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09 April 2010

Clonakilty, 21 years later

Here is the text of a speech delivered this morning to launch the newly sited market in Clonakility.
It was only when Jix Kelleher asked me for a few words that I realised that it was just over 21 years ago that the story told in the speech happened. 21 years! And Tom O'Donovan and his sisters are looking as young as ever!

It is a great honour to be asked to officially open the Clonakilty Farmer's Market, not just because markets are so vital to our economy and our culture, but because doing so brings me full circle, and gives a completeness to something that happened 21 years ago.

Back then I was a know-nothing food writer – nothing much has changed, as you can see – when two men in this town took myself and Sally by the hand and showed us what west Cork meant.

I use the term “meant” deliberately: West Cork isn't just a place, it is a way of thinking, a way of seeing. West Cork means what we want it to mean, so long as we can understand it.

After Tom O'Donovan and the late Eddie Twomey had shown us all around Clon' in March 1989, I immediately understood what “West Cork” meant. It was the fastest and, I think, the most profound lesson I ever learnt. It changed my life: a year or so later I was living in West Cork, because I wanted that thing that Tom and Eddie had revealed to me.

They revealed an openness, a pride, and a kind of poetic everydayness that I had never seen before. They revealed life to be an art, and a particular sort of West Cork art at that.

I have been addicted to it ever since, and I have been grateful to Tom, and Eddie, ever since.

Markets are meshworks, places where everyone is equal, and where everyone's equality gives enormous strength to the endeavour. In recent years people have procrastinated about markets by pirouetting around legislation. As a recovering lawyer, let me say something simple, and slightly legalistic, about legislation: never let it get in the way of doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing means having a thriving, well-surrported market in every town. We need markets as the bedrock of our local economies. We need markets as the bedrock of our local food cultures. In West Cork, we need markets as the bedrock of our tourism culture.

Markets need to be supported by the town authorities, and by the townspeople. Markets create simple economies, and complex cultures. Markets give people a chance to start new businesses, in the most direct, accessible, low-risk manner. We have a national economy which is in crisis. One way to solve the problem is through markets, where local foods from local people are bought and sold and where the money never travels more than a few miles. If that seems like a simple solution to a complex problem, then that is just what it is.

The glory of West Cork is a Can Do attitude. But it's not gung-ho. It's simply creative, and imaginative. Artistic, if you like. Everyday markets are part of that artistic glory, that singularity, part of the colour, the fabric, the mesh of talented people.

I wish the market well, and I know that, with the right support, it will thrive, and become another jewel in this town that already offers so many singular jewels.

And I want to thank the town, and to thank Tom, for what was shown to me 21 years ago last month. I wish that everyone who visits Clon' will have the great fortune to see what I saw then, and to come to understand West Cork, and to know what West Cork means. Thank you.

John McKenna