A pit-stop on the Wild Atlantic Way
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