Galway farewells a champion of Irish food

Gerry Galvin RIP

Gerry Galvin, who introduced a new eating experience to Galway.

Gerry Galvin, who introduced a new eating experience to Galway.

When the late and much loved Gerry Galvin and his wife Marie opened Drimcong restaurant near Moycullen in the 1980s, Gerry came with the glowing accolade as one of Ireland's leading chefs.

The couple had run the famousVintage restaurant in Kinsale, and the reputation of the Kinsale restaurants, and its renowned Kinsale Gourmet Festival, left mouths watering in the rest of the island. Yes, we had some good food emporiums in the west, but, to be honest, no matter how hard Galway and Clifden chefs tried to vary their menu, men usually went for a decent large steak, chips and onions, while the more dainty sex opted for fish.

Initially Drimcong food was disapointing. The menu required several readings. But something very new, and unusual, was happening. There was much emphasis on the word organic, fresh, and traditional. What did that mean? Many Galway people loved oysters, but here oysters were offered with Clonakilty black pudding, with an onion and apple sauce. Surely some mistake?

There were potted patés, and pea soups, baked fish gateau (another mistake? ), a spiced roast pork with an apple and thyme sauce, roast duck with a pepper marmalade (that can't be right ), Moroccan and Italian ricotta, couscous and pasta, and then something simple like Marie's brown bread, and a huge range of Irish cheeses. It was amazing. Suddenly a whole new world of food possibilities was being offered and, after an initial hesitation, Galway took to this wonderful oppeortunity with all the pleasure and fun that eating and enjoying food entails. Drimcong was a place apart. Associated with special events, either in family or business lives, where food and service were always guaranteed to be a singular and a unique celebration.

I don't think Galway restaurants were the same since. Yes, you can still get delicious Irish steak, but Drimcong led the way to a whole new eating experience which has given Galway a succession of top-quality restaurants offering innovative and beautifully presented food.

Gerry was an extraordinary creative man. He continued to receive every great honour imaginable, culminating in the Egon Ronay Chef of the year in 1994. After he had prepared dinner and, while guests were finishing up, Gerry would appear in immaculate white jacket and talk to everyone. You could see that was one of his favourite times.

He was born in Drumcollogher, west Limerick, and enjoyed Percy French's song of the same name. He studied catering at the famous Shannon Hotel School, and with his talents under his hat, he travelled extensively. He met Marie while working in South Africa, and they decided to return to Ireland to work at Acton's in Kinsale. It was an exciting time. With Brian Cronin and others, they brought all the local restaurants together, and set up the very successful Kinsale Gourmet Festival.

After 12 years there, and with a growing family, Cristina, John and Jennie, they came to Galway, bought Drimcong, a county home where the children had space and fields to enjoy their childhood.

Then after 18 years working hard, Gerry and Marie sold Drimcong, and we were all envious when the two of them went off for almost a year in a camper-van exploring southern Europe.

But the food industry was not finished with Gerry even then. Just last May Euro-Toques Ireland (originally established by Myrtle Allen “ to protect food quality and culinary traditions of Ireland”, gave him a special award for his Outstanding Contribution to Irish Food.

Gerry loved food, but he also loved poetry, producing his own volume of poems, No Recipe, which was launched by Michael D Higgins, the poet and President, in Sheridan's on the Docks.

Then another surprise. In the autumn of 2011 he launched a witty and sardonic crime thriller Killer a la Carte, about a restaurant critic (Gerry did not have much time for restaurant ctitics ), called James Livingston Gall, who is also a cunning serial murderer. Were all restaurant critics murderers? I asked him. Gerry just smiled.

It was a great read, and I understand another volume was under way. Sadly that is not to be. At the Requiem Mass in a packed Oughterard Church on Monday, where the service was jointly celebrated by Fr Allen and the Rev Anthony Previte, I was pleased to see among the crowd of hoteliers, chefs and friends, the face of Pat Mullan, an award winning American-Irish crime writer. Obviously Mullen saw the artist in Gerry.

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