding
CD: You thought it would be an easy enough stint?
JL: Well, what actually happened was I put the plum pudding on a saucepan to reheat on the back of the Aga and it was boiling away, of course I forgot about this – water does evaporate!
JL: And of course when it evaporates the rubber in the bowl started melting as well
CD: A bit of a disaster
JL: Well, it wasn’t a disaster; I just carefully lifted it out and put it in a newer bowl
JL: But I don’t think the pot was ever used again!
CD: It was banjaxed!
JL: Banjaxed! The pot was banjaxed with rubber!
CD: So, at that stage then you do your two years and you are a fully qualified chef then at that rate then are you?
JL: Well, you are classed as a third year Commis, there is a grading system at that time
CD: Kind of a scale or a hierarchy
JL: …in the JLC Joint Labour Committee (Hotels and Catering) there was various wages and conditions for first and second and third year. We technically went out and we were classed as a third year Commis Chef.
CD: OK, So you kind of work your way up from there then?
JL: I was sent out to the Great Southern in the Eyre Square in Galway
JL: And I don’t know what I got that time. Ah you kind of tip around for a couple of years then and then you actually get confidence and you kind of branch off in life
CD: And was it hard enough to get work or easy enough? Like, did the other lads in your class manage to get jobs?
JL: I’d say they were mad out looking… there were some guys in the class at that time, when I left there in ’69 or ’71 they were sent to Rossnowlagh.
CD: Oh right, up in Donegal
JL: And some were sent to Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare. Now that was a prize placement I can tell you to get to Kelly’s…
CD: Yes, exactly, you were lucky
JL: Because the family I believe, did look after them very well
JL: And Britton, Britton were the family I think, who ran Rossnowlagh Hotel in Donegal
CD: Right, ok
JL: I don’t know are they still there today and they loved getting young chefs and young waiters…
CD: They were well looked after
JL: Oh yeah, we were kind of half professional now here, even though we knew absolutely nothing about cooking, I might as well tell you!
JL: But from May ’71 I was there til about October ’72. Of course I had a girlfriend at this stage and she was going nursing in England, she’s my wife today so it doesn’t matter! And I was going off…Oh yeah and while I was there my first year in the Great Southern they did sent me to Switzerland
CD: Oh very nice
JL: They sent me out to Switzerland!
CD: That was a big deal at the time!
JL: Yeah, it was a big deal because the idea was that hotels were very seasonal in Ireland
JL: And the idea was that they would send you out from October until April or May and then you come back again and be around for the summer
CD: Yeah, it’s kind of the peak time in Ireland
JL: Yeah and it was getting experience and it was a way of doing it and I said this is great. They sent me to Zurich in Switzerland, a restaurant called Restaurant Kitten Mule it was, I think about 15 or 20 miles south of Zurich along that long, narrow lake, I think the lake is called Lake Zurich
JL: And I was there and I worked and I was glad to get it. I was in a small little restaurant up in a mountain, a sawmill across the road!
JL: But actually funny enough, the family sent me home that Christmas. I only arrived in October and by Christmas they said would you like to go back to Ireland for Christmas and I said I’d love to and they actually paid for it
CD: Oh lovely. Because I was going to ask if you were home sick but you probably weren’t away long enough
JL: No, I wasn’t really, I was ok, I was getting on with it. I was maybe a bit at times
CD: You were busy I suppose
JL: And they were closing down for the week and they were getting rid of me of course, the family were closing it down
JL: I came back then, I was there til May and then back to the Great Southern, but I did not go back to the Great Southern. I had this theory I my head, I thought look it, if they wanted me they would have paid for my fares out and back and all that and I had paid for them
CD: Yes, you’d have been looked after
JL: And I remember Rory Murphy was in the hotel and I said Rory, look it I’m not coming back here and I did get a job around Galway that summer with the Redemptorists in Cluain Mhuire
JL: They were doing retreats and I said sure… and I was thumbing in from Loughrea one of them days when I’m just back when a priest called Fr. Goode and I believe he’s from over in Eyrecourt, he had a Volkswagen car and he picked me up and said what are you doing and I said I’m a Chef and he said do you want to do a bit of work for the summer with us for the retreats? And I said no problem. In the meantime as well of course in the mornings I did get a job right across the road from the Post Office, I think it’s a lady’s lingerie shop today, it was called Vintage Rooms Restaurant. It’s there today or is a sweet shop or something downstairs in it and I stayed there for the summer, all that summer and I worked …Sorry I worked in Cluain Mhuire for the Sunday and then by September then I went fulltime into the restaurant. I kind of did evenings in the restaurant for a while.
CD: So you were kind of lucky enough job-wise over the years, initially anyway?
JL: Yeah, there was no problem getting jobs, as long as a young fella’s able to work and you get in there and do the long days
JL: Sure that’s what you’d be doing like, tipping around Galway