A pit-stop on the Wild At­lantic Way

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS -

On an sunny April day in Connemara, a group of food lovers are wav­ing good­bye to Michael Coyne out­side Tigh Chad­hain, a fam­ily pub and bistro also known as Coyne’s Bar & Bistro, in Kilkieran in Connemara. “Thank you so much for hav­ing us,” we say. “Thanks your­selves,” replies Coyne. “Thanks your­selves.”

I’m on a Wild At­lantic Way Food Tour, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Sheena Dig­nam of Gal­way Food Tours and Padraic O’Raighne of Connemara Pub Tours, who have com­bined their lo­cal knowl­edge to help cu­ri­ous tourists dis­cover the best of food and drink in Connemara.

Tigh Chad­hain is in the heart of the Gaeltacht, part of a jut­ting penin­sula that is also home to Oys­ter Bay, Mween­ish Is­land, and Padriag Pearse’s cot­tage in Ros Muc. Coyne is a fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion tutor at the Gal­way and Roscom­mon Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing Board, where he lec­tures in Ir­ish cul­ture and her­itage stud­ies, tourism and dig­i­tal me­dia. He was a his­tory teacher at Kyle­more Abbey school be­fore it closed in 2010. He’s full of lo­cal knowl­edge and keen to share it.

The house that is home to Tigh Chad­hain’s was built in the early 1840s, owned by an ab­sen­tee land­lord. The Con­roys, Michael Coyne’s great grand­par­ents on his mother’s side, took it over in 1892, and set up a bar and a lit­tle gro­cery shop. “It was a time when road travel wasn’t an op­tion. Peo­ple had their own cur­rachs and Kilkieran was kind of an out­post, like Round­stone and Spid­dal.” Coyne’s par­ents took on the pub in the 1960s, and Michael and his wife, Anne Marie Coyne, took it over in 2000. It’s split into a cozy pub and a sim­ple, fuss-free bistro.

We sit out­side in the sun to a bowl of de­li­cious chow­der, creamy and full of per­fectly cooked chunks of fresh fish. Anne Marie, a chef orig­i­nally from Moy­cullen, is at the helm of the kitchen, and her de­li­cious chow­der (¤5.95) is on the menu ev­ery day. Her brown bread is fan­tas­tic, dark and sweet with a crunchy crust, made from a recipe passed down from her mother.

The Coynes make the best of what they have lo­cally, and fish fea­tures heav­ily on the menu, which changes reg­u­larly to re­flect what­ever catch has come in. There could be pan-fried sea trout (¤16.95), Connemara beer-bat­tered fish and chips (¤14.95) and lo­cal mus­sels in a white-wine sauce (¤11.95). Else­where on the menu are home-cooked Ir­ish clas­sics such as cot­tage pie and col­can­non. On tap are lo­cal craft beers in­clud­ing pale ales from the In­de­pen­dent Brew­ery Com­pany in nearby Car­raroe.

The menu is bilin­gual and their po­si­tion on the Wild At­lantic Way helped to get them over the fi­nal hump of the re­ces­sion. “You haven’t lived un­til you’ve brought a busi­ness through a re­ces­sion,” says Coyne. “We’ve been sup­ported lo­cally, and by food and travel writ­ers such as Ge­orgina Camp­bell. Our lo­ca­tion on the shore helps. It’s like hid­den Ire­land here, and ev­ery year it’s be­ing dis­cov­ered more and more.”

They have mu­sic ses­sions most week­ends, with sean nós, mu­sic and danc­ing. “It’s all about sup­port­ing the lo­cal her­itage,” says Coyne. “Ir­ish cui­sine, Ir­ish bev­er­ages, Ir­ish lan­guage, Ir­ish cul­ture and her­itage, alive and kick­ing.”

Tigh Chad­hain has opened its doors for the sum­mer sea­son and this friendly, au­then­tic pub makes a spe­cial pit-stop for a Connemara ex­plo­ration. The Kilkieran Re­gatta, a tra­di­tional af­fair com­plete with cur­rachs, takes places on the first week­end of July and pro­vides a handy an­chor upon which to plan a trip to this beau­ti­ful part of the West. Aoife McEl­wain

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